Friday, January 28, 2011


Ever since that slow day in january I have been following the siren song of pleasure over all else. I buy rose-and-bergamot scented soap. I eat handfuls of fresh chickweed and toyon berries with the dew still on. I sleep under the moon. I wear long skirts that make me feel beautiful, even though they are slightly impractical for the 14 miles of cycling I do daily. I stop at the park and lift weights, even though I have always felt a little silly about being such a devoted exerciser. Only shallow girls are fit, I told myself. Well, no more. I love exercise! I can exercise as much as I want!

The things I have discovered on the pleasure path! First, the world responds. Almost instantly. Everyone I meet, from grandmas to gorgeous tattooed marathon runners (more on that later!) flirts with me. My pace is slower. I sleep better. I am kinder. My house is cleaner and my garden is blooming and I am careful to leave the places I have been more beautiful than I found them. Turns out, when I'm happy, the whole world is happy! And---newsflash, Dweller---after thirty some years on the planet I have finally learned that the world is not going to make me happy. That responsibility lies with me.

So I do. Make myself happy. Today I wandered across the hidden hills that bracket Culver City, barefoot, making my own path. I found a hidden hollow beneath a nicotiana tree and meditated for a while, then took off my clothes and lay back in the waist-high grass to take in the sun. There was a gentle breeze, and a slow-stepping deer who slunk past, and nary a human for miles. I have not felt such freedom since high school.

Mamas, we come first. The joy we can give ourselves magnifies; it blesses our children and consecrates the earth we walk on and the people we touch. I feel so lucky to have discovered this. Pass it on!

Monday, January 24, 2011

one foot, then the other.

This was a powerful full moon. One of my dearest and (I realized after she tallied the years) oldest friends invited me to a moon meditation to welcome it. The instructor led us through some simple stretches and short sitting meditations, and then had us walk very slowly around the room.

At first, I felt faintly ridiculous. Slow stalking is all very well and good when you're trying not to startle the elk, but when you're tiptoeing around a stuccoed yoga studio in Santa Monica in a line of leotard-clad moon-worshippers...well...but I got over it. I fell into the age-old swaying rhythm, one foot, then the other. Never quite fully balanced, never quite falling down.

"No matter how lofty your goals, no matter how terrible your burdens," the instructor intoned, "this is how we approach our lives. One foot in front of the other. One foot, then the other."

And isn't it the truth. At the end of a long day, I look around the house and begin to pull together the pieces. Once again, I reassemble the shell of our home, piling clothes worn hard into the hamper, washing and drying and stacking the dishes that held dinner, tossing the props of my children's burgeoning imagination back into the toy bin. Mending ripped fabric, gluing torn pages, relacing shoes. Making up the beds. Plumping the pillows. Packing lunches. Sweeping up the grains of rice beneath the table,mopping up the suds that escaped the bath. Echoes of laughter, conversation, jigsaw bits of lives lived fill up the dustpan, the dishcloth, the mop. A misplaced wrench: my son's first bike ride. That paper on the floor: a thank-you note from his first teacher. Our lives are scattered all around us. This is all there ever is.

It is easy to lose track of the beauty in this sort of work. Knocking the dirt from the soles of their shoes, scrubbing the toilet. But putting it all together again gives me the chance, now that all is quiet, to reflect on what tore it all apart: the dinner we shared, the games we played, the giggling kung fu tournament that rolled madly through here an hour ago. And I remind myself, yet again, that there is never a moment when everything is perfect and we can rest and enjoy our lives. Life happens in the dust and clamor and turmoil. Life is that one moment when you catch your two-year-old's eye and you both burst into gales of laughter, right there between the tantrum and the diaper change. And, if I'm quick enough to catch it, it's my eldest son trying to get my attention when I am grouchy and preoccupied with finding next day's bus fare, asking me why noses are, in nearly every species, located just above the mouth.

Building things back up, every day, I slowly catch on to the beautiful arithmetic of motherhood: you don't subtract the difficulty, the miserable moments, from the wonderful ones. You sandwich them in, using them as a setting for those bits of glowing time when life makes sense, and you can hear the poetry. One foot. Then the other.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

cycling incidents.

1) I am cycling off to Brentwood to pick Xir up from school, with Anainn buckled in behind me. Right where Barrington meets National, I hear that staticky megaphone sound: cops. I glance quickly back but there's a large fed-ex van on my tail so I can't see anything. I bike on, running a checklist in my head: listening to headphones? no. run any red lights? no. Anainn wearing helmet? yes. Good, not being pulled over then.

But the sound continues. I throw another look over my shoulder but the road behind me is completely empty. I bike slower, and think for a moment I shook it, but there's the sound again. Could it be a bike cop, tailing me, hiding behind the parked cars, waiting for me to slip up? Well, that's a little bit paranoid. Oh no, wait. Could I be having auditory hallucinations? That's one of the first signs of schizophrenia! This is so bizarre. I always wondered if you could tell a hallucination was a hallucination or if it seemed like reality. Now I know: it really seems to be happening. I swear I can hear that cop right behind me! But there's nothing there!

Now I bike faster, hoping to outpace my incipient dementia. Not much farther now! I still hear it! Oh no, have all of my poor dietary habits and excessive exercise and lack of sleep led to this? Well, I will keep it to myself. I won't let them lock me up! There are my children to think of!

All the way through picking Xir up at school and walking him to the park, I determinedly ignore the cop noises in my head. But they do not go away. They get louder. Xir asks me what is wrong. I don't want to lie to him, so I tell him about being afraid I was going to get pulled over on the way here. No point in scaring him with mom's auditory hallucinations.

"Maybe it's because of that cop noise coming out of your bag," Xir remarks.

" hear it too?"

"Yeah. What is that, anyway?"

I scramble through my bag and find, at last, my cellphone. Apparently it has some hitherto-unbeknownst-to-me function of voice recording and playback that got accidentally activated as it tumbled around.


2) It is dark. I am cycling home from dropping the boys with their dad. I am ill-equipped for night biking, having lost my rear reflector somewhere and never having replaced the batteries in my headlight. A few minutes into the ride, my phone (oh, that cursed phone!!) blares out, startling me and causing me to skew into the road. I narrowly miss being hit. Shaky, I pull over to regroup and listen to the message. It's an angry one, from my ex, who knew I was biking in the dark at this moment, but could not wait to deliver his important diatribe (evidently, I gave our eldest son the wrong type of fruit as a snack).

Eventually I pull myself together and get back on the road, staying well to the verge. Suddenly a flashing light envelops me. Not again, I think. Blast those imaginary cops! The light seems to move with me, stopping when I stop, keeping pace. This goes on for several minutes until finally, at a red light, I get up the courage to look behind me. It is the flashing front light of another cyclist. I grin at him.

"For a second I thought I was getting pulled over!" I say, waving him in front of me.

"Oh, that's all right. I've been trying to stay behind you to light you up. I'm afraid the cars can't see you," he replies.

Suddenly I am in tears. I can't help it. This complete stranger has just shown me more human concern in 5 minutes than my ex had shown in 6 years of marriage.

"Are you all right?" asks the cyclist. I nod. But he reaches over and holds me anyway, until the light changes. Then we bike our separate ways.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

i wish my guest house had a guest house.

If I had to consolidate my complaints about not-so-spacious living into one all-encompassing whinge, it would probably be about how difficult it is to entertain. I am a social creature. I thrive on merriment, banter, conversation over fresh-baked bread. I am sure there is a way to be a gracious hostess in my hovel....just haven't figured it out yet!

Sure, there's the difficulty of hacking out a sleeping space for overnight guests. But there are other problems too, ones that are not at all apparent at first.

1) There is no place to change in privacy, for you or your guest.
2) There is no place to retreat should either of you need a quiet moment or wish to take a nap.
3) Bedtime is awkward.
4) There is no place for the guest's luggage. At. All.
5) There are not enough dishes for guests. Additional dishes purchased for guest must be disposed of post-visit because there is not enough room for them in the cupboards.
6) Trying to cook any quantity of food in my tiny kitchen quickly becomes problematic, as does finding enough space for everyone to sit down and eat it.

How grateful I am, then, for the extraordinary heat wave that enabled me to sleep outside for the duration of my guest's visit! In my sleeping bag under the pergola I had such sweet and illuminating dreams that I intend to continue dreaming al fresco as long as the weather allows.

But. I fully intend to hold at least one full-on, all-out dinner/poetry/champagne party here before the year is up. I welcome any and all suggestions for how to make this happen. And, naturally, you're all invited. Even you, dear Canadian readers, whoever you are. I must admit, I'm curious.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Depending upon whom I'm talking to, I either gently jeer at the psychobabble of The Secret and its wide-eyed followers, or happily dither on about its inherent truth. (because of this thing. c'mon, you do it too.)

But even my most witheringly skeptical persona has to admit that something is going on with Anainn. Scarcity simply does not exist for this child. Caretakers, organic baby food, rocking chairs come out of the woodwork. I took this child up into the mountains on one of the many occasions when I was trying to figure my life out. We ran into Tom Hanks on the trail. He offered to babysit (this really happened).

This--talent? magnetism? destiny?--shouldn't still surprise me, but it does. As I buckled Anainn into the bike seat today, preparatory to our long ride to pick up Xir from school, he announced that he wanted to bring his 'pihih peh' (pillow pet, for the uninitiated). I explained at length that there was no way he could carry it on the bike and his father wouldn't let him keep it and blaah blah blah blah blah, biking away. Anainn took it in good grace, simply remarking 'pihih peh' twice more, matter-of-factly, at various points on the ride.

We arrived early and had time to stop at the bagel store on the corner near Xir's school. Anainn stood in line smiling sunnily at each customer until his eyes lit on a woman near the window. She became the focus of a full-on charm assault, until finally she walked over and patted him on the head.
"Could you wait here a moment?" she asked me. "I have something in my car I'd like to give him." She returned with a white plastic bag and opened it to reveal---you guessed it---a brand-new pillow pet. Anainn hugged it to him and beamed up at me.
'Pihih peh,' he stated. Then he toddled out the door, fully entitled, just a wisp of blond hair and two stubby legs and an enormous stuffed panda bear.

Monday, January 10, 2011

blessings in drag

so, when i returned home from that blissful visit back east, it felt as though the sky had fallen on my life in california. literally. the roof of the 12x12 was not built to withstand portlandesque climes, and two weeks of steady rain did it in. the leak, as fate would have it, was right above the cupboard I used to store my journals, novel drafts, and art portfolios.

for a week or so i lived in denial (and in de Nile, or so it seemed, as the leaking continued and a steady stream of water trickled not-so-soothingly across my floor), letting the scent of mildew build behind the closed cabinet doors. meanwhile, strained relations with the boys' father snapped outright, my grad application was due, and i inadvertently broke up with my boyfriend.

then i had one of my manic days. all morning i'd replanted the garden, unclogged the bathroom drain (YAY), finished edits on a book, cleaned out boxes of old clothes and toys to make room for the boxes of new clothes and toys we'd brought back, knit an overdue solstice hat for my 94-year-old grandmother, refurbished the compost pile, baked a batch of cookies, a pan of cornbread, and a tureen of soup. late afternoon found me twiddling my thumbs. it was time.

i opened all the windows and lit a stick of incense, but was still unprepared for the stench of mildew that wafted out of that cabinet. nothing was salvageable. old landscape designs, my favorite sketchbooks from a year in great britain, the manuscript of the only book i've ever written that i actually like. uh, liked. shoot. not to mention reams of old journals, years and years and years of a daily and prolific writing habit.

at first i just hauled the whole mess out to the recycling bin in two soggy armloads, wiped the cabinets down with simple green, and shut the doors. but at two in the morning i woke and ran to the bins to fish out my novel. i pinned each page to the clothesline until space ran out, then draped papers over the backs of chairs, along the walk (weighted with stones), over the bare branches of the fig tree. it looked like Wordsworth had t.p.'d the place.

in the morning they were all gone. every page. i'm thick, but this time i got it: LET THE PAST GO. it is gone.

i did mourn a bit longer...this is, after all, ME we're talking about...but in the end i began to feel lighter. i had dreaded sorting all that paperwork out before the move. i hadn't read most of those journals in years. and the amount of hard living i've done since i wrote that novel is worth its weight in plot points.

interestingly enough, the uppermost paper of the pile had been a rough draft of my personal statement/essay for my grad school application. i had been working on it for months, and i do my best thinking when i write by that was the only copy.

i sat down and wrote a new one in thirty minutes. i didn't even edit it, just sent it out. it was the truth. how much time should it take?

and then today, the roofers came to replace the lid of the 12x12. i felt like the star act in a fishbowl so i strapped anainn into his bike seat and took off on an unscripted adventure. we grazed on toyon berries and dandelion, rolled down hills, danced in a sea of sagebrush, laughed and napped and lay back in soft grass gazing at the sky. it was the best day i can remember. i have never loved anyone so much.

so i have learned to take my setbacks with a grain of salt. who knows what they will ripen into?

Friday, January 7, 2011


Once a month, a family in santa monica hosts a fire gathering in their backyard. There is a potluck, and cocoa, and then everyone settles around the fire while the firekeeper gives his gifts: copal for welcome. tobacco for wisdom. wood for transformation. cacao for passion and joy. Then, one by one, we give the same gifts, circling the fire in silence. The change is palpable. Everyone seems to settle in, the superficial is skimmed away, and the sharing that follows comes from someplace deeper than the interaction I am used to.

Tonight I was able, for the first time in nearly a year, to sit by the fire and hear the stories people tell when they are not afraid.

'Sometimes', quoted one, 'it is urgent that we do nothing.'

'The only thing that annoys me,' said another, 'is when someone pretends to be happy even when they are angry and sad. Sure, everything happens for a reason, but sometimes life is f*cked up and we need to acknowledge that before we skip on to 'oh but everything will come out right in the end.''

Another shared her sense of overwhelming loss from a recent miscarriage.

Others shared struggles with family, the loss of loved ones, successes and new jobs and setbacks. A pair of young lovers that I'd been slightly envious of all evening revealed that they were soon to be separated, with an entire continent between them.

These were people I had made conversation with over dinner, some people I'd met perhaps twice before, some who were strangers. I'd looked at their clothes and their cars and their partners and felt attraction, or insecurity, or jealousy, or dislike. But now I was hearing what felt like new facets of my own story. These were my family hurting and struggling and learning.

Anainn slept in my arms. Xir sat listening for a long time, whispering once in my ear we are having so much fun, aren't we? and then taking his beloved pillow pet back into the house to sleep on the couch.

Friends stepped forward to drive us home, sparing us the long slog back to the bus station, the long cold wait for the bus. I thought for a long time, riding home, about why it is so rare and so difficult to interact like this on a regular basis. There is too much at stake, somehow; it would grow exhausting to be honest on this scale with everyone I encounter. But isn't that sad?

Having made peace with the scale and speed of the challenges life has seen fit to bequeath me, I took the time post-fire for a long, self-indulgent cry. As my new friend said, sometimes we need to acknowledge the hard stuff. It was a nice complement for the gratitude I was feeling yesterday...and somehow, does not seem to diminish it.

And you know, I'm grateful for the hard stuff, too. Looking at all of those faces around the fire, the most beautiful were the ones that had history in them.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


On the 4th, a new moon and a solar eclipse and the final day of Old Christmas came together and pulled at me in an odd way. All week I'd been thinking about goals, and what constitutes a good life, and vocation (the writing of grad school application essays for Buddhist institutions will do that to a person). I felt, in this arbitrary 'new' year, as though something truly had changed. My vision seemed different. I had a sudden momentum toward something, a clarity of perception for my present circumstances that had gone missing for years.

That wonderful, simple ritual of writing lists for the new year-- things to draw toward oneself, things to cast off-- and then burning them-- seemed to fit. The list of things to cast off (a certain self-sabotaging belief that to live in poverty is noble, timidity, allowing my self to be circumscribed by others' needs and opinions) was predictably long. But the list I started to write afterward, a list of gifts 2010 brought me, was unexpected. It went on and on, flowing over onto the back of the page and then requiring a new one altogether. So many deep and altering experiences, so many new friends, so much new learning and openness and joy. And, having written that list, I found that the list of things I wished for in the year to come was correspondingly quite small. I wrote them out in detail---there were just three---and then sat back in the candlelight, astonished that so much that is essential has already been given to me.

It is easy to forget to be grateful. But what a beautiful life! Has anyone ever been so lucky, to have children that tell you the point of the universe and snow-covered mountains and rain-flooded creeks and a friend who feeds you lasagna and another friend who feeds you poetry, and free time, time to paint and write and garden in the sun, without fear of predators or guerillas or starvation. Has anyone else had such a loving and forgiving family, a fig and lemon tree in the backyard, a truly happy childhood filled with all the right questions and all the right teachers? has anyone had such illuminating mentors, such generous landladies, such thought-provoking professors?

I hope, actually, that all of us have. And suspect that, though the details may vary, all of our lives are filled with resounding beauty.

I trust, now, that there is a purpose for all that I have been given, that there is a specific service it has been preparing me to do. I trust this because I can sense myself moving toward it. I hope this newfound clarity continues, and that I can be brave and strong and persistent. The essentials are all taken care of: shelter, water, fire, food, love, belongingness. Now it's time to step up and start giving back.