A few days ago at work, a lovely young woman came up to me and demurely asked, “Miss Toussaint, what advice would you give someone like me? How do I stay in the business as long as you have? Basically, how do I become you?” I smiled sagely (as was expected) and answered honestly.
“You ride the wave my darling,” I said. “Breathe deeply, live fully and make the choices that keep your heart soft. Remember, too, that your art is as big and deep and rich as the life you’re willing to live. So be brave. Love hard. And laugh a lot. Most especially at yourself.”
Thoughtfully she thanked me and floated away while I, smiling, thought “Oh sweetheart, if you only knew what it has taken for me to be me.”
Today I am taking a break from the unpacking boxes. It has been a complicated move bringing our two families together and I declare this a day of rest. As I sit here writing and looking out on a vista of mountains and vineyards beyond which the Pacific ocean seamlessly merges with the sky, my thoughts go back to another time.
Six years ago, I was also unpacking boxes in a very different way. On the verge of foreclosure and financial demise, I desperately and sorrowfully short-sold my beloved home of 14 years. A brick beauty, high on a hill in Mt. Washington, replete with fountains, cutting gardens, a stream, blazing outdoor fireplaces under hundred year old deodars. Designed to hear the sound of water from every room, the scent of blooming Madagascar Jasmine, and Copa D’oro, and Angel Trumpets graced every open window, as the light streamed in, everywhere. It was the house of my Heart. My daughter’s first home and my Kaia’s final resting place, safe and beloved under the Llang Llang tree. It was a beautiful house. A master suite was large and sumptuous, the inner wall of it’s outdoor shower depicting my favorite childhood beach in mosaic. I imprinted every stone, every brick, every plant and every tile. Full of texture and textiles, that home was the blood and bones of me. I was happy there. We were happy there, my Sam and I.
And then Life happened. The writers’ strike happened. And from the bowels of the void, emerged the still-born birth of Reality TV, momentarily rendering actors obsolete. That, coupling with the industry “go slow” that followed, heralded difficult days for us artists. Ignorantly borrowing and living off my beautiful house during those three years of being unemployed, I was in trouble. I was not alone. All around me, friends were crashing and burning. We were all going under quietly and shamefully, desperately grasping for straws and air and help that never came.
My daughter was five then, and I was scared. I had to do something before it was too late. I was a single mother with a small child and we were in real danger. With drastically dwindling funds, and seemingly few options left, I made one of the hardest decisions of my life. We had to leave our home. My sanctuary would soon be my sarcophagus. I had to choose: a house or a life. Knowing the ship was going down, I strapped my child onto my back, slipped into the freezing midnight waters. With only blind faith as my guide, there began the slow methodical swim to what I hoped was land. Coming ashore, shaking from fatigue, numbed by loss and the prolonged exposure to the cold harsh elements, I moved us into a 900 square foot broken, leaky, dingily carpeted house whose only saving grace was a tiny view of the sea. Thank God for the sea. The heart break of that move was beyond measure, beyond bearing.
Determined to turn lemons into sorbet (I’m not keen on lemonade) I cleaned and scrubbed that little house in the middle of the night when Sam went to sleep. I did laundry and vacuumed and nailed and repaired well into the wee hours. I took Sam to school and sometimes took her to work when I had no choice. I did what most women have done, are doing and will always do – anything necessary to keep our families going. Giving up was simply not an option. Eventually the scrubbing and scraping and painting and gluing started paying off. I made that dingy little house a home. I was going to reclaim lovely if it killed me, but above all, we were safe. From this place I could start anew.
There would be no quick fixes for this loss. It would take time and breath. I had to give myself that. This was my essential self stripped raw and exposed and that’s just the way it was going to be for a while. My grandmother’s wise words became a mantra. “Even de longest payer, have ah Amen!” This too shall pass… So putting one foot in front of the other, again heeding her words, “While yuh pray, move yuh feet.” I did just that. I prayed and wept and prayed through the night, and prayed and walked the beach each morning, and all through the day I gave thanks. I never lost the sight of gratitude, thank God. In the midst of whatever was testing my mettle, shaking my resolve, I thanked God, thanked the Goddess, thanked the Moon, thanked the Sea. And I learned how to ride the wave.
So it is with a still soft heart overflowing with gratitude that I sit here in my, in “our” Second Chance home, filled to bursting with Love and Light, looking out on this breathtaking day. With the help of friends, and the Grace of God, I made it through the storm. I am Home again.
What advice do I give for longevity?
Time and Breath and Gratitude as we ride the wave.
Here’s to Lovely Survivors.