Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Seeing symbols (and peacocks)

I may not have thought anything of it when I saw the silky tanktop in a brilliant, peacock teal-blue. Out of my price range, Diane, my friend and host for a weekend away in the Bay Area, agreed that it was nonetheless a perfect "Rebecca" color. We waited for Katie to drag herself away from Therapy, a store that was a perfect fit for her (as were the two sundresses she found).

A few stores down the way, I saw a peacock placemat. Stroking its silky feathers, I commented again that while I may not put it on my table, I loved the colors, the texture, the seeming sets of eyes looking back at me.

It was the third sighting of peacock feathers that caught my inner eye. As the Berkeley church service began, I noticed the image of a lone peacock feather at the bottom of the main screen projecting the words of scripture. I believe we should pay attention to repeated patterns in our lives, and have lately been curious about animal totems and icons. I've also been searching for the perfect tattoo that would symbolize where I am at this moment on my journey.

I found the site The Peaceful Peacock, and a post about the symbolism of the peacock. From the post:
  • Peacock feathers are a symbol of renewal. The entire tail of feathers is renewed each year and they lose the previous batch over the season naturally
  • The peacock is associated with the Hindu deity that represents benevolence, patience, kindness, compassion, and luck. It is also the national bird of India.
  • In Japan, the peacock is associated with an emblem of love, compassionate watchfulness, good will, nurturing, and kind-heartedness.
On another site, I found that "in Hinduism the Peacock is associated with Lakshmi who is a deity representing benevolence, patience, kindness, compassion and good luck.

Similar to Lakshmi, the Peacock is associated with Kwan-yin in Asian spirituality. Kwan-yin (or Quan Yin) is also an emblem of love, compassionate watchfulness, good-will, nurturing, and kind-heartedness. Legend tells us she chose to remain a mortal even though she could be immortal because she wished to stay behind and aid humanity in their spiritual evolution.

In Christianity the Peacock symbolism represents the “all-seeing” church, along with the holiness and sanctity associated with it. Additionally, the Peacock represents resurrection, renewal and immortality within the spiritual teachings of Christianity.

Contemplate the powers of the peacock when you need more vibrancy and vitality in your experience."

Monday, April 27, 2009

Golden Gate gorgeous

I love the golden gate bridge. When I'm away from home and happen across a photo of it in a book or on a calendar, I'm heartsick for California, and I don't even live in the bay area (yet).

Monday, April 20, 2009

Live your life on the tightrope

"'Why, why?' And that was, again, in my way of seeing, very American. I did something magnificent and mysterious and I got a practical 'Why?' And the beauty of it is I didn't have any why."

"To me it's so simple, that life should be lived on the edge of life. ... To refuse to repeat yourself, to see every day, every year, every idea as a true challenge, and then you are going to live your life on the tightrope."

~ Phillipe Petit
"Man on Wire"

Courtside theatre

Twice in the last week I've come this close to getting a black eye from a stranger. Whether it's Lamar Odom, Kobe Bryant or David Heckel, I keep getting seats right in the middle of the action.

My voyeuristic wish to see inside other peoples' lives came true on Caroline's birthday last night. Not only being extremely close to an intimate portrayal of a couple unraveling in front of family and friends, but literally to sit and judge a stranger's living room and kitchen.

(Where all the action took place, except for 3 mad dashes stage left for kitchen scenes.)

According the the producer's note in the program, the Chalk Repertory Theatre was founded with the "mission of producing classical and contemporary plays in unconventional spaces." (Their first was "Three Sisters" at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, my favorite venue for outdoor summer movies.) They felt that the play "Family Planning" was perfect for the intimate setting of a real living room. From the moment the boisterous and LOUD character Rosen burst in the front door (immediately to my left) to 70 minutes later when he appeared ready to brawl with best friend Hamish (even more immediately to my left -- I crossed my legs and withheld the impulse to mediate), to a few trips to the couples' kitchen, we were closed in, suffocating alongside the intense drama.

(Caroline waiting for the play to begin.)

The company travels to different homes each weekend, changing the play and some of the tone based on the set they are in. Last night we were in a home in Melrose Hill, a hidden neighborhood southwest of Santa Monica and Western, that is filled with California bungalows and Craftsman homes, most built between 1911 and 1926. The interior of the house we were in had been totally remodeled, and I wished we could put on a play in some of the neighboring homes. There were old growth grapefruit trees in yards, people walking their dogs and the smell of spring plants in bloom.

One of the other homes in the Melrose Hill neighborhood --

Sunday, April 19, 2009

"The Passport Photo" -- to swallow the map

My wanderlust surges and sighs in the most unexpected places and times. I am thankful for living in L.A., surrounded almost constantly by different cultures and languages. Leaving a screening of "Trouble the Water," a few weeks ago, I hailed a cab outside the Hammer Museum, just off the UCLA campus. The driver was curious about the film screened, explaining that he likes to observe the audience as they come out, wondering what they saw.

As I explained the documentary and my love for hearing strangers' stories in hopes they will no longer be so strange, I asked whether L.A. was home for him. "No, no," he shook his head. "I'm Iranian, but I have lived here for 20 years." "I'd love to visit Iran!" I said eagerly, hoping he'd set me up with a free place to stay.

He went on to tell me all about the beauty of Iran, of the Persian festivals, the women. He explained that as long as you have nothing against the government, they will leave you alone. He was obviously not a supporter of the religious, Islamic rule, and told me stories of how the women will dress more wildly, wearing more makeup, in defiance. How grand the celebrations of Persian festivals are to remember Iran's long history. We talked about films he had seen, I recommended "The Lives of Others" when he mentioned a film about the East German police state.

Recently Tina Daunt introduced me to an Iranian blogger, a woman who had commented on Tina's style blog, English Muse. I've added A New Simple Something to my list of blogs to watch -- it simultaneously curbs and whets my travel appetite. "because yesterday was beautiful" is one of my favorite posts as I've scrolled down her blog.

I want to live as if I'm always traveling, being open to new places, taking unexpected opportunities. As I'm off to make copies of my passport and take a few more fabulous passport photos for my Ethiopian visa, I'm reminded of a quote a friend shared with me, and a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye.

"Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God." ~ Kurt Vonnegut, "Cat's Cradle"

The Passport Photo

"The Passport Office welcomes photographs which depict the applicant as relaxed and smiling."
Passport Application

Before they shoot, I think of where I am going,
Chile, the world's thinnest country,
the bright woven hats on the Indians of Peru.

I swallow the map of South America tacked to my kitchen door,
the swarm of strange names, blue rivers
like veins in an old woman's leg.

A continent I know little about, except what I have read
or my Bolivian neighbor's tales. "A School of Thieves,"
she tells me. "I'd stay home if I were you."

Trapped in front of the hot lights,
I try to forget distances,
how far I will be from the ones who loved me longest.

I do not think anything familiar or cozy.
I think coastlines, jagged edges, roads ahead of me
cracking open like coconuts, and then I smile

Because this face you are snapping
is a map to another continent
I have barely begun to learn.

~Naomi Shihab Nye

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

I love Lamar ...I mean L.A.!

I am normally not a Lakers fan. Like any well-trained Oregonian, I was brought up to despise them, but give me a courtside seat next to Leonardo DiCaprio and I can turn on the Blazers like the best of them.

When Caroline told me someone had offered her his season tickets, and her fiance couldn't make it, I thought, fun! I played basketball. I like basketball.

We paid the obscene amount to park across from the Staples Center, not realizing the season ticket came with a parking pass.

We glanced at our tickets, we wondered where the 'court' section might be located.

We stood in line with the plebian population to wait for a soda, not realizing that court meant "courtside" and that a lovely lady named Renee was on hand to take our concession stand orders. (Margaritas!)

We paused in honor of Kenny Loggins and the national anthem, then made our way ON TO the court. "We have better seats than Eve," Caroline whispered as we watched the singer walk behind us.

We spotted Jack in his usual place, excited to see his guest was Greg Kinnear, a favorite actor. As the game started and we wished for a ball to fly in our faces, a kid and a man in a hat, baggy jeans and scruffy face sat down next to me. I caught a glimpse and looked at Caroline and just said, "Really?"

Yep. Leo and his slightly obnoxious young pal were next to us. But he paled in comparison with Lamar Odom. Caroline was a fan of Pau, but as soon as I spotted #7, I texted my friend Rachel who LOVES the Lakers and asked if Lamar was a good guy. "Everyone loves Lamar," she texted. Then, knowing my lack of love for the Lakers, "I hate you." And then, "We haven't spotted you yet... run onto the court so we know you're really there."

The thought had crossed our minds.

Even though I'm still recovering from a severe, ugly case of tonsilitis, I couldn't help but cheer every time Lamar made a basket, grabbed a rebound, touched the ball. I may have said "grab him" a little too loudly when he stood not a foot away, taking the ball out.

Though I'll never buy anything in purple, I have to admit, I love Lamar ... I mean, L.A.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The violence of metamorphosis

For Caroline, and every other soul who might not recognize the person she used to be.

I'm making my way through Rebecca Solnit's book "A Field Guide to Getting Lost." This particular passage stands out to me. I've read my journals from high school and college and have a hard time connecting with or even recognizing who I was back then. Thankful for the metamorphosis. And for the pact with my sister to burn all journals upon death.

In her essay "The Blue of Distance," Solnit describes captives in the early settlement of North America, who not only adjusted to captivity, but chose to assimilate, to accept it as her home, language and persona.

"But the real difficulties, the real arts of survival, seem to lie in more subtle realms. There, what's called for is a kind of resilience of the psyche, a readiness to deal with what comes next. These captives lay out in a stark and dramatic way what goes on in every life: the transitions whereby you cease to be who you were. Seldom is it as dramatic, but nevertheless, something of this journey between the near and the far goes on in every life. Sometimes an old photograph, an old friend, an old letter will remind you that you are not who you once were, for the person who dwelt among them valued this, chose that, wrote thus, no longer exists. Without noticing it you have traversed a great distance; the strange has become familiar and the familiar if not strange at least awkward or uncomfortable, an outgrown garment. ... Some people inherit values and practices as a house they inhabit; some of us have to burn down that house, find our own ground, build from scratch, even as a psychological metamorphosis.

... But the butterfly is so fit an emblem of the human soul that its name in Greek is psyche, the word for soul. We have not much language to appreciate this phase of decay, this withdrawal, this era ending that must precede beginning. Nor of the violence of metamorphosis."

~ Rebecca Solnit
excerpted from "The Blue of Distance"

(Butterfly courtesy

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Africa: Dancing in the blues of desire

While I dream, brainstorm and make plans for the documentary in Ethiopia, I want to live fully in the present moment. To embrace the desire rather than the object of desire. In hopes that in doing so, I can put aside judgment and find the perfection in what is. And as anyone who has worked on a documentary or followed an unknown path knows, the unexpected twists and turns are exactly what are meant to be; the unforeseen far better than the plotted path.

Six weeks out from our arrival in Ethiopia, our documentary team with L.I.A. has already had one twist in the story. The woman on whom we planned to focus will no longer be involved in the film. When I heard the news I thought, of course not! What would a documentary or any low-budget film be without the unexpected?

“The world is blue at its edges and its depths,” writes Rebecca Solnit in her essay “The Blue of Distance.” “…a deeper, dreamier, melancholy blue, the blue at the farthest reaches of the places where you see for miles, the blue of distance. … the color of solitude and of desire, the color of there seen from here.”

“We treat desire as a problem to be solved … focus on that something and how to acquire it rather than on the nature and the sensation of desire…. If you can look across the distance without wanting to close it up, if you can own your longing in the same way that you own the beauty of that blue that can never be possessed.”

I’ve never been to Africa, never seen with my own eyes the light at dawn, how the dust scatters the sun. Is there a blue to far-off distances there? I lived in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and loved getting lost in that haze of blue, always surprised to find a world of brilliant yellows, reds, oranges and greens upon arrival.

Our film has changed as we now focus on a different story, one of a man who leaves his wife and kids during the week to join his other family, the street kids in the slums and the L.I.A. program that offers them hope. I hope to live in and embrace the unknown, planning as best we can and dancing in the blues of desire and anticipation.

Read more about the documentary and how you can get involved here.

(Photo of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park by Michael Melford, National Geographic)

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Talk to strangers, find "what you don’t know you’re looking for'

A recurring commercial on TLC is hyping "Pure Michigan," with photos of lighthouses, boats setting out at dawn, nary a car factory to be seen. Sadly, that was all I had feeding my sense of adventure the last week, as I've been sick for six days: far too much TV time and none of the exploring time I had planned for my first week of freedom from a daily commute.

So as I gear up to return to the real world sans infection, I turned to Orion magazine to find something to inspire me to get outside, talk to strangers. Never fails.

From Rebecca Solnit's article "Finding Time."

"THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF MY APOCALYPSE are called Efficiency, Convenience, Profitability, and Security, and in their names, crimes against poetry, pleasure, sociability, and the very largeness of the world are daily, hourly, constantly carried out. These marauding horsemen are deployed by technophiles, advertisers, and profiteers to assault the nameless pleasures and meanings that knit together our lives and expand our horizons.

I’m listening to a man on the radio describe how great it is that there are websites where musicians who have never met or conversed or had any contact at all can lay down tracks together to make songs. While the experiment sounds interesting, the assumption sounds scary—that the complex personal, creative, and cultural collaborations of music-making could be unnecessary and you just need the digital conjunction of some skill sets.

The speaker seems to believe that the sole goal is the production of songs, sundered from the production of social ties and social pleasure. But music has always been an occasion for people to get together—in rehearsals, nightclubs, parties, festivals, park band-shells, parades, and other social spaces. It is often the soundtrack to bodies in conjunction, whether marching or making love.

Ensemble music made in solitude is a very different thing; as a norm it signifies a loss. The loss is subtle and hard to describe, especially compared to the wonders of what can be uploaded, downloaded, and Googled, and the convenience and safety of never leaving your house or never meeting a stranger. The radio rave comes a few days after I talk to a book editor who’s trying to articulate what goes missing when you go to for books: the absence of the opportunities for browsing, for finding what you don’t know you’re looking for or can’t describe in a key-word search. A digital storefront can lead you to your goal if you know exactly how to spell it, but it shows you next to nothing on the way; it prevents your world from getting significantly or surprisingly larger. The virtual version rips out the heart of the thing, shrink-wraps it, sticks a barcode on, and throws the rest away. This horseman is called Efficiency. He is followed by the horseman called Profitability. Along with Convenience, they trample underfoot the subtle encounters that suffuse a life with meaning."

--Rebecca Solnit, "Finding Time"

Read the full article here.