My family never went to church. My grandparents did not go to church. My great grandparents were the last church-going generation. After the 2nd world war my parents’ generation was alienated by religion. My father was one of thousands who’d spent four years in a concentration camp and not many of the lucky survivors ran to church after most of Amsterdam’s Jews had disappeared because of their religion. In post war Holland being an atheist was part of being modern. Still, every Christmas Eve my mother played the same Carl Orff recording of the Christmas story on our gramophone. I knew the story of Jesus, but for my family that tale had little to do with faith, it was more of a cultural thing.
So whenever I went to church, like for weddings, funerals and the occasional religious holiday with a friend, I felt like I was cheating and everybody knew. Then, at age 34, I fell for a minister’s son and his father married us on the beach in Amagansett. I’d managed to avoid the embarrassment of a church wedding, but not the minister. At first I felt like the imposter in the family but eventually I realized that the reverend Gordon paid little attention to my ignorance of all things theological.
Tarpum Bay Methodist Church congregation on Easter Sunday
Ever since I’ve been coming to Eleuthera I’ve been fascinated by the many different churches in each settlement and when I hear the congregations singing I sense that I might be missing out on a weekly dose of joy.
the junior choir
Today I overcame my fear of being found out and went, by myself, to the Easter service at the Methodist Church of Tarpum Bay. I spent the first twenty minutes fighting back an overwhelming urge to burst into tears. It wasn’t just that seeing the beauty of families all dressed up in Easter-best made me miss my daughters, I was also deeply touched by the congregation’s sense of dignity and love. The joy of singing together made me feel like I’d been holding on to something very tightly and if I let go I would fall apart, maybe even have one of those seizure epiphanies, collapsing in the aisle, eyes rolling back into my head – hallelujah – my experience was that powerful. But eventually my Dutch side prevailed, I got used to the ambience and enjoyed two hours of singing along to a giant projection screen with the hymns (so much better than fumbling for the right page in the psalm book), watching children of all ages recite, sing, dance and I was even brave enough to ask permission to take pictures of the ending.
I am woken up at 6.30 by my fifteen year old daughter. Depending on her teenage mood she either wiggles my toe or mumbles a sullen “wake up Mom”. Sometimes I’m already awake and, waiting for her to open the door, I’ll call “I’m up” before she enters the room. Occasionally she has to search and finds me on the sofa because there are times when a queen is just not big enough for her fretful viking parents.
After sliding my contacts sideways into sleepy eyes I pull an outfit from the closet that could attract the attention of roadside assistance on the Alice Tuttle Parkway. I don’t brush my teeth until after my first cup of tea, two bags of English PG Tips, super strong, lots of sugar and milk, and sipped as I make the next three lunch boxes out of the 4982 lunch boxes made thus far and the 2400 or so left to go. I like making lunch boxes. I refuse to iron, I hate washing pots, I’m not strong at patiently explaining home work but I do get into assembling lunch boxes. First the sandwich and its variations: white bread, whole wheat bread, cesar rolls, ciabatta rolls, bagels and wraps, turkey and cheese, ham and cheese, tuna, cream cheese, egg salad, hummus tomato lettuce, and occasionally for the unexpected and I’m out of everything, peanut butter. An apple or satsuma or grapes or melon. A large chocolate chip cookie from the Fresh Market and finally the salty element; chips or pretzels, crackers or Pirate Booty. Iced tea in the three canteens. Its the first creative act of my day.
By 7.15 Iona and I are in the car. By 7.30 I drop her off at the railroad tracks that run along DASH – her high school. We talk along the way. We catch up. There’s always something. A teacher. A test. A pesky text from an ex-boyfriend demanding back some gift bestowed in the early days of his mad passion. I curse and scream at the Miami drivers, justified in my agro by a recent report that Miami drivers REALLY are the worst in the country. Its not me. It’s been proven and I attest: They don’t move at a green light, they slow down for orange so they can check messages, but do run every red light, they change lanes randomly, pull out of parking spots without looking, never use a blinker, speed in a slow zone and do 25 miles in the outer lane of the highway. They drive around speed humps as if that’s actually an option and mothers make u-turns on the school crossing almost running over the carpool of kids they just unloaded, all while texting.
Once I’ve dropped off Iona I have 12 minutes to make it back home. 7.42. The school bus for the twins arrives around 7.50. They are never ready and always in a wardrobe-induced flap. Amber hops impatiently through the hall, hyper at the knowledge that she’s next on my roster. The three of us run to the light, press the may-pedestrians-cross-soon button, ensure we don’t get run over by a red-light jumper and wait on the opposite corner. Alton Road rush-hour traffic zooms by. The same thousand cars every morning. The same yellow Fiat with the redhead, the same black mini Cooper with the fat woman, the same tan man on his bicycle, the same white Range Rover turning onto Allison Island. I wait with my girls until they get on. Ever since a black Cherokee almost slammed into the back of their school bus I make sure they do not enter until all cars behind have stopped. I wave at the driver, a friendly grey haired woman, the girls hiss back at me “she only speaks Spanish, Mom!” as if I waved in English.
I press the pedestrian light again, check the traffic exiting from our community gates for the black Porsche Cayenne that came so close to hitting me a month ago that I actually screamed FUCK and saw my life flashing while the driver, her face a few feet from mine, remained unimpressed and did not even mouth “sorry”, something I would definitely have done had I almost run her over, just in case I’d meet her by the pool later.
By eight I’m home. I thank God for sparing me and my family yet again, clip the leash on Amber, grab a poopie bag and am dragged around Aqua for the next ten minutes, fresh on the trail of the Airedale terrier – Zoe from Zoe Way (coincidental or intentional one wonders.) Amber, who ignores all dogs, has decided Zoe is da meanest bitch of Miami Beach and needs to be taken out. We pee, we shit, we pick up the shit because cameras are trained everywhere (in the last condo meeting there was even talk of D & A testing un-bagged left-behind turds in order for appropriate fines to be imposed.) Not I. I am proud of my own goodness every time I pick up, and when the security guard passes in his golf cart moments after a shit has been taken I hold up my baggie and call out “I got it” as if he’s driving by just to check on me, which is not altogether unlikely.
studio aka garage
I return a disappointed Amber home and grab my swimsuit that hangs from the doorknob in my studio, also known as the garage. I change, wrap the mandatory Aqua towel around my waist and ride my bike along Indian Creek to our pool. It’s invariably a gorgeous morning. We’ve been in Miami two years and four months and I still notice the luxury of the weather. It is sunny, warm and the air has a hint of salt from the ocean two blocks away. I look for dolphins or manatee in the creek. A heron flies close to me, checking for fish. I admire the tall palm trees on the other side of the water and the mansions with their tropical gardens and jetties with million dollar yachts. There is no one at the pool except for the Aqua grounds keeper preening for the day ahead. I wade into the Olympic sized body of turquoise water and start my thirty laps. The water is warm. Too warm. A ridiculous waste I think every morning as I pull a bunch of bougainvilla flowers from the filter. I start to think as I swim through more fuchsia bougainvilla. The sun is just coming around the tall apartment blocks of Millionaire Row along Collins, the avenue that separates the creek from the beach. I think of the day ahead. I lay it out like the lane I’m lapping up, with each stroke I run my list: Finish taxes, call Blue Cross Blue Shield, balance my check book, mark up the next BHS folder, send e-mail to John about the wine sponsorship, order 200 tee shirts, did the Botanical gardens respond yet? And why not? I think of the BIG list. The list of things to do with the rest of my life. My ambition list. I think of how I felt those first few months I was doing laps here. How I was unsure, insecure and off-kilter. How in the second year so much turned around, how doors opened and how I passed through them. I imagine I am exactly in the middle of my entire life. Its been eventful so far and I look forward to what’s coming. I think of the 120 or so pieces I have to make for my new collection. I anticipate what it will be like when my routine goes upside down and inside out when I’m leaving all this behind for three whole weeks.
I’ll be alone for the first time in 16 years. Alone in a house. No actually, a castle. I shall make dinners just for me and 45 less lunch boxes in the big scheme of things on my to do list.
Almost four weeks later and my TED talk is not online.
I practice my ZEN patience and wonder if:
When one does a TED talk and nobody can see it, is it still is a TED talk?
As I write this I have not seen myself TED talking.
I am glad it is over.
Was it fun?
Did I do good?
I did terrible in the dress rehearsal. Like really awful, like I wondered if they could fire me.
It was the clock. Right in the middle of the audience, at perfect eye level, is a monitor. It shows the slides or video that is projected behind the speakers so we don’t have to keep turning around to address our images. Its about 3ft by 18″. But I could not really see because over my pictures there was a giant fluorescent 13 that took up the entire screen. 13 minutes for my talk. Seconds and minutes passing backwards, like the proverbial bomb in James Bond movies and I was James, responsible for saving the world in 13 minutes.
photo: Ilmar Saar
At 8 minutes I thought.
As I was talking my dress rehearsal TED.
I thought. 8? 13 minus 8? Thats is 5 minutes done. Is that all?
Seriously, I did math while I was still speaking. Isn’t it amazing? The gymnastics of which the mind is capable.
Then I worried. Could I fill those 8 minutes?
I lost my train, my momentum and I blanked.
Mouth and head full of cotton wool.
Nothing came to mind. Nothing came out.
Was I stupid?
I had felt really stupid late August when I had written my entire talk and started practicing. Almost 2000 words. I did not really memorize, which, as I was told by both husband and Gina from TED, was a bad idea, but I did have an order and a rhythm for what and how I would TED talk.
Besides I had a 13 minute multi-media show which played behind me.
Not that I would talk to slides.
Like manually click them.
I hate that format.
“Oh, and here we have me, at the beach, finding my beach plastic…”
Too much like those family vacation slide shows of our neighbors that my parents sneered at as ever-so bourgeois.
Anyway I was stupid when I started working my TED.
Unable to memorize anything more than one paragraph.
I got advice from everyone.
Do it in the mirror. In the car. Film yourself and play it back. You will be fine, wing it, you know your stuff , just make it up as you go along…
I felt so dumb that I bought Gingko.
I almost overdosed on Gingko.
I still felt stupid. I am too old I thought.
I have an old brain.
Then I worried about what to wear and I felt shallow.
I had my roots done, but did hair dye kill more brain cells?
I told husband who was still in Milford.
I had not seen him in weeks but he was coming to Miami for my talk.
He sounded sharp, bright and cheery.
“Not to worry, you’ll remember when you’re up there.”
Husband was away. But husband was coming to Miami three days before my talk.
That would give me enough time to clear my mind.
And he would love it.
As soon as he arrived I started clearing my mind.
Wow, he said. This is great. I should stay away more often.
The next morning I practiced my TED and could remember four minute spans. I had two days left to dress rehearsal, three to actual night. That was four to five mind-clearing sessions.
It so happened to be our 21st anniversary.
An excellent excuse for siestas. Back rubs. Jacuzzi’s and what may ensue…
By Monday morning, driving back from Iona’s school, I remembered my entire TED in exactly 13 minutes. What had been the big deal? I could do it backwards…
There was the clock.
The unknown factor.
That screwed me up.
“Its why we have dress rehearsals,” Gina said. “Now go home and forget about it. Do not look at your speech again. Relax. You’ll be fine tomorrow.”
I did relax on Tuesday the 13th of September. I had a pedicure and told husband I was having a nap at 2pm.
Afternoon delight, he hummed rather absent mindedly.
Afterwards I confessed that I had been using him.
“What do you mean?” He asked.
“You know, the Seinfeld Theory?” I hinted.
Wha’? he said.
You know that episode where George thinks lack of sex makes his mind sharper and he feels smart, then Elaine uses this abstinence method but she becomes more stupid. So she begs Jerry to have sex with her just so she can clear her mind.
You know? No? You don’t remember?
Nah. I don’t think so. What day is it again? shall we go and see a movie tonight or something…?
That uber message we look for in our otherwise boring Inbox.
The one that says:
We have been following your work with beach plastic pollution, we love it, would you be interested in being featured in a movie we are planning?
Looking for a hidden sales message? Like the next line would say: If you take part in this short questionnaire you too can be captured on film.
You bet! I did not trust it. I proceeded with caution.
It was not until I had spoken with all the makers of the film, the creative director Sean, the producer Michael, the director Jason and had signed a non-disclosure with Barefoot Wine (to keep it all hush until the premiere, hence no previous mention here at BDM) that I became excited.
They wanted to shoot in Eleuthera, where I find all my beach plastic, and so I sent them the limited list of places in Governor’s Harbour. Three low-key hotels, Cigatoo, Pineapple Fields and Coco Di Mama, and a handful of rentals that have 5+ bedrooms.
Squires Estate, Toad Hall in foreground, Main Russell House beyond...
I had always wanted to stay there, ever since it had been restored two years ago. Alastair and I even looked at the main house when it was on the market. Its a dream property, on the hill, a 120 year old Victorian House, overlooking Cupid’s Key, walking distance to Club Med Beach – the most beautiful beach I know.
They booked me for four days early June. Two travel and two shooting.
“Bring your tools and your favorite designs, we’ll do the rest.”
If the camera added ten pounds then it was the time for a diet.
I did a two-day fast, a nine-day shake/powder regimen and swam a million lengths of the pool.
I departed, lithe and pre-tanned.
First to arrive, I chose the ground floor bedroom of the main house because it was the most private, like a mini wing, overlooking the pool and the Caribbean sea to the west. Everything was new, done by an Italian designer with exquisite taste, who’d mixed old with high-tech, quirky with traditional.
I got my old red truck from the garage.
I was already happy.
A few hours later the crew arrived. Curt, Sean, Jason, Michael, Scotty and Tyler.
Six surfers from California.
Had I died and gone to heaven?
OK. Yes! I am happily married. I’m a mother of three. I’m not young as such.
But hey, I’m still a woman!
lunch at the Beach House
I had an eery feeling – after years of being a service-driven mother, feeding, cleaning, chauffeuring, organizing and wondering (within the safety of my own head):
What about me?
A dawning sense that maybe someone (who can hear beyond the safety of my own head), had been listening, that somehow I had been good enough, that getting attention was actually allowed when you try your hardest to be a good wife and mother and employee and world citizen…
And I let go.
This was going to be about me (and my obsession with beach plastic) and it was OK.
Those six guys were awesome, I don’t know much about them beyond those four days, but they were easy going, considerate, creative, charming, talented, professional and funny, so funny…
They made it possible for me to be me. To do my work, make my stuff, tell my message without ever making me feel self-conscious or insecure. At least three cameras captured me at work for at least 24 hours. It felt natural. It felt great. I felt beautiful. They helped me believe that what I was doing was worthwhile.
I wanted it to last a bit longer.
Last shot, left to right, Tyler, Jason, Barbi, Curt, Sean, Michael and Scotty
Still, we dispersed. They went on to do the next “innovator”, Tim in Australia, and I was just a tad jealous.
But I mainly felt empowered. Things were falling into place. back home I was asked to apply for the Miami TED talk. I went on my teaching trip around Eleuthera.
Last night I saw I Don’t Know How She Does It with my three daughters. I had read the book at a time when I identified with the author, when I was the overcommitted mother of three little girls who felt she had to do it all, or else…
Leila wanted to know if I had ever felt like Kate did in the film.
You mean, like, I Don’t Know How I Did It?
Kiki and Leila @ 2 years, by barred stairs in Milford.
My daughters are now eleven and fifteen. I asked if they remembered when I was the Mother with a Career in NYC.
They don’t remember that I went to Hong Kong for two weeks over Christmas when they were six months old, nor being in day care at age two because the latest nanny had disappeared without trace while I worked on 7th Avenue three days a week (living in Milford,PA). They don’t remember my equivalent of Kate Reddy’s bake-sale angst amongst the zealous fundraising stay-at-home mothers of the Homestead School.
Its great to find out that it it did not matter. That they are fine. More than fine. That I can forgive myself for those perceived shortcomings, that getting off the fashion merry-go-round to have more time at home with them was a good choice too. That feeling out of it and disconnected and fat and dumb maybe was just a cocoon, a small, limited space, where the next incarnation of me could shape itself.
Of course we always are exactly where we should be.
This is easy to see with the gift of hindsight, like looking at an old photograph and wondering why you did not really enjoy the way you looked back then.
When I first saw One Beach I felt that I was exactly where I should be in the big picture of life.
Thank you all Barefooters for making this possible.
Sean O’Brien for his creative foresight and green spirit that gave birth to the idea of One Beach.
And of course the entire Barefoot Wine team in California and New York that worked so hard to pull it all off in time for the premiere in NYC last week.
We were all there.
In New York.
The team that made One Beach and the people it featured, called The Innovators in the film.
Kevin Cunningham, a surfer from Rhode Island who incorporates beach plastic in making surfboards from recycled materials.
Richard Lang and beautiful Judith Selby Lang, the king and queen of beach plastic, fell in love on their first date while combing Kehoe Beach for plastic debris. They incorporate beach plastic in their art from installations to photography and jewelry.
Left to right: Stephanie Gallo, Kevin Cunningham, Sean O'Brien, Barbara de Vries Jason Baffa, Judith and Richard Lang, Elizabeth and Anne. Lying in foreground is Tyler from Smash.
We watched the first screening together, wept at the end, and were all amazed at the synergy between us, four people who have never met, in three different parts of the US, who collect and work with beach plastic and whose dialog and message has evolved in an eerily similar way without ever speaking to each other.
We also had beach plastic envy as we drooled over pieces in each other’s collection.
The premiere was at the Helen Mills theatre in Chelsea, with a live feed to our own Facebook app where over 5000 people had signed up to watch the film and subsequent Q and A online.
Sitting in the director’s chairs, below ground in NYC, taking questions that Tyler, our MC, received on his Ipad from Facebookers all over, had a surreal sense of opportunity, the feeling that when we all connect we can make a difference.
Below is the One Beach film, which we hope will help raise awareness of beach plastic pollution. Numbers just released estimate that six million tons of what becomes “marine debris” (non organic material that does not break down) enters the oceans every year. One Beach has a positive message, it is upbeat about creativity and possibility, but none of us have the illusion that just selling up-cycled beach plastic into ownership can significantly reduce what washes up on our beaches every day with every tide and every wave. We want to connect to people through beauty, and our message is to for everyone to reduce our plastic foot print (300 pounds per person every year) NOW by saying no to single-use plastics.
Tip: Start with refusing bottled water and plastic shopping bags, relatively easy steps, then pick an alternative material every time there is a choice…
Here are Sean’s pictures of the making of One Beach in Eleuthera: link