Together and Alone: The Essentials

Monday Morning Musings:

“Writing is a job, a talent, but it’s also the place to go in your head. It is the imaginary friend you drink your tea with in the afternoon.”

–Ann Patchett, Truth & Beauty: A Friendship

“Those dripping crumpets, I can see them now. Tiny crisp wedges of toast, and piping-hot, flaky scones. Sandwiches of unknown nature, mysteriously flavoured and quite delectable, and that very special gingerbread. Angel cake, that melted in the mouth, and his rather stodgier companion, bursting with peel and raisins. There was enough food there to keep a starving family for a week.”

–Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca


“Art bears witness to human existence through the prism of beauty.”

– – Wajdi Mouawad


Art, the creative impulse,

my husband and I

witnessed it in many ways over the past few days

We see the movie Manchester By the Se,a

the acting is exceptional

making us feel like we know these people.

We’ve met people like them,

ordinary and unique,

as we all are,

the New England backdrop reflecting the characters,

gritty, hard, seemingly unyielding, but fluid,

and grief comes in waves like the sea.

Later, after our dinner at a Thai restaurant,

I say to my husband,

We didn’t discuss the sound track.*

It was beautiful, but I was so aware of it—perhaps it was even a bit intrusive?

What was in the soundtrack? I didn’t notice it.

He tends to listen to music when he is working.

I do not. It’s already in my head.

We carry the essentials with us.


The next day we go to tea.

More accurately, we go to lunch

in a tea room.

He gave me the gift card almost a year ago,

we finally use it.

The room is quaintly Victorian,

or perhaps Edwardian.

We chose our teas and have a full spread.

(More than the essentials.)

We talk of this and that,

cozy in dining room

with Christmas music playing in the background

a break from work,

a small retreat,

and I understand how this became a ritual,

it is difficult to discuss weighty issues over small, crustless sandwiches

and dainty iced cakes.

I think of tea parties and Tea Party,

attempts to return to a time that never was,

like this tea room,

an escape from reality.

He eats some of my sandwiches,

I take home some of my sweets.


Afterward, we go for wine,

we have a shipment to pick up at a local winery

We sit, sipping wine

discussing this and that again

timeless moments

watching the sky,

warmed by space heaters,

music comes from a frog speaker nearby

and I wonder if there’s a metaphor there

but I can’t find it,

it slips away,


and there is already too much that I carry

in my heart and mind.


Heritage Vineyards

The day after,

(Sunday by now)

we visit the museum

we get there just after opening,

Again, we go through the exhibition on Mexican artists

who painted the revolution,

who were revolutionary,

(And perhaps all artists are)

overturning the flotsam and jetsam in their brains,

discarding the unnecessary

salvaging the essentials from the debris.

We see Diana surrounded by Christmas lights


I share a moment with Renoir’s “Washerwoman,”


So many forms of art

created and collected.

We stop for free coffee (also essential)

It is members’ day. Yay!


Next we go to a play

I must say I’ve never seen anything like it



The artist asks:

Qui sommes-nous? Qui croyons-nous êtres? (Who are we? Who do we think we are?)

I should mention that the play is in French—a bit of Arabic—with the English translation projected on a screen.

It is a one-man show,

not autobiographical exactly

but based somewhat on Wajdi Mouawad’s life

As a child, forced by war in Lebanon,

his family left for Canada,

his and his character’s,

As a child, Harwan, the character,

counted the stars in the night sky,

he tried to paint them

he wanted to be a shooting star.

When they left Beirut, they brought only the essentials.

What happened to his paintings, he wonders?

and what if they had never left?

Harwan is struggling to finish his doctoral dissertation,

to find a conclusion.

His relationship with his father is fraught with words unsaid

in French or Arabic,

and broken memories–

it is the story of immigrants

and artists

Harwan, goes to St. Petersburg,

he has mistakenly packed paint instead of clothing.

Only the essentials?

His father is in a coma from an accident.

Or is he?

We travel with the character, with the artist

to a place inside his mind,


The story of the prodigal son is told,

a son’s journey

a father’s forgiving heart,

a story told and retold

we paint the story of our lives,

we bring the essentials,

bearing witness

we paint over truth and lies,

we create new truths

we are alone—together–

and on a stage, the artist is alone

but we are there with him.


After the play, I say

We will have much to talk about.

I need to think about what I’ve just seen,

My husband says.


We walk through City Hall to the courtyard.

Once the world’s tallest building,

completed in 1901.

Now there are taller buildings

but this one is unique,

beloved cultural icon topped by the statue of William Penn

we walk through the Christmas village,

we drink hot, mulled wine

I watch my husband watch the children posing for photos

with a man dressed as The Grinch

they shriek and laugh as he changes his pose

my husband laughs, too.

We stroll some more,

I wonder what creatures from other worlds would make of

our need for light

to brighten the darkness,

our joy in tea and wine,

and Christmas baubles,

We carry joy and sadness

in our souls,

we create and recreate light in the darkness,

we generate new worlds within our minds

construct, paint, and

imagine the impossible

to discover the essential

bearing witness to our existence.




*Lesley Barber, “Manchester By the Sea Chorale”

We went to Amelia’s Teas & Holly

Heritage Vineyards

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Seuls, Written, Directed, and Performed by Wajdi Mouawad

At the Wilma Theater

Christmas Village in Philadelphia  












32 thoughts on “Together and Alone: The Essentials

  1. Reading your post, I was reminded of two things: How very much hubby and I need to get away from the fray for an extended time to re-charge.

    And also, how grateful I was that the lyrics for the Hansel and Gretel opera yesterday were projected on a screen. Otherwise, it would have sounded like just a lot of screeching – ha!

  2. I enjoyed this.
    “We carry joy and sadness in our souls… bearing witness to our existence.”
    As simple or complex as our lives are, they are similar to the character/artist/writer, in that we spend our lives seeking the truth.

  3. I like how you played with the idea of “essentials.” These lines especially resonated with me:

    and I wonder if there’s a metaphor there
    but I can’t find it,
    it slips away,
    and there is already too much that I carry
    in my heart and mind.

  4. I recognized Diana right away, and the place where she resides. You have such interesting weekends. I love the way you somehow tie everything together. 🙂

    • Thank you, Robin. I took the photo of Diana because we were there in October and there were Day of the Dead decorations around her.
      I set myself a challenge to somehow get most of what we did this past weekend into one post with a theme. I’m glad it worked. I don’t think we have anything planned for this weekend. 🙂

  5. definitely a splendid edition of the Monday Musings…have about five threads of thought competing for attention. I just read the WaPo review of Manchester by the Sea and that put it to the top of list of movies to see…and later this week I will be moving to a town-city that has quality movies and art shows, after over ten years of living in places where it was couple hours drive if i wanted to catch something not out of blockbuster Hollywood. But it is a place where I lived just over twenty years ago, a place thick with memory, transitions, insights for better or for worse. Things that I still carry around inside me…maybe part of the essentials.

    • Thanks so much, Doug. I’m glad this post resonated with you. I had more threads of thought in my mind, as well, but I had to limit them!
      Good luck with your move. I can see where living where you lived when you were younger could make you pause and think. It could make living the past a literal statement. But it’s nice that you will be near movies that are not simply the blockbusters. I also highly recommend “Moonlight.” There are so many movies I want to see right now. 🙂

  6. I loved going on this series of adventures with you, Merril. I’ve been hoping to see Manchester by the Sea after listening to Terry Gross interview both the director and Casey Affleck:

    I love the way you and your husband respond differently, together and alone, to various sensory and educational experiences. Your poetic descriptions make me want to follow ten feet behind you both, like the consort of a Queen. 🙂

    • Thank you for your kind words, Shirley. Your comment about following behind us made me laugh. It would be fun to have you with us though. 🙂
      Listening to Terry Gross interview actors and directors (or most anyone) is always a treat.

  7. Wow! Merril, you and your husband had an amazing weekend and did so much. I have cultural envy!! I can’t even remember last weekend. Actually, it’s coming back. I socialized with friends at a kids’ birthday party. Both the kids are going to a Christmas camp this Saturday night and we might go out for dinner. My husband and I can look at each other longingly and say: “who are you?”
    That is if we’re still awake. It’s so hot and getting towards the end of the year, we’re pretty tired.
    Hope you have a great week.
    xx Rowena

    • Thanks so much, Rowena. We’ve had those type of weekends, too, in the past when the girls were at home. And then come the years when they’re out with friends or dates, and you’re staying up till they get home. 😉
      It’s getting colder here. I think we picked the right weekend to walk around.
      Hope you have a great week, too!

  8. Art in so many forms is essential. ❤ As well as so many pieces of your musings, Merril. Like a puzzle, they all come together in your closing words.
    Family in a father/son relationship, time spent with husband at a play, a movie, in a museum, street scenes and enjoying refreshments are all included with your lovely storytelling style. 🙂

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