Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Day of Thankfulness in the Present and Expectation in Advent

Silverlake Community Church

I had one of those days - walking my pocket of this world, paying attention to the small details, people's faces, a little girl brushing long hair out of her eyes, two men on a corner talking, a man in the pet shop looking for a special treat for his friend's dog, who would be accompanying that friend on a road trip to her grandfather's funeral, and he wanted to make a travel care package. To the check-out guy talking kitty-love / kitty food, to the fellow TJs shopper, a man who ran after me with my forgotten wallet in hand, to the cab driver who picked my up when I bought too many bulky things at Trader Joes and needed a lift home, who recognized me from an earlier time he'd driven me, and blessed me for the extra tip I gave in the spirit of passing on the love that I hadn't lost my wallet.

I love the simplicity of Silverlake Community Church's nativity scene.  It reminded me that it is Advent Season - a time of waiting with expectation.  Which, as I'm consistently reminding myself to stay in the present moment, is an interesting concept to mull over. How to have hopeful expectation for peace on earth, but remain present and thankful for all there is in the now? The song that started playing in the background of my monkey mind?  "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me." My thoughts, actions, and reactions are the only things I have actual control over, to choose and be peace.


The Butterfly Effect: Save the World, One Butterfly at a Time

I felt like a little girl on a field trip, learning how butterflies have sensors in their feet that they use to "taste" the plant and know whether it’s the right one on which to lay eggs, so the caterpillar will have food to munch and grow, cocoon, and become another beautiful butterfly.  I bought a small Deerweed (Acmispon glaber), on sale from The Theodore Payne Foundation, co-host of the City of Butterflies event. It will live in a container on my front stoop, soaking in the full sun it needs to slowly grow into a host for the Bramble Hairstreak, Avalon Hairstreak, Acmon Blue and Silvery Blue butterflies.

Why butterflies for my birthday outing?

Madeleine L’engle introduced me to the chaos theory and concept of "The Butterfly Effect" in her book, A Stone for a Pillow: "If a butterfly winging over the fields around Crosswicks should be hurt, the effect would be felt in galaxies thousands of light years away. The interrelationship of all Creation is sensitive in a way we are just beginning to understand. If a butterfly is hurt, we are hurt. If the bell tolls, it tolls for us."

As the Fractal Foundation notes about the Chaos Theory: "This effect grants the power to cause a hurricane in China to a butterfly flapping its wings in New Mexico. It may take a very long time, but the connection is real. If the butterfly had not flapped its wings at just the right point in space/time, the hurricane would not have happened. A more rigorous way to express this is that small changes in the initial conditions lead to drastic changes in the results."  — FractalFoundation.org

I love the connectedness the butterfly effect reminds me of -- that even a small action on my part may make a wildly important change in the world. Offering a hand to someone who needs it, a meal to someone who is hungry, directions to a befuddled tourist, or planting a packet of seeds so that the butterflies don’t die off.

Read the whole story and find out how you can add more butterflies to your city: The City Farm Grow blog.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

It IS a Beautiful Morning With My New, Selfish Mantra: Everything's Going My Way

It is 5:41 and I’m up before the sun on a cold (for southern California) morning, barreling my way down my street, aware only that my fingers are cold but I’m too tired to dig in my bag for my gloves.

Then I realize there's a song playing on repeat in my head. “Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day…” and I laugh out loud. It’s a song from my childhood, and I don’t know the rest of the words, except the ones I think I’m making up. “Everything’s clear in the evening, everything’s going my way.”

It’s a song from the musical OKLAHOMA.  I sometimes confuse real life with the movies and stories I grew up reading, watching, and singing around the house.  Labeling a friend a “kindred spirit” was fine and all, but when I slipped into Green Gables lingo and asked if she’d be my “bosom friend” I got a decidedly different look.

It IS a beautiful morning. And I become aware of the sound of my sneakers, a rhythmic padding on the sidewalk, the fact that I’m leaning into the uphill climb, my neck tense with forward motion. And notice that when I relax my body into the pace of my brisk stroll, I don’t feel as cold.

“Everything’s clear in the evening, everything’s going my way,” was actually written: “I’ve got a wonderful feeling, everything’s going my way,” by Rodgers & Hammerstein.  It seems so blatantly blind to reality, perfect for a musical, but not MY life – of course not everything is going my way.

Or is it?  When I’m present and aware that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, even the frustrating or painful parts of life have taught me far more than when everything seems to be going my way.  Though I also love those moments of feeling swept along in a feel-good film, the times I’m aware that I’m incredibly lucky and try to remember to feel grateful for the good. 

But it’s those frustrating or scary moments, when someone is being a selfish jerk and demanding what I can’t possibly give, when I can’t find work and I’m barely breathing, in panic about how to pay a bill, or I’m stuck in selfishness, wondering why I sat next to THAT lady on the bus who won’t stop talking about her achy knee or her kids who won’t call her back, that I have to breathe deep, relax my shoulders and neck, and sing this new mantra, “Oh, what a beautiful day,  I’ve got a wonderful feeling, everything’s going my way.”

I’m where I need to be. Figuring out my next job, how to live within my lean budget. How to be present for the needy lady who just wants someone to hear her story.

"No one ever tells us to stop running away from fear. We are very rarely told to move closer, to just be there, to become familiar with fear. I once asked the Zen master Kobun Chino Roshi how he related with fear and he said, ‘I agree. I agree.’ But the advice we usually get is to sweeten it up, smooth it over, take a pill, distract ourselves, but by all means, make it go away.

"So the next time you encounter fear, consider yourself lucky. This is where the courage comes in. Usually we think that brave people have no fear. The truth is that they are intimate with fear.” ~ Pema Chödrön

(P.S. - the other lyrics are lovely, too, for meditation)

All the sounds of the earth are like music,
All the sounds of the earth are like music,
The breeze is so busy it don't miss a tree

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Visitor, Solnit & Story: "To Love Someone is to Put Yourself in Their Place"

“To love someone is to put yourself in their place, we say, which is to put yourself in their story, or figure out how to tell yourself their story.” ~Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

I watched “The Visitor” for the seventeenth (? I’ve lost count) time last night, to introduce my boyfriend to one of my favorite storytellers, writer/director/actor Tom McCarthy. 

In the movie, Walter (I love you, Richard Jenkins!) enters into the story of a younger couple, Tarek and Zainab, immigrants to NYC from Syria and Senegal, respectively. The film holds up, even after 17 times. I was a part of their stories that unexpectedly collided and intertwined – the subtly of the performances infused with the small moments of humor, beauty, and music that surround us daily, if we only pay attention.

I used the film to teach English to my advanced ESL class in Kosovo a few years ago, turning on the subtitles to help with the accents and unknown vocabulary. We watched it one night, and the six students returned with questions, words to guess via context, and themes to discuss: immigration and what it means to be connected in a busy, disconnected city.

As we gathered in a small room that reeked of the cigarette smoke that is omnipresent in Pristina, we heard a muffled drumbeat. Not the usual sound from the crowded Korza below, a pedestrian-only street surrounded by shops, office buildings, and peppered with street carts selling small house wares or roasted chestnuts in the winter.

Opening the window, the sound of drumming grew louder, a group of musicians jamming below. Pieter from Bulgaria eyed the circle, looked back at us, and said, “Perhaps it’s Walter!” We had all felt a part of the story, and suddenly, it appeared to have found us and joined our plot.

Solnit goes on to write that “We tell ourselves stories in order to live, or to justify taking lives, even our own, by violence or by numbness and the failure to live.”  Before watching the film, I’d had a day of craving numbness, no story. Feeling overwhelmed with anxiety, I’d wished I could simply check out, disengage.  Watching “The Visitor” brought me back to my own story, connecting with the larger story of us all through the intimate glimpse into a few weeks of Walter’s life.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Book Burners' Club: Journey with Cheryl Strayed's WILD PCT Trek via the Words She Read

"The flowery cover of The Complete Stories by Flannery O'Connor was unbent.  The same could not be said of Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, or rather the thin portion of the book I still had in my pack. I'd torn off the cover and all the pages I'd read the night before and burned them in the little aluminum pie pan I'd brought .... I'd watched Faulkner's name disappear into flames feeling a bit like it was sacrilege —never had I dreamed I'd be burning books — bit I was desperate to lighten my load." ~Cheryl Strayed, Wild

I picked up a copy of Wild after discovering Cheryl's writing on The Rumpus, and then reading that Reese Witherspoon will be playing her in the film adaptation.  I always try to read the book before the movie -- no offense, Reese, but the books are almost always better.  But I'm excited to see how they capture the beauty of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Despite sobbing through the first part in public (I don't recommend cracking open the first chapter, about her mom, on a plane, tears like that FREAK OUT men in middle seats) I loved reading Wild.  I lived vicariously through Cheryl's solo journey, making mental notes that it is always better to lighten the load, shed the unnecessary.

Who's in to start a Book Burner's Club here on the blog, and read Cheryl's trail books together?   As a writer, I wondered what she took away from the books she read along the trail. We can read them in light of that, such as when Anse ruminates on the nature of putting down roots in As I Lay Dying, "Because the Lord put roads for travelling ... when he aims for something to be always a-moving, he makes it long ways, like a road ... but when he aims for something to stay put, He makes it up-and-down ways, like a tree or a man."

As a frequent nomad, I've felt both the need to hit the road, and travel to the unknown, as well as appreciate what it means to put down roots, and learn from the unexpected unknown you may discover in your own city, backyard, or best friend.

So that's the focus, and we can meander off the trail to wherever each book leads.  We'll note where she was on the trail, talk about our own wandering paths, and create a bit more community via words, here in the Blog comments.

1. Wild, Cheryl Strayed
2. As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner
3. The Dream of Common Language, Adrienne Rich
4. The Complete Stories, Flannery O'Connor
5. The Novel, James Michener (her mother's favorite writer)
6. A Summer Birdcage, Margaret Drabble (May have to hunt via Amazon or your local used bookstore.)
7. Dubliners, James Joyce
8. Waiting for the Barbarians, J.M. Coetzee
9. The Best American Essays, 1991
10. The Ten Thousand Things, Maria Dermoût

When should we start talking about Wild and As I Lay Dying?  Start with talking those two in December?  Say Tuesday, 17th? 

If you want reminders, message me at rebecca.snavely [at] gmail [dot] com!

If you haven't read Wild, go to Powells.com to order online (Strayed now lives in Portland, so support PDX!). Along with that, we'll start in on Faulkner, her first trail book, leaving out Staying Found and the Pacific Crest Trail guides.

Without physically burning books, or reading them by the light of a flickering headlamp, we can take part of the journey Strayed traveled, sans heavy backpack, bears, snakes, and missing toenails.  Who's in?

(Photo: WWeek)

Thursday, November 07, 2013

What the Mute Gardener Taught Me: Fifteen Minutes of Music with Nothing Playing

I walked with purpose, a check in my pocket to deposit, a sports bra and tennis shoes to remind me this was an errand AND exercise.  I blew right past the man bent over, his sunhat bowed to the traffic, his tool digging down into the hard-packed earth of the neglected, city-owned sidewalk lawn. A small tree was newly planted in the middle of a circle he had carved in the dirt. 10 strides up the street, I paused, and circled back. Greeting him in English and Spanish didn't startle him for his work.  I was ignored, but allowed the awkward time to observe the mute gardener for a bit.

Just ahead, I passed a group of people blocking the sidewalk with their slow, serpentine parade, trash-bags and garden tools in hand, eyes on the concrete, I wondered if they were lost.  We're from Canada, one man explained when I asked where they were heading, holding rakes.  Oh, that explains it, I guess?  We're not really sure where we're going, he said.  Just cleaning up this area, volunteering for The Dream Center.


My walk turned to a run as I headed home on the downhill slope, pausing to capture a wall I walk / drive by almost daily.

I passed by my new coffee community, Muddy Paw, and headed up the Micheltorena stairs, stepping over the remains of a homeless camp, cigarette butts and empty, oily, fast-food bags strewn about.

I was thankful for the mute gardener, who slowed my speed-walk down to a pace where I could pay attention, be present.  

Freshen the Flowers, She Said

So I put them in the sink, for the cool porcelain 
     was tender,
and took out the tattered and cut each stem
     on a slant,
trimmed the black and raggy leaves, and set them all —
     roses, delphiniums, daisies, iris, lilies,
and more whose names I don't know, in bright new water —
     gave them

a bounce upward at the end to let them take
     their own choice of position, the wheels, the spurs,
the little shed of the buds. It took, to do this,
     perhaps fifteen minutes. 
Fifteen minutes of music
     with nothing playing.

~Mary Oliver, from Why I Wake Early

Saturday, October 19, 2013

First-Friend-Dates + Los Angeles Community

I love slowing down, talking to strangers and feeling more connected. Taking the time to observe the connectedness that's always around us. Finding connection in unexpected places, like finding a real-life friend via Twitter.

My Saturday started in Atwater Village at Proof Bakery, where a septuagenarian in a cowboy hat and wiry white beard informed me he was there to test whether the L.A. Times story on the city's best croissant was correct. He'd been to Paris several times, and, frankly, doubted it.  He took his pastry to go, so, sorry guys.  We'll NEVER KNOW.

From Sunset Magazine's Insider Guide

The bakery was bustling, and I was there on a first-friend-date (yay, Twitter works for actual socializing!). Just like a regular first date, I was a little nervous about what we might talk about, would we like each other? Would I be funny enough to keep another writer entertained? What would we do if there was nowhere to sit, and we had to walk and talk, and I'm tall, which always makes that a little weird.  So I snagged the last two-top from under the slower moves of an elderly couple. I needed the table more than them, they way they were supporting each others' elbows, they clearly had known each for years.

It was all for nought (sorry, grandpa!) as my new friend and I fell into that getting-to-know-you give and take of any good first encounter, where we discussed overcoming perfectionism to learn something new (violin?), writing practice and childhood trauma.  The usual coffee talk. 

We made our way over to Individual Medley, a lovely space with gorgeous clothes, home decor, trinkets, and a popup flower shop.

She gave me honest opinions on hats (too 'Crocodile Dundee') — a trait which is hard to find in a friend.  She hugged hello to the owner, and introduced me. A newish transplant to L.A., she's already making it home. And after my 15 years of finding my friend-family here, I'm excited to keep expanding social circles, have good deep conversations and trade book recommendations, and introduce a new friend to our community.*

(Oh, and yeah.  We sat near Joel McHale from the show "Community."  He's really quite handsome, I don't know if he's ever been told that?  And he was playing with kids. And I STILL managed to be present with a new friend.)

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

On Ladyhair Length and What Being Brave is Actually About

"You look fantastic," a fellow office-dweller stopped me mid-coffee pour. "I’d never have the balls to do it, but you look amazing."

I’d never been privy to my colleague’s ladyparts, but I’m pretty sure she does not, indeed, have balls.  Nor do I, which is why I was surprised to hear that I’d recently grown a pair.

What, you must be wondering, did I do to earn these brave ladyballs?  Ink a prominent tattoo on my face? Add a bionic limb that would somehow solve world hunger?

I cut my hair.

Yep. I cut off long locks I was bored with, for the short do favored by famous women like Audrey Hepburn, Mia Farrow, Linda Evangelista, Gwyneth Paltrow, Michelle Williams, Ginnifer Goodwin, Anne Hathaway, Robin Wright, and Charlize Theron, to name just a few.

By sitting in that barber chair at Rudy’s, I joined a brave bunch, baring the backs of our necks to the scrutiny of society, laughing in the face of long-haired femininity.

I was mostly bored, but a part of me also wondered if I was hiding behind my pretty hair.  If I could still be pretty and attractive with a "boy-cut."

My boyfriend told me immediately that it was hot, and super stylish.  And then referenced Tinkerbell twice. That’s ... cute, right? But while I like fairies, I don’t exactly view them as hot. And started to wonder if / why my boyfriend might.

Me: "So, you have a Tinkerbell fantasy?"

Him: "Not yet. Kind of a steric hindrance issue there."

Me: (Furiously googling steric hindrance.)

Me: (Reading the most basic definition of steric hindrance on Wikipedia and still not understanding what he meant.)

Me: "Umm ... what?"

Him: Scientific term for when things won’t fit because of dimensions.

Me:  (Still reading about chemical reactions. Thinking that he means there’s no longer space for chemistry with me now that I cut my hair?)

Him: I do have a Wonder Woman fantasy, though.

Me: (Inwardly crumbling, as my former do actually DID resemble Wonder Woman’s).

I decided I didn’t want a text to tell me that my boyfriend was that shallow and only loved me for my hair, so I waited til I returned home from my work trip, groomed myself as best I could, and took him to coffee, where I explained how the Wonder Woman comment made my short-haired self feel a wee bit un-Amazonian.

Boyfriend was BAFFLED. He had been trying to make a "science joke" (apparently there are such things) about Tinkerbell being too small to have sex with.

I laughed til I cried. And I panicked that my understanding of who I am, and what it means to be feminine, could be so fragile.

But it is, partly because I was born on planet Earth, in the United States of Advertisers pushing beauty products. And, when I posted a photo of my haircut, I got comments from even the most feminist of women telling me how brave I was.  Stopping in the hair aisle of Target to choose a new color to compliment my short do, a 20-something took one look at me, and unasked, said, "I wish I had the guts to go that short."

Even little girls are already aware of what ladyhair *should* look like. Glennon Doyle Melton of Momastery posted this on Facebook:

Tish: Mom,I saw on TV that when your hair looks all bad like that, you can say it's "beach hair"and you don't have to be embarrassed.
Me: Kay. Well, I'm not embarrassed of my hair.
Amma: Mommy, that's vewy bwave of you.

So, while I dig in to what society has told me about how I should look, and why it’s so brave to buck that trend, and whether men are still going to look at me, and why I CARE if men look at me, I’d like to talk about what it means to be a brave woman.

When I think of the brave people in my life, I think of those who are open, honest, and vulnerable with their emotions.  People who are scared when facing a challenge, and admit it, and ask someone, sometimes in just a wee whisper, for help.

 I think about the woman whose best friend or sister has lost her hair from cancer treatment, and shaves her head in solidarity. But the truly brave woman? The one FIGHTING FUCKING CANCER, who doesn’t give up. The mom who admits a terrible, no good, really bad day, and still wakes up in the morning and tells her kids she’s proud of them, and pursues her goals in life, to show her kids what it means to live life out loud. The women I work with in Congo, who, in the face of poverty, horrifying violence, and daily degradation, wake, attend literacy classes and learn to farm and make clothes and baskets to sell to earn income to feed their kids.

With long hair, short hair, green hair, grey hair, or no hair.

Language matters, and with my close friends, I've asked them to question why they're saying I've got "balls"  (why do we still refer to male genitalia for boldness?) to cut my hair. Please don't call me brave because I went with a new do that tons of actors and models have worn before me. I want to be brave, not because I cut off a braid, but because I am living life without worrying what others think. 

Monday, August 05, 2013

Try New Things & Learn to Slow Down Time

I've lived by the famous Laurel & Hardy Music Box Stairs for over 6 months, and finally decided to seek them out.  It turns out there's an app for that, based on the book Secret Stairs: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of L.A. 

My friend Laramie grabbed her iPhone and we met at Cafe Tropical to start our adventure in my very own neighborhood, where, car-free, I walk all the time.  And yet I'd NEVER seen several of these staircases.  Secret, indeed. 

We guiltily indulged our inner tourists as we let the iVoice guide us when to turn left, when to gaze at the downtown skyline, or when to wonder about the impressive modern home that was a rarity in the craftsman-lined streets. We met several kitties and drunk homeless men, the latter who were terrible tour guides, but did wish us well on our workout. 

The hour felt longer than usual.  Time stretched and expanded: we had nowhere to be, explorers of stairs and quasi-voyeurs as we passed people's windows and heard kids calling out to parents, smelled early dinner preparations, watched a woman water her dahlias.  As we huffed up stairs and wandered down unknown alleys, Laramie remembered a New York Times piece about slowing down our experience of time.

"Most adults do not explore and learn about the world the way they did when they were young; adult life lacks the constant discovery and endless novelty of childhood.

"Studies have shown that the greater the cognitive demands of a task, the longer its duration is perceived to be. Dr. David Eagleman at Baylor College of Medicine found that repeated stimuli appear briefer in duration than novel stimuli of equal duration. Is it possible that learning new things might slow down our internal sense of time?

"...It’s simple: if you want time to slow down, become a student again. Learn something that requires sustained effort; do something novel. Put down the thriller when you’re sitting on the beach and break out a book on evolutionary theory or Spanish for beginners or a how-to book on something you’ve always wanted to do. Take a new route to work; vacation at an unknown spot. And take your sweet time about it." ~Richard A. Friedman

I like to live like a traveler, being open to the unknown, but too often I get too caught up in my routines to allow for time to, if not stand still, expand a bit. It reminds me of watching "Happy-Go-Lucky," where Poppy's life of Flamenco classes and driving lessons encouraged me to expand my world.  What next?

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Women Who Weave - Connect With Congo!

The women at the Mumosho Women’s Center have begun to learn basket weaving.  Depending on the size, they can sell these for 3, 5, 6, or 8 dollars.  A bundle of the colorful cords that are woven into the patterns costs between $50 and $70, used to create approximately 12 large and 2 medium baskets, that sell at $8.00 USD and $5.00 USD, respectively. 

I wish I had one of these for my farmer's market mornings!

Connect with the women in Congo — post a comment or tweet @ActionKivu with your words of support for the women in eastern Congo, weaving their way to empowerment through earning regular income, sending their children to school, and being the change we all want to see in Congo!  Action Kivu will send your thoughts forward, where your words will be printed out and translated, posted in the women's center to encourage the women on their journeys.

To support the weaving women, consider a monthly donation! Every dollar makes a difference in the lives of the women learning to read & write, to sew, to weave, to farm. 

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Mother's Day: Connect with Congo

"Happy Mother's Day!" a man said to me as I passed his gate. Before thinking, I replied in instinctive, cultural politeness, "Happy Mother's Day to you, too!" Similar to when someone at an airline desk tells me to have a safe flight and I reply without thinking, "You too!" They nod, stuck behind the desk where they watch planes alight into the air, used to the auto-response. That Mother's Day, flustered, I apologized, then explained, "But I'm not a mother, either." "That's okay," he said, more thoughtful than I.  "Aren't we all mothering someone, or something, in some way?"

"Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to ‘jump at de sun.’ We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground." ~ Zora Neale Hurston

The concept of mother crosses cultures, languages, religions, eras. Mothers who, day in, day out, give encouragement, who hope for the best for those they love. Who give birth to creative ideas and see them through to completion.

This Mother's Day, we have disturbing news that the worst place in the world to be a mother is the Democratic Republic of Congo. Through Action Kivu's work with the local Congolese organization ABFEK, we're working to empower those mothers to make changes in their lives, in their communities. 

Read more here, and find out how this Mother's Day, you can connect with the mothers graduating from the sewing workshops in Congo, and help make their hopes reality.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Blogging for The City Farm!

I'm super excited to be blogging over at The City Farm's Grow blog! It's all about bringing more green into our city life, and I'd appreciate if you head over to check it out.  The first post is about adding green to your cubicle / office space —how do bring the outside in?  Check out the blog and comment there.

And please keep coming back here for my stories of life in L.A. and beyond.  I love creating community and connecting in all these crazy Web ways.

Photo credits: Clockwise, from left top:
1. Terrarium work desk
2. Living Table, by Nothing Design Group, Apartment Therapy
3. Cubicle: Kathy Turner on Pinterest
4. Healthier Office Spaces, TreeHugger.com

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Car-Free in L.A. - Giovanni Ribisi is Stalking Me | Ditch Car | MeetPeople

Walking, originally uploaded by Moyan_Brenn.

I know not everyone has the lifestyle / time in the day to live life on the L.A. public transit schedule. But just for a weekend? Leave your car parked at home, and see what happens.

This weekend, I was on a bus down Sunset, where a young kid, somewhere between 12 and 15, sat on the sideways seat at the front, and periodically leaned back to make eye contact with the woman in the first row of front-facing seats. He squinted a smile, wiggled his eyebrows like a Marx brother, and laughed as she winked back.  Developmentally challenged, he showed pure joy through connecting with a stranger and making her smile. I couldn't stop smiling either, nor could the guy in a wheelchair or the driver, who both waved goodbye as the kid exited and waved wildly, four times, as the bus pulled away from the stop.

Today, walking back from a jog at the reservoir and then a run to CVS and Ralphs, back past the reservoir on my way home, during which hour I ran into Giovanni Ribisi not once but THREE times (as this is L.A., and he's clearly stalking me) I saw an elderly man crumpled at the curb, his cane tossed carelessly behind him, his eyes closed. I doubled back, and another woman stopped with me, to question him if he was okay. He may be drunk, the other woman said, but when my dad goes into diabetes shock, he looks drunk. The man opened his eyes to our questions, and convulsed a bit, but was non-responsive. I started to dial 911, then realized that a couple in a truck had stopped already, and were on the phone with the paramedics.

Though I wondered if I should have stayed to make sure he was okay, the woman and I walked away, assured the couple would wait til the ambulance arrived. We told each other to have good days, and I left feeling a little more connected to the strangers in my neighborhood. It's good to get out and walk, to pay attention to who might have fallen by the side of the road, whether literally or hiding it in their daily duties.

It's good to be car-free.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Puddles in Spring

In spring the blue azures bow down
at the edges of shallow puddles
to drink the black rain water.
Then they rise and float away into the fields.

Sometimes the great bones of my life feel so heavy,
and all the tricks my body knows―
the opposable thumbs, the kneecaps,
and the mind clicking and clicking—

don’t seem enough to carry me through this world
and I think: how I would like

to have wings—
blue ones—
ribbons of flame.

How I would like to open them, and rise
from the black rain water.

And then I think of Blake, in the dirt and sweat of London—a boy
staring through the window, when God came
fluttering up.

Of course, he screamed,
and seeing the bobbin of God’s blue body
leaning on the sill,
and the thousand-faceted eyes.

Well, who knows.
Who knows what hung, fluttering, at the window
between him and the darkness.

Anyway, Blake the hosier’s son stood up
and turned away from the sooty sill and the dark city—
turned away forever
from the factories, the personal strivings,

to a life of the the imagination.

~"Spring Azures" by Mary Oliver

(Photo: Distorted Reflections, Warped Mirror)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Finding Rhythm: Unexpected Encounters & Coyotes

I had put off going for a jog long enough, my morning coffee buzz threatening to wane, I laced up, lathered up with SPF 45, tugged my hair into a ponytail and headed down the hill to the reservoir.

Not a natural jogger, I tend to go too fast and wear myself out. It takes being present and listening to my body for me to find my pace, to slow down and get into a good groove, a rhythm that I can sustain.  I had just found that, and was slowly making my way, weaving through baby strollers and dogs with their humans, when I saw my new friend, the woman I had so rudely and serendipitously interrupted at a neighborhood bar. We had already spent a day discovering how much we had in common, and felt a strong kindred connection, which was strengthened as we made a lap around the lake, talking about recent experiences, and the frustration of staying in the moment, especially when the moment is one full of ambiguity.

My new friend talked about small miracles of connection, recognizing how often paying attention and simply showing up offers the most amazing opportunities in life.  She had just been to the reservoir over the weekend, and spotted a coyote inside the fence, and mentioned that she should look up more about what the coyote tells us as a totem, spirit guide.  Moments after, we saw our trickster-fool of a friend hunting through the low-lying bushes, seeming to dart away from a lizard.  We stopped to watch him, trying to call him closer, safely behind barbed wire.

"The Coyote is a clown in the natural world, and in many Native American tribes view the symbolism of the Coyote as that of trickster, shape-shifter, and transformer," Avia Venefica writes.

"Legend has it Navajo never kill Coyote because of their belief that it accompanied the first man and woman into the entrance of the first physical world.

"Also, in the same myth, the Coyote brought with it seeds of life so as to sew new growth upon the new world. This legend depicts the Coyote as a bringer of life and a new birth symbol.

"Shoshoni believed the Coyote as an indication of an ending. The sighting of the Coyote was said to bring natural shifts in balance, causing an end (which, of course, simply makes way for new beginnings, and so on). Essentially, the Coyote is like a "way-maker" of new direction as it went about its symbolic role of representing the cycle of life/death in nature."

At the point where we'd part ways to head home, we stopped, stretched, and finished our conversation, promising to meet up this week for a drink and a little live music. I continued back around the reservoir, picking up my pace to jog again, to find my sad, slow stride. A pace where I could see the faces of the dogs and babies passing by, wonnder what kind of bird that is, feeding beside the water, stumpy, black, with a white beak.

Reading about what the coyote might teach us, I'm fascinated by the things that have come to an end in my life, friendships changed or ended, and what that means for new beginnings. Slowing myself down from the desire to sprint, instead finding the right pace to enjoy the journey.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Getting Naked: Revealing Yourself on a First Friend Date

It all started when I overheard the name Brené Brown. About to order drinks for me and my friend at the bar, I turned, as if on cue, and without thinking (the benefit of my first glass of wine still in my blood), interrupted an attractive woman speaking to an attractive man.  Only later (sober) did I think I may have interfered with a potential meet-cute.  Buzzed, and elated to hear a potential kindred spirit speaking of Brown's TedTalk, it didn't matter.  I love Brené Brown, I gushed, and the conversation proceeded to other ear-candy, including Krista Tippet's podcasts on "On Being."  We (the ladies) exchanged numbers, and promised to meet for a coffee.

I think I just made a new friend! At a bar! Discussing spiritual and meaningful talks, I told my good friend, finally delivering the promised drink.  "Welcome to Silver Lake," my longtime Silver Lake resident/friend told me. 

Three weeks later, my new friend and I met for coffee at Casbah Cafe.  Sitting down, we started on small talk, like what we do for work, the benefits of cococut oil, and returning to church after years disappointment and frustration. About faith to remove life's wrinkles from one's skin and life's scars from one's soul.

We talked so long we had to worry about the parking meter and our empty stomachs, and decided to jump in her car to find food and our next adventure. After eating delicious salads at Food+Lab, we headed downtown where she introduced me to a new obsession, Shareen Vintage.  As we pieced through the racks of dresses, I explained my body type and issues, the right fit I was looking for.  As the 20-something clerk heaped our choices of colorful printed fabrics on a couch, I saw my new friend in a breath-taking gown.  Where do I change, I asked.  Here! she said.  No boys allowed.  As I ran from a three way mirror exclaiming my body-issues in a hip-hugging dress, she joked about getting to know each other quickly.  "Let's get naked!"

And that's part of the beauty of a new friendship that starts on shared experiences and ideas about life and faith — it takes risk, to reveal your lumps and scars in a safe place, yet still sucking in your stomach, waiting to build the trust that allows that deeper sharing with a true soul-friend. 

Cheers to eavesdropping, interrupting, talking to strangers, and stumbling upon a kindred spirit.

(Photos: Food+Lab from EastSideFoodBites.com, Shareen Vintage from RetroThreadz.blogspot.com, Brené Brown from Blog.SpeakersOffice, Casbah Cafe from vtgwonderland.com)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Happy Birthday, Sister-Friend! Celebrating Christina, and what it means to be & have a sister

It’s my sister’s 40th birthday, which is hard to believe. Aren’t parents 40?  Grown-ups?  What does this mean? Starting to write what her life means to me, what it means to grow up with a sister, was too long for a birthday card. I decided to take to the interwebs, because I think you all need to know what an amazing woman my sister is.

"Sister. She is your mirror, shining back at you with a world of possibilities. She is your witness, who sees you at your worst and best, and loves you anyway. She is your partner in crime, your midnight companion, someone who knows when you are smiling, even in the dark. She is your teacher, your defense attorney, your personal press agent, even your shrink. Some days, she's the reason you wish you were an only child."
~Barbara Alpert

Having a sister barely three years older made for what I thought was a tough childhood. Sharing a grade-school, I had find ways to defend myself from her barbs and teasing. She was (is) smart and funny, and often my friends found her more entertaining than I.  I learned to read early to keep up with her. I had to run faster, since she was great at running track. From my shy stance as a high-school freshman, I watched her embrace her senior status. Watched her laugh in the hallway with her friends, watched her make Todd laugh, the guy on whom I had such a crush. I got rides from her with her friends Stephanie and Johanna, to meet friends at the mall, and jumping in the backseat with them made me feel like one of those girls in an 80s movie: hair feathered, bangs big, oh so grown-up. 

As we grew into adulthood and lived far away from each other, we learned together to forgive each other so many trespasses, all the cruel things we had said and done.  We could begin to view the other as separate, but always connected. I learned from her as she mourned the death of that best friend, Stephanie, watching my strong sister crumble in grief and depend on our family for support. I watched her find her way through that, sharing stories of the ever-hilarious Steph and the adventures they had.

Watching my sister, I learned that strong-willed, bossy little girls grow up into defenders of the trampled-upon.  As a CASA (court-appointed special advocate) Christina found herself standing up against the system for a kid whom most had written off.  I learned from her dating mishaps to avoid DJs, to be real and honest and funny with men, and hope to choose as wisely as she did in marrying a good, smart, gentle, and witty man.

Together we grew into liberal, open-minded women who bounce ideas off each other’s experiences. We have rambling talks about spirituality, from what it means to be raised in the Christian church to embracing different ways of practicing faith and opening to the flow of the universe.  Together we navigate our clan, which, like every family, is lovely and amazing and has places of deep hurt that need to be healed.

As a trained life-coach, Christina has found a natural fit for her skills of empathy and encouragement. She listens and asks questions to challenge others to see the greater picture, to be open to more possibilities. We can spend hours talking about ideas ranging from places to travel, to spirit animal guides, to practical ways to achieve our goals as story-tellers: how we find connection between people, places, and the stories that grow there.

I continue to learn from my sister as I watch her as mother.  As I write those words, tears well up in my eyes, knowing the possibilities, adventures and even deeper love that her son Henry brings to our lives.  Mother has so many meanings, and she has mothered me through the years, offering guidance, wisdom, a mirror to reflect my self-consciousness, worries and successes.  I watch her grow as amazing, loving mother.

I watch her mother Henry, as she takes great care to research and understand his unspoken needs based on stages of his baby-brain development, and know that all the years of her listening and encouraging me will be even more finely honed in his life. That she is learning, and will teach Henry, the idea that "when we’re falling we should be happy because we’re being taught how to get back up."  She is fierce in her love and protection of the over-looked, under-served, and I know will raise a little man to be as sensitive to others as she is. 

As a little girl growing up in the shadow of a strong spirit, frustrated that we didn’t understand each other, unknowingly in competition, I realize now that’s part of having a sister, gaining shape and a sense of self from being different. She is my best friend, and my first phone call when I need to share joy, fear, or heartbreak. I’m so thankful that we share a laugh and a common outlook on life. That we live different lives and bring unique experiences to each other, challenging, questioning, supporting the other on her journey.

"Sweet, crazy conversations full of half sentences, daydreams and misunderstandings more thrilling than understanding could ever be."
~Toni Morrison, Beloved

Happy 40th Christina!  Here’s to all the amazing adventures to come.

Photo by Jay Haldors

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Let's Talk About Sex: Esther Perel's TED Talk on Connecting Sex, Selfishness, Love, and Mystery

"Can we want what we already have?"

This is the question summing up the crisis of desire in modern relationships that Esther Perel talks about on TED.  Perel is a psychotherapist who researches across cultures, coaches and consults organizations and families, holds a private psychotherapy practice in New York, and speaks regularly on erotic intelligence, trauma, conflict resolution and infidelity. She is the author of Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic.  (From Perel's full bio on Ted.com)

In this TED talk, she explores the dichotomy of romance and relationships in our individualistic societies, where we look to one person to fulfill "what an entire village used to provide," and the reconciliation of our need for "home" and our need for adventure.  

"...this is the first time in the history of humankind where we are trying to experience sexuality in the long term, not because we want 14 children, for which we need to have even more because many of them won't make it, and not because it is exclusively a woman's marital duty. This is the first time that we want sex over time about pleasure and connection that is rooted in desire.

"So what sustains desire, and why is it so difficult? And at the heart of sustaining desire in a committed relationship, I think is the reconciliation of two fundamental human needs. ...

"So reconciling our need for security and our need for adventure into one relationship, or what we today like to call a passionate marriage, used to be a contradiction in terms. Marriage was an economic institution in which you were given a partnership for life in terms of children and social status and succession and companionship. But now we want our partner to still give us all these things, but in addition I want you to be my best friend and my trusted confidant and my passionate lover to boot, and we live twice as long. So we come to one person, and we basically are asking them to give us what once an entire village used to provide:

"Give me belonging, give me identity, give me continuity, but give me transcendence and mystery and awe all in one.
Give me comfort, give me edge.
Give me novelty, give me familiarity.
Give me predictability, give me surprise.
And we think it's a given, and toys and lingerie are going to save us with that."

As someone who needs a lot of alone time, I love that she talks about safely going off in the world, finding your own joy and bringing that into the relationship.  Of viewing your partner from a happy distance, where you see your partner "on his or her own, doing something in which they are enveloped. I look at this person and momentarily get a shift in perception, and I stay open to the mysteries that are living right next to me." 

"As Proust says, 'Sometimes mystery is not traveling to new places but looking with new eyes.'"

Watch Perel's TED talk for more of her insights from her research on sex and the intelligent imagination behind erotic love.

The video cuts out just as Perel says "there are a few things I've come to understand erotic couples do..."  (Thanks for the cliffhanger, TED.)  I copied her closing words here, from the transcript on the site, so click on that to read, or come back here.

"So in this dilemma about reconciling these two sets of fundamental needs, there are a few things that I've come to understand erotic couples do. One, they have a lot of sexual privacy. They understand that there is an erotic space that belongs to each of them. They also understand that foreplay is not something you do five minutes before the real thing. Foreplay pretty much starts at the end of the previous orgasm. They also understand that an erotic space isn't about, you being to stroke the other. It's about you create a space where you leave Management Inc., ... and you actually just enter that place where you stop being the good citizen who is taking care of things and being responsible. Responsibility and desire just butt heads. ... Erotic couples also understand that passion waxes and wanes. It's pretty much like the moon. It has intermittent eclipses. But what they know is they know how to resurrect it. They know how to bring it back, and they know how to bring it back because they have demystified one big myth, which is the  myth of spontaneity, which is that it's just going to fall from heaven while you're folding the laundry like a deus ex machine, and in fact they understood that whatever is going to just happen in a long-term relationship already has.

"Committed sex is premeditated sex. It's willful. It's intentional. It's focus and presence."

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Valentine's Day Generosity: Lessons from Kindergarten

I used to love Valentine's Day - making imperfect hearts out of pink paper to cover in glue and glitter and gleefully put into each classmate's envelope, also decorated and sticky with glue, hanging from the chalkboard railing.  Everyone got a valentine, but a little extra love went into the ones for boys I was crushing on, or for my best friend.  When did it all go wrong?  When did I decide to wear mourning blacks and protest Valentine's Day on principle?

Last year, even though I didn't have a romantic relationship to celebrate, I had an odd, warm-the-cockles-of-my-heart feeling as I passed by, of all places, Aahs, and it's ridiculously over the top Valentine's Day display.  I was hopeful that it might offer a chance for people to tell others they love them, to remind friends of why their relationships are so important, to give adults a reason to relish pink and red and glue glitter on construction paper.

This year, I started thinking about Valentine's Day when my friend Jessika posted this photo. Weeks before V day, her little girl had created a special valentine to make the new girl in class feel welcome.  

In an interview on Kindness, one of my favorite poets, Naomi Shihab Nye commented that, "We're surrounded by talk and language and reporting and stories of a certain kind, the 'breaking news' kind, but I think we hunger for another kind of story, the story that helps us just feel connected with one another, be with one another. A slower kind of empathy. I think we hunger for that now more than ever."

I love stories of connectedness.  I love kids (and co-workers) who really see their class or cubicle-mates and want to make sure they feel welcome, that they belong. I even love some dopey dude who needs a gentle consumer-driven reminder to tell his heart-throb that he has feelings for him/her.

I hope this Valentine's Day, with Eve Ensler's V-Day One Billion Rising, encouraging people to dance to demand the end of violence against women, and with Brené Brown reminding us that it's also Generosity Day, that we"Give to people on the street.  Tip outrageously.  Help a stranger.  Write a note telling someone how much you appreciate them.  Smile.  Donate (more) to a cause that means a lot to you.  Take clothes to GoodWill.  Share your toys (grownups and kids).  Be patient with yourself and with others.  Replace the toilet paper in the bathroom.  All generous acts count!" 

Pay attention to people — who knows who might need a non-Valentine's valentine today?

I'm down with these V-Day cards:

(See more Wes Anderson valentines at FlavorWire)


Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Paying Attention: My Work is Loving the World

My work is loving the world.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
     keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be

~Mary Oliver, from "Messenger"

(Photos: 1. Treehugger.com, 2. AFAR, 3. via Pinterest)

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Crazy Cat Lady or Career Cat-Catcher?

I recently learned that there is, in the world, a profession of "cat-catching."  I don't have the proper CV for such a gig, but would proudly like to submit my own story of kitty karma to convince you of my mad cat-catching skills.

Stopping overnight at a Motel 6 in Redding en route from L.A. to my parent's place in Portland, I left my kitty in her car carrier to check us in.  Would the staff buy that I had missed the 20 odd “no pets allowed” signs posted behind the clerk's head? A terrible liar, I avoided eye contact, furtively signed in, accepted my key, then cased the joint to find my best "there's no cat in this box!" way in.

The sun was setting as I slunk back to my red Honda hatchback. I sat in the front seat, eyeing my orange and white tabby cat, Clyde. She had endured a 10 hour drive stuck in her hated kitty carrier while I intermittently tossed ice chips at her and sprayed water through the vents, hoping to cool her  from the hot California sun.

She eyed me with a mixture of dull hatred and disdain for subjecting a regal feline to such humiliation. We sat in silence, watched a family tumble out of a minivan. I told her she was now complicit in my scheme to sneak her into the motel.

I nodded and gave her the look: Let’s do this.
Her look: I will kill you in your sleep.

The parking lot somewhat empty, I jumped from the front seat, opened the passenger door, and grabbed the carrier’s handle. Slamming the door, I made a beeline to the back door of the motel when snap! the handle broke, the carrier hit the cement with a sickening thud followed by an orange Creamsicle streak of motion. Clyde ran first for the door where I tried to corner her, then darted between my legs, dashed back across the lot, and disappeared into a thick bramble of bushes. The thick bramble of bushes that separated the motel from a busy four-lane road right off the Interstate 5.

Realizing she was not going to come back out to her tormentor calling “here, kitty kitty kitty kitty,” I ran thirty feet or so around the bushes to the road. Looking both ways, and praying she had learned to do the same in her short kitty life before I rescued her from her death at a shelter, I ran across the street, then stopped. Having never been in this situation before, I was at a complete loss. Crisis 101: Should I run further into the neighborhood, scaling fences and the yards at the mobile home park? Should I quickly sketch posters for a lost cat and distribute them? Should I boil water and tear my shirt for bandages?

As I began to circle the bushes, I did the next least helpful thing in a crisis: I called my family, 400 miles away. By now, the sun had set, which I hoped would hide the tears streaming down my face as motel guests looked toward the sound of my weeping. Explaining my predicament to my mother, I started scattering handfuls of kitty treats and food along the curb that lined the brush. She told me to check back in a little later, reassuring me that my cat would want to come to me. She didn't know about the look of death.

An hour later, it was dark, and I had seen no sign of Clyde across the street or near the motel.  As I continued to call to her, I heard a pitiful meow. Hope was reborn. I started manically thrashing toward the sound, learning in the process that the brambles were blackberry bushes, full of thorns.

My arms bleeding from tiny wounds, but assured that my cat was close by, I went in to the motel to check out of my unused room. I gave a slightly altered version of my story – I had checked in, but then saw the “absolutely positively no pets under any circumstances” signage on my way out to my car and cat. I was simply taking the carrier out of the car to give Clyde some fresh air before deciding upon a different, pet-friendly hotel, when it broke, and Clyde escaped. The night clerk, a girl in her early 20s, looked sympathetic, if a little confused, as I returned my key.

It’s okay, I said. She’s in the bushes, I just have to wait for her to come out.

Three hours later my cell phone was plugged in to an outlet in the hotel. I made quick trips inside for bathroom and vending machine breaks, praying I wouldn't miss her emerging from the bramble.

After another unsuccessful grab at Clyde when I saw her near the edge of the brush, I went inside to ask if the motel had any kind of gardening tool, “maybe a machete?” that I might use to cut back the bramble and allow easier access. After searching, we found a hoe. Better than nothing, I said, a smile on my tear-stained face, my fingers tainted with the odor of wet cat food.

I hoe-hacked and smashed at the thick bramble, my work lit by the eerie fluorescent parking lights. Giving up, I sat on the cold asphalt, and holding the hoe bravely by my side, rattled my bag of remaining kitty treats, calling out feebly, “here, kitty kitty kitty kitty.” A drug dealer who worked the gas station across the street eyed me, and kept to his side of the motel parking lot.

Around 3am, my mother, who was sleeping on the couch with the phone in her hand, relayed my dad’s advice to call the firemen. Now, as much as I love men in uniforms who are there to help stranded cats and humans, I didn’t want to be such a cliché. Do they really rescue cats from trees, or attempt to find them in 30 square feet of brush? At 3am? But, I was desperate, and dialed the local, non-emergency number.

“My cat. She’s stuck in the bramble of blackberry bushes here at the Motel 6,” I repeated upon request to the now-silent operator. “…And she’s on fire?”

They couldn’t help me. But they did advise calling animal control in the morning. After explaining my situation to the animal control office, a ranger (we’ll call her Roberta) in an official-looking khaki uniform arrived, replete with a pole and a net. It looked like serious business, especially if she were out to capture a butterfly. I was doubtful, but desperate. As we took opposite sides of the brush and started tromping it down to walk through it, hoping to scare or corner Clyde, a couple of travelers joined in our hunt. “Is it a wild animal?” the woman asked with interest, eyeing the official khaki uniform.

“No.” I choked down tears and exhaustion. “It’s my cat.” I explained how I had been up all night hoping for her to come out.

“Wow,” her husband said. “You must really love that cat.”

(Why do men hate cats?)

After having no luck, the ranger was dubious about Clyde’s presence, and possibly my sanity. She asked me to meet her later at the office, where I could pick up a havahart trap to set.

I followed the ranger’s instructions carefully. Clearing away all other options for food, I placed a fresh can of tuna in the back of the trap. Tuna is apparently to cats like Dove dark chocolate is to me. I was to practice tough love and ignore Clyde until she was in the trap, so she felt her only option for food was a cage. Not only would I catch Clyde, I now had a new parenting trick, should I ever be allowed to procreate after my dismal display of cat care.

Day 1: Checked back into Motel Six. Checked out Redding California. Movie theaters and Starbucks.

That night, I checked the trap, but, as expected, she was not there. Since cats are nocturnal, Ranger Roberta had told me that I shouldn’t expect any movement from her ‘til night, and wait to check the trap in the morning.

Day 2: At the literal crack of dawn, I opened the back door to the parking lot, a can of fresh tuna in hand. Across the parking lot I saw Clyde freeze in her tracks at the sound of the door, just inches outside the cage. “Nooooo” I mouthed, afraid to scare her further away. Our eyes locked. She turned and ran, ignoring the tempting tuna. I wondered how long it would take to overcome this intense hatred she had quickly developed for me. I changed out the tuna, and walked back in to call my sister, happy that I had a sighting.

My sister, however, was not as upbeat as I. “What is wrong with your cat?” I hadn’t told anyone about the periodic water bottle spraying on the drive, or the times I chucked ice at her through the grate of the carrier. “I don’t know! I’m a lovable cat-person!”

Now a regular, I greeted the motel staff with my update, and spent another day at the Starbucks.

Day 3: I slept in a little longer, getting used to my new life at the Motel 6. I opened another can of tuna – which is not a great odor at 6:30am, and eyed with despair the tower of tuna I had stacked on the bureau.

Opening the door, I heard her before I saw her, no sound more heartwarming than her yowl, which only grew louder as I ran across the lot in my pjs, to pick up the cage. She crouched in the back like ... a cat trapped in a cage. Her white feet and underbelly were grey with dirt, she had lost weight, her teeth were bared and eyes were wild, and she never looked more beautiful to me. I paraded into the motel, proudly ignoring the “no pets” signs. The morning clerk gave me a big grin and stated the obvious, “You must be so happy.”

I was. And I had learned an important lesson about the karma of trying to break the motel rules: it's an all night vigil and a three day stay in Redding, California. And while I may not be the cat whisperer, you should hire me as a professional cat catcher.  I will NEVER give up. 

Me & Clyde in Portland. Born Harriet, rescued in 2001, left for kitty heaven in 2010.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Dear Sugar: Acceptance is a small, quiet room

I'm feeling raw.  I watched President Obama speak on Biden's advice for new gun control, and I cried when he said "we are responsible for each other." I read about two parents and the day they learned that their child was one of the 20 killed at Sandy Hook Elementary, and how their son was found wrapped in the arms of a teacher's assistant trying to protect the children. I should feel raw in the face of these things.

And then I read something beautiful, and I cried. Again.

From Dear Sugar to Seeking Wisdom.  Seeking Wisdom writes:

"Dear Sugar,
I read your column religiously. I’m 22. From what I can tell by your writing, you’re in your early 40s. My question is short and sweet: what would you tell your 20-something self if you could talk to her now?"

Parts of Cheryl Strayed's response will hit home for you more than others.  For me?

"Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue. You are a writer because you write. Keep writing and quit your bitching. Your book has a birthday. You don’t know what it is yet."

"One hot afternoon during the era in which you’ve gotten yourself ridiculously tangled up with heroin you will be riding the bus and thinking what a worthless piece of crap you are when a little girl will get on the bus holding the strings of two purple balloons. She’ll offer you one of the balloons, but you won’t take it because you believe you no longer have a right to such tiny beautiful things. You’re wrong. You do."

Admittedly, I've never been "ridiculously tangled up with heroin."  But I've been tangled in horrifying webs of depression, of living in scarcity mode, of fear and self-doubt.  And for me, it's when I see a little girl dressed all in red, including sparkly shoes and a red top-hat, board the bus and smile at me. And hear her tired, bedraggled mother remember to tell her to thank the bus driver at her stop, before she leaves. And to see her throw her little 8-year-old arms around the driver's waist, look up into his surprised expression and say, "Thank you!" bright and loud, before gripping the handrail to take that big, giant step down to the curb.

It's hard to re-post the mother/daughter advice Dear Sugar gives, without becoming a weepy mess. I'll let you read it here.

"Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room."  (Cheryl Strayed, Dear Sugar)

Read it. Be thankful for all the life lessons you've learned so far. 

(Thanks to City Sage for directing me to read Dear Sugar's letter.)

We are responsible for each other.

Kashmiri Muslim girls enjoy a ride set up outside the shrine of Sufi saint Khwaja Naqashbandi in Srinagar, India. Thousands of Kashmiri Muslims congregated at the shrine on the death anniversary of the saint and offered prayers in a three-day festival. Photograph: Dar Yasin/AP

Hindu priests perform during an aarti ceremony on the banks of the Ganges river during the Maha Kumbh Mela. Photograph: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
A sadhu prays as he sits on the banks of Sangam, the confluence of the holy rivers Ganges, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati, during the Maha Kumbh Mela. The Maha Kumbh Mela, believed to be the largest religious gathering on earth, is held every 12 years on the banks of Sangam and attracts over 100 million people. Photograph: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

(Photos courtesy Guardian UK: Picture Desk Live)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Coffee, happiness, numbing, and chocolate as a holy wafer of sweetness

View from Christie Cabin


coffee and aspen



It was a last minute hotel reservation, to stay one more night in Cambria, a magical coastal town. The hotel's breakfast was surprisingly delicious for the price of the room - fresh fruit, fluffy scrambled eggs, lightly seasoned and perfectly cooked potatoes. The coffee brewed for the masses and percolated in large metal urns was delicious, with no hint of that bitter, burned church coffee of my childhood. We took our plates to the outside tables, eating quickly while the fresh ocean air cooled our food, agreeing to get a second cup o' joe to go, it was THAT GOOD.

So, why does that second cup always disappoint?  It's so frustrating, that I can't capture again that moment of the perfectly brewed/steeped cup of coffee, steam rising from a white ceramic mug, the taste mingling with my morning breath, or a poached egg and spinach. I want it to be just as good, so I can continue to savor a moment that was clearly fleeting. 

I'm reading Brené Brown's book Daring Greatly.  I nearly skipped the section about numbing as a shield to vulnerability.  Because I like to numb. I don't necessarily want to stop. Brown obviously knows this, because she begins the segment with "If you're wondering if this section is about addiction and you're thinking, This isn't me, please read on."  She continues further in, "I believe we all numb our feelings. We may not do it compulsively or chronically, which is addiction, but that doesn't mean that we don't numb our sense of vulnerability. And numbing vulnerability is especially debilitating because it doesn't just deaden the pain of our difficult experiences; numbing vulnerability also dulls our experiences of love, joy, belonging, creativity, and empathy. We can't selectively numb emotion. Numb the dark and you numb the light."

To put it in similar terms that I can relate to, Brown quotes someone talking chocolate. "In her book The Life Organizer, [Jennifer] Louden writes 'Shadow comforts can take any form. It's not what you do; it's why you do it that makes the difference. You can eat a piece of chocolate as a holy wafer of sweetness — a real comfort — or you can cram an entire chocolate bar into your mouth without even tasting it in a frantic attempt to soothe yourself — a shadow comfort."

It's not what you, do it's why you do it.  I'm trying to put that in to practice, to be mindful of my first cup of coffee, so present that I'm aware of the painful experiences as well as the joyful ones, the difficult along with the sense of creativity.  The second night in Cambria was worth it, it was part of the joy of being in the present moment. The second cup of coffee rarely is. I'm not sure what the metaphor is, there, yet.  But I don't need the second cup.  I'll be busy stuffing an entire bar of chocolate into my mouth.  Baby steps of awareness.

(Coffee shot: Flickr by Meeganz, Mountain cabin shot: Flickr by justparts54)