Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Xir's dream.

Xir, normally a sound sleeper, woke in sobs last night. I was startled awake (being less than 5 feet from him), instantly worried that divorce fallout had finally caught up with my thus-far-unruffled little boy.

Through his tears he related his "horrible" dream to me:

"I was at a class where we raced dinosaurs. They had a plastic thing painted to look like a blue mountain and we would race our dinosaurs along it. I raced a stegosaurus and I won! Then I was going to race an allosaurus and YOU" (he turned on me with fury) "said it was time to go home!"

He sobbed himself out on my lap while I repeated assurances that it was all just a dream. When he fell asleep, I lay watching him for a while, thrilled that in Xir's subconscious, being hustled through dinosaur races is as bad as it gets. But also resolving that in future, I will try to conform to his schedule from time to time, instead of always expecting him to conform to mine.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

full moon

artemisia, jasmine, frangipani, musk.
fennel seed, juniper
copper-hard and smooth.
A wooden flute sounds falling notes, round, cold.
Pearls, diamond dust, outlines,
a ring around Saturn, milk.

24 hours.

I met a boy at the deli. He was an aerospace engineer. I asked him how a satellite is built. He asked me how to get to a nice beach. I went to the beach with him. We went hiking in the mountains. We had a wonderful dinner at a Greek restaurant with belly dancing. We sat up all night watching the moon and talking about how life surprises you.

Life surprises you.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Summer solstice

A day spent walking slowly to the park, burying my nose in every scented plant I saw. Wearing impractical flowing skirts and jangling bangles to do a sun-dappled yoga session outdoors. Running through every chi gong I know, spending hours and hours, spending time profligately on all, and only, what makes me feel deliciously stretched, fulfilled, full, alive. Painting in ink, quick sketches of the trees surrounding me. Painting in watercolor, portraits of eucalyptus. Baking blueberry muffins and slicing into ripe plums and golden apricots for solstice salad, drinking tart cider and playing silver notes of guitar. Smiling at every person I see. Winking at beautifully shaggy men. Winking at children. Winking at the elderly woman unobtrusively pocketing Starbucks' sugar packets. Stretching my arms up to the sun, in the middle of the street. Going barefoot. Laughing out loud. Harvesting mugwort to tuck into my shoes and under my pillow. Harvesting yerba santa to clear my cough. Harvesting chrysanthemum to bring the gold of the longest day into my home, and remind me of how lucky I am.

Friday, June 18, 2010

the secret garden

I have always longed for an acre or so, open, fertile valley land, a creek or river from which to irrigate or at least haul buckets. But, having lived in the city so long, I have learned to treasure every square inch.

My campaign to eradicate the lawn and fill that space with mounded canes of raspberry, an allee of overarching apple and peach trees, and sweet-smelling underfoot tangles of strawberry, calendula, and blackberry--all around a central bean tipi playhouse reaching to the sky--is still underway. But in the meantime, I want to show you how I have sneaked vegetables into every hidden corner.

Here is an overview of the space I have to work with. Note the sterile, drab lawn area. Ugh.
What you can't see are the baby grape vines that will soon be twining their way all over the red pergola! Yippee! (And that's a fig tree in the back right corner!)

This is a tiny area just by the steps to the door that I outlined in cinder block and filled with earth. The plants in there are: mint, thyme, oregano, stevia, rosemary, collards, snap peas, chard, and kale. I get a huge harvest from this little plot. I've found that if you jumble everything together, the bugs have a harder time finding the things they like to snack on and everything seems to work synergistically. I also planted zinnias in the holes of the cinderblocks so that when everything gets really big, the zinnias will bloom and screen it all with flowers. Landlady-friendly gardening!

The ornamental grasses just don't do it for me. Oh, what's that green interloper that's suddenly sprung up among them? Is that....an heirloom tomato? Now where did that come from?

This old fireplace had some charred remains in it, but the landlady feels it is unsafe for fires and didn't want me to use it. So I filled it with earth and turned it into my greenhouse. This is where the next generation of seedlings await their turn at my few square inches. Right now it has lots of baby tomatoes in it.

Tucked under the shade of the lemon tree is this beautifully prolific summer squash. Just one? Yes, just one. I have learned my lesson! The zucchinis and squashes can take some shade, so it does well here. The gardeners I have begged the landlady to set free kept "weeding" this out until I got smart: on the day they are scheduled to come, I cover it with burlap and sprinkle mulch on top so it blends in.

Those are all the pictures I am allowed, apparently. There is so much more to show---the italian beans twining up the wall behind the fig tree, the little salad bowl beneath it, the sunflower/dill/tomato/chard/ forest...another day. I am just grateful, as we approach solstice, for all of this beautiful, fresh food, and an Earth so forgiving that it all grows lush and green in a space that until recently was just cement.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

taking it personally, mark two

Instead of going and crying in the shower, which is what I really want to do, I am going to take my own advice and create something. A blog entry!

The needlepoint group nearly came to blows today. I am not allowed to talk about the specifics of what goes on there, but in general the subject was having children in a world with no foreseeable future (against the backdrop of the BP fiasco); i.e., the irresponsibility of choosing to procreate. This group contains a handful of mothers and a handful of non-mothers and it got heated really quickly. In the process of this discussion I was asked how I, as a card-carrying bike-riding environmentalist, could justify having kids, and if I regretted having them. Somehow I managed to throw out a comment that enraged both groups and became a lightning rod for all of the anger, grief, resentment, and confusion that women repress around childbearing. What is interesting is that I was holding back.

What I wanted to say was that I do sometimes regret having my children. Not frequently, but it happens. I find it hard to believe that there is a mother (nanny-less mother) out there who has not briefly entertained this thought at least once. I mean, come on: it is Sunday morning and you've been up all night all week with your fussy baby and you've just managed to get him to sleep when your other child comes barreling into the room to scream at you about how you made him the wrong flavor of pancakes and he hates you, thereby waking the baby, who begins to scream mercilessly, while all around, neighbors' windows slam down (and you know you're going to be hearing from THEM later) and all you want to do for the luvagod is GO TO SLEEP! Do you a) smile serenely and offer up a little prayer of thanksgiving that you were blessed with the care of these little angels? or b) wonder what you ever did to deserve this and passionately wish it would STOP? If you answered a), please come over and babysit. But I seriously doubt that anyone did.

What I did say was, I thought, far less controversial. I told the woman who was wondering whether or not she should have children that I thought her question was her answer. If she felt strongly that she shouldn't bring children into a foundering world and had no strong desire for them anyway, that she simply shouldn't have them. Easy.

Ha! What a BP-sized barrel of worms. I would like to take a moment now just to be grateful that I am no longer in that room.

But even though those women do not know me, even though they have never met my children and therefore haven't the first notion of who I am as a mother, their personal attacks shook me.
I have been feeling shaky in general lately. Am I going back to school? Am I a good person/educator/mother? Am I moving out of the state? Am I going to start driving? Am I doing what I am meant to be doing? Who AM I altogether? Blech. Obviously, my armor was pretty thin to begin with.

But I realized on the long bike ride home that the shakiness is trying to tell me something. I have been pushing myself very hard, and it leaves me vulnerable. So, upon arriving home, I did some chi gong. I took a shower and made a salad. And then, when I was pretty sure that my energy was entirely my own, I took stock of the situation.

And here is what I think:
I think about a mother stegosaurus, many ages ago. She sees worrisome signs about the future of her species and she is unsure whether or not she should have more offspring. She is concerned that she perhaps ate too much greenery this season and is looking a bit bulky. She wonders if life would not be better on the other side of the river. She wishes her mate had pointy plates, like her friend's mate does. She worries about all of this. And then she, and all the others, go extinct, and in the end, who the hell cares.

This universe is temporary. Life itself is temporary. We are experiencing life for possibly the first and maybe the last time in all of time. Ultimately, whether or not one adult female of the homo sapiens sapiens variety did or did not get her feelings hurt on a given day in 2010 on the planet earth is kind of... irrelevant.

In other words?
Don't take it personally.

Monday, June 14, 2010

why anainn is wonderful.

He makes his own lunch: wandering the garden, plucking and eating collard greens, snap peas, and borage leaves. He watches me washing diapers in the tub outside and then carefully brings his socks over, dunks and rinses them, squeezes them out, and tries for close to ten minutes to reach the clothesline to hang them up. He walks all the way to Trader Joe's with me and half the way back, carrying some groceries even, then sits down plumb in the middle of the sidewalk to play unhurriedly with a little berry he saw. He beats his chest and roars whenever we see a picture of a monkey. If someone says "horse" he immediately lowers himself into the 'horse' martial arts stance.

The words he knows are: ball, dog, bowl, water, flower, monkey, and kiss. These are really fun words to make sentences with.

If I hurt his feelings he screws up his face and juts out his lower lip, takes a few shuddering breaths, and then shakes quietly until I come over and kiss him, at which point all is instantly forgiven.

He put himself to sleep tonight by pulling the bedding as far out of the closet as it would go and collapsing into it. Sometimes when he is sleeping, he giggles.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

stuff and nonsense.

One extreme disadvantage to living in a broom closet is that when one begins to amass stuff, one is painfully aware of every blessed item. Less really, really is more in the whole 12x12 paradigm.

Saturdays are yard sale days. And yard sales are hard to avoid when you are pushing the stroller through the neighborhood to get the groceries, return the library books, visit the park, and so forth. And what mother can resist the plaintive cries of her firstborn for the plastic badger that folds out into some kind of fish? And only costs $0.25? This is where the trouble begins. Because that plastic-badger-that-folds-out-into-a-fish is going to attract friends. It is going to tumble out of the cupboards sooner or later with its entire plasticine posse when I am trying to set the table. Or gouge me in the eye some evening before I discover that my tidying genius of a son has secreted it beneath my pillow. Or emerge, stinking and covered in moldy hummus (Anainn is a very innovative dipper-of-things-in-hummus) from under the rug.

All of this flashes before my eyes as I pay for the thing with a $20 bill (every scrap of my smaller currency having been sacrificed to bus fare this week). These visions cause me to respond to friendly overtures by the yard sale crowd with nervous titters and twitches that do not bode well for future play dates in the neighborhood. Leading to a greater need for plastic playdate substitutes. It is a vicious, vicious cycle.

And then, arriving home, unpacking the groceries and library books, I find that if we are to scrape out a space to sit and have lunch---let alone lie down and sleep!--we are going to have to winnow down our possessions. I find this a lot. Probably three times a day. It is very good for cultivating a non-attachment attitude and not-so-great for cultivating serene children. ("What do you MEAN I have to give my stuffed puppy away? I just gave my stuffed panda away FIVE MINUTES ago!" "Yes, dear, but it's your second-largest toy, and I need a place to set the baby down so I can change his diaper.")

I've found my studies in permaculture very useful here. Permaculture is the study of ecological systems. In a nutshell, when faced with any dilemma, the true permaculturist asks herself WWND (what would Nature do) ? Nature, it turns out, puts great stock in multi-functionality. Take a tree. A tree is a tree, yes, but it is also a home. And a provider of shade. And a unit of informational exchange via the mycorrhyzal network. And a water conduit. And a prop for vines to twine up. And a soil bank. And so on.

So I have made rules for our possessions. They must be, at the very least, dual-purpose. For instance, my camping pot is too small to be functional in day-to-day cooking so it doubles as the toothbrush jar. The cream pitcher that has known far too few tea parties is pressed into service as a flower vase. The futon cover becomes a blackout curtain once the bed is folded out for the night. The refrigerator, through the profligate use of magnets, is also my bill-organizer, writing desk, calendar, and inbox. The high chair is the dish-drying rack when the meal is through.

Which means, I suppose, that a badger-cum-fish fits the bill. Barely.

This does set my few "luxury" items into stark relief and helps me to better appreciate them. A guitar is just a guitar. A painting is just a painting. A belly dancing DVD is just...silly (but it's so much FUN). And it is liberating, in a way, to be this interactive with my possessions. I can assure you that there is nothing I own that I am not aware of. The few books that now constitute my core collection are GOLD.

my favorite thing about my house today: fresh snap peas and amazing salads from the garden. the daily lesson in de-emphasizing things and re-emphasizing the flow of life.

least-favorite thing: have I mentioned that it is SMALL?!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Taking it personally.

All right. This is one of those all-around Truths that the wisdom traditions agree on: DON'T TAKE THINGS PERSONALLY. Life is a pendulum, the emotions are a roller coaster. The less you identify with the triumphs and tribulations of your ego, the better off you are.

I've always had a hard time with this one. I delight in the life of the mind, the rapture of the senses, the sheer individuality of each Being's witness to life. Shouldn't we aspire to soaring heights, and pull the rest of the world along with us? And aren't some of the most beautiful songs, the most heartrending poems, products of someone's "overidentification" with the ravages of the ego?

Still, as I get older, it gets harder to ignore the truth of the pendulum effect. The ruthlessness of celebrity is a good example: all I need to say here, for those of my generation, is New Kids on the Block. What goes up always, always comes down with an almost gleeful vindictiveness.

And it is true that the lives of true visionaries, the ones whose words and works still resonate (Lao Tzu, Rumi, Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Dickens, Keats, etc.) all bore a certain humility and simplicity; these were not folk that rose to soaring heights of success and acclaim in their lifetimes. (Well, Jesus did, but we all know what happened to him. ) These were the people who did not make a mark, about whom Thoreau wrote when he said "Many are concerned about the monuments of the West and the East,--who built them. For my part, I should like to know who in those days did not build them, — who were above such trifling. " They aligned themselves with wider patterns and inherited a broader, truer understanding-- at the cost of being understood.

So, in some ways, I suppose when people deride us and do not understand us, we can take it as a compliment. We are in the very best of company.

But it DOESN'T FEEL GOOD. And I DON'T LIKE IT. Especially when it is happening not to me (I have enough Quaker puritanism left in me to know, deep down, that whatever happens to me I more than likely deserve) but to a dear friend whose hard work and vision is being undercut by smallminded, vindictive people.

So do I care what smallminded, vindictive people think? Theoretically, no. But there is a large gap between theory and reality on this one. There is something very beautiful and very tender in us that just really wants to be loved by EVERYONE. And why shouldn't we be?

Actually, come to think of it, the doctrine of Don't Take it Personally addresses this sweet, human part of us. It is not admonishing us to be unfeeling. It is warning us not to listen to the temporary, small, wounded voices of hate but rather to attune ourselves to the larger, underlying motifs of love and acceptance. It is not there to make us feel guilty for the times we DO overidentify with our egos. It is there to cradle us when we are hurt by life, to remind us that those who would diminish us don't know what the f*ck they are talking about.

I can live with that.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

tricks for the hard times

I don't know if it is the waning moon, or the menstruation, or hardships both personal and general. But there have been some hard times lately. And because I know that I am not the only one, I offer some of my tricks for snapping out of it...

1) MAKE SOMETHING. A skirt, a basket, a cup of tea, a small garden, a sweater, a painting, a card, a poem, a batch of pumpkin bread. Creation heals.

2) Ring a bell. Or pound on a drum. Or play the guitar. Repeat.

3) Put on the punk rock music and kick and punch at the mirror until you sweat.

4) Run up the nearest mountain. (Optional: roll back down)

5) Find an old, classic poem (Keats, Browning, Shelley, Wordsworth, Tennyson are good bets) and read it out loud to yourself. Outdoors is good. Roll your r's.

6) Breathe deeply through the soles of the feet and up through the top of the head. Again, outdoors is good: remind yourself that air inspires, sun warms, earth gives, water cleanses.

7) Put on an irresistible song and DANCE! (Marco Polo by Loreenna McKennitt, plus a good bellydancing scarf, has never failed to yank me over to the bright side. No, that was just my font color trick, sorry)

8) Tickle a baby.

9) Take a bath. outdoors is good.

10) Find something scented growing outdoors--rosemary, mexican marigold, geranium, lavendar, mint, sage, artemesia--rub the leaves between your fingers, and breathe deeply in. If you are lucky enough to have rose geranium within walking distance, rub the scent on your temples and life will be enchanting again.

11) Take a nap.

12) Read a chapter or two of a young adult fantasy book or a raunchy novel.

13) Write three pages in your journal.

14) Go somewhere you've never been before---even just three blocks away there may be a store you've never entered or a park you've never sat in.

15) Do something nice for someone else. This one is foolproof.

Lately I have been noticing that we all seem to require something to look forward to. It's an endearing human trait. I've been debating setting up celebrations for all of the esbats on the wheel of the year, with different themes for each: cocktail dresses, high tea, live music, hidden places, dessert potluck...
But for now, I'm off to punch at the mirror.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

planning ahead.

Why? Well, let's see. Two small boys in sunsuits, shivering, with no food or water, on a corner four miles from home, with night falling, and I just got my period very heavily with no supplies, and I just realized that it is Sunday and the bus we are waiting for is not going to come. At all.

What would it have hurt to throw a sweatshirt or two in the bag? Or to just make doubly sure that the bus we took on the way in would also take us out? And aren't there women out there who actually carry menstrual products in their purses? I've heard that there are. Somewhere. Way out on the fringe.

These situations happen a lot. The only reason I have reached my thirties without being dead is that so far there has always been some kind of divine intervention. Always. This evening it took the form of the driver of an out-of-service Big Blue Bus. He saw my pitiful band waiting futilely at a stop to which no bus would come. And so he turned around, gave up his break, and drove us home.

Xir, oblivious, happily entertained him with "magic" tricks, not a one of which came off, all the way. I babbled ceaseless gratitude and Anainn just babbled.

On my way out of the bus--after a comfortable ride of fifteen minutes, rather than the three hour forced march dripping blood and tears I'd been envisioning--I stopped to thank the driver yet again. He shook his head and shushed me.

"Lady," he began--and I steeled myself for the chewing out that I was surely about to get--

"Lady, I just pray to God that He brings you a car."

There are some really, really good people out there.
I am going to start planning things through better, because I am tired of taking their break time away.

Saturday, June 5, 2010


I had very strange dreams last night. One of them involved finding out that someone had been hired to replace me at my job--a direct move by the headmaster, because this man was just too good to pass up. Evidently he had been born on the streets and raised himself, homeless, managing to put himself through college by salvaging old flowers from trash bins and rearranging them for sale to passing cars. Then he got an MFA , ran a gallery, and went back to school for a doctorate in educational theory just for the hell of it. He had written a best-selling autobiography and was a tall, blue-eyed, long-dreadlocked white guy. I was informed of all of this by a tearful Laura as I arrived for work, and warned that the headmaster was en route to introduce us to this paragon of humanity.

I made a quick decision. I would seduce him!--the point being, I suppose, that this terrific catch could then support the both of us on the tremendous income from my 13-hour-a-week job as an assistant. I think I may have rolled my eyes in my sleep for the first time ever. Sure can pick 'em, even in the dream state. (I am listening to Pandora as I write this, and the song playing, as fate would have it, is "Jezebel". Cute.)

Despite the obvious absurdity of this dream ( I mean, as if my administration would ever try to hire my job out from under me! Or as if anybody with multiple advanced degrees would ever apply for a part-time assistant job!... Oh wait...) I awoke feeling slightly shaken. I made a cup of tea to steady myself.

I do this a lot. It is not for the caffeine--mostly, when at home, I make herbal tisanes from the garden--there is just something inherently life-affirming in having a hot cup of something close to hand. Maybe it is something to do with the power of fire, and our enduring fascination with warming things up. But I noticed today that the ritual of tea-making neatly encapsulates every element: earth, in the clay of the mug itself and the herbs of the tea. water. fire, in the warming of it. air, in the steam that rises and the scent that inspires you to breathe deeply in. So each cup is a communion of sorts, a re-alignment of the four elements within and without, whether we are sensible of this or no.

I have been making a point lately of getting outside at night and watching the three planets now visible in the Western horizon. I try to take note of the phases of the moon; when a particular emotion or revelation is strong enough to jot down in my journal, I try to accompany it with a note about where the moon is. At the playground yesterday I took my shoes off and let myself be conscious of the earth beneath me with each step. I touch the ground with the flat of my hand whenever I can. (The earth, in druidic thought, is associated with prosperity and abundance. When we are out of touch with the earth element, we can have trouble completing things, feel dissociated, have a sense of scarcity in our lives. Hmmm.) These simple changes have altered my perception profoundly. I am reminded that I am part of things, never alone, that my emotions and mistakes and decisions are never independent of cause. The air, the earth, the fire, the water, at work around us all the time and so rarely taken in. Unless we are drinking tea.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

some new rules.

I am never, never, never, never, never allowed to go into American bars. Another thing I am never never never allowed to do is to take $20 baths just prior to going into American bars.

There seems to be a little bit of a quantum entanglement thing going on with Mr. Day of Firsts. I was supposed to meet a friend of a friend tonight in my second bar ever. Friend of friend did not show up, but guess who did! I am not making this up. I mean, I couldn't. That kind of plot twist just wouldn't occur to me. That was, let's see, around 9:00, and it's about 12 now. So we're an hour down from our record.

It's funny because my horoscope today said "your life is like the lyrics of a country song...but people are rooting for you after all!" (or maybe it was "rutting" ?) Either way. I get it. I get it. American bars: bad. Self-control: negligible. Life: laughable.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

community of nomads.

Cars have a lot to answer for. In a world without them, it would be inconceivable to build houses so far from schools. Or libraries. Or farms. In a world without them, communities would be organized, of necessity, into walkable neighborhoods. People would know each other; the lack of an easy escape "away" would force us to become more accountable for our actions.

I say all this, but I have taken full advantage of roads, cars, airplanes, all of it. I love travel. I love new beginnings. I love new identities, new homes, new vistas, new people. I really, really like running away. And as a very adept chameleon, I have been able to alter myself to fit almost anywhere. Thus my friendships run in strata: there are the vegan straight edge friends, the poetry friends, the old-time music friends, the permaculture friends, the Quaker friends, the counterculture friends, the kung fu friends, the respectable professional friends. Having moved around so much, I have very few friends who have known me through all these phases, and hence, even when surrounded by friends, I often feel something is missing. Some part of me has not been invited to the party.

I imagine most of us feel this way. But I wonder, when I watch communities of friends who have grown up together, if there is a fulness to that communion I have never experienced. From the outside looking in--so I could very well be off on this--it certainly seems so.

My dearest, oldest friends are all nomads too. At any given time my deepest community has been scattered from New York to Tarrboro to Tanzania to Germany to Australia. Never, never have we all been gathered in one place. When I imagine such a gathering it fills me with an almost fierce joy. To have my friends around me! To spend the ins and outs of daily life with them! To gather easily and regularly for music, for dinner, for ritual, for celebration! What could be more important in this brief chaotic life than this?

Yet, somehow, we are fractious about our independence. We make plans to buy land together and then sidle away. We draw up business schemes, cohousing possibilities, and then find excuses to keep them from happening. We want our freedom. We want options open. We want distant horizons. And, I think, we are afraid. We are afraid of what the ins and outs of daily life can do to friendship. We are afraid of being too deeply known. We are afraid of being unable to hide in anonymity.

On Memorial Day I made copious amounts of food, lit the wood fire to cook most of it, brought out the guitar and drank lemonade under its tree of origin. My boys ate with amazement (I don't think they've ever seen so much food before) and then raced around the yard in sugar-induced glee. Our yard backs up to about 7 others. Each of these yards contained its own Memorial Day party. 7 different radios blared 7 different songs. 7 different groups of friends and family celebrated in their own way, in their own space. I found the whole situation ludicrous. I wanted nothing more than to kick down the fences and merge our parties. Come on! By all accounts, the universe is going to end someday. This is it, humanity's one chance to express what it is to be human. Do we really need these fences?

I don't know how long I will be living here. Already I have begun making plans to leave. But when will it end? When will I accept the place I am as home, at least for now? I am still waiting for that fictional place where all of my friends will gather together and create a home with no pieces missing, with every bit of the past accounted for and gathered in. And in the meantime, we run, and run, and run.