Tag Archives: Guatemala

It Makes Me Cry, Remembering Arden


For Arden


You Have To Believe

“…life was impossible like that, and that he must either
interpret life so that it would not present itself to him
as the evil jest of some devil, or shoot himself.”
–Leo Tolstoy (Anna Karenina)

There are caverns deep in the sun
Where people live on legends of earthlight:

To stay alive their hearts respond
To this perceived wholeness of things
And so they live in hope:

You have to believe
In what you would be dead without


Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Invocation:

“Towards the one, the perfection of love, harmony and beauty, the only being, united with all the illuminated souls who form the embodiment of the master, the spirit of guidance.”


Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Prescribed Daily Mantra:
“My thoughtful self: Reproach no one. Bear malice towards no one. Hold a grudge against no one. Be wise, tolerant, considerate, polite, and kind to all.”


Gentle Readers,
November 2 was Arden’s birthday. I sent her her annual happy birthday email:
Happy birthday! As you probably have noticed, I seem to have this compulsion to remember you every November 7. Hopefully too, you have noticed that I am not otherwise intruding on your life, and so, not to worry if somebody remembers you and loves you. After all, it is flattering, verdad?
Un abrazo,
To which she replied, Eric, you are a gentleman with a big heart. Thank you for remembering and caring.

I have since learned her email was sent about two weeks before she died.

And so, to honor the memory of Arden, I am dedicating my blog post for this November to her whose birthday is November 7.

I mean to do this by reprising the post from five years ago that talks about Arden, and how she fit into my life.


(Posted on July 8, 2013)

Gentle Reader,
What is romance, really? This perhaps is the central question.

(This is referring to events–circa 2000–discussed in just previous biographical posts, to explain how I ended up a metaphysical poet in Guatemala).

So, I sold my house and quit my job and then moved north to Ashland, Oregon, to be with my new love, Arden. I no longer had to spend half of my time 300 miles away fixing my house in California up to sell. And so I was now free to get dedicated to making a relationship work. Work being the operative word, as it turned out.*

But there were tragic flaws in the ointment. For one, I couldn’t get work as a teacher. (When I met Arden I was a first grade teacher). In Oregon they are so flush with teachers and for even a day of substitute teaching, you have to have a full fledged, active credential. (As opposed to California for instance where all you need is any type of bachelor’s degree and pass the Mickey Mouse CBEST exam) So the competition for full time teaching slots was intense. Unless of course, one could speak Spanish (for their army of Latino students). And thereby hangs a tale. (Have I mentioned yet how neatly events dovetail into destiny?)

But we were both sufficiently romantic (very much so) to try to fit hexagonal pegs into pentagonal holes. (So near, and yet so far! So close, but no cigar!)

So of course we were always fighting. And yet truly shocked when one or the other of us appeared to be giving up. And of course a lot of this if not all is quite personal–not just to me but to Arden, who would perhaps not be amused to have our issues publicly aired.

But I will mention one thing, which has been mentioned before, and so was opened the door.

I don’t think this is a common problem, but it sure was a lousy fit for us. Because as my Gentle Readers have no doubt noticed, I am a believer in “God.” In my conception of God, (The “Sufi” one–the most liberal in the world), it is far from a matter of priests and churches but rather exists in one’s own heart. But to Arden that was like dressing up my faery dolls in less controversial clothing. Since Arden on the other hand was not merely an atheist, but one who had no respect for those who believed in such obvious fairy tales. And (go figure) it turned out that respect was a sine qua non of a good romance.

In an earlier post ( https://rumi-nations.com/2013/05/06/the-unaccountable-opportunity-to-do-experiments-with-happiness-2/ ) I told about how that played out in Arden’s heart. As if it was always logic and science uber alles. What the depths of your soul cried out for was of secondary importance. Even, apparently, if it did undo the life is worth living part.

Oddly, there’s some stigma that often seems to attach to believers in God. At least, I personally have felt that pressure. You’d think that my history of stubborn atheism and only reluctantly and in desperate straits, coming to believe otherwise, would have vaccinated me from that, and even with atheists would have given my conversion some respectability.

But alas it was the bottom line of what I believed that mattered to Arden. Not my fig leaf of why. It was like she couldn’t respect anyone who could believe such a thing. I remember once she emphasized to me, “I don’t EVER want to hear any talk of your religion.”

But she ended creditably, when I then replied, “So the thing that’s closest to my heart, the consolation without which I might want to kill myself, this is something which you do not ever want to hear about?”

So of course she backed off that right away, because she has the best heart in the world. But I do think she then saw a revelatory glimpse of incompatibility.

So neither of us was happy. Both of us wanted things we felt were not negotiable, and which we were not getting.

And then along came my daughter, Mehera, who was in medical school and had just taken advantage herself of a generously funded vaccine study by Johns Hopkins medical school, for travelers’ diarrhea. The catch was you had to go to Guatemala. (Please don’t throw me in the briar patch!)

And it paid enough for a round trip plane ticket. And the little wheels in Arden’s and my mind set to turning over the idea of me going to a Spanish school in Antigua and me supposedly being such a quick study, I would soon be back knowing Spanish, and thus employed. (As if my unemployment were the biggest problem.**)

But for all Arden’s disdain for fairy tales she bought this one, that I would just be gone a little while and come back to a rosy employed future. By that I do not mean to imply that Arden was more materialistic than romantic. Indeed if I hadn’t had the usual pride etc. she probably would have cheerfully installed me as house husband (I can cook!)

But it was just the fairy tale we needed to get me out of Dodge. (Just before High Noon, I think)

We both could hardly see to wave good-bye at the airport (for the tears).

Three months later reality dawned and Arden had a new boyfriend. So I found myself in Guatemala, with a small carpenter’s pension and $50,000 from the sale of my house in California, enough to last til I could take early social security. And then live nicely, with two incomes, if only I could find an occupation of some sort, as Lady Bracknell would say.

And I found in Guatemala something so much better than smoking! (see the Importance of Being Earnest)

So, the Guatemala saga starts next week.

God be with you,
Eric Halliwell

PS The photo above is of a magazine rack for a bathroom door, I made it (Remember, I was a carpenter also.) for Arden out of a rare purple African wood. With the heart cutout. Purple Heart seemed appropriate. Because asi es el amor.

We were in the midst of a bad fight and it seemed medicinal to choose that moment to give Arden the gift I had made in secret. Immediately the fight was over with Arden hugging me saying no one had ever made her anything before. And I send thanks to Jill, Arden’s friend who arranged to get the rack back to me, now that Arden has gone.

*I still have an old answering machine I keep to be able to hear Arden’s voice again and saying how much she appreciated the level of hard work I was prepared to undertake trying to keep us together. I listen sparingly though. Because it makes me cry, remembering Arden had so much wanted someone to love. And to my knowledge never found it.

**Unemployment is or should be just an economic problem. In my case of course, having quit my job, and unable to teach in Oregon, it would have been a severe and daunting one but for Arden’s generosity. She felt since I had renounced my job to be with her it was her job to feed me, etc. Case in point, when she gave me a copy of her ATM card, I asked, “You want me to have access to your money?” (asked in an incredulous tone) and she replied, “NO. I want you to have access to THE money!”

Home Cooking

Place Pigalle

Place Pigalle



Home Cooking

I was always afraid of something
And even after my youth’s epiphany
I’d look at my new reality
And sure it called like something pure
And it did smell of home it’s true

But I was afraid of it too
It was still as if I was told to die
And trust to some resurrection
But lately it’s just choices
Cut and dried choices

Choices between something obviously
Fraught with pain and angst
And something so good I can’t accept it
I guess

Because I don’t feel I deserve it
But I am trying to be able to
Say okay I do love home cooking
I do and yes
Yes thank You I will have a care

And just a little slice of that
Wonderful smelling pie
And I’ll just sit over there
With my pie
And cry


Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Invocation:

“Towards the one, the perfection of love, harmony and beauty, the only being, united with all the illuminated souls who form the embodiment of the master, the spirit of guidance.”


Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Prescribed Daily Mantra:
“My thoughtful self: Reproach no one. Bear malice towards no one. Hold a grudge against no one. Be wise, tolerant, considerate, polite, and kind to all.”


Gentle Readers–

First, to set the tone for today’s overarching metaphor, I suggest this from the wonderful singer, Judy Collins:


At last a new post!

Here’s how it came about:

But I must first ask you this, were you ever trying to take a nap but your foot was starting to cramp? And coincidentally just before that, you had a blog idea which had kept at your psyche?

Well, sometimes in my cosmology someone or something is trying to tell me something. Maybe in the Robert Frostian sense about walls (“Something there is that doesn’t like a wall”)

Or God knows why but just now I was wondering about my stalled blog post output. (Though not stalled poetry-writing wise, as my Facebook friends will attest)

And as I lay there, words just kept coming like a recurrent surf and somehow were aligned in a sort of why not try something off the top of your head configuration? Why not indeed since some possible opening words kept coming at me.

Let me give you an example. Which also segues into the theme of this post, another biographical musing.

I have been cooking all my life* but about twentyish years ago I decided to throw away the cook book. Sure, I would consult to make sure I had the right amount of baking powder to flour ratio, and such.

And maybe a bit about oven temperature. But maybe also because it freed up my creative juices, my improvisational acting skills**or such, but I suddenly really enjoyed cooking. For a while I could do no wrong. My specialty became breads and vegetarian soups. (The secret turned out to be to add high quality veggie bouillon cubes until it had a rich taste.)

My bread then I called “red bread” because I used so many steamed and squashed-flat (blender emulsified) beets, that it came out red. Or at least the dough did. Though it did tend to turn brown in the oven. But always with leftist twinges around the edges.

I even extrapolated this idea to an idea of a cookbook based on improvisational techniques whose specialty was using up whatever was handy in the refrigerator. I was either gong to title it “Fry by the Seat of Your Pants” or “Drive-By Cooking.”

People started saying I should open a restaurant. And I even got an idea of specializing in soups, salads, fresh bread and rolls, and desserts (I could make a mean apple pie, though most people raved more about my bread pudding.)

For instance when I lived in Antigua, the erst capital of Guatemala (before the terrible terremoto of 1789) about ten years ago, I had a friend, cierta Sharon, who would come over for lunch insisting on a bread pudding dessert. And in exchange, she would read and comment on about forty of my latest poems. (She had been a high school literature teacher).

Anyway the idea was I wouldn’t need waitresses because it was serve-yourself all you could eat (I was going to give it a fancy French pun for a name: “Place Pigout,” based of course on the famous Paris Street, Place Pigalle.)

See, I used to be a finish carpenter whose specialty was adding charm to a superficially funky situation. For instance reusing old used hard woods like the ripped-up dance floor in the being-remodeled old Claremont Hotel in Berkeley. I inherited it as a carpenter working on the remodeling, and used it to restore the let’s call it vintage old Bay Area house I later sold to enable me to move to Guatemala.

I figured I could do the same to an eyesore of a restaurant.

The idea was to rent a funky dump and transform it a la Cinderella, and have nice art prints on the walls, hanging plants, and soft romantic lighting. And keep costs down by only serving soup and a salad bar, and all the fresh bread you could eat. Dessert and wine of course was extra. But it was mostly serve yourself so I wouldn’t need any servers besides perhaps me and (If I got lucky) a girlfriend/wife kind of deal.

A chic but cheap romantic night out was what I figured.

But in the spirit of a favorite John Lennon quote, (“Life is what happens when you are making other plans”) I never got around to it, my theory as to the why of that being that’s because I would have been too successful and so would never have given it up to be a poet. That’s my story anyway and I’m sticking to it.

You could call that a failure I suppose, but life is funny that way. My old Sufi Murshida used to say, “Failure never let anybody down.”

In my case, for instance a succession of “failures” whether in romance or for instance having tried to become a nurse, had (like falling dominoes) the upshot of me escaping to Guatemala and devoting myself to my metaphysical poetry and blog posts. Indeed I wrote about this series of events in several of the missing blog posts. But as I keep saying, I have back-ups, at least as in word documents, and I am gradually reintroducing them.

So Gentlefolk, I have finally written a new original blog post (as opposed to reposting something from the past which was as I keep mentioning, unaccountably erased from my website).

After all, as faithful readers from the past almost three years know, I do often digress to situations from my life. Always of course with some set of Sufi themes involved.

God be with you,
Eric Halliwell

*When I was a child of four, (speaking of flour) I had a natural curiosity about cooking and I asked how muffins were made. No doubt it was mentioned about flour but from that I’d got it into my head that you put a flower in each space in the muffin tin and mirabile dictu! next morning it had segued into muffins.

**When I was a Walnut Creek Sufi in the seventies, we had a Sufi club of improvisational acting aficianados. Every month we would meet under the aegis of one of our Sufi members, who was a professional all-around theater person. (These Sufis, as befits our Sufi-section derived from Moinuddin Chishti–that is to say, those whose route to God went through the arts–featured a large percentage of artists, e. g. poets, singers, musicians, composers, dancers, actors and allied performing artists, painters, and even a puppeteer.)

Your Inner Harpsichord

Abraham Maslow

Abraham Maslow


A Favorite Face of God

(To Daniel)

If you don’t know where to start
(What to give someone
Who has everything)

Just do sweet things for God

Whose heart’s conveniently at hand:
Just pick like a flower
A favorite face of God

Just do sweet things for a friend

Attempted Spanish translation:

Una Favorita Cara de Dios
(Para Daniel)

Si no sabes
Por donde comenzar

(Cual cosa que dar para una
Persona que ya tiene todo)

Solo haz dulces cosas
Para Dios cuya corazon esta

Convenientamente a tu lado:
Solo escoger

Como coger una flor
Una favorita cara de Dios

Solo haz dulces cosas
Para un amigo


Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Invocation:

“Towards the one, the perfection of love, harmony and beauty, the only being, united with all the illuminated souls who form the embodiment of the master, the spirit of guidance.”


Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Prescribed Daily Mantra:
“My thoughtful self: Reproach no one. Bear malice towards no one. Hold a grudge against no one. Be wise, tolerant, considerate, polite, and kind to all.”


Gentle Readers,

(This is another reinstallation of a lost post–for apparently an act of vandalism–from 2013, the current series of which is biographical, detailing how I ended up living in Guatemala, and devoting myself to metaphysical poetry)*

Let’s see how far I can push this fate metaphor.

So here I am, year 2002, newly installed in Guatemala, newly unencumbered by job or stateside girlfriend, with no reason to have to go back to California, and its constant concomitant economic struggle. For instance, maintain a car, insurance, gasoline, pay the rent, the utility bills, etc. Way too much to manage as a pensioner. So work in California would be necessary, and let’s face it, after you’ve spent the day harassing the wolf at your door, you’re pretty spent yourself. And good luck with that art project, that expressing your heart project.

Read about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs** and you‘ll notice the self-actualization part (the art part) is at the top of the pyramid. Which means everything below it has to be satisfied first. Only then can you begin to quench your thirst for self-expression.

Which means everything below (with its broader and broader base) comes first. For some reason, survival tops creativity. Go figure. And actually, a disturbing case could be made that love is a luxury–so I thank God for divine philanthropy!

Alternatively, here in Guatemala I was economically liberated, what with savings, two pensions, cheap rent, cheap food, etc. etc. I even have a combination maid, cook, and butler person who comes in three times a week—an utter and total sweetheart by the way—and guess what? I taught Alicia to cook! Or at least how to cook gringo cuisine, of which she’d been particularly ignorant. (as opposed to hotshot me)

For example for her first lesson, I gave her two separate recipes. One for coleslaw, and the other for bread pudding. She got the notion that it was all one recipe, and so mixed cabbage, mayonnaise red onions, and freshly ground black pepper into the custard. (Her chickens ate farty-hearty that night!) Yet now her piecrust is flakier than mine! (And I’m pretty flakey!)

But I digress.

So I decided to take advantage of my big chance at Mayan pyramid climbing. But as I said last week, there were issues, like which art do I choose? And once again, fate took the tiller in hand.

Now I’d been writing poems since I was fourteen. Even one in French! And the only art I’d dabbled in was around 1983, when I’d persevered with the wonderful book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. So I knew of the soul-satisfying repose that accompanies an artistic fugue state. (Especially on your inner harpsichord!) And I did well (As does EVERYONE who gives this wonderful book a chance). And so I was open to the visual arts when, again, fate intervened.

And as usual it was in the form of some illusory romance, which for me seems (so far) to have served the same purpose as the proverbial carrot on a stick dangled in front of a donkey (to keep him moving forward).

So one day I am in Deliciosa, the little specialty store in Antigua, mostly frequented by gringos (looking for those otherwise hard to find gringo-fancied things) but this day also by a statuesque Chilena, denombre Maria Eugenia. She was of Palestinian extraction, though her family lived in Chile, and so she was quite tall (5’ 10”) both for a woman anywhere but especially so in Guatemala where the indigenous women can range as short as four foot six. So she stood out. And we caught each others’ eyes, but what’s a guy supposed to do, amble over and say, “Didn’t we just have a moment there?”

So of course, I, this shy guy (with women) just smiled back as invitingly as I could, and left the store. I was headed to my then apartment just beyond Parque San Sebastian. And she must have left just after, but by a different two sides of the same giant rectangle we described, me going home and her going to visit her best friend, a gay artist, who lived hard by the park. So when she turned the corner, I turned the same corner from the other direction and suddenly there we were, eyes inches apart. And of course we had then the icebreaker of our “moment” in the store. I couldn’t foment the “moment” before but with this fated coincidence filling my sails it was full speed ahead and it turned out what with her studying to speak better English, and me Spanish, we soon hatched a plan to meet and help each other out. Mutuamente. And so we spent the next three days together, at least during most of the waking hours, having fascinating conversations. She was like Bette Davis off on a witty monologue which at the end each time was punctuated by some hilarious twist on the situation. So I was good and hooked. Would have been bad and hooked but she wasn’t interested in that. And through much pursuit never could I quite get her to pull that trigger. But she did say, you have to meet my best friend, the fateful Dani, short for Daniel. (The aforementioned artist).

It took a while for the friendship with Dani to take off. Because he didn’t know English and I didn’t know Spanish. I’d managed with Maria Eugenia because she knew a species of English. Her problem was mainly she didn’t know the past tense and so while there was for that some initial confusion as to if she was a practising present-day polyandrist. But by and large she had command of English sufficient to keep the communication amusing as hell.

I wrote her a romantic poem (My first in Spanish! I wish I had preserved it. I showed it to a new half gringo half Guatemalan friend who said if a guy were to have given her such a poem it would have made her weak in the knees) but Maria Eugenia (also known as Sheny as for some reason all the Maria Eugenias in these parts are also so nicknamed) got scared and by a fateful coincidence was offered lucrative employment far away, and though I did end up inheriting her apartment (with the patio view of nothing but the natural, the floral even, except in the distance the oxidized copper green dome of a two hundred year old cathedral, and a volcano not seven miles away, which at night featured a ribbon of red lava trickling down the left hand side, like the left hand of God.)

I think she threw me her apartment like one throws a roast to detain a dog to cover one’s retreat. She later allowed as how I’d been too tempting for comfort. That was flattering so I made do with that.

And so then there was just me and Dani, the fabulous Venezuelan artist, who became my art teacher.

So the fate theme is still hanging in there, tale-wise. Asi que more next week.
God be with you,
Eric Halliwell

*Any who would like to see the earlier in this series of how_I-got-to-Guatemala reinstallments are referred to these urls:

**In case any want a Maslow refresher course, check this out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs