Friday, December 14, 2007
I carefully unwrapped the protective casing from the egg-shaped globe and peered inside. It's an eco-sphere, my boss told me. I was the proud new parent of four shrimp of various sizes. I named them after L'engle and her characters that are close to my heart: Calvin (the longest, orange one), Charles Wallace, tiny, almost clear in color, but the most active, Madeleine, who sits and observes the algae and the world around her, and Vicky, slightly smaller than Madeleine. Vicky hid for the first three days, and I only discovered and named her today.
I felt a strong sense of nurturing toward my three (now four) shrimp. I set a note by them on my desk, with a warning "not a snow globe" (the bottom is filled with white pebbles, tempting to shake). After reading the 'how to raise' manual, I realized the eco-sphere is completely self-sufficient, but I must be careful to monitor how much light and heat it gets, as too much, or too little will upset the delicate balance. I brought them home over the weekend after I realized that the lights never go out in our web-room. I checked them for signs of light OD - as if I knew what a sea-monkey looks like strung out on over-stimulation and lack of sleep, their one celled organism brains spinning, looking for a fix, gorging on algae.
Too attached to protoplasm, you might be thinking? Tempted to give me your cat or unruly toddler? I think I have officially scared my roommate, and surprised even myself, the woman who names and speaks frequently to her plants, who as a child flipped over beetles struggling on their backs. Perhaps it was my love of "The Velveteen Rabbit" and subsequent belief that my teddy bear did come to life at night, but I have always sensed that any life form, no matter how small, deserves my respect and love. Thus, as I prepared shrimp stir-fry last night, it was carefully out of range of the sea-monkey's view.
The website explains that the spheres are crafted as an educational experience, as well as for their beauty and meditative aspect. I thought about getting one for my white-elephant party gift tomorrow night, but the thought of them being passed around, exchanged and traded, was too much. I went with the less emotional choice of a snowman that poops edible candy when you push on its stomach, and a wheel o' religion, a "guide for the savvy convert."
If you can't afford a labradoodle, a sea-monkey is the perfect gift for the little asthmatic in your life.
Sunday, December 09, 2007
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Madeleine L’engle died September 6, 2007. I was at work, producing entertainment news, and came across the wire of her obituary with a shock that was a kick to my stomach. My nose swelled with the pressure of sudden tears. I made it to the bathroom and then called my sister Christina, my parents, and my best friend Caroline, the people who would understand that I felt I’d lost a dear friend.
Without her knowing it, Madeleine was like a god-mother to me, a spiritual and creative mentor. The ways she influenced my life are innumerable. Quotes come to mind of books I’ve read so many times that I’ve absorbed them into my being.
Being. Ontological – the word about being, as I learned from L’engle’s Crosswick journals. How important it is to remember our being, as opposed to all the doing we get caught up in.
Tesseract – the possibilities of traveling through time and space. Falling in love with Einsten, expanding my understanding of relativity of time. The creative wonder of Troubling A Star and the theory of the butterfly effect, the discovery that disaster literally means “separation from the stars.” That we are made of the same stuff as stars, and how beautiful that is, and enhances my understanding of being a part of creation.
The love of words. Words to capture the beauty and pain and chaos and meaning of life. To reclaim the word myth not as a lie or a made-up story, but as story that illuminates truth. The importance of words and language and story. “When language becomes exhausted, our freedom dwindles – we cannot think; we do not recognize danger; injustice strikes us as no more than ‘the way things are.’” (Walking on Water) Madeleine’s writing, both fiction and essay, opened her life to us, the connection I feel is from her willingness to bare her thoughts and soul on paper, to share with as many as were willing to take her in. To share her experience on art and marriage and family.
As a teen I found myself and felt understood in the character of Vicky Austin, struggling with death and beauty and adolescence and the singing of dolphins. Stories that expand my imagination as I learn to embrace the mystery of the cosmos and God. Kything – communication on a different plane than speaking.
Returning to Katherine Forrester’s world in The Small Rain when I need to both escape and go home. Living fully. “How many of us really want life, life more abundant, life which does not promise any fringe benefits or early retirement plans? Life which does not promise the absence of pain, or love which is not vulnerable and open to hurt?” (Walking On Water)
Madeleine told the truth, risking herself before her readers, sharing her life, her insights, her joys and weaknesses so that I felt I knew her as a friend and mentor.
“The ability to be aware of our tiny, yet significant part in the interdependence of all of God’s creation returns, and one’s mind naturally turns to cosmic question, rather than answers.
… But mortal time is part of cosmic time, and during that short walk we are given glimpses of eternity, eternity which was before time began, and will be after time ends. The Word who moved into time for us and lived with us, lives, as Christ, in eternity; so, when we live in Christ, when Christ lives in us we, too, are free from time and alive in eternity.”
- And It was Good – Reflections on Beginnings
“… whereas my Trinitarian God is frequently unreasonable and intellectually offensive – and yet speaks to the whole of me, mind and heart, intellect and intuition, and speaks most clearly to that element in me which accepts the incomprehensible beauty of love: married love, the loves of friendship, to that element in me which participates in music, poetry, painting.”
- The Irrational Season
“Perhaps the morning stars still sing together, only we have forgotten the language, as we have forgotten so much else, limiting Christianity to a mere two thousand years.”
- The Irrational Season
I started reading L’engle at the time I started sensing questions about life, faith, church, religion, friends and family. Rather than provide easy answers, her books reassured me that it was normal, yes, even good, to live with questions and doubts and ambiguities in faith. That God was big enough for my questions.
She introduced me to the mystery inherent in faith, to accept that I will not have all the answers, that much is beyond my human comprehension. Not only to accept that, but to live in it, to dwell in the mystery, dance and revel in the mystery. Acceptable and good to find God speaking in ways that the modern church does not teach – through our own work and creativity and stories, that, if we listen to the truth they try to teach us, will guide us back to creative order, to truth, to, above all else, love.
In Walking on Water L’engle introduced me to Francis Bacon’s idea that, “’If we begin with certainties, we will end in doubt. But if we begin with doubts and bear them patiently, we may end in certainty.’
… Love, not answers.”
That is the one word I can find to describe L’engle’s work: love.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
When I was living in Kosovo, there was a mix of excitement and apathy about status and hope for independence. Almost everyone (Albanian) with whom I spoke agreed that they could (or would) not return to the status of a province of Serbia, but most did not exude a sense of ownership over the government, elections, or prospect of independence. Many encouraged me to stay through May of 2006, so that I could celebrate their independence day with them.
Nearly two years later, today Kosovo held a parliamentary election. The Serb population was encouraged to boycott it, and in fact, the turnout was only around 45 to 50%.
The early election talk indicates, and a friend over there is currently IM'ing that the radical party, the PDK, won. The PDK party was established by KLA soldiers after the war, while the LDK party, who had been the majority, was established by former president Rugova, a pacifist leader who died in January of 2006.
It is understood that the majority Albanian government will back independence, and the date draws near when the international talks over Kosovo's status will end, and the US, the EU, and Russia will report to the UN. I've heard and read mixed reports about the anticipation of what will happen at or after that December 10 deadline. There are extremists on both sides who seem to view violence as the only option. There are protesters for peace who view continued dialogue as the only means to resolve the question.
It reminds of the the "butterfly effect" -- "the phrase refers to the idea that a butterfly's wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that ultimately cause a tornado to appear (or prevent a tornado from appearing)." How the outcome of this small province of 2 million people, smaller than the city in which I live, "would be felt not only in the western Balkans, but within the EU's own borders and beyond." (Ian Bancroft)
"The Kosovo Test"
Decisions taken over Kosovo will help to determine whether Europe's common foreign policy is an aspiration or reality
Talks about the status of Kosovo are scheduled to end on December 10, and the Troika of Russia, the EU and the US will report back to the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon. Several EU members oppose the independence for Kosovo that the US strongly supports, while Russia is promising to veto any imposed settlement. Should Kosovo Albanians unilaterally declare independence on or after December 10, the ramifications would be felt not only in the western Balkans, but within the EU's own borders and beyond.
(from "The Kosovo Test" by Ian Bancroft, The Guardian UK)
Monday, October 29, 2007
This article reminded me of the extreme measures some must take to live out and tell the truth.
Some excerpts from "We have decided to take your life" by journalist Abukar Albadri:
"Over the years, I've watched governments and authorities come and go. Warlords, Islamic courts, transitional governments. One thing stays the same: When new groups rise to power, they attack the media.
Today journalists who have dedicated their lives to telling the stories of Somalia find themselves caught between suicidal insurgents and the blazing guns of the transitional government's mad soldiers. Each is trying to make the media its puppet.
This year the government has arrested more than 50 journalists; eight remain behind bars. Officials have attempted to close media outlets and have imposed laws that restrict the activities of reporters. Somalia is the second deadliest country in the world for journalists, after Iraq, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists."
Sunday, October 07, 2007
I thrilled buying the supplies. I'm a shopper, and a tactile person, and would rather stroke the soft hairs of a paintbrush against my face than put it in paint, and then, who THOUGHT of this? Dilute it with water, so the paint runs out of control, mixing with other paint, scurrying towards that pool of water left by my elbow's indention on the paper.
The second week, as I began to pack up my paint supplies for class, I looked at my mom and groaned. "You don't HAVE to go, you know." Simple words of wisdom, but ones I rarely tell myself.
I'm a shoulder. (Re-reading this - I realized that sounded like I'm calling myself an anatomical part of the body that connects the neck to the arm. English. Tricky. I'm a SHOULD-er.) As my therapist once quoted another psychologist, I've been shoulding all over myself for years. I'm exhausted, buried beneath a pile of should.
So the other day, when I discovered the thought, "I wish I could paint!" in my head, I quickly analyzed it. I was shocked to discover it wasn't a should - it was a want. I was walking a familiar route, from the corner coffee shop to work. Passing the same things I pass every morning, which, amidst the gentrification of downtown L.A., includes a doggie accessory and clothing shop that props up stuffed animals for illustration, and, more often that not, vomit on the sidewalk.
I approached the homeless man who rests against the building, his knees drawn up to his chin. He was absorbed watching a man unload a small kennel carrier out of a huge truck. As soon as the man released the door to the cage, two small terriers ran out in confusion and terrier-madness, criss-crossing their leashes, running in circles of freedom. I smiled as I side-stepped their wrangler, a grown man cursing as he tried to untangle himself and the dogs from the thin pink leather leashes.
Passing the homeless man, I caught sight of his smile, and knew in an instant that I wished I could paint. To capture his eyes lit up with astonishment, his mouth open and his white teeth gleaming in his dirty face. He looked close to clapping for joy, like a child watching puppies play. Even if I'd had my camera, I wouldn't have had time to take that picture.
I wish I could paint.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
There are little moments of beauty every day. My neighbor who plays the violin on Saturday mornings, aching heartbreakingly beautiful music that drowns out the sound of the crazy parrot a floor below who screeches like an abused child. A glass chilled all day in my freezer waiting for me to come home, clasp it in my warm sweaty hand and pour into it pink lemonade. Wearing my favorite ‘fall’ boots to work even though it’s August and 98 degrees. Life is too short to abide by rules of fashion. Wear white after Labor Day if you feel like it. It’s beautiful.
Sunday, August 19, 2007
I thank Stacy for finding that padded envelope in the wilds of Vermont and mailing Eat Pray Love.
"Here's another example of the difference in our worldviews. A family in my sister's neighborhood was recently stricken with a double tragedy, when both the young mother and her three-year-old son were diagnosed with cancer. When Catherine told me about this, I could only say, shocked, 'Dear God, that family needs grace.' She replied firmly, 'That family needs casseroles,' and then proceeded to organize the entire neighborhood into bringing that family dinner, in shifts, every single night, for an entire year. I do not know if my sister fully recognizes that this is grace."
"To create a family with a spouse is one of the most fundamental ways a person can find continuity and meaning in American (or any) society. ... Who are you? No problem -- you're the person who created all this. ...
But what if, either by choice or by reluctant necessity, you end up not participating in this comforting cycle of family and continuity? ... You'll need to find another purpose, another measure by which to judge whether or not you have been a successful human being. I love children, but what if I don't have any? What kind of person does that make me?
Virginia Woolf wrote, 'Across the broad continent of a woman's life falls the shadow of a sword.' On one side of that sword, she said, there lies convention and tradition and order, where 'all is correct.' But on the other side of that sword, if you're crazy enough to cross it and choose a life that does not follow convention, 'all is confusion. Nothing follows a regular course.' Her argument was that the crossing of the shadow of that sword may bring a far more interesting existence to a woman, but you can bet it will also be more perilous. ...
A lot of writers have families. Toni Morrison, just to name an example, didn't let the raising of her son stop her from winning a little trinket we call the Nobel Prize. But Toni Morrison made her own path, and I must make mine. The Bhagavad Gita -- that ancient Indian Yogic text -- says that it is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else's life with perfection. So now I have started living my own life. Imperfect and clumsy as it may look, it is resembling me now, thoroughly." (pp 94,95)
Thursday, June 21, 2007
My Grandma Mai went home last night (her own words) at age 90. I am so thankful to have known her, to be a part of her family. I can't write much now, but wanted to post a few pictures from last month's service for her eldest daughter Marilyn. Just before she went to the hospital, she told a nurse that she was ready to go home to be with Marilyn.
Here's an excerpt from what I wrote about Marilyn's funeral:
The pastor began the brief ceremony. After reading from the Bible, he explained a tradition the family had, for those family members buried here as well. They would let go a flock of white doves to symbolize the spirit’s release. Gently, the pastor placed one quivering bird in Grandma’s cupped hands. She petted and cooed to the dove, smiling up at the pastor. Upon his nod, Grandma opened her hands, palms spread open to the sky, and the dove stretched its wings and flew high. She was soon joined by her family, released from a cage. We craned our necks to follow their flight.
An audible gasp soon followed, as we watched a large, dark bird swoop into the doves’ trail. It flew directly overhead, seeming to cast a shadow from the sun that had been falling gently on us. The doves circled to the left, and the ominous bird exited to the right, accompanied by a collective sigh.
As I let out my breath, I looked at my cousin face, mirroring my shock and horror. We agreed, everyone had thought it was a hawk, about to snatch one of the beautiful, symbolic doves out of the air, mid-flight. Uh uh, my dad said. That was a vulture. Though I’m not superstitious, the symbolism sent a chill down my spine. Doves and vultures, spirit and death circling each other.
The near-miss over, we started laughing. I was glad to be with family who could see the dark comedy of a predator bird snatching the beauty out of the moment. Just not at Marilyn’s service. When my time comes, however, I expect the gods of comedy to be out in full-force.
We talked and moved from the somber moments to the daily needs of life – could we stop at a Starbucks on the way to the dinner? I glanced toward the casket. A couple of women sat in the folding chairs, holding a pink prayer rose, staring at the coffin in silence. I looked at my grandmother, playing peek-a-boo with a great-great-grandbaby. Remembering the doves flying free, free of their cage, free from the predatory bird, I knew with assurance that Marilyn was not in that coffin. It was all right to walk away.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
~ Michael J. Totten (freelance journalist who lives in and writes about the Lebanon/Hezzbollah/Israel region).
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Look for it on ABC mid-season, and watch (especially if you're a Nielson family).
watch a clip here:
from comingsoon.net -
Having navigated the awkward and sometimes traumatic world of high school, Rebecca Freely returns to her alma mater as a guidance counselor, free of the insecurities and orthodontia of her school days. Amidst student behavioral problems and the persistent romantic advances of the male nurse, Gary, Rebecca is certain of one thing - she is interested in the hot auto-shop-turned-Spanish-teacher, Tim. However, much as in high school days of unexpected teenage angst, Lisa, a former cheerleader and nemesis of Rebecca's, returns as the new English teacher determined to make Rebecca relive her unpopular past, setting sights on Tim as well.
Judy Greer ("Two and a Half Men"): Becky
Brooke Burns ("Pepper Dennis"): Lisa
Earl Billings ("How I Met Your Mother"): Principal Huffy
Kristoffer Polaha ("CSI: Miami"): Tim
Jonathan Sadowski ("American Dreams"): Gary
EP: Ashton Kutcher ("That 70s Show")
EP: Jason Goldburg ("Beauty and the Geek")
EP: Karey Burke ("The Real Wedding Crashers")
EP/Writer: Caroline Williams ("The Office")
EP/Writer: Gaby Allan ("Scrubs")
Director: Todd Holland ("Malcolm in the Middle")
20th Century Fox TV & ABC Studios
Saturday, March 24, 2007
Here's a bit from the introduction, about her experience reading The Only Dance There Is, by Ram Dass. "This was the day I pecked a hole out of the cocoon and saw the sky of ingredients that would constitute my spiritual path. This was the day I knew the ingredients of the spiritual that would serve me -- love, poetry, prayer, meditation, community. I knew that sex could be as sacred as taking care of the poor. I knew that no one comes holier than anyone else, that nowhere is better than anywhere else. I knew that the resurrection of the mind was possible. I knew that no matter how absurd and ironic it was, acknowledging death and the finite was what gave you life and presence. You might as well make it good. Nature, family, children, cadavers, birth, rivers in which we pee and bathe, splash and flirt and float memorial candles -- in these you would find holiness."
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Just started reading Adventure Divas, in which the author defines adventure as a way of life.
"Adventure is about hurling yourself at the unexpected; it's how you walk to the corner store, and how you walk the Australian Outback."
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
The mind, as it evolves
February 12, 2007
"The backdrop to therapeutic lifestyle change, or TLC, is an increase in depressive illness since World War II, Ilardi says. "There's increasing evidence that we were never designed for our sedentary, socially isolated, indoor, sleep-deprived, frenzied, poorly nourished lifestyle," he says.
Ilardi combines group therapy sessions with a set of lifestyle changes, each of which has proven effective against depression: aerobic exercise; ingestion of omega-3 fatty acids; light; positive social interaction; substituting activity for rumination; and increased sleep. The goal is for patients to live more like their Paleolithic ancestors."
check out the whole article at:
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
My daughter was making, that day in Chicago, an entirely unconscious but quite basic assumption about people and the work they do. She was assuming that the glory she saw in the work reflected a glory in its maker, that the painting was the painter as the poem is the poet, that every choice one made alone -- every word chosen or rejected, every brush stroke laid or not laid down -- betrayed one's character. Style is character.
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Girls and boys of differing ages grow up together in an SOS Children's Village family like brothers and sisters. Natural brothers and sisters are not separated. Children are accepted from small babies until the age of ten unless there are brothers and sisters involved, in which case the children could be older.
Thursday, February 01, 2007
In the midst of the publicized talks regarding the UN and the future of Kosova, life moves forward, and friends I know over there continue to work toward a peaceful resolution.
Check out this month's newsletter from Mercy Corps. I was excited to see a feature about Youth Voice, a magazine created by and for the youth in Mitrovica. I went to a meeting held by its leader, my friend Luli, where I met Safet and Luma, who I wrote about earlier in the blog. We ended up meeting once a week for English/Albanian lessons, and have kept in touch since. It's so good to see the picture of Luli (in a suit!!! which I had never seen on him, artist and filmmaker that he is) and Safet sitting next to him.
"Mitrovica/Mitrovicë, Kosovo - This is a city divided by a river, by walls topped with sharp razor wire, by heavily armed soldiers and, most of all, by ethnic discord. Some regional analysts have derided the place as "a dead city."
Dozens of area youth disagree - and they're helping compose the city's critical next chapter through the power of the written word." - by Roger. O Burks, Jr.
According to Douglas Hamilton writing for Reuters, http://news.scotsman.com/latest.cfm?id=174142007
A summary of Ahtisaari's plan seen by Reuters confirms that Ahtisaari will avoid recommending independence by name, and will not refer to Serbian sovereignty, which Belgrade insists the United Nations cannot violate by amputating Kosovo.
It will, however, make clear that Kosovo will not return to Serbian rule and will obtain legal status that permits other countries to eventually recognise it as an independent state.
"Passage of a (U.N.) resolution would create a platform for Kosovo to declare independence and those countries minded to do so would recognise that," said a Western diplomat.
"The Serbs would have to accept the loss of Kosovo, the Kosovars would have to accept a continued international presence, significant limitations on their sovereignty and a very generous package of rights for the Kosovo Serbs..."
Hitchhikers beware, let this Hummer pass by. Whether you fear the carbon emissions, the laughably low gas mileage, or the petite blonde barely able to see over the steering wheel of her H2, designed for war, hummers are scary.
Yesterday I saw one such monstrosity parked in
- Private autopsies
- Forensic Autopsies
- Toxicology & Serology
- Medical Photography
- DNA (Paternity) Analysis
And, of course, since we are in
When I looked up the company on the web, I found that their mission statement is: “Mortuis Paresdium Et Vocem Dare Necessee Est - The Deceased Must be Protected and Given a Voice.” A good sentiment, but does the tank they drive advance that dark day?
Lest you worry that I am heartlessly mocking a group of well-intentioned folk who do what many of us dare not, please check out their gift catalog. It offers a SKULL CAP with 1-800-AUTOPSY emblazoned on the front and back, as well as a traditional scrub shirt with the company logo right above the heart. Do I need to mention the coffin case or the brain gelatin mold? The “glow skull magnet” suggests their sense of humor as they advise you “use this for your grave memos… this 2” plastic skull is realistically detailed and glows.”
Though you might miss all this info when the hummer blows by you at 75 mph, it would be hard to miss the piece de resistance: a toe tag on the passenger’s side door, inscribed “El Muerto.”
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Refugees Find Hostility and Hope on Soccer Field
In Clarkston, soccer means something different than in most places. As many as half the residents are refugees from war-torn countries around the world. Placed by resettlement agencies in a once mostly white town, they receive 90 days of assistance from the government and then are left to fend for themselves. Soccer is their game.
But to many longtime residents, soccer is a sign of unwanted change, as unfamiliar and threatening as the hijabs worn by the Muslim women in town. It’s not football. It’s not baseball. The fields weren’t made for it. Mayor Swaney even has a name for the sort of folks who play the game: the soccer people. ...
A Town Transformed
Until the refugees began arriving, the mayor likes to say, Clarkston “was just a sleepy little town by the railroad tracks.”
Since then, this town of 7,100 has become one of the most diverse communities in America.