Sunday, January 31, 2010

Joan Didion's California: boom mentality and Chekhovian loss

"You might protest that no family has been in the Sacramento Valley for anything approaching 'always.' But it is characteristic of Californians to speak grandly of the past as if it had simultaneously begun, tabula rasa, and reached a happy ending on the day the wagons started west. Eureka—'I Have Found It'—as the state motto has it. Such a view of history casts a certain melancholia over those who participate in it; my own childhood was suffused with the conviction that we had long outlived our finest hour. In fact that is what I want to tell you about: what it is like to come from a place like Sacramento. If I could make you understand that, I could make you understand California and perhaps something else besides, for Sacramento is California, and California is a place in which a boom mentality and a sense of Chekhovian loss meet in uneasy suspension; in which the mind is troubled by some buried but ineradicable suspicion that things had better work here, because here, beneath that immense bleached sky, is where we run out of continent."
~Didion, "Notes from a Native Daughter," Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Thursday, January 28, 2010

J.D. Salinger - a few of my favorites

J.D. Salinger has died at age 91.

In honor of an icon, here are a few of my favorite passages from his work.  I fell in love with his descriptive writing, how he captured the tone and feel of a character. 

"The thing was, I couldn't think of a room or a house or anything to describe the way Stradlater said he had to have. I'm not too crazy about describing rooms and houses anyway. So what I did, I wrote about my brother Allie's baseball mitt. It was a very descriptive subject. It really was. My brother Allie had this left-handed fielder's mitt. He was left-handed. The thing that was descriptive about it, though, was that he had poems written all over the fingers and the pocket and everywhere. In green ink. He wrote them on it so that he'd have something to read when he was in the field and nobody was up at bat. He's dead now. He got leukemia and died when we were up in Maine, on July 18, 1946. You'd have liked him. ... I'll tell you what kind of red hair he had. I started playing golf when I was only ten years old. I remember once, the summer I was around twelve, teeing off and all, and having a hunch that if I turned around all of a sudden, I'd see Allie. So I did, and sure enough, he was sitting on his bike outside the fence — there was this fence that went all around the course — and he was sitting there, about a hundred and fifty yards behind me, watching me tee off. That's the kind of red hair he had."
~ The Catcher in the Rye

"Mrs. Glass narrowed her eyes at it and picked at the tinsel with her fingers. When the knot didn't give, she applied her teeth to it.

"She was wearing her usual at-home vesture — what her son Buddy (who was a writer, and consequently, as Kafka, no less, has told us, not a nice man) called her pre-notification-of-death uniform. It consisted mostly of a hoary midnight-blue Japanese kimono. She almost invariably wore it throughout the apartment during the day. With its many occultish-looking folds, it also served as the repository for the paraphernalia of a very heavy cigarette smoker and an amateur handyman; two oversized pockets had been added at the hips, and they usually contained two or three packs of cigarettes, several match folders, a screwdriver, a claw-end hammer, a Boy Scout knife that had once belonged to one of her sons, and an enamel faucet handle or two, plus an assortment of screws, nails, hinges, and ball-bearing casters — all of which tended to make Mrs. Glass chink faintly as she moved about in her large apartment."
~ Franny and Zooey

"Marriage partners are to serve each other. Elevate, help, teach, strengthen each other, but above all, serve. Raise their children honorably, lovingly and with detachment. A child is a guest in the house, to be loved and respected - never possessed, since he belongs to God. How wonderful, how sane, how beautifully difficult, and therefore true. The joy of responsibility for the first time in my life."
~ Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters

"In her lap she was holding a bouquet of gardenias rather as though it were a deflated volleyball. She was seated in the back of the car, hip-pressed between her husband and a tiny elderly man in a top hat and cutaway, who was holding an unlighted clear-Havana cigar. Mrs. Silsburn and I — our respective inside knees unribaldly touching — occupied the jump seats. Twice, without any excuse whatever, out of sheer approval, I glanced around at the tiny elderly man. When I'd originally loaded the car and held the door open for him, I'd had a passing impulse to pick him up bodily and insert him gently through the open window. He was tininess itself, surely being not more than four nine or ten and without being either a midget or a dwarf. In the car, he sat staring very severely straight ahead of him. On my second look around at him, I noticed that he had what very much appeared to be an old gravy stain on the lapel of his cutaway. I also noticed that his silk hat cleared the roof of the car by a good four or five inches."
~ Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Urban agrarians? Wendell Berry and Michael Pollan on food, farming and community

Michael Pollan to Wendell Berry: Do you have an iPhone? Found anything (technological) to shear sheep with? There's an app for that.

City Arts & Lectures hosted a night of Q&A between Michael Pollan and Wendell Berry that aired tonight on KQED. As a fan of Wendell Berry's writing and poetry, having only recently discovered Michael Pollan's writing and my world and diet rocked by "Food, Inc.," I tuned in and typed as fast I could. Here are excerpts (but not exact quotes) to try to capture some of the Wendell wisdom.

WB: (Describing a recent visit to D.C. and the White House organic garden) It's a tiny but immensely significant garden. ... Acknowledgment by the top official that food exists before it gets to grocery store gives us permission to think about these things, food, the quality of food, the possibility that you might grow your own food. I hope the garden grows.

But Berry doesn't put all his eggs in the political basket.

WB: Another thing is happening with this country ... I've been calling it leadership from the bottom. People are seeing what needs to be done and just doing it. An example, Alice Waters, just started. Kids need to be learning about gardening and food, and without asking anyone's permission, she just started. ... The growth of farmers' markets is not a political program, that has happened because people wanted it to happen. The growth of community farms is not a political program, there are people in the department of agriculture who have no idea it is happening.

MP: You call yourself an agrarian.

WB: Well, not when I'm at home by myself.

MP: Well, out in public, you articulate that agrarian ideal, and often this word falls oddly on the ears of many, or might sound archaic, or a term of opposition to urban life. Can there be urban agrarians?

WB: I think what we're beginning in this country, we're beginning to develop a population of urban agrarians. It begins with examination of one's own food economy, and realizing how passive and ignorant they are of their own food economy. From that recognition of ignorance and passivity, they move, sometimes, to their own garden in their backyard or food plants in flower pots, which I recommend. ... They go to farmers' markets and get acquainted with farmers. Many farmers have hospitality days, people go out and often even work on the farm. This mixing back and forth works like any encounter between people in categories. .. So people who've known farmers as country people or even hicks come face to face with them, and farmers who have viewed city folk as ignorant ... find they speak the same language, belong to same species, and that it's possible for interest and affection to bind them together. In this way, we are developing in our culture a necessary agrarian theme.

MP: You've written how the economy has floated free of the land economy — you've given it a name the paper economy.

WB: The commodity of paper, you go to Dallas, and it looks like a Texan saw Manhattan and decided to put one up down there. I've asked "What's the economy, what's it based on and there isn't one. What people are doing is paperwork, or computer work now, which is even less substantial.

... I'm no authority, I have no business talking about it, but then most of what I've written I have no business

I'm inclined to resist what they're calling economic recovery. ... even though I support Obama, I think we need something far more basic. My authority is Dante, in the Inferno, when he visits the usurers. His argument for the condemnation of the usurer is they make money grow from money, where our lives are suppsed to grow from nature. I know that's where our lives come from, and that work has to be good. And if the economy doesn't tend to honor that, and pay for the right use of our hands and our minds and our work, and the right use of nature, then we've strayed very far. ... Here I take instruction from the Amish, who have never forgotten, that the real social safety net is the community. Established community that takes proper care of and looks after all its members.

(In reply to a question from audience member regarding wilderness conservation vs. farming conservation)

WB: Wildness can extend from the wilderness all the way into the city park. ... Thoreau said (wildness) is the salvation of the world .. it's also the health of the world. There is a wilderness that we don't know much about. ... It's underfoot, every square foot of healthy soil And we have to maintain that wilderness underfoot, in order to keep eating. ... What we need to see is that the world is a living place, complexly domestic. All those creatures that we are pleased to call wild with a certain condescension, are domestic. They're making homes, they have little home economies. They're leading, what they think, is a domestic life. And the really wild creatures in the landscape are the humans, who are really out of control.

(From the City Arts & Lectures recording Nov 4, 2009 in San Francisco.)

Etsy finds help Haiti

(From rca102887 on Etsy - all proceeds go to help

 Check out this collection of Etsy finds — Etsy sellers donating portions (or all) of their sales to Haiti relief.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Selfish pleasures of selflessness: The Power of Half

"Warning! Never suggest a grand gesture to an idealistic teenager. Hannah seized upon the idea of selling the luxurious family home and donating half the proceeds to charity, while using the other half to buy a more modest replacement home."

In his latest column, "What Could You Live Without," Nicholas Kristof writes about the Salwen family behind the book and project The Power of Half: "The project — crazy, impetuous and utterly inspiring — is chronicled in a book by father and daughter scheduled to be published next month: “The Power of Half.” It’s a book that, frankly, I’d be nervous about leaving around where my own teenage kids might find it. An impressionable child reads this, and the next thing you know your whole family is out on the street.

"At a time of enormous needs in Haiti and elsewhere, when so many Americans are trying to help Haitians by sending everything from text messages to shoes, the Salwens offer an example of a family that came together to make a difference — for themselves as much as the people they were trying to help. In a column a week ago, I described neurological evidence from brain scans that altruism lights up parts of the brain normally associated with more primal gratifications such as food and sex. The Salwens’ experience confirms the selfish pleasures of selflessness." (Kristof)

Read Kristof's column here, and pre-order the book here (due out in February).

(P.S. - Kristof writes: "The Salwens also are troubled that some people are reacting negatively to their project, seeing them as sanctimonious showoffs." 

What kind of world have we created, that you might feel guilty for giving?  How fantastic would it be to go to a school reunion, and instead of comparing resumes, spouses and houses, you talk about how you've helped, what charities are worth supporting, who's helping whom.  Maybe I'm off my meds, but this is a reunion I'd actually attend.)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Winter in L.A.

On my walk to Trader Joes.  Happy for blue sky after the monsoon, especially as a no-car girl. 

Friday, January 22, 2010

Love of fate and radiant imperfection

Just back after a screening of the movie "Babies." I'm reviewing it for World Pulse, I'll post a link when it's up. But as you can see from this trailer, they're perfect. We're along for the ride as they explore their world, growing into it. Even when they're pulling the cat's tail or boxing the goat in the ear, they're perfectly innocent, learning reactions and the way the world works.

But the world is imperfect, and watching the unique worlds the kids are born into made me think of what I read recently in Whole Life Times. In "How the Light Gets In," Michael Ortiz Hill writes about compassion and healing from addiction.

"Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." (Leonard Cohen)

"How do we accept our radiant imperfection?" Hill asks. "How does humiliation transform into humble acceptance and tenderness for ourselves?

"Latin offers the phrase amor fati, 'love of fate,' ... what has been chosen for you. These parents, siblings, ancestors. This body and gender. The delights and terrors of your childhood and the hard-wiring of your character.

"What awakens love of your fate and sustained self-compassion? A spontaneous song of gratitude comes from recognizing that waking or sleeping, we forever bask in gift. ... This simple thank you makes it possible to love your fate and provides the most reliable source of self-compassion. Gratitude allows you to love the gamut of yourself , without judgment, unfettered."
 ~Michael Ortiz Hill (Whole Life Times)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Keep it in the community: Local / complementary currency

How have I never heard of complementary currencies?  Basically bartering, keeping local money feeding back into the local, community economy.  Did they teach this in the high school econ class I barely passed?

I've never had a money mind. As a kid, Monopoly bored me. There was no point, no story.  ("To win" or "make money" is not an answer in my world.) Instead, I used the pieces to create plays, to tell stories: what happened when the boot landed on Park Place?  Did he meet a snooty dog (enter that piece) and donning the top hat, take off together on the Reading Railroad for untold adventures?

I always wished I could pay for my popsicles and Fun Dip with Monopoly money, it was so much prettier than the U.S. dollar.  And maybe I could, if my community of West Hollywood chooses that as their local money. 

In Whole Life Times, Maria Fotopoulos reports on creating and using a local currency in "Think Global, Spend Local."

"In 1932, while the world struggled through the Great Depression, a small Austrian town tried an economic experiment. To stimulate the local economy, leadership in Wörgl created its own local currency, or scrip, known in German as freigeld (literally, free money).

"Based on the thinking of Silvio Gesell, an early 20th-century social activist and economist, the new currency was novel in that it depreciated monthly, which increased the pace of its circulation. Rapid currency circulation goosed the economy, putting residents back to work. Advocates of local alternative currency systems explain that what’s really happening with this sort of currency “velocity” is real reinvestment in the local community."

..."The first question might be, is that legal? It is. Creating and using a local currency—sometimes called complementary currency, in that it “complements,” but doesn’t replace, a national currency—will not unleash the dogs of the U.S. Treasury, as long as it isn’t coin and doesn’t look like U.S. currency. Well before the Wörgl experiment, local currencies were common, and there are hundreds of more recent examples, from Canada’s Vancouver Island to San Luis Obispo, Calif., and Totnes, U.K. In a less formal way, barters take place all the time, albeit not transferable via a common coin of the realm.

..."In the Massachusetts Berkshires, another local currency project took off in 2006 with the support of the E. F. Schumacher Society, a kind of alternative economic think tank. Named for a British economist who advocated decentralization, the society studies how local currencies work. More than 2.5 million BerkShares have been issued, with about 150,000 now circulating. Accepted at 385 area businesses, BerkShares are colorfully illustrated with historic Berkshire figures and other artwork by regional artists, further emphasizing localness. Offered through 13 branches of five local banks, 100 BerkShares are equivalent to $100 U.S., but can be purchased with $95 U.S. Thus, users receive a 5 percent discount at local businesses that accept the currency."

..."Hollis Doherty, a student of the Wörgl experiment, shares Wendt’s enthusiasm for establishing a local currency. ... 'My focus is on a currency that includes more people in the economy, one that is more abundant for more people, and favors exchange over hoarding by the few,' Doherty says. 'The Institute would say there is no perfect system, but they do say it’s healthier if more than one medium of exchange is available.'"

"Hopefully an alternative currency would help to buffer Los Angeles in the event of a future economic downturn, regardless of what happens in Sacramento or Washington, D.C.

"'It will be a very regional effort that promotes a thriving economy for the L.A. region, driven by locally owned businesses and local farms committed to sustainable business practices,' says Wendt. 'What’s most important is that this be a catalyst for change.'"

Is this the future as we live more and more local lives? I like the idea of feeding more into Los Angeles farms and local businesses.  Read the whole story here.

Lessons in silence

Living Skyscraper (Ben Heine), originally uploaded by Ben Heine.

"No domestic animal can be as still as a wild animal. The civilized people have lost the aptitude for stillness, and must take lessons in silence from the wild before they are accepted by it. The art of moving gently, without suddenness, is the first to be studied by the hunter, and more so by the hunter with the camera. Hunters cannot have their own way, they must fall in with the wind, and the colours and smells of the landscape, and they must make the tempo of the ensemble their own. Sometimes it repeats a movement over and over again, and they must follow up with it.

When you have caught the rhythm of Africa, you find that it is the same in all her music."

~Out of Africa, Isak Dinesen

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Photos of a rainy day

A tornado warning was just issued for Los Angeles county.  I'm holed up inside listening to the rain and wind, brewing tea and watching Anderson Cooper report from Haiti. 

For some rainy images - check out 13 fabulous rainy photos chosen by blogger Martin Gommel, posted on Digital Photo School.

“rain” from cunyadenki

“Rain in Cracow” from quizz

(See all 13 on DPS)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Go with the flow

If you are the woman at the corner table at Urth Café who stared brazenly at our group, you may have thought that I speak sign language fluently.  Makes it hard to eavesdrop, no? But for all my fellow café eavesdroppers (for I am the queen of gathering other peoples' stories), I was practicing my ASL alphabet and learning a few phrases with new friends.  One is completely deaf, so I didn't get too great a read on him, but M and Rhi were both able to hear some with aids and implants, and Rhi is a fluent lip-reader.  It was great fun learning how to sign "Good to meet you," "How long have you been dating," and the important difference between the sign for "dating" and that for, shall we say "shagging."  (Everything sounds better British.) 

What a challenge to grow up deaf in a world of noise, where a premium is put on communication to identify who you are, what you think. I was so impressed by Rhi, who identifies herself immediately as an activist.  I've been a long time embracing the activist within, finding that voice that doesn't worry about what others will think.  Rhi's a recent college grad, and already knows what and who she wants to be, a visual anthropologist.  "I'm an activist, so ..." was a normal part of her self-descriptive vocabulary.

I wish I'd known what I wanted, who I was in this world when I was 22 or 23.  I felt a tinge of envy talking to Rhi, wishing I hadn't wasted so much time. But then a wiser, kinder voice interrupted. That was not my path. In a chapter in Daily OM titled "Where you need to be," Madisyn Taylor writes about our timing, the flow of our life within the flow of the universe.  "When delays in our progress kindle pangs of disappointment within us or the pace of life seems overwhelming, peace can be found in the simple fact that we are exactly where we need to be at this moment."

Sometime it's not just that things are not moving fast enough, often I feel scared that I'm not enough when things seem to be happening too quickly.

"Every person fulfills their purpose when the time is right. ... The universe puts nothing in your path that you are incapable of handling, so you can rest assured that you are ready to grow into your new situation." (Daily OM)

And in this moment of under-employment, it strikes me often, and confuses my more typically ambitious friends, that I feel exactly where I am meant to be, in the flow of my life.  Good, exciting and challenging opportunities are coming, but good things are already here.

(ASL letters courtesy

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The most joyful song (and video)

Just TRY not to dance.

Check out Michael Franti & Spearhead's website.

Lust for comfort

macahel, originally uploaded by zeynep'arkok.

Speak to us of Houses.
And he answered and said:
Build of your imaginings a bower in the wilderness ere you build a house within the city walls.
For even as you have home-comings in your twilight, so has the wanderer in you, the ever distant and alone.
Your house is your larger body.
what have you in these houses? And what is it you guard with fastened doors?
...Have you beauty, that leads the heart from things fashioned of wood and stone to the holy mountain?
Or have you only comfort, and the lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house as a guest, and then becomes a host, and then a master?
Ay, and it becomes a tamer, and with hook and scourge makes puppets of your larger desires.
Verily the lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul,
But you, children of space, you restless in rest, you shall not be trapped nor tamed.
Your house shall be not an anchor but a mast.
And though of magnificence and splendour, your house shall not hold your secret nor shelter your longing.
For that which is boundless abides in the mansion of the sky, whose door is the morning mist, and whose windows are the songs and the silences of night.

~The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran

Friday, January 15, 2010

Songs for Friday: Lissie

.NOTRE menage à nous, originally uploaded by small Raffaela.

Gorgeous and heartbreaking song - perfect for a cloudy Friday afternoon.  (Thanks to Janelle for the Lala Lissie introduction.)

Also love:


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Oops! Recipe wasn't completely gluten-free

I fixed the banana chocolate-chip bread recipe to include gluten-free baking powder — that one has sneaked in on me before. Horrifying results.

Check for a list of safe ingredients and foods.

Also want to check out this GF cookbook.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Bust: Poehler on lady-on-lady crime, DIY window gardens and gluten-free goodies

How have I not read this magazine before? My friend handed over her Dec/Jan '10 issue of Bust (for women with something to get off their chests) for me to check out the interview with Amy Poehler.

Rachel Dratch asks "What's your favorite and least favorite things about being a mom?"
Poehler: "My favorite things is my kid. It's cliché, but it's true. A little person exists in this little body and he's growing, and getting to meet that person is the coolest part. And then—BUST will enjoy this rant and so will you Dratch. This is a rant I would say to you even if I wasn't being interviewed. My least favorite part is when women ask me how I do it. There's been a little lady-on-lady crime in my life recently, where a person was asking me about my schedule and, like working mothers everywhere, I have to work and I have help. I'm lucky to have help with my kid, and then you've just got to make it work. In my case, I'm a lot luckier than some people who have to work two jobs and, you know, I sometimes get to bring my kid to work and all that stuff. But this woman was like, 'Oh, my God, your hours! You just work so hard! How do you do it?' And I realized that, 'How do you do it?' really means 'How could you do it?' ... There's an unwritten rule that women who stay at home are supposed to pretend it's boring, and women who work are supposed to pretend they feel guilty, and that's how it works. ... Women fuckin' torture each other."

(Buy the issue to read the rest of their conversation.)

And - from "the hanging garden" a lesson in DIY window gardens (

PLUS a recipe for gluten-free banana chocolate-chip bread?!? Where has this magazine been all my life?

2 cups Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free all purpose baking flour (find at Whole Foods or other health-food stores)
3 tsp. each of GF baking powder* (*3 tsp. of GLUTEN-FREE recipe below = 2 tsp. reg)
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. each of Xanthan gum (also at Whole Foods), salt and ground cinnamon
1/2 cup coconut oil
2/3 cup each of agave nectar & rice milk
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 tsp. vanilla
6 medium bananas, peeled and mashed

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease loaf pans with oil. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, Xanthan gum, salt and cinnamon. Add coconut oil, agave nectar, rice milk and vanilla to the dry ingredients. Stir til batter is smooth. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the bananas and chocolate chips. Pour the batter into pans and bake on center rack for 30 minutes (or until toothpick comes out clean) , rotating the pan 180 degrees after 15 minutes.

Then send to me.

Happy reading and eating!

*How to make gluten-free baking powder:
(Gluten & Corn Free)
1/3 cup Baking Soda
2/3 cup Cream of Tartar
2/3 cup Arrowroot (or potato starch)
Mix well. Store in an airtight container.
1½ teaspoon of this mixture = 1-teaspoon of regular baking power

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sitting in my anxiety

om, originally uploaded by keepingstill.

I've noticed a trend about myself, brought to light in the crazy-making world that dating is today. I swear I'd play by the rules if someone could just explain them to me. Instead, I find myself anxious, totally outside the present moment, trying to speed the process, just to know.

"Just sit with, be in your anxiety next time," my friend counseled me, likely sick of hearing my repeated patterns. At first being still is an awful feeling, like electrodes are in my fingertips, wanting to do, to question, to text. But when I do still the monkey mind, I can hear what's really going on: the need to know what I cannot know, to be in control, flavored with a dash of worry.

"Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don't work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are." ~ Jesus, Matthew 6:27-29

Not only do worries not add a moment to your life, they can detract from the fullness of who you are meant to be. In Daily Om, Madisyn Taylor writes about when worry becomes a prayer. "If prayer is an intention that we announce to the universe in order to create a desired outcome, then our every thought is a prayer," she writes, reminding me of Paul's exhortation to always be joyful, and pray without ceasing. (I Thessalonians 5:16,17)

It also reminds me of a phone message my parents kept for me to hear when I returned home for a visit. After a spilling a long litany of my concerns and worries, I ended my message, "Amen," petitioning my parents and the universe for a good outcome. But as Taylor warns, "some thoughts are more focused or repeated more often, gathering strength. Some are written down or spoken, giving them greater power. Every one that we have is part of a process whereby we co-create our experience and our reality with the universe. When we use our creative energy unconsciously, we invoke what is commonly known as a self-fulfilling prophecy. In essence, when we worry, we are repeatedly praying and lending our energy to the creation of something we do not want."

Not to leave us in the worry that our worries are creating negative life patterns, Taylor reminds us of what Paul taught centuries ago. In Paul's words, "Be joyful always, pray continually." In Taylor's, "the simplest antidote to anxiety is affirmations. When we hold these uplifting thoughts, repeat them often, speak them, write them down, and refer to them throughout our day, we are using focused energy to manifest positive results."

This obviously goes beyond the small worries about dating, as I put out constant prayers of what I want my life to look like, to be a "bride married to amazement," to "be thoroughly used up when I die."


("Bride married to amazement" - Mary Oliver, "to be thoroughly used up when I die" from a pendant Julia Bergman wore as she helped Greg Mortenson and the CAI scout for schools in Afghanistan.)

Monday, January 11, 2010

I Love Men - Redefining what “masculine” means in our society

We walked off streets charged with the energy of protesters on corners shouting their angst, stationed next to vendors happy to hawk their beaded jewelry amidst the mill of pedestrians. Faces open, closed, tanned, tattooed, angry and laughing surrounded the Cal campus. Berkeley, home away from home.

Not knowing what to expect from “The Men’s Story Project,” my two girlfriends and I chose seats midway through the municipal room on campus, folding chairs set up in front of a makeshift stage, the 1 Giant Leap soundtrack playing from the speakers lining the walls.

It seemed Director Josie Lehrer crafted the night to slowly move us into the concept of baring the soul. She quoted Thoreau, “It takes two people to speak the truth: One to speak, and one to hear.” We had entered wearing our armor, all that shields and protects us from deeper human interaction so we safely make it to our next appointment. As the night began, we shed the armor piece by piece, starting with a story told by a slight man with a gentle, dry voice and a long ponytail. In a humorous poem he described falling in love with a brilliant woman, a woman who changed his life, opened his mind and heart, but whose darker skin tone and different ethnicity caused a rift between him and his prejudiced father.

As we warmed to the idea of men sharing their feelings without the promise of sex after, we were treated to “I Love Men,” a comedic and touching account of a man admitting to platonic, heterosexual friendships with men who mean the world to him.

Sensing we were safe and comfortable, the night moved into more painful, risky territory: the story of a black man being judged by his community of faith for his homosexuality, a transgender man who told of watching a woman run from him late at night, recognizing her fear in his own from when he was a woman. Recognizing that with his longed-for masculinity he also gained the threat of violence.

We were given a moment of comic relief in “Drain the Main Vein” as a man told of facing the eternal question, urinal or stall? As a woman for whom group bathroom trips are a given, I had no idea how hard it is for men to unzip in front of another.

We cried with laughter at the sassy style of a Latino gay boy recalling “Girls’ Night Out,” and teaching his sister to dance for her Quinceanera. An older, retired man admitted that when he first moved to San Francisco he wasn’t able to hug a man, how the TV taught him to be a man, like the TV is still teaching. We clapped when he told us to “fuck that teaching box,” though inside I know I wasn’t alone thinking, “but I still need it to watch Lost.”

There was a deep silence as we learned about a man losing his son to gang violence and instead of responding with retaliation, looking for the divinity in all people and creating the reverence movement. We were encouraged to join the movement, which simply means to open ourselves to others, to behold others and not judge them.

That spring night in Berkeley, a dozen men stood on a stage and through poetry, dance and spoken word took a step toward redefining what “masculine” means in our society. Lehrer introduced The Men’s Story Project as a forum to “preserve and pass on traditions, challenge and break traditions and create new traditions.” Lehrer noted that she is not, in fact, a man, and answered her own question: Why, in a man-centric world, should we focus on more men’s stories? “Because patriarchy is harmful to men, too.”

Writing about John Wayne’s masculinity in Los Angeles Magazine’s “The Hazards of Duke,” John Powers argues that despite “what was toxic in it – not least its courtly sense of women’s inferiority – [we] should not discredit what was tonic. Wayne stands for ‘male’ virtues that are well worth preserving. The contempt for pettiness and the love of hard work. The courage to be lonely in pursuing your goal. The respect for radically diverse personalities…. Above all, the willingness to fight and die for a cause bigger than yourself.”

Why are these most basic virtues considered masculine? In 1917, Alice Paul, a suffragette leader of the National Woman’s Party was arrested for obstructing traffic while picketing the White House to force President Wilson to support women’s suffrage. In jail, Paul went on hunger strike in protest of the prison conditions, not the first time she had exercised non-violent protest to defend a cause bigger than herself.

Isn’t it time to redefine the terms, reinvent our language, as language is the way by which we identify ourselves, our roles and through which we can enact change? Betty Friedan, in her 1997 introduction to her 1963 groundbreaking book The Feminine Mystique, wrote “women and men are now both occupying the mainstream of society and defining the terms. The standards, the definitions, the very measures we live by, have to change, are changing, as women’s and men’s shared new reality sweeps aside the obsolete remnants of the feminine mystique and its machismo counterpart.”

Perhaps it was easier to stage “The Men’s Story Project” in the tolerant town of Berkeley, California. And no, these men won’t be boarding a bus and taking the show to Topeka, as one person in the audience suggested. But director Lehrer promised it was created to be replicated and shared. And in a culture desperate for reality not found on television, for authentic role models, both male and female, one can only hope the night will be repeated, on stages or in living rooms across the country, each as unique an experience as our friends and neighbors, willing to undress ourselves, step out of our armor and glimpse each others’ humanity.

Photography I love: Paris

My sister and her man are in Paris. I cannot wait to see the photographs documenting their adventures, but until then, I'll live vicariously through these:

They rented a little apartment in the 18th Arrondissement Montmartre (where Amelie lived ... magical).

Friday, January 08, 2010


"Our present idea of freedom is only the freedom to do as we please: to sell ourselves for a high salary, a home in the suburbs, and idle weekends. But that is a freedom dependent on affluence, which is in turn dependent upon the rapid consumption of exhaustible supplies. The other kind of freedom is the freedom to take care of ourselves and of each other. The freedom of affluence opposes and contradicts the freedom of community life."

~Wendell Berry

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Happy here and now (scenes from an airport)

Waiting at the end of that long yellowed hall that connects the gates to baggage claim, a woman stands apart from the drivers who hold their name cards.  Dressed in a black slip of a dress, a gauzy black shawl is draped over her shoulders. Chewing her gum, hard, distorts her delicate features into a manly grimace. Her layered hair swept in feathers from her heavily made-up and overly tanned face, she holds a single red rose.

I can see her from baggage claim, and keep watch to see who she's waiting for.  What if she greets an elderly woman, or her boss?  Is this her "airport outfit," complete with props, based on a bad 1970s mini-series?  She appears to give up, and I lose her in the crowd, wandering toward the door. What?  Did he/she somehow sneak by her?  Or is she the token crazy airport lady, waiting for a long-lost love who will never show?

"The white zone is for passenger loading and unloading.  All other vehicles will be towed." Translation:  "Welcome to L.A.  Good luck, suckers."

Horns honk, drivers curse, near-misses at 20 mph allow exhausted travelers to avoid being slowly run down by taxis. A bomb-sniffing German Shepherd (so identified by his vest) runs happily through it all, ahead of his humans who wander a few steps behind, bored and trying to look intimidating while calling out, "Boomer! Don't play in the street."  Boomer may have it all figured out, all these angry humans swarming in and out of the white zone who don't know they should be playing.

"If you are not happy here and now, you never will be."
~Taisen Deshimaru

(Photo: Ugly LAX traffic courtesy laist)

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Gentle infidel (Have you read this book?)

Despite a fatwa declared on him, Greg Mortenson continued to build schools and vocational centers in Northern Pakistan.  In deference of the nation and their religion, Mortenson promised other religious leaders that if they thought he was doing anything against Islam, he would leave Pakistan forever. Later, he faced "the eight imposing black-turbaned members of the Council of Mullahs," to receive his fate.

"With due ceremony, Syed Abbas tiled back the lid of the box, withdrew a scroll of parchment wrapped in red ribbon, unfurled it, and revealed Mortenson's future. 'Dear Compassionate of the Poor,' he translated from the elegant Farsi calligraphy, 'our Holy Koran tells us all children should receive education, including our daughters and sisters. Your noble work follows the highest principles of Islam, to tend to the poor and sick. In the Holy Koran there is no law to prohibit an infidel from providing assistance to our Muslim brothers and sisters. Therefore,' the decree concluded, 'we direct all clerics in Pakistan to not interfere with your noble intentions. You have our permission, blessings, and prayers.'"

Khanday Schoolgirls with new uniforms. Pakistan.

Later, "after attending a conference of development experts in Bangladesh, Mortenson decided CAI schools should educate students only up through the fifth grade and focus on increasing the enrollment of girls. 'Once you educate the boys, they tend to leave the villages and go search for work in the cities,' Mortenson explains. 'But the girls stay home, become leaders int he community, and pass on what they've learned. If you really want to change a culture, to empower women, improve basic hygiene and health care, and fight high rates of infant mortality, the answer is to educate girls.'"

Kashmiri refugees in school. Pakistan.

..."Cricket hero Imran Khan had become a sort of secular saint. And rippling out from Mortenson's headquarters in Skardu, over the parched dunes, through the twisting gorges, and up the weatherbound valleys of Baltistan, the legend of a gentle infidel called Dr. Greg was likewise growing." (Three Cups of Tea)

Greg Mortenson with Gultori schoolchildren. Pakistan.

(Photos courtesy Central Asia Institute

Buy Three Cups of Tea and (my next read Stones into Schools) through the website ThreeCupsofTea and 7 percent of all your book purchases will go toward a girls' education scholarship fun in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Word(s) for 2010: Embrace | Abundance

I've never been a New Year's Resolutions girl, it always seemed arbitrary.  But something about this new year, so round and full in it's 2010-ness, made me want to pay special attention, to use the arbitrary turning of our created calendar as a wake-up kick, a little caffeine for my soul.  At her blog Ink on my fingers, Susannah warns about choosing a word for the year: "If you set your intention on a word, it might just come true, hence the need to choose your word wisely."

I thought my word was embrace, but then the word abundance came to mind.  Rather than let them fight it out, I realized that embrace encompasses abundance. Embrace allows for all. I like that the image of embrace is both of arms wide open, with acceptance, and enclosing someone or something in ones arms, holding it tight.  Too often I'm afraid to follow through on something, to commit. In embrace, with arms both open and enclosing, there is no fear.

I've posted this excerpt before, but it says so well what I hope for this year, how I want to focus my intention.

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom; taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

(When Death Comes, by Mary Oliver)
And one of my favorite pictures of embrace, a lion hugging its rescuer.

(Top photo: Tell me the rest of the story, by dianalemieux,