Friday, June 19, 2015

Days of Fathers

I had to have been less than four, before we moved to the lakeshore. I was in the city, in Chicago, with my dad. It was daylight, and when we went into the little neighborhood bar it was quiet and soft and less bright than the sunny day. It must have been closed, with that still, private feeling a public place has when it's off duty. My dad hoisted me up on the wooden bar. It was dark wood, worn and smooth. There were a couple of men standing at the bar, talking and laughing. They liked me and included me in conversation in that way that adults talk to children. I was a quiet child, always making mental notes, always curious, polite and full of waiting. My dad gave the man behind the bar money and they talked about things in a way I knew I wasn't understanding. My dad must have been counting on the not understanding.

This was before I knew how much my dad gambled, or what a bookie was, or questioned why we were at a closed bar in the middle of the day. It was way before my dad gambled away the house - I had moved out by then, and I still didn't know all of it. I'm sure I still don't. If you put me in a strange city and told me to go find a bookie it would've been an impossible quest. It would take my dad twenty minutes. I have no idea how that worked. 

When we went back outside I had to squint against the sun for a few minutes. It was a neighborhood bar in Chicago, with old buildings and trees and the wind blowing crisp off the lake. I had on a navy blue wool coat. It was a long time before any of it, or so many other things, made any sense. When you're new to the world everything seems planted in its rightful place and everything is equally mysterious. The difference between secrets and everyday lack of understanding is a blurry place. Sometimes it still is.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

About Kindness and Questions

Anyone I've had conversations with over the past few months knows that there is a particular question I've been playing with, wrestling with, turning over and over again, and I think I've come around to what, for me, is the answer. The question is, how do you hold an open heart when you're confronted by wrongness, by hurtfulness, either in a person or situation? I've been offered dozens of bits of wisdom that, for me, weren't quite right. Most recently I asked someone and they initially asked "how does it feel? What would you be willing to do not to have that feeling?". But my answer was, that's the problem - sitting in judgment feels good to me. Feeling right feels good to me. And they said, "ask, what would love do?", and I just about flat out said no. That isn't my answer. And then something clicked.

That isn't my answer, at least not in the way I use the word love. That isn't something I can choose or insist on or demand from myself. And judgment isn't bad, although it can be distorted. There is a kind of smug, condescending, "I'm better than that" judgment, but there's also "whew, a mistake I'm not making!" judgment, and then there's just recognizing-a-wrongness judgment. There's nothing to fix there, with making judgments. You couldn't survive for a day out in the wilderness by refusing to make judgments about what's right and wrong. You might make mistakes, in concrete things and in conceptual things, but if you're using your intelligence and your intentions are benevolent, a lot of times wrongness is very clear.

And love - you don't have to love where you don't. I can't will my heart open, but here's what I can do:  I can behave with kindness. Kindness toward people, no matter how much wrongness they might be stuck in. Kindness in the worst of situations. Kindness toward objects, toward the physical world, toward ideas and wayward emotions. I can choose kindness. I can choose what I see as a corollary to kindness, tenderness. To caress, to be care-full, to be gentle. 

The Dalai Lama famously says "kindness is my religion", but I didn't really get that. I mean, he's all enlightened and holy and a super nice guy, and of course he would be kind, right? But that's not the point. The point is that kindness is a choice. I can't choose to be enlightened, I can't choose to feel love if I don't, but kindness is a choice. Choose kindness. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Unsolicited Travel Advice

This is for my niece-of-someone-else, almost-former housemate/protracted guest, will-eventually-just-be-a-regular-friend, almost twenty year old person. Everyone should have one.

I know you want to travel. I have a suggestion. It gives you a year to prepare yourself, which you'll want. When you're 21, start taking long weekends where you buy a plane ticket, rent a car or get on a train, and watch every episode of Anthony Bourdain's The Layover ahead of time. Give yourself longer than 48 hours for each visit - he mostly already knows every city, and that man can pack away the food. But eat your way through New York City, LA, Singapore - make a list from each episode, research the cool food blogs, get a map and go with a plan. Part of the plan should allow for throwing the plan out if circumstances and opportunities intervene. Either travel alone (not as scary as you think), or take your most adventurous, badly behaved friend. Take photos with a phone, but don't stand out as a tourist.

A few other things: don't eat at the hipster places, unless you're in Portland, where that's actually the native cuisine. Don't go to gluten-free special needs places - just hold the bread and gravy and noodles (except for rice ones) and eat like a local. Drink more than you normally would, but not so much that you wake up feeling like crap. Find out where the good coffee is, and the used bookstores. Keep a journal - the old fashioned paper kind, with shit spilled on the pages, in a ratty notebook, not a too-precious beautiful thing. (Actually, I think that last bit is essential to life. It should fit in your bag, which ought to be a cross body shoulder bag that's just function. Buy it with the notebook in hand, so it can try on the bag.) Make it big enough to accommodate a book, too.

And that's it. How to travel the world in little chunks, relatively cheaply (compared to other methods) and collect experiences. Try it out.

Or you could travel the way I have, by moving, which is a whole other thing. Long weekends are less traumatic I think.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

I am in love with this book

I'm an image/photo junkie, and a book junkie, and this hits all the sweet spots for me. This book, Capture the Moment, came into my life through this totally cool thing I also want to tell you guys about, but first, this book. Swoon. The author is Sarah Wilkerson and the book is a compilation of photos from her site, It's also a terrific analysis of what makes a photo really compelling. A lot of the observations are things we all probably understand intuitively but never made explicit, and some are a new way of looking at things (for me, anyway). There are exercises in every section, and just taking each idea and playing with it intentionally would be a lifetime of exercises in itself. It reframes the way I think about what I see and capture in that instant. And did I mention gorgeous? Oh my, yes, yes it is. An image on each page, every one exquisite.

Now, how I happened on this: I read a book review that included a disclaimer about where the book came from - this thing called Blogging for Books. So I went to investigate. You choose from a bunch of new issue books in a bunch of different categories, all of which you choose. They send you a copy for free and you write something about the book. It doesn't have to be favorable, and in fact (I need to double check this) I don't think it has to actually be a review. I'm pretty sure you can just reference the book which probably has something to do with something you're interested in talking about, since you chose it. Anyway, it's very cool and I'm so glad I tried it out. Thank you, book people! Here's a link to them if you're interested:

This is the cover image, and it's ALL this delicious:

Monday, February 16, 2015

How to make soup

A friend is dying - not in the broad sense, but right now, in a hospital room. She is someone I'm both close to and not close, and my partner is very much part of her extended family. She's there with the person leaving right now, helping the family and waiting. I'm not. I don't belong there. So I'm just waiting, making soup, herding dogs, washing dishes. It's bitterly cold today, with snow coming. Our old, drafty house is both warm and not warm, depending on where you stand and whether you just came in from outside. Never again seems like a very long time right now, and I'm both sad and not sad. If I were still living in California, today is a day I would go walk on the beach. And I would be warmer than I am here.

The soup is mostly root veggies - sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots, gold potatoes - with celery and garlic and mushrooms. The root veggies get chopped, tossed with oil and herbs and roasted before they go into the pot of broth. I love winter soups. I never made soup for the friend who is leaving, and now I never will. The shared soup and the conversation we would have had over our bowls is something that didn't become part of whatever consciousness she's taking away from this. Another never.

So go make soup. Share it with a friend. Put good things into your body and your consciousness and love this day, every day, whatever it brings. Stay warm. Go for a walk. Listen to music you love. But first, make the soup.

Sunday, June 1, 2014


I've had several of these conversations recently, in different venues, about people feeling that speaking out is pointless, whether it's petitions, phone calls, political activism, and even just talking about things - the common demoninator is something like "Oh, it's all just talk and you aren't really accomplishing anything.". I want all of you thinking this way to stop it right now. There's a reason that freedom of speech needs to be a protected right, and a reason it's suppressed so often. Words have power.
We seem to be kind of in a pretzel about this. There's a huge outcry against bullying, and in particular, cyber bullying. We recognize that words have power and pat ourselves on the back for being supportive of people who are victimized by the power of words and public access to words.  But then we turn around and say that speaking out for what you see as the best, most humane and fair path, and speaking out against unfairness, is just pointless. Prove that it accomplishes anything. Show me how that matters. Nobody cares about your petitions and shit.
Here's how it matters: words have power. The suppression of words is one of the worst forms of oppression. It matters that you look honestly at the world around you and participate in keeping it as kind and fair as possible to the best of your ability, including naming what you see happening and bringing attention to it. Every single one of us is a steward, and abdicating the power of your words and your voice isn't a legitimate option. The power of words has been pivotal at every turning point in recorded history. Words have power.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

About holidays

In honor of Easter weekend and Passover, neither of which I celebrate, I'm making a list of the holidays I do celebrate. I'm devoutly non-religious, and I consider atheism a religion as well, so basically I'm the pope of "how should I know?", and I take my responsibilities seriously.

So here is what I celebrate. I celebrate New Years as often as possible. January 1st, Chinese New Year, my birthday and everyone else's as personal New Years, any opportunity at all. I pledge to new year's revolutions and sometimes stick with them. I'm not particularly pagan, although I do love me a good ritual. Unfortunately, I haven't really seen a good ritual since I left California, so that element is not much of a draw at this point. But I celebrate the quarters, the solstices and equinoxes, and the cycles of the moon, because they're actual real things and lovely markers of time here on this planet. I am not interested in the accessory activities, the spells and self important seriousness and the...stuff. I celebrate mardi gras in the festive sense, not the catholic sense, because I never turn down a good party with costumes. I celebrate Arbor Day, because, hello, trees. I celebrate the 4th of July because I love exploding things that are on fire. I'm not much about flags, although Tibetan prayer flags are lovely.

I used to refuse Valentine's Day, but have recently reconsidered and now I view it as a day to celebrate love. Not just romantic love, but the capital L kind of Love. Big love. It almost comes full circle to when I was in grade school and you had to give everyone a valentine, not just the people you especially liked. It's a day to remember to not just be in love, but be love. So now we're friends again, valentine's day and me.

I celebrate All Hallow's Eve and Day of the Dead, because did I mention costumes and parties? Yes, that.

I really like exploring other people's holidays, even when I think the reason behind them is silly, and sometimes once is enough. But other ones are just fun to play with. India has a lot of great celebrations to offer, and they don't seem to be too grimly serious. I appreciate that. Who can't like a day dedicated to lights, for example? What a great idea.

I don't celebrate what I call florists' holidays - Mother's Day, Father's Day, you know the ones. When my son was little his second grade teacher forced him to make me a card for Mother's Day. He kept saying, "she really doesn't want anything" and she kept saying "oh, she's just saying that", and he kept saying "no, she actually means it" (yes, he said things like that at that age), and then he brought it home and handed it to me and said, "I'm sorry, she made me do it.". The thing is, he gave me cards and drawings and paintings and cool stuff he found every day and he completely understood that he didn't need a day assigned to be nice to me. It wasn't a duty. We really liked each other. So anyway, I don't do those kinds of holidays.

I've gone back and forth with christmas. I started out observing only the solstice, then my kiddo felt left out because everyone he knew celebrated on a different day, then I've recently gotten so pissed off at the overbearing exhortations from people who can't tolerate the idea of a secular celebration and want everyone to "put the Christ back in christmas" and remind us that "Jesus is the reason for the season" (bear in mind, I live in the south), that I've gone back to the solstice. But I don't like the idea of celebrating as a season of spending and shopping and gluttony and family obligations. I don't care at all for the idea that one shopping season determines the financial success of the retail industry - this seems insane. If people have to buy a bunch of crap for other people that the other people don't need and often don't even want, this is not a viable business model to begin with. I like to give people things when I'm inspired to, not when I'm told to. So anyway, what I celebrate on the solstice is that every day starts having more light than the last. At the same time, it's the marker for when the plans you made are going to prove themselves - if I didn't have a grocery store down the street, it would be the season where what I had managed to put up for the winter would be my survival. It marks the beginning of seeds thinking about themselves underground, of animals holding back and waiting, it's a pause. Pauses are important. Pauses are what keep music from being screeching cacaphony. The solstice starts the balancing act, and it makes the rest of the year music.

Some miscellaneous extra days: I celebrate cinco de mayo (which many people mistakenly think is the Mexican Fourth of July) because, beer and tacos - somewhat the same way I celebrate St Patrick's day, except that doesn't have tacos. I celebrate Thanksgiving by going to this Indian restaurant we love. I really dislike turkey as a food substance. I don't think it should exist in that way. I celebrate Earth Day especially if it involves a good drum circle, but I think if we don't celebrate every day as earth day, we're fucked.

I celebrate Kris' and my "anniversary", which was the day she asked if she could crash here with her dog because her friend's cat was sick and her dog was disruptive and we were both working Fringe Fest and she lived kind of far out of town, and then she didn't leave after that.

So. Whatever it is you use to mark portions of your year and meaningful days, enjoy. Have fun, share love, try to get some drumming and dancing in. What do you celebrate?