Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Chocolate

I promised not write another boring post about food. I lied.

It has been a bad couple of days for the diet.  First there was Thanksgiving. Kiva cooked and every single dish was so remarkably good, I ate too much.  Turkey, roasted yams, roasted brussel sprouts with garlic, blanched asparagus, my mom's dressing recipe with the cornbread and the biscuits, nut loaf for Sequoia, fresh cooked cranberries, pie, all of it amazing. Then today, the sweet folks of the Tudor Guild, the volunteer organization that supports my employer, put on their annual Christmas tea for the employees. Picture long tables filled with savory little appetizers,  tiny meat tarts, beautiful finger sandwiches, plates and plates of decorated cookies, brownies, chocolates; you get the picture. The lovely little old ladies with their silver hair and trays of cookies reminded me of mother.

Earlier in the day, I went to the salon to get my hair "washed and ironed" as mama used to say.  Actually it was a cut and color, but I always loved that expression. I forgot to make an appointment so the stylist squeezed me in on short notice. She only had a morning appointment available and I had never been there that early. It was amazing to see the procession of little old ladies being dropped off, one by the Dial A Ride van, another by a dutiful son. They all got a wash and set, their silver heads done up up in curlers, sitting under the missile-cone hair dryers with a People Magazine, finally to be teased out into a fluffy corona of silver. That made me think of my mother too.

It being the holidays, the hair stylist gave me a bag nice chocolates as a gift. What was I going to do, say no?  I put them aside for later but, after the array of sins I committed at the Tudor Guild tea, I was feeling the need to atone.  I took them with me on my run tonight, detoured through downtown and predictably found a knot of hippies on a corner, sitting on a concrete ledge. As I walked by I turned to one, said "Would you like some chocolate?" and dropped the bag at his feet. Then I made eye contract. He was much older than the kids around him, at least my age. He was wearing the high hippie gear of an old school rainbow road warrior. It's a different look than run-of-the-mill homeless. He was highly colored in leather, feathers and beads, his hooded cape and long staff bringing to mind a psychedelic Gandalf. The others around him were typical street kids, shapeless and dirty, but he had a presence. For a moment I feared that I had done something disrespectful. "Give alms to those who ask" said Whitman. The rainbow warrior had not asked, but he smiled and said "Thank you young lady" as I retreated down the street.

I like to think that he shared with the street kids, but that's out of my control. The lesson is release. Let it go.

Does that mean I'm back on the diet? Probably not.  Another day, another struggle.  I do what I can and that has to be enough. I can't waste so much energy worrying about it.

In the last few years of her life my mom lost quite a bit of weight, got down to her "skinny pants" size.   I thought she had dieted and looked great. After she died, my cousin remarked that she looked frail and ill to him. Of course he was right. A few years before she died, she had a C-Diff infection after dental surgery and it took months for her to recover. I don't think her digestion was ever completely right after that. All I saw was that she was thinner and, in my mind, thinner is better. Really, thinner is just thinner.

A woman of appetite, no delicate flower, I'm strong, healthy and here to stay. Damn grateful for it, too.




Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ferguson


What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore-- 
And then run? 
Does it stink like rotten meat? 
Or crust and sugar over-- 
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags 
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Langston Hughes

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Synergy

The thing about making art is, you never know how it will turn out. You dream it, scheme it, plan it, write it, practice till your fingers bleed, rehearse with your collaborators for months. You get to the venue early, schlep gear, set up, sound check, obsess over every detail while trying to keep the mood light, making jokes to keep everybody's spirits up. You do every damn thing possible to bring it off, but until you're standing onstage watching people walking in the door, watching the event unfold in the moment, you really don't know what it's going to be.  That audience comes in out of the weather, they step out of their lives, and step into this alternate reality that you've created. But that reality doesn't exist until they experience it and react to it.  No matter how well prepared you are, every performance is a step off into the unknown.  You'd think that would be anathema to a control junkie like me, but I keep coming back for more.

Tonight was a very different kind of performance, something that I conceived and directed, my own creation.  I had an idea and brought it off. Was it flawed? Absolutely. Like the CD we just recorded and released, deeply flawed.  But, people had a really good time. They danced. They loved the tunes we wrote, those went over huge.  I  have three new collaborators and see some really interesting opportunities ahead.

The music feels authentic. It comes from the heart. It makes people smile and it makes them move. It really feels like a two way street. I don't want to preach at people, I seek synergy.  When the energy that's coming back from the audience rises to meet the energy I put out, it creates something that's greater than the sum of it's parts. The first law of thermodynamics is, energy cannot be created or destroyed, but I know that's not true because I've seen it happen. When the conditions are just right and the music's hot, 1 + 1 can equal 3.

It's 2:00 a.m., my feet hurt, I can't sleep. Too much loose energy.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Cleanse Day 28


Okay then; it was possible after all.

No meat, eggs, dairy products, refined sugar, wheat, rye, barley, corn, dried fruit, citrus or anything from a box for four weeks. No nightshades, soy or tree nuts for three weeks.  The one thing I cheated on was coconut water. I used a shot glass full in my smoothie every morning.

Today's breakfast smoothie: frozen strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, spinach and chard from the garden, a shot of coconut milk, a shot of water, protein powder, probiotics and antioxidants.  Throw it in the blender and it's lovely, not too sweet, very satisfying. Lunch was roasted vegetables, 1/2 cup of hummus, carrots and pumpkin seeds.  Snacks today were an apple and a few grapes. Some days its a few olives or sunflower seeds.

The real test today was dinner.  I had a hell of a day at work and didn't have any food in the house so I walked home, jumped in the car and ran to the store.  I could have stopped at the Co-op on my walk home, but it's expensive and I get tired of eating there every day. I didn't want to drive all the way out to my favorite, funky grocery store Shop N Kart, so I drove to Market of Choice, one of those "lifestyle markets" as Lowell calls it. High end and also expensive, but more of a full grocery store than the Co-op. They have a huge deli, a fancy bakery, an Asian hot bar with meatballs and Yakisoba noodles, crocks of cream soups, loaves of fresh bread, every thing I love and am trying not to eat. It's day 28, right? Why not indulge. But, none it was appealing enough to make me break the diet.  I walked out of the store with a head of broccoli, an onion and some Thai peanut sauce.  I picked some more spinach and chard, made some rice, stir fried it with the peanut sauce and sat down to the table to eat like a civilized human. Crazy, right?

I'll admit, I'm looking forward to meat. That's coming back into the diet for sure, along with an occasional egg. My goal is to drastically reduce wheat and dairy and to completely eliminate refined sugar. Although, I do plan to have a piece of pie at Thanksgiving; I mean, come on.

Can I have just one? We shall see.

I promise to quit writing about this now and return to your regularly scheduled programming.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Cleanse Day 19

There is a goddamed BEN AND JERRY'S truck in front of the food co-op handing out free ice cream samples.

God hates me; that's the only explanation.

I walked on by with my vegan chili and my pumpkin seeds.  I wasn't happy about it, but I managed to walk away.

Will I ever be in a place where I can eat a sample of Ben and Jerry's without wanting to eat an entire pint? Doubtful.  Here's what I know about my addictions to drinking and smoking: I can't have just one. I can't have just one drink at the bar or one cigarette at the party.  Within a week of "just one," I'm drinking/smoking daily to excess.

No self control, that's me.  The switch is on or off; there's no dialing down.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Cleanse Day 16

Only about half of the original group showed up for cleanse class last week.  They're dropping like flies, but I'm soldiering on. While I haven't done everything that's on the cleanse (no high colonics for this girl), I haven't done anything that's not on the cleanse.  It's kind of amazing.  No sugar, coffee, dairy, meat, eggs, tree nuts, wheat, rye, barley or nightshades for more than two weeks.  I feel good.  I'm eating plenty and regularly, so I'm not hungry. I've lost a few pounds but am not rapidly losing weight, so I feel healthy.  I'm walking every single day, plus jogging about 3 days per week.  I need to be more regular about strength training and aerobics, but one thing at a time. I sit down at the table to eat my cup of rice and load of veggies rather than eating in front of the computer. We have chard in the garden right now, which is lovely.  Chard, broccoli, onions and garlic with rice? Divine.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Cleanse, Day 14


Last weekend, Sequoia and I drove to Eugene and back in 24 hours so we could have breakfast with Arly on Saturday morning. It was a long drive and I wasn't quite as organized as I should have been. Instead of cheating on the cleanse by eating things I shouldn't, I cheated by not eating enough.  I had reached the point where I was supposed to drop the beans and legumes and just eat vegetables, fruit and the good fats. They advise you to take it very easy, but whaddaya gonna do?   I wanted to see my girl.  We had brunch at a lovely vegan restaurant (mushroom soup, big salad), I had pumpkin seeds and a couple of pears, it was a good day.

On Sunday, I cooked enough soup for the week and baked a small pumpkin and an acorn squash. The acorn squash didn't taste bad (although it wasn't particularly appetizing), but within 30 minutes, my stomach was turning. Within an hour I was sick as a dog.  I haven't thrown up since I stopped drinking 17 years ago. Acorn squash; who knew?  I was so sick, I actually took a sick day at work, a rare event.  When I finally came around on Monday, I ate some rice for ballast.  I added beans back in on Thursday.

Even though I got seriously sick, I didn't break the cleanse diet. It would have been easy to throw in the towel.  Even though I injured my back, I've managed to exercise every day in October except for Monday when I was sick.

As far as the other "modalities," they aren't as important to me.  This journey has been about facing food addictions and developing new habits. Permanent change is the goal.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Cleanse, Day 8

My pants are not so tight.
That is all.
I mean, really, what else matters?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Cleanse, Day 5

So far, not bad.

I signed up for the seasonal cleanse at the hippie healing retreat in Ashland.  Beautiful facility, nice people but I have to stomp up and down on my inner cynic every time I walk in. That's OK; I'll fake it till I make it. Or, as my brother Greg says, "fuck it till you luck it."

This is not a fasting cleanse. I am supposed to eat 7-9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, 2-4 servings of grains and legumes, 1-3 servings of fat and a lot of water. It's a strict program: no sugar, meat, eggs, dairy, wheat, rye, oats or soy products including miso and tamari. No nightshades, and that's a killer with a garden full of cherry tomatoes. No tree nuts, just seeds. No tropical fruits, just local.  No coffee or alcohol. But, I can eat plenty of food and have not felt hungry.  If I start to feel a craving coming on, I treat it like a two year old having a tantrum. I sit with it quietly while it screams, knowing that it won't last forever.  The more I breathe and relax, the sooner it passes. That was an interesting discovery.

I received a shopping bag full of powders and potions and I don't know what all. Antioxidants, probiotics, herb tincture, herb tea, fiber, fiber and more fiber. Sadly, the protein/vitamin/fiber powder that gets mixed into a morning smoothie is nasty. It does not taste good.  The afternoon powder that gets mixed in water is much less noxious.  And then there are the laxatives, but the less said about them, the better.

I've only been able to sit through the "cleanse affirmation" CD once. I mean, come on; a girl has her limits  And, I don't think I'll be signing up for the series of three high colonics, even though they are offering a "cleanse discount."  I'm exercising and stretching every day, but I haven't been brushing and oiling my skin or doing castor oil packs or salt scrubs or "warming socks" like they recommend. I'm focusing on the food, water, exercise and supplements. It's a lot to process. Maybe I'll add in some more groovaciousness as I progress.  Sequoia and I could go to the hot springs; yum.

I do appreciate that they aren't threatening me with death every 10 minutes like the last nutrition class I took. That woman kept telling us we had to lose weight or die.  I didn't have the heart to tell her that we are all going to die.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Blood Moon


To burn with desire and keep quiet about it is the greatest punishment we can bring on ourselves.  Federico Garcia Lorca


Credit to astrology.com for the Lorca quote in relation to tonight's so-called "Blood Moon," the second in a series of four lunar eclipses that will occur over the course of two years, a so-called tetrad. Eclipses, the mediums and intuitives tell me, are an end and a beginning. Something comes a hard stop, something else begins. 

Which can pretty much be said of any waking day, right?  How can a woman who is so utterly skeptical read astrology columns and throw the tarot? Call it my charming contradictions.

A few weeks ago, I fell hard right in the middle of Main Street, bloodied my knees and palms, tore my pants and injured my back. I didn't feel the back injury until the next day, but haven't stopped feeling it since.  After two trips to the chiropractor, one trip to the massage therapist and innumerable sessions of heat and ice, it is not getting better. I made a pact to exercise every day in October, but the back injury has confined me to walking.  Calisthenics and core exercises seem to make the injury worse.   Stretching helps some, but can also exacerbate the problem.  

There's only one other way to skin this rabbit. It's time to close the door on bad habits that contribute to ill health, time to open the door to a healthier relationship with food.  In truth, I'm not looking forward to it. I'd so much rather read, write, play music, watch movies and generally sloth about like a slug. I plug into music and take a brisk walk for about an hour every day, but it's not enough.  If the back injury prevents me from exercising more, then my alternatives are to eat less or blow up like a balloon.  

Diet - - shudder.  I hate to even say the word.  If I choose to commit to a program, I have to go all in wholeheartedly, without skepticism or second guessing.  I have to believe I can see it through, believe it will work, believe I can make positive, permanent change.  Belief is the hardest part.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Smitty's Funeral

My father donated his body to medical science. He was interested in medicine, but I think he was more interested in shocking his sisters.  It took almost three years before the medical school returned his ashes and, by the way, my brothers and I never got a word of thanks. As a fundraiser I find it appalling that such a significant and valuable donation would go unacknowledged; but I digress...

My brother Greg and I had decided to bury his ashes in the same plot as our mother. When the time came, we decided to do the deed during the family reunion. People would already be gathered, they could join us in memorializing him without making a special trip. Greg called Bryan several weeks prior to the reunion and told him the plan.  Bryan’s response was “so, what do you want me to do about it?”  Hard words were exchanged.  We didn't know if he was coming or not.

I made it to the church on time Friday night.  Bryan and his stepdaughter showed up shortly after I did.  He didn't make a huge scene as I feared, but he was awkward and unpleasant and somewhat incoherent. I couldn't tell if he was high or just not-quite-right. Saturday was the busiest day of the reunion and Greg's birthday to boot, so we had planned to have a small, quiet moment at the cemetery on Sunday so as to not distract from the main event. When Bryan showed up on Friday he pointedly avoided me. Instead, he started buttonholing our ancient aunts and uncles, our distant cousins. I couldn't tell what he was talking about, but he was loud. I watched as his interlocutors went from puzzled to somewhat alarmed.  I finally managed to maneuver him to a quieter corner and asked what he was upset about. It turned out that he was angry that we had planned the burial for Sunday instead of Saturday. He wouldn't come right out and say it, but it became clear that he didn't have enough money for two nights in the hotel. He wanted us to have the burial on Saturday so he could go home. If he had just asked if we could have the memorial on Saturday because he needed to get home, I would have said “of course” and that would have been the end of it. I didn't even need to know why, all he had to do was talk to me. But, that's not how he operated. He had to stir up a drama, he had to feed his self-fulfilling paranoia. 

We moved the ceremony up a day and my theater training kicked in. I tracked down my cousin the undertaker, got him to deliver the ashes a day early, spoke to each of the family patriarchs and matriarchs to let them know what was going on.  I spread the message that everyone was welcome but no-one was expected to attend. After all, it was supposed to be a fun family reunion, not a funeral.  Once we got to the cemetery, I stage managed the event so that we were in and out in less than and hour.  Greg taught me this song in the car on the way to the cemetery and we played it at the grave site:

It was a good choice. When we were done singing, we all took “three of four licks with the posthole digger” as my Uncle Boyd put it, and got Smitty planted next to my mama. Packed that red earth back on top of him, sang a chorus of Amazing Grace and got the hell out of there. Bryan left without saying goodbye. Greg and I drove back to the barbecue and listened to the old folks talk.  Apparently, my grandfather’s people came from a place in Kentucky called The Land Between the Lakes. They may have been displaced when their valley was dammed and flooded.  

That was the last time I saw Bryan. 

I will end on a story about someone else’s dysfunctional family, told to me by my undertaker cousin during that strange weekend.  There were terrible spring storms in Jonesboro that year and much flooding.  Some local yahoos decided to go swimming in the ditches to ride the currents. You know where this story is going; a 19 year old boy got stuck in a culvert and drowned. Heartbreaking. My cousin works for the funeral home that handled the arrangements, so I blame this story on him.

The boy’s family were all “swimming in the shallow end of the gene pool” as my cousin put it. They had very little money and less sense. They wouldn’t even consider cremation, they wanted a full funeral with all the trimmings. The undertaker took pity and waived all his fees, but even at cost, a full funeral with a casket, visitation, transportation and a plot came to $3000.  They didn’t have that kind of money. Instead, they made several large cardboard signs read “Broke. Need Donations for Funeral.” Members of the family stood with the signs at busy intersections and solicited spare change from passing motorists.

By then, the story had been picked up by the local newspaper and included a request for donations to cover funeral costs. The donations from the news article combined with the money they spare changed on the streets added up to several thousand dollars above and beyond the cost of the discounted funeral. Of course they didn’t offer to pay the full rate; they weren’t that stupid. There was much speculation at the funeral home about where the extra money would go. The next day, the whole family showed up for the funeral sporting matching tattoos in memory of the deceased.

The immediate family arrived in a beat up old pick up truck, pulled into the handicap space next to the front door and started tailgating, drinking cheap beer from the can and white liquor from Solo cups.  When the visitation was over and they were assembling for the procession to the cemetery, the paterfamilias approached the undertaker with a question. He said that his brother, the deceased’s Uncle, was driving a brand new truck, much nicer than his own.  Could Dad ride in Uncle’s truck in the place of honor directly behind the hearse instead of driving his old truck? Of course, says the undertaker. When the hearse pulled out, a half-ton, AAA tow truck pulled in behind it. Uncle’s shiny new rig was a wrecker.  The family climbed aboard and off they all drove to the cemetery. 

Now THAT’s a funeral. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Fortune


Fortuna

By Thomas Carlyle

The wind blows east, the wind blows west,
And the frost falls and the rain:
A weary heart went thankful to rest,
And must rise to toil again, ’gain,
And must rise to toil again.

The wind blows east, the wind blows west,
And there comes good luck and bad;
The thriftiest man is the cheerfulest;
’Tis a thriftless thing to be sad, sad,
’Tis a thriftless thing to be sad.

The wind blows east, the wind blows west;
Ye shall know a tree by its fruit:
This world, they say, is worst to the best;—
But a dastard has evil to boot, boot,
But a dastard has evil to boot.

The wind blows east, the wind blows west;
What skills it to mourn or to talk?
A journey I have, and far ere I rest;
I must bundle my wallets and walk, walk,
I must bundle my wallets and walk.

The wind does blow as it lists alway;
Canst thou change this world to thy mind?
The world will wander its own wise way;
I also will wander mine, mine,
I also will wander mine.



Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Prufrock Feels The Coming of Autum


Summer's is gone but the heat hasn't died down. At least the nights are cool and the quality of the light has changed. Darker blues, deeper shadows. Twilight creeps out from under the trees a little earlier with each passing day, spreading across the evening "like a patient etherized  upon a table."

Fires rage just to the south. Weed California is burning tonight. We watch columns of smoke rise and spread like a contagion, wondering if, when, wild fire will crest the ridge and drop down into our valley.

I came out of Jimmy Giancarlo's memorial service tonight to find a mercifully, if briefly, blue sky. Appropriate. Dear Jimmy was a man with a blue sky disposition. He maintained the highest artistic standards without ever being negative or dismissive or harshly critical. He had a way of getting what he wanted by validating others. In all our interactions, from the artistic to the mundane, he never made me feel "less than."  He lifted up everyone around him. I aspire to his example. I wish all of my collaborators were as inclusive, inspiring, affirming, committed, generous.

Another good man gone, while evil seems to live forever. And then there are those who inhabit that gray space between good and evil, the ones who cause me so much confusion and pain.  People like me.

I grow old, I grow old.  I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

I had a dream about a woman I know, one of those people who leave me feeling "less than." She talks incessantly about her family, her job, her travels, her beliefs, her life, her friends; in short, about herself.  Her sense of entitlement is profound, she denies herself nothing. She brings out the Little Red Hen in me: who is going to pick the wheat and grind the grain and bake the bread while Ducky Lucky is touring Europe?   In my dream she was talking, talking, talking about herself until I couldn't take it any more and screamed "Will you SHUT THE FUCK UP!!" It shocked me awake.

Why don't I say something similar (if not quite so hostile) in the waking world? Because, I don't see how it would change anything for the better. The reality is, I'm jealous of her. She grew up wealthy and lives her life in the certainty that she deserves whatever she wants. I grew up poor and live my life in the fear that I deserve nothing.

If I had no fear, what would I do?

Maybe I would quit my job and hit the road, visit places just because they interest me, write about any damn thing that crosses my mind, play music on corners and at street fairs, talk to strangers, cross against the light; you know, break the rules. I have a little money, a credit card, a house I could sell.  I have skills.

It ain't gonna happen, at least not yet. I've been homeless and broke. I'm not going back.

I traded freedom for security because I couldn't figure out how to have both. I went to school, got a job and never looked back.  For decades now, I have walked the endless treadmill of day after working day, playing by the rules, paying my bills, avoiding extraordinary risk, forgoing extraordinary reward. I've been good, Lord. I've done my penance for my wicked, misspent youth.

Is it too late for me to dive back into the unknown?

Do I dare disturb the universe?




Monday, September 8, 2014

Laying Bare

I spent more than five hours in a recording studio yesterday with the Bathtub Gin Serenaders and now I'm scared to death.

It's ironic that our "lead singer" Ila quit the band less than two months before we finally made it back into the studio. I put "lead singer" in quotes because Eric and I sing lead on several songs and on others, Ila, Melissa and I sang 3-part harmony.  However, Ila was the big personality with the big voice who stood out front, and she bailed out with very little warning. All credit to my collaborators, they refused to let her departure stand in the way of our project. We rearranged the 3-part harmonies for Eric, Melissa and me and I stepped up to the mic and took the lead.

Let me repeat that: I stepped up to the mic and took the lead. Holy shit.

We recorded some standards by Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Louis Armstrong, and added some originals:  Eric wrote two songs, I wrote two songs and Melissa wrote one. What right do I have to record Gerswhin and Berlin? What right do I have to include my measly original tunes on the same record with those giants? Who the hell do I think I am?

It's too late for take backs now.

I'm singing songs that were sung by Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Anita O'Day. I'm no Ella Fitzgerald; hell, I'm no Ila, but I have a voice.  I'm sure as hell not a composer but, I wrote two songs and we recorded them. Scary.

My collaborators are so kind, so supportive. They seem to genuinely value my contributions.  I can't quite wrap my head around that. I'm used to being devalued and disrespected in the musical community because, and this is the truth, I'm not a very good musician. I have a great ear, a great feel for time and tempo, but not much musicianship or technical skill. But, here's the weird thing: a lot of people now think of me as a good musician. Some of them are even other musicians.

My skeptical mind keeps looking for the catch, sure that the world is setting me up for a fall.  What if I'm really terrible but no-one will tell me to my face? My fearful mind imagines the world laughing behind my back.  The band is just starting to gig without Ila and I fret about perpetrating a bait and switch. I feel like apologizing before I begin to play, sure that I'll chase the audience away.

What if I suck?

So, what if I do? If that's the worst that happens, it's not so bad. I've survived worse.

I wish my mama was here tonight. She would set me straight. She never let me tear myself down or beat myself up.  She believed I could do anything.

OK then mama, this is for you.  What talent I have, what courage, what grace, it comes from you. When I sing, I sing in your voice.

I sing in her voice.  How can I keep from singing?




Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Hard Work, Good Times

Another Camp Out in the books and I didn't take a single photograph. This one was taken by my dear little friend Lauren Smith. What kind of a chronicler am I? Boswell would not approve. (Can you imagine a contemporary Boswell, smart phone in hand, snapping selfies with Dr. Johnson in some London haunt?)

On Friday, the valley was so smokey from the nearby fires, I feared this would go down as the Camp Out in Hell. It was dense.  Ah, but we were granted a reprieve. By the time I walked up to the house on Friday night (actually, Saturday morning) I could see the Milky Way. The rest of the weekend was gloriously sunny, blue and beautiful; the weather gods were good.

Sequoia and I cooked soup and bread on Friday night for our arriving guests. Our guests cooked for us all day long on Saturday and Sunday. That does not seem like a fair trade. They fed a whole lot of meat to a whole lot of people, more people than they anticipated I'm sure. I feel guilty that they worked so hard for so many hours only to see the fruits of their labor devoured in minutes. In the future, I must do a better job of organizing menus and assigning tasks so the burden is more evenly distributed.  Next year, we're going to fire up the pizza oven again and let the barbecue chefs take it easy.

James Dean staged a performance by his two bands on Saturday night, quite the extravaganza with electric music and black lights.  He laid out heart and soul and I'm grateful to him for such a beautiful contribution.

If the Colestin Camp Out was my child, it would be be graduating high school and heading off to college this year.  At the first camp out 19 years ago,  Ruthe confided in me that she was pregnant. That little sprout became our Lauren, who is heading off to Oregon State University.  Lewis McBennet (formerly Claire), couldn't be with us this weekend, but his mother was  also pregnant at the first camp out and he's off to the University of Oregon in a couple of weeks. Cat and Dutch's beautiful Sierra also graduated high school this summer and has started her journey into the grown up world.  What a privilege and a joy to watch these beautiful young women leave the nest.

It feels like the end of an era, campers. The years just flow by like a broken down dam. We watch our children grow into adults, disconcerted when they reflect our weakness back at us, gratified when they mirror our strengths, delighted when they develop their own, unique talents and traits. We are alarmed to learn that they also have their own unique destinies, which are outside of our control  If we're lucky, we are allowed to watch them grow into their power as our own power wanes. They become stronger and smarter as I get slower and stupider. It's a long process of letting go, giving over, and it's not easy. If we are very lucky, we live long enough to learn that getting old is a stone cold bitch, but it beats the alternative. 



A Day for Duets


James and Joni, sweet. As a female harmony singer, I love it when men take the harmony part. They usually want the melody




Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Panther Meadows, Horse Camp, the Causeway of the Gods and the Holy Spring

...and other places Sequoia and I visited on Mt. Shasta.  It sounds like the name of a Fiona Apple record, doesn't it?

Panther Meadows where we camped:





Panther Creek just below the campground

 The holy spring. I can't describe the sense of purity, the feeling of sanctity.


Someone carefully placed a large flat rock under the spring, just big enough for one person to stand on comfortably. Big enough for a penitent pilgrim to breathe in the sacred spirit and do a few yoga poses.

 Or you can stick your head under the trickle and cool off.
 Thunderheads at sunset, day 1.





 Smoke on the horizon.


Day 2: We hiked from Bunny Flat at about 7,300 feet to Horse Camp at 8,000.


 Beyond Horse Camp, the Causeway of the Gods.  A single man used a rock bar to maneuver these boulders into place. The smallest of them had to be 60 lbs, the largest - who knows. The path climbs the mountain for a little more than a half mile, but when you're jumping from boulder to boulder, it feels longer.  It looked like something Bilbo might have walked on as he traveled to the Misty Mountains.









This is as far up as we got. Next time, higher.

 Sunset day 2, at the old ski bowl.




 Moonrise.






Monday, August 18, 2014

...and then, on the very same night, this pops up

"My needs are what are giving you the power over me." Message received, thanks universe...

If somebody is a problem for you, it’s not that they should change, it’s that you need to change. If they’re a problem for themselves that’s their karma, if they’re causing you trouble that’s your problem on yourself. So, in other words when Christ is crucified, he says “forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing”, they’re not a problem for him, he’s trying to get them out of being a problem for themselves, because he’s clear. Your job is to clear yourself. In ideal situations you would clear yourself within the situation, but very often it’s too thick and you can’t do that.

Now, what you do then is you pull back and you do the stuff you do in the morning or at night before you go to work, you do the stuff on weekends, you do the stuff that quiets you down and then each time you go into the situation to where you have to work, you lose it again. And then you go home and you see how you lost it, and you examine it, and then you go the next day and you lose it again, and you go home and you keep a little diary “how did I lose it today”, and you see that, and then you go and you do it again, and after a while as you’re starting to lose it you don’t buy in so much. You start to watch the mechanics of what it is that makes you lose it all the time.

If I’m not appreciated, that’s your problem that you don’t appreciate me. Unless I need your love, then it’s my problem. So my needs are what are giving you the power over me. Those people’s power over you to take you out of your equanimity and love and consciousness has to do with your own attachments and clingings of mind. That’s your work on yourself, that’s where you need to meditate more, it’s where you need to reflect more, it’s where you need a deeper philosophical framework, it’s where you need to cultivate the witness more, it’s where you need to work on practicing opening your heart more in circumstances that aren’t optimum. This is your work. You were given a heavy curriculum, that’s it. There’s no blame, it’s not even wrong, it’s just what you’re given. You hear what I’m saying? It’s interesting. Can you all hear that one?


-Ram Dass, Summer 1989

Getting There

I'm very, very lucky in my friends. There are many beautiful, kind, generous, thoughtful, funny, honest, loving people in my life and they are a great blessing.  This post is not about them.  Sometimes a girl needs to vent and tonight is one of those nights. You are forewarned.

A couple of people whom I consider to be friends, good friends, appear to go out of their way to make me feel small. They shut me out, reject my attempts to communicate, refuse to engage even on a superficial level. They are cold, withholding and openly contemptuous. They do not value me; hell, they do not like me, obviously. I'm an annoyance they acquired and can't figure out how to discard.

I'm slow I know, but it finally dawned on me: These friends are not my friends.

A friend would never intentionally make me feel small; that's not what friends do.  A friend takes my call, seeks me out,  enjoys my company.  A friend trusts me with the truth, even when it is unpleasant, even when the answer is no.  A friend  always replies, even if the reply is "I'm too busy to talk but will be in touch soon."

When I make friends, I commit fully. I offer my whole heart. Over the years, a couple of people have accepted my offered heart, waited until I was completely open and vulnerable, then stomped all over it. I don't know why. Are they psychopaths? Do I bring out the worst in some people? How do I contribute to this dynamic?

Rejection hurts, but I'm a big girl, I'll get over it.  Not everyone has to like me.

The lesson here is that I must quit seeking approval from exterior sources.  If I truly aspire to Jimmy Giancarlo's "quiet the mind, open the heart, allow the soul,"  I must fully accept that the only approval  that matters is my own. I can and should emulate those I admire and measure myself against their example, but the only judgement that matters is mine.

Plus there's this:  Fuck 'em. Enough is enough. I'm done trying to raise adults to be adults. It's not my job to teach them manners.  In the words of that great sage Popeye the Sailor Man (whom I have quoted in these pages before), "I've stood alls I can stand and I can't stands no more."  Or, as Mark Eitzel put it,  "If I have to be this lonely, I may as well be alone."




 


Jimmy Giancarlo's last note

His family opened his laptop and found this:

Quiet the mind
Open the heart
Allow the soul
All is well
Surrender
Whatever happens is right.

Makes me weep. So beautiful, so true.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Chaos #1

If I'm going to write about Toby, that's where I should start: Chaos.

But, I can't start there, and the reason why is, in itself, a good illustration of chaos, at least as it applies to my scattered thought processes.  You see, the great actor and comedian Robin  Williams committed suicide today. Like so many others, I adored his work, adored him. Something about him was so open, real, accessible, it felt like that we his fans knew him in a way that, of course, we did not. Such a huge, towering talent, brave, raw and just so fucking funny.  No-one else ever made me laugh as hard as he did.  He made me laugh so hard I peed my pants.

Thinking about Robin Williams (age 63) got me to thinking about gentle, generous, geunine Jimmy Giancarlo (age 64) who died last week of an aneurysm.  I met him back in the 80s when I worked at the Cabaret Theatre.  I never stage managed one of his shows, but we bumped into each other fairly often.. About 10 years ago, I went to work at the college theatre department where he taught musical theatre classes and we saw each other frequently. Later on, he choreographed my production of Romeo and Juliet, creating the dance sequence when Romeo first sees Juliet. It is one of my favorite moments in the play and was a beautiful moment in the production. He was such a joy work with. YouTube was a fairly new phenomenon at the time and I may have been one of the first directors who brought him YouTube clips illustrating what I was looking for.  I'm sure I was the only director who ever brought him YouTube clips from Lebanese wedding parties.  We sat in his office at the Cabaret and giggled at the way one young man used his keys like castanets. He re-imagined that move in the play's choreography, translating my vague description into the perfect expression of carefree, insouciant youth. Such a sweet, kind, giving man, so calm and reassuring. He maintained meticulously high artistic standards without ever being a drama queen or a dick. I loved him dearly.

And that got me to thinking about good people who die too young: Robin Williams, Jimmy Giancarlo, Larry Thompson, Tom Green, and that made me think of Toby, who died younger than any of them.

And that's when I thought, I really should write about him. I've been saying for years that I should write that story down.  But how can I write about a force of nature, an agent of chaos?

Maybe I should write about chaos.

But, I can't write about chaos, not yet. That's too far into the story.  Maybe I should write about how I met him at the Arizona Rainbow Gathering.

But, I can't write about the Arizona Gathering without writing about how I got involved in the Rainbow Gathering in the first place.

Which takes me to the Bay Area, 1978, and a hippie named T'Om.

I was working part-time as a teacher in a little pre-school in Hayward, leading a class of three-year-olds. Terrifying to think of unstable, 19 year old me responsible for those young minds.  God, those kids are in their 30s now.

I was also waiting tables part-time on the graveyard shift at Denny's. It's the only time in my life I've ever worked in a high intensity, high volume diner and the only time I ever worked a true graveyard. It was brutal.  Working at Denny's isn't some half-assed cocktail waitress gig; it requires serious skill. I had to keep my orders straight or the cooks would eat me alive.  I had to do all my prep, cleaning and stocking or the breakfast-shift battle axes would lay me out.  Breakfast was the highest volume, highest tip potential shift in the rotation. The tough old broads who worked that shift had been waitressing for 20 years or more and had zero tolerance for bullshit.  I saw one old gal shove a Mexican bus boy against the wall  and hold him there by his neck when she thought he'd stolen one of her tips.

I didn't want to work two jobs, one day shift and one night, but I was broke and needed the money badly. I had stupidly associated with some very bad people and had made some very bad choices, all involving drugs. I had come close to fucking up my life permanently and had blown off one of my nine lives in the process. It was time to get my shit together, so I took a second job and tried to save some money.

I was pissed off at Denny's right from the start. This was the late 1970s but Denny's dress code was still firmly rooted in the 60s. I had to wear a polyester uniform, a shit brown dresses that came to the knee. I had to wear panty hose, dress shoes (no athletic shoes allowed in the work place back then), and my earrings had to be smaller than a dime.  The final straw in this fabulous ensemble was my hair. It had to be completely contained in a bun. None of it was allowed to escape and frame my face.. My hair was tastefully feathered as was the style and the front layers would not fit in a bun. I had two choices: wear a hairnet or wear a hideous fake hairpiece, a coiled braid  bun that looked like one of the big rolls of hair on the side of Princess Leia's head.  I had to bobby pin my layers to the side of my head, gather the back into a pony tail, fit it into the Princess Leia bun and pin whole mess to my head.  Being a vain 19 year old in the 1970s, the hairnet was too hopelessly, cafeteria-lady square for me to endure.  I chose the hairpiece and hated it. I could never get it to fasten neatly to my head.  It looked weird and fake, and the pins hurt my head.

Plus I was sleep deprived as hell.

One night was particularly brutal. I had worked all day at the preschool, gone home for a few hours and went out again to start the graveyard shift at 11:00.  I was tired, didn't want to be there, the bobbie pins hurt my head. One of the swing shift waitresses made a nasty comment about the hideous hair piece as she counted her tips, her above-the-ear, Dorothy Hamill wedge a perfect reflection of corporate standards. One of the waitresses on my shift called in sick and the other was surly. I fucked up an order early in the evening, took the wrong food to the wrong table and got screamed at by the cook for the rest of the night. The pre-dawn hour was always the worst, the vague gray light in the wrapaound plate glass windows lending a surreal edge to my exhaustion. Finishing a hard day's work as day is breaking feels profoundly wrong. By the time I finally staggered out of there, I was losing my shit. Parked out back by the dumpsters, I sat in my faithful VW  Bug and cried.

Plus I was out of gas.

The gas station by the Denny's was expensive, so I drown down the freeway frontage towards the next exit where gas was cheaper. I planned to stop, get a couple of bucks worth and get on the freeway at that exit, but when I got down there, I was so tired I forgot to stop. On autopilot, I drove into a feeder lane at a major interchange and couldn't turn back. I was worrying about whether I had enough gas to make it back to Hayward when there, on the narrow edge of the road, barely out of traffic, I saw what can only be described as an underfed long-haired leaping gnome, a hitchhiker with a pack on his back, enthusiastically waving his thumb at me.  I pulled over in a trance.

It was not my custom to pick up hitchhikers, but I did, and this one changed my life. His name was T'Om, that's Tee-Ohm, like the Buddhist chant, a full-fledged road warrior hippie hitchhiking from Rosenberg Texas to Roseburg Oregon. "I love the synchronisty of  the two names," he told me.  "Rosenberg? Roseburg?  I'm supposed to be there, man!"  Such an odd little critter with his bib overalls and granny glasses, toting his huge backpack along the Interstate system. Over the next 20 minutes, he proceeded lay down some of the most fascinating, fantastical bullshit I had ever heard.

But not without first asking me, "Is that your real hair?'

He was staying with friends for a week or so before traveling to the Oregon Rainbow Gathering. Rainbow Gathering, says I; what's that?  The gathering of the tribes, 20,000 people gathered on national forest land to live in community, commune with nature and pray for peace. Everything completely free, food, shelter, everything.  Everyone takes care of everyone else. You should come. You really should. Just show up. Don't think about it, just trust the universe. Just come.

Over the next couple of days, I hung out with him a few times, met his friends, heard more about this Rainbow Gathering business. About a month later, I took the plunge. I quit Denny's, took a few days off from the preschool, drove north to Roseburg and then east. I found the tribe at the White Horse Meadows on the Umpqua River; not far from Tiller, strangely enough. Stupid little wannabe hippie girl, I had my journal and a pack of cigarettes but no tent, no shelter, no food, no proper gear, the wrong shoes, not even a cup or spoon. What did I know from camping? Yet there I was, deep in the Oregon wilderness. The site was so remote it was only accessible by a shuttle (unless you were prepared to hike the 11 miles in, which was inconceivable to me.) I had to leave my car in the middle of a fucking forest, get on a sketchy hippie bus and ride 11 miles to perch on the edge of a muddy mountain. In the rain.

Luckily my pal Suzan who had traveled with me brought a piece of plastic and we huddled under that for a night. The next day, we chatted up some campers and scored a place to sleep in their tent. The sun came out on July 4th as I walked out. Yes, on the high holy day of the gathering, the point of the whole exercise, I hiked out.  It took me the entire day to get back to my car and all night to drive to Hayward, but I was only an hour late the next morning, showing up almost on time to meet and greet the 3-year-olds. God help those poor kids.

I was an idiot. Out in the woods with the hippies, I learned that important truth quickly. The Gathering was not the warm, loving experience I had expected, it was hard and strange and cold. But, it inspired me to take an honest look at myself.  It made me think about who I was and who I wanted to be.  I heard people tell amazing stories and I wanted to have stories of my own to tell.  I listened to their prayers and pronouncements and envied their faith. I absorbed the rhetoric, the aspirations, the lifestyles, the tents and the teepees, the hairy-legged, hiking boot chic I would come to emulate. The Rainbow has a way of getting under your skin. It got under mine to the point that I returned the following year for the Arizona Gathering up in the Four Corners region.

Which is where I met Toby.

But that's a story for another day.  Chaos. Atoms collide, bind, break apart. Worlds form, deteriorate, reform. Lives begin and end.  Meanwhile, this girl's gotta get some sleep. Tomorrow is another day.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

From: A Fairly Honorable Defeat




How can one live properly when the beginnings of one's actions seem so inevitable and justified while the ends are so completely unpredictable and unexpected?


Iris Murdoch

Monday, August 4, 2014

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Thunderstorm

The leading edge of the storm caught the light of the setting sun and glowed like old ivory. Behind it, the colors of an old bruise spread across the sky, gun metal gray dusty rose and dark mauve fading to indigo. Omnious. It looked like trouble.  



As the darkness rose in the south and east, the western sky was still Maxfield Parrish blue, laced with rose gold clouds.




The sky began flare and flash, thunder rumbled and there I was, still a mile from home.  A flock of birds that had settled on a power line lifted en masse and flew west. Damn, I thought; that can't be a good sign.

Then, there it was, silver lightning splitting the sky, a flash and then gone.  People were coming out of their houses, bringing their children out into the middle of the street to watch and I wanted to scream at them, are you nuts??? Get the hell inside!! Six blocks to go and I began to run. Please lord, don't strike me down. Spare me over to another day. 

I got home just as the fat raindrops began to fall and stood on the front porch as the storm flashed and rumbled brighter and louder. As I watched the rain picked up and the lighting and thunder came continuously, non-stop, until a blazing, blinding, brilliant bolt struck and thundered so loud it sounded like the sky had cracked open. It was right on top of me.  I ran inside in terror as it began to pour.

It was over in 30 minutes.  Everything got a good soaking and I don't have to water tomorrow.  It was 100 degrees today, but it's lovely and cool now.  My only lingering fear is whether the lightning started  a fire out in the Colestin.  Sequoia and I had one of our periodic talks about what to save in a fire: two trunks filled with family heirlooms, the photos stacked in Kiva's old room, the computer hard drive. We both know full well that, if the shit goes down, the only thing he really needs to save is himself; the rest of it is just stuff.

I remember my brother Greg and I sitting with Aunt Bobbie on the back step of grandmother's house, watching a raging thunderstorm. I don't remember where my parents were, but they were not with us.. Greg and I were terrified and Greg started to cry, but Bobbie kept telling him, "Don't be scared of the thunder and lightning. That's just God talking and God would never hurt you."  Ah, the lies we tell our children to keep the terror at bay.

I hear copters flying, looking for fires. It's going to be a long night.  


Monday, July 28, 2014

Clear Green Rivers and Hot Rocks in Heaven



July on the South Umpqua. Floating on my back in a crystalline pool, gazing up, the periphery of my vision ringed by Douglas fir.  Flipping over, I swim in the currents, float on the eddies, then stretch myself on the flat rocks and bake dry.

In Paloma's secret garden, everything is damp and green, profuse with flowers, perfectly manicured and breathtakingly beautiful. It's a stunning spot, but it can't hold me. Again and again, I am drawn away from my loved ones, away from the fine food and finer music, drawn down the bank to the river's edge.  I find a sweet spot in the current that provides just enough resistance for me to swim in place, the water clear and cool but not cold. I lay my head in the current and listen to the river murmur and sigh.

In that rarest of moments, in that sublime location, I am at perfect peace. I am released.

If there is a heaven, I hope it has a river. I hope heaven looks and feels like July on the South Umpqua. I hope my friends gather with me in the secret garden to make music, eat and laugh. 

And, if there is no heaven?  Then I will hold the memory of Tiller in my heart and die happy.