Thursday, September 29, 2011

Reuniting with the Secret Self: Lessons from Yoga (and Spock)

"Yoga" is usually translated "union," but, Steven reminded us at YogaGlo last night, it's more a reunion, reuniting with something that is always there.  He asked us to think of it like our breath.  Breathing is always there, whether we are conscious of it or not, but we reunite with that presence when we remember to be conscious of our breath.  And, bringing our hands together in the prayer position at our heart center, we reunite light and dark, male and female, our conscious and unconscious selves.

It brought to mind the idea of searching for your other half, an idea that conceptual artist Leonard Nimoy (a.k.a. Spock) explored in his photography exhibit Secret Selves.  "According to Greek mythology, humans were once four legged and four armed. When they became too arrogant and powerful Zeus split them in two. Since then mankind is in constant search for our other half in order to feel complete." (R. Michelson Galleries)

Sitting in the overflow room of a packed event at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, we watched a short film that went behind the scenes of Nimoy's shoot. We watched him set up shop in Northhampton, Mass, where he invited everyday people to arrive wearing something (or often, nothing) that gave a glimpse into a part of their life that may not be evident to all, even to oneself. A secret self.

Many were whimsical and lovely, such as Paul, a writer whose "inner self is a classical violinist, though I am not classical and I don’t play an instrument," or a man who wanted to retire as a mad scientist and brought along a bag of his crazy creations.

James — Newspaper Arts Editor
I plan to retire into a career as a mad scientist. I believe it is only madness of purpose that will serve me well.

Many were poignant and empowering.  Hands in prayer position at the heart, bringing together light and dark.

Dawn — former Junior League President
I was physically, emotionally and psychologically abused…I was outed by my husband…
I am a fighter — been stripped bare but I keep on swinging.

Hands in prayer position at the heart, bringing together male and female.

"I like being a girl…no one knows I am a woman, let alone a lesbian. My beard is natural, there is no imbalance." ~ Aimee
Aimee talked to Nimoy about how a beard is a cultural indicator, defining one's sexuality.  Most women pluck unwanted hair, and her beard is completely natural, she said, she doesn't have a hormonal imbalance.  Because she's overweight, most people don't notice her double Ds. She doesn't interact much with people at work, she usually gets jobs "in the back," washing dishes, so they assume she's a man.

"We're not here to judge, we're here to learn and observe," Nimoy explained when he discussed his process. Another great lesson of yoga practice and most great spiritual teachers.

What is your secret self?  my friend asked me as we left. I'm still not sure. I don't know how I would have arrived to meet with Nimoy, what I would wear, what I would reveal. Maybe I'm afraid of the dark, what / who might be lurking there.  But in yoga (union), as I sit and come back to awareness of body and breath, reuniting with what IS, joining my hands to symbolize bringing together the yin and the yang, I feel a little more centered, and more open to whatever that secret self might be.

(Photos from R. Michelson Galleries - see more from the series here.)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Everyone Poops: Take Action to Solve the World's Toilet Crisis

The john, the loo, the WC, the great white throne — for as many loving nicknames with which we've labeled the toilet, we likely take ours for granted.  Yet, in this day and age of technology and TOTO toilets with heated seats, built-in bidets and push-button sounds to drown out the noise of nature, more than 2.6 billion people, approximately 40% of the world's population, don't have access to the most basic toilet. 

This isn't just a problem for tourist boards trying to turn travelers' gaze from locals pooping in ponds, streams and rivers, this is life and death.  "As a result (of open defecation), more than 2 million people — including 1.5 million children — die from complications of chronic diarrhea." (World's Toilet Crisis, Vanguard)

It isn't a sexy subject or one for the dinner table, but as the children's book teaches us, "Everyone Poops." But not everyone has access to or the education to understand the dire importance of a clean latrine.  That's why it's crucial that we raise funds to build a latrine in the DRC this month. 

This isn't just any latrine.  This would fill a gaping, 30 foot hole that was dug in eastern Congo, dug to build the Peace Market, a dream of Amani Mataboro's to provide a place of commerce and community near the border, where Congolese and Rwandans could come together and work alongside each other towards peace and  a stronger, healthier economy. 

The latrine will serve this area of 26 villages and up to 42,000 people. It also benefits villages from the Walungu territory, as well as some communities on the Rwandan side of the Ruzizi river. With $4,500 USD, the latrine can be up and running, and, if we raise $9,000, it can be built as an environmentally sustainable resource of renewable energy - methane biogas

"The market is the best site for a sanitary latrine, since it is a focal point for the local economy. Without action, it could become the breeding ground for a cholera epidemic, but now it will be a success case for demonstrating healthy practices," says Amani Mataboro, Executive Director of Action Kivu's partner, Action pour le Bien- être de la Femme et de l'Enfant au Kivu (ABFEK).

"There is an urgency to this action. Because of climate change, we are seeing signs of the rainy season starting sooner than ever before. If we do not act now, people will die, starting with children and the elderly. If we work together, we can prevent these deaths and build a healthier community."

1 in 4 children who die before their fifth birthday in Eastern Congo die of something entirely preventable: cholera and acute diarrhea.  Help us change that with a donation to a clean latrine and health education today.  Learn more here

To learn more about the World's Toilet Crisis, watch the Vanguard video.  Absolutely disgusting at times (I made the mistake of watching right before breakfast), it's also informative and inspirational, as you watch communities take control of their health and well-being.  

(Photos: Everyone Poops,, latrine being dug at the Peace Market, newly built Peace Market, Opening Day Celebration)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Enraged & Engaged: Does Anybody Hear Me?

Enraged and engaged.  That's how I woke up yesterday morning.  A bit exhausted after weeping off and on for five hours watching the Democracy Now coverage of the Troy Davis vigil outside the prison.  But despite a night of tossing and turning, a sense of urgency woke me before my alarm. Puffy-eyed, enraged and engaged.

A born peace-keeper / people-pleaser, I've recently been able to accept my own anger. My therapist told me to, and I want to make her happy. But she also taught me that anger is only healthy as a motivating factor that leads towards positive change.  So as not to become the angry-girl, I signed the Amnesty International petition "Not in My Name," voicing my continued support to partner with them to abolish the death penalty.  I woke up ready to engage, and armed with Amnesty's guidance, I e-mailed their representatives from the state of California to learn what I can do to act on my outrage.  Who's with me?

Here's what we can do in California; e-mail YOUR state rep to find out how to act locally, or move here!  We can hang out, get fro-yo and go door-to-door together, getting autographs to put the issue on the ballot.

From Amnesty International, USA:  In California, we are working now on repealing the death penalty in 2012. California has the largest death row in the country, with over 700 people. We can really make a difference and push for abolition in our state. To those of you who want to do more, there are many ways.
You can learn more about the SAFE CALIFORNIA campaign here.

You can VOLUNTEER for the SAFE CALIFORNIA campaign here.

You can learn more about Amnesty's Death Penalty Abolition work here.

Finally, this year's Western Regional Conference for Amnesty will be in Los Angeles from November 4th to 6th. We will have workshops on the death penalty and a variety of human rights issues. It's also a great was to connect with others involved in the cause. If you live in LA and are an Amnesty member it's only $25, if you're a student it's $15.  

They also have a great fact sheet that will give you some talking points and includes some gems such as:

  • In 2008, 93% of all known executions took place in five countries China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the USA.
  • The death penalty is racially biased. Since 1977, the overwhelming majority of death row defendants (77%) have been executed for killing white victims, even though AfricanAmericans make up about half of all homicide victims.
  • The death penalty claims innocent lives. Since 1973, 138 people have been released from death rows throughout the country due to evidence of their wrongful conviction. In this same time period, more than 1,000 people have been executed.
  • The death penalty is not a deterrent. FBI data shows that all 14 states without capital punishment in 2008 had homicide rates at or below the national rate.

As I processed my emotions from the night Troy Davis was killed, a lot of my outrage stemmed from a feeling of helplessness, not being heard. It felt like millions of people were surrounding the grounds that housed the death chamber, their pleas and screams to save someone's life not heard through some sound-proof barrier of bureaucracy. It reflects one instant that makes up the whole of living in a democracy but feeling that elected leaders are not listening, that I don't have a voice here. I'm exhausted from screaming into the wind, from preaching to the choirs of like-minded friends at dinner parties and BBQs. I'm hoping this action, partnering with Amnesty and others fighting the death penalty in California, being very specific about educating voters, will finally break through that sound barrier and allow our voices to be heard.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I am Troy Davis

I started watching the Democracy Now! live feed from the Georgia prison at 3pm / 6pm EST, too late to contact the parole board, the local judge or the governor's office to voice my opposition one. last. time. 1 hour before they killed Troy Davis, and all the government offices were closed for the day.  How could office hours be a part of state-sanctioned homicide?  How can something like this be so neat and tidy with hours of operation, how could so many agencies ignore millions of people asking for a stay of execution, individual cries for justice and life from around the country and the globe?

Then, already in tears as the 7 o'clock deadline approached and passed, I took a breath hearing a cry of relief from the crowd, and then waited in confusion as the reporters tried to clarify what seemed to be a stay of execution.  I called out to my roommate to come watch.  I felt such relief, but also that OF COURSE they would grant a stay, they couldn't kill someone for a case that had so much doubt involved in it, where seven of the nine eye-witnesses recanted, where there was no physical evidence, where one juror stated that if she'd known then what she knows now, she would never have given a guilty verdict, and Troy Davis would not be on death row.  As someone stated later to Democracy Now's Amy Goodman, "Troy Davis doesn't need to prove he is innocent, the state of Georgia needs to prove he is guilty."

Oh right — innocent until proven guilty — the basis of our judicial system.  But after watching so much Law & Order and being programmed by our social system, how often do we really operate on that high moral ground?  Rarely, which is why a justice system that embraces the death penalty is flawed.  It is run by humans, with preconceptions, prejudice and emotion.  There is too much room for error, but there is NO room repairing that error after the lethal injection has been given.

My brain / soul / heart relief that of course a stay was going to happen, as it was the only rational response, was quickly ridiculed as idealistic when the crowd was informed that there was simply a reprieve, not a stay.  Davis would be allowed to breathe, his heart to beat, while the Supreme Court of the United States reviewed his final appeal.  So the torture continued, as Troy and his family waited hours for the decision to come down, one sentence from the Supreme Court that said they had denied the stay. 

How could I hope for rational thought when part of the state-sponsored killing is a suicide watch, to make sure the prisoner doesn't end his own life, ensuring the state gets to play god. When part of the process is a general physical, to make sure the prisoner is healthy enough to kill. Healthy enough. To kill.

Sadly, I'm not surprised, many of my friends commented on Facebook.

I was surprised.  Surprised to confirm that I really am an idealist / optimist, and believed that rational thought and the fear of killing a potentially innocent man would win the day. That the pride and ego of the state wouldn't be so large as to ignore the pleas of the people.  But, as Troy Davis himself shared in his statements, "This fight to end the death penalty is not won or lost through me but through our strength to move forward and save every innocent person in captivity around the globe. We need to dismantle this Unjust system city by city, state by state and country by country."

I needed this wake-up call. To the broken system that plays into our race and class problems, to the need to fight for reform, for reconciliation, forgiveness and real justice. I am Troy Davis. Our government killed him, but his spirit must live on in us as we put an end to this grotesque, inhuman act. Visit Amnesty International to sign a pledge to abolish the death penalty, that you do not want anyone killed in your name. And then learn how to take action, to contact and partner with organizations in your area who are fighting for the lives of others.

(from 1DeadlyNation)

(From road2justice)   

Sunday, September 11, 2011

City of Angels: Riding the Bus with Hollywood Jesus

Driving with my best friend, we waited to turn left to let a man run past us to catch the bus, his black cape flapping about his thigh-high boots. I LOVE that these are your people, she said, as we turned and watched him safely board the bus. Your bus people.

Last night was a beauty of a bus-ride, if like me, you're looking forward to the crazy. Waiting in Hollywood at Sunset and Vine, I stood near the curb, my eye on the traffic, near the bus sign but a few feet from the covered bus bench, giving space to the homeless man sleeping there. A few minutes later, he awoke, walked outside the lean-to, looked at me a few times, turned his back on me and proceeded to piss on the corner of the bus stand, his urine streaming down the sidewalk to the gutter.

My first thought? Well, where else is this guy gonna pee? Not like any of the bars on the block are going to let him use their restroom. My second thought? The Japanese TOTALLY know what they're doing when they remove their shoes before entering a room. You never know what you're walking on, but I can tell you, in L.A., it ain't sunshine.

Fully roused from relieving himself, he walked back behind the bus partition, and started hollering, ranting and raving at passersby, drivers, and the world in general.

It was getting closer to midnight, and our bus was late. A blonde Russian girl in her 20s arrived, asked me how long I'd been waiting, and staked out a spot further from the stop. A safe distance. An older woman with a peaceful, round, expressionless face said something about traffic being bad on a Saturday night.

The man's rant died down for a minute, and there was just the sound of tires turning and engines revving as people gunned through the yellow lights, hurriedly turned left on reds, and generally obeyed the laws of the land. Suddenly the man stepped out from the covered bench, a white sheet tied around his neck flowing over a bulky backpack, and looked me straight in the eye.

You think I don't have a car? he asked me. Of course I got a car, first thing I got, so my girlfriend wouldn't stand alone at a bus stop, getting hit on by strangers. Don't want her taking a taxi, either. I've got guns, he nodded toward the building at our backs, indicating his cache was kept in the newly-abandoned ghost-town of the Border's Bookstore behind us. AK-47s, 9mm, ... he proceeded with a laundry list of firearms, pretty much everything but a musket.

I wasn't sure my best move. If I walked away, would he follow, angry? If I ignored him, would be come closer, forcing me to look at him, to really see him?

What is it like, to be so out of control, so beyond the boundaries of civilized society, yet completely unseen? I don't know if, off his meds as he obviously was, he ever thought about that, but I all I could wonder was how invisible he must feel, people constantly averting their gaze, putting greater space between them and his odor, his rants, his very being.

I seemed to have found the right balance, making eye contact briefly, every few sentences, standing my ground. His rant at an end, he paused, looked me in the eye, and asked in a small voice, But I'm a good boy, aren't I?

He sounded like a child, confused, and it crushed me a little to realize he is someone's son. I wonder what his story is, and who might still know it.

Our bus having finally arrived, I sat by myself near the front, and watched as another woman, either drunk or off her meds (or both), poked at the 20-something guy in front of her. Poked him squarely and repeatedly between his shoulder blades, asking him his name, why he was wearing a blue t-shirt, and if he would wear the red one next time. Every time someone walked on the bus, she called out to them, asking their name, and was ignored. What was her story? Whose daughter is she? Does she realize she's not really seen?

At the same stop that the guy and his friend decided to disembark from the crazy-train, lo and behold, Hollywood Jesus joined the ride.

He stepped on board and from his robe, pulled out his bus pass? exact change? (I curse the British guys blocking my view with their camera phones). Hollywood Jesus took a seat, his white robes and golden-brown locks flowing in the breeze that came in through the window above him. He blessed us with his presence for just two stops down Sunset, then, giving a warm goodbye to the driver, exited and crossed against traffic.

I'd heard of him, but had yet to share a Metro line with him. It makes me wonder, though, what his story is. If he's off his meds. But knowing that he too, is someone's son, and he too, probably just wants to be seen.

(Photo: Hollywood Jesus riding the bus via Oh My ... What a Shame.)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Remembering 9.11 - panic attacks, ocean prayers, anthrax scares & art

How did I end up in flimsy latex gloves and an allergy mask, opening Mel Gibson's mail in search for signs of anthrax? It never rang more true, that old assistant's mantra. They don't pay me enough for this.

Two weeks earlier, after waking and watching the footage of the twin towers from the West coast, I went on auto-pilot.  I don't remember the drive from Burbank to Hollywood, whether the roads were clear of traffic, or what I said to the guard on my way into the offices at Paramount.  I do remember turning on the copier, measuring water and grinding beans and the smell of the coffee brewing.  Numb and uncertain, having never experienced anything like that in my 25 years in the U.S., I wondered if I was supposed to sit down at my desk?  Start reading scripts like it was any other day?

Those of us who came to work that Tuesday were sent home.  The impact of 9/11 didn't hit me fully for days, overwhelmed but unable to look away from the repeated footage of the planes crashing into the towers, the frightened people on the streets covered in ash.  There was a general sense of shock, having no coping tools for such an attack and loss of life.  It felt personal, and I felt helpless.

A few days later, having made the coffee, turned on the copier, and settled in with a script, the futility of that routine hit me, and I had a panic attack, managing to make it to my car to call my dad while I gasped for air.  I steered in the direction of Hollywood Presbyterian, where my friend had told me they were holding a prayer service, and after that, drove up Highway 1 to a secluded, rocky beach, nature being more of a church to me.  It was a place to turn away from the overwhelming images and conflicting messages about who to blame, to find space and place to be quiet.

I don't know if I realized I was mourning at the time, though 10 years later, we can see so much more of what was made visible when those towers were attacked.

Looking at a journal entry from September 2001, I had written about feeling suddenly thrust into the reality of a new war, learning about small countries that border Afghanistan.  At work we were in the middle of script development, production, and an anthrax scare, so I was opening the office's mail in latex gloves and an allergy mask.  Hardly worth the sad salary of an assistant, and not enough to protect me from a real threat, but then neither were the hastily erected barricades surrounding Paramount.  Did anyone know what to do anymore?

My world both contracting and expanding through the news coverage, I wasn't sure of my role any longer.  Pursuing careers in the arts and the entertainment industry, a friend asked, "In the midst of this, are art and humor still valid?"

And especially then, greeting actors and filmmakers with my plastic gloves and anthrax mask, I had to answer yes.  Now more than ever.

(Share your story, find links, videos more 9/11 recollections, remembrances and find links to videos and stories at The AFD Project.)

Friday, September 09, 2011

Breathing in The Naked Now (of 9.11)

With the 10 year anniversary of 9/11 falling on a Sunday, I groaned to think about the mash-up of church and state that might be happening all across the nation and world this weekend.  I happened to pick up a book recommended by both my friends Jaysen and Anne (Lamott that is, melding in reference the real, Jaysen, and the literary dream-friend).  Opening The Naked Now to chapter two, I read about the unspeakability of the Jewish revelation of the name of God.  "For those speaking Hebrew," Richard Rohr writes, it [Yahweh] was the Sacred Tetragrammaton YHVH. ...

"This unspeakability has long been recognized, but now we know it goes even deeper: formally the word was not spoken at all but breathed! Many are convinced that its correct pronunciation is an attempt to replicate and imitate the very sound of inhalation and exhalation."

Hmm.  Reminds me of my growing understanding of yoga and the sound of OM.

Rohr continues, "The one thing we do every moment of our lives is therefore to speak the name of God.  This makes it our first and our last word as we enter and leave the world.

"...I remind people that there is no Islamic, Christian, or Jewish way of breathing.  There is no American, African, or Asian way of breathing.  There is no rich or poor way of breathing.  The playing field is utterly leveled.  The air of the earth is one and and the same air, and this divine wind 'blows where it will' (John 3:8) — which appears to be everywhere. No one and no religion can control this spirit."

So on this weekend of remembrance of all that went wrong, all the retaliation on all sides, and the acts of love that are never small, I pray that we remember we breathe the same air, the same YHVH, that we are literally in this together.

"Just keep breathing consciously in this way and you will know that you are connected to humanity from cavemen to cosmonauts, to the entire animal world, and even to the trees and the plants. And we are now told that the atoms we breathe are physically the same as the stardust from the original Big Bang. Oneness is no longer merely a vague mystical notion, but a scientific fact."

~Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See
(Bolding mine)