Update and Photos From A Sunday Walk In Oxford

I am in Oxford, England as part of the Bread Loaf School of English program offered at Oxford. Last summer, as some of you may recall, I was at the Santa Fe, New Mexico campus and that was an “interesting” experience to say the least. I wrote a very little bit about that summer here.  I wouldn’t be here this summer without Middlebury College’s insanely generous funding for educators. It’s a true privilege and I am grateful beyond words.

I really like the Oxford experience so far. I am enrolled in the James Joyce course taught by Jeri Johnson who is a Joyce expert; she is also brilliant. I really like that the classes are more like seminars, only 6 of us in there, and we don’t meet in a “class” but in her lovely office which is covered, wall to wall (literally), with books. I also like that it is understood that there is no way we could ever know as much as she does about Joyce and so she is not there to coddle our opinions and feelings. She is like a floating bowl of knowledge and I actually feel inspired to listen to her. The Santa Fe experience was a bit awkward for a variety of reasons, the primary one being that Jamie’s family is from there so it was strange to pretend to be a visitor in a town that is already familiar. Sometimes I felt like a spy listening in on others’ conversations about Santa Fe or New Mexico and some of these chats were annoying. The Oxford experience definitely feels more independent and “graduate”-school-like as compared to the Santa Fe experience at St. John’s College. This had a lot to do with very childish behaviors by some of the New England students who came to Santa Fe to get a “spiritual spring break” fix and felt disappointed when the mountains didn’t speak to them.

 

My last post was in March. It feels like ages between March and July. I actually forgot the password to this website log in! True.

Since March, Jamie and I hosted my parents in Albuquerque for my birthday. We had a wonderful time with both of our families. What a gift to hang out with your parents as friends in  your adult years! Then, we found a house. Then, we got approved for a loan. Then, we closed on a gorgeous house that’s exactly what we wanted! Then we packed! Then we moved! Then we set up house! All while everything else was going on at the same time since life doesn’t really stop when you are buying a house. Allow me to say just this much: buying a house is unlike any other thing I have ever gone through. It is an excruciatingly intense process that has you on your toes the entire time. We got very lucky; as in “angels competing to help you” kind of lucky. Every single person we worked with, from our realtor Theresa at the Ingles Company, to Bob at Bank of Albuquerque, to many, many others in between, was a ray of light guiding us through this very complex process.  We are so blessed to call these people are close acquaintances and friends now.

There is much to say about being here after Brexit, much to say about how the writing process is similar to the home buying process, there is much to say about what I have been reading in the last six months, much to say about Joyce and Ireland and how it relates to the British colonization of Pakistan and India, much to say about not writing enough, much to say about growing as a writer and reader, much to say about outgrowing blogging but still wanting to post some thoughts in this space, there is much to say about much, and when there is so much to say, it’s hard to know where to start.

But I do know where to end this post. I received some photos from Shayne which he shared from his walk somewhere in the countryside of North Carolina. And he sent those while I was on my walk to Port Meadow in Oxford. And what struck me about his photos was that, if I didn’t know any better, they could have been from a city in some country in Africa, a village in Pakistan, or right here in Oxford. The earth doesn’t care where we are, the color green doesn’t care which latitude and longitude defines borders. As the poem below says, “It’s a hard time to be human. We know too much/ and too little.”

 

 

“The World Has Need of You” by Ellen Bass from Like a Beggar discovered thanks to Writer’s Almanac.

 everything here
                  seems to need us
Rainer Maria Rilke

 

I can hardly imagine it
as I walk to the lighthouse, feeling the ancient
prayer of my arms swinging
in counterpoint to my feet.
Here I am, suspended
between the sidewalk and twilight,
the sky dimming so fast it seems alive.
What if you felt the invisible
tug between you and everything?
A boy on a bicycle rides by,
his white shirt open, flaring
behind him like wings.
It’s a hard time to be human. We know too much
and too little. Does the breeze need us?
The cliffs? The gulls?
If you’ve managed to do one good thing,
the ocean doesn’t care.
But when Newton’s apple fell toward the earth,
the earth, ever so slightly, fell
toward the apple.

 

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“as if between countries or parts of my life”

If there was ever a poem that describes New Mexico skies….and how I feel here… Photos taken around the Los Ranchos area in North Valley of Albuquerque while we discovered wonderful jazz at a spot called Vernons’ Speakeasy (yes, you really have to know the password to get in!).

CENTER
by Billy Collins

At the first chink of sunrise,
the windows on one side of the house
are frosted with stark orange light,

and in every pale blue window
on the other side
a full moon hangs, a round, white blaze.

I look out one side, then the other,
moving from room to room
as if between countries or parts of my life.

Then I stop and stand in the middle,
extend both arms
like Leonardo’s man, naked in a perfect circle.

And when I begin to turn slowly
I can feel the whole house turning with me,
rotating free of the earth.

The sun and the moon in all the windows
move, too, with the tips of my fingers,
the solar system turning by degrees

with me, morning’s egomaniac,
turning on the hallway carpet in my slippers,
taking the cold orange, blue, and white

for a quiet, unhurried spin,
all wheel and compass, axis and reel,
as wide awake as I will ever be.

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Merry and Bright 

Sister (in-law No. 2) loves the Santa Fe Aspen Ballet Nutcracker: “It’s not Christmas without it.” So we were gifted tickets too. Lucky us.

Santa Fe looks like a Christmas postcard, the annoying Invaders are not easily visible this time. Perhaps that’s why. Who knows?

Sister (in-law No. 1) keeps making Fresh pomegranate juice, the rosy froth satisfies nostalgia of Lahore, a city that no longer exists, another time. The last glass was with my aunt in 2002, when she was still alive. She loved to love, just like me. She couldn’t be free unlike me who continues to fly. Sometimes it’s Living that kills, not Death.

Piñon nuts from brother (in-law No. 2), handpicked from all over Pecos, New Mexico keep crackling in California. The delicious middle pops imperfectly.

Yoga with my brother Z is an energy exchange; align and don’t define. His intuition is outstanding.

My other brother makes fun of me for being out of breath on a small and short hike in Santa Clarita but gives me olives to warm up.

Small gifts exchanged offer big feelings.

My brother (in-law No. 1) makes such wonderful coffee. Keep it coming!

There is no gift like sharing a blanket on a couch with my sister as I reach to hug my mother, to take in that scent that can only belong to a mother.

My father’s knowledge is a sky that makes sense without a meteorologist’s interpretations.

My mother-in-law’s faith needs no translation.

The world has been falling apart for some time now. Hard to get real news anymore. That’s news that doesn’t get old. I hope it never does.

Yet we love as if we are stars that will never burn out.
Or at least we should.
Having Jamie near makes everything just right.
We can always celebrate love.

Happy Winter Solstice.

 

 

Snow flakes. (45)” by Emily Dickinson

I counted till they danced so

Their slippers leaped the town –

And then I took a pencil

To note the rebels down –

And then they grew so jolly

I did resign the prig –

And ten of my once stately toes

Are marshalled for a jig!

Hello, Winter. And hello to you too…

I haven’t visited this place in awhile. When people don’t post/share as often as they usually have it is assumed that somehow the person is too busy and that too in some negative way that resembles intense overwhelm and chaos which in many ways is preventing the individual from posting on a blog etc.

This has not been the case for me at all.

I now actually have work that allows me plenty of breathing room. So, that’s what I have been doing: breathing. Beyond catching my breath, now I am getting used to what regular breathing is supposed to feel like.

I finished reading Charles Baxter’s latest short stories. I enjoyed them more than I thought I would. That being said, I am in awe of the stories I have read in the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology. They are absolutely original and do not follow a formula as can be expected in the contemporary American short stories.

The Thinking Tree website  is ready. I haven’t posted any of the strategies for educators yet (primarily focusing on how I can get even the most reluctant young learners to write so much and with their authentic voice). I just wanted the forum available already to my former students whom I miss dearly. Here is an essay by one of my even more former students who is a young woman now!

One of Jamie’s latest work happened to be  ready upon serendipitous timing and was included in a show here in Albuquerque in October. That was a lot of fun and it was a sight to observe others as mesmerized by it as I remain.

Yesterday I spent most of the day thinking about current events (Missouri to Japan to Beiruit to Paris)  and began working on an essay about the so called “Moderate Muslims”.  Although they disapprove of fundamentalist practices in the name of their religion, they too must answer for their hypocrisy when they continue to live in Western countries yet refuse to consider these countries home. But then I stopped writing. I recalled reading this article, “Removing Hijab, Finding Myself“, not too long ago. I applaud this woman for stepping out of her comfort zone and exploring what is the real reason she once wore the hijab and the privilege of being in a country that allows her to dress however she wants where as in many Muslim countries this practice is imposed on women. I thought about this article and thought about what I was writing and all I could think was: if this is what “moderate” Muslims are battling—should I cover my head or not?—I can’t even imagine how lost the others feel and reserved my judgmental tone in that essay I had begun and never finished it.

What a mess! All of it. Not to mention the hypocrisy of Saudi Arabia, the breeding grounds for fundamentalism, and that country’s relationship with the United States. Here is a recent prime example of this: Saudi Arabia Sentences Poet to Death.

Often I feel like I am in some suspended state on a merry-go-round where my brain can’t keep up with the misinformation being circulated on the Internet and the idiocracy no one will question. Surely, this is some experiment or joke by the Universe. Humanity can’t be devolving this rapidly, or can it? Or is it all just part of the evolution? Part of some Grand U-Turn?

There is so much to say about so much that it all sounds the same as what’s already out there, even if the alternative voices don’t get the deserving loud speakers. So, I am listening, quietly and patiently, until I have something different to say here. Until then, I am writing on my own.

Anyway, it is winter and it is beautiful. I had missed the intensity of seasons during our time in California.

I love Albuquerque and continue to guard why (and hence my silence about it which can’t stay contained) so as to somehow protect it from becoming the next “it” city.

I am writing again (nonfiction), although not sharing here as regularly. I am excited about this book.

When I am not writing, I am observing, reading, thinking, literally slow-dancing with life and being grateful for our families and so much love and being able to live madly in love.

 

I wish you all a wonderful and safe season of gratitude. Thank you for still hanging around despite my lack of regular posting.

 

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Vallecito

Four hours north of Albuquerque, past Aztec, New Mexico and Durango, Colorado, exists this magical place called Vallecito. Our neighbors have a cabin there and they kept nudging us to go check it out. We didn’t believe them given people have a tendency to say many things to sound generous and this is the Air B&B age where people charge as much money as they can only to have another stay in a closet, so no we didn’t believe them. But they were serious! So we decided to go explore.

It was a beautiful drive–all of New Mexico is just breathtakingly beautiful–and a wonderful stay. We soaked ourselves in stillness. This was much needed. So much has happened, mostly all good but just so fast, since March. Not to mention this September marks my 3 year anniversary away from New York, New York. Of course I have been back in between (which will continue) but still…

What do I miss the most? My yoga practice with Marco Rojas. It wasn’t yoga, it was some kind of dance akin to Bharata Natyam. I miss my friends, naturally, who are like a second family. I miss my neighborhood before it was completely gentrified to the extent it can hardly be recognized.  But there is so much I don’t miss. I don’t miss what it was becoming and has become. I don’t miss not being able to afford it and write too. My sister and her husband are there now for their medical school rotations and I hear their experiences and I am reminded that to every person the New York they know is the New York they are in now. They don’t know about the bodega that doesn’t exist. They don’t know about the barber shop that disappeared. They don’t know about the restaurant that got swallowed to build a new office. And so it goes…

 

Redefining or rather defining what is my relationship with this blog and its generous readers/supporters has been another reflection that I didn’t or rather couldn’t tend to till this weekend away. When I started this, I didn’t have former or current students who were subscribed or who would stop by to read my thoughts. I certainly didn’t have their parents keeping up with it every now and then. Although I have always been very conscious about what I share, this has added another dimension of filtering that I am still navigating my way around. Moreover, social media has morphed into something I can’t really relate to like I once did so what I share here and any links I share on Twitter have begun diverging in ways I didn’t anticipate. I suppose all of this is good in the sense that the writing that needs to happen will happen as drafts that lead to something beyond here.

That being said, I do enjoy sharing whenever I can and I am grateful for those who continue to keep up. Enough said.  Here are some photos to mark the beginning of Fall.

And here is to people like our neighbors who are lighting up the world with their generosity and love despite the world falling apart in so many ways all at once.

 

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Around Albuquerque…

It has been the most full summer in awhile. The Middlebury program ended in July, then I participated in the 48 Hour Film Festival in Albuquerque (which was a lot of fun and a huge learning curve when it comes to writing), immediately thereafter I went to California for my mother’s birthday (an impromptu visit!), then a few weeks later she visited us in Albuquerque.

Not to mention July and August are filled with birthdays which happen on the same days in both of our families.

Here are some photos.

-a.q.s.

 

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Flamingos at the Albuquerque Zoo

 

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Sea Lions at the Albuquerque Zoo

 

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Although I have been to Botanical Gardens before, the one in Albuquerque has an entire section dedicated to healing herbs!

 

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Children’s Fantasy Garden in Albuquerque

 

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Magic Man at the Rail Yards Market in Albuquerque.

 

 

I also took my mother to Los Poblanos lavender farm around Albuquerque where we had lavender water and lavender gelato. You can read more about it here and see other photos here.

 

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Light O’ Clock

Found this Still piece telling Time: it will be okay!

Can’t believe my first summer at Bread Loaf is already over! Tomorrow marks the beginning of last week. I do have a reflection but I really need to step back and process the entire experience before sharing thoughts that others might find valuable.

 

Light O'Clock

At Old Pecos Trail Cafe, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Light Branches Connecting

I have been very busy the last 3 weeks. However, I have enjoyed every moment of this new transition.  I couldn’t be more grateful for how things are coming together, as if there is an invisible magic wand orchestrating everything. “Meant to be” is some light, indeed.

 

I took this photo because I couldn’t help looking up to follow the light. I had seen this tree before and yet here was an entirely new world within.

Yesterday in yoga practice a moth was in the studio trying to get out. It was distracting at first because it wasn’t the pretty-kind-of-moth and was initially confused with an “ugly-gross-bug-trying-to-attack-me”.  I wanted to play hero in the class and capture it and release it. As I focused on what I needed to do, I forgot to play hero, and forgot to pay attention to it. I wonder if he found an open window or was eventually transported out. What was he doing inside? Did a moth need a downward dog stretch to redistribute energy within? How does a moth say Om?

I didn’t think of that moth again until just now. I couldn’t help but think that even a creature wired to look for light stumbles into the wrong setting, so how dare we hold onto life’s detours that sometimes lead to darkness instead of light?

Much more to share over the summer!

-a.q.s.

 

Light Branches