Thursday, December 31, 2009
Okay, I don't usually discriminate in terms of who I write my posts to. They are for anyone who wants to read them. And that is also true of this one. But this one, on the last day of one of the worst years of my life (and after 2007-2008 that is saying ALOT!) is especially for my MamaFriends out there. A little uplift for the year that passed and the one to come.
After I gave birth to Max (the second baby) I developed a theory - that the first baby, while she may have more clothes and pictures of her, is the first pancake. You use up all your ridiculous, obsessive, please-wash-your-hands-before-holding my baby energy. Especially if you fancy yourself an Alpha-Female leaving the work world to stay home and be fulfilled by motherhood (insert tongue in cheek or spit coffee on monitor). I was so obsessed with "The Vivi" (yes, I called her that in utero!) that I sent a detailed two-page letter of instructions with her to my mother's house when she stayed away from us for one night when she was 5 weeks old. My mother is a seasoned mother of two and a nurse! I actually wrote down what to do if she coughed or woke up in the middle of the night. Meanwhile I forgot to take my breast pump with me to the hotel and spent the entire night in utter agony! My mother was appropriately kind and just smiled at me while I left her apartment. She then called one of her best friends to laugh about me. I get it. I deserved it.
When making pancakes, even if you heat the skillet until water droplets dance you will probably turn it prematurely or flip it too carefully causing the batter to splatter and stick to the side of the pan. It happens. Hyper-vigilance. That can often lead you to make some intense decisions regarding that precious first pancake. More often than not it makes its way to the garbage or you give it to your husband or dog to eat. They become responsible for absorbing the joy and gooey goodness of the first pancake. You, the pancake-maker, are often too traumatized by your perceived failure to enjoy what the pancake has to offer.
I made pancakes on this beautifully snowy last day of 2009. And the first pancake was perfection. Golden brown and fluffy. I was enchanted, lovingly bathed it in vegan butter and put it in the oven to warm. As time went on - I had to finish the pancake batter - the pancakes were not as pretty and some of them got a little burnt. Not enough to put in the garbage (I do have two boys) but enough to think - wow, I didn't pay ANY attention to them did I? And today is when the first pancake theory expanded.
I have jokingly said that we will open a 529 for our children's college fund or their therapy. It seemed almost inevitable that no matter what I did as a parent they would need help when they got older. But that is not necessarily true. Here I am at the end of 2009, a year supposedly filled with hope and Yes-we-canitis and I cannot wait for midnight to roll around here on the east coast. I no longer abdicate, to history, the raising of my children; especially my beautiful-first pancake. Just because I needed therapy (lots and lots of therapy) doesn't mean that my children will need it. And just because I rebelled against my parents and could not communicate with them or anyone for quite some time does not mean that that is the fate of my children. And just because my first born is a girl does not mean that we are "doomed" to the complicated mother/daughter drama. All of these scenarios become true if I take my eye off the pan. If I allow them to burn through my inattention. Oh, I am not going back to the hypervigilance of those first heady-new-baby days rather settling into the comfortable rhythm of an experienced Mama. Keeping at least one eye on the pancake at all times! Well, most of the time :)!
Happy New Year
We are blessed may we recognize the blessing
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Ever feel like just bailing? I mean getting up and walking out on your life? Leaving the job, the house or apartment, the responsibilities and hitting the open road? I have been mentally feeding my wanderlust lately. It has made me restless. That lets me know I am on the verge of something really big. Mary, one of the travelers in Eric Overmyer's play "On the Verge" ends the play by asking "what's next?" She decides that she doesn't know, so much adventure ahead of her but she knows she is "on the verge." There is something incredibly sublime and frustrating about feeling on the verge of something. You need patience to ride that wave and allow the new to be born. Patient is one thing I have never really been. And rather than live in that discomfort of not knowing - I would rather bail. That has to be easier right?
I think I am learning, however, that when I get these feelings the best thing to do is to get still and stand. Wherever I am. In the middle of whatever it is. Ugh! But my feet want to move. It's uncomfortable. It is unsteady, uncertain and definitely not safe. My skin is crawling and there are clearly ants living beneath my epidermis. I find myself talking, out loud, to myself just to have sound to allay the disquiet. But what of the dolphins as they ascend much like the Virgin Mary, off the earth? They tell the doomed earthlings in Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy: "So long and thanks for all the fish." Why don't they warn them or try to save them instead of leaving them to their doom?
Because they have to save themselves. And that's how I feel lately. That I have to save myself. I am the only one who can. But from what? From the annoyance of not knowing what is next? Yes. So today I literally stretched my body into uncomfortable positions and starting breathing. And the ants stopped marching and the voices stopped nagging. That entire time that I was stretching and breathing inside my world was silent. Ahhhh. Is it really that simple? Yes it is. I am no longer lamenting it taking me 38 years to get certain lessons. There are people who have had 38 lifetimes and are still working on their lessons. 38 years I can take. So to the disquiet, the discomfort and the annoyance for today I say: So long and thanks for all the fish.
We are blessed may we recognize the blessing
p.s. I thank Ilya for giving me that book to read one day. It is true almost everything can be accomplished with a towel. Don't forget it.
Monday, December 21, 2009
Doing the dishes is a place where I get a lot of ideas. I spend a fair amount of time doing dishes (but not nearly enough). My husband tells me that he hasn't read too many blogs like mine. There is spell checking here and complete sentences and thoughts. That's because it takes me a long time to write these posts. I think about them for a few days before I commit to writing and publishing. Mostly because I want to work through the entire thought before I put it down and also because I am sensitive to criticism. Today I want to write about obsession, transference and projection and presence/charisma.
I think at many times in my life I have been guilty of all of these things. Sometimes at the same time! And I am writing about this in hopes that somewhere out there is someone who does the same thing. Someone who feels the same way so I am not alone in what Freud perceives to be psychosis! (I know, f@#k Freud!)
Obesssion:: "a persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling." Wow. I don't think my obsessions are unreasonable. I mean I could really marry Will Smith, right? But that is not one of my obsessions, any longer. It is often around an idea and sometimes a person. Once after a rather unfortunate and painful breakup in college my friend Anna remarked that I said that person's name more than I said the word "the." She was obviously tired of hearing me talk about that person and that situation. I immediately stopped. I didn't stop thinking about the situation or the person, and I didn't stop mulling over the "what ifs" in my head. But I did stop talking about it out loud. I am not sure when that obsession ended, it took awhile. But it did end. In the meantime I learned some really valuable lessons about being in a relationship and communicating with people. I learned a lot about how I processed and expressed intimacy. And in the end it felt as though the "obsession" was good for me, it helped me work through some internal issues. But at the same time it was my WORST semester in college. I blew off my responsibilities and rarely went to class, relying instead on my charisma to get me through the semester.
Obsession can also be a great avoidance measure. Right now I am coming to the end of a rather time-consuming and expensive obsession - the work of Anna Deavere Smith. I could probably say that the obsession extends to her as well. I have read everything I can about her. Watched several videos and seen her play "Let Me Down Easy" three times. In the process of this unearthing I have learned so much about me and how I make art and what moves me. I have found my inspiration again. But at the same time I have avoided finishing job applications and have used this obsession to block other rather important tasks, like grieving the illness of a friend. I tell myself that I AM grieving because this person shares my almost twenty-year love of Anna. Or is that an excuse?
Transference and Projection: They are pretty much the same thing. You take your feelings and transfer them to someone else or project them onto someone else. I have been thinking about all the people I transfer my feelings to. My children, my husband, past romances - especially those that ended badly, professors, teachers, friends, therapists (wow, that's a post in itself!). I am never quite sure that things I am experiencing, with regards to other people, are actually how I feel about them or if it's just my issue. One of my many Mamas told me that if I had a problem with someone I should check myself first. So I tend to do a thorough excavation of my feelings when I first meet someone. And I am usually pretty good at telling in the first seconds of meeting someone whether or not we will get along. And as I have gotten older I tend to trust that feeling more and move on if I feel that this relationship is not going to yield any healthy fruit. The people who have gotten entire documentaries projected onto their person are few - but they exist. And I appreciate their being there for me to play out the movie of my life. I don't necessarily think that that's a bad or negative thing. It's just a thing.
And the last greedy shark swimming around my undisciplined mind is Presence, something I call charisma. That thing that draws your eye to a person. That thing that makes you want to get to know them, get to love them. I don't think there is universal presence. Bill Clinton has so much presence but I know a few Republicans who would disagree. So I want to posit that presence, charisma is subjective. It is another thing that comes through our eye and excites and fascinates us. The people we think have presence are also the people we find attractive - are drawn to. And I am trying to unravel how that happens too. What is it in me that finds distinguished professor-types charismatic? Or that draws me to motorcycles and people with tattoos. Is it that that is what I want to be? Or is it that that person is what I want to have?
I know that most of this can be perceived as psycho-babble and some of you stopped reading at Will Smith, but I am really trying to make sense of these issues because I think they are going to unlock the central theme to this piece of theatre I am working on. I wrote about it earlier in my post on intimacy. How do we get close to someone? And why is it that we want to be close to a certain someone? Anna Deavere Smith writes in Letters to a Young Artist, that presence is feeling that that person (the object of your gaze) is right next to you because you long to have them there. Long to have them there. So I am trying to get to the root of the longing, the root of the craving. Ground zero of our passions. What do you think?
Photo:Freud's Couch - Wikipedia
Friday, December 4, 2009
Alla That's All Right But,
Somebody come and carry me into a seven day kiss
Somebody come and carry me into a seven day kiss
Somebody come and carry me into a seven day kiss
I don't need no historical, no national, no family bliss
I need an absolutely one to one seven day kiss.
- Sweet Honey in the Rock
There is some kiss we want with out whole lives.
The two most intimate things a person can ever do, in my opinion, is to feed someone and to kiss someone. We as Americans don't take our food seriously. We don't think that feeding someone is a sacred act, but that which you have prepared is going into someone's body to nourish them and sustain them. What could be more personal than that? Kissing is something else all together.
We think of a kiss as two lips touching a part of another's body. But in Merriam-Webster's dictionary the secondary definition of "kiss" is "to touch gently or lightly" and "to come in gentle contact." Nothing about lips in that definition.
Three weeks before my college graduation my answering machine played the above verse of the Sweet Honey song, after asking for the seven day kiss, I said into the machine: "If that is you or you want to give me a job, leave a message." Did I really want someone to literally kiss me for seven day - no. I wanted someone or something to touch me gently for seven days, seven weeks, seven years. I wanted to be inspired.
I am working on a project about intimacy. And I am thinking a lot about food and kissing. And I am thinking about the attention we pay to each. None actually. How are we intimate with other people? How do we connect with them? How do we feed them and kiss them and how do they kiss and feed us? Intimacy, I am learning is very difficult to define and even harder to attain. It is magic. You know it when you see it. And you know when you are lacking it but are not always sure how to get it. I am still working on it. In the loud, busy, constantly moving world we live in how do we make human contact?
Let me know your thoughts. Kiss me.
We are blessed may we recognize the blessing.
photo by: Chris Spira
Monday, November 30, 2009
those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.
I have been thinking about this quote, and so many other things for a few weeks now. I am reconnecting with the divinity inside of me that is wider than raising my children and the PTA. I love the image of you being a house with many rooms in which to keep things. Those of you who have seen my house know that there is usually a lot of clutter. And you need to sift through a bunch of junk to find the truly useful and meaningful. I have started doing that with our house. Our living room even has our couch, lovingly bathed in red corduroy IN it as opposed to propped up in a corner on the front porch! I have a place to sit on Sunday and read the New York Times with coffee and orange juice and yell at Meet the Press. And these are no small things. They have given my everyday reality enough roots so that I can open myself up to the other rooms and unearth what is hiding.
Enough metaphor. My artistic side has been hiding, hidden for quite some time. I had delusions of Mothering grandeur when I first started this parent gig. I was going to cloth diaper my children, read to them, bathe them in lavender oil and respond to their every need with love, calm and rapt attention. Okay, I will pause here while my mother-friends clean up the coffee with too many sugars that they just spit onto their computer monitor or keyboard. Done? Okay, resuming. My heart, my mind, my chakras (a wink at ADS) are opening up. And it is luscious and overwhelming. Remember my post about desiring to live in the liminal - to live and feel each moment in sacred space? Cannot do it. Not possible. There is laundry and pick ups and playdates. And there can be years (for me 10)of just getting through the day. ART - takes a backseat.
I used to find it incredibly pretentious when people referred to themselves as "artists." Really? Who the hell are you? And now I realize that it takes a great deal of courage to admit, out loud, that you want to make the world a more beautiful place. That you are essentially an idealist which in mainstream parlance equals naive. You paint a huge target on yourself to receive ridicule and to be taken advantage of. It's a brave and bold move. And I always hated when people did it because I was not feeling particularly "artistic" for a good deal of my life. Jealousy really at their opportunity. But that is not fair. And I remember that being an artist means infusing your life with beauty. Ah.
Back to Camus. I have recently remembered all the images, touches, and sounds in whose presence my heart first opened up. There are so many. And remembering them has been lovely and painful. And so worth it. Think about this today - when do you remember your heart first opening up? You may find that there have been so many times and I hope each one of them causes you to smile. I tend to feel things very deeply when I allow myself to feel them, so it has been an intense couple of weeks. We Leos never do anything small. And my 100 Angels have rallied around me to bring me into the next part of my life. Filled with conscious beauty, discipline and dare I say it - art? Join me there.
Friday, November 20, 2009
I have mourned the death of my father over and over again. In small ways and in big ways. It might have been easier on me if I had mourned him fully when he first died but that was highly inconvenient. I hold onto grief and let it out when I can no longer hold it in anymore. And it is always inconvenient. But not this time. I am in mourning right now and it hurts - bad. Someone I love very much is sick and it is not easy for them but it is even harder on me. I know talk about selfish. When I was sick I was really worried about other people. I wanted them to be comforted and cared for because I knew my cancer really hurt them and made them feel lost and out of control. I remember a good friend crying in my presence after I told her of my diagnosis. She got angry with herself and said that I shouldn't be comforting her. But yes, I should have been comforting her. Because she was probably sad about me but ultimately she was sad about her own mortality and looking at the fact that she would have to live if I died and she would have to go through a lot of pain when and if that happened. No one signs up for the kind of pain. And I have spent the better part of my life keeping real emotion, real feeling at bay. But I can't keep it back - not with this person.
My love of my hierophant is deep and abiding. I met him right after my own father died and he immediately became the father I always wished I had. I haven't seen him in years and I have missed that connection with him but getting back in touch has been difficult. It has required me to come to grips with his mortality. And it has required me to lose my father again. I realize that the older I get the more people will leave my life. And I am also too old to postpone these feelings.
I watched two minutes of Oprah the other day. Oprah was interviewing Kate Hudson. I stopped the DVR long enough to hear an actually interesting conversation. Oprah asked Kate what Joy meant to her. She said that the one thing she learned from her mother was to live every emotion - fully. That means the sad things too. To go into them and live there. I've said before that I am afraid of those emotions because I may not be able to come back from there. But the more often I make the trip the easier the return trip will be. Ideally. And I have to believe that - have faith in that. I don't have faith in much and I believe even less.
Yet, here I am. And here I will stay. It is up to me how the next evolution will be spent. And like a foot that has fallen asleep, it hurts coming back to life. I think even more when that thing is your soul.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
I am a liberal. Most liberals have nothing on me! I am also a black woman in America. But liberals can really get on my fucking nerves. I am not a monolith in my opinion, life or art. I have so many sides to me it would blind you if I released the facets. Yet, if I vote for a certain party then I am somehow supposed to believe everything and agree with everything that party or the representative of that party does. I do not. I am entitled to have a difference of opinion. It is my right. This past weekend something happened that made me come out of blog retirement. The President, my President, won the Nobel Peace Prize. I believe the first words out of my mouth were: "Wow, Congratulations!" And it was not said in a sarcastic tone. My next thought was "how did this happen?" I know a bit about the workings of the Peace Prize (although it took my friend Dave to point out the the peace prize is awarded by a Norwegian panel and not a Swedish one). I know that the deadline for nominations is February 1st and I know that our President took office January 20th. That gave him roughly two weeks as President before he was nominated. Hmmmmm. That seemed like a small amount of time to have exacted much change.
What Rachel Maddow and my additional research so clearly pointed out is that the Peace Prize is not always given for accomplishments. It is often given for the effort and in this case the promise to improve America's profile in the world and to build alliances with the Muslim world. That is laudable - definitely. But when I responded that I felt that he hadn't done enough to get the award all hell broke loose on Facebook. Somehow everyone who disagreed with this decision was lumped in with Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh. What?! I do not have to think this was a good idea just because President Obama is a Democrat or because I voted for him. And I can think he is a good President and support him without falling all over myself about this award. We are a nation of free-thinkers and I think liberals should be allowed to have a difference of opinion just like conservatives. I fought against being a monolithic black person (oh, you can't talk about black people's dirty laundry in public - or around white people). I am me, always. And I fight against being lumped in with all the liberals. And if my fellow liberals cannot respect my, apparently, G-d given right to dissent, then I think we are in a hell of a lot of trouble. I respect your rights. Respect mine and don't assume I am negative or sarcastic or a hater just because I disagree with you.
It's America dammit. If you fight for it -- fight for all of it!
Monday, September 14, 2009
I haven't been here for awhile and I think that has really affected my mood. I miss having this quasi-private forum to vent and bounce around ideas. When they stay in my head they get cloudy and persistent. And that's where this post is going. I think, it is time for me to say good-bye to blogging, at least for the time. I have found that it is a good way for me to stop doing what needs to be done. Like the U2 song says: "She's running to stand still."
But as I learned most recently praying with your feet is so much more important. I have prayed with my head and my heart for a long time without moving the prayer down to the earth. They stay "up there" in ethereal land. Now it is time to feel the earth instead of hovering over it. I will miss this - maybe, but it's time for something new.
And so with joy I say:
We are blessed may we recognize the blessing
until we meet again
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
The church was huge. And even though I was there with over 5000 of my fellow worshippers, it felt small and intimate. The pastor was charismatic, beautiful and dangerous. Donned in black he took us through the stages of grief and levels of ecstasy. We were different when we left than when we entered. Wiser, older, enlightened? From my seat I could see so many different people who also came to worship and be transformed. There were the couples who had been married for a long time. The best friends since high school, usually a girl and a guy and the guy is now comfortably gay and fully open. There were the outcasts cloaked in black and today's version of the teeny-bopper with their hand held electronic devices and pink platform shoes. There were the people on first dates trying to figure out if this other person was someone they wanted to spend more time with or at least have sex with. And then there were the people like me being transported back to a time when we were more innocent in our despair. What were we all doing there? We were probably there for the same reason everyone goes to church - to feel part of something larger than ourselves. To touch the infinite - just for a moment.
The sermon went on for over two hours with ebbs and flows and call and response. We all knew when to stand up and scream or sit down and reflect. Each of us had a different word or phrase that caused us to close our eyes, lift up our hands and silently testify. The Great Reverend took us through so many phases of life, taught us so many moral lessons about birth and death and pain and sex. About oppression and religion and suicide. We swayed and clapped and stamped our feet and had a good - hell, a great cry. We forgave wrongs and woke up old pains. We stood still and broke down. And in the end we said good-bye and went back to our ordinary lives.
The charismatic one in black walked away but left the scent of earth and passion in his wake. We stood there frozen, mesmerized. Had we really just gone there? And was it over so soon? We were drunk and shocked when the bright lights came back on. Dream over, liminality ended. But for those two hours we got to glimpse the infinite and to reach out and touch faith.
Photo: Master and Servant
Friday, July 31, 2009
Happy Birthday to Me! Yea, I said it. I am over pretending to be humble and diminutive about my existence. Woo Hoo, Keisha is on the planet! That is a much better way for me to live my life. As I got older I really thought that birthdays would take up less importance in my world. After all, I wasn't a child anymore so there were no parties or presents to be excited about. But I am excited. And I plan to celebrate because me being alive is a good thing. As is your being alive. And it is not just because I faked out death (several times - you ever see me drive on the highway?!)it's because I am not an accident. None of us are. I may not have a firm grip on how and why we all came to be here but I am pretty sure that us being here is a blessing. So party like a rock star today. And think about all the things that bring joy into your life. Here is my list:
Vivian: She is the kindest, most gentle soul ever. She takes great care of me and her brothers and her daddy. Her heart is too big for her chest so it gets beat up sometimes when it meets the outside world. And I hope she never builds a barrier around it because the love she gives should only get bigger.
Max: Oh he makes me laugh and shout and throw things. He is my greatest challenge in patience. He has definitely been here before and wants everyone to know that. You see his light across a crowded room.
Buddha: So smooshy! Buddha and I are still getting to know each other. And everyday I am more and more in love with what I learn. He teaches me how to be silent and to enjoy my own company. And how to circle the ones I love - keeping them close and giving them space at the same time.
My husband: There aren't enough words!
Flowers, music, Bono, Tom Jones, minivans, silence, prayer, nature, friends, time, the color red, orange, malas, toys, books, kindles, lavender, lilacs, apples, Saving Grace, Tony Shalhoub, Sacha Baron Cohen, reggae, Bob Marley, the sky, rain, hammocks, peace the list could go on ad infinitum. Write one for yourself and have a happy birthday!
we are blessed may we recognize the blessing
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
I think from the outside of most people's lives things can look pretty good. When we view other people through our own prisms we unconsciously (or maybe not) pick people who don't appear to have the same problems we have at the moment. Like, I pick people whose cars are clean and their children seem well-behaved. Because messy cars and ill-behaved children are my achilles heel (along with many others). But I realized a long time ago that if I take their clean car and well-behaved children I have to take their pain in the neck mother-in-law or recurrent yeast infections. I don't want that.
We want to pick and choose from other people's lives. To create and combine our perfect existence without any problems or difficulties. Now that sounds nice. But every lawn has weeds. And if they don't have weeds then the drugs they're giving that lawn is not worth the cancer in later years! Ya feel me? I have spent too much time coveting other people's perceived realities. I stopped doing that but was still dissatisfied with my own life. No longer.
Princess V asked me the other day if I would play Clue with her. I told her I was tired and that I would play tomorrow. She said, "There is no tomorrow, Mommy. You told me tomorrow never comes it is always today." Oh, a moment I will appreciate when she is 20 but right then I just wanted to rest. Needless to say we played Clue and I thought about having my own words thrown back in my face. It is always today. This is the moment I get to make a change. This is the time for things to happen. Even if I have to wait on other people sometimes that doesn't mean that I stop moving toward freedom. My life is as green as I see it. Anybody got a pair of green-tinted glasses I can have?
We are blessed may we recognize the blessing
Sunday, July 26, 2009
1. I am going to switch black beans with bitter greens. Not because black beans raw is a problem (although it is a definite challenge for 30 days) but because bitter greens should have been in the spring. Dandelion and mustard are early spring greens.
2. August 3rd I am going to see Depeche Mode, so that is a different artist allowed day. And in October I am going to see U2. So obviously I get to listen to U2 that day - those tickets were too fricken hard to get!
3. This blog is about a lot of stuff but I don't think I want it to be exclusively about post about this project. So I am going to start a new blog (I like starting blogs) just for posts about this topic. No need to sign up unless you want to. I will add a link from here to there on August 1st.
****** Oh and if you have an aversion to cursing and questionable female descriptions - don't listen to the playlist past Aretha. I had to put some Dr. Dre and Snoop Dog on. So you may want to turn it off and not play it around your kids! :)!******
we are blessed may we recognize the blessing
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Oh I love my friend Mary. I have written here about her before. She is presently recovering from another surgery - her "takedown" surgery. I am thinking of her and holding her close. And in honor of her I made my usual sojourn to her blog Papergirl. I went back to read about her Art/Lifeproject. For a year she is embarking on a plan to do a series of things every month. Eat one particular food, wear one color - only, listen to only one kind of artist, read only one author, explore only one filmmaker, exclude one food. She is focused and tenacious that Mary. And she has inspired me. She is turning 30 and I am turning 38. I am also beginning graduate school (which will end around my 40th birthday) and hopefully preparing to move my family to a new home and a new set of possibilities.
I want to support Mary and honestly, I think her idea is beautiful and amazing. While my interest is not in melding art and life together it is in opening myself to health and spirit. So, the criteria will be different. My goals are different. I plan to post here about these changes - there are so many. Now, I can hear a lot of you saying: why are you putting more things on your plate? Ultimately I think I am taking more things off my plate. Removing temptations and habits and helping me focus on my own health and personal enlightenment. Mary had a very exhaustive list of what she wanted to do and the things which fell into each category. Mine is much smaller. Mostly I am planning to focus on my physical health, my food intake and my spiritual awareness. I would love to add things like reading only one author for the entire month - but I don't think I will have the additional time to read while working and going to school. I am going to list the categories and I would love it if you all added your suggestions.
Physical Activity - to be done every day for 30 days
Eliminate One Food
Add One New Healthy Food Habit
Reading at least one thing about a different religion or spiritual tradition - the religion remains the same for the entire 30 days - every day for 30 days (can be as brief as a wikipedia entry)
Incorporating a healing technique from the tradition of the month
And my favorite: listening to only one musician for the entire month (this is going to kill my kids!)
So please send your suggestions. Suggest artists, foods, physical activities, send questions. Get involved. I look forward to hearing from you.
This year of vision questing begins August 1st - the day after my 38th birthday!
Saturday, July 18, 2009
I had a very wise therapist tell me once, that no one woman could be everything to a child. As the child grows they will find other people to fill in the missing pieces and create a tribal mother - a multi-faceted mother. I always liked that idea, especially because it freed me from being angry at my own mother for all the ways I felt she had not fulfilled my needs. She did the job she was sent here to do and as the Ashanti say: "the child chooses the mother" so she did the job my soul needed her to do. It also released any guilt, and let's face it jealousy, I might experience when my own children sought out other mothers to nurture and feed them.
As I have grown I have widened my mother circle. Some I know in real-time, others have loved me through the pages of their words. Some of them are older than me and some younger. All of them have helped shape and create the woman I am today. And if I stand tall, it is "because I stand on the shoulders of my ancestors" those of blood and those of spirit.
Even though it is not mother's day, tomorrow is the birthday of one of my many Mamas. She is my mamasita, who is in no way small. The space she takes up in the world is large and noticeable. She takes no static. She has given me the gift of laughter, compassion, the absence of should, the freedom to curse and be myself at all times. Her love comes with only one condition, that I give it back. And I do with joy. This Mama and I are also joined by cancer. Me before her. And I count it a great gift to have been available for her through her journey as she was for me through mine. My love for her is boundless and my gratitude without measure.
Tomorrow is her birthday. And I say - Happy Birthday Mama, Norma. I love you deeply.
We are blessed may we recognize the blessing.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Now let me back up. I am not usually interested in the goings-on of politicians. But I liked John Edwards and I believed in his message. And I don't really care if he was unfaithful or not. But what moved me about his campaign promises was his commitment to poverty and uplifting people in poverty and that includes, implicitly single-parent homes. Now I know the woman he was having an affair with can probably afford to raise this baby on her own. And that she is probably a single mother by choice. I get that. What I don't get is how, even if you are not going to marry the other mother of your child you wouldn't be responsible for their presence on the planet? What kind of baby daddy are you? I don't know all that happened behind the scenes. And I definitely don't know if a paternity test was given, but come on. Really? You're not going to find out and take responsibility? And if you do decide to be responsible for this other life your wife will not be affected by it? It won't impact Elizabeth's life? She is lying. You cannot in one sentence say that you think women should treat other women with respect by not interfering with their marriages and then say - well, the life of that women and her child will not affect me. I like Elizabeth Edwards. Really I do. But I am pissed as hell with her right now. And maybe since the original airing of this interview she has changed her position some. But right at this moment, having just come from watching it, I am disappointed at the level of her denial and lack of care for the life of a child, no matter who their father is.
Just my thoughts!
We are blessed may we recognize the blessing!
Sunday, July 12, 2009
I have written a lot about being in the middle place. Waiting. And I know I have also written about how I am not good at it. Once again I find myself in that place. Waiting. Decisions need to be made and since I am a grown-up now (perish the thought!) I don't make them by myself any longer. There is something wonderfully beautiful about having your life depend on others and something outrageously annoying about it too.
I like to stick with somethings long past the expiration date. Hanging on to old habits and old people even when they have obviously become toxic for me. And then there are opportunities that arise that I quickly discard, perhaps noticing how healthy they could actually make me. In light of my last post I am contemplating surrender. Letting go of those things that don't serve me anymore. And most importantly not giving a damn about what other people think about it. I hold myself hostage a lot.
My family is standing at a crossroads. One road is the one we have been on for years. It is familiar and can ultimately be damaging. Another road - well I can't really see it for all the overgrowth. And I think Frost wrote about this already. It is dark and scary that way. There are more people depending on me and so that makes the safe choices look more appealing. But it feels as though this time, and at this particular crossroads we know better. We are better equipped to get through the forestry. Or is that wishful thinking? How do you know you aren't making the same mistakes over and over again?
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
sur·ren·dered; sur·ren·der·ing Listen to the pronunciation of surrendering \-d(ə-)riŋ\
Etymology: Middle English surrendren, from surrendre, noun
Date: 15th century
transitive verb1 a: to yield to the power, control, or possession of another upon compulsion or demand
synonyms see relinquish
source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Self-help gurus and religion-brokers always talk about surrender. Let go and Let God. What the hell does that mean? I like details, especially when they help me not do something. And when I give it up where does it go? Are there people out there who actually want to pick up my shit and take it home with them? Maybe use it as an ottoman or end table? Maybe it means that I should get out of my own way. That is also another ambiguous phrase. Ultimately it probably means to stop overanalyzing everything. Just get up in the morning and do what has to get down. But really is an unexamined life worth living?
I talk a great deal about surrender and I am now in the place where I want to know how to actually do it. And it may take me getting comfortable with the fact that I can't throw out my issues like the trash and have it be gone - for good. Even that trash is going to come back to haunt me in terms of global warming and landfill issues. So, then I think, hmmm, this analogy is not too far off. How do I not have the trash come back to haunt me? I become more mindful of creating it in a way that it can be used as compost or simply disintegrate. Letting go of backed up stuff from my childhood is like going green. It takes some research. Getting some new more energy-efficient tools and then being sure to use them.
So what can be in my greening my past toolkit? Hmmm. An ecofriendly world view. I need to cultivate an attitude of unity and connectedness with my environment. That means forgiving those who have hurt me. Saying good-bye to toxic people and situations. Embracing happiness and optimism over their antonyms.
Recycle and Reuse. Taking those things that work and re-tooling them into something positive. Starting small with plastics maybe or the fact that I keep a neat linen closet. Taking those small things and repurposing them into a clean car and a neat closet. One thing at a time.
Composting. Those things I am done with? Throwing them in a bucket and turning them over with sun, heat and air to turn it into something rich and useful. And doing the same with myself. Getting out, getting air and exercise and turning those things in myself that challenge me into opportunity for gold. Now, before I strain this analogy (or am I too late?)I am working on surrender. I think I wrote that I am not sure how G-d fits into my ontology. I am still working on that one. Perhaps that is why I am going back to graduate school for religious studies. To finish exploring those big questions. So when I let something go I am not sure where it goes. But I am beginning to think that it doesn't matter where it goes as long as it leaves me, right? And that there is really no reason to hold onto anything that doesn't serve me, including empty eggshells. There is no tidy conclusion for this post. I am still mulling this one over and trying to get comfortable with this truth: I may never know fully - Anything.
We are blessed may we recognize the blessing
Thursday, June 11, 2009
ya' know: poor people's therapy." I heard this line on a rerun of Without a Trace and I laughed. Probably because of the actor's delivery which was appropriately sarcastic and because it's true! My earliest friends have mostly become social workers and therapists. I wonder if that is a coincidence or if even at that age I knew I needed help :)! But friendship is therapy, especially for women. Not sure what guys do when they get together. My husband swears that men bond around activity - doing, making or building something. I wouldn't know. Me and my friends bond around food. And if it has been an extremely stressful week, around alcohol. So it is not surprising that over breakfast this morning a friend shared some truly illuminating insights. I was blown over having realized that my 100th Angel in my quest for cracking this particular life nut had arrived.
The life nut - me and my true issue with food. I've known long before Oprah that my weight is not about the food but about the comfort food has always given me. When I was young and feeling neglected and isolated I would eat. Food was a comfort to me and since my life has been so difficult I deserved to indulge that comfort whenever I wanted. I deserved to feel better. My friend told me that she has an inner rebel. A little person inside her who doesn't want to go with convention. Who wants to buck the rules and wants to do what she wants to do - because she deserves it. I got that so clearly. Whenever I go on a new life path I last for a short period of time and then my little rebel who apparently speaks with a bullhorn, shows up and tells me that I am smart, sassy and perfectly capable of taking care of this issue on my own. I don't need no stinkin' help. And me and the little rebel jump ship. What's the definition of crazy - doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome? Well, when it comes to me and food, I am crazy! Truly certifiable. What makes me think I can do this on my own? I haven't done a great job in the last 37 years! That is not to disparage me, because at some things I am brilliant, and at this, not so much.
What really stopped me in my tracks was when my friend said: "do what works." So simple. Of course! Do what works. Does me guesstimating how much I've eaten work? Does my not exercising work? Does my not eating at all work? NO! None of these things work. What does work is my planning my food so I keep my blood sugar level and making sure I eat balanced meals with few to no processed foods. What works is for me to workout - strenuously and to sweat. What works is for me to get enough sleep so I can get up leisurely in the morning and not rush through my routine so I don't have time to eat. Those things work. Yet, I continue to stop doing them. So, what to do about my little rebel?
Well, she is a lot like me and does not respond to harshness. She is, I have come to realize, the main character in a section of a play I wrote called "Blue Cohosh." She is "The Little Girl with the Patent Leather Shoes"
There is a girl I know
younger than me, smaller than me
with black patent leather shoes that reflect Up
she sits in the corner without making a sound
without disturbing the air in the room
The poem goes on to talk about how Vega, the main character, takes up so much space. How she can't even breathe without making noise. And she wants this child to teach her how to be invisible. Maybe she should yell at her. Maybe ignore her. She decides to invite the little girl for tea.
That's what I am going to do with my little rebel. Invite her in. Ask her to be my friend. Make her know she is loved and give her some tea. So that she becomes one with the tribe instead of in opposition to it. Gotta go, kettle's whistling.
We are blessed may we recognize the blessing
Photo:Candy Pop (I love that name!)
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
I Corinthians 13:1-13
This has always been one of my favorite bible verse, next to "Jesus wept," which I tend to say now instead of cursing. I learned that verse by heart when I was young and had to recite it in church. I did not think of all it might mean to me in my life. And of how it distilled the meaning of life into a few lines. The Bible is an amazing work of art.
This post is about love and the uses of the word and its accompanying prepositions. In our collective speech there seems to be a big difference between loving someone and being "in love" with someone. As far as I am concerned there isn't a difference. The word police have co-opted the word "love" to mean so many different things. There is romantic love and parental love and platonic love and and and....
There is only one kind of love. It is when you respect another, care for another and show up for another. I am in love with so many people. For me, that means that we share that love - we are in it together. I am in love with my children, my old man (I love 70's phraseology!), my mother, my mamas, my friends, my sister. I am in it with them. We love each other and we share in the taking care of each other.
Why write this post? Well, tomorrow is the shared birthday of two of my greatest loves. My sister and my husband. I love the way Geminis are in my life. They are no nonsense, straight to the point, generous, impatient, brilliant, funny, sarcastic and lovely. A bit about each of my favorite Geminis.
My sister was born when I was five years old and NO ONE was happier than me. I wanted to take care of her and hold her and make sure she was safe. She did not feel as lovingly toward me. She hated being doted on by me. She refused to hold my hand in public and she made fun of me and got me in trouble all the time. But I loved her from the moment she breathed. I was in love with her - still am. Last year when I was very sick I did something very difficult. I picked up the phone and asked my sister for help. I asked her to come and take care of me because I couldn't do it myself. There wasn't even a pause before she pulled out her calendar and told me when she could be there. My sister and I don't have a mushy relationship. In fact, I get a hug a year, on special occasions, or when she lets her guard down and I steal one. It is a joke between us. But hugging and smooshing doesn't make love. Being there makes love. And she is there for me like few others.
My husband was born five years before my sister. He is the one Grace picked for me from half a world away. Hubby is not effusive in his love either. I have to remind him to kiss me or hold my hand, and to quote my friend M:
"If I was married to a normal man, I would go crazy. [my husband] lovingly ridicules me at every opportunity, and I am charmed. Once in a blue moon, he treats me like an ordinary girl and tells me I’m beautiful and how in love with me he is, and that is the longest, most painful day of my year."
So true. Yet, he is exactly who I need in my life to keep me grounded and supported. After nine years of marriage he has grown weary of my go-to excuses and calls me on my shit time after time. Gotta love that in anyone! Quiet as it's kept nothing makes me happier than to be challenged. Everything - my thoughts, opinions, stupid actions - all of it. It makes me grow. And I am more fully myself for having been married to this man.
Love is. Powerful. Simple. Amazing. And all there is. Tell me who you are in love with. I want to know the joy in your life. Here is mine. Happy Birthday to my loves.
We are blessed may we recognize the blessing.
Photo: neuza teixeira
Monday, June 8, 2009
There is a song by India.Arie called "The Little Things." I have been thinking about the little things after my last post. Thinking about periods, even commas, as opposed to exclamation points. I think it very telling that my grammar has always been exceptional but I have no idea how to properly use commas. Or am I reading too much into things? Little things. Take this moment for instance. After an actually fun trip to Target and Whole Foods with all three of my children, we came home and made pizza for dinner. I was planning a huge Mexican buffet but time got away from me and I only had 40 minutes to make dinner and get them ready for a trip to the gym. Not enough time for Mexican. When I walked in the door unsure of what I was going to actually make, there on the range top was the pizza dough I had taken out of the freezer this morning. In the back of my head I heard my husband's voice from the day before - "oh, this is pizza sauce, I thought it was salsa." Two down, one to go. In the refrigerator, almost hiding, organic mozzarella. The kids dive in and start adding "exotic" ingredients: leftover meatballs, herbs (that's green right?!), strawberries - uh, let's wait on that one. Pizza goes in the oven, done in 10 minutes. They are now all outside. So instead of the Mexican feast planned in my mind, they are eating Italian and dining al fresco! From where I sit, I can see them in the backyard eating and talking and playing and helping each other. This moment will last me a long time.
It's the little things for me today. I worked out. With a trainer. He kicked my butt. But yet it was easier than past workouts. I got used to the hard work and looked forward to the burn. I ate a healthy lunch. Kept my caffeine intake low and had a tiny nap with my 4 year old. All of those things helped me feel better and appreciate the day more. My husband will be home soon. 6:12 on the dot - every day. And his dinner is made. Are there dirty dishes in the sink? You bet! Could the kitchen floor use a good scrub? Absolutely! Do I care and am I spiraling into my "shoulds?" Absolutely not. For this moment life is wonderful. I am considering getting "live this moment" tattooed onto my forearm. It works better than a post-it!
We are blessed may we recognize the blessing.
Photo: Nanda Mama
Sunday, June 7, 2009
Everyone is in a different place in their life. I find that I spend a great deal of time, by that I mean too much, thinking about changing places with someone else. Mostly it's my friends who are running races and losing weight and facing their life's demons head on. It's about reading avant garde literature and listening to opera on my ipod (yes, that is about you Tennessee Mary). It is about being someone I think I should be. And then mi secondo mama's voice enters my head (in concert with the voices of several other "mamas" I've had in my life) telling me to ixnay the word "should." I chose to do something. Or in the words of the supreme guru, Yoda, "Do or do not. There is no try." I guess SG would say there is no "should" either. Life is a series of choices. Decisions. Often just periods - no exclamation points.
I remember asking a friend who does not believe there is a G-d, how she got up every morning. Why she got up every morning. She said very simply, because she is alive. Wow. Why isn't that reason enough for some of us, but that I mean the royal we. Me. I got up because G-d was willing me to. As I changed my perspective and became more ambivalent about G-d's actual existence and more interested in Her/His good works it became harder to get up every morning. As if the new truth I was living had sucked the life force out of me. But that is not the case. In fact it is more personal than G-d. It is me.
I have a difficult time reconciling the fact that I cannot do everything. I feel I "should" be able to do everything. And the truth that I cannot paralyzes me. It takes away my gratitude and joy. Now my more astute readers are saying - wow, Keisha sounds depressed. Well, yeah I am. Have been most of my life. Nanda Mama, is a hope. Someone to whom I aspire. She is hard to keep a hold of. I am very good at being her in public. Really good at being her on the phone. But once I get home and close the door she seems to disappear. I have written a lot about needing excitement and newness and adventure. My middle name should be wanderlust. That gives my life purpose. Not really, it just gives my life feet. And it keeps me from hanging out in the uncomfortable. Well, I am firmly rooted in my life here, where I am. External circumstances keep me from moving away - which is a great gift. My feet need to stay here to take care of my three kids and my husband and ultimately myself. My work now is to heal - so many things. And to revel in the freedom and the time I have to do that. And honestly, I am not liking all the things I am finding out about myself. And I am also not trying to change them right now. Just observe. Learn. I will be 38 years old next month and I plan to celebrate that birthday with a great deal of fanfare. Being alive is a great reason for celebration!
We are blessed may we recognize the blessing
Photo: Azli Jamil
Thursday, May 7, 2009
My last post was about being disappointed. Well, I ended up getting U2 tickets and I was suddenly okay. Not really. My husband tells me that I constantly make up a new thing that will make me instantly happy. If only the house were finished. If only all the laundry was done. If only, if only. So much living in the future has kept me from living in this moment and looking around at what I actually do have. A few interesting things happened to me recently that I wanted to share with you.
I was driving my son to school this morning having already dropped off Princess V. I was mentally lamenting the fact that we do not yet have a contractor to work on the first floor of our house. Tumbling the various scenarios of an undone house around in my head. Trying to find a comfortable spot to lay the blame, you know, some place far away from me. Then I started thinking about how I really want my washer and dryer upstairs so I don't have to walk downstairs to the basement to do it. That's why it never gets done because the washer and dryer are so far away!!! And then Grace whispered in my ear: "Look up." There across the street were two young Peruvian women with a baby stroller and a toddler. They had stopped on the corner to re-shuffle the three enormous bags of laundry they were carrying while ensuring the safety of the children. One sack went on the top of the stroller and the other two - well, one was on top of the one ladies' head and the second on her shoulder, leaving her with no empty hands to hold the toddler's hand as they crossed a busy street. I saw her mouth move: "stay close to me" to the toddler. Lesson learned.
The other day I was sitting in my suburban mobile - that's a minivan for the uninitiated - waiting for my daughter outside one of her many lessons. Again lamenting the horrible state of my life. I am so tired, I am annoyed with my kids, my life is so hard. When again Grace whispered, "Look up." And there she was. A woman who looked like your average mom walked out of a store with a plastic bag, she ducked behind the dumpster I was sitting in front off and pulled out a small bottle of wine from a 4-pack, cracked it open and downed it in a matter of seconds. She then threw the bottle and the cardboard case that the 4-pack came in, into the dumpster, wiped her mouth and got into her suburban mobile. Probably also waiting to pick up her child. As I watched her in her car I saw her tilt her head back a few more times. When it was time to go and get my daughter I walked past her window about to knock and ask her if she was alright, if she needed anything; and I saw her with her head down and tears streaming down her face. Instead I prayed for her safe journey home.
I spend so much time in my life looking down or inward or away that I forget to look up and see what is around me. This post is not about feeling better because other people's lives are harder. This post is about recognizing how hard everyone's journey is. We all struggle. We all hurt. Knowing that makes me feel less alone. Remembering that I am linked to everyone keeps me from spiraling downward in my own private Idaho. My love to those women struggling through their lives today. And my gratitude to Grace for today's lesson. When in doubt, Look up.
Monday, March 30, 2009
I don't handle it well. This morning I got online to get U2 tickets. I was on at exactly 10am when they went on sale and got two tickets in my queue. As I was trying to sign out and pay for them; Ticketmaster would not put me through to the end payment process when I tried to edit my credit card information. And time was running out. When I tried to get back to the pay screen I got bumped off the system. And now here I sit - show sold out and I am pissed. I mean I actually cried. Was it because I was not going to see Bono up close (and these seats were pretty good!)? No. It was because I had something that was supposed to be mine and then I didn't have it anymore. It was gone. I expected it. Felt entitled to it. And now it is gone. I am not one to get upset over not getting concert tickets. That's not my style. But lately I have gotten more and more upset when things don't go my way. I feel that they should. I should get the few little things I ask for. Hasn't life been hard enough without such a disappointment?
My four-year old even tried to make me feel better (he has the chicken pox, mind you and should be being comforted by his mother and not the other way around) by hugging me, stroking my head (the way I do to him) and telling me that it was okay. That there were probably other people who didn't get concert tickets either. But I just kept crying and hitting the keyboard saying over and over again that "I couldn't believe it!"
I went to a Morrissey concert recently and I felt great during and after it. There was a collective excitement that I got to be apart of. It was like creating theatre again. That feeling of sitting in the dark watching great creations with other people and sharing a collective experience. Euphoria. Excitement. Unity. A toxin-free high. And then it was over. Couldn't re-live that experience anymore and I had to go back to the laundry and the dieting and the drudgery of my life.
And I realized that this disappoinment over U2 tickets is exactly the same thing. I have been on a concert binge lately. Getting tickets for everything to try and re-live that Morrissey experience. I want to feel alive, again - like in my late teens and twenties. There I go chasing that dragon again. But aren't concerts better than pizza or coca-cola? Only marginally. I got a message today about myself - that I need to be engaged in life. I need to participate and contribute to feel alive. I need to have meaningful work - something that gets me out of bed every morning besides taking my kids to school. That is what this concert addiction is about. That is why I was disappointed about U2 tickets - because I wanted something to look forward to. Something to - give my life meaning? Well, that sucks. Bono, no matter how well he sings (and he sings like a freakin' angel) cannot be the reason I get up everyday. My own internal fire got dampened. And now it is time to reignite it. My life has very little passion and I am a person who thrives on passion. So my disappointment is not over U2 but over my life. Sometimes it's better to blame ticketmaster!
My son just came downstairs and said: "Mama, you stopped crying! I knew you would let it go." Out of the mouth of babes.
We are blessed, may we recognize the blessing.
photo by: JesApe
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Julius Caesar was assassinated on March 15th - according to Roman Lore. He was told by a seer to "beware the ides of March" a phrase made part of the common lexicon by Shakespeare - where all good lines come from (yes I did just end a sentence with a preposition - the Bard would be proud)! This year I did not beware the ides of March and it snuck up and bit me on the tuchas. It was a bitter-sweet-bitter day for me. The funeral of a loved family member - Marty Bressler and the birthday of a dead friend - Leah Ryan. On the surface Marty and Leah were not at all alike. Marty a strong, tall, striking man in his late 70's. A lawyer, devoted husband and caregiver to his late wife Rosalind who battled with brain cancer for over 15 years, a father, community activist, staunch Democrat and liberal (okay they are starting to look more similar,) life enthusiast, drinker of scotch with fruit and as I learned at his service - a harmonica player. Leah was in her 40's. A tall, strikingly beautiful, independent spirit. A writer of all things sardonic, witty and thought-provoking. Generous to a fault, a great cook and a woman whose laugh was infectious. I can still see the way she would tilt her head slightly with her mouth open enough so you could see her entire tongue move in rhythm with her sound. A tall figure often dressed in black or animal print but with a heart of hope and breadth that awed me. I love Marty and Leah. I am a better person for having held them and argued with them and known them. Both of them were dear to me and both of them died from leukemia. And both of them stood up and took control over their death by ending their treatments.
In Judaism it is considered inappropriate to mourn too long for the dead. A year for those close to you. My mourning of Leah is coming to an end just as my mourning of Marty has begun. I will end saying Kaddish for Leah very soon and I have just begun it for Marty. Neither of them were blood relatives. Neither of them were immediate family. But both of them are dear to me. Marty a grandfather and Leah a sister. In life and in death I will think of them always with a metaphoric scotch with fruit and a head held back in laughter.
Beware the Ides of March.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Reincarnation. I am really wondering if that is a real thing. Awhile ago I did a thorough excavation of my preconceived afterlife notions. I think it had to do with meeting and marrying my husband, a firm agnostic who hates labels. Ilya doesn't know if there is a G-d and it doesn't keep him up at night either. He also believes that when you die that's all folks. No chariots, no clouds, no celestial choirs. But there is also no hell and people gnawing on your brain if you were ever mean to your Mother-in-law!
I came to, what I thought were, some pretty creative conclusions about life and death and the afterlife. I believe that there is no heaven or hell. That you die and that is it. But I also firmly believe in the idea of reincarnation. The coming back and living your life over and over until you've cleared up your karma and you "got it right." My interpretation of reincarnation and karma is a bit different. "I" did not come back. The things that I needed to correct or erase or do over would keep happening through my future generations. If I was messy and I didn't get over it or try to work through it in this life then one or two or all of my kids would be messy and it would be their challenge in their life to work through. But my "messiness" would get reincarnated and through it so would I. That is inevitable, isn't it? That we get passed on to our future generations not just through genetics but through nature. For example, my father always patted our backs when he hugged us. He called hugs "pats" and he would say "pats are very important!" All of my children pat when they hug. Now, I could be unconsciously patting them on the back instead of holding and squeezing, and that's why they do it. For whatever reason, they pat and their children will also pat and so on and so on. That's a good trait to pass on.
But what about addiction? When they say it "runs in families." That means it stays there until someone learns the lesson and releases it. Their addiction karma is cleared and that trait does not reincarnate in their offspring? I always thought that would be a good thing. But my father was challenged by alcohol and drugs - and I am not. But I cannot put down sugar. Coincidence? I don't think so.
Lately these things have been causing me agita because I spend more time trying to excavate and extinguish all that I perceive to be bad habits. At what point do your flaws become quirky personality traits? Where is that dividing line? I have a perfectionist's mentality without creating the same results. It haunts me. It makes me feel bad about myself. It sets an impossible bar for me, my children and all those unfortunate enough to come in contact with me that day. And it seems to be the work of women, especially mothers.
Today in the car I was listening to Galileo by the Indigo Girls. Emily asks this question in her lyric:
How long till my soul gets it right
can any human being ever reach that kind of light
I call on the resting soul of galileo
king of night vision, king of insight
Can we ever? We humans are interesting work.
We are blessed, may we recognize the blessing.
Photo: Mobile Hamish
Sunday, February 22, 2009
That is what my eldest son says when he needs to be comforted. I breastfed all three of my children and my Max was the hardest to wean fully. We did wean him, when I was pregnant with Buddha and then after three months of relentless asking, begging, crying and pleading - I let him nurse again. He was immensely grateful but never got over being told that boobies were over. He likes to cuddle me and put his head there for comfort. Breasts are important. Not their size or their shape - just them. They comfort, they feed and the nourish and they need to be taken care of.
There is a history of breast cancer in my family. Luckily I do not bear any of the genetic markers for it but I run the risk of having it later in life for several reasons. I have had one great aunt diagnosed with breast cancer who underwent a full mastectomy and one who died from it. My own maternal grandmother died at the age of 49 so we don't know how her direct line would have affected my mom, my sister and me. But at an early age I paid attention to my breasts and their health. I had them reduced at 27, nursed my children and had my first mammogram last year.
I am better today but still think every day about secondary cancers from the one I had. And I want like hell for cancer to eradicated in my lifetime. I think it can be. And I think the onus is more on prevention and education than on cures - but until we can get our American culture to see that planning ahead is pivotal, then we are left with research and cures. Chemotherapy is an amazing thing. Oncologists are amazing people. And I will never again sneer at traditional western medicine. None of it is perfect yet it is getting better. So to that end I decided to dedicate myself to healing the breasts of this world and joined the Susan G. Komen - 3 Day Walk for Breast Cancer. In October, I am walking 60 miles over 3 days in Philadelphia. Doing my small part to heal the breasts of the world. And hopefully laying a path should my breasts need additional help in the future.
I will be posting more about my preparations for this walk along with my preparations for the triathlon I am doing in September. And I will definitely ask you to do your part. I plan to raise $3000.00 for breast cancer and I know you are going to help me. Because all of us got here through a womb and a breast, whether we ate from it, laid on it or covered it with our tears - breasts have raised and nourished us. It is the least we can do.
Friday, February 20, 2009
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.
That is the serenity prayer from Alcoholics Anonymous. I have spent a fair amount of my time in self-help meetings. Beginning at an early age I went to them to deal with my father's many addictions. So I know it by heart, along with how to share without over-sharing and how to yell "Hello" to someone after they introduce themselves. I know these rituals the same way I know the Catholic Mass by heart and can sing my high school's "unofficial" school song. Practice makes perfect. Years and years of repetition will ingrain something in your head, heart and psyche. But there is one thing I didn't learn from all that time in "the rooms" reciting the serenity prayer - it was how to summon serenity as quickly as I summoned the words.
You would think it would be a kind of incantation like "Abracadabra!" Rabbit from hat - Serenity from me. Doesn't work that way. Know how I know? I've been praying silently and out loud for awhile now and I still can't manage to calm myself down with my children. All kinds of prayers: "Lord, help me." "Jesus wept." and my personal favorite - "Don't let me kill this kid!" Now before you call DYFS (and I think it bears saying that my Aunt is the director of Child Protective Services in Westchester - so I know the drill)my children can bring out the very best and the very worst in me. And I am practicing mindfulness and taking deep breathes and then my daughter will slam the door or talk back or roll her eyes one too many times and I see myself from outside myself. And the me standing there is blinking out. Literally she is gone - screaming, manically following the child from room to room and seeing all manner of physical retribution in her mind's eye. I know the neighbors can hear me. I am having an out of body experience. One that I am probably going to feel bad about when I regain consciousness. Why?!
Sometimes I really wish there was an audience to my parenting at all times, then I would behave better. It doesn't matter if I create an audience I know they aren't really there. So pretending doesn't work. There is something encoded in my DNA - probably in the collective maternal DNA - that has the scream gene. Some of us can fight nature and some of us can't. I fall on the latter end of the spectrum. And I feel badly about this. My mother was a screamer. And I often hear her and realize that I sound just like her. What's harder is that I hear my eight year old and she sounds just like me. I can fend off extreme guilt for only so long and then I have to do something about my behavior. Like stop yelling.
It is so hard. Yelling is cathartic. It gets the impurities out, sort of like an emotional facial. And since my vocal chord surgeries I don't really yell that loud. But yea, rationalization (see, I told you I've been to alot of self help meetings). So do I have a solution for this situation? Not really. I am practicing being in the moment. I am practicing having the prayers trigger a physical response in me other than blind fury. And I am carving out more time where I am child-free. I know I really need to have meaningful work outside of raising my children and that is a guilt bridge I haven't crossed yet - too busy standing on the side of it wondering how far down is the jump. All of these things are a process. So to all the Mamas out there here's my shout out for the day - commiserate or feel better about yourself. But I know I am not alone.
We are blessed may we recognize the blessing.
photo by: oddsock
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
There is nothing more intimate than feeding someone. Food, that is. My first relationship with my children (after carrying them) was feeding them. I breastfed all of my kids - but that's not what this post is about. It's about the intimacy of food. Preparing food that someone then ingests and uses to power their body - what?! I admit that sometimes I do not feed my children very good food. Back in the day we did run through a drive-through or two or three. But not any longer. And this post is also not about the "right" way to feed your family and yourself - it's just about feeding.
When my daughter was very little she would hum or purr when she nursed. She was really enjoying the experience of eating. As she got older she would hum when she ate something she liked - but it was usually only something homemade - preferably by me. She would sit and be transformed while eating as though she was soaking in the love that went into the food while it was being prepared. Have you ever noticed that when you are annoyed, tired or angry dinner does not come out well, even if it is your go-to meal? We put ourselves in our food and then we give it to other people to eat. I have a secret - I don't eat at other people's homes unless I know them - well. And there are a handful of people I will actually allow to cook for me. Food is that sacred to me. So, I started thinking why is it that I am overweight and have been most of my life? Why is it that I will eat mass-produced crap? If food is sacred. I realized, quite sadly, that I am not sacred to me. That I did not connect or value or love my body. And I was therefore really comfortable giving it crap because ultimately I thought that is what it deserved.
Recently, a silent prayer I launched into the atmosphere became real. I re-met and connected with some amazing women. All at the same time we decided to take care of ourselves. We joined Weight Watchers. We joined a health club. We signed up for a triathlon. We aligned ourselves with ourselves and made us a priority. All of us are mothers, most of us have three. So carving that time out for ourselves really took a lot of reprogramming. I watch them feed themselves with time and exercise and attention and even yummy smelling lotions and potions and I am inspired. I have air and life breathed into me. And I once again see the power of asking for what it is I want.
Don't get me wrong - getting to the gym (even though it is heavenly) is hard to do. And eating healthfully is still a challenge for me, no matter how sacred I think food is, I still have the tapes telling me that I am not sacred. But I know that this path will get easier to walk if I stick with it and I tell my mind to shut up and allow what I know to be real to lead the way.
This post is about food - and the many ways it shows up in our lives. Feed yourself something wonderful today!
We are blessed, may we recognize the blessing
Sunday, February 15, 2009
You have asked, so now I deliver. Here is my graduate school essay. I know there are probably commas that shouldn't be there and run on sentences and maybe even a dangling participle or two (whatever that is). Sorry for not taking more of you up on that offer to edit - but I got tired. But it is done and as we said at Iowa - done is good.
I am fortunate to have had a very eclectic upbringing. I was raised in a Baptist family and attended Catholic school for nine years. I was the only non-Catholic in my graduating class and I graduated with the highest grade in religion. I spent weekends with my family visiting my Episcopalian paternal grandmother in Brooklyn. She lived in Bedford-Stuyvesant on the border of Crown Heights - the headquarters for the Lubavitcher Hasidim. My weekends were spent watching the throngs of black-clad men walking to and from shul. Friday afternoons were particularly interesting because I got to watch the women bustle to and from the shops making preparations for Shabbos. My closest cousin is a Buddhist and taught me to chant when I was three years old. And when I was ten, another cousin returned from eleven years in Haiti. She taught me to have reverence for my ancestors and to seek their counsel in times of crisis. I went to boarding school for high school and studied Dante's Inferno (still one of my favorite books) and read the Bible for the first time as a work of literature and not as a road map for life. This time in Massachusetts allowed me to ask tough questions of myself, my beliefs and my God.
My undergraduate degree was in Religious Studies and Theatre. I chose theatre because I love to create sacred space where people can enter, be transformed and leave. My obsession with the liminal led me to theatre when I could not decide which path to take after college. I considered the seminary after high school but I needed to do my own investigation of truth. I needed to find out what I believed and how I wanted to live my life.
That journey sent me down many roads, through Christianity and Catholicism – the home of my primary eduation. The Baptist Church where I chose to be baptized at the age of seven and where I remained faithfully until college. Then through Wicca where I understood the presence of God in everything. My desire to understand the religions of my ancestors led me to study Ifa and Santeria. My long abiding love and respect for Jewish tradition and ritual led me to explore Judaism. The desire to have my children in a spiritual community led me to Unitarianism.
All the time one thing has remained constant: there is but one Creator in my ontology. I have found my own path to Grace, what I call the Prime Mover, the Architect or God. I am in a place of peace with my understanding of Grace in the world. I acknowledge the divinity of Jesus while acknowledging the divinity in all of Grace's creations. I listen to Bob Marley with spiritual awakening and light the candles of Chanukah while bringing in our Christmas tree and Yule log. Some might say that this makes me a dabbler, not a true walker on a spiritual path. I diasagree. I have forged my own path in the wilderness of loss and confusion. I am comfortable taking what works for me from different traditions and creating a spiritual life for my family. I do not believe that to belong to a tradition you have to abandon your values and your personal truth. The things I believe are fundamental to me, and cannot exist in the same space as a dogma that insists that I act differently. I have sought an academic program that presupposes the existence of God but does not insist that I share it's specific beliefs to achieve a Master's Degree.
I have a MFA in directing from the University of Iowa. And even though that degree is in a different field I feel that theatre and religion are intimately connected. I have always been drawn to works that explore questions of belief and help make sense of our world. My thesis in graduate school was a collaborative piece titled “God's Mother.” In the workshop phase, this piece was a riff on Abraham's Sacrifice of Isaac or The Binding of Isaac. I wanted to explore Kierkegaard's Knight of Faith versus his Knight of Infinite Resignation from Fear and Trembling. The workshops explored what if Abraham hadn't heard the voice of God and didn't recognize the ram? What if he killed his son? What would Sarah say?
My idea, then and still, was to explore the line between ecstatic vision and mental anguish – suffering. The question – What would Sarah say?, led me to explore her story as the mother of Isaac. The play became about Sarah, Hagar and Mary and their relationships with each other, historically and with their “famous” sons. What is it like to give birth to the founder of a religion? That is what the play asked. The play had a life outside of academia receiving performances in New York and Chicago.
My undergraduate thesis, which earned me magna cum laude upon graduation, was another play entitled “In Search of Eve” and it detailed the hypothetical conversation Eve had with herself before and after she ate “the apple.” All things being equal, and with all information and consequences at her disposal would Eve make the same choice? My work as a director has always been to do what the great Anne Bogart suggested which is “to put the questions onstage.” And my questions have always been of a theological nature.
The major theological dilemma I face is the one I have sought to answer through my own personal investigation of truth: the question of suffering and the treatment of death. I have suffered before I realized that suffering was a choice. I do not completely agree with Buddhism, in the most simple sense, that all suffering comes from attachment to the world and we will eliminate our suffering when we eliminate all attachment. I love my children, my husband, my family. And my attachment to them gives my life meaning. I do not suffer because of them I achieve joy and peace (and let's face it – anger and frustration) because of them. If I choose not to accept their death as inevitable I will suffer. If I choose to wallow in the negative, I will also suffer.
Last year I was diagnosed with a very rare cancer. There were very few doctors familiar with the treatment or able to give me any kind of prognosis. I sought out the best doctors and did my own personal research to learn everything I could about this cancer and I made preparations in the event of my death. I learned something through that work. It was not depressing for me to think about my death. It was not hard to plan my funeral or my burial arrangements. What was hard was thinking about the future of my three children and husband without me. What floored me, each and every time, was their lives without me and the fact that they would be sad if I died. That proms, weddings and births would occur and I would be missed. I clearly understood how I could suffer in that moment; if I attached myself to their pain; if I stayed in that moment.
I chose to walk out of that moment and acknowledged that pain is a part of life. They would experience it and there was not a lot I could do to keep them from all of it. They needed it to grow. That released me from the suffering. I did not lose my attachment to them - I lost my attachment to something I could not predict or stop or change. What I could control was my ability to prepare them, to let them know I loved them and would continue to love them and that I would fight to get well.
My longing to make sense of the world has led me down many paths academically and professionally. I am a theatre director, a professor, a holistic health counselor, a mother, a wife and an artist. I love all these jobs and have not felt that any of them have wasted my time. They have all laid stones on my path.
I love to teach. I get joy and insight from it. I learn so much from my students and I get excited every time they figure out a problem or are able to do something they never thought possible – like standing before a room of people and giving a speech.
Being a holistic health counselor speaks directly to my desire to take care of people by helping them take care of themselves. Michael Pollan is a hero of mine and my focus on the ethics of food creation, consumption and access will always be at the top of my agenda. I find this lack of access to healthy, clean and safe food to be a moral issue. I believe that the study of religion, food and theatre are not mutually exclusive. All of them contribute to the quality of a person's life. And helping people have a great quality of life is as important to me as helping them have a good death.
Vocationally I feel that I am called to the chaplaincy. I plan to receive interfaith ordination and to work as a hospice chaplain. It feels as though all of my work and paths have led me to help ease the transition for people who are dying and to comfort the people left behind. Academically, I plan to pursue a PhD in Religious Studies, with a focus in Ethics. I want to continue to teach at the college level. And I plan to continue my work with creating access to healthy food for people living in poverty and urban areas especially women and children.
Today, I stand on the other side of cancer. But the lessons of that particular battle are not lost on me. And if it gave me anything it was clarity about my future. And if it took anything away it was the fear of going after it.
Photo: Linda Cronin
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