About the Author

Marie is an instructor of English at Sacred Heart University and recently completed her MFA in Creative Writing at Fairfield University. She lives in Connecticut with her husband and two children and her faithful English Springer Spaniel, "the artful" Dodger.
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Spread the Word


What has been is past forgetting.

-          Noel Coward 

Temping has its obvious benefits, flexible hours, decent pay and variety of work among them. So I have signed up with the Kelly Temp Agency on Oxford Street and am unofficially called a “Kelly Girl”.  I am placed, primarily, in Australian and British Investment Banks and American Brokerage Firms, and, asked to do everything from light clerical work to making tea. It is extremely interesting to note how I am treated by the powerful - and the not so - during each assignment. Temping in various offices also gives me a bird’s eye view of the lives of young professional Londoners and of where they live. Mayfair, Chelsea, Fulham and Knightsbridge are hardly where one finds the flats of the young working woman (unless she happens to have a position like I used to have in New York). Those areas are well known to house foreign nationals, such as a friend of mine who is on assignment with a prominent American brokerage firm. Mike has an extraordinary flat in an area of Chelsea called Cadogan Gardens complete with a private garden accessible to residents only by way of a key. It’s a gorgeous, spacious flat in a wonderful, central London location but mostly he’s surrounded by other American expatriates on assignment with their prominent American brokerage firm or Fortune 500 conglomerate.  I could have met them all back in New York.

I’m interested in where the secretaries live, the new recruits at the investment bank, the writers at the magazines, the people who have about as much money as I do to spend on a flat. That place, I learn, is the area south of the Thames surrounding Clapham Common. As it carries with it a bit of a shabby chic cache, attracting the young and upcoming but not quite made it yet crowd who plan to save for a house in Fulham, it has its own trendy name: "Claam". Not to be confused with glam, because it’s not. It is, however, quite charming, convenient and “cheap and cheerful” as they say. They being anyone who likes to see the glass half full and make the best of not yet being able to afford Fulham. One of my fellow Kelly girls, Jane, tells me about it.

“You’ll have a great time down there,” she promises. “It’s young and undeniably hip.”

Jane and all her friends live in and around Clapham Common.  It offers them the perfect combination of reasonable rent and a respectable address. It could be fun. “Bedsitting” in someone else’s home has become my less than ideal living situation and the money I’ve been making between all my many and diverse working ventures might just be enough to allow me not only a room of my own but perhaps a whole flat of my own. Virginia Woolf would be thrilled for me!

I ring up an estate agent in the area requesting to see some of the available rentals and she sends me to 60 Clapham Common Southside, flat A. “You’ll love it,” she promises. “It’s owned by an American couple who are moving back to California; it’s comfortably furnished, and has a terrace overlooking the Common.”

When I arrive to look at the flat, the owners have set out a beautiful spread of tea, scones and cookies on the terrace. Having been taught by my Irish grandmother never to arrive at someone’s home with both arms the same length, I am carrying a box of chocolates for them. They are thrilled with the chocolates and I am thrilled with the flat.  I will forever refer to it as my “wedding cake flat”, because of the beautiful large white ornate moldings and ceiling plates that resemble the elegant details on an elaborately decorated cake.  The owners, Caren and Mark, tell me a bit about the area – where to buy bread and the different bus and tube lines that run here. They also tell me about its intriguing literary connection; Noel Coward, it seems, once lived in the building. I am sold and make plans to move in the following week.

My first letter, forwarded from Fulham, arrives in “the post” a couple of weeks after my move. It’s from Mrs. DeMille, my esteemed college dance teacher. Rosalind DeMille taught beginning and advanced ballet and, as I always wanted to “study at her feet”, or perhaps literally study her feet, I suppose, I never took any class above the beginning level for the two years I studied dance in college.

“You know, you can register for intermediate, now,” she had said to me one term.

 “Oh no, I’d prefer to perfect my fundamentals a bit more,” I replied somewhat sheepishly. In truth, knowing that I’d never move up to the advanced level, I didn’t want to miss a semester of her extraordinary presence in my life. She was much more than a dance teacher to me, and I’m quite sure to everyone she encountered. Above all, she was a philosopher, an observer of life and dance was her language of choice in which to speak about it. While I enjoyed the rigor and beauty of ballet, it had been her words, more than her technique that always inspired me. Trying desperately to concentrate on my feet, I found myself mesmerized by what she was saying that had everything to do with how my body was positioned but in ways that completely took me out of it and deep into the recesses of my mind. It’s little wonder I never moved up from the beginner level. She had the most exquisite way of speaking about the art of dance, about the art of finding one’s center in order to be able to completely extend beyond it. It was at that moment in which a dancer was fully grounded into the earth, that her capacity for appearing ethereal – exactly without grounding and seemingly in flight – was possible, she suggested one class. Everything she said was a metaphor for life outside the dance studio.  It was thrilling to be in her class, and, in her company.  

One day while walking across campus with her, we came to the stately old chestnut tree outside the library. Without a word, she bent over and picked up one of the horse chestnuts lying on the ground and handed it to me without explanation.

“Come with me to my office,” she had said. “I have something I want to give you.”

When we arrived at her office, Mrs. DeMille searched her extensive book shelf and took down a book called The Mystic Spiral.

“Here read this. I want you to talk about in class next week,” and she sent me on my way.

It wasn’t until I had returned to my dorm room and began reading, that I understood the connection between the small rounded chestnut and the book. The majesty of the tree, everything it is in all its glory, taking center stage as a magnificent presence outside the library, is present in that small, unassuming nut. The nut contains everything it needs, despite its diminutive size, its simple appearance and its complete lack of resemblance to the mighty chestnut, to become as impressive and grand as the grown tree itself. It is the tree; the two are one in the same. It was a moment unlike any other I had experienced, in a either a classroom or studio, of transformational learning. And I thought about it now, sitting in my Clapham flat so far from everything familiar.  Everything I am meant to become, I have within me...(continued)