“valley of the world…” ~ Steinbeck

 February 22, 2015.

I have just returned from attending an education conference in the South Bay, specifically San Jose. I presented strategies on creating space for learners to figure out what is thinking before they can do anything else, especially writing, and writing about reading, and how the mere act of writing leads to thinking. In the digital pollution of trends and hypes, I am so grateful for such a wonderful turnout of dedicated, passionate educators who trusted that I had something valuable to share. I am creating—or rather Vusi will be—a separate website for all that (of course I will reference what’s posted there here too, but only occasionally since this space is not an “education blog” per se, although it can and shall be whatever I want, whenever).

In some ways it was a very disappointing conference because I came across “educator celebrities” and there is no alternative voice challenging their “wisdom”, or rather, engaging (yes, that is a better word) engaging with their conclusions. The greatest educators question, especially themselves. I am not sure when educators began vying for stardom. It’s sad given this is a profession of service and this state, like many others, and essentially our country, really needs critical thinkers right now to ask better questions even if there are no easy answers. That being said I also happened to meet some phenomenal educators in attendance for whom teaching is indeed a calling, not just a job. There were also authors present, authors whose works were new to me so it was nice to hear them speak. Of all of them, I really enjoyed listening to author Cristina Garcia. Later I asked her where I could find her essay on exile and she said she wasn’t sure it was published. She was generous enough to offer mailing me a copy. I saved her the hassle and ran around the hotel lobby looking for a copying machine and copied it. I will definitely be writing about exile on a later date and sharing an excerpt from her essay.

There is too much to say about all that on a Sunday evening, especially a Sunday evening where it is raining so hard that the rain drops are diving pellets, a welcome-kind of rain. I can almost hear the earth exhale upon being nourished.

Another two very full weeks ahead. It’s finally beginning to feel like a new year.

On my drive back, I pulled over on Pacheco Pass near the garlic smelling town of Gilroy because I couldn’t resist staring at these hills a little longer. Immediately I was reminded of Steinbeck’s letter (I have shared this exact quote before even but today I felt it, really felt the words rest inside of me), although he was not speaking of this specific location:

“I think I would like to write the story of this whole valley, of all the little towns and all the farms and the ranches in the wilder hills. I can see how I would like to do it so that it would be the valley of the world.” Steinbeck’s letter to George Albee, Salinas, 1933

 

Today, for the first time since I have been in California, I had a moment, a tiny moment, where I could see “valley of the world” as I drove by. I wanted to hold on to that moment so I took these photos.

-a.q.s.

 

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Sometimes we need a filter to see and feel clearly. Other times, we can only see clearly without one.

I have spent most of the day this Sunday reading the  Winter 2014-15 issue of The Stinging Fly. If you are on Twitter, find them, follow them. Or better yet, check them out and subscribe! I discovered this magazine a few weeks ago and felt it might be something I would have to sit down to really read, Internet browsing wouldn’t suffice.

As most of you already know, there aren’t many magazines out there I have mentioned since the writing doesn’t really move me. It all feels stale. I stopped reading The New Yorker 8 years ago, not as a boycott but because I just gave up. Whenever I could browse online, I did, and sometimes I would find nonfiction gems but fiction didn’t impress. Other magazines that offer new writing by new writers disappointed too. Everyone in these “alternative” magazines trying so hard to be different that they forget the object was to write a story, a good story, not be different.

Not this. The writing in The Stinging Fly is so alive you could feel the stories moving without even opening the first page. The essay, the poetry, the reviews, the fiction, just all of it. I am inspired, I am moved, I feel hopeful. Art is not dead. Honestly, I don’t think I can articulately review any of the pieces in it, I am too stirred with joy upon this discovery. The writing is fresh, the perspectives unique, and it made me realize how it is our obligation to protect what is unique in one another. Moreover, having checked out the website of Deborah Rose Reeves and a few others who are published in this issue, I can toast to what Jamie is always saying, “You can’t encounter the richness of life if you never live it.” And if you never live it, you can’t really write it, create it.

I have never felt this more profoundly than I do today, of all the reasons that exist to create Art, the quintessential is to move us to a deeper understanding about ourselves and the world around us, and if Art can’t achieve that, at the very least it ought to give us a confirmation, more than mere hope, for an alternative. For some of us, those of us, whose standards are not aligned with that of the general public, that hope is not as readily available. But when it comes, it illuminates everything so clearly, that even the shadows become beautiful.

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Update from Prague

July 7, 2014.

The last time I wrote here I shared about “thin places“. In short I had written, “Although my current geographic location is as far away as possible from “thin places” I am grateful for the opportunity to be traveling soon to such places: New Mexico (again), Prague (again), and Paris (again).  Although New York City’s every bench and corner served as a “thin place” for me, I am beginning to find value in being away from “thin places”.

So, here I am.

In Prague. Waiting for laundry to dry.

Actually, I have been traveling with family for one week now.

Prague-Vienna-Budapest-Prague. Today is our last day in Prague. Tomorrow I am off to another one of my favorite places, Paris.

I have been to all these places before. The last time I was in Prague was in 2011 for 4 weeks for my first “writer’s workshop. And to this day, at least for now, last, unless something drastically new about writing workshops is revealed. The first two weeks with author Charles Baxter were very helpful, kind of like an intermittent apprenticeship, quite an alien concept in the Arts today, but the rest of the time was spent dealing with writers’ neurosis about their preconceived ideas about who a writer is and what a writer writes and overall an unnecessary engagement for purposes of actually producing work. I spent the other two weeks writing on my own instead.

Prior to that, I was in Prague for the first time in 2010 with my mother. During that trip we visited Vienna and Budapest for the first time as well. And to this day, words fail me to describe that experience.  I wrote about my “trajectory to Prague” here which took me back to one of my Still Sundays essay where a Greek woman schooled me about the purpose of a greeting and made me promise her that I would visit Vienna. I think that’s where it all began, at least consciously. A random promise I didn’t think I would fulfill so soon. It wasn’t very long after that that we took our first trip to Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

Although this current trip was by no means an attempt to recreate the same experiences, I can’t help but note how different it has been. For one, I am with my sister and her husband who will be staying behind in Prague for a medical school summer elective and part of the trip was the welcome catching up with them and not the cities. Second, the trip in 2010 was during Fall, a season when the dizzying lush colors shift like dreams, turns on cobblestone streets serve as time portals, and all of Budapest is focused on Day of the Dead around Halloween. In fact, one of my stories is about a character named Arpad and it was born then and there in Budapest. Instantaneous. Looking back on it, so much of what is in Collection of Auguries feels like a creative spontaneous combustion of sorts. I was a volcano of stories decades in the making and then boom! And finally, this trip, unlike the others, I have not shared photos via social media, only with a handful of friends and family via instant messaging thanks to Wifi. The weird bit is that compared to 2010 Internet “cafes” feel like a thing of the past given availability of free Wifi in every hotel and restaurant and yet no sharing with others. I did enjoy the sharing in 2010 but find it intrusive and an interruption now. I will leave that for a separate essay.

 

 

If there are “thin places”, described by Eric Weiner in the New York Times article which I have shared previously, as “locales where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine, or the transcendent or, as I like to think of it, the Infinite Whatever” then there too is a “thin time”. Perhaps the use of this idiomatic expression is inappropriate since “thin time” generally refers to a tough or demanding time. Here is another take on “thin places” in this blog post where the writer shares her take on them, “The place itself calls you, draws you into itself, transports you into the presence of the world beyond this world.”  Weiner is correct when he asks, “The question, of course is which places? And how do we get there? You don’t plan a trip to a thin place; you stumble upon one. But there are steps you can take to increase the odds of an encounter with thinness. For starters, have no expectation.”

It didn’t take me long to realize that even if one is roaming about in a “thin place” it doesn’t necessarily mean he or she can penetrate the veil between our lives here and some Grand Mystery that connects us all, the Grand Mystery that confounds as  It reveals. But so much is available if we remain a beginner. I accepted that there is a “thin time” too. A time of  auspicious alignment, alignment of too many things to account for which makes a place “thin” for us to begin with. So, I collected the messages regardless of time and place, which we must do until they are decoded to mean more.

 

 

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Statute on bench in Prague.

 

 

 

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Outside a film museum in Vienna: “It is a misconception that the dead are dead.” ~ Henry Miller.

 

Usually, I find museums boring, but the Albertina in Vienna never disappoints. They had works of Joan Miro and a few permanent Picasso pieces in their collection that I actually liked. I also discovered an artist who is new to me, Alex Katz, and I enjoyed learning about his work. The best part was finding this little card. I think in many ways it sums up my life since 2011.

 

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“The love always finds its way.” or Where there is love there is a way. A card in Albertina museum of art in Vienna.

 

 

It doesn’t take long to note when one has crossed the Pond to Europe: great coffee and wine.

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Budapest, 2014.

 

 

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Restaurant Pest Buda in Budapest, 2014.

 

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Budapest, 2014.

 

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Budapest, 2014.

 

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Budapest, 2014.

 

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Budapest, 2014.

 

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Budapest, 2014. The Vajdahunyad Castle just isn’t the same in summer as in the Fall/Winter but it was beautiful nonetheless.

 

I guess this time I felt compelled to take more photos of Budapest.

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Budapest, 2014.

 

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Budapest, 2014.

 

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Budapest, 2014.

 

My mother spotted this apple tree while we were walking in Buda. And I felt it was truly inspiring given all that is going on in the world right now.

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“If the world were going under tomorrow, I would still plant an apple tree.” – Martin Luther

 

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Budapest, 2014.

 

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A French bakery in Prague.

 

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At the only self-serve laundry in Prague where they offer you free, great coffee.

 

It’s amazing the peace of mind clean laundry brings! Perhaps the same peace as planting an apple tree as the world seemingly falls apart due to greed, pollution, corruption, and wars for money. So it is with writing new stories or creating new art or living one’s life to the fullest. You just have to keep going regardless if this world is actually ending or the world you once knew cracks away into fragments of memories.  I have begun several new stories and haven’t found the time to finish a single one. I think that is okay, when the time is right some Auspicious Alignment of thin place and space will command completion and I will stand aside to watch the big boom in awe that I even had anything to do with any of it…

More from Paris, perhaps.

~a.q.s.

Still Sundays

Still Sundays.

Trip to Philly. Maximo Park at The Troubadour in West Hollywood. A trip to Oakland. Beauty in chaos. Mark Nepo. “Thin Places”.

June 15, 2014.

 

There is a stillness that is so rare that it can only be compared to the “green flash” optical phenomenon.

Although this green light, found during sunrise or sunset, is quite rare to witness, airline pilots can see it more regularly when they have an unobstructed view of the horizon. Information presented online is not as reliable as it once used to be, or perhaps I should say easy access to so much information now requires as much research as one had to do in the “non-digital”, pre-Internet times if you desire any accuracy. I contacted an airline pilot who has been flying planes for a very long time and even offers flying lessons and he said he has yet to see the “green flash”. There are many literary references to this light, the most specific being Le Rayon Vert or The Green Ray by Jules Verne where two people end up going on all sorts of adventures in search of this green flash.

 

Similarly, the Stillness that is akin to the “green flash” occurs under the right circumstances and often these come from life slowing to a complete standstill. To an ordinary human being such times often resemble as if  “nothing” is going on, but to those who are pilots navigating uncharted territories, this state, characterized by lack of motion, is not necessarily without progress. Moreover, this “green-flash”-stillness that appears due to a seemingly standstill pause is actually a byproduct of momentum at prodigious speeds.

In many ways since I last wrote I feel I have merely been a desperate passenger who hitched a ride with a stranger called Life that turned out to be a driver who had no direction or sense of speed. Despite all the challenges and disappointments these last few weeks have presented, I am blown away by how much I did that I wanted to do in spite of everything. In the words of John Donne, “Be thine own palace, or the world’s thy jail.”

 

The month of May began with an intense trip to Philly. We went there to attend my friend Erica’s wedding. Although I didn’t spend much time with her it was a joy to see her and the groom, the wonderful Louis, so happy.

 

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The rest of our time in Philly was spent exploring the “other Philly” that I never visited despite visiting Erica on numerous occasions when I used to live in New York City. This is mostly because the purpose of the visits used to be to catch up with her and not the city. To that end, leave it to our good friend, Shayne, to be the embodiment of the best of Philly. As most of the readers of my blog already know, not only is he a very dear friend, he is an incredible poet and a very gifted singer and pianist. His version of “There’s a Boat Dat’s Leavin’ Soon for New York” is better than any other I have heard. I heard the sneak preview last night in fact. It was magical to spend time with him and catch up in real time instead of our regular exchanges over distance. His passion and understanding of music is redefining contemporary jazz.

 

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Philly, like any other urban city in America, is beginning to see the impact of opportunities that only favor one class.

 

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Despite the very apparent discrepancies in the city, it is truly a city of love and hope. I am not sure how long before it becomes another uninhabitable New York but for now she gets to be herself, a place for everyone.

 

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After the Philly adventure, it wasn’t very long before we had the wonderful opportunity to check out Maximo Park play live at The Troubadour in West Hollywood. It was a magical night. Despite the exhaustion from everything related to my work—a lot of my fatigue comes from my inability to be on auto-pilot even if my survival depended on it; I am hyper-alert to the deepest unconscious ebbs and flows—I experienced a performance unlike any other I have seen. This band gave everything and more to their fans and the fans equally reciprocated an energy that could be felt with your bare hands. It was also a fantastic experience because the venue was sans hipsters, it was a mature audience regardless of age who didn’t need to abuse substances to get high, the music alone was enough. This is not a “big” band. Yet. I believe they are going to get very big very soon. I am glad I discovered them before that happens. It isn’t about that. They have been around for a very long time and making music regardless of the number of their fans and the fans they have are very real and supportive.  I am grateful to Jamie for introducing them to me; his music collection is the equivalent of the ancient library of Alexandria . The last time I felt this moved at a concert was seeing U2 perform at a small venue in Paris many years ago.

You know a band is good when after seeing them perform live you appreciate their latest release even more. I have been listening to their latest album, Too Much Information, on repeat for some time now. It just doesn’t get old for me and every listen brings forth a different fragment to which I can relate. My two favorite songs, according to the repeat counter on my iTunes,  on their latest album are “Leave This Island” and “Drinking Martinis” although I like all the others equally. It’s invigorating to know that art does this: it turns you into a Phoenix that rises again and again and again. As I listened to the live performance the meaning of the song “Leave This Island” became clearer and clearer—of course this is subjective—sometimes the person you have to stand up to is the you who has given up.

Have you ever been compelled?

Under a spell? From a protagonist

who knows you far too well? Have

you ever been undone by a slip

of the tongue? And betrayed a

side of you that felt hard-won?

 

 

 

 

Still buzzed from that weekend, I hardly had a break before  I left for the Bay Area to visit a very good friend visiting from New York City. She was there leading an education training for principals at a conference in Oakland and her family came along because it was Memorial Day weekend.  I had a wonderful time hanging out with her and her family and I realized just how much I miss my friends. I also had the rare occasion to catch my brother who is very busy with yoga and his DJ gigs. His yoga practice has expanded to another level and I am so inspired despite my own practice lagging. Yes, this is him and not Mr. Ieyngar. What I find the most fascinating about my brother is his ability to work with those who have never done yoga. He is an incredibly intuitive teacher and his communication and patience are unparalleled. And he is only beginning. I am convinced he is going to redefine the practice of yoga in the West.  On that typical Gemini note, he celebrated his birthday a few days ago as he mixed music for many who admire him and music.

 

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Lauren, his graceful partner who is also a fantastic yoga teacher and practitioner, has added wonderful touches to their living space in Lake Merritt which was a welcome sanctuary for me.

 

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I enjoyed my visit to Lake Merritt and I am grateful I spent some time with them and my friends.

 

 

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Since the beginning of June it has been a whirlwind. And I am no whirling dervish who can keep spinning without getting dizzy. In many ways, recent events left me with a very human interpretation of standstill, unable to see beyond the daily undertakings. Therefore, it should come as no surprise, that a woman I befriended during Erica’s wedding reception in Philly, Louis’ friend, also happened to be a fantastic jewelery designer. The pieces she was wearing were so unique. Our conversation that night began with jewelry as “art object” (something about which I have written previously) and became deeper before we went our separate ways. I was very excited to have a very unique piece made exclusive to my tastes–and perhaps state of mind!—before the official website launch. Apparently the demand of her products led to finally creating an official space for her pieces which is inspiring.  She sent me this a few weeks ago.

 

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I am enjoying this ring very much. I love the weight of the silver, a constant reminder there is indeed beauty in chaos and all that weighs us down can also be used to lift us up. No pun intended to the finger.

 

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Ah yes, back to the stillness that is a “green flash”.

 

Last week I received an email from a young woman–well, younger than me anyway— I knew from when I first began yoga with Marco in 2007; she used to work at the front desk and also practiced.  Her email was short and I indeed wanted to know more about how she had spent the last four years in Hong Kong and South Korea. Her recent update had a thread from our last exchange in 2008.  I was pleased and surprised that anything could surprise anymore in this digital age where anyone can get a hold of each other on the “networks” without connecting meaningfully under the assumption that nothing has changed because in some ways digital remnants in blog posts or photos make it seem as life is static. I was delighted to connect again and told her I knew of no better definition of an “angel” than one who begins an out-of-nowhere exchange to lift us from our current perspective and give us another, preferably a bird’s eye view.

My last email to her in 2008 laid out what an awful year that had been and it was only half over then.  As I re-read my own words I was taken by how very trivial it all seemed now yet I had a very clear recollection of each event that had led up to that email. Past is a funny bone that doesn’t hurt when hit against the present.

When I began my reply to her, I quickly gathered there was no way to sum up all that had taken place since 2008 so I created a few bullet points highlighting the major events. The last few weeks’ hours had felt like years and yet I summed it all up in one sentence. Tragedies should either be novels or a sentence, anything in between is wasted effort because life is hard no matter how the coin lands.

I included in my email, “My yoga practice is not as consistent either, but if yoga means to connect with yourself, to yoke with life, to be grounded when you can’t carry on, to bend beyond your wildest imaginations, to be amazed by breath as a prayer to make it another day, then I have done more yoga in one year than I did in seven years with Marco in NYC!” That being said, the one thing about a consistent yoga practice is that it makes you very strong in addition to feeling grounded, and when we are physically strong it makes our perception of events that happen to us clearer. So, in that regard, I hope to practice more regularly. However, right now I am also exploring free weights because it also demands alignment of breath.

So, while others may contemplate the meaning of life or their purpose, I have been wondering what’s the point of being strong and why–and if not why then how—I am so strong. Is it genetic given my parents are nothing short of sparkling warriors who bow to nothing and no one but Truth, equality, and peace? Is it nurtured because I have never known my father or mother to give up? And most importantly what is the point of “be strong”?

The answer came unexpectedly (and yet obviously) towards the end of a yoga class. Francine, who teaches in the Iyengar tradition, ended the class yesterday with a quote from Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening.

As an inlet cannot close itself to the sea that shapes it, the heart can only wear itself open.

One of the hardest blessings to accept about the heart is that in the image of life itself, it will not stop emerging through experience. No matter how we try to preserve or relive what has already happened, the heart will not stop being shaped. This is the magnificent key to health: that, despite our resistance to accept that what we’ve lost is behind us, despite our need at times to stitch our wounds closed by reliving them, and despite our heroic efforts to preserve whatever is precious, despite all our attempts to stop the flow of life, the heart knows better. It knows that the only way to truly remember or stay whole is to take the best and worst into its tissue.

Despite all our intentions not to hurt again, the heart keeps us going by moving us ever forward into health. Though we walk around thinking we can direct it, our heart is endlessly shaped like the land, often against our will.

 

I know of no one else who is more shaped by land than myself. Or so I thought. My friend, and literary comrade, Lucy helped me understand this beyond a mere topophilia. She sent me a link to a blog post where the author talks about “thin places.”  In her post the author mentions an article from March 9, 2012 in the New York Times by Eric Weiner who aptly describes what I have been unable to all these years. “Thin places”:

…places that beguile and inspire, sedate and stir, places where, for a few blissful moments I loosen my death grip on life, and can breathe again…They are locales where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine, or the transcendent or, as I like to think of it, the Infinite Whatever.

Travel to thin places does not necessarily lead to anything as grandiose as a “spiritual breakthrough,” whatever that means, but it does disorient. It confuses. We lose our bearings, and find new ones. Or not. Either way, we are jolted out of old ways of seeing the world.

 

 

Although my current geographic location is as far away as possible from “thin places” I am grateful for the opportunity to be traveling soon to such places: New Mexico (again), Prague (again), and Paris (again).  Although New York City’s every bench and corner served as a “thin place” for me, I am beginning to find value in being away from “thin places”. This value comes as a “green flash” in the form of images that flash right before consciousness slips into sleep and dreams that one can barely recall because the mind is too exhausted to remember anything. Images that don’t make sense because one is too tired from the paradox of motion within a standstill state. If “thin places” offer what constitutes as twilight, that awe-inspiring time in between day and night and night and day, then non-“thin places” are the “green flash” seen by only those who leave everything they have ever known to create something truly original. There are no rewards for being strong, that much is true, strength is its own reward. However, it requires valor beyond imagination to last day after day to see the green flash and live to tell others about it so they don’t stop seeking.

 

After I wished my father “Happy Father’s Day” today he said, “Remember, Picasso.”

I replied I didn’t care for Picasso.

And he reminded me about his earlier works.

Then he said, “Remember what Picasso said: “The chief enemy of creativity is good sense.”

 

What I have experienced in non-“thin places” makes as little sense as what the “thin places” offer and now that I have the complete picture perhaps I can truly create a Drood-kind of story about how it really was and is and can be.

Pilgrimage to find lavender soap

Still Sundays.

April 20, 2014.

 

I found out about Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s death from my mother after I returned from my mission to the Monastery of Christ in the Desert near Abiquiu, New Mexico this last week Thursday.

My mission was no ordinary mission; it entailed finding this particular lavender soap bar for my father.

A year ago my father received a handmade lavender soap as a gift. The lavender soap was from a gift shop, Monk’s Corner, in Santa Fe, New Mexico which had since then closed due to the unfathomable rents in that city. He loved it so much that he wanted more. Not a problem, right? Everything “lavender” is so commercial now that one doesn’t have to go to a special Ayurvedic store; any chain grocery store is likely to offer several lavender products, including soaps. We got him several varieties from Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Sprouts, and a few other stores that are likely to carry natural products and none were good enough. We even tried tricking him—without success—by taking the packaging off of the soap and presenting it as the same soap he had received as a gift! His intuition is surreal so I don’t know why we bothered. What surprised us the most is that he is not a very particular man yet he really wanted this soap. Perhaps that is not an accurate statement. He is one of the least materialistic people alive and doesn’t ask for much but what he does want he wants and nothing else will do. A trait I am convinced was genetically passed to all of us. After 6 months of trying to find a substitute we were afraid to joke if he would protest by not showering if we didn’t get that soap!  What next?

In December while I was in Santa Fe I contacted the monastery after finding them on the Internet only to learn that they don’t always answer the phone because they are not there to appease tourists since they are real monks! I sent an email which was answered and the reply said they indeed had shut the shop but they still made soaps and I was more than welcome to come and buy or order online. I couldn’t find a way to order the soaps online so I decided to go get them. Except I couldn’t make the trip due to the weather conditions. The monastery is located at the bottom of the Chama Canyon wilderness in northwestern New Mexico, about 75 miles north of Santa Fe, and about 53 miles south of Chama. The problem? It was winter and the road conditions didn’t allow driving on the thirteen miles of dirt road off US route 84 after passing the town Abiquiu.

Now that it is spring I was adamant to get the soap. Once in Santa Fe I called and was so relieved to have had one of the “Brothers” actually answer the phone. I told him about my father’s “soap predicament” as we were now calling it and the story really amused him. He said he will make sure to share this with the monk who makes the soaps. I wanted to know how many they had given it was quite a trek and—I felt sort of embarrassed saying this—I didn’t want to drive there for just one soap. He told me not to feel embarrassed and that he understood because it was not a quick drive. He said there were 30. I told him I was coming to get all of them. He said he might not be on duty to answer the phone but the gift shop is open till 5:00 p.m. and I was more than welcome.

And so we drove from Santa Fe towards Abiquiu, a town most associate with artists, writers, silent retreats etc.

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The drive is truly breathtaking and I can understand why some might come here to find inspiration (which is ironic because essentially what one is doing is creating space to be quiet and therein lies inspiration: within!). The silence is divine and the mountains exhale colors and history. They stand as a reminder of how there was earth long before us and there is a cosmic cycle in which we just happen to play a part.

After passing Abiquiu, a town that didn’t really interest my curiosity but for its beauty which I noted in passing, we nearly missed the dirt road which was to take us to the monastery. There was a small sign that said we had 13 miles to go and those 13 miles took one hour because of the nature of the road, all dirt and very windy. Who thought 13 miles could feel like 13 years! I was in great company so I didn’t mind but one would be hard pressed to ignore how long those 13 miles feel.

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Once there it was worth it.

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We entered the gift shop and there was only one man there, a tourist. I ran to the soaps and grabbed them all. The man inquired about the amount and I told him the story about my father. He said he too wanted one now. I realized I had them all, so I gave him one and asked if he wanted more and he laughed and said one would do. I replied, “That’s what you say now…”

Next: how to pay?

There was no one there. In the corner was a basket in which you could place the correct amount for whatever you had purchased. There were many $20 dollars bills in it. Next to the basket was a small pad on which you could write your credit card information for the correct amount and put in a box so others couldn’t see your information and they would bill your card later.

No cameras and no guards. Obviously, no one is driving all this way and going down a 13 mile dirt road to steal, but I was still very moved.

We did ring the telecom buzzer for someone to come in from their chambers just to make sure we were following the procedure correctly. A joyful and chatty monk named Brother Andre arrived. He was curious about the amount of soaps I was taking. I told him the story and that I was making sure the supply would last until whenever it was possible to buy again. He inquired where my father was originally from and I told him. His reply made me laugh out loud, “Really?! Very cool. I have some Facebook friends in Lahore!” And then the conversation somehow turned to South Africa. I think it happened because I was thinking out loud about getting something for a friend in South Africa and Brother Andre asked where. Brother Andre had lived in South Africa in 2008, specifically Limpopo. The serendipity of connections was extraordinary! And then he told us he was going to be late for prayer except he told us to hurry to the prayer session and we never saw him there. I am not sure what took over any of us but we agreed and we sat quietly to watch the monks chant their prayers and then disappear in their black cloaks.

The soap is handmade by a monk from Mozambique. I know my father would really appreciate this fact.

I walked for a little bit around the monastery. I thought about the recent Supreme Court decision that concluded that money is speech alongside corporations are people. I thought about the recent lunar eclipse beginning a rare tetrad. I thought about watching the eclipse despite being too sleepy and my head ringing. I thought about how powerful alignment feels. I thought about how Google and Fakebook buying and selling private information. I thought about Brother Andre and his Facebook account. A monk with a Facebook account! That thought made me think of the latest extraordinary acrylic artwork by Jamie Berry and what he wrote:

 

Unfettered by the self-imposed, collective isolation of a closed-feedback-loop, connection can enrich our lives and broaden our horizons in ways we never imagined as we realize there’s truly no separation between us. Alternately, when we base our connection on false premises, prejudice, and alienation, it can take us over the edge of a cliff, one after another.  Each of us gets to decide which of these bonds we are creating, and whether our contributions are an invitation to expand or to explode.

 

I thought and thought till I had no thoughts.

Later that day a chance conversation about a dolphin painting would lead me to learn about animal medicine, which in Native American/Indian tradition refers to the healing aspects that a particular animal brings to our consciousness. A spiritual practitioner would show me my “totem” animals. What chance! So many come to Santa Fe seeking enchantment and there I was in an ordinary conversation. People should really try to connect more in the most ordinary ways possible; it’s magical.

 

I began this Sunday by writing an appreciation of my own for Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Pages and tears. He was one of the few contemporary authors who really influenced me beyond writing. His works were an invitation to expand. Perhaps I will share those thoughts another time.

I don’t know whether the world is coming or going anymore. I do know that every day is an opportunity to resurrect the truth. A light that is too bright can’t identify the object on which it shines. We need a light that creates shadows as it illuminates so we know the difference. We must work with human weakness but we can’t compromise the expectation of zeal.

While at the monastery’s gift shop, I randomly browsed this book, among many others that were sitting on a table available for purchase. This book was an adaptation of the Rule of St. Benedict. The page I happened to open described “conversatio” as “openness to growth and change, willingness to look at oneself and to be challenged by God and others.” I later researched to learn there are many shades of interpretation of this ancient Benedictine term. The one I came upon by chance makes the most sense for now.

I close the curtain on my thoughts with two lines of many which my father wrote in my birthday card,

“[…]Remember the the Greatest Power lies in a ‘loud’ Prayer […] Remember that every pain and suffering, every hardship, every loss is an opportunity given to us to enable us to grow.”

My father is a a living example of titanium faith yet provided us sky-wide freedom to choose our own beliefs. I am grateful for that.

Maybe, it doesn’t matter if the world is ending as long as we know how to enjoy a lavender soap after fighting the good fight every day.

 

“MYSTERIES, YES” by Mary Oliver in Evidence.

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
to be understood.
How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds
will never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,

and bow their heads.

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“Who I am is who I could not not be.” ~ Peter Senge

A month ago, on our way to Santa Fe, New Mexico, while driving through beautiful Flagstaff, Arizona, I stumbled upon a used bookstore, Starrlight Books. This happened only because my internal GPS—“Gastronomy Paging System”—that doesn’t need external maps, directed me to a spot called Alpine Pizza where I had the best pizza outside of New York City.

I picked up a used copy of Rainer Maria Rilke’s collected poetry at this quaint bookstore.

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And we stumbled upon this wall across the bookstore, near where we had parked. How we miss things the first time around because we are too hungry to see!

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Buddha in Glory

Center of all centers, core of cores,
almond self-enclosed, and growing sweet–
all this universe, to the furthest stars
all beyond them, is your flesh, your fruit.

Now you feel how nothing clings to you;
your vast shell reaches into endless space,
and there the rich, thick fluids rise and flow.
Illuminated in your infinite peace,

a billion stars go spinning through the night,
blazing high above your head.
But in you is the presence that
will be, when all the stars are dead.

Sometimes I reflect on how did I ever manage to write so much here? Not just that, but get to that space where I was just writing stories day and night which resulted in an edited collection that is now being shared by word of mouth!

Photos from October

I am getting used to this missing-NYC-without-fervor-to-return-and-without-that inconsolable-longing. When I am asked what do I miss, it is hard for me to answer. I am learning that the way I saw/see NYC is not how others did/do, with the exception of few. As much as others can’t relate to me about New York, similarly I can’t relate to people in New York who have never left New York or have never lived elsewhere to have a comparison.

I was re-reading some works of Katherine Anne Porter this Sunday and came across this in one of her essays, “Memory for me is a tidal wave. I have lived for so long and so many lives, I hardly dare to begin with even the smallest, most trivial-seeming recollection. Nothing is trivial, not for a moment, if you really delve into the past. It can stop your heart for a beat of two.”

Anyway, if I had to say, it would be that I miss the most ordinary things about New York. A glance up during a walk, looking down the bend while crossing the street, insides of restaurants that resemble dreams, paint on steps that can put an “Instagram” filter to shame, and the sense of wonder that never stops.

As my friend V.G. says, that wonder is always within. Even away from New York. However, sometimes that “wonder within” begins to look like hope instead of awe while you are waiting for things to change.

But my mother is right, remembering should be done with grace if anything is worth being recalled.

Grace glides right alongside hope and often turns hope back into wonder.

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