Friday, December 31, 2010
While scanning the bulletin board at the chai shop across from the ashram, I noticed a small hand-written note that said: "Friend of Bill's? Let's share some experience, strength , and hope," with a phone number. So of course, I called it.
It was arranged that a rickshaw would pick me up at the main gates of the ashrama. A British gentleman, donned in gauze-y shawl and loose cotton pajama pants (what every westerner wears here) approached and said my name. So off I was whisked in Rickshaw, chatting happily with this new found "Friend of Bill's." It turns out that he is just visiting for a few weeks with his friend, the women with whom I spoke on the phone. It was her home that we were off to.
About a half hour into the bumpy ride, we arrived at a farm ten kilometers out of town. The farm is run by a lovely Tamil family. There is a small school house on the farm, where another Western ex-pat, whom I didn't meet, is teaching local children to use computers. I then met a very enthusiastic, British, Red-henna haired, and sari-clad woman. I was shown around the farm, introduced to the family, the three of us had tea, chatted, and then had a wonderful, small, and very powerful meeting. We sat with Arunchala glowing blue in the distance with tears in our eyes, as we marveled about the miracles that have taken place in our lives, and the series of events that had led us to that very spot.
I was invited to stay for dinner, which was a traditional Southern Indian meal, cooked by the girls on the farm (tomato rice, sambar, coconut chutney). Then I was sent home down the long, bumpy road to town in a rickety rickshaw, and am now filled with gratitude and wonder. What an extraordinary way to say goodbye to another year, and hello to infinite possibility.
Thursday, December 30, 2010
In Chennai, on Christmas eve, I prayed in the tomb, beneath the basilica, where the remains of St Thomas are interred. In Pondicherry, I was blessed by an elephant (after I fed him a banana and a lotus blossom), I was also able to stroke his velvety trunk. I watched the sun rise pink over the Bay of Bengal while drinking strong, sweet, Indian coffee. In Auroville, I was actually able to meditate inside the Matrimandir, a privilege usually only given to residents of Auroville (traveling with a connected Swami has quite a few benefits). And I drank chai with a handsome Kashmiri, who had a silver tongue and the eyes of a devil! Oh yes, and so far I've managed to survive some of the most terrifying traffic in the world. HONK!
The food is wonderful and spicy (even breakfast), though it does take a while to get used to eating with no utensils, only one's right hand.
India is beautiful and awful - terrifying, comforting, wonderful, peaceful, and disturbing. It is truly a land of contradictions.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
I feel that I've done all I can to prepare for the trip; I've packed very lightly, I've made several drugstore trips, I've arranged for my plants to be watered and my pets to be cared for, and I've also spoken to all the folks who I usually talk to everyday about keeping active in a support network while I'm away. I have contact numbers and sunblock...
Yesterday I found myself intermittently acting like a jerk and bursting into tears for no apparent reason. Everything is prepared and I only need to walk through one moment to the next to have a new experience unfold for me. Now to breathe, admit powerlessness, and surrender. This is what jumping off a cliff must feel like.
Please, Oh great Remover of obstacles, allow me to get out of my own way so that thy will may be done.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Funny, I've been spending lots of time getting ready for this trip where, I think I'll be spending the majority of my time alone. Certainly, I'm not expecting for my experience of India to transform all aspects of my life like some magic spell, but I really am ready for a shift to happen.
I've been enjoying school, I love being involved in recovery, I find myself more at ease than I've ever been - everything is moving along at a nice clip and in the right direction, really, just fine, but there's that last little bit my will and my life that I can't seen to turn over and I'm not even sure I know what that is.
I'm trusting the Universe. I'm putting one foot in front of the other and hoping that the answers will be revealed. So I call when I don't feel like it (I may still feel lonely, but I get to talk to people), and I may even begin to act my way into right thinking.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
I did most of the cooking and most everything turned out pretty well (I did learn, however, that the rack in the oven shouldn't be put on the lowest level because the electric coil tends to burn the bottom of whatever your cooking/baking). The Brussels sprouts and fennel gratin could've been baked to a crispier finish, but overall, not bad.
One of the friends who was there had just relapsed a couple of days before we went up. While this is, of course, an unfortunate occurrence for him, it was a great opportunity for me because I was able to see very clearly how miserable, uncomfortable, agitated, irritable, and discontented he was. I had the ability to distance myself and consequently be enthusiastically grateful that it has been almost eight years since I've felt exactly that same way. Of all the things for me to be grateful for (and if I'm honest with myself, the list is pretty long), watching someone writhe in the unbearable agony of remorse and self-pity bathed me in a gratitude that I can't be reminded of enough. When I start to feel restless and irritable about common inconveniences, it is so important for me to remember that self-imposed demoralization and self-hatred is only ever an arms length away.
Dear Gracious and Loving God
(of whom I have not even the most basic understanding),
Thank you for the the countless gifts I've been given, for reminding me how far I've been brought. Please, continue to hold me in the hollow of your hand and protect me with your Grace. Please Loving Spirit, help me maintain a healthy, daily spiritual condition, so that I might help protect myself in those times when I may not feel your presence.
Thank You, and Amen
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Now, I usually don't mind needles, but the pneumonia shot actually hurt. It felt like a small inflatable ping pong ball was being forced underneath my skin, and right now my arm is aching. Oooowww.
Friday, October 29, 2010
I am excited. I am scared. I don't know what to expect and I am surrendering myself to whatever will be. I am remarkably blessed to be able to take this kind of trip with someone who has lived in India off and on for the last thirty years, and who I've known all my life. I know I am in good hands with her and with the universe, and that I will be taken care of.
Thursday, September 9, 2010
Today I went to school and had my first meeting with an adviser concerning the coming semester. My schedule isn't going to be very heavy with classroom time this term, but it does look like I'm going to have to do a lot of self-motivated writing. I'll also be taking a documentary photography class, so in addition to going to photo exhibits around town and documenting my responses to them, I'm expected to take photographs. This Saturday, the ninth anniversary of 9-11, I'm going to take my camera and go see what kind of madness I can witness and digitally capture at the location of the proposed Islamic center (If I have success with my photo documentary endeavors, I might post some here).
In addition to the photography class, I'll also be taking Spanish (perhaps just a tad more useful than the German I took a number of years ago), and a three day residency on theater, HIV, and community health. The theater/HIV residency is being led by a woman who's gone to Africa and done theater pieces in an attempt to educate communities about HIV/AIDS.
It seems like it should be an interesting fall term, and as I get reacquainted with my writing voice, I'll hopefully be a little more active with my blog postings.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Many studies have been done about happiness, and what it is exactly that makes people happy. What these various studies have uncovered, and I must concur, is that being useful far outranks property, prestige, hi-tech gadgetry, jewels, or stock portfolios as the source of true happiness. Everyone enjoys nice things and creature comforts and I am no different. I am aware, however, that my self-esteem is increased by doing estimable acts, and being useful makes me feel, well, useful. It also makes me happy. And while it remains a privilege to be reached out to (to feel useful and consequently happy), I also continue to be greatly frustrated by the fact that when I am asked for suggestions - suggestions are given - and then completely disregarded.
Oh, what fools these mortals be!
It's not always easy for me to remember that I never learned from anyone else's mistakes, or that I rarely followed the advice of others unless it was exactly what I wanted to hear at the moment. Nor, I should add, did I stop selfish and self-destructive behavior until I was utterly defeated by its consequences.
The unfortunate truth of being part of a community of recovering people is that there will always be an unavoidable body count. While certainly heart-breaking, these tragedies need to be learned from, and their experience must be shared if others are to benefit from them (otherwise these tragedies would be senseless, indeed). I hope that the fledglings who are in my path right now aren't added to that endless procession of unfortunates who have gone on before. But whether they are or not (and this may sound more cold-hearted than it really is), it is imperative for me to remember that it's better them than me. And if I have any ability at all to share a message of hope with them, I would like to be able to communicate what my experience has shown me - that surrender is essential, and that nothing changes if nothing changes.
Monday, July 5, 2010
While I feel that the word is overused, when tens of thousands of people rose as one, held hands, and recited the Serenity Prayer: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference" it was truly awesome.
The air was electric. I looked around the stadium at the massive and diverse crowd of strangers holding hands, many silently weeping, and felt we were all joined by a common solution to an oftentimes fatal affliction. For me this emotional sentiment was echoed on the streets of San Antonio, as recovered alcoholics from all over the world had literally taken over the town. This convention was, supposedly, the largest that the city had ever hosted.
I heard some remarkable speakers share their experience, strength, and hope. I also heard a few truly inspiring stories of how tragedy had transformed people's lives, and set them on a path of spiritual enlightenment and an altruistic practice.
Yesterday was independence day, and I spent the day in rental cars, airports, airplanes, and taxicabs traveling from San Antonio to New York City.
San Antonio is a lovely, even charming, southern, Texas town. The San Antonio River winds its way through the center of town and the River Walk (Paseo del Río) is beautiful. The River Walk is a pedestrian walkway along the river, one story beneath street level. It is lined with restaurants, shops, beautifully designed plant-beds (where the indigenous bald cypress, often hundreds of years old, can reach ten stories high), and water features (falls, ponds, fountains, etc) all linked by a network of bridges.
I learned that after a disastrous flood in the 1920s, plans were developed to pave over the downtown bends in the river to prevent possible future floods. There were protests against the paving over idea, and in 1929 San Antonio native architect Robert Hugman submitted plans for the River walk. His plans included dams and floodgates to regulate flow. Support for Hugman's River Walk plan grew and in 1939 crucial funding for its construction finally came from the WPA. Its continued expansion, ability to withstand flooding, and its draw for tourism has made San Antonio's River walk one of the WPA's great successes.
What San Antonio is probably most famous for, however, is the Alamo. While not terribly impressive by magnitude (it's actually rather small), its historical and cultural significance made a considerable impact on me.
It is important for me to note my observation that mostly everyone I encountered, who was a San Antonio native, seemed to be Mexican, or of Mexican descent. There is, in fact, a decisively Mexican flavor to the town itself. That being so, the concentration on the history of the Alamo set me into a pattern of deep and puzzling thoughts. Here is a building, indeed a National landmark, that is held up as an iconic symbol of American freedom and patriotism. While initially built by Mexicans as a Catholic mission, a place of worship, it is primarily remembered for its function as a fort in The Battle of the Alamo, and its role as a stronghold in the United States' battle against Mexico.
While I am certainly not a expert on the Mexican - American War or the Texas Revolution, my understanding of the history of the Alamo is as follows: Abandoned as a mission, the compound was taken over by the Texan army. At the time, the land we know as Texas was still Mexico. The Mexican army launched an assault on the Alamo to reclaim it, and almost all the Texan troops were killed. More Texan troops were sent to reinforce and reclaim the Alamo, and further bloodshed ensued. In other words, the Alamo is an historic site of a bloody American, white-man, land-grab from our Mexican neighbors.
The Alamo remains a symbol of American freedom, even though, at the time of the infamous battle, America was still a nation that saw fit to enslave black men (and women, and children).
I am grateful that my recent race, class, and gender studies have encouraged me to look at things from multiple perspectives. But while others were nonchalantly enjoying vacation time and sightseeing, I found myself wrestling with my understanding of our violent past. I considered the complex relationship that modern, Mexican-Americans (particularly San Antonio residents) must have to this history. It sharply brought to my mind the recently put into place anti-immigration legislation in Arizona, and the vehement, anti-immigration fervor, parading as patriotism, that is quickly spreading throughout the country, specifically the Southwest region.
Just as African-Americans (both free and enslaved) have played an integral part in the development and identity of the United States, so too have Mexican-Americans contributed to the cultural fabric that makes up our collective American experience. Unfortunately, it seems we may be entering into a new era of Jim Crow laws, this time with a focus on Latin-Americans as the threatening and feared "other," forced to adhere to stern, discriminatory regulation.
My increasing awareness of this vitriolic and rapidly growing opposition to all things immigrant directly counters my experience of the friendly and welcoming Mexican-American, San Antonians that I encountered on my trip. It continues to be my experience that our (America's) continued stringent, often enforced, cultural division remains the antithesis of the principles expressed by those who gathered in San Antonio this past weekend. We are a fellowship of men and women who share our experience, strength, and hope so that others may find what has been so freely given to us. As members of a spiritual and altruistic movement, we are people from every race and every walk of life, whose practices have given us an opportunity to develop a relationship with a God of our own understanding, and granted us the capacity to help others by sharing its healing and loving message.
While reflecting on the history of the Alamo, and my personal responsibility to be an ambassador of kindness, I am reminded of the text of the AA program itself, which states that "love and tolerance is our code." I believe we could all benefit if it were the code of many more.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Last night a deep red line hung low near the horizon. It was as if the heat of the earth had seared the edges of the sky. Heat and humidity had been building all day until dusk, when the sky was finally forced to open, and moisture rained down, but only for a few minutes.
Now is the time of year when I love New York most - the people who can leave town do, families of Europeans wander around midtown holding maps, staring up at buildings, wide-eyed like children. The temperature drops only slightly after the sun slips beneath the horizon, but the black, city streets continue to hold the heat through to the next morning.
Tomorrow I fly to San Antonio. I've never been to Texas. I'll be joining a huge gathering of people on a spiritual journey. I'm glad the event is being held somewhere that's hot.
Monday, June 7, 2010
I haven't written anything here since the wedding. One might think that a wedding would be ample enough opportunity for one family to display high emotions, curious behavior, and general drama, but the week directly following my sister's wedding in Georgia, a family reunion was held in North Carolina.
Now please do not misunderstand me, I love my family and I certainly enjoy seeing extended family members whom I don't get to see often. But when these events do take place I know it's best for me to be kept busy. I chose, as I often do, to situate myself in the kitchen and prepare food. Sometimes it was for six or eight people, but on the weekend of the reunion itself I was cooking for forty people. This may sound like a daunting task, but I actually enjoy it. It is an opportunity for me to keep busy, be creative, and perhaps even to be of service.
I was not the only one cooking the whole time. My aunt is a competent cook and whipped up some tasty eats, my mother is a gifted cookie-baker (something I rarely have patience for), and my cousin Allison, from Portland, Oregon, is terrifically skilled in the kitchen. One night before the whole clan arrived, my mother, my sisters, my aunt and her family (about ten of us in all), gathered for dinner. I roasted a turkey with a pomegranate glaze, made a dressing (stuffing) for the turkey with olive oil rosemary bread, dried apricots, pistachios, and mint (baked in a separate, buttered pan), giblet gravy, a sweet potato gratin (insanely delicious), and a rhubarb-orange meringue pie! Everyone was pleasantly sated.
For the days when there where about forty people I made a huge quantity of lemon chicken from the Silver Palate cookbook, which all disappeared, a lentil salad, a New York style cheesecake, two strawberry rhubarb pies, and the rhubarb-orange meringue pie was so good the first time that I repeated it. The second day of the reunion cousin Tony and I fried up catfish that uncle Steve had caught the previous week (which had already been cleaned and filleted), while uncle Steve was behind the house grilling about forty pounds of ribs. I made two onion-thyme tarts with wholewheat crusts, and there were also numerous salads, cookies, and desserts. My sister made an especially good pomegranate butter cake with walnuts (she and I share a love for cooking with pomegranate molasses), and Allison threw together a kick-ass pasta salad and a spectacular chocolate cake.
Saturday, May 15, 2010
My sister has been through hell this past year. And her betrothed has been there right next to her the whole way. It can't have been easy. He is a good guy and, although she and I have had our differences in the past, this last year we've become closer than we've been since we were children.
Of course, I personally question why anyone would choose to publicly join in matrimony now, when so much recent attention has been brought to the fact that millions are legally forbidden to do so (ahem, like me). But today I'm setting my politics, my opinions, and my feelings aside, and showing up for my sister. I may not be celebrating their union in the same way that others are, but I'm showing up, suiting up (literally), and shutting up, and offering my support to them both in any way that I can.
May they be blessed with years of health and happiness.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
For weeks I've been thinking about my old boyfriend Tom. He's been dead for almost twenty years. He left way too soon. And I was way too young to appreciate what I had with him or what we had together. I guess I thought I was young enough that I would have many more chances at relationships - why should I bother working through the bumps and inconveniences of a relationship while there was still so much more out there to discover?
It's hard to reconcile such youthful foolishness. I wish I could have done things differently, but of course, that's not possible. Tom is not forgotten; his spirit still lives on in my heart, and he knows how significant he was in the shaping of who I am today.
I realize this is all sounding very sentimental and maudlin, but hey, it's my birthday, and I'm feeling old! Just let me rattle on, I'm almost done.
What I'm trying to keep in mind (and usually failing at) is that ten years ago I remember feeling self-conscious and unattractive. Now I look at pictures of myself from that period and I think I was pretty hot. When I look at pictures of myself ten years from now I'll probably think I was looking pretty good now. If I could just remember to stay in the moment and be grateful for what I have, then all this concern for aging and lost time might not be so consuming of the time I do have.
Vanity and self-consciousness prevent me from enjoying who I am right now. Cherry blossoms bloom for a very short time. But if I'm worried about them falling - then I'm not really enjoying them, am I?
Happy birthday to me.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
1 cup flour
1 stick butter (room temperature)
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg yolk
5 8oz. packages of cream cheese
1 3/4 cups sugar
3 Tablespoons flour
1 1/2 teaspoons @ grated lemon & orange zests
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 egg yolks
Combine flour, sugar, lemon zest, and vanilla. Make a hole in the center and add yolk and butter. Mix till the dough cleans the side of the bowl. Form the dough into a ball, wrap in wax paper and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Preheat oven to 400.
Grease the bottom and sides of a 10" spring form with butter. Remove the sides of the pan.
Take a third of the dough and roll flat to fit the bottom of the pan. Trim the edge.
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes.
Divide the remainder of the dough in 3 or 4 parts and roll into strips about 2 1/2 or 3 inches wide.
Put the pan together and using your fingers, fit the wide strips of dough to the sides of the pan.
Use a sharp knife and trim the dough so it comes 3/4 the way up the sides of the pan. Refrigerate.
Raise oven to 500.
Mix cheese, sugar, flour, citrus zests, and vanilla. Beat to blend.
Beat in eggs and yolks one at a time, add cream. Continue mixing till well combined and then pour the cheese mixture into the pan.
Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 and bake for 1 hour.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
As strangely odd as that may seem
I loved firelight and witches' tales
You see, you were there in my dreams
You leaped buildings in single bounds
Although I well may ask you how
You bayed the moon just like a hound
I knew I adored you now
You laced the night with raging storms
You threw lightning 'cross the skies
You kissed my mouth with promises
You burned me with your lies
You loved me like a poet loves
My nights were made of stars and fears
Thinking that you would go away
And leave me with only my tears
I loved the towns where we made love
And the hotels where we played games
You thought I'd never live it down
Yet you see, I've forgotten your name
(Jaques Brel translated from french)
Thursday, February 11, 2010
When registering, I had pretty much decided that I was going to be taking those two classes, and I knew that they were both likely to have a pretty heavy workload. I needed to choose a third class for the semester, and so I figured I should probably choose one that wasn't as likely to have so much work. I perused the catalog, and judging from the various class descriptions, I chose 'The Culture of Food' thinking that we would be talking about how different cultures eat, how certain “ethnic” foods became popular in American culture, etc. Well, we do talk about that stuff, but we are also expected to read an abundance of classic essays from different anthologies of anthropologist’s writings; Margaret Mead, Claude Lévi-Strauss, etc… And then we are expected to write a reaction paper to everything that we’ve read.
Now, I’m not saying that this stuff isn’t interesting - far from it. But it takes a couple of readings for me to fully understand these anthropologist's theories, and then I have to wrestle with writing about them.
I know – It’s called school for a reason. What did I expect? I just wanted to give you guys an idea of what’s been going on with me and why I haven’t been more blog-active lately. Who knows, maybe further into the semester we’ll actually eat stuff. Right now I have to go write a paper about the introduction of sugar to the European continent and its significant consequence to the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
While struggling with some personal issues, with Frankie's illness and death, and while wrestling with the responsibilities of being a health-care proxy, I've sought support in various places. Surprisingly the church was not very receptive to my needs. I do realize that I am responsible for my own experience of things and that all the things that don't work for me have one thing in common: me. Having been part of a church community, however, and having specifically asked for help, I am still somewhat surprised that I didn't receive more reaching out, more pastoral care. Perhaps I have been looking outside myself for some sort of spiritual panacea when I might have been concentrating on myself and how I could be growing spiritually.
Friends In Deed has been a good resource for grief counseling and self care, and I am blessed to have a small but consistent network of people who freely share their experience with me in a way that is firm, yet gentle and loving. I've had the opportunity to speak with some remarkable people these past few months; pastors, social workers, hospice workers - I have found that the people who choose to work with dying people and their families are astoundingly caring and helpful - one doesn't go into that line of work for money or prestige. They have reminded me that they will remain available to me when or if I choose to seek support though them.
Help is all around me if I take the time to seek it out. If I am quiet and look inside, I can sometimes listen to that Inner Voice that usually sets me on the path of Good Orderly Direction. I have a full set of spiritual tools, I just usually choose not to use them until I'm in pain. There is a saying that 'God is good all the time', and I have to believe that having come through this difficult patch without much outside help has allowed me to see my own strength, it has allowed me to acknowledge the value of growth through personal struggle. It's not like this is a new concept - apparently I just need to have things spelled out for me - repeatedly.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Saturday, January 9, 2010
When I focus on what's good today, I have a good day, and when I focus on what's bad, I have a bad day. If I focus on the problem, the problem increases; if I focus on the answer, the answer increases...
Perhaps the best thing of all for me to remember is that my serenity is inversely proportional to my expectations... I can watch my serenity level rise when I discard my expectations...
Acceptance is the key to my relationship with God today. I never just sit and do nothing while waiting for Him to tell me what to do. Rather, I do whatever is in front of me to be done, and I leave the results up to Him; however it turns out, that's God's will for me...
I must keep my magic magnifying mind on my acceptance and off my expectations, for my serenity is directly proportional to my level of acceptance.
from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous
4th edition: Acceptance Was The Answer
3rd edition: Doctor, Alcoholic, Addict