Sunday, August 7, 2016


Tosca was my blond bitch, lighter on her feet than the color of her fur. I rescued her one winter night, shivering at the feet of two gypsy men sharing a cigarette outside a circus in Jerusalem. The circus performance, which a friend and I had attended, had been a seedy affair, the acrobats and performers as ragged and dusty as their faltering tent. Depressed by the show and the grim winter night’s cold, we were heading toward the bus stop when we heard the men falling into a loud argument. We turned to see them landing a beating on the dog with each rant.

“Hey!” I screamed, stopping in my own tracks. “Don’t do that to the dog!” 

The men gawked at me, uncomprehending neither my English nor reason for fury. In their world a dog was no better than a rat, and they would just as soon have lit the animal’s tail on fire as ignite their cigarettes. I ran toward the convulsing creature, grabbed her up into my arms, and lurched off in search of a cab. The ride home cost nearly my entire week’s salary.

This occurred in the fall of 1971, after my return to Israel following a life three years earlier on Kibbutz Tzorah, where I’d experienced that agricultural outpost as a spiritual playground. Kibbutz life had reawakened a tomboy self long lost in the girl who’d arrived a shy academic. I’d spent my days there in mud-kicking work boots and shorts, pruning trees in the peach, plum, and persimmon orchards, breakfasting on Turkish coffee and blood oranges, and flirting like a sun-baked version of my childhood hero, Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. Aside from the constant murmur of complaining and joking, the only sound that disturbed the quiet of that desert orchard was the brief,  of a tinny-bright train whistle at the orchard’s perimeter. The train could have been no longer than five cars, for, by the time the sound of the whistle had sailed off into the sky, the tracks were empty. Every day I wondered where the train went and who was riding on it.

In comparison with the air of hope in Israel following its victory in the ’67 war, the despairing political climate of the U.S. made infused me with an unfamiliar optimism. For while I was happily moving irrigation pipes, the U.S. was exploding: Robert Kennedy and Medger Evers, assassinated; Washington in flames; riots and bomb threats; anti-Viet Nam protests; students shot dead at Kent State university. I saw no reason to return.

But, reluctantly, I had to finish college. This new life in Jerusalem was my return – I found a job as an international correspondent at the Israel Museum and an unusually spacious apartment. The six-day work week in an orchard and a six-day work week in an office, even if it was in a museum with a sculpture garden designed by Isamu Noguchi and exquisite collections of Ashanti gold figures. Even if. Even oif. Even if… With November came chilling rain. The spacious rooms with their twelve-foot ceilings and stone floors – perfect for keeping out desert heat, but the familiar, but unidentified effects of clinical depression. my spirits as gray as the dulling skies. Thus, when a friend suggested we spend an evening at the circus, I jumped at the invitation.

Jerusalem sits on a hilltop, and its winters then were cold enough for snow. The only heater -- a small kerosene stove -- radiated a circle of warmth no wider than four feet. Even curled up in bed with the dog, whom I’d named Tosca, I could never get warm. Some nights I awakened to find snowflakes drifting around my head. On those occasions, Tosca would have worked open the French doors to stand outside on the terrace listening, looking, sniffing in the muted night.

My new blond girl took to her new surroundings with an alacrity that far surpassed my own adjustment to transplantation. She bounded with happiness on our walks, her ears perked, her tail high. Tosca seemed to grow healthier by the day, and within a week or two, her scrawny silhouette grew round. I congratulated myself on my nurturing. Then it became evident that Tosca was pregnant.

Until the last days of her pregnancy, she was ready at any moment for play. Then her eyelids began to hang as heavy as her laden teats, giving her a look of savage sadness. She walked with the tentative step of a recovering invalid, each paw meeting the floor with deliberation. Then, the pups were sprung from her womb. Within days her step was reignited, and once again she was ready to fly.

With the promise of spring in the air and Tosca liberated from her pups, which had found homes through a vet, I decided to take us both on an outing -- a visit to Tzorah. My spirits would be refreshed, and Tosca could run unleashed and exultant. It was Sabbath, of course, the country’s one day of rest. We drove with a friend from Tzorah, also now living in Jerusalem, and my heart did, in fact, soar at the vision of the familiar vineyards and trees and campus. Tosca was practically eating the air in excitement. We strolled toward my old quarters and down familiar allees.  I recognized friends from the orchard. Passing one of them on the path, I anticipated the offering of a fond hello. Instead, he gestured at Tosca and spat toward me a few unpleasant words in Hebrew. Turning back toward the dining hall, I was again greeted with hostile glances or remarks. Finally, I realized that, never actually seen a dog on the kibbutz during all the time I’d lived there, perhaps they weren’t so welcome.  I’d assumed Tosca would be looked upon with the same affection as dogs in America, but discovered instead a prevailing pioneer attitude: “We work too hard surviving to be wasting attention on animals.” I led Tosca toward the car, wishing that this time she could scoop me into her arms to run away.

Summer approached. Tosca, playful and grown beautiful, flourished; I, on the other hand, was steadily diminishing. By fall, I realized I simply couldn’t face another punishing winter or more cultural disappointments. The weight of transplantation had became too much for my emotionally skeletal constitution. But to consider leaving Israel was to contemplate abandoning Tosca. I would have to find her a new home.

I placed a classified ad in the Jerusalem Post, and a family living outside of Haifa responded. They had a small farm, they told me, and Tosca would have plenty of land across which to run. I was advised to bring her to Haifa by train where they would meet me.

I was a wreck. I was leaving my dog. I was leaving Israel, again. I was back to wandering.

The only requirement for the train trip was that Tosca wear a muzzle. I packed her favorite toys and the chewed up sweater she like to sleep with. She was allowed to sit with me. She was calmer than I was. In fact, she looked out the window as if truly curious about where we were going. Half an hour out of Jerusalem, I began to notice familiar terrain. Date palms, artichoke fields. Then orchards. Peach, plum, persimmon. The train whistle blew. I knew where we were and who we were. Who were the people on the train and who, I then wondered, might be listening for us from the orchards.

Sunday, March 15, 2015


In the summer of 1996 I sat down to assemble the material that would become Radical Writing, today an online course in the revelatory power of self-expression. A compilation of my life’s work of creativity, self-exploration, and metaphysics, the project required a level of concentration I knew I wouldn’t be able to achieve in my everyday surroundings, distracted by animals, friends, art work, and the minutiae of ordinary responsibility. I needed remove. I needed my own private Yaddo.

With one phone call – to Michael Graves, a longtime friend  – I secured the ideal retreat: his own house. Michael’s star at the time was still in the ascendant, his image, his work, his words ubiquitous in the worlds of international architecture and cultural power. He traveled among the pantheon of star architects in a moment of recent history philosophically obsessed with style. He had broken early from the Modernist pack and, radical for the times, became a lightening rod for his controversial  reintroduction of color (not beige?!), classical form, and narrative  into contemporary design. It was the hot topic of the 1980s and 90s, and Michael was peripatetically designing, drawing, lecturing, writing books, having exhibitions, teaching at Princeton, making appearances, and sustaining his practice. In 1982 he won a competition to design a municipal building in Portland, Oregon (Philip Johnson was a juror and supporter) which is widely considered to be the first built example of postmodern architecture. It is a broad-shouldered office block set atop a two-story base with pilasters, keystones and other elements of classical architecture blown up to almost cartoonish size and used to decorate the exterior of the upper floors. Ironnically, for an architect, he is perhaps best known popularly for the teapot he designed, first for Alessi and then for Target. A little bird sits at the tip of the spout and sings when the water boils (its progenitor, an Art Deco era teapot he found at a flea market, still sits on a kitchen counter).

While Michael traveled (constantly), he sometimes allowed friends to stay at his house. Among them was Fran Lebowitz, the writer/raconteur. Fran suffers from noise phobias and likes to get out of Manhattan when she has to concentrate. Unfortunately, she claims that even the leaves falling in Michael’s garden were too great a disturbance. My timing in asking if could come for a stay was lucky. Michael was leaving the country for several weeks, and his entire house, he told me, could be mine for the duration.

The house, known as The Warehouse, was constructed as a storage facility in 1926 by the Italian stonemasons who built Princeton University. Michael had moved into the "ruin of a building"  in the 1970s, needing a place to live after a divorce. An Italophile, he was struck with how the building resembled a Tuscan barn --  rugged, a tough building whose strength appealed even though it had no plumbing, no heating or cooling, bad wiring, and a seriously leaking roof. He renovated room by room, year after year, “living like a student", extemporaneously within the small rooms as it evolved. By the time of my encampment, the 7,000 SF of raw space had become a gracious villa with a wisteria-covered terrace, double-height library, and rooms furnished with blond Biedermeier tables, desks and chairs, silk embroidered rugs, polished wood floors, Art Deco kitchenware, and walls hung with paintings and drawings. Equally satisfying, the rooms were filled by day with sunlight and a soft, quiet darkness by night.

The term for the individual glass panes comprising French doors and windows is “divided lights.” The Warehouse is a gentle prism of skylights and divided lights. I located my sleeping sanctuary in a second-floor bedroom with north-, east, and west-facing French windows. Downstairs, I established my writing desk in the breakfast room, under a two-story-high skylight bathed for hours a day in a shadowless ambiance. This was fortunate: the work I was doing centered on revelatory self-expression, including the deep shadow of the psyche. The atmosphere literally kept me alight.

From the light of the rooms of The Warehouse and out onto the tree-filled surroundings, I felt bathed in dappled illumination. The lot on which Warehouse is located adjoins a park. A stroll though it brings you to the Graves office. The Joyce Kilmer National Forest is also nearby and, I came to see how, truly, that poet had it right. No poem is as lovely as Princeton’s trees – willows bending like ballerinas en reverence, statuesque elms, and centuries old poplars and oaks.

As my work progressed, I grew nomadic, moving with my laptop from one room, one corner, one chair, one window to another. Each location provided a different surge of energy or soothing of spirit. When the weight of thoughts and meanings grew too heavy, I sought the leafy canopy of the garden outside the kitchen. When I needed animation, I sat under the wisiteria-twined pergola to enjoy the parade of linear shadows cast by an allee of sycamores.

By the end of my stay, I’d accomplished all I’d intended. Radical Writing was born – the structure formulated, the tone established, my confidence intact. Now the heat of composition lay ahead. The subtropical Miami light that filled my own house was well suited for that. Still, it was hard to leave The Warehouse. For weeks I’d been pampered with a light so quiet, even Fran Lebowitz, I thought, could try it again. I had been drinking in the grace of quiet illumination, and I was grateful.

In 2003 Michael was overtaken by a meningitis-like infection that ate away at his spine and left him paralyzed from the chest down. Still, he managed to lecture, make appearances, and nominally participate in his practice. He became a leading voice calling for reform in healthcare design (arguing that hospitals and medical products were not just thoughtlessly made but often soul-sapping for patients). He was a superb visual artist and had sketched continuously throughout his life (as a boy, his mother would have him “come out and draw” for company as a kind of “performance”). Throughout his illness, he continued to spend much of his time painting (gouache landscapes and portraits of his young son) and drawing. "Whether I was paralyzed or not, I would draw, because drawing for me is like playing the piano," he told CNN. "You've got to keep practicing, got to keep doing it. It's not that you lose it, but you don't draw as well if you don't draw every day." Like writing. Like Radical Writing.

Michael Graves passed away in 2014 at the age of 80. He died “suddenly and peacefully” at home. I take comfort knowing that he spent his last days in The Warehouse. Where else could he have been so surrounded by familiar beauty and the blessings of writer’s light.

Thursday, August 7, 2014


                               Laura Cerwinske, 2011


In a beautiful college commencement speech several years ago, the entrepreneur-turned-environmentalist Paul Hawken offered these profound and inspiring words.

The first living cell came into being nearly 40 million centuries ago, and its direct descendants are in all of our bloodstreams. Literally you are breathing molecules this very second that were inhaled by Moses, Mother Teresa, and Bono. We are vastly interconnected. Our fates are inseparable. We are here because the dream of every cell is to become two cells. And dreams come true. In each of you are one quadrillion cells, 90 percent of which are not human cells. Your body is a community, and without those other microorganisms you would perish in hours. Each human cell has 400 billion molecules conducting millions of processes between trillions of atoms. The total cellular activity in one human body is staggering: one septillion actions at any one moment, a one with twenty-four zeros after it. In a millisecond, our body has undergone ten times more processes than there are stars in the universe, which is exactly what Charles Darwin foretold when he said science would discover that each living creature was a "little universe, formed of a host of self-propagating organisms, inconceivably minute and as numerous as the stars of heaven."

From this we are reminded that the healing process, an idiosyncratic manifestation of physical, emotional, and spiritual energies, is as unpredictable and individual as it is exquisitely organized. Healing can begin at any site of mind or body and at any point in the cycle of Creation and dis-integration. Any puncture or “hole” in our well-being—whether physical, emotional, or spiritual—leaks life force from our whole being. By restoring any aspect of our being, we increase our wholeness, that is, improve our integrity, our health. In metaphysical terms, to make whole is to make holy, and to make holy is to heal.

A Course in Miracles teaches that “Healing is always certain. It is impossible to let illusions be brought to truth and keep the illusions,” The creative writing course RADICAL WRITING guides us in identifying not only the underlying sources of our anger, sorrow, aches and pains, but also give us a means to safely bring them to light and heal. When the teacher and medical intuitive Caroline Myss was asked during an interview on the subject of health and healing about why people heal and why they don’t, she responded,  “Have you ever thought about the role of truth when it comes to healing? How can a dishonest person heal?”

RADICAL WRITING is designed for exploring the subconscious to find the “truths that set us free.” Through these guided creative writing courses, we learn exactly where within our bodies unresolved emotions reside and what messages specific pains, discomforts, or other physical reactions are sending us. This awareness informs us about how we habitually project past feelings onto present situations and what our bodies do to protect us from feeling them.

To consciously deal with feelings, we can either write about them to see where the discomfort leads, or we can write about how unprepared we feel to deal with them. It is perfectly acceptable to be physically or emotionally unable to handle a subject. It is not bad, wrong, or a failure of any kind because it is simply the truth of our position at that moment. And that very truth, in and of itself, is liberating...and therefore healing.

Learn more:
and see Laura's earlier blogs on writing, creativity, and healing here