Sunday, December 14, 2008

what's in a name?

A kinder soul would say that I have a selective memory, but I'm thinking the truth is that I am losing my mind. The realization started with Facebook and my fumbled attempt to reconnect with old friends.

Face and book this: I can't remember who my friends were. I mean I remember Yvette who played the French horn and Fayne who I French kissed. But that's hardly enough information for a Facebook search engine.

Were last names absent from the first three decades of my life or have I lost them in a memory bank that went belly up with Wachovia and all of the other failed banks of this current financial crisis? This is my current crisis.

I have lived in 10 or 11 cities, with a richly textured tapestry of friends in each. But as the years fade, I find that the thread that stitches those times together has frayed. And if measured by the number of my friends on Facebook, I am staring down a narrow path.

So how should one's life be measured?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

ode to odetta

If you can't fly, run. If you can't run, walk. If you can't walk, crawl. Any way you can make it baby, you keep on moving it on... - Odetta

The last time I saw Odetta, she shuffled across the floor, gingerly, with a unflappable determination as if an invisible chord was pulling her to a chair waiting at center stage. And then she opened her soul and started to sing with the same booming voice that I'd heard years before in Philadelphia and before that in Boston and before that in London and before that in's a voice that comes deep from the belly of mother earth. That chord could well be an umbilical chord reaching back to something primal.

Odetta made harmony of discord. She marched with Martin Luther King in Selma. She performed for Kennedy in 1963 at the peak of her career. She didn't mind that people called her a folksinger, but she was so much more than that. She was the reason Bob Dylan sold his electric guitar and picked up an acoustic. She was a music historian who transcended musical form. She moved me.

Odetta wore a crystal at her third eye and had skin the color of chocolate that stretched, unwrinkled, across high cheekbones. She carried herself like royalty, poised and confident. She would sing and tell stories with an intensity only matched by her audience. Where ever I sat in the concert hall, I always had the feeling that I was sitting at the knee of a someone old and wise enough to speak the truth without fear.

Odetta died yesterday at 77 years of age. She'd been hoping to sing at Obama's inauguration. She will be singing in me forever.

If you can't walk, crawl. If you can't crawl, sing (my addition)...Anyway you can make it baby, you keep on moving it on.

Link to Odetta singing House of the Rising Sun

Friday, November 28, 2008

love, laughter and gratitude

Gratitude comes as easily as laughter at a family gathering. No matter what the occassion, we laugh and eat and eat and laugh, ultimately not knowing whether our bellies ache from too many helpings or the side-splitting humor. We weave our way through many threads of conversation, most of it serious -- politics, the economy, international events. The inevitability of the turning leaves only the question of when. When will my brother or nephew turn a phrase that will have us doubled-over? When will my mother say something so utterly unexpected and shocking that we can't contain ourselves? How long will it be before my sister-in-law surrenders to snorting? No meal is complete without the snorting.

I am truly thankful for my family, for knowing that at every meal, they'll serve up a full course of laughter. All of it drizzled with love.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

seven lessons from africa

With eight vaccination shots in my ass and a Lonely Planet book of East Africa in my hand, I boarded a flight for Kilimanjaro Airport in Arusha.

Day 2 of the journey brought me face to face with a lone male buffalo in the brush of a national forest. Lesson 1: If you meet a buffalo in the woods while your pants are dropped around your ankles, lie down and play dead. It's much less likely that you'll be impaled.

On day 4, I hiked 20 hours to meet a woman who poured me a brew of valarian root and quinine for my back injury. Along the way, I passed a grass hut flooded by screams of a girl who was undergoing a ceremonial initiation. Lesson 2: what some people call ceremonial initiation, others call genital mutilation.

Day 7, in the Serengeti, I watched a lion destroy my tent. Fortunately, I was not inside. Lesson 3: do not leave food in your tent, even if it's just a lemon.

Day 10 took me to the base of a mountain that the local villagers never climbed because they thought the smoke coming from the top was evidence that gods lived there. We climbed it, poli poli (translation: slowly, slowly), slipping on skree near the top. At its highest point, the surface flattened and crumbled when we walked across it, almost like the crusty top of a brownie when broken in half. Lesson 4: smoke might not be evidence of gods, but it could indicate an active volcano.

Our vehicle was stuck on day 12 trying to cross a flooded road, so we set up camp. At night, Hippos swarmed our tents. Lesson 5: make sure neighboring tents touch so that the formation looks like one large structure. Wild animals are less likely to attack a big structure than a small one.

The highlight of day 13 was ducking poisoned arrows. Lesson 6: don't travel past villagers who've had their cattle stolen by a rival village. If caught by a surprise attack, hit the decks because negotiation is not an option. (See lesson one)

On day 30, I stepped on a sea urchin off the island of Zanzibar, making walking impossible and pain unbearable. Lesson 7: sea urchin spikes are poisonous. Do not, I repeat, do not try to cut them out of your foot. Instead, cut a baby papaya and rub the juice over the wound. You'll be walking in no time.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

the weight of hope

Have you heard that the weight of a soul is 21 grams? That's equivalent to the weight of five nickles in the palm of your hand.

What do other energies weigh? What is the weight of love?
What is the weight of potential? What is the weight of hope, or more importantly, what is the burden of hopelessness? Not just for the individual, but for the society?

We stand at the precipice of suffering and opportunity. It has been decades since the safety net has been this threadbare as we dive into a recession. One of every 100 black men are warehoused in prison -- locked in the basement -- as our President elect smashes a glass ceiling.

So let this not be the diet of our nation -- the loss of hope, opportunity and our collective souls.

Voting for Obama was a step. A big step. Now we need to stay fully engaged in our democracy and speak loudly for those still without voices. Racism is not over with the election of a black man. And fear and hatred trumps love with the rescinding of gay marriage in California and other anti-gay legislation in Arizona, Florida and Arkansas.

Will Rogers said, "Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there."

Saturday, November 8, 2008

where do i begin?

...Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves...Do the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will...gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

Rainer Maria Rilke
Letters to a Young Poet, Letter No. 4

Where do I begin
when the sea and she comes crashing in
How can I still swim
when all the sands of time
are building castles in my mind

ecstacy & anguish

It'll take more than Halloween candy to fix what I'm feeling now.

After canvasing and phone banking from 8am-8pm for Obama on Tuesday, I watched the election returns in a room full of African Americans. Overwhelmed with ecstacy, I listened to Obama's acceptance speech feeling proud to be an American, thrilled that the world was watching.

I awoke on Wednesday morning and raced to my computer, anxious to learn the results of Proposition 8. Anti-gay ballot measures in California, Arizona, Florida and Arkansas passed on Tuesday. Ecstacy plummets to anguish in an instant. Now I am trying to hold both feelings at once.

I'm surrounded by people celebrating the hope that Obama's presidency brings while my joy is clouded with despair.

So I've been speaking up. I'm not trying to bring anyone down; I just want my frickin' civil rights too. Halloween is over and I've stripped off my mask. Not even the left-over candy can sweeten how I feel. Mark Twain said that only in the dictionary does success come before work. We've still got lots of work ahead.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

counting sheep

I'm reading one of my favorite blogs ( ) and it gets me thinking about the upcoming election. What am I saying? Everything has me thinking about the election. So here's what I'm pondering in this random moment: sheep.

You know how counting sheep is supposed to help you to fall asleep? It's kind of like singing "one hundred bottles of beer on the wall." The repetition eventually leads to a zone where the only option is to surrender. It's the cynic's meditation.

So here's a twist...What if in the simple act of visualizing and counting sheep, we actually merge with their energy? What if we become the sheep? Okay, stay with me because I'm meandering somewhere that has nothing - or something - to do with pulling the proverbial wool over your eyes.

Once we become the sheep, we enter a sort of sleepwalking state (as opposed to a red or blue state), following in lock step with herd. And how easily we are dogged by, herded by, fear. Not the wars, not global warming, not even the financial crisis jars us awake. The most recent 3 day poll indicates that Obama's lead has dropped to 4 percentage points. Need I say more?

What would it take to wake us up before next week's election? To spring us from the slumber of the docile herd, to raise our voices and pull the lever for O-baaaah-ma?

(On the other hand, if we become the bottles of beer on the wall instead of the sheep, it could be a heady experience)

Here's the point: I shamelessly beg you to vote. Count sheep, count bottles, count calories, count whatever you want. Counting is good, especially when it comes to votes. Make yours count.

(I am Barack Obama and I approved this message)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

pushing through to the second syllable

Have you noticed the praise that infants get for burping? Smiles and laughter and applause even. And then at some point, the baby grows into a kid and burping at the table elicits an entirely different response. When does burping move from adorable to rude and disgusting? Odd, eh?

Sucking follows the same curious path. An infant's sucking reflex is the most critical and primal response because it allows the little guy to take in nourishment. But at some point, to suck takes on a whole new meaning and it's not pretty.

That's why I'm trying to push through to the second syllable - from suck to success. It's not that I don't have gratitude for my health and my loving family; I do. But I've been feeling that my life sucks lately. What will it take to feel that I'm a success?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

sleeping with dolphins

Have you ever gone through your day, waiting for nightfall so that you could climb into bed and rejoin a dream from the night before?

Tonight's the night.

But first, a word about my days. They suck. I'm full of worry about the upcoming election. Will Diebold rig the voting machines? Will the thousands of new voter registrations purged from the rolls be the difference between an Obama win and loss? Are we driving towards a crash or a bounce and what can I do to influence it?

But last night I had the best dream of my life and I can't wait to get back to it. I was swimming in a current and spied a dolphin nearby. Then another. And another. And another, so close I could reach over and feel its rubbery skin. Soon I was surrounded by dolphins and they were swimming beside me, body to body, practically carrying me along. The feeling of effortless movement and connection is blissful. Something I long for. So until I figure out how to recreate that feeling in my waking hours, I will wait for nightfall and invite dolphins into my dreams.

Friday, October 17, 2008


By now, everyone on the planet knows that Sarah Palin can see Russia from her house, prooving she has international experience. But I can prove that she really understands what's going on in Russia. Like on a deep level.

Consider this -- Palin and Putin share three letters. They're practically family!

Now stick a p-i-n in me; I'm done.

happy birthday to me

I was raised on fig newtons and fruit cocktail, confusing sugar for a basic food group. Being vegetarian doesn't translate as being healthy. Take this morning, for example. I ate birthday cake for breakfast. Two pieces. Skipped the candles and wish and dug right into buttercream frosting. So despite my 2 mile dog walk and mid day yoga class, I still feel like crap -- not a good thing on your birthday. And yes, it is my birthday.

I'm in my mid-40's, somewhere near what I imagine to be the midpoint of my life, if I'm lucky. And let me be clear; I'm not embracing this image of a hill and at a certain age (is it 30?) being 'over the hill.'

Life's not a straight line either. I mean, there I am in yoga class today, stretching my hamstrings in downward facing dog and then suddenly sitting on a bench at the university art museum, surrounded by Renaissance paintings and immersed in the vibrations of a quartet playing Mozart. I'm both there and can see myself from a distance, 21 years old, dressed in my favorite purple pants, a soft matching sweater, a magenta beret. True story. (and hey, stop judging and accept that style is a personal thing) The bolt of memory was immediate and in such sharp relief that I could fully feel myself there, so much so that I didn't want to return to my achy hips and stiff hamstrings and fear of economic collapse.

Anyway, that proves it's definitely not a straight line. So what shape is it? What is the shape of life? Which begs the question, what shape is my life in? And if I don't like the shape, can I shift it as fluidly as I shift from downward facing dog to child's pose? Does the attitude shift and the life follow? Does the gaze shift and the body follow? Do I even know what it is I'm following?

We can blog and debate the life I'm creating, but this I know -- I'm generating enough hot air to blow out all of my birthday candles.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

spitting like the big boys

Keeping up with the boys was easy in all things but spitting.

At the end of our driveway just before the curb, a sky blue line of paint marked the bus stop. We'd touch our toes to the edge of the line, lean forward and let fly. Greatness was measured by distance.

Even with practice, I was lucky to get the saliva to leave my mouth, clinging to my lower lip like baby drool. Why it came naturally to the boys, I'll never understand. Ricky would snort in and you could almost hear the mucous gather and wad. Then he'd press his lips together and blow out with force, trumpeting a big hunk of yellow hocker into the street. The right arc could take it to the middle of the pavement for a silent landing, our footsteips in quick pursuit. Results were immediate and indisputable. Landing the ultimate hocker can catipult one to greatness. It commands respect and top prize in the pecking order. Conversely, a girl with spittle dangling from her lip is a despicable thing.

I found redemption in watermelon tag. This game was reserved for late summer, played at twilight on a full belly of hotdogs and hamburgers. Mom would slice a watermelon into thick triangle slabs and slide them onto white paper plates. I'd eye the pieces, searching for one loaded with seeds. The more seeds, the better the chance of survival. We'd eat the pink flesh, faces dripping and sticky with juice, and save up the black pile of seed bullets for after. At last! Let the games begin.

With a mouth full of ammunition, we'd unload on each other in the front yard. Calm and deliberate, I'd take aim and, separating each seed with my tongue, shoot rapid fire at moving targets. Once a seed sticks on you, you're eliminated. The last one standing takes all honors.

Watermelon tag was made for me. Queen of spit. Hot as shit.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Last night at my brother's house, I ate apples and honey to usher in a sweet New Year. Today, the first day of 5769 in the Jewish calendar, I meditated on the word Shalom. It has three translations: hello, goodbye and peace.

Shall om.
Om. This is the world I usually meditate on. It's a sacred and mystical symbol in the Hindu, Jain and Buddhist religions, written on the tongues of children in honey when they are born. Most say it means truth. In Tamil, it means 'yes, yes it is.'

Are the parallels lost on you?

Joseph Campbell spent his entire life writing The Golden Bough, thirteen volumes outlining the similarities between religions. Someone should have made that mandatory reading. How have we reached the place of seeing only the differences between religions, to the point where shalom is thought to be unattainable and war in god's name has become a just cause?

We have lost the taste of honey on our tongues -- the taste of love and compassion --and replaced it with the bitter taste of fear.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

are you a boy or a girl?

Age five. Pixie Petunia was one of my names. Hair cut short, running free all summer without a shirt like one of my three brothers. I felt infinite possibility then.

"Are you a boy or a girl?" I got this question a lot and I was unphased by it. Until once it was hurled as an insult by a gang of older kids who surrounded me on my way home from kindergarten. I felt hostage to -- what? those kids? the confining definitions of gender? being forced to declare myself as one or the other?

I cried, sensing for the first time that there was something wrong with me. They put a dent in my identity.

After that, I wondered what made me a boy or a girl. I loved to climb trees. I refused to wear dresses, insisting on Billy the Kid jeans from the boys department. I built and set off rockets in the school yard and my mom said that I was born with a ball in my hand.

So you tell me. Was I a boy or a girl?


When a ball is rolling towards me, I kick it, and my body springs alive, dashing round the bases. Recess in 6th grade. First picked, playing with abandon and then... the crack of my head against concrete, sound reverberating into the universe. So long ago and still I hear it.

What is the sound of cracking open?

Opening to what?

I often have the feeling of enough. I have enough stuff. Overstuffed. And yet there is never enough food. Four chews and a swallow. The speed of eating, like running the bases. A race for second, for seconds.

So what is this hole I try to fill with eating and what is the connection to wholeness? to openness? to enough?

signs of us

In stillness, I follow my breath and scan how my body feels. Just noticing changes it. Lying on my back, the gravity tugs me closer to the earth, heavy, solid.

And there is a pulsing in my sinus passage. I've never been aware of my heart beat there, so I stay with it and consider the word sinus -- 'sign us.'

Where is there a sign of us, of me, in the world? Where have I left my mark? Is it in the playgrounds I passed on the way here? Or in my child who I just dropped off for a 150 mile bike ride? What is the print, ultimately, that I want to make in my passage through this life?

There is so much time devoted in daily chores that remove all signs of us: washing and folding laundry to tuck in closed drawers; scrubbing dishes to stack on cabinet shelves; wiping stains from the kitchen counter; shredding junk mail for recycling...I seem to spend more time erasing of signs of us, racing through my days never noticing my breath, my passage.

Then there is the garbage. I try to picture the 1,460 pounds of trash I produce each year and wonder if this will be the biggest mark I'll make in the world.

So what else is it I want to create? This is the question I've been asking myself for the past five years, growing restless now as I sit without an answer. Sometimes I think that breathing is enough -- that it's all that is.

And then a voice from the back of my head asks again, "What is the breadth of what I want to create?" Is it enough to leave the world better than I found it, or should there be a sign of us - of me - of us?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

'meant to be' isn't what i meant

I'm the type that gets seasick, if you call that a 'type.' It's not that I need to be in control. In fact, I'm cut out for the sea. I've always liked the feeling of being rocked, even of drifting. I am a bit of a drifter. But I drift with some kind of rudder and tac, aligning with an inner purpose often unknown to me. Funny how surrendering to the wave can look like a decision or intention.

Faith comes into the equation quite early. Faith that where ever the journey takes me can offer another way to live my passion. Don't mistake this with fate. I'm not the type to say that everything is 'meant to be.' It's more that everything provides an opportunity for growth. This I believe.

When you're feeling seasick, you should look to the horizon. I can relate to this. Like now, when I'm feeling a bit nauseated with my work, I look off to the horizon to steady myself, to surrender, to find faith in what's next.

I've been waiting for some vision to strike me. Some aha moment. But it hasn't come. Instead, I feel a restlessness, and somewhere from the back of my head, there is a voice that speaks up more frequently. A call that draws me to the horizon.

Ironically, my feet are firmly rooted now. The only thing afloat is my desire.

tipping point

I've never heard this sound before.

Sitting on a bench facing a mangrove of algae-covered water, coated green, more than 50 ducks are pecking at the water's surface. I close my eyes and listen. Almost like heavy raindrops falling in a pond.

A woman walks by, glances at the carpeted water and mutters, "disgusting."

How differently we see it. I find it beautiful, here in the center of a city yet feeling as remote as last week's vacation on the Cape.

If there were just one duck pecking for food, I'd never hear it. But multiplied by 50, it's almost deafening against the backdrop of train horns and interstate traffic.

When is that tipping point of sound, the shift from silence to cover-your-ears loud? At what point do I take notice? What am I missing that's right before me if I would only stop to listen?

too much

Sometimes there's just too much shit to deal with.

I walked Bella early this morning just as I do every morning. I had 2 bags with me - enough for both poops. I dropped those bags in the school yard can that was overflowing with bottles and wrappers.

Then she pooped again.

Not a newspaper bag in sight. No shovel to bury it. No way to pick it up. She unburdened herself just at the mouth of the driveway at Isabella's house. I had this fleeting thought that I could just leave it there. After all, they were Republicans. And at some point, all the crap that the Republicans dish out should come to their doorstep, you know?

But in the end, I couldn't just walk away. I hightailed it home, grabbed another bag and hurried back to the scene of the crime.

I've been picking up shit all week. At least that's how it seems....


Starting in savasana, arms lengthened to the sides, there is this place of in-between where I resist the letting go. Where I resist the absolute stillness. Even the background 'om' is an irritant.

If I wait it out, the sounds of trucks and outside noise move from distractions to actual pathways -- portals to someplace deeper. The truck is not a truck, but the pulse of the universe, celestial.

My body is weighted to the floor, anchored solid, heavy, unmoving. Unmovable.

Then comes a line of warmth, radiating across the top edge of my ribs, and I can will the me that's within my body to peel away from the physical as pure energy. I remember the movie 'Ghost,' how when the people die, their souls move out. And this is what it's like. A ball of energy hovering above somersaults forward through space. It flattens, then spins like a frisbee across distance. And then slows and lifts like Tinkerbell.

My body below is dead weight. Shoulders pressed into the floor. Still. Unmovable.

Breathing is slow and easy. And the heat near my heart remains.

Upon suggestion of thought, the energy returns to my body, sliding into that crease of warmth. It spreads across my chest, my arms, down into my legs. Not until it pushes into my hands and fingers and into my feet do I wiggle my extremities, reunited as one. The limitless contained for now within a body, my body.