Sunday, August 29, 2010

little poem for my Jasper (who's fine, don't worry!)

How to walk these woods
Without you, dog,
Companion of these thirteen years,
Without the sound
Of your breath
Somewhere nearby,
The sound of you chasing
squirrel or deer, no care for stealth.

How indeed with only 2 eyes
To observe the daily changes
Without your great snout
To guide us both,
Carry all 6 feet to scat or carcass
Or a leaf whose meaning remains veiled.

These woods are inseparable from
The sight of you,
Dappled sunlight on your brindle coat,
Big mouth smiling,
Tongue to one side,

You travel so much more slowly now,
The same trails more delicately trotted,
Tired older hips navigating, cautious.
Still: bursts of puppy running,
sprints after turkeys, but
bunny days are over.

Your rest at home is deeper.
You snore.
There will be a time when the sleep
Will be longest.  That time
Is coming.

Right now
the sound of your paws on the dirt,
the jangle of your tag as it swings
Its rhythm, are enough,
Are everything. 

Why walk with ghosts
When I have you still beside me,
Each moment more precious
Than the last. 

Companion of
Thirteen years: I’m still learning
To be in the woods truly
like you, with you,
not chasing thoughts like rabbits
but letting them go their way,
filling my eyes and ears with
all of your beauty,
wagging like you
with my whole self.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Such hot shit!

Thanks to Peggy and Jim at whose house we helped build a gorgeous salvaged-redwood three-bin compost system last Saturday, we are the lucky recipients of a big ole bag of shit from Peggy's sister's chickens. Joe added some in to our compost pile earlier this week, and now that baby is too hot, too hot to handle.  Literally.  It's 78 degrees out on this lovely Friday afternoon, and that pile is steaming as Joe's turning it.

Oh, what a difference some poop makes!

While our compost has been cooking all summer long, it's been relatively cool to the touch, packed with worms, but slow.  With this new addition, I am reminded to write about a project undertaken a little while ago: the Sunchips bag.

Way back on June 6th, we added an empty so-I'm-told-biodegradable Sunchips bag to the compost and started the clock.  The back of that super-crinkly packaging said it would break down to nothing in 13 weeks in a hot home compost pile.  Oh, really?  Since the 100%-compostable cornstarch spoon we got at The Scoop in Fairfax remains intact after at least four years in the compost, I was hopeful that this new claim would maybe be true.  The more truly compostable alternatives to plastic and non-biodegradable packaging the better.

So after 12 weeks, what is the result?

The Sunchips bag is in smaller pieces, largely thanks to being repeatedly pierced by the pitchfork as the pile's been turned at least 10 times since we started this little experiment.  Granted our compost hasn't been burning-hot, but still, I'm not so impressed.  

We'll keep turning and watching.  Maybe the chicken shit will prove stronger than the bullshit, and this biodegradable bag will prove to be more than just Earth Day eco-marketing.   That would really, really be great.  Fingers crossed, pitchfork at the ready.

Dinnies and Lions and Insomnia, oh my!

It's a little disappointing but undeniable: insomnia's back.  Learning to sleep is so on my 2010 List, and I thought I'd kicked the habit of habitual sleeplessness, but the year clearly ain't over yet.  And maybe I'm just going to have to accept that this is how I operate -- periods of being a nocturnal mammal, shuffling around my den in the middle of the night.

Actually, I'm a little happy about it this morning.  I made myself wait until 4 to get out of bed, since drinking coffee any earlier than that seems wrong somehow.  The Kid slept elsewhere so I can be in the common living space freely, lights on, typing with impunity.  If I'm honest, it does feel like a little bit of a treat, like I'm getting such a head-start on the day, enough time to write this post and get some reading in, and stand in the garden and stare, and walk Jasper in the woods and still leave for my Mammalogy field trip unharried.

The Type-A me loves the insomnia, in the same way I love jetlag -- because I'm in my very own time-zone, making my lists, getting clear about what's important, making my preparations for the day to come in the quiet of a still room.  And today I get to take everything I've been thinking about since 1am when my eyes opened for good and dump it all right here.

Dinner at Picco
Joe's lovely parents, Jim and Donna, took us out belatedly for Joe's birthday last night, to the delicious Picco in Larkspur.  I've been wanting to eat there for some time, but it took some planning -- not the kind of place you can just necessarily walk in and get a table or get a reservation for the next night.  It was worth the wait.

I love small plates, first of all -- I think there's something so special about ordering a selection of dishes and sharing them, everyone eating the same food.  Makes for such a very nice shared experience.  And the physical plates themselves -- Heath -- I also loved.  Somehow just makes everything better, more substantial and complex when it's set on lovely earth-tone ceramic.  

I arrived early and the dining room was still relatively empty and quiet.  I had a moment to sit at the table by myself, note some ideas I had in the car, and relax before everyone arrived.  

Without listing every ingrediment, I can tell you that dinner consisted of;

- Baby arugula salad with strawberries, marcona almonds, fiscalini cheddar: super-winning combination
- Ahi tartare on utterly delectable little rice cakes
- Grilled calamari (pictured above) in a cucumber gazpacho with fennel, fregola, oh so tasty
- Risotto, served fresh on the half-hour, good not mindblowing
- Grass-fed beef mini-burgers, not my favorite
- French fries with aioli, utterly freaking perfect

The service was excellent and the company so sweet.  And dessert?  We tried three: banana bread pudding, warm chocolate madeleines with raspberry milkshake shooters, farmer's market pie.  I thought the madeleine was my favorite, until I tried the pie -- crust made with crushed almonds to remember for some time to come!

And their press-pot decaf coffee was delicious.  All in all, a great meal.  I look forward to trying other items on the menu as soon as I plan ahead enough to reserve a table!

I have so far been unable to watch the following video clip without tears coursing down my face. I'm not sure it's important to watch it without crying, by the way, but it just about takes me apart every time I see it.  

Part of the Pride: My Life Among the Big Cats of AfricaBecause of the video, which someone sent me on Facebook, I did a little Googling and learned more about Kevin Richardson, the Lion Whisperer.  And ordered the book.  And started reading it last night after we got home from above delicious dinner.  And went to sleep hoping to dream of lions, rolling about with them on the ground, pressing my forehead to one of their giant maned heads.  
No such luck.  But being awake at 1 gave me 1 1/2 more hours of reading time, so I had lions while awake.  Not quite the same, but will have to do.

Kevin's story is pretty amazing.  He's no David Attenborough -- meaning he's not in my personal Pantheon with Attenborough and my other heroes -- but damn it, what an amazing relationship he has to some extraordinary beasts.  I would give almost anything to know what that feels like -- having lions as friends.  

So, the insomnia.  I thought I had it licked, but since we came back from Bali, I've definitely been unsettled in my sleep, just haven't found a rhythm.  And to be honest, it probably has a lot to do with the shock of returning to work, and my boss coming back from her three-month sabbatical, and just generally realizing how much I have on my plate, how much I want and love to do.  And probably in this specific instance, I am definitely excited about this morning's field trip to the Academy of Sciences with my Mammalogy class, so that buzz is adding to the noise-level in my over-active head and keeping sleep at bay.

I know this noise is significant and that I am going to have to pay attention, sort it out.  And I'm definitely going to crash at about 2 this afternoon.  But in the meantime, I'm sleep-deprived but happy: well-fed, inspired and ready to go.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Home practice: so much easier with guest stars!

Getting to a yoga class has been challenging for a number of reasons lately: loss of some time-flexibility at work, as well as a desire to be home with family instead of away until after dark and dinner.  I've been missing time on my mat, and feeling it.

Then along comes Darren Rhodes's yogahour iPhone app (iTunes, $2.99), which made its big premiere in my dining area today, kicking off my new attempt at a home practice.  Oh yeah, so much easier to get and stay on the mat when I have someone talking me through a sequence.  And Darren, the literal poster-boy of Anusara: how to say enough good things about him?  I've had the good fortune to attend several weekend workshops at YogaKula San Francisco, co-taught by Darren and Sianna Sherman.  Darren is inspiring, funny, real.

So, it was pretty awesome to have his voice in my house, putting me through my paces between 6:30 and 7:30 this morning.

The format sure worked for me.  It was easy to commit to one hour, during a time when Joe was out walking Jasper so I would be less distracted.  Yes, because there is an absence of pronouns and articles, sometimes the instruction's a bit telegraphic, but that's fine.  The stripped narration makes some little gems shine, like "eyes soft, heart determined" which is clearly still ringing in my head.

Laura will be happy to know that her favorite "Mix Master" pose is included in the one-hour practice, called "Cosmic Abs" instead!

At this point, since I can't get to my favorite class tonight or Friday, I am going to do this yogahour daily until Saturday, when I can re-join the kula in Sausalito, and then beyond, trying to get to my mat daily.  I'm excited to have some guidance -- master guidance at that! -- helping me with this new practice at home.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Skulls and teeth: heaven!

Last night's Mammalogy class was all about teeth.  The lab -- oh sweet delight! -- included viewing A Life With Skulls, a documentary about Ray Bandar, San Francisco native and lifelong skull collector, and examining a number of skulls including beaver, porcupine, black and kodiac bears, raccoon, fox, horse and wolverine. The hand-outs alone make me want to jump around, let alone the fun of reading dental formulae for what they tell us about the animal's world.  Utterly amazing. Why I didn't take pictures is beyond me!

I am so happy to be in this class, delighted about the field trip on Friday to the Extreme Mammals exhibit at the Academy of Sciences.  How great to *have* to go, to be guided, to be able to stand in that exhibit and benefit from the lecture.  Again, so happy to be in this class!

There is something so exhilarating about learning new material, absorbing new info about a subject I'm passionate about.  Just this weekend while reading the textbook assignment, I was so inspired by the elegance of evolution, so sorry for those who deny its existence and thereby lose the opportunity to marvel at adaptation in all its forms.   

For anybody local who might be interested, I think I'm attending this lecture tomorrow night on coexisting with coyotes, to replace a field trip I'll miss in October.   I heard coyotes this morning, close by, while in the woods, which always give me a small shiver, makes me check in with Jasper, ensure that he's within relatively close reach.  How great to learn more about them.  Yeah, OK, maybe I am interested in extra credit points, but mostly my inner Hermione just drives me on: learning for the sake of learning is a beautiful thing.

So happy!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Mercury in retrograde much?

OK, I admit it: I don't really, really know what mercury being in retrograde means, as much as it's the rationale used a few times a year to explain those periods during which everything seems to fall apart a bit.  I cheated and Googled it yesterday when I had the chance, so now I know (and you do, too, in case you, like me, were ignorant in the ways of the planet) that poor Mercury slows down 3-4 times per year, appearing to move backward (hence, "retrograde").  Since Mercury "rules" communication, these retrograde periods are the apparent reason for our inability to understand or be understood by others, a time during which people just don't get us.

I was thinking about this retrograde Mercury business mostly because it's been utterly insane since Monday afternoon getting to and from work.  Now that may on the surface of things appear to have nothing whatever to do with communication, but read on.
A distraught man scaled the main cable on the Golden Gate Bridge Tuesday morning, making his way to the top of the south tower before he was convinced by bridge workers to go with them to safety.

The unidentified man began his trek up the main cable on the east side of the span at 11:15 a.m., bridge officials said. Authorities monitored his progress and called the California Highway Patrol, which considered closing lanes below.

When the man reached the top of the tower 20 minutes later, he was met by employees who had taken an elevator. They convinced the man to come with them, bridge officials said.

The incident followed a standoff Monday afternoon at the bridge, when a suicidal man was spotted outside the railing at 4 p.m. After authorities spoke with the man for four hours, he jumped from the bridge to his death.
After they re-opened the Bridge Monday night, midway through the stand-off with Suicide #1, there was a three-car accident in the Waldo Tunnel almost right in front of my nose.  Right before Suicide #2 on Tuesday morning, there was a head-on crash that closed most lanes, forcing a colleague out of traffic and into a cafe to wait it out.

And this right after I observed to someone Monday morning that after 4 years of daily commuting across that span, I was amazed at how few accidents and problems there have been.

But something appears to be up this week.

Technically, it can't be Mercury, since that baby doesn't head into retrograde until August 20th.  But maybe it's pre-retrograde syndrome.

Or maybe I've just been lucky, blissfully unaware of reality as I breeze across the Bridge every day, lucky to miss the accidents, to not see sign of the two dozen people who jump off every year.  One roughly every two weeks.

And though I was really sad and frustrated on Monday as I sat in traffic, late for the first night of school because of the Suicide #1 stand-off, grumpily thinking Why during rush hour, Why not in your bathroom, Why in a way that inconveniences me, innocent bystander of your misery, I am grateful for the reminder that just across the border of my happy little life, there is suffering, people so ill that they'll off themselves, planets moving backward.  Grateful and jolted out of complacency, senses a bit sharper, feeling each moment and each connection to strangers and far-off planets more keenly.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Olly Olly Oxen Free

Periodically I've thought about "Olly Olly Oxen Free" and wondered where it came from.  I have forgotten almost as many times to look it up and find out the origin of this cry that marked the end of every round of Hide and Seek for me and my friends and then for Laurent and his, a generation later.

I distinctly remember when I learned it, on Liberty Street, not long after we moved onto the block.  Where we'd lived before, there weren't any kids, let alone a whole gaggle of kids, to play with -- 23 kids, if I'm not mistaken, which is a hell of a lot for one block, right?  On Liberty Street, we had enough kids to choose teams in games, put on plays and circuses, organize roller-skated expeditions to the flat part of 22nd street 4 blocks away or trek over the hill to Bud's for hot fudge sundaes on a Saturday, safety in numbers.

On a sunbaked day, I was It, counting to 100 with my face pressed against my arms in the steep driveway of our white stucco'ed house, back when it was by far the ugliest house on the block, earlier heathen inhabitants having utterly obliterated the gingerbread trim of its Victorian facade.  Then, when I'd exhausted my attempts to find everyone, throwing back my head and shouting, "Olly Olly Oxen Free," just like my new friends did.  It was significant for me to share in this language, to learn these American words.

Not sure, but I don't think we yelled "Olly Olly Oxen Free" at recess at the French American Bilingual School.  So it was such a pleasure to speak these regular words -- to disappear the gap between the culture we were raised in and that of the kids on the block.

Laurent, too, in his own time, learned this cry from his friends, and so it continues, nonsense words that we all understand, we American kids.

And yeah, finally, I looked it up.  "Olly Olly Oxen Free" is either a derivation of the phrase "All ye, all ye 'outs' in free," or, much more complicatedly, "an English-Norman French-Dutch/German concoction: 'Alles, Alles, in kommen frei.'  'Allez, allez' was a Norman addition to the English language, pronounced 'ollie, ollie' and sometimes written 'oyez, oyez' and meaning 'everyone.'  'In kommen frei' was a phrase popular in Dutch/German New York and Pennsylvania, ...meaning 'come in free.'" Hmm.

No matter where it came from, there's something so cool about the way this expression continues on, passed along kid to kid, to me in the late 60s when I was little, to Laurent in the 90s, part of childhood culture, a language without grown-ups or school.  These words made me part of a whole tribe of kids, the great big family of our block, running, free, in the street, the sidewalks a paradise of our own invention.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Talent, pure and simple: The Mother Truckers

Stop the presses: we went out last night.  We were actually not tucked into bed at 10pm, instead were sitting at 19 Broadway in Fairfax, waiting for The Mother Truckers to take the stage.  Crazily, we got there around 9 -- don't know how we forgot that bands, unless otherwise noted, never go on that early, so we had about 2 hours of sitting together, watching the place fill up, remarking how we knew no one except Nancy Zee, the guitar-player Josh's mom, who was Laurent's kindergarten teacher.

I consider myself a Mother Truckers fan, but I'm clearly not a super-fan since, like last time we saw them, probably a bit more than a year ago, I can't hang in for two sets and have to leave at the break.  Early yoga the next day will always push me out the door by midnight, priorities ya know.  But really, I'll go out any night of the week, foregoing sleep and quiet, to hear Teal Collins sing.  Every time I am so moved and amazed by the music that pours out of her mouth.  Like a dork, I sometimes have to fight back tears - it's just so damn thrilling to watch and hear someone sing with such total commitment, force and beauty.

Without my usual posse there, I definitely felt like a fish out of water last night.  I was jostled and elbowed and pushed around by lame drunk guys who were more interested in taking pictures of themselves and their girlfriends with the band as background (look, here's proof of how much fun we have!) than in rocking out to the band.  I got to the point where I was about to say, "you touch me one more time, m-f, and it's on," when I realized it was time for me to go.  A bar is the right place for lame drunk guys.  I was the one who didn't belong.

No matter, I'm delighted I went.  I love this band.  They're all such solid, talented performers.  I can't hear Josh play without thinking of LT's early-childhood love for Protein, Josh's pre-MT band, the sound of his voice singing along in the car to every song on the first album.  There's a sweetness that always comes through the music for me, and am just in awe of what happens when talent meets drive.

So good!  check it out:

Friday, August 13, 2010

School starts Monday, yay!

My sister Martine and I probably have in common this late August excitement about the coming school year, the shininess of starting anew, the prospect of fresh new school supplies. Given that our parents were teachers, our entire family went through this annual sense of new beginnings in September, making covers for our textbooks out of paper bags at the kitchen table, writing our names neatly in ink across the front of a clean notebook, penmanship always important.

Clearly, as a family, we can't get enough of school.  After retiring from full careers in the public education system -- my mother at Lowell High School in San Francisco, my father at College of Marin -- both took barely a breather and enrolled as graduate students in Italian at SF State, complementing their tango lessons and visits to opera, ballet and symphony.  With their Masters now complete, they are studying Portugese, and keeping current with classes at the Istituto Italiano de Cultura.  Martine, like me, is a devoted student of yoga, has completed an immersion and teacher training, and is now teaching a one-hour weekly class in Brooklyn (right on, so awesome).

And of course, there's me.

I've almost always loved school.  In my early years, when I was the youngest and always the smallest, mercilessly picked on at recess by truly savage bigger kids, I had the distinct sense of being out-of-it, not getting what everyone else was doing.  But finally, in high school, something clicked.  I was in the right place, finally, and my inner Hermione Granger got big.  Finally.  Because honestly, I was a very studious kid.  I have great memories of being maybe 11, and accompanying my father to College of Marin where he had a class or two to teach -- he'd park me in the library and I'd do research for hours on witchcraft, always an interesting subject.  Or how a neighbor up the street and I were, for years, writing a report about cats, pets which we could never have ourselves because of deeply-allergic family members.  Or the copious notes I took while reading a book I love to this day, the first book I remember awakening the scholar within, La Guerre du Feu, given to me by my father in the 6th grade.  None of all of that studying, note-taking, report-writing was for school.  It was for fun.

Like Martine, I'm a super-geek about yoga.  In fact, I'd venture to say that most Anusara yogis are super-geeks about yoga.  We read philosophy, scripture, thinkers, poets, incorporating deep thinking about life into the practice.  Probably why I'm super at-home in this practice, knowing that it's not that weird in this context for me to show up and take notes on the theme, write down the gems that fall from the teacher's lips each time, little pearls of wisdom and insight that I add, lovingly, to the pile of beauty I'm accumulating, year by year, on my mat.

So it's with great excitement this morning that I'm sitting at our dining table, with a brand-new textbook, brand-new notebook, and brand-new academic planner, contemplating the start of the semester on Monday and the first session of the Mammalogy course I'm taking.  This will be my second class at College of Marin in as many years (the first: Biology, Spring 09).  I could, like other working people who are taking the class for their own edification rather than for purposes of a degree, take the class Credit/No Credit, but instead I'll enjoy myself by working my ass off for an A.

And yay, Teacher Training with Sianna Sherman and Noah Maze starts October 1st.  I'll have a month to get settled into the routine of reading and studying for Mammalogy, and then layer in the coursework for the teacher training.  Oh so utterly delightful!

I know some people get sad about this time of year, the end of summer and all that.  But I can't help but feel exultant about the learning to come, about the K-nowledge I'm about to pour into my cranium.  Yes, so super-fun.

And thanks, by the way, to Martine for her perfect timing as usual.  I love the Limited Edition 40th Anniversary 4-color Bic pen that arrived in yesterday's mail, thoughtful nerdy little surprise.  Just in time for notes!  XX

Thursday, August 12, 2010

100 Things? More like 100 x 100...

As a devotee of happiness, I of course read yesterday's piece in the New York Times, But Will It Make You Happy?, about people who've given up stuff, stepped off the treadmill, and find themselves happier with less.  In the article, they profile a couple -- the wife, Mary Strobel, is now an advocate for simpler living and writes a blog strangely-named rowdy kittens.

Through Mary's blog, I read about another project, the One Hundred Thing Challenge, which kind of blew my mind.  It's not a new thing, just new to me. Another blogger, another idea, another project.

The point of the 100 Thing Challenge is to pare down your personal belongings, recognizing that stuff doesn't bring happiness.  In fact, it might actually have the opposite effect, keeping us mindlessly accumulating, thinking things are the solution, will bring happiness, thereby keeping us unhappy.

Or so the theory goes.

What I like about the project is the enumeration of the stuff you have. Mary, for example, posts a list on her blog of her personal possessions.  Oh, and yeah, I also like that this project has some rules and definitions, for example that you count only those things are are truly Yours, not shared.  Ergo not the dining room table, couch, or the bed you share.  And some things can be counted collectively, such as undergarments and books.  Phew, because books, seriously, are very numerous around here.

So Mary has 62 things.  Sixty two, which include 3 rings and one necklace (apparently she doesn't have pierced ears).  And 22 items of clothing.  I have to repeat that: 22 items of clothing.

While I can completely get behind this project and do want to pare down my possessions, travel lighter so to speak, it's not really for me.

Honestly, I can probably get to 100 things before I even open the front door to my house, thanks to my garage and stoop which, just off the top of my head, contain the following:

1. fins
2. mask and snorkel (which I'm counting as one thing, thanks, my rules)
3. dive computer/regulator
4. buoyancy compensator
5. suitcase
6. bicycle
7. beekeeping veil
8. beekeeping gloves (I'm not counting the many beekeeping supplies and tools since they're shared)
9. gardening gloves
10.  bike helmet
11. bike cleats
12. bike gloves
13-15.  three pairs of tap shoes that I keep for the memories, and just in case...
16. my down sleeping bag
17. my synthetic sleeping bag
18. thermarest
19. a whole box full of my own camping/snowcamping/backpacking accoutrements
20. running shoes
21. tevas
22. flip-flops

So right there, I've run through more than 20% of my 100, without even opening the garage door, turning on the light and opening cabinets, and this before I have set foot inside the house proper.  I'm not bragging about how much stuff I have, but want to be clear that I *love* the stuff I do have, evidenced by my fit of woeful tears the night before we left on vacation when I couldn't find my dive bag and thought somehow, how on earth, I left my beloved fins, booties (oops, that's #23), mask and snorkel in Mexico.  I was so relieved when I found them, still in my suitcase, where I'd left them.

Oh wait:
24. car - technically I share this, but really it is mostly mine

I do like the 100 Thing Challenge, but it's not for me.  And I get a little bit headache-y thinking about counting it all, even though it's consistent with my recent Freecycle binge of offloading unused stuff.

I do have a little quibble with stuff not making you happy.  OK, it doesn't make you Happy-happy, but pretty things can certainly bring a kind of happy that I'm not ready to dismiss, in favor of a monastic existence where I have all of 22 things to wear.  Good for Mary for setting the example, but if I can get to 1,000, that would be an accomplishment.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

getting it together in fits and starts

The view that greets me when I get home
I feel like I've been stumbling around a bit since getting home from Bali.  The first week was goofy thanks to jet-lag and my lingering crabbiness about not being there anymore and instead being back to my regularly-scheduled life.   I got past the crabby on Monday of this week, but still feel a little strange and unsettled, having some trouble getting my routine down, especially since I have yet to be restored to the ways of Early Bird which facilitate so much of my writing and thinking.

The weather has also been super-sucky -- coldest summer in forty years -- so that's made the adaptation harder.

But seriously, all in all, pretty hard to complain about going from one kind of paradise to another, especially since now that I'm back I have even more of my friends around, which is utterly delightful.  And the garden is raging, which is really nice.

Still, I'm slogging, trying to catch up, plug back in, get consistent, back on track.

All while making some needed day-to-day adjustments, particularly with my new strategy at my job -- work less, get paid the same.  That sounds like a horrible slacker approach, but honestly, I just mean that I'm taking some of my standard Type-A pressure off me and actually taking lunch, for example.  I had a sweet time today, for example, lunching with the amazing Katherine Powell Cohen who has not one, but two, books coming out over the next two months.  So nice to get out of the office and talk about stuff that matters with someone so smart, delightful and funny.   I am definitely cutting corners a bit on the length of my day, no lie, slipping out early this afternoon to hang out with Michelle Fliegauf and talk about her super-successful International Yoga.  Way to go, kick-ass women!

Which reminds me of a great class I took last night with Sean Haleen, the theme of which was aparigraha, non-grasping, greedlessness.  Sean made a specific point of mentioning all the travel his friends were embarking on, not to mention all of the travel he's been hearing about on Facebook lately (including my own trip, natch), and how easy it was to get caught up in wanting what others have, in comparing our lives to theirs, in forgetting to appreciate and savor all that's great in our own lives.  How instead we should be so happy for others when great things happen to them, recognizing that appreciating all that's good in their lives increases the good in our own.

And that's so how I felt today, talking with Katherine and Michelle.  First, just so delighted by each of them, so delighted to be friends with such remarkable, intelligent, creative, funny and beautiful creatures.  But also so pleased as punch by their accomplishments, so full of a strong wish for their expanding and continued success and happiness.

Being home -- i.e., not in Bali for the moment -- there's so much to look forward to in the short-term, besides harvesting food from the garden and apple trees, hiking and hanging around with my dog, seeing my friends regularly and Laura being back to teaching on Friday.  The Mammalogy class I'm taking at College of Marin starts next week, and then the Teacher Training in October.  I'll get into the swing of it as I need to, slowly, slowly, but for now savoring a bit this funny feeling of being outside my usual schedule, which makes it all the easier to truly enjoy what's unfolding.


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

No Sex for Bigots

Today was a huge day for the San Francisco Bay Area, for California and for the nation as a whole.  A federal judge ruled the ridiculous Proposition 8, banning gay marriage, unconstitutional.  A big victory for equality and for civil rights!

Naturally I got my news from Facebook where friend after friend posted a celebratory Status, linked to news stories in the national press.  Universally, the message was similar to what one friend wrote, "Take that, haters!"

The busy traffic on Facebook, particularly some of the responses to my friend's above "haters" Status got me thinking about tolerance, about its limits.  I'm re-printing below [name omitted to protect the innocent bigoted] one individual's various responses to the dialogue that ensued.  Apologies in advance if this offends or saddens you.  Believe me, I've been there, too.
I'm not a hater... Nor am I anti-gay. I am PRO-DEMOCRACY, and when the majority gets over ruled by the liberal bleeding hearts, it makes me kinda sad to see our country wasting away...
Well, all I can say is, try to explain homosexual marriage to your 11 year old! Maybe, cause you're gay, you'll never HAVE a legitimate 11 year old. But, put yourself I'm my shoes for a minute... This has NOTHING to do with slavery... No one has forced the homosexuals to love their same sex. This is NOT like women being regarded as second class!
Actually, I never "decided" to be heterosexual. I just followed the course of nature. The reality is that sexuality is generally based on the need to propagate the species.

I agree that humans, based on their warped egotistical needs, should be able to partner with whomever they wish. (Barring pedophilia that is) but to ordain it as marriage??? Come on! Get real. Marriage is and always has been the union of man and woman. The union of course, for procreation.
Not for some side alley, turkey baster bastard son who will be raised without a true father or mother.  
Wow, I had so many reactions to this. I responded at one point, something about marriage being about LOVE, dummy, and therefore super-easy to explain to an 11 year old. But mostly I sat back as this guy added more and more words, more and more clearly hater, clearly anti-gay rhetoric.

And GROSS, marriage is about procreation, the need to propagate? What a total turn-off, buddy.  Way to love on your wife.

Then I Googled him.  How sad to find that he's a Deputy Marin County Sheriff. I have a mind to call his boss.  Sensitivity training much?

After which I heard from my friend who referred to this guy as a "waste of skin," and related some of his pecadillos, altogether not surprising but still disgustingly hypocritical.

It's such a public world now.  We have so many opinions and so many platforms on which to share them,  hence my thinking about tolerance, thanks to this friend of a friend.  Is it necessary to tolerate meanness, hatred, bigotry?  I suppose it's necessary to tolerate ignorance, to work diligently and lovingly to bringing that person to greater insight.  And yet I'm struck by my own reactions.  Which are that he should be immediately unFriended by my gorgeous, smart friend, and indeed by ALL women of his FB acquaintance.  He should be shunned.

Further, there should be utterly no sex for people like him.

That's really what I think.  If you have such narrow, fucked up ideas about sexuality (it's not about procreation, it's about PLEASURE), then sex shouldn't be wasted on you.

I know, I know, this is not the most yogic post I've ever written, but I'm sad and mad, especially today, on this great day, that such annoying idiotic bigotry survives in AN OFFICER OF THE PEACE.  So I'm having a moment.

Really, no sex for bigots.  They don't deserve it.

Contrast: oh so useful!

I woke up totally disoriented again this morning, wondering what town in Bali I was in. [This also happened to me yesterday in yoga, following a savasana in which I slipped into a coma-sleep from which I awakened with a start, wondering "who is this stranger talking and where am I?"]

As soon as I realized this morning that I wasn't in Bali anymore and that instead of going to breakfast and practice, I was actually expected to get up and go to work, I had a sense of everything collapsing into one boring sameness.  Which made me a crabby little creature for an hour at least.

I'm making a big effort to go back in memory (assisted by the hundreds of photos we took) to what made this vacation so fantastic.  Largely it was Bali herself, the people themselves, and the dozens of daily ways in which they added a little beauty and grace to every little task.  Like the offering above, in the driveway of Kumara Sakti in Ubud -- an offering of flowers in a little woven basket, put out with some incense first thing in the morning, even though it was sure to be kicked by passers-by and run over by entering vehicles.  No matter what might happen to it, the beautiful gesture was still made, daily, more than once.

The contrast between vacation-life and this, between vacation-me and this, is so sharp, it's a little painful, actually.  I'm trying to regard that pain with gratitude, trying very hard to make something good out of this dejection.  And aware of how ridiculous I am to complain about anything.  After all, almost three weeks in Bali is a great thing, right, something so lucky and wonderful, so how can I complain upon return?  Wah-wah, poor me.  Totally lame.

But really, it's a sharp contrast.

When I opened my eyes this morning, after that first confusion receded and I began to make out the profile of the familiar plants of our garden outside the French doors in the first light of day, I noticed the piles of still unput-away unpacked stuff all over my room.  First task du jour: putting that crap away.

If it's beautiful in Bali, it's largely due to constant effort.  Those offerings don't make themselves, after all.

It was bound to happen that I'd experience this post-vacation crash -- seems inevitable, really -- but I really am trying to make the best of it, transferring the lessons learned in Bali to this life here and now.  OK, so putting away my clothes isn't quite as nice as making an offering of flowers and rice and incense and a little piece of candy and setting it out to beautify the sidewalk, but it's a start.

I'm reminded of a theme on the retreat: sankalpa (intention), which is the combination of two words meaning clarity and purpose.  A person needs clarity to see purpose, to keep purpose sharp in the field of vision so that she can move toward it, consistently, devotedly.  This contrast right now is doing this for me: albeit painfully, helping me stay clear about my own purpose so that I can keep moving toward it.

So if there's nothing on Craig's List right now that allows me to move out of a job that bores me to tears and gives me headaches, that's OK.  It'll come.  Meanwhile, I'll keep fashioning my own little offerings -- a clean room, a strong practice, a thriving garden -- doing the work to make this life beautiful, no matter its conditions, until the time I can change those circumstances and move on to the thing that makes most sense for me.

Until then, making consistent beautiful gestures.  Because actually, those consistent beautiful gestures are the whole point, right?



Monday, August 2, 2010


It's a funny thing about yoga retreats, especially the international kind.  Generally there's a tropical location involved, one in which our dollar travels farther, buys more of a kind of luxury that is truly relaxing and certainly not the norm in our daily lives.  Places where we can bargain items of clothing or jewelry down to less than a tenth of what they would cost us at home, where we are haggling in the tens of thousands but really only quibbling over a quarter or a dollar or two when it comes down to it.  Places where you can get a 75-minute massage for $3.  Eat like a king for $10.

So far I've been on retreats to Mexico, twice, to Peru, and to Bali.  Each trip has been fantastic, combining extended and excellent yoga practice with tourism, relaxation and adventure.  Not one of them has really been a retreat at all in the sense of withdrawing from the world.  We've been fully engaged in our new environment, only retreated from our usual day-to-day.

The latest retreat to Bali -- the aptly named Bali Bhakti Bliss with Laura Christensen -- was no exception: fantastic, truly, and busy.  We had a week in Ubud, a week packed with yoga and visits to temples, to the volcano Gunung Batur, to Nusa Penida for snorkeling; two days in the hills of Munduk, among clove and coffee plantations; four days in Canggu, by the beach.  Each location was gorgeous, the accomodations very nice, food delicious, service excellent.  And always the yoga: deep, intense, life-affirming.

Perhaps because it was Bali, I feel as though I had more conversations with people there, more opportunities to talk with locals, with guides and drivers, to inquire into the conditions of daily life there, a daily life so rich (at least to my eye as an outsider) with ritual, so full of generosity and warmth.

From a taxi driver we learned, as we passed scores of children on motorbikes leaving school at 1pm in Ubud,  that there is no public education in Bali.  To go to school you need to pay.  We confirmed this later with Putu, a trekking guide in Munduk who has two children of his own.  The registration fee, books and uniform cost about $100.  Ongoing tuition, we were told, is about 25,000 Rupiah/month -- $2.50 US -- and this is where the problem lies.  While this may seem such a tiny amount to us Westerners who are accustomed to spending more on a morning cappuccino, many parents are unable to pay this amount.  There are no scholarships available, so those children simply don't go to school.

Meanwhile, I and my yogi companions are snapping up bargains at the market, things we don't really need, spending the equivalent of a child's entire annual tuition on a bag or a bracelet without a second thought.  And then, when reunited at the hotel or in the cafe, gleefully showing off on new acquisitions.

It's not that I feel guilty about any of it.  I don't.  I work hard and am happy to have had the opportunity to be in Bali, to have my experience of it with my beloved teacher and friends and to have spent money which I hope will benefit local people.  I don't see it as an either/or.

I want it to be a both/and.

What I'm researching now is how to add an element of service to our upcoming retreats, to enhance our sense of engagement to the community we are visiting and learning about.  Something small and direct, not burdensome.  I'm not talking about digging latrines or building houses, but perhaps a relationship to a school or a village -- some way of extending the practice off the mat and into the place where we are.

So because my mind is still filled with Bali, I've been researching it a little this evening, and came across Cate Bolt's Project 18. Here's what she has to say about education in Indonesia:
The Indonesian system is broken down to 4 levels of schooling – Kindergarten, Elementary, Junior High, Senior High. The vast majority of kids in Bali, depending on their family’s status, might make it to Elementary school, some will go to Junior High, and very few will make it to Senior High.
The reason for this is that If you enroll at Elementary school you might pay, for example 1,200,000 ($120 US) rupiah to enroll – this covers your admin charges, building contribution, books, uniforms to get you started. Then you might on average be invoiced at a rate of 100,000 ($10 US) rupiah a month.  Many families find the initial enrolment fee – somehow! Anyway they can. But the ongoing monthly fees they can’t afford to pay.
For the most part the government school allows them to stay whether their fees are paid or not, up until it’s time to move to the next level of schooling. If their fees are not fully paid, they get no report from the school – no certificate which says they are eligible for the next school level. The only way to receive that certificate is to pay the outstanding fees. So if a family has had a child in school for 3 years, they haven’t kept up their monthly payments of 100,000 rupiah – they’re now looking at 3.5 million rupiah to finalise their debt, PLUS another 1.5 million rupiah to enroll in the next level of school.
Just to put this into context, the average monthly income for many of these families is around 1.5 million rupiah. We’ve met families of 4 living on 700,000 per month, and families of 4 living on less than 50,000 per month. A basic room to rent might cost 400,000 per month, food (healthy standards) would cost 10,000 per person per day. So you can see, there’s just no leeway for education. These parents desperately want their children to go to school. They know that the only way that their children will be able to make a better life for themselves is to get that education – but they need to survive.
Cate's project is to raise money to keep kids in school. The amounts of money are so low to us, but make all the difference to these kids and families: $200/year for elementary school, $300/year for junior high,  $360 for high school.   She's also opened an orphanage in Bali and taken in her first ten homeless children.  Really great.  There's a whole conservation angle to it, too, that I'm still learning about.  She's had an incredible life.

So anyway, for what it's worth, from now on when I'm going on retreat, I'm adding to my research list.  In addition to checking out where I can go see and touch animals (always #1 on the list), I'll be looking for local projects that offer a possibility to connect in to efforts to make the community a better place.  This doesn't have to be on the formal agenda for the retreat itself, although I do think that would be a genius (if I say so myself) enhancement to the usual itinerary.  It doesn't have to be anything earth-shaking, but I do need to do something.

In the meantime, I'm thinking about what we could call these retreats instead, what word would better describe what they're really about: not retreating at all, but instead exploring more deeply than our "regular" lives allow.  I'm thinking about it.  If you have suggestions, I'd love to hear them!

Still Life: Return

I'm sitting in my cluttered room, unpacking my messy suitcase and still messier jetlagged mind, thinking about our more than two weeks in Bali, savoring little memories and wondering how on earth I'm going to tell it all, in what order, how?  Oh my good intentions of posting regularly: all dashed by the spottiness of wifi availability and the very real busy-ness of being part of a 25-person group.

So I'm sitting here now, after, sipping ginger tea from my Tutmak cup, remembering the much more delicious ginger tea in Bali, but also too fuzzy-headed to drive to the store right now for fresh ginger to make it with... I'm resisting the urge to go to sleep and marvelling at my own absurdity: I honestly thought I would be able to arrive last night close to midnight and go to work today?  Absurd.

Instead I'm slowly putting things away, unwrapping and remembering.  In the flotsam I've carried back, a delightful note from the manager of our hotel in Pemuteran that includes this priceless excerpt:

To cheering your evening to the most beautiful and unforgettable moment we will perform you with Balinese legong dance from the community children of the village.

And actually, that just about says it all.  So much was done to cheer our days and evenings to the most beautiful and unforgettable moment, over and over again.   Stacks and stacks of beautiful and unforgettable moments, really -- thanks to scores of graceful and smiling and sweet people devoted to showing us a good time in their home.

Yes, of course, we stayed primarily in places designed for our comfort, designed to receive yoga groups and pull out all of the stops, so of course, we had a good time.  But it was more than that.  I've been other places on retreat, and this was distinctly different.  This was Balinese.  So many small kindnesses, so many gestures of consideration, all that emphasis on karma expressed in innumerable gentle, caring ways, even in the midst of a market transaction.  And sweet.  Like the presents we were each given at check-out, incongruously wrapped in Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh paper, souvenirs of Munduk from the good people at Puri Lumbung Cottages.  And how enormous the smiles when people said, "You from America?  Obama! Indonesian!"  The warm welcome: that is an entirely new sensation.  I feel completely loved-up.

It's great to be back really, inside the home that Joe and I have made, to walk around in our rooms and see the evidence of our well-lived life.  At the same time, a little piece of me is pulled back, tugged back, reminded by carvings and batik, to an island where we were received like family for a few weeks.  So sweet to be back and dreaming of return.