Saturday, May 29, 2010


If we had to apply to get a Human License, I am sure that the first requirement would be an ability to make fire.

In the course of a day, I find myself using so many things that it would be beyond my capacity to build, let alone understand: radios, cell phones, electric blenders, facebook. (To me, this alone is a sign that we are overreaching ourselves. ) But fire, now--fire doesn't have to be such a mystery.

I remember, years ago, being assigned the task of starting a cook fire. I was around 14, on an outdoor education field trip, and had been surrounded by fire my whole life. My father, a crusty old Quaker, has insisted on heating his home solely with hand-split wood since time immemorial. I spent every childhood winter smelling of smoke. So naturally I thought little of building a simple campfire.

We had newspaper, matches, huge logs from the grocery store, a firepit with an iron grate. I faithfully rolled and tied individual sheets of newspaper as I'd seen my father do, surrounded the pile of paper with the logs in a rough cabin shape, and lit the whole thing up with a match or two. You know where this is going: the paper flared up and burnt, the hulking logs sat there obstinately unsinged, and pretty soon I'd worked through both newspaper and matchbox with hardly even a wisp of smoke to show for it.

I'd taken fire for granted, and she was kicking my butt. Flash forward to my early twenties: a good friend had invited me to the Schwaebische Alb to sing and play guitar on an album her friends were making. These friends happened to be primitive-skills enthusiast world champion tree climbers. (Not relevant, I just always thought that was pretty interesting. I didn't even know they HAD world championships in tree climbing before I met these guys.)

They were all German, all hairy and wild and burly, and all hot. The one I had the biggest crush on took me for a hike one morning. He watched quizzically as I packed trail mix, apples and water beforehand. He himself packed nothing but a knife. We hiked along as he disseminated information in rapidfire Schwaebisch that I pretended to understand while nodding thoughtfully (see needlepoint, below). He paused in front of some shaggy-looking trees and used the back of his knife to scrape up a fibrous mass of bark. With the handle of his knife he dug under a patch of twining vines and unearthed a sizeable pile of fist-shaped tubers. Once he knelt to pocket a chunk of quartz, another time to wrap a bundle of thistledown in his kerchief.

As the morning wore on, he found a clearing and gestured to me to sit down. Then, like a magician, he produced quartz, bark, and thistledown from various pockets. Holding the thistledown like a bird's nest below the quartz, he struck his knife along the edge and suddenly, there was fire. The fire was placed in the shaggy bark bundle and fed slowly with bits of stick, then larger branches, and finally big logs. The whole process took about a minute. As the fire burned, he raked a few embers into a pile and popped the tubers (they turned out to be groundnuts) into the midst of these. We ate the steaming, mealy groundnuts with crushed wild chives. It was the most amazing, the most horizon-stretching meal I've ever had. What freedom, to be on such good terms with fire that you didn't have to pack a lunch. It was a dizzyingly beautiful new way of seeing the world. I was hooked.

Since that day I've built countless fires with bowdrill, magnesium, waterproof matches, camping stoves. But I had begun to take fire for granted again. The blaze I lit in my fire pit just last week took no less than three matches. I was getting lazy.

So this morning my boys and I participated in one of Christopher Nyerges' firemaking workshops. He didn't cover just fire by friction; he showed us how to use dead batteries and steel wool, empty bullet cartridges, shattered headlamps of cars, the parabolic lense of a flashlight, the lense of a camera, the scope of a rifle. We gathered willow and ash wood for base plates, mulefat for drills, rocks for handholds and mugwort for tinder. We made fire after fire after fire. Even Xir got a flame using the parabolic lense---finally, a workshop a five year old could get into! Burning things and using knives! He was in heaven. And as for the other one, he gave me the greatest gift any energetic one-and-a-half-year-old can give his mother:

So, after my morning of firemaking, I feel a little more secure in my human status. Though day-to-day maintenance will be, as always, a tougher nut to crack...

If you are interested:

Ha! Did you think it was a link? Nope, I just turned the letters blue like this because I do not know how to make words into links in that cool way Shelayna does. So I resort to trickery and deception. However, if you copy and paste, I believe it will still get you there.

Friday, May 28, 2010


I'm not sure if I've written about it yet, but I got into the needlepoint program at the Hammer! I am unbalanced enough! I am crafty enough! I am the perfect combination of industrious and psychotic!
There are eight of us, all women. We were handed a canvas with a reproduction of a painting in the Hammer's collection on it and began our needlepointing. One of us asked if any men at all had applied for the program. The psychologist who runs the sessions (I'll call her Dr. E) replied "there were, but none of them seemed...conducive to group work. They all seemed..." at this point a chorus of completions rang around the circle:
"wrapped up in themselves?"
"like they wouldn't let anyone else put a word in?"

Then laughter. We had our first topic.
I can't really divulge what went on, as it is therapy after all, and there are privacy issues. But I can discuss a dynamic I observed after the session was over and I had wandered over to the cafe for some tea and a bit of decompression (eight women with needles and sharp little scissors talking about men can get INTENSE, I tell you).

I was eavesdropping on a conversation going on behind me (between some corporate types who were literally taking notes on how to screw their shareholders over) when another voice drowned out their hushed conniving tones. It was a large man with a beard and long, graying hair under a fedora. He was expounding on the wicked capitalistic origins of the Hammer museum to a small, luminously beautiful woman who could not have been more than half his age.

He talked and talked, waving his arms around, and she listened and listened. The look on her face was interesting. It was almost...proud. This intelligent, fascinating man had chosen her to talk to. Her job was to listen diligently and prove herself worthy, intelligent enough to be the receptacle for all this information. I don't think it occurred to her that the older man hadn't chosen her for her brain. If he had, he surely didn't give her much chance to exercise it. There wasn't enough airtime. He was sucking all the oxygen out of the room.

This is such a familiar dynamic that I probably see it every day. I find it normal. I probably wouldn't even have noticed it this time if it weren't for the loooooong needlepoint discussion that had preceded it. It is so easy to fall into that role, the role of the adoring listener. I have done it countless times, falling into the trap of thinking that I am in a conversation when really I am a prop in a monologue.

It was all I could do not to walk over to their table, take that lovely girl by the arm, and hustle her out of there. Finally I settled on a compromise. I gathered up my needlepoint, paid for my tea, and strolled out. As I passed their table I bent over between them and said conversationally "you know, she's been trying to get a word in edgewise for about half an hour now. Maybe you should let her. She might teach you something."

My heart raced all the way home. But I was smiling.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


I know I've been all over the map lately. Choices lead to consequences! Self-control is not natural! We need to figure out ways to control our environment in complex ways! Controlling your children doesn't work, listening does! And so on. The truth is, the tension between freedom and accountability is a tightrope I've been walking my whole life. Questions about the importance of discipline versus freedom, civilization versus anarchy, the life of the intellect versus the life of the spiritual seeker, constitute major fault lines in my understanding of the world.

For a long time I thought to find answers in Quakerism, which attempts to unite the worldly life of the activist with the quest for deeper understanding. As William Penn once wrote: "True godliness does not turn men out of the world, but enables them to live better in it, and excites their endeavors to mend it." But in the end, I couldn't make it as a Quaker. I didn't believe enough in the central tenets of Christianity.

Those first years without a religion were really tough. I was struggling to construct an ethical framework out of thin air. Nature doesn't give us much to work with, really: genocide and wanton cruelty all over. I missed my color-by-number belief system.

Religion has for so many years been the sole arbiter of ethics. Now that it has begun widely to fall away, what will step into the breach? It takes a lot of power to make humans toe the line, and character-building seminars at the office aren't going to cut it. Are we evolving past ethics? Are we now to discipline ourselves? What will hold us accountable for hurtful behaviors toward ourselves, other living beings, the planet itself? Does the legal system have a right to uphold ethics? Will too much external discipline, via laws and regulations, foster rebellion without the promise of heavenly reward the church used to sweeten the pot? And doesn't too much self-discipline turn us into self-righteous little schmucks?

I have no answers. I have more important things on my plate, i.e. figuring out what to wear tomorrow. It's my first date with a fellow whose mind I have fallen in love with in my impetuous and generally ill-considered way, and I need to factor in hiking, swimming, possible rain, portability, and cuteness. WAAAAY too tall an order for someone so long accustomed to wearing my one pair of pants and whichever shirt had the least compost ground into it.

But don't worry, I brought out the big guns. Laura called and talked me through the whole thing, one article of clothing at a time. But in return she exacted a promise from me: I have to sleep tonight. So that's all for now. Wish me eloquence, mysterious beauty, charisma, an unending supply of interesting conversational topics, and above all LUCK!

Which, I suppose, is as good a god as any.

Monday, May 24, 2010

an agricultural apologia.

I have read a lot of very good arguments for the total abolition of agriculture. The salient points are basically the same: our culture and diet have devolved since adopting an agricultural lifestyle; the surpluses it engenders began a Pandora's box of evils from warfare to class divisions; every known center of prehistoric agriculture is now a degraded dustbowl.

Yeah, okay, but...

This morning I rose early, when the dew was still on the ground, and slipped out without waking the boys. The last star was in the sky, but clouds were emerging from the general blue and there was that morning sweetness that accompanies first light. I had my colander and scissors; I began the rounds. First jasmine petals and mint for my morning tea. Some large, pearly collard leaves to cook up with garlic later. Tender new starts of lettuce, spinach, chive and borage with just a few radishes. I don't like radishes but I always seem to plant them. Ripe yellow figs. Two lemons for lunchtime guacamole.

Sipping my jasmine mint tea indoors, the steam rising and mingling with the gold of the candle, feet still grassy with dew, I was as close as I can get these days to being right. Or, as Darwin would have it, fit.

There is no denying that agriculture has been seeping into our bones for generation upon generation. What would the turning of the year be without the celebration of harvest/halloween? Solstice/Christmas? Imbolc/Easter? The rhythm of the sowing, sprouting, harvesting and fallow time is written into some of our oldest myths and rests deep in our psyche.

Not to mention all the evidence showing many celebrated "wildernesses", from the American grasslands to the Amazon rainforest, as being, in truth, carefully managed--farmed--by their first human residents.

We will modify our habitat. That is the nature of an organism, that is what beavers do, what ants do, what fungi do. We "farm" our environs to make them more suitable for us. So perhaps the question is not how we will return to the hunter/gatherer lifestyle, but how we will develop agricultural methods that do not deplete the soil. That do not decrease diversity. That do not lead to warfare and the creation of class divisions. Sure, it's an immensely complicated web to try and replicate, but we do still have living models of agricultural systems that work, ecological examples all around us. It seems that if we just endeavor to ramp up the complexity at every turn, we'll be moving in the right direction.

Obviously I need to re-read my self-control post of a few days back. Here I am, ready to try and fix the Earth with the almighty human brain, yet again. But the truth is, there's nothing wrong with the Earth. It's just getting unsuitable for continued human habitation.

And the truth is, we have these huge brains in a setting that does not require much of them. I need a toothy struggle or two to sink mine into or it gets bored. Needlepointing alone is not going to do it for me, sorry to say.

Wandering around the internet today, looking for information on how to prepare and eat the snails that are so prolific around here, I got a bit overwhelmed. There are so many sources for good information. Earnest people, carefully constructed thoughts, examined lives. But it begins to feel like a glut. Whose blog are you going to read for that chemise pattern, or are you going to go to a website specializing in sewing? It's all the same, but so many are greedy to present it to you, to make it theirs. I don't really want to be contributing to that information free-for-all, as though we are shouldering each other aside for the scraps, for the chance to teach somebody something. A drawback of the information age, I guess; it has to be commodified somehow. But I find it...distasteful.

I'll go back to my whining about parental woes soon, I promise. But it was only a matter of time before I remembered how much I CARE. I did a good job of holding back, there, for a while. But it was never going to last. comes the deluge!

Favorite thing about my house today: hours spent playing guitar in the sunny garden, a laughing baby "planting" all of his brother's little Lego pieces in neat rows.

Least favorite: the rug seems to have acquired an inanimate object's version of a virulent skin disease.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sperm and bowhead.

These were the names Xir gave to two Lego men he used to play with (Sperm and Bowhead are both varieties of whale, apparently.) This led to fun situations like Xir yelling out on the playground "MAMA! GET OVER HERE QUICK! I LOST SPERM IN THE SAND!"

He was reminiscing about good ol' Sperm on the bus today, much to the disgruntlement of the lady sitting across from us. This gave me a chance to practice: don't take it personally. don't make assumptions. the world is ending so it doesn't really matter.

We were riding to the Fowler museum. At 10:00 a.m. it had occurred to me that whenever interesting events or outings for the boys crop up, I do a quick cost/benefit analysis (lunches to pack, stuff to schlep, probability of meltdowns) and usually end up demurring. That isn't fair. After all, these are their LIVES. So off to the museum we went.

I thought that Nick Cave's Soundsuits would be of interest, but they elicited just one comment: "do you think it's a real bear under those sweaters?" The exhibit that fascinated Xir was the collection of stone-age artifacts. He has been angling for an obsidian knife for quite a while now and approached one of the guards to ask whether there were any items made of obsidian to be found in the museum. He chose the right guard! This fellow's eyes widened as he pulled a cloth from his pocket. It contained an amythest, black tourmaline, and a garnet: minerals we now know LOTS about. (Black tourmaline, according to the John the Guard, helps to defray the negative effects of cell phone usage. I'll never have to worry about THAT, seeing as how my cellphone doesn't work within a 1/2 mile radius of my house.) This man saw a potential acolyte and he was recruiting, hardcore, for the next generation of rock enthusiasts. He and Xir talked for at least 15 minutes. At one point Xir told him, with great earnestness, "well I am not going to collect rocks when I am a man. When I am a man I am going to help the Earth. But not just the Earth. The humans on the Earth, too." This inspired John the Guard to make Xir a gift of his amythest. Xir was suitably awed.

We left the museum and Xir held his new crystal up to the sun. I waited...

"Mama! Do you think I could make a knife out of this?"

Yep. There it was.

We watched a couple of dancers twisting themselves up and down a scarf they'd suspended from a tree. We rolled down a hill or two. We learned that it is not okay to spear one's brother with an amethyst ("But mom, John said this crystal had good energy so it was like I was giving good energy to him!") And I learned that outings, despite all the initial energy outlay, are well worth it. As long as I remember to keep the pace slow, and don't expect to accomplish anything, the day unfolds with a beauty very different from that I experienced on Friday. But it is beauty, nonetheless. And a beauty that touches three lives, not just one.

Friday, May 21, 2010

I've got nothing to do today but smile

Today was a freebie, an unexpected little gift. Normally I would have woken early for the hour-long cycle to school, worked until 3, cycled up to Brentwood to pick up the boys, undergone that one impossible moment when I somehow have to simultaneously fish correct bus fare out of my pocket, load the bike onto the bus rack, and keep the baby from toddling into the street while preventing the 5-year-old from sprinting off to the appealing little frozen yogurt store nearby. It usually takes the coming and going of three (exasperated) buses to get it all right. Then that unenviable Friday-evening transition, the letdown from the workweek being over but the real work just beginning, the knowledge that I will never, never, never, get a morning just to sleep in.

Except I did. I didn't have to go to work today. And by the simple expedient of keeping that fact to myself (an omission of truth isn't exactly a lie, is it?) I gained a full, childless, lazy day all to myself.

The fact that I spent it racing up and down the climbing stairs at the park and jogging to the library to return overdue books and practicing kung fu sets in the yard is beside the point. Just because I am a crazy woman does not mean that I do not deserve time in which I could have been relaxing. And then there was lunch.

I have a theory about comfort. I don't think you can save it up for uncomfortable times. I find that a morning spent lounging in a tea shop, rather than enabling me to bear the endless mornings of fantasizing about lounging in tea shops, just makes me want MORE. I want EVERY morning to be a tea shop morning. Hot showers, ditto. I find I am actually happier when I have nearly nothing, because then my appetite for comfort dwindles. Sort of like your stomach shrinking when you don't eat for a while.

But today was different. I may need to revise my theory. Because this gift of a day, a day spent following my own whims, accountable to nothing but my own delight, was transformative. Happiness seeped in and erased the soreness in my neck, the brusqueness of my voice, the niggling dissatisfactions that too often blossom outward into unkindness.

Oh, but I was going to write about lunch. Everything came together at around 1:00. I had returned home from my morning o' excessive exercise, showered, put on a cute little outfit (because I do that these days, Deepwater Horizon be damned) and strolled out to purchase groceries and do some banking (i.e. take money out of the bank so that I could buy groceries. But doesn't it sound elegant the other way?). Midway from bank to grocery store my feet veered and I found myself saying "yes" when a shadowy man at my elbow asked if I was here for lunch.

And then I was seated under a fountain in an arboreal patio, a square of sunlight illuminating and warming my table, alone. Except for a distant pair of Italian men who have had, I suspect, a little too much comfort altogether. Magically, I had brought along a book and I sat there, dreamily reading, occasionally eavesdropping, eating the most mind-bogglingly perfect lunch in all creation. Little squares of cheese, round slices of spiced salami, olives, garlicky roasted cubes of eggplant, tomatoes that were so real they were actually warm and musky. All with an overflowing basket of warm, crusty/soft bread. I don't think this place is real. I think I fell through one of those wormholes the geniuses in first grade are always talking about. Because after hours of drifting there in bliss, reading the entire book and eating the entire bread basket (no mean feat! there were loaves and loaves in there, I'm telling you), I found that my bill was just $5 and the time was just 2:00. So I went home and took a nap.

The book I read was The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, a book that has been making the circuit of the New Age/ Personal Improvement set for years now. I had scorned to read it for just that reason, but it found its way into my hands again recently and I caved.

What common sense it contains! The basic lesson proffered is to enjoy your life, don't take anything personally, try not to make assumptions, and try not to speak negatively about anyone. Including yourself. (I have some amends to make to Gwyneth Paltrow.)

But how lovely to find that a day of kindness to yourself--true kindness, the sort that addresses the true, deep needs of every part of yourself--has the potential to become kindness to others. This was the best afternoon I can remember with my boys. I did not begrudge them my time and energy, and what a difference that made. Or perhaps it was the simple fact that I had time and energy, having been replenished.

I feel as though something has woken again recently, something vital that was missing for years and impoverished me by its absence. It has woken, and life makes sense again. I don't know what initiated the change, but now that it has begun I can feel it gaining momentum and carrying me forward. It will be interesting to see what comes next.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Wow. I just wrote that title down and then stared at it for a full five minutes. I mean, I could write a novel or two on this topic. It touches everything I've ever believed in, most of my fatal flaws, and a lot of what is going on in the world. But I only have my self-imposed two pages, and I am going to confine myself to discussing
a) Deepwater Horizon and
b) falling in love too quickly.
Yes, they relate. Somehow. I think.

I majored in Environmental Science in college. Prior to college, I took a year and hitchhiked around the country, working on organic farms and studying primitive skills and apprenticing at a solar power company, all in an attempt to understand if there might be ways forward, ways that don't end in a mass die-off of humanity and/or the ecological wellbeing of the planet. I really cared. I twisted my hair up in pseudo-dreads I never washed in order to conserve water. When my shoes fell apart I constructed new ones from grass and dogbane cordage. I gathered wild foods or traded labor for room and board. I began that year with $7 in the bank, and ended it with $1.50 (the year's budget: stamps, a bus trip, a phone call--they had these things called pay phones back then, on street corners, if you can imagine.) In the evenings, after I had spent the day weeding or harvesting or mulching or splitting wood or wiring inverters or tracking fox, I would either write in my journal or work at some craft project, a basket or a shirt or a pair of sandals (dogbane-and-grass shoes, it turns out, don't hold up too long.) I wrote a lot of music. I smelled. I was happy.

College, as you might gather, was a nasty shock. I fell into a tailspin from which I am still recovering. The life of the mind and the life of the body can be really difficult to reconcile. After such an intense period of experiential learning, trying to write papers about the ecological ramifications of specific legal minutiae was daunting. And seemingly irrelevant. I multiplied my difficulties by refusing to touch a computer for any reason---I earned my BA with the sole aid of a Royal Manual Typewriter, thank you very much. (What, me, make life more difficult for myself? Hard to believe, right?) A distaste for political environmentalism ungrounded in day-to-day experience soon drove me from participation in my chosen field. But neither did I return to my primitivist lifestyle. I just sort of gave up, entirely. Having learned how daunting the problems we face actually are, I could no longer muster the energy necessary to fight them.
I say all of this because I like the sound of my own voice. But also by way of explaining why I no longer stay up-to-date on environmental issues. I thought I had moved on, into the sphere of education and personal improvement and positive thinking, smaller fields with more promising outcomes. Until today.

On the bus home, to occupy myself, I picked up the discarded newspaper of a previous passenger. Deepwater Horizon was on the front page. I got about a paragraph in and found myself crying. The rest of the ride was undertaken in sunglasses. I think the sniffling might have given me away, though.

Why, why, why are we so continually and ineradicably STUPID? Why can't we see the plain truth that resources are limited, and turn our energies to finding other ways rather than pigheadedly, at great cost, trying to scrape out the last little bits...and failing in such a way as to not only destroy the resource we went in for but also damage irreparably what was once a healthy, functioning, beautiful place? It goes beyond stupidity, actually. It is willful self-destruction.

So after all these years I've discovered why I've been avoiding environmental issues. Not because I'd evolved beyond them, or was sickened by the hypocrisy of their proponents, but because it hurts too much. The same story, over and over and over again. Beauty replaced by ugliness. Complexity replaced by base monotony. Wisdom replaced by banal entertainment. Again and again and again. It is not to be endured.

So: falling in love. I hesitate to write about this tender new thing yet, for fear of stunting it, but the possibility of love has emerged from nowhere and it is too heady to suppress. I find that my greatest fear in opening myself to a new relationship is that I am not where I want to be. My outer circumstances do not match my inner life. I do not have goats or blackberries or traplines or a solar homestead. So I feel a bit unworthy, or unequal to the task of being known.
I promised I would draw these two topics together, and back 500 words ago I knew how, but I've lost it. I think it had something to do with the state of flux, with imperfection... Oh yeah! Self-control! I was going to make the point that the REASON I am not in outer circumstances to match my inner vision is my lack of self-control. The same lack of self-control evidenced by the continual rape of the planet by voracious humans. The same lack of self-control that causes me to fall in love too quickly. The same lack of self-control that characterizes earthquakes. Wildfires. Deer populations. Wild mustard. Self-control is NOT NATURAL. The world exhibits NO self-control. Checks and balances, yes, but they come from external forces. Perhaps it is the same for us humans. We are natural beings, after all. Why do we think we're so special? Why should we have self-control, rather than being controlled by cause-and-effect like the rest of the vertebrates?

So, ugly as a lack of control might be, we may have to come to terms with it. Accept the world as it is. Accept ourselves as we are. Our attempts to control, after all, are usually at the root of human suffering. And environmental suffering, come to think of it. And parenting difficulties! (Yes, I had to work that in somehow!) It is a total contradiction that attempts to control our environment could be reined in by attempts to control ourselves, and the truth is, the world is far too complex for anyone to comprehend. The idea that I could somehow come up with a plan that would "fix" it is downright laughable. And maybe...just is the same way. Maybe life is too complex to judge by simple standards. Maybe I am right where I need to be. Maybe I can just let go and love, despite my imperfections. The earth. This man. Myself.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A little perspective.

When I am truly, unflinchingly honest with myself, the truth is that most of my decisions are not well thought-out. Impulse is very attractive to me. Carelessness too. Long-term plans don't figure greatly in my moment-to-moment choices. Or the monumental ones, either.
It's a sloppy way of living. Though it has led to some unspeakably beautiful adventures and a few great insights, I can see where a plan or two might be in order.

I realized today that although a series of, for me, carefully weighed decisions led to my life here (in this 12x12 dwelling, but also, in the larger sense, here) I cannot remember in the slightest what they were. I forget that was my choice to live in a small space. That it was my choice to abstain from cars. That I chose motherhood (really? well, at least with the first one, I knew it was a possible consequence...) So why, then, does my life feel so defiantly foreign to me?

I think it is because most of my choices are really just slushy compromises between convenience and fear. I know what I'd be doing if I weren't so worried about what the world thought of me, or whether or not my skills are developed enough. I would be in the woods, practicing tracking, setting traps with cordage I twisted myself, making music late into the night under stars visible even before the full setting of the sun. I would be writing letters---real letters---to people of strong minds and convictions all over the world who were trying, in a courageous acceptance of responsibility, to forge a better way forward. I'd be thinking, living, creating in ways that matter. Rather than trying to fit inside the ill-fitting but accepted shadow of an upper-middle-class suburban Citizen. It. Just. Doesn't. FIT! Why have I been trying so long to "pass"? I never once wanted that life. What am I so afraid of?

Well, basically, the thing I would be abandoning this pseudo-life for is a phantom. It doesn't really exist, it is intangible and untried and really freaking scary. What if life out there is just as meaningless as life over here? What an unbearable thing to discover. Or worse yet, what if I actually got out there and found that the only others like me-- the ones who in my rosy dream form a worldwide community of doer/thinkers, the vanguard of our generation--found me utterly unworthy? Then I would be lonely. And probably itchy (from the mosquitoes) too.

I have lived similarly to the way I described, in the past, and know honestly that it is the right way for me. But even then loneliness was a constant obstacle. And now there are children. Children that know what "Youtube" is. Yeah, THAT's gonna go over well.

I've been making plans to go study wilderness psychology in Boulder. It's a plan---a real PLAN!--that brings many of my dreams together and seems to be a responsible move as a mother and a Citizen. But when I am really listening I hear from very deep "it is a plan, yes, but it is also a COPOUT!"

There is some part of me that has always known that wisdom and education are two very, very different things. Acquiring further "education" instead of getting out there in the dirt and really KNOWING things through experience is just a very fancy, very socially acceptable form of stalling. At least for me, at least at this stage, at least in this situation.

But good, mentally stable people don't just haul off and trot their family into the unknown, do they? Maybe after 8 weeks of needlepointing I will know. Doing, though, that's another matter entirely.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday music

Life surprised me today. Again. You'd think I'd learn not to be surprised, but I don't seem to be that quick on the uptake in general. I am ALWAYS surprised. Unsurprisingly.

After Anainn amused himself by dunking the cellphone in my morning tea, thereby short-circuiting all communication, I was surprised (! Doesn't that word look funny after the third or fourth time you read it?) by a friend showing up at my door ready to take me and my brood to Agoura Hills. I was still in my pajamas, Anainn's diaper hadn't been changed since the evening before, and there was enough peanut butter smeared over the bathroom to stock a grocery (don't ask). The beds hadn't been put up yet, which meant that I couldn't even open the door to let her in. And I'm pretty sure it was stinky, too. I can't smell, I'm too congested. But I have a feeling.

Anyway, I swallowed hard, remembered that friendship is deeper than hygiene (is it? well, it worked for me this morning to tell myself so) and let her see it all. The shadow side! The unhealthy breakfast! The carcass of my cellphone with its innards strewn all over the table! Dirty tissues like a blanket of snow! And she wanted to use the bathroom! I let my caveats die in my throat and just allowed her to go in and discover for herself the kind of depraved secret life her friend leads. She just giggled. I'm too dramatic, I guess.

And then we were off (after my brilliant timesaving maneuver of dressing us all in the clothes we'd worn yesterday. Oh no! Shelayna, shield your eyes!) to the 50th annual Topanga Banjo and Fiddle Contest. Mecca.

Barefoot children. Women with spinning wheels and hanks of wool. Circles of shaggy people with instruments of all kinds, gathering in impromptu constellations to make beautiful noise. Clogging, contra dancing, beautiful bearded banjoed men winking at me in my day-old getup, children napping miraculously in time for me to waltz to my favorite tune. This is the way I had always envisioned the adult world. Seriously. I thought that it was just going to be a buffet of interesting people learning from each other, hanging out, playing tunes, eating good food, and clogging. Instead I find it more like this quote from Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure: "As you got older, and felt yourself to be at the center of your time, and not at a point in its circumference, as you had felt when you were little, you were seized with a sort of shuddering...All around you there seemed to be something glaring, garish, rattling, and the noises and glares hit upon the little cell called your life, and shook it, and warped it."

Or something like that. I preferred it in the circumference, when other people were in charge. Being at the center, the generation that is actually running things at this moment in time, has kind of frozen me in shock.

But I do really well at banjo festivals. It was a wonderful day. Despite being in the heat for over 7 hours with few snacks and no entertainment except for instrumental music and nasal singing, lo! My children did not have meltdowns! They were reasonable, friendly, and polite! They were laughing and running around! They looked cute in their little matching handmade guilt-induced pants! I think if the world really was set up like a banjo festival, my little family would do just fine. Because that's the world, evidently, I've been preparing them for.

It was an easy, beautiful day, filled with music and good company and laughter. It was slow. It was uncomplicated. I think maybe, in addition to being a bit dramatic, I generally try too hard. Maybe we all do.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Observations and questions.

So. At the acupuncturist today (I love writing that. It makes me feel so very modish and bourgeois) I got into a minor altercation with Xir about proper comportment in a waiting room. It seems to me, one should not roll up magazines and bash one's mother's face with them. Or shriek out deafeningly when one is told (and this is oooooold news) that movies are verboten at mom's house. Or call one's mother a Terrible White Beast (I don't know where this moniker came from, but it is really hard to keep a straight face when he hurls it at me). Or abuse parentheses. But I digress.

I started out all I-messagey and went rapidly downhill. He was raging and upset, I was ignoring him and reading about the 50 Hottest Latina Women from a magazine he'd chosen to bash me with. Suddenly I woke up.

"Let's go outside", I said. Oddly enough he listened the first time and out we went. In two minutes we were under a spreading mulberry tree, chomping on ripe berries and gathering "precious" gravel onto large leaves. With the situation diffused, I was just drawing breath to deliver my speech about how embarrassing his behavior had been, how disrespectful he'd been acting, when I was stopped short by the expression on his face.

He was HAPPY. Just playing with mulberries, hanging out with mom, basking in a little attention. Enough. The lecture could wait.

And it's still waiting. All afternoon he's been lovey-dovey: "There is something I like more than flowers mom. Do you know what it is? YOU." "I love you more than 10 universes." "I will always love you even after I pass away. And even after you pass away you will always, always, be invited to watch movies with me." (Oh, well. I can see the movies thing is going to take a while. It's the thought that counts.)

With all of the racing around trying to catch buses and mopping up of orange juice spills and clearing up of toys and bathing and cooking and disciplining and educating there really isn't much time to just RELATE. Or enjoy these emerging people that the Trader Joe's lady reminds me every week will be in college tomorrow. (Yeah right. On full scholarship, maybe, if they could bike their own butts there.) I feel sad when I don't get to enjoy my children.

And I was noticing today at the Cabaret that all of these people I routinely put in boxes so that I can then feel intimidated by or derisive towards them: "wealthy", "celebrities", "parents", "bosses", "Employers of Nannies" were running around chasing the same disrespectful children, wiping the noses of the same whiny toddlers, giggling at the jokes of the same gleeful preschoolers that I was. (I guess the nannies had the day off). But also, I could see that every single one of them had their own struggle. It's just hard. It's either meant to be hard or we've made it so, and nobody escapes. I shouldn't be so happy about that, but I am.

But I vote for making it less hard. The two projects that pop into my head with regularity are 1) to get a mother's collective together
2) to sneak out into Ballona Creek with my jackhammer and slowly return it to life.

I can't do the second until my kids are old enough to fend for themselves while I'm in jail. So I'm going to focus on the mother's collective. What is a mother's collective exactly? I don't know. I guess we trade off on kids, have huge playdate picnics, call each other when an emergency comes up, write anti-discrimination legislation, block off the street and let our naked children run whooping through it while we drink mint juleps and recline, laughing. Or something like that.

Meanwhile M.C. Hammer of two posts back is madly in love and emailing me constantly. I don't know what to do about that. I feel like two separate people, and somehow I need to integrate me-with-kids into all-other-ways-me. Does this happen to anyone else? Shouldn't we have some sort of ceremony for when we become mothers to integrate this huge new role into the rest of us, rather than just letting it become us?

Thursday, May 13, 2010


I feel like I have to write something really deep and insightful here to make up for the x-rated inanity of my last post. Quote Rumi, talk about the children suffering in some corner of the world, etc. At least discuss the new Supreme Court appointee or make a witty comment about the Labour party in Britain.

But part of my decision to start writing this everyday was to be honest with myself about who I really am, where my life really is, and keep a clean account. Because if I airbrush it or spin it (which I am all too good at doing) I won't get to really SEE it. Who I am, now, as opposed to who I could be, given my potential.

I got some good advice today about selfishness. I'd been feeling kind of guilty about a little shopping spree at Lush, during which I spent upwards of $20 on frou frou organic bath soaps. I mean, come on. I can make soap from nettles in the wilderness! I can go months without bathing altogether! What on earth was I thinking, spending $20 on BATH PRODUCTS? And also I was feeling guilty about, you know, some other stuff. But speaking with my brave, wonderful, wise friends tonight put it all into perspective.

For five years I did not take a SINGLE shower on my own. There was always some baby or other crawling around in there with me. For five years there was not a moment in all the day or night that was my own. I could be overruled at any time, superseded by the greater needs of a toddler or nursing child or teary preschooler or irate husband. And there is nothing wrong with this. It is all part of life. But isn't it true then, also, that when one partakes in one's first solo bath in over 5 years nothing is wrong with making a bit of a celebration out of it?

I have always been prickly about other people "taking care" of me. Independence has always been a cornerstone of my constitution. But it is beginning to dawn on me that if I won't let anyone else take care of me, I might just have to take on the job myself.

Which might entail eating something other than doughnuts tomorrow.
And I am not going to go back and edit out my whininess. Because , for now, that's who I am. Blech.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Day of Firsts.

Ooh, what sort of firsts?
you ask. Did you spend the day sewing lovely handmade clothes for your children as you promised yourself?

Ah. That would have been good. But no.

Did you spend the entire day thinking only positive thoughts, without a single cloud of negativity to mar the perfect blue of your serene mind?

Um, no. That would be a first. Though I think I've achieved the opposite a couple of times.

Did you write a book? Learn to play the Oud? Did you...

ENOUGH! Man, you imaginary blog readers are a nattering bunch of goody-goodys. Let's start over.

A Day of Firsts.

Yesterday was my first time ever in a bar. At least, an American one. It was also coincidentally the first time I've ever drunk more than one beer. It was the first time I've ever been on a least, an American one. The kind of date that has cars and bars and stuff.

And it was SO MUCH FUN. I think partially it was so fun because I am such a narcissist and spent much of the evening seeing myself through this guy's eyes and giggling at what a kook I am. (I should mention here, tangentially, that the focus of my narcissistic fantasies has changed. I am no longer That Girl Who Does Not Look at Herself in the Windows of Shops. I am now That Girl Who is Everywhere at Once. In this fantasy, some person's schedule takes them to all of the places that mine takes me. Stopping at a red light, this observer pushes her sunglasses up and says in wondering admiration "hey, wasn't that girl the one I saw sprinting down Venice just this morning? But then she was biking hell-for-leather on Miracle Mile, wasn't she? And I could swear I saw her bustling around Santa Monica just hours ago!" Here, the fantasy diverges. In one version, she puts her sunglasses back on, gives an admiring little nod, and says "Wow, I don't know how she does it. I am so inspired to drive my car less. And also what lovely calf muscles she has and such an elegant jawline." In the second version, she puts her sunglasses back on and makes a little moue of pity. "What an oddball. You know, they should put her in that needlepoint program at the Hammer. She's obviously psychotic enough to qualify. In fact, I think I'll write her a letter of recommendation to that effect.")

But also it was fun because within the first five minutes of meeting and sizing each other up, my date and I came to the mutual conclusion that we have nothing in common and are all wrong for each other. (It took me just 90 seconds to ascertain that he approves of the Army Corps of Engineers. Game over.) So the pressure was off, we had a blast lampooning each other's opinions, and then went back to his place for...well... activities reminiscent of certain video installations at the Hammer. For four hours.

And I will say this, I am not feeling so grouchy about Mother's Day anymore.

Also, I fully intend to spend this evening industriously churning out handmade clothes.

My favorite thing about my house today: who cares about my stupid house?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Women Can't be Farmers.

That's what Xir told me this afternoon as we walked home from a long outing.

"Most of the farmers in the world are women," I replied evenly.
"That's because they are tricking the men to think they can do it."
"Why would they want to trick the men? Farming is hard work. Women and men farm because they need to eat."
"Well I guess that is all right. Women should be doing most of the work anyway."

Well. I had been holding it together pretty admirably thus far, I should think, but that just hurtled me over the wall between reasonable mom and screeching lunatic. In the "conversation" that followed (meaning, in this context, a shrill rapidfire monologue coming from me and increasingly hunted and shrinking remarks he managed to sputter out when I drew in breath) I learned that

a) people in China think women should do most of the work.
b) a man's job is to have fun.
c) people in China are the smartest.

and he learned that

a) Mama is a screeching lunatic. And
b) NEVER say that thing again about women should do all the work.

I tried to lower my register and decibels at one point and describe, in a reasonable facsimile of my normal voice, a scenario in which his little brother got to play with toys all day while he had to cook, clean up, wash his brother's clothes, fix his brother's broken toys, etc. How would that feel?

"You got it wrong mama. We are both boys. That's not how they do it in China. WE would both be playing and having fun. If we had a sister she could do all that stuff."

AAAAAAAGGGGHHHHHHHHH. Needless to say, the whole thing ended in tears. And I forgot, several times, that it was a five-year-old with whom I was dealing. A five-year-old who was merely repeating opinions he'd heard from Satan. I mean his dad. Whoops.

This whole cheerful frolic coincided with the loss of Xir's first tooth. I had always meant to make a special family ritual of this moment; rather than go along with thoughtless lies about fairies with toothy castles I would take my child out to the garden and we would plant the tooth under a special bean vine to put the calcium back in the soil. Then when that bean vine began to produce, we would cook up the beans, sing a special song, and he would eat them to complete the cycle.

Yeah RIGHT! There are so many fallacies in that particular fantasy that I can't even begin to address them. And I was so steaming mad that I went on and on about the tooth fairy just to get back at Xir's dad--whoops, I mean Satan--who hates, above all else, imagination of any kind. Except the kind where you imagine that someone will actually stay married to you when you hold an opinion like "women should do all the work".

After both boys fell asleep I decompressed a little by writing in my journal about the whole thing. And I realized why I had gotten so angry. It's because, as stupid and unevolved and ludicrous as the idea that women should be doing all the work is, WE ACTUALLY ARE. It is still happening. Innocent eyes looking around this world would find plenty of proof for it.

I know it is not just I who does all of the cooking, all of the cleaning, all of the childcare; whose husband (when we were still married) referred to his care of the children as "babysitting"; whose dreams and education were put on hold simply because I had participated in the creation of the next generation. Or maybe I am just still bitter about what a crock Mother's Day is when there isn't another parent around to coerce the children into expressing (forced) sentiment or better yet to just cart the critters off for the day.

But taking it out on my 5-year-old is not going to change things. I don't know that there is anything that could change things. Because the very act of being an involved mother removes involved mothers from the circles that make the plans, the art, the culture, the rules. We are invisible and so it never changes. Urban planners forget, for the most part, that children exist. Organizers of events. of parties, of entertainment, exclude small children as a matter of course and thus exclude their mothers from participation in the adult world. There is no job that I know of--including the care of other people's children--in which bringing your own children along is acceptable. It is entirely inhumane, and somehow almost completely unquestioned.

I know this is not news to anyone. Time to climb off of my soapbox and into bed. Oh wait. First I have to do the dishes, sweep the floors, prepare tomorrow's lunches...

and sneak a quarter under the pillow of a very special, very deluded little boy.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

the little things life is made of

1) Xir saying: "Will you sing my Cyclopstaur (a horridly ugly plastic toy somebody gave him that he is completely enamored of) to sleep? If you sing Twinkle Little Star it will be just a minute to you but it will be a whole hour for him because he is in a very little world."

2) Anainn inventing a game in which he bends over at the waist and ducks his head under something---a curtain, the hamper lid, or one memorable time, yesterday's bra---becoming in this way "invisible", and then straightens up, beams, and claps his hands: Wow, look, I'm back!

3) Visiting a friend and having her answer the door with her face unselfconsciously coated in a mixture of mud, cucumber, and aloe pulp.

4) Discovering this video (in the course of my research about family sleep-ins, naturally): the camera pans around looks of shock and dismay on the faces of Uzbek nomads as they, in turn, watch a video about crazy American parents who isolate their children in SEPARATE ROOMS!

5) Cleaning a graze on Xir's knee and having him look up at me and say earnestly: "I feel like hugging you until I pass away."

6) Coming home after an impossibly long day of humping the (truly unportable) stroller, baby, kid, and kid accoutrements from bus to bus only to find flowers and a bowl of hot soup waiting for me, courtesy of the best landlady on the planet.

7) Xir's explanation of the difference between a kumquat and a loquat: "Now I get it. With a kumquat you are supposed to eat the peel but it is HORRIBLE. With a loquat you are NOT supposed to eat the peel but if you do, it tastes nice!"

8) Remembering the conversation with my old friend Rob on Wednesday, in which I learned that interesting lives may be hard on the one living them, but can prove valuable for those looking on.

9) Banana muffins with cream cheese.

10) Not being a vegan anymore.

11) Shelayna's one closet, one year blog and its wonderful information about midwifery, circumcision, and of course layering.

12) Having a friend whose only piece of furniture is a spinning wheel. Which she uses daily. And who is turning a pair of socks she knit for her beloved that were too large into slippers by affixing bits of leather (obtained for free from, of all places, a car upholsterer) to the soles and embroidering them with bow and arrow so that "as he learns to hunt he will shoot true".

13) Xir pilfering my headphones and sitting on the bus looking all chill; when I asked him what he was listening to he said "How to discipline your children". Oh yeah, I put those parenting tapes on there. He was really into it, too!

13) The scent of rose geranium.

14) Coming to the end of a truly difficult day and knowing that I learned something, that my children learned something, and that I may be on the right path after all.


Here's the thing about sharing one cozy sleeping space as a family: it can get un-cozy REALLY fast. Like when the 18-month-old wakes, roots through the cupboard, and upends a cereal box over all the bedding while you sleep. Or when the same 18-month-old screams without cease for no discernible reason, and there is really no way of keeping the 5-year-old asleep. These things, simply, suck.

And speaking of sucking, WHY won't that same 18-month-old get the memo about being weaned already and stop the madness!

Sleep, it turns out, is the essential ingredient in sanity. At least mine.

How do all of those societies that have been living in one-roomed dwellings for thousands of years manage this aspect? I am going to research this. If I can stay awake to do it.

Friday, May 7, 2010

sprinting and surprises

For a day that began with a mile-long sprint in impractical shoes to catch the last bus of the morning---and continuing, therefore, sweaty and stinky all day---yesterday sure turned out to be a winner in the end. It was one of those days that reaffirms life as the joyous thing it truly is, underneath all the struggle.

After school I had an appointment at the Hammer to interview for this incredible collaborative project between an artisan and a psychologist. The lucky ones selected will go to the Hammer for eight weeks in succession and participate in group/Jungian therapy whilst creating needlepoint canvases of some of the Hammer's most illustrious works of art. These needlepoints will then be displayed alongside the original art pieces. This project was conceived of and paid for by an anonymous donor who wants people to have the opportunity to participate more fully in the museum experience, to be a part of the art, to breathe new life into it. The woman who interviewed me was merry, with that spark of life we long to see in everyone we meet, and knew what a Quaker was! I have a good feeling about this.

She gave me a guest pass for the museum (and--hurray!--an actual, literal gold star to wear for having cycled there) so I wandered through and found, side by side, Jung's ACTUAL RED BOOK and a very sensuous video installation called Minotaur.

I've been hearing about the red book for years. Jung was fascinated by mandalas and saw them as secret codes, or patterns, of our subconscious and the workings of the universe. So, in all of his spare time, he conceived an entire cosmology and worked it out in mandalas, wrote poetic sermons and discourses unveiling this cosmology, and turned it all into an illuminated manuscript of rich beauty. Naturally he did all of his own calligraphy, and the several hundred deeply colored and detailed illustrations. I never knew Jung was an artist. His art has a simplicity to it---reminiscent, almost, of the work of Antoine de Saint Exupery---but the lines, the colors call out as the best art does.

Most wondrous of all, there was Jung's own scribbled journal in the display case opposite, in his own hurried pencil. One entry read (I am paraphrasing the heck out of this):

O my soul! I have lost you for so long. I have wandered strange paths and made terrible mistakes, and now here I am. It has all been as it should because now I am here, and have found you.

Now I swear, I could find this EXACT entry---verbatim---in German, even!---in one of my old journals. To have a histrionic journal entry in common with Jung is very, very, heartening.

So then, reeling and in love, I stumbled into the Minotaur viewing room. It is dark, with beanbags. An old woman (the filmmaker) pages through a book of the sculptures of Rodin and stops at the Minotaur. The sculpture becomes two dancers, who then explore the emotional landscape of the work with their bodies. Which is an artistic way of saying, there you are sitting on the beanbag in a museum watching two naked people doing--you know--IT.

The power dynamic between the dancer playing the minotaur and the dancer playing his young victim alters subtly throughout, and in the end, in one long gaze, she shows her triumph, then her scorn, then her sadness at his ultimate lack of relevance. I know that feeling. That feeling ended my marriage.

I was so glad to have sat through it, because there were parts that had me squirming. It is really awkward to be sitting in a dark room watching people doing IT and then another patron of the arts wanders in, looks at the screen, looks at you watching the screen, and then scuttles the heck out of there.

Uh oh. I am creeping dangerously close to verbal vomit territory and there is so much left to tell! Laura can I have an exemption?

After this I had to cool myself down with a cucumber-and-rose ice cream cone at the Persian ice cream store. And then it was off to the Poufy Beige Sublet to finally conclude that saga. And that turned out to be...wonderful. We laughed, we went through a box of things I had accidentally left there (one of which was....drumroll please....a book by Jung!), and I was presented with my mail. 3 letters from the IRS. Sweet god almighty. But guess what? The first letter said, "we have found an irregularity...." the second letter said "here is why we have adjusted your figures..." and the third was a CHECK. For MORE than I had asked. They adjusted me to get MORE MONEY. (Pause for a little triumphant dance of pure joy and thanksgiving).

Then I had 20 minutes to bike from Brentwood to Culver City. Which, fueled by monetary and Jungian ecstasy, I DID! Then my friend took me to the most beautiful concert, a Carpet Concert of Persian and Uzbek music and dance and storytelling, in which all the patrons removed their shoes and sat on a carpet. And these patrons were all wearing handmade clothes, they stood up in the middle of the program to do yoga stretches, they broke out into ecstatic bouts of bellydancing in the aisles, I mean I wanted to go around with my notebook and start a mailing list of Potential Friends. And there were children there! Well behaved children in handmade clothing! Children so achingly beautiful in their handmade clothes that I was actually considering having another child just so that I could do a better job dressing them this time....

After the concert my friend and I put on bollywood music and belly danced for 3 hours. Then we collapsed in a happy heap and had Jungian dreams. It was a wonderful day. Here is what the program of the carpet concert said:

"Irrespective of the means of the household, many areas of the Middle East still maintain traditional furnishings consisting of carpets covering the entire floor and large pillows leaning against the walls. At mealtimes a large cloth is spread on the carpeted floor, and families come together to share their meals picnic-style. At night, the same area becomes a bedroom, with simple blankets spread is prepared, children play, all manner of activities take place in the same multipurpose space while all are sitting on the carpeted floor."

Sound familiar?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

an old friend's visit

continuing: remaining seen
there was a thread undone,
now woven in
and there is freedom here!
in being known
a freedom anonymity can't own
continuing a thing!
o it is strange
that there is one who calls me by my name

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

choice and consequence

One summer in the late '90s I volunteered at the Haw River Festival. We camped alongside the river in some open fields and during the day, busload after busload of second graders from all over North Carolina were dropped off to test the water, write poetry about the sycamores, eat the weeds, and watch puppet shows about water conservation starring a huge, handmade Mother Earth and a chorus of wooden flutes. In the evenings, we'd pull out our guitars and fiddles and banjos and play old-time music until the stars peeked out over the river, or engage in earnest debate over whether it's more responsible to spray out our toothpaste over a wide swatch of ground or bury it in a shallow trench. The evening that sticks in my mind as I write this, though, we had tired of our old-time repertoire and settled the Great Toothpaste Debate (spraying, it turns out.) So we all went for a walk.

We were a motley crew of aging hippies, idealistic college students, and traveling artisans. There were a lot of Guatemalan ponchos and no cellphones. That sort of crowd. As we wandered the dark streets of the tiny hamlet on the banks of the Haw I was struck by something: people in this town were all outside. Rocking on their porches, collecting fireflies, drinking in the backyard. None of the windows flickered with that sickly blue television light. In front of the one store in town, several older men had pulled wooden chairs into a rough circle and were pickin' the heck out of "Red Haired Boy". It was akin to stumbling backwards in time. Or forwards, to something better. I was so enchanted that I remember falling out of the conversation and wandering off by myself, up and down as many streets as I could manage before the light faded. Candles flickered in windows. Grandmothers read poetry aloud to grandchildren.

Later I discovered that on that particular night, the town had been without power. (Ironically, it was something to do with the hydroelectric plant on the Haw). At first I felt let down--there was nothing innately special about these people or this place after all!-- but later I learned to take hope from it. If losing power for one night was all it took to get folks fingerpickin' in the streets and reading poetry again, then we are not so far lost as it sometimes seems.

Tonight, walking the streets of Culver City, I felt that hope again. Tuesdays, the farmer's market spills out over Main Street, and the roads are crowded with people bearing sacks of produce, or biking home with kale tumbling out of their bike baskets. Folks smile at one another. Cheerful musicians gather on the benches and try to find songs in common. Children run laughing through the fountain in the central square.

I've been thinking all day about what I wrote in my last post, and wanted to clarify it somewhat. I don't believe that there are vengeful elderberry spirits lurking about waiting to exact revenge on unsuspecting humans. But I do believe that if one is careless with babies---be they of the berry or mammalian variety---eventually, a baby is going to get hurt. Likewise if one hurtles oneself iconoclastically through ancient holy places, one's path may very well intersect with that of a burly Greek farmer and his pitchfork. Oftentimes I've found that what I'd like to interpret as grand signals from fate are really the consequences of my own behavior, coming home to roost.

So, in the end it all boils down to choices. I can choose to be careful and respectful in my actions. I can choose to sit on the porch in the evenings, playing guitar, instead of staying inside. ( I could have chosen to not allow my children to teethe on my expensive digital camera; then I would have been able to take pictures to spice up my boring blog). I can even choose to have a lot of money if I'm willing to make the tradeoffs necessary. But if that's what I really wanted, wouldn't I have made those tradeoffs already? Hmmm.

Favorite thing about my house tonight: candlelight and solitude. not having to hear my own voice saying "no" all the time.

Least favorite thing: I'll have to get back to you. From where I sit, life seems just about perfect.

Monday, May 3, 2010

things get damaged, things get broken

So, I thought I had escaped the Poufy Beige Sublet with little more than surface wounds. I thought that I had managed to sign that 70-page legal document and weasel away from the whole situation nearly scot-free. Alas, it was not to be.

Yesterday I got a very pleasantly written email informing me that of the $1,000 security deposit I handed over in November, $300 is going to repair a minor crack in a shower door, $200 is going to repair a "shaky" aluminum sliding door, and another $200-odd is going to replace doodads like solar lamps, which admittedly Anainn mistook for baby-sized bludgeoning tools. Added to the nearly $100 I spent getting the carpet cleaned, and the gas and internet bills they are going to deduct, a hefty chunk of money I'd been counting on for summer rent just went up in poufy beige smoke.

I received this email mere minutes before setting out on an outing with the boys, an evening stroll celebrating Big Sunday during which we planned to picnic at the Ballonna Creek Bike trail and collect trash along the way. It was weighing heavily on me as Xir skipped along, chatting about dragons, and by the time we arrived at the bike trail only to find that some bastards had come along before us and cleaned up ALL THE TRASH, it had blossomed into a full-blown bad mood.

There is kind of a long back story to this particular outing. It started in Greece, eight years ago. I was a circle-dancing-organic-farming Yogini in my early twenties with a roaring case of Nasty-Spotted Hubris. Traveling with me was J., my long-suffering, violin-building, Italian-speaking boyfriend. We were poor circle-dancing Yogis (is there any other kind?), so our basic traveling strategy was to arrive at a tiny village, whittle away the hours until dusk eating Greek salads and casing the outlying meadows, then put up camp in some likely-looking pasture and try to disappear by dewfall the next morning. One of these early, fog-drenched mornings, I was unsuccessful in rousting J., so I set off up a nearby hill. This particular hill happened to be crowned with a ruined temple; the rock ended in perfectly symmetrical pillars and they ended in sky. A hollowed altar-stone took pride of place and offerings had been left here: candles, chunks of frankincense, wilted flowers. I had brought no offerings, so like any self-respecting circle-dancing Yogini I immediately danced a round of the Kritikos followed by a couple of sun salutations on the temple floor. Oh, and I happened to be menstruating at the time.

Flash forward seven years, a seven years in which pretty much everything I touched had turned to stinking doo-doo. I had met some friends who attended Sacred Fire gatherings in Santa Monica and had begun attending them myself, more for the potluck honestly than for any particular attraction to the Sacred. On one evening, after we had all offered our gifts to the fire and were sitting around contemplating it, we were honored by the surprise arrival of one of the foremost Shamans of the tradition. Folks asked him questions and were answered, and I nursed my baby, half-drowsing. Then he looked right at me and said

"People can get themselves into a lot of trouble giving inappropriate offerings."
Immediately the circle around him began to buzz. I was still oblivious. "For example, you have to be careful giving offerings to the ocean. Give the wrong offering to the ocean, you might end up with storms, tsunamis." People begged him for specifics, so he went on: "Stay away from chocolate as an offering. And for heaven's sakes, stay out of other people's temples, traditions you don't belong to. Especially when you're menstruating. If you offend the old gods, boy are you in for it." And then he looked at me again and shook his head, as though he'd heard there were people that stupid out there, but hadn't believed it until now.

He had my attention. I don't really believe in all that crap, but a recent incident had shaken me somewhat. I'd gone up to Malibu Creek Canyon State Park to harvest elderberries. They were so abundant that year, you could hardly stretch out your hand without knocking a huge umbel of ripe berries down. I was in a hurry; I had an overtired, red-faced 4-year-old in tow and a stink-bottomed baby in a sling. So I cut corners. I didn't ask the trees first, I didn't offer water, I didn't even harvest with respect, just tore berries down helter-skelter into my gathering baskets, sometimes tearing whole branches off in my haste. As I passed out of that grove a twig from one of the trees lashed out like a slap across the face, and I felt a weight settle into my stomach. I knew I'd done wrong.

Later, I was walking my baby in his stroller along the bike trail, a steep section that ran away down a concrete slope to the rain-swollen creek. I noticed an elder tree that stretched out across the trail and reached up to pick a cluster of blossoms. In that moment, the stroller spun away from my hand and raced, out of control, down toward the water. It overturned at great speed and by the time I reached my infant, heart in my throat, his head was horribly swollen and the side of his face was the color of elderberry juice. I had that same feeling in my stomach. I remembered that slap.

So, when I'd gone harvesting cattails last week, this incident and the warning of the shaman were strong in my mind. I made sure to offer water, and to ask before I harvested. And, noticing that trash choked the stream, I made a commitment to return to the trail and gather it up. Which brings us back to the bike trail on Big Sunday.

I had made a commitment to the cattails, and here I was in a horrible mood, with all the trash collected already. I brought out our picnic in silence. We sat, eating pasta and broccoli, watching the ducks and crows and pigeons in the concrete trench that used to be a creek.
"I feel sad," I said.
"I can take the sad feeling away," said Xir. He gave me a hug. Then he asked "what made you sad?"
"I think it was that email I just read. We have to pay a lot of money and that put me in a bad mood." He considered this for a minute, then said
"Are you sad too because all the trash is gone already?" I admitted this, and saying it out loud made me realize how absurd I was being. We laughed for a long time. Then he said, earnestly, "Well I asked the Earth about that and she said inside my mind that all she really wants is for us to go home and watch a movie. Because we are part of the Earth and what makes us happy makes the Earth happy."

So that's what we did. And on the way we gathered up nearly a full bag of garbage we hadn't noticed.

It turns out that money doesn't matter, that much. Really. A good laugh on the side of a broken creek is a pretty good substitute.


favorite thing about my house today: the tomatoes and radishes are almost ready! and an unknown neighbor hung beautiful fish flags all along the lightposts which gave the neighborhood a carnival atmosphere.

least favorite: I'm pretty sure the neighbors are already rolling their eyes when they see me walk by with my sunburned boys and heavy-laden stroller. for the seventh time in four hours.