Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Why I love L.A. #37: The Sound of Music Sing-a-Long

Saturday night I joined my friends and the myriad of other Angelenos willing to don a deer outfit (or lederhosen, cellophane to create a gazebo, or the winning costumes, tea with jam and bread) and hiked up the hill from Hollywood and Highland to the Hollywood Bowl. Here are some highlights and tips for rookies so that you can be in on all the action.

(Just another night in Hollywood.)

We dressed as the song notes to "Do, Re, Mi." I was Fa, a long, long way to go. Not my most inventive costume ever, but I did have to use painter's tape on my socks, since I couldn't find any old-school tube socks with the stripes, a sad commentary on the state of fashion.

We joined a sea of people swarming up the hill to the Bowl, unpacked our picnic onto our laps and enjoyed a happy hour as the sun set on the parade of costumes up on the stage.

It was lovely eating outside, under the star. A few more came out as the lights went off for the movie to begin.

I don't know a night that I've had more fun en masse. The feel of community was strong, as everyone cheered and then sang along to the opening song, "The Hills Are Alive With the Sound of Music."

Those in the know had a few more cues on what to say, when to react, though we quickly caught on to the boo & hiss whenever the Baroness or the Nazis were on screen. Because I'm terrified of clowns, one of our favorites was when the nuns (and audience) were singing "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria." "A flibbertijibbet! A will-o'-the wisp! A clown!" and the audience screams! Fear of clowns is real, people.

The Bowl passed out goodie bags, complete with fake edelweiss and poppers. The regulars (a club we will be in next year) hold on to the poppers til the scene in the gazebo, where Captain Von Trapp tells Maria that he will not marry the Baroness, and The Kiss. Here's a video shot that night (it's hard to see the movie, but the best part is the audience reaction).

Silence is not golden here - it's hysterical to hear all the commentary and watch different people interact with the film. When the Captain first introduces the children with his shrill whistle, a group of people dressed in the kids' uniforms marched down the aisle of our section, lit by audience flashlights. Our group bobbed up and down to our respective notes during "Do, Re, Mi," though it was kind of frantic at the end, (Mi fa fa, do re re!) especially after a couple plastic cups of wine.

Tip for newbies: People bring the aforementioned flashlights and shine them at the screen when the Nazis are at the Abbey, using their flashlights to search for the Von Trapp family. I love that a man two rows in front of us, about a bazillion rows from the screen, was concerned that his flashlight wasn't working properly. Not making that much of a difference buddy, though the lucky people up front dimmed the scene with their lights. Some people save their poppers for when Rolf stays behind and threatens to shoot Captain Von Trapp.

And in our non-smoking state of California, the whole Hollywood Bowl waves cellphones when the song Edelweiss is sung, which is actually quite beautiful.

Join us next year?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Happy National Coffee Day!

I love coffee, though years ago I had to switch to decaf after a friend noted that my even my eyebrows looked tense.

However, when traveling, there is rarely an option for decaf, but it is fun to ask just to see the confused expressions. It really is true that when in Rome (or Kosovo, or Ethiopia) do as the locals do and drink as the locals drink. I fell in love with Turkish coffee on my first visit to the Balkans, and these Turkish proverbs say it all:

"Coffee should be black as Hell, strong as death, and sweet as love."

“A cup of coffee commits one to forty years of friendship."

In Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee, the coffee ceremony is a tradition of hospitality for guests. I never experienced the full ceremony as described here, from roasting to drinking, but I was honored to be served homemade coffee, thick, dark and delicious, and watched this woman roasting beans.

"According to national folklore, the origin of coffee is firmly rooted in Ethiopia's history. Their most popular legend concerns the goat herder from Kaffa, where the plants still grow wild in the forest hills. After discovering his goats to be excited, almost dancing on their hind legs, he noticed a few mangled branches of the coffee plant which was hung with bright red berries. He tried the berries himself and rushed home to his wife who told him that he must tell the monks. The monks tossed the sinful drug into the flames, an action soon to be followed by the smell we are all so familiar with now. They crushed the beans, raked them out of the fire, and distilled the stimulating substance in boiling water. Within minutes the monastery filled with the heavenly aroma of roasting beans, and the other monks gathered to investigate. After sitting up all night, they found a renewed energy to their holy devotions. The rest, as they say, is history. "

(That's a no-brainer. From Art in my coffee!)

No one can understand the truth until he drinks of coffee's frothy goodness. ~Sheik Abd-al-Kadir

Over second and third cups flow matters of high finance, high state, common gossip and low comedy. [Coffee] is a social binder, a warmer of tongues, a soberer of minds, a stimulant of wit, a foiler of sleep if you want it so. From roadside mugs to the classic demi-tasse, it is the perfect democrat. ~Author Unknown

Monday, September 28, 2009

Adventures of an Incurable Optimist

Have you seen the hour-long documentary "Michael J. Fox: Adventures of an Incurable Optimist"? Michael J. Fox travels around the States and the world in search of fellow optimists, to tell a story of hope.

After talking with Ben Harper about music as the soundtrack for optimism, Fox wonders, "are all artists generally more optimistic? You have to be an optimist to pursue a career in which 90% of those trained in the field don't make a decent living wage."

While IM'ing with a friend and a filmmaker in Kosovo yesterday, I was reminded of Fox's quote. Lulzim is one of the most optimistic people I know, and works towards spreading it through his art and his work with the community. He told me that it has been a great year, despite the protests and clashes after Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. There have been film festivals (including the Prishtina International Film Festival), an outdoor film screening series in Mitrovica by the bridge that divides the city into Albanian and Serbian sides, and a concert he had just attended for the Mitrovica Rock School (founded by Musicians without Borders in concert with CBM - Community Building Mitrovica).

I'd love to continue Michael J. Fox's travels in search of optimism and go back to the Balkans. The people there are under constant economic stress and the pressure of years of nationalistic rhetoric, yet have very real hope for a better future.

Michael J. Fox travels to Bhutan, where happiness is part of their constitution, and not just the pursuit of it. What is gross national happiness? The Prime Minister of Bhutan describes it as "something that can be promoted and that can be sustained when one has or enjoys good relationship." Watch a teaser for the show, but I hope it airs again, I highly recommend it. His optimism, and the attitude of those he interviews, is contagious.

Though I first fell in love with Alex P. Keaton when I was 7 and "Family Ties" was a staple of my TV diet, I have a much more serious crush on the man behind the camera, especially after watching this documentary. Mostly I hope can be more like him.

"Since I'm not sure of the address to which to send my gratitude, I put it out there in everything I do," Fox says. "It's my ongoing journey, and what I've discovered is optimists are open to alternatives in the face of adversity, and deal with reality head on. That hope flourishes in groups and resonates when people are doing what they love. And that happiness is contagious, you can give it out like newspapers and feel it in everything you do."

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Improv Everywhere and sing-a-longs

This is how I want to live life - bursting into song and dance as if all of life were a musical. Or slow-shopping at Best Buy. Or high-fiving everyone as they exit the subway. It seems a fun way to shake people out of their routines and remind them we live in community (or could if we paid attention).

The closest I've come so far will be tonight at the Sound of Music Sing-A-Long at the Hollywood Bowl, where everyone is in on the fun, so there's no surprised, confused onlookers.

If you haven't seen Improv Everywhere's hilarious missions - check out the videos on their site. A few of my favorites are: Synchronized Swimming (would you believe these people are in the Olympic trials? In a fountain in NYC?), the High Five Escalator (warms the cockles of my heart), and the Food Court Musical.

I'm off to Trader Joes to pack my picnic basket and then meeting up with my friends, the other notes in our homage to the song "Do, Re, Mi."

Friday, September 25, 2009

Costume countdown: Mrs. Hannigan and "Little Girls"

Gin ... er ... Mrs. Hannigan wins! As the blogger behind Peonies and Polaroids noted, it will be MUCH more fun to get into character.

I love Carol Burnett singing "Little Girls." I'll have to learn some of the lyrics. This is the look I'm going for:.

I heart Halloween — when else do we get to ride public transportation dressed in costume, singing gin-slurred songs? (For some on my bus route, that's a typical Tuesday night.)

Oh right, tomorrow night, when I dress up as the song note "Fa" (a long, long way to run) for the Sound of Music Sing-a-Long at the Hollywood Bowl.

Photos to come.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Follow your bliss -- logic is optional

INFP + Sagittarius = idealistic optimist. As I dream, plot and put out to the universe the hopes I have for what comes next in life, I find myself needing to remind people that I'm not only an optimist, but an intuitive who lives by instinct and gut feelings.

I've mentioned before that I don't live my life by astrological horoscopes, but they can be soul-stirrers, especially when they inspire dreams, plans, or match my personality. Today's general horoscope from Beliefnet reads:

"Common sense won't give us the answers that we seek now as the idealistic Sagittarius Moon lifts our spirits, enabling us to believe that anything is possible. Fortunately, magic can happen today as planets align on several points of a 5-pointed star. These quintile aspects involving the Moon, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Neptune allow us to find original solutions to ongoing problems if we are willing to let our imaginations take the lead."

After I took the Myers Briggs personality test, my counselor gave me a detailed description about the INFP (a.k.a Healer) type; it's so spot-on, I've thought about carrying copies and giving it to first dates for required reading. Especially the following paragraph:

"In evaluating things and making decisions, Healers prefer to follow their intuition rather than logic. They respond to the beautiful versus the ugly, the good versus the bad, and the moral versus the immoral. Impressions are gained in a fluid, global, diffused way. Metaphors come naturally to them but may be strained. They have a gift for interpreting symbols, as well as creating them, and thus often write in lyric, poetic fashion. They show a tendency to take deliberate liberties with logic, believing as they do (and unlike the Rationals) that logic is something optional."

This is good to know for people who pick a fight (or when I pick a fight) — you can argue the logic of a point of view all you want, it doesn't matter to me. What matters is what should be. A little how-to guide for embracing the idealist in your life.

(Top photo: "Follow Your Bliss" by Irene Suchocki, Etsy)

Living on the edge of the map -- who are the modern day mystics and heretics?

The word heresy comes from the Greek word for choice, Barbara Taylor Brown notes in her book Leaving Church.

"Early on, before the Christian church had a solid center, a wide variety of people who all called themselves Christian understood the Christ in a variety of ways. ...

"For almost three centuries, these choices existed in wild disarray. Then the emperor Constantine, in his imperial wisdom, understood that a faith with no center would never anchor his crumbling empire. ... When the bishops had finished crafting a central confession of Christian faith, those who did not choose this option became known as heretics."

To be called a heretic is to join a great, dynamic collection of souls. As Taylor collects them, Matthew Fox, Hans Küng, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Martin Luther, Menno Simons, Meister Eckhart, Joan of Arc, Francis of Assisi, Hildegard of Bingen, Galileo, Copernicus, Peter Abelard, John Scotus Erigena, Tertullian, Origen, Jesus.

Taylor highlights that while heretics chose a life outside of and challenging the established church, they all were later venerated as leaders and mystics. "Given their amazing comebacks, might it be time for people of good faith to allow that God's map is vast, with room on it for both a center and an edge? While the center may be the place where the stories of the faith are preserved, the edge is the place where the best of them happened."

Leave a comment — who are our modern day mystics and / or heretics? Practicing spirit outside the norms / rules of the religious establishment? Living at the edge of the map, challenging the accepted thinking? Unknown or (in)famous?

(Photo: Temple of Honor, Burning Man - from

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Stories that shape, change and save you: Alice Munro (online)

I blogged before of how David Sedaris introduced me to Alice Munro and her descriptive, colorful and subtle storytelling. I love discovering a new-to-me writer, knowing I have books upon books to read before I get impatient, demanding writers to manufacture genius to satisfy my literary appetite (when is Jhumpa Lahiri's next book due?).

Munro just published another collection of short stories ("Too Much Happiness"). I can't wait. But if you can't make it to the library or bookstore, some of her stories are online thanks to the New Yorker. The magazine also published "Things You May Not Know About Alice Munro," including : When she’s at the beginning stages of writing a story, she might sit and look out the window for a week, not doing a word of writing, “just letting things get settled in my head.”

It's obvious in her work that Munro mulls over the story, digesting it; read for yourself to sense the depth and connection she feels to character and place.

"Free Radicals"
"The Bear Came Over the Mountain" (Adapted into the film "Away From Her.")

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Song (and photos) for Autumn

Welcome fall - my favorite time of year!

(Irish fest,

(Stepping Out, Dahlia House Studios, Etsy)

Song for Autumn

by Mary Oliver

In the deep fall
don't you imagine the leaves think how
comfortable it will be to touch
the earth instead of the
nothingness of air and the endless
freshets of wind? And don't you think
the trees themselves, especially those with mossy,
warm caves, begin to think

of the birds that will come — six, a dozen — to sleep
inside their bodies? And don't you hear
the goldenrod whispering goodbye,
the everlasting being crowned with the first
tuffets of snow? The pond
vanishes, and the white field over which
the fox runs so quickly brings out
its blue shadows. And the wind pumps its
bellows. And at evening especially,
the piled firewood shifts a little,
longing to be on its way.

(Secret life of trees - Altered Abbey, Etsy)

October 10
by Wendell Berry

Now constantly there is the sound,
quieter than rain,
of the leaves falling.

Under their loosening bright
gold, the sycamore limbs
bleach whiter.

Now the only flowers
are beeweed and aster, spray
of their white and lavender
over the brown leaves.

The calling of a crow sounds
loud—a landmark—now
that the life of summer falls
silent, and the nights grow.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Your fridge, your self

It is said a person's eyes are the windows to her soul, but I think you might learn a lot more from her refrigerator. "Full Frontal Fridge" is a photographic exploration of random refrigerators in the September|October issue of Orion Magazine.

Photographer Mark Menjivar's images were photographed "as is," and have only a brief description of the owner and the number of people in the household. Therefore "about the eaters we must draw our own conclusions," writes Jennifer Sahn. "From these stark portrayals of how they nourish themselves, we can imagine them in good health or bad; in dress shoes or tattered sneakers, in a hurry or pondering the next meal as if the ceremonious act of fusion plus flame were the key to enlightenment."

I admit to my voyeuristic tendencies. Walking by homes and apartments lit from within, I sneak a glimpse at bookshelves, wishing I could read the titles to know more about the people who live there, who leave their kid's barbie car in the front yard, who chose a warm lantern to light their door. Full Frontal Fridge is a glimpse into modern life. As Sahn writes, "Look hard at these white rectangular compartmentalized spaces. This is what's become of the most elemental relationship human beings have to the land that surrounds them."

When I lived in Kosovo, my fridge was tiny and the electricity unpredictable, which made a daily trip to the small market up the street to buy local produce, potatoes and eggs for the day a treat as well as a necessity. Back in L.A., I realize all that I take for granted - a large refrigerator filled with fresh tomatoes, broccoli, apples and grapes that I picked up at the local farmer's market this morning. Admittedly, I chose to photograph my fridge post-farmer's market Sunday, it doesn't always look so green and fresh.

Go to "You Are What You Eat" under the projects tab at Mark Menjivar's site to take a look into other people's lives through their refrigerators, from a carpenter/photographer from Texas with a fridge full of a twelve-point buck shot on family property, to college students, to a midwife/middle school teacher the first week after deciding to eat all local produce, to a street advertiser in the same town living on a $432 fixed monthly income.

What does your refrigerator say about you?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Talk like a pirate, dress like a pirate ... in a tutu

Today, and every September 19, is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Years ago, on assignment, I ventured to Ojai for my first Renaissance Faire to write about pirate reenactors. It was fabulous fun, and even though a drunk pirate tossed me over his shoulder after declaring that I'd make a fine wench, what with my pock-free face (thank you! Accutane), I found them to be a gentle, if inebriated, people.

If you're looking to develop a pirate persona - check out the Port Royal Privateers website, to answer character questions such as, "Do I have bad teeth that hurt all the time and make me grouchy?" "Was I hit by a cannonball so that I drag my left leg?"

And never has a truer word been written: "Who are my relatives? ... It is more fun to come from a dysfunctional family that the audience can identify with."

Etsy's daily email was full of ideas for Talk Like a Pirate Day. Have you ever seen anything more adorable and slightly disturbing than this little pirate/wench costume?

If Abby's Tutu Factory offers this in my size I may have to change my Halloween costume plans.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Grass is greener

I've written before about feeling the need for change, to feel more connection to place and space and green. Is it simply needing a break from the city, a grass-is-always-greener complex, or is it part of natural growth and change?

Reading about Barbara Brown Taylor's experience with the earth, nature and spirit in Leaving Church helps me identify these needs and listen more closely. After leaving a large city church in Atlanta for the small town of Clarkesville in northern Georgia, Barbara and her husband search for the land and place to build their dream farmhouse.

"Some people spend years of their lives searching for the person whom they were born to love. I spent close to two searching for the land where I was meant to live. After scores of failed blind dates, I decided to marry the land that day, before I had walked ten steps past the oak — before I had found the trillium and the jewelweed, before the elderberry had produced its tiny purple clusters or the persimmon had dropped its plump fruit on the ground. I fell in love before I ever plucked a ripe muscadine from the vine or made a pie from the blackberries that grow along the path to the river. The milkweed was still in its pod that day, but even if I had seen it spilling its white silk on the air, my heart needed no more convincing. I had found my place on earth.

"...To remember that I am dirt and to dirt I shall return is to be given my life back again, if only for one present moment at a time. ... In the only wisdom I have at my disposal, the Creator does not live apart from creation but spans and suffuses it. When I take a breath, God's Holy Spirit enters me. When a cricket speaks to me, I talk back. Like everything else on earth, I am an embodied soul, who leaps to life when I recognize my kin. If this makes me a pagan, then I am a grateful one."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Costume countdown: cast your vote

I take Halloween costumes very seriously, though usually my best laid plans change last-minute, and I'm making a mad dash to thrift stores to create my latest vision. A favorite of many was one such last-minute idea, when Katie Holmes was pregnant, I stuffed a paper towel belly into a tee-shirt that read "Save Katie's Baby," wore oversized sunglasses, a big button with Tom's face on it, and doctored a "for Dummies" book to read "Dianetics For Dummies." I walked about, saying, in a slightly dazed voice, how amazing everything was.

Big hit, plus, as the faux belly fell through the night, it made for a great cup holder for my drinks, SO inappropriate for a pregnant lady.

So this year, I'm debating between two characters. One is a classic, someone I've long wanted to dress up as: Carol Burnett's Mrs. Hannigan in "Annie."

I can't find a photo of her pouring gin into her tub, but that's the look I'd go for, layered, tattered slips, long pearls, bright lipstick drunkenly applied slightly outside the lip line, black eyeliner and messy hair.

Or, Luna Lovegood from "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." I'm not a huge Harry Potter person. I read book 7 first, so as not to miss out on the finalé madness. But when I saw Luna in "Half-Blood," I sensed a kindred spirit, a feeling confirmed when she stated, "I've never been to this part of the castle. Well, not awake. I sleepwalk, you see. That's why I wear shoes to bed."

(I couldn't find a photo of her silver dress for the Christmas party, but maybe this look would be easier to re-create.)

Which is your vote for me this Halloween? Gin-filled Mrs. Hannigan (making for an easy excuse for an ever-present drink) or fellow sleep-wanderer Luna Lovegood?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sounds of silence: to be the still axis within the revolving wheel of relationships, obligations, and activities

Doors slamming, engines starting, fire truck sirens, leaf blowers, helicopters, a crying toddler and my neighbor’s propensity for loud, violent action films. In my Los Angeles apartment, the best silence I can find is to close the windows, to close out the sounds of the city. I still hear the buzz of the outdated air conditioner, a wall unit circa 1982 that does its best to keep me from melting into a pool of sweat in Southern California’s September heat.

When I shut out city sounds, I close out contact with nature. When I open the windows on a quiet day, I hear a thump and see an over-fed squirrel land on the rooftop next door, catching him from a fall or jump from his tightrope walk across the power line. Bird calls trill until the neighbor’s squawking parrot drowns them out. His five o’clock greeting, interspersed with a croaking “I love you!” is for the owner I can only assume to be allergic to a nice, quiet cocker spaniel and undeniably insane.

Silence isn’t the total absence of sound, but an awareness of the inner silence that is buried deep within. How can one be surrounded by sound, in community, but also in touch with that deep silence? How “to be the still axis within the revolving wheel of relationships, obligations, and activities”?

In A Gift From the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh asks the question, and finds that, “the problem is not entirely finding the room of one’s own, … The problem is more how to still the soul in the midst of its activities. ... Total retirement is not possible. … I cannot permanently inhabit a desert island.I cannot be a nun in the midst of family life. I would not want to be.… I must find a balance somewhere, or an alternating rhythm between these two extremes, a swinging of the pendulum between solitude and communion, between retreat and return. In my periods of retreat, perhaps I can learn something to carry back into my worldly life.”

What if one were to cut out all unwanted distractions, inhabit a desert island, or a windswept moor? Writer Sara Maitland chronicles such a journey into solitude in A Book of Silence. Her “about me” webpage has a homey feel, telling her tale of a feminist writer whose belief in God influences her stories and bragging about her grown children. I like that her website about her new life away from the world contains a few glitches, words and punctuation missing, as if, in addition to not needing a regular hair cut, neither does she require a web designer. “For the last ten years though, I have been living on my own and pursuing a deep and joyful fascination with silence. Last year I built a little house on a wild moor in northern Galloway. My nearest neighbours are a household of Barn Owls who occupy an owl box in a nearby ruined barn. Here I write and pray and walk and am happy.”

A Book of Silence is a brilliant exploration of something — or is it a nothing? — that right at the start is impossible to define precisely," Dominique Browning observes in her book review. "Is silence the absence of words? Or is it the absence of sound altogether? Is there even such a thing as silence that we can experience? … Is silence dependent on external conditions? Or is it a quality of mind? For her own purposes, Maitland decides, silence is that which is broken up by ‘words and speech particularly.’ ”

Lindbergh writes from her island solitude: “Existence in the present gives island living an extreme vividness and purity. One lives like a child or a saint in the immediacy of here and now. … People, too, become like islands in such an atmosphere, self-contained, whole and serene, respecting other people’s solitude, not intruding on their shores, standing back in reverence before the miracle of another individual. ‘No man is an island,’ said John Donne. I feel we are all islands – in a common sea.

“…How one hates to think of oneself as alone. How one avoids it. It seems to imply rejection or unpopularity. … We seem so frightened today of being alone that we never let it happen. … Even day-dreaming was more creative than this, it demanded something of oneself and it fed the inner life. … We must re-learn to be alone.

“…For it is not physical solitude that actually separates one from other men, not physical isolation, but spiritual isolation. It is not the desert island nor the stony wilderness that cuts you from the people you love. It is the wilderness in the mind, the desert wastes in the heart through which one wanders lost and a stranger. When one is a stranger to oneself then one is estranged from others too.”

Whenever I choose to spend a chunk of time alone, especially on a holiday that is typically spent in community and celebrations, I get concerned looks from friends. “Is everything alright?” they ask, with that alarmed suicide-watch look in their eyes. I receive many invitations so I won't have to be alone, which I am thankful for. I don't take it for granted that I choose to be alone, while others may truly be lonely.

Because there is a difference between being alone and lonely. There is a need for solitude that we're missing. In the midst of the Christmas holiday season, I spent an evening with my friends Paul and Jen. Trying to find a place close to a concert venue, we met for burgers at the Karaoke bar The Brass Monkey. Shouting above drunk renditions of "Sweet Caroline" and "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," we talked about solitude, and how important it is for understanding who we are in community. Paul, a fellow introvert, offered this quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer: "The mark of solitude is silence, as speech is the mark of community. Silence and speech have the same inner correspondence and difference as do solitude and community. One does not exist without the other."

In his book Solitude: Seeking Wisdom in Extremes, Robert Kull echoes Lindbergh when he writes, "To be fully human we need relationships with other people, with the nonhuman world, and with our own inner depths. In solitude we have the opportunity to explore all these domains of relationship. We are also spiritual beings and may feel called into solitude to seek communion with a numinous presence we can directly experience, but not clearly define.

"I’ve learned that the core of my loneliness is not separation from other people, but feeling disconnected from myself. Solitude provides a respite from the demands of social life and creates a space for personal healing. Paradoxically, spending time alone can soften our sense of alienation from others.

"... we need inner transformation. Solitude evokes the spacious wonder of living in a sacred world."

Listening to the wisdom of those who have practiced extreme solitude, listening to and obeying my own body and soul rhythms, I often seek solitude and silence. From friends who attend silent retreats I understand that the first few days are crazy-making. Cut off from all recognized forms of communication, chatting, the internet and cell phones, you realize your addiction to constant vocal contact. After just hours or often days, you can start to recognize the difference between the thoughts spinning in your monkey-mind, and the calm(er) person observing those thoughts.

Solitude and meditation are necessary for me, so I may be aware of that interior silence when I open my windows to the (relatively) fresh air, and hear, above the cries of the baby next door, the mournful, beautiful songs of the violinist practicing on a Sunday afternoon. To cultivate an inner peace that allows me to pay attention, to see the older woman get off the bus at a busy intersection and turn in a confused circle. When I step in her direction she eyes me, asks if I speak Russian. I cannot speak her language, but I can point to her destination, the address on the flier she clutched in both hands. Her effusive thanks and half hug reminds me of my love of community, to balance my silent retreat with wandering in the noisy world, full of bus exhaust, sirens and little old Russian ladies who need help.

How (and where) do you find space for silence?

(Photos: "Ocean City Ferris Wheel" - Idle Type,, "A Good Wine" - Mace2000,

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Inner silence

Researching / working on / thinking about what it means to embrace silence in the midst of the tumble of life.

"To be the still axis within the revolving wheel of relationships, obligations, and activities." ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift From The Sea

(Downtown L.A. art walk, street fair, September)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Living (vicariously) in Spain

I covet. Tim Irving's photography led me to his blog, Mediterranean Life, Interior Design and Photography, and I'm dreaming of living in Spain.

Hiking the mountain to see this walled garden —

Coming home to this restored house —

And making a cup of coffee in this warm, bright kitchen —

Check out Tim's blog for the rest of the photos of the garden and the details of the renovation and other eclectic rooms in the house.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Girl power and change around the world

I dream of helping girls and women find equality in education, society and family life, the opportunities that I take for granted. Even though we're far from true equality here in the U.S., I have seen and read much that makes me so thankful, and reminds me how far we have to go.

I've been following the story of Lubna Hussein, a Sudanese journalist who was arrested for wearing pants in public. In his NY Times blog, Nicholas Kristof calls Hussein the Rosa Parks of Khartoum for her work, her protests, and that her "concern all along has been less her own safety than the need to change the law for the sake of those who are less connected and less protected."

Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn co-authored Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, next on my must-read book list.

“If you have always wondered whether you can change the world, read this book. Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn have written a brilliant call to arms that describes one of the transcendent injustices in the world today–the brutal treatment of women. They take you to many countries, introduce you to extraordinary women, and tell you their moving tales. Throughout, the tone is practical not preachy and the book’s suggestions as to how you can make a difference are simple, sensible, and yet powerful. The authors vividly describe a terrible reality about the world we live in but they also provide light and hope that we can, in fact, change it.”
-Fareed Zakaria, author, The Post-American World

To learn more about the book, how to get involved and other resources, go to the website Half the Sky Movement.

As I continue to research ways to turn my dreams into reality, I've noticed the conversation picking up momentum lately. Is it just me being more aware? Today my friend forwarded an email making the rounds titled "Losing my Religion for Equality," from the powerful personal statement made to the The Observer by former President Jimmy Carter.

In the original piece titled "The words of God do not justify cruelty toward women," Carter explains the role religion and faith plays in his life, and his reasons behind ending his relationship with the church he was raised in.

" decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention's leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be "subservient" to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service. This was in conflict with my belief - confirmed in the holy scriptures - that we are all equal in the eyes of God.

"This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. It is widespread. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths.

"Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women's equal rights across the world for centuries. The male interpretations of religious texts and the way they interact with, and reinforce, traditional practices justify some of the most pervasive, persistent, flagrant and damaging examples of human rights abuses.

"At their most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities." (Read the full text here.)

Here are a few of the amazing girls I met when I traveled to the Mercato district of Addis Ababa in May.

Samrawit is part of the preventative program of Life In Abundance, which helps her mother with work so Samrawit does not have to stay home to earn money, but can stay in school. We met her before the tutoring program, where she informed us "I love mathematics." Samrawit plans to be a doctor who helps AIDS patients.

A little girl in the Mercato district. I don't know her story, but approximately 50,000 children sleep on the streets at night in Addis Ababa.

Waiting for tutoring

A girl who lived near the LIA compound in the Mercato district, always eager to shake hands and practice her English, asking your name and "how are you?"

(Samrawit photo by Justin Ahrens)

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Important things

"Most things that are important, have you noticed, lack a certain neatness." ~Mary Oliver

(Addis Ababa, Mercato district)

Friday, September 04, 2009

Ready to move on (and out) - falling in step with the universe

The day Orion magazine arrives in my mailbox is a happy day for me. I look forward to curling up on the couch, a cup of tea and a pen or highlighter in hand. Orion is more like a book, I underline, write notes in the margins, return to articles, and then sit down to blog about it, to share it with you.

A few months ago, it was painfully obvious my time was up at the L.A. Times. Producing and writing online entertainment was not in line with my passions or life goals. I've been job searching ever since, dreaming of that perfect fit where I could use my love of writing, traveling, meeting new people and sharing their stories.

It didn't matter where I was, in fact, I've always found pride in my nomadic existence. But in the last few weeks, I've found myself exhausted by L.A., drawn to pictures of cottage life, wanting to be surrounded by trees and running water. I love my friends here, but get tired of going out and being surrounded by industry types who only talk about the business (movies and TV, for those who live surrounded by other industries. And yes, to those in Hollywood, there ARE other industries).

Some of my favorite books are about living in harmony with the natural world: Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and Holy The Firm, Wendell Berry's The Art of the Commonplace, Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire, Mary Oliver's poetry.

I want to fall in line with the universe and who I really am, find myself loving a place, being a part of community. I don't feel that here. I've always felt the idea of settling in somewhere, putting down roots, would come later. It seems later has arrived. Reading David Abram's beautiful feature about "mind and mood on a breathing planet" in the September | October issue of Orion, I finally understood it. The desire my sister talks about when she waxes poetically about Portland and community and roots. Abrams explores the idea that what we consider to be our individual mind is actually more in line with the mind of nature.

"If we allow that mind is a biospheric quality, an attribute endemic to the wide sphere that surrounds us and sustains us, we swiftly notice this consequence: each region — each topography, each uniquely patterned ecosystem — has its own particular awareness, its unique style of intelligence." ...

"Different atmospheric conditions are, precisely, different moods. Each earthly mood affects the relation between our body and the living land in a specific way, altering the texture of our reflections and the tonality of our dreams. ... We moderns pay little heed to these subtle invisibles, these elementals..."

Excerpts don't do Abram's exploration into the quality of wind, rain, thunderstorms, snow and spring winds justice. After reading it, I had a strong sense that if the land, the topography, and the people living in it are influencing my life, I want to choose a place that is a better match.

The day I first stepped foot in Berkeley, California, I fell in love. It may have helped that I was just blocks from the original Peet's Coffee. But it was more of a body response to the place, to the old growth trees lining the sidewalks outside the rambling houses, to the people who said hello as they walked by. It feels like a meeting ground of the two places I've lived longest, Eugene, Oregon and Los Angeles. Solid, earthy palm trees mingle with evergreens. Protesters sit in trees to keep them from being cut down. Since then, I've visited San Francisco, Sonoma County, and Monterey, and all these places feel more home to me than anywhere else I've been. So I'm putting it out there. I'm going to look for jobs specifically in that area. I'm asking if any of you know of jobs in the Bay area.

It is time to pursue what I'm passionate about, engaging with stories of the changing world, communities, and telling the stories of those who don't have a voice in this world.

For those who don't know me, here's a bit about my work history. My experience at the Times trained me in web publishing, journalism and blogging on a deadline. I blogged from the Sundance Film Festival. I have also worked for and with non-profits, most recently traveling to Ethiopia with Life in Abundance as a writer for a short documentary to be used for fund-raising to help street children in Addis Ababa. Previously I worked in production on feature films, assisting executive producers, line producers and a director.

The Golden Gate bridge and the proximity to gorgeous hikes keeps drawing me back to the Bay Area. It's time to pay attention to that.

(Photo from AlteredAbbey,

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Bono on justice: A prophet's voice in the wilderness -- or in shades and leather

"How we listen determines what we hear." In Orion magazine's September | October issue Jay Griffiths writes about the critical events of our world today, and how the mass media "focusing on the incident — the man on wire or the lone gunman killing a child — the mass media ignores a system of corporate peonage which imprisons and executes a million childhoods. The barker on the boulevard of ordinary life is shouting out 'Extra! Extra!' — pointing to the Extra!ordinary and ignoring the ordinary. The media gives a false proximity to the incidental, but a false distance to systemic wrongs."

..."In the widest sense, this is about how society tells truths to itself and the sources of truths, which include history, the land, the academy, the poets, and the media."

..."For almost all of history, societies have trusted shaman-poets to speak truths, whether that truth is literal or metaphoric, and the poets have had real power."

Griffiths concludes that there is "a direct —inverse—relation between environmental devastation and the respect given to the voice of the shaman-poet. When either one is in ascendance, the other will be in decline, which is why that voice has never been more ignored, never more reviled, and never more needed than now."

Though Griffiths addresses the issue of environmental destruction here, his words about a poet-prophet translate equally to all areas of injustice. Who are the prophets of today? There are many, but are their voices being heard?

Bono is one poet-prophet, whose music, lyrics and voice can bring me both to tears and action. He surprised many when he bridged the ideological gap and addressed justice issues of health care, giving help and the crisis in Africa before George W. Bush and those gathered at the White House prayer breakfast in 2007. His words, like Griffiths, ring true across issues, and strke a chord for me about our current health care debate.

..."So on we go with our journey of equality. On we go in the pursuit of justice.

We hear that call in the ONE Campaign, a growing movement of more than two million Americans ... left and right together, united in the belief that where you live should no longer determining whether you live.

Preventing the poorest of the poor from selling their products while we sing the virtues of a free market — that's a justice issue. Holding children ransom for the debts of their grandparents — that's a justice issue. Withholding life-saving medicines out of deference to the Office of Patents — that's a justice issue. ... And while the law is what we say it is, God is not silent on the subject."

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Dream decorating: Environment Furniture and green design

One of my favorite childhood books is From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. In it, Claudia Kincaid wants to run away, but "she wants to run to somewhere--to a place that is comfortable, beautiful, and preferably elegant." She and her brother Jamie move into the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

I don't live near the Met, but after I visited the L.A. showroom for Environment Furniture, I had visions of hiding under one of their fabulous beds until the lights were turned out, the door was locked, and then to spend my nights surrounded by comfortable, beautiful, and elegant furniture. They have a living room design complete with record albums, music playing and art on the walls.

Environment's line is made from re-purposed materials and responsibly harvested natural materials. One gorgeous couch in the showroom was made from old army tents. It sounds scratchy and uncomfortable, but it was soft and cozy. They were featured in Time Magazine's The Green Design 100, showcasing sustainable luxury.

I can't live in the showroom, but I can dream of decorating (all featured in the Green Design 100) with Environment furniture ...

With Grenware dishes ...

In a Lindal cedar home ...

Painted with Freshaire paints... (I painted my non-sustainable apartment with this VOC-free brand. I chose Joshua Tree for my room, warm and relaxing.)

A girl can dream, right?