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!

An epitaph for Yesterdays

July 7, 2013

Still Sundays

Imagine today marks your first month on the biggest cruise ship ever designed. It can hold up to 100,000 people comfortably. It provides an alternative mode of living for months on end. The original ticket is expensive and it is not all-inclusive; one still has to buy additional tickets once on board, depending on availability.   There is lots to do on this cruise ship: fine dining, gambling, ‘traveling art exhibits’, gorgeous sea views, fresh squeezed juices, grill your own meals under the guidance of top chefs, spacious sun decks, water-coasters, adults-only retreats, picnic areas, shopping, exercise gyms and yoga classes, live theater, a variety of bands, movies under the stars, golf, zip-lining, mountain climbing in case you miss the mountains while aboard, and so much more. Now imagine it has been brought to your attention that the ship is not doing so well. It is getting overcrowded, it constantly needs fixing, and although there are no rumors of a Titanic-sink-down yet, it is very clear that pretty soon some people have to get off this ship or fix it, otherwise it will not be able to provide most of its services and may even sink. What would you do? Continue to utilize all the amenities as if nothing was wrong or try to fix the ship or get out of the ship? What if getting off the ship was no longer an option? Then would you try to fix it?

I know I would have never willingly gotten on that ship to begin with; it is my definition of hell.

Of course the analogy here, however poor, is comparing the ship to our planet earth.

My current awareness about climate change has truly disturbed me.  This has raised beyond the obvious concerns: What is the point of fighting for any rights or establishing new technologies if there is not going to exist a place to enjoy them? Are humans really the most myopic species?

The average rise in temperatures in most of southern California has been astonishing. News about Death Valley setting a record high of 129 degrees earlier this month is readily available to anyone paying attention. The record for highest temperature ever recorded, 134 degrees Fahrenheit, also in Death Valley, was on July 10, 1913.

Life on earth has continued despite that hot day on July 10, 1913. Rosa Parks and Richard Nixon were both born that year as Albert Einstein continued work on his theory of gravity. That same year Ghandi began his “Great March” for Indian Rights in South Africa, Harriet Tubman passed on, and the year ended with a disaster in Calumet, Michigan where 59 children died.

 

I have been rereading some of E.B. White’s essays, “Death of a Pig, “Ring of Time,” “The Essayist” etc. In his essay “The Essayist” he writes:

The essays in this collection cover a long expanse of time, a wide variety of subjects. I have chosen the ones that have amused me in the rereading, along with a few that seemed to have the odor of durability clinging to them. Some, like “Here is New York,” have been seriously affected by the passage of time and now stand as period pieces. I wrote about New York in the summer of 1948, during a hot spell. The city I described has disappeared, and another city has emerged in its place—one that I’m not familiar with. But I remember the former one, with longing and with love. David McCord, in his book About Boston tells of a journalist from abroad visiting this country and seeing New York for the first time. He reported that it was “inspiring but temporary in appearance.” I know what he means. The last time I visited New York, it seemed to have suffered a personality change, as though it had a brain tumor as yet undetected.

If E.B. White was remembering and missing his New York of 1948 what do I know of missing how New York used to be? My New York seems counterfeit to begin with and that world too has slowly disappeared in the last decade.

I could run to Lahore but I just read this article where the author, Mohammad A. Qadeer, writes, “Once a small city of gardens and pedestrian charms, Lahore now has a chaotic population, a metro-bus service and a myriad of privatized pleasures.”

Prague? Durban? Paris? Where can I find cobblestones streets made for adagio walking that curve to tilt your head up to the sky? And there, while walking, in your un-knowing you come to understand the meaning of it all.

I am aware I can’t really run or escape this sense of misplacement I feel, even if I was in New York City. This doesn’t feel like nostalgia; it is an epitaph for yesterdays.

 

I have been trying to find and read blogs from pre-social-media era. There are very few of those and of these even fewer offer something substantial that is still worthy of reading today. After all, so much has changed since “AOL.” I did find oneit belongs to a teacher and professor named Richard Geib.  A person can spend days exploring the various links within it; I am still not done—I had to remind myself there is no rush—and I remain fascinated by this person’s views, even when I don’t agree with them. I ended up there because I was searching for William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize speech where William Faulkner asserts, “I decline to accept the end of man.” Also, in the “Frequently Asked Questions” section I learned that a lawyer from Random House inquired where Richard Geib, the owner of the website, got permission to post that speech. That account doesn’t even seem plausible now given how everything—or almost everything—is on the Internet, with or without permission, and all that exists are “blogs” that curate others’ words.

 

The last paragraph from the “Ring of Time” by E.B. White is fitting:

It has been ambitious and plucky of me to attempt to describe what is indescribable, and I have failed, as I knew I would. But I have discharged my duty to my society; and besides, a writer, like an acrobat, must occasionally try a stunt that is too much for him. At any rate, it is worth reporting that long before the circus comes to town, its most notable performances have already been given. Under the bright lights of the finished show, a performer need only reflect the electric candle power that is directed upon him; but in the dark and dirty old training rings and in the makeshift cages, whatever light is generated, whatever excitement, whatever beauty, must come from original sources—from internal fires of professional hunger and delight, from the exuberance and gravity of youth. It is the difference between planetary light and the combustion of stars. 

I end with what else was going on in 1913: Willa Cather wrote “O Pioneers!” and D.H. Lawrence finished “Sons and Lovers” and Rabindranath Tagore won the Nobel Prize for Literature and The Grand Central Terminal opened in New York City.

I don’t know whether we are going backwards or forwards in time. The question isn’t when is the world going to end or even if it is going to end. In fact, whatever the question, the answer is how we have decided to live now. 

Some photos from Santa Fe(e)

I have been busy editing. I have also been organizing and re-arranging the content of this website (mostly in my head) for Vusi, my amazingly creative (and patient!) website design creator. I have also been reading quite a bit.

But for now, I had some photos to share from Santa Fe from my visits there. I don’t doubt there are many better photos of Santa Fe that are closer to the stereotypical images associated with the city but this is what I have.

What can I share about Santa Fe? Also known as Santa Fake or  Santa Fee.

New Mexico is known as the Land of Enchantment. Or Entrapment. Depends who you ask.

 

the bronze

 

Those who have previously read my travel essays on the various cities I have visited know about my tendency (perhaps like most?) to describe cities as if they were breathing entities.

I would describe Santa Fe as a beautiful woman whose parents decided to force her to enter children’s beauty pageants so she grew up thinking how she looks is all there is to her.

 

Perhaps only when writing fiction can one ever claim to really know all there is to know about a city. I would never assert I know all there is to know about any area, unless I really do, and when I say I really do I have dissected and plunged into every nook and cranny of a city, turned over every neighborhood’s stereotype, and talked to a lot of strangers. A lot. This includes people who are visitors, transplants of years, locals of many generations, businesses, schools etc. It is important to speak to as many different people as possible in order to get the true feel and real deal on any city. Diversity of opinions are attractive until they are so subjective that they are useless, therefore gathering information requires a fine balance.

I can offer much about Lahore, Durban, Johannesburg, Kansas City, Lawrence, Paris, Prague, New York City because I have lived there and visited many times even when not a resident. There are many other places I have visited where I can co-share a subjective authority but only because I have talked to many others who live there.

 

I have had many occasions to visit Santa Fe for various reasons. The first time I visited Santa Fe was over a decade ago. My mother and I were driving from Kansas to California since my family had relocated to California and I was moving to New York City. It didn’t even register in our minds that passing through Santa Fe was a big deal in any way. We were not familiar with the city having much to offer other than adobe infrastructures, Native-American/Indian casinos, and a few wonderful stops to check turquoise markets (which happened to be outside of Santa Fe, so the one thing that we remembered and liked about Santa Fe wasn’t even in Santa Fe).

We weren’t so taken by the adobe homes which mesmerize most because that is all there was in the Middle East where I spent my younger years. The primary difference being adobes were not glamorized as they are now in Santa Fe for tourism; although, initially they were very much served a necessity to combat the heat and cold in the high desert of New Mexico.

Most people are impressed by Santa Fe because they are not used to so much open space, but having lived in Kansas, having explored Colorado on many occasions, this was not a  new landscape.

 

It was only a few years back that the name of this town was again in my stratosphere.  I was embarrassed to admit that I had never, ever, ever associated the place with “art” or having anything to do with art. I was informed that Santa Fe was the 3rd largest art market in the United States after New York City and San Francisco/Los Angeles. I concluded this is probably because I am not a fan of Georgia O’Keefe (who, by the way, is not even from Santa Fe, no different than most “established” artists who live there now, she too resided there because she had the financial resources) and I am not a collector of art as endorsed by the so called gatekeepers of mainstream art. I like what I like until I don’t.

 

Most people who come to Santa Fe do so on retreats related to art, writing, silence (yes, really!), spiritual, nature and anything you can possibly come up with. Seldom do they talk to locals.  Moreover, those who are managing or serving in hotels are not necessarily from there but just transplants working in the hospitality and tourist industry, the primary industry of Santa Fe. The city government does everything it can to ensure this continues, sometimes at the expense of local communities who have been there (and this includes Whites and non-Whites) long before others even knew about Santa Fe as more than a dirt town in the middle of nowhere.

In many ways Santa Fe serves as the extended backyard of Los Angeles’ wealthiest. After all, it is only a two hour flight from L.A.

Most people associate the following images with Santa Fe as per the churning of ‘what sells’ philosophy by the city’s business bureau:

“land of kokopelli” (A favorite character of mine too; it’s just that I am aware that there is more to Santa Fe than this icon!)

 

“come here and find peace you can’t anywhere else”

(although this was taken in Sunrise Springs, not quite in the city of Santa Fe, I just offer it as an example)

sleeping buddha

 

“unique art”

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“land of enchantment”

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and painting after painting after painting of sunsets, clouds, sky, sunrises, sunsets, clouds, sky, sunrises…

fire sky

and why not?

 

It is indeed true: the landscape is glorious and every single time a person looks at the sky (which is hard to miss) it takes one’s breath away.

This has much to do with having the cleanest air in the nation which also makes for a great retirement community which in turn offers very little besides a tourism industry.

Unfortunately, art gallery after art gallery offers much of the same. There is very little original or unique perspective, no real storytelling in the art other than what one is expecting given the myths and preconceived ideas associated with the city. All there is is that which will sell. And anyone with money can open up a gallery regardless of any talent or vision and any tourist with money will buy it so they can say they bought it in Santa Fe so it must be collectable art. This is not true of all of New Mexico but this atmosphere is particularly common in Santa Fe.

This wasn’t always so from what I am told. Once upon a time this was a thriving small town with tiny pockets of powerful opportunities for original creative pursuits for music and art. The aforementioned issues existed but they didn’t necessarily engulf avenues for others to do something different. However, in the last fifteen years, there are hardly any options for those who are actually interested in creating something different.

The above are the least of Santa Fe’s biggest problems. The city has only one main hospital which is known for not treating its employees fairly, especially nurses. The city is by and large owned by a handful of developers most of whom don’t even reside in New Mexico which makes for a very high cost of living for a city that size. This makes it very challenging for the people who were born there to continue living there. Most people who live in Santa Fe are not from Santa Fe.

 

 

Here is me holding a shadow in a bottle. : )

little things

 

Sunny day is a good day to observe frogs play some chess!

frog chess

 

This one was taken in Albuquerque back in September. We had a great time there with friends.

 

 

These are from Los Golandrinas in La Cienega (20 minutes outside of Santa Fe) which is breathtakingly beautiful and serene.

 

 

outside of santa fe

 

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only bookstore

 

 

A pensive me  (photo courtesy of The Wizard) who is always thinking there has to be a way to save cities from people who just don’t care where they are given the finite people who do but can only do so much on their own.

This was taken at a spot called Counter Culture. I don’t know what culture they are counter to for there was nothing alternative there and if anything they were counter to quality service. Most of the crowd there was from Los Angeles.

 

a thinking me; photo by my one and only

 

 

But trees, the trees remind me it will be okay.

img_2816

 

 

 

 

Note: Although I truly despise when blog posts at the end state a generic, “And what about you? How do you feel?” so as to generate comments for the sake of comments, I feel compelled to ask. In this instant I am genuienly curious if anyone who reads this has something to share about a place that doesn’t offer much to its local residents but is all about tourism first? Can that even be sustained? Curious, given in NYC the tourism industry is huge but it has much to offer the locals as well.

 

Tricks and Treats Around Santa Monica

Not a huge fan of Los Angeles but have always enjoyed Santa Monica and a few other parts. When not irrationally annoyed by the traffic congestion, I do enjoy visiting. The weather is always glorious although often people don’t even notice it since they are so annoyed with the traffic!

Some photos for my Vault.

Around Santa Monica, near the beach, we found Mr. Curly Tree!

 

The Santa Monica Pier ferris wheel

 

A tide…

 

A very poised Pelican. Some joked he was waiting for tips, Hollywood style. : )

 

Things I note for writing…

 

Layers of paint and light…

 

I think it just might be a human compulsion to take photos of sunsets, digital sun worship!

 

A very happy Halloween!

Still Sundays

September 9, 2012

Thoughts on the Bay Area and Photos With Citizen Zain.

 

Words want me to wake up and begin writing. Promptly! It is 5:00 a.m. and I want to wait for it to be light outside. It’s prettier that way, I tell words. Words stare at me on some teleprompter made of dawn. I want to write after yoga today, in a cute café I spotted in a lovely neighborhood in Oakland. Words keep falling; they belong to Time.

So I am up.

Stillness is not a solo performer. Sundays want to last all week too. September 2012 is a backbend to the future.

I want to title this post “Still Sundays from Oakland.” How enticing! But I have zero desire to lure a reader. Let stillness guide.

Besides, what can I offer about Oakland or rest of the Bay Area? I have only been here for a few days.

It’s been a lost-and-found week.

So much of the Bay Area reminds me of other precious places. The hills, the texture of the trees, the misty air, the damp mornings drenched in sunlight, the stacked homes on hills, remind me of Durban and Abbottabad and Lawrence. Except it is not this cool and breezy in Durban save for winters when it does get a little chilly.

Surprise glimpses of water—the marina, the bay, the ocean—from the highways, bridges, and bends through the hills are nothing short of a delight each time. It’s so rejuvenating to be around water. Manhattan is an island and even when I made the effort to be near water it never felt like I was near water.

Prior to now I have visited San Francisco on a few occasions and loved it instantly, the calmer twin of New York,  but I am new to the Bay Area.

So far I have explored a “nicer part” of Richmond, the “Hilltop”; the quaint, sleepy community of Burlingame near the San Francisco airport and towns preceding it; and begun to scratch the surface of the patchwork of distinct, vibrant neighborhoods in Oakland. Oakland reminds me of Philadelphia in some ways except brotherly love is not a myth and people are actually nice because most are happy. Whether they are pleasant because they are checked out due to over consumption of cannabis, or plenty of yoga, or because they are under the spell of beautiful weather and geography, or some combination of all of the above, the fact remains that the people here are so.very.nice. I keep waiting for someone—anyone—to honk while I am driving or when anyone is doing something for which in most big cities the honking police pops to smack you as you exhale, it’s-not-my-fault-you-moron!  Not here. Here unless your driving is outright hazardous people oblige to your wobbly navigation. After all they understand: isn’t it just beautiful out?!

Contrary to popular chatter, we are very nice in New York City thank you very much, but somehow our edges are not as smooth. We always have somewhere to go. Fast.

This is not to say I don’t miss New York City. In fact I very much do. Understanding that the reason “one can make it anywhere if he or she can make it in New York City” probably comes from accepting that there is no place like, nor ever will be, New York, New York.

But I also feel it in every bone of my body that this is where I am supposed to be for now for however long. And knowing that all I have to do is drive 4.5 hours south in order to hug my mother is pure bliss. My precise location remains to be determined since I have family in central, closer to southern, California too.

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I am grateful to my mother who reminds me that most people who buy books don’t read them, they like the idea of having them and this is no different than people who are subscribed to blogs who get posts and yet don’t read the actual content.

“The chances of someone taking the time to actually sit down and read are just slim no matter the content. The teacher in you can’t give people a quiz over what you write! You write, online or otherwise, for that one reader who actually makes time to read with attention,” she says to me.

I explain that since I am now running into readers who have read my writings online, I can’t help but be a bit more cautious as to what I share. I don’t mind offending—truth is often offensive—and I am always careful to respect privacy but I don’t like hurting people because they are where they are in their development and may never evolve beyond where they are in this lifetime.

“You write from the highest place with the best of intentions. That’s all. Besides, remember, most people don’t read,” my mother retorts. She is funny, that woman.

This Sunday I want to put it on the record:

I have zero respect for individuals who are indifferent to sex trafficking. Violence is not an acceptable lifestyle even though many people are subjected to it daily. I am not afraid; I am livid that violence is acceptable, something to be put aside as long as it is not happening to oneself. There are places and vocations which demand disassociation to survive; most cities in America do not rise to that level yet people sever that reality all too easily.  

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I am grateful that my brother Zain, popularly known as Citizen Zain around these parts, was able to coordinate some time for me given his busy schedule between teaching yoga and DJ sessions.

We talked about relationships, gender identities and sexual preferences around the Bay Area.

It is not anti-gay rights to have a monogamous heterosexual preference!

Moreover, people’s fixation on gender—maleness or femaleness—unfortunately often circumvents the actual reality of masculine and feminine energies which exist in both men and women and have very little to do with designated roles as we know them.

Zain said, “People have this idealization of liberalism. Lack of boundaries dilutes pure, raw love.”

Then we talked about how much I loved all the vintage thrift stores around Oakland and Berkeley. And Zain said, “Yes, they are nice, but if all the style is in reaction to how people dress in LA, “vintage anti-LA”, then it really isn’t all that cool if that’s why everyone is doing it.”

This reminded me of when Jamie said, and I am paraphrasing here, that counter-culture is less of a creative risk if a major cable network has made it cool first. More precisely, “Nobody knows what the next thing is because it’s till being created. A ‘scene’ is the end product of lots of disparate things coming together. By then, the creativity has already left the building, so to speak.”  

This notion of ‘let’s all be different TOGETHER!’… sigh …online is only a reflection of everything else.

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Well, the sun is up. I can only imagine what is in store if words wanted to be placed together before Sunday officially began.

The unknown is filled with possibilities if one is not afraid.

 

I share some photos.

 

A flying bicycle next to Zain’s apartment in Oakland.

 

Some photos with Citizen Zain at the Rock Paper Scissors Collective in Oakland for KALX radio station’s 50th anniversary!

 

 

It was a thrill to see him in action. His energy is palpable and just like in yoga, in music too he offers an experience, beyond yoga, beyond music.

 

In Piedmont neighborhood I discovered a very cool vintage store among other very lovely independent boutiques

 

…where these cameras thrilled me because I just love old things.

 

I enjoyed this seagull tap dance around Lake Merritt neighborhood in Oakland.

 

The view from north Berkeley overlooking the Marina and Bay is breathtaking. It was very special to sit up there quietly and note the union of so many opposing forces of nature.

 

I am grateful for an incredibly gifted brother who continues to amaze me and inspire many.

 

 

 

Note: Since there are five Sundays in September, next Sunday I will be away from playing with words in stillness. Gratitude for reading.

A Still Sunday Between NYC and San Francisco

September 2, 2012.

Still Sundays

 

John F. Kennedy airport is still sleepy. From the speakers throughout the terminals CNN is broadcasting nothing new.  It—or whoever is in charge of this decision—has no regard for stillness, puncturing quietude in a decibel just loud enough to pierce through thoughts between dreams and coffee.

So I have had my headphones on even though I don’t want to listen to any music but the one in my head. The one made of forget-me-not moments that blossom before the sun flexes its brightness.

I just read the essay about New York City that I wrote in 2009. Then I had taken a yearlong hiatus from New York City but unlike this time it was just a pause to step away and gather perspective on this “writing thing” and live an integrated life, like water. The parts of the essay that resonate most now are towards the very end:

 

New York City impels us to recognize that what’s most complex about life—changes—is indeed what gives life value. It is these transitory opportunities embedded in the windows of refinement that allow one to create, interact, and evolve. This is what attracts new bodies from world over each day to New York City. This is probably also one of the reasons my parents’ relationship is enviable to many who meet them: it is and is not what it once was.

I will never forget my first night alone in NYC: midst the anxiety, hope, chaos, stillness, joy, aloneness, and a plethora of other emotions—there were two sentiments which I never entertained: doubt and regret. I was just where I wanted to be and beneath the canopy of clammy uncertainty that humid June night, there was also an inner peace and security.

In the end perhaps it matters not where one ends up counting life’s paradoxes—a farm in a small town in California where my parents live or the The Big Apple—but what matters is with whom you participate in an ever lasting opportunity to grow presented through the chasm of oppositional forces that govern existence and love.

 

Yesterday night I spent my last night in my apartment, my home for nine years, with the same sense of confidence and ease. I felt very aligned with the momentum and direction of the Universe and my decision to leave New York City.

I don’t have anything profound to say about my so perceived “epic” move from my beloved New York City to California. It was time.

It’s really simple to me and to anyone else who understands energy.

New York City is an energy. She is a fusion of ideas and possibilities that have no comparison. New York City, like life, simply goes on. Once you are part of it, you can experience it anywhere.

If I said I was doing this because my significant other and I wanted to start a family it would be perfectly commonsensical. Or if I mentioned space. Or job. Or if I mentioned anything other than what I have: it was just time. Don’t you listen to Time?

I had great space although I had outgrown the neighborhood. Although it will certainly be convenient to finally be closer to my family I had been operating back and forth from where ever I had been for so long that it had become second nature. Work opportunities for the kind of work I was interested in which allowed for writing, writing, writing were the only driving forces in my decision after decoding that I was running against the grain of energy upon which New York City runs. I was no longer on the same frequency as the very energy that fed me some of the grandest experiences in my personal development.

During the move some stranger—the person who bought the recliner? USPS teller? A waiter?—said to me, “People either get tired of trying to become rich in New York City or they get tired of being broke. Either way a time comes when enough is enough. And if you have some options you should explore them.”

During the last three weeks I have been surprised to learn that there are so many people who continue to live in New York City despite their desire to leave no different than someone living in a very small town with limited options. I lived in New York City as long as I lived because I didn’t want to be anywhere else.

I thought about it. I didn’t move to New York City to become rich and only since I began writing full time did I experience fatigue from trying to keep finances in order so as to be able to keep writing. Before writing I was okay with “just good enough” consumption just like everyone else. Writing or any other creative endeavor demands immense discipline, one beyond a Sunday compulsion, and discipline seeks integration.

What was available to me in New York City when I would come up for air after being under writing wasn’t nourishing other than a handful of very close friends (despite the many people I know), my homeless stranger friends and Marco Rojas’ yoga classes.  It was time and it made sense. It helps that I am very close to my family and enjoy their company and will be in close proximity to them due to this decision.

I just see this move as an inevitability borne out of a natural progression much in part to integration.

 

How many months before the word “integration” is hijacked by conventional comprehension like the word “authenticity”?

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You can’t mimic another individual’s writing voice so as to express your relationship or understanding with Time.  Just don’t do it. It sounds trite. If still finding your “voice” then emulate the works of those you respect and admire for as long as you need to but not when it comes to the subjects of Time, Nature, Stillness, Death, and Love. In these matters be where you are and come to them again and again till you find the reigns of some universal Truth in your own voice. Let the experience of how little you understand and how simply you articulate guide the chariot of your voice.

 

Men and women in relatively functional relationships who continue to create circumstances where they can feel the assurance of being desired sexually are nothing more than sex organs in the gamut of human evolution. How inadequate and stunted.

 

Some people keep certain people in their lives as “friends” because these friends remind them how far up he or she has jumped from the trampoline made of the past that wasn’t going anywhere. Perhaps they are afraid of returning to a previous self without another serving as a reminder what not to do or how to be. I am unable to relate to those who hold on to all the selves one no longer is. I have nostalgia for places but not the self that has died. Moving forward just comes naturally to me perhaps. Or perhaps it really is through my yoga practice where I am forced to accept that we die a little every day—if we are growing. Some days I accept this with better ease than other days when the body is resistant to change.

This is precisely why I must write fiction. Without the characters that have offered me the above insights who am I to make the aforementioned claims?

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I have been writing most of this Sunday on a plane. A lady named Jane Scharfman is seated next to me and inquired if I was an actress and so we began a small conversation about New York City and acting. She had bought the Sunday edition of New York Times for the first time in a long time. “$5.00! Can you believe this nonsense? That’s a bagel and coffee.”

We talked about New York because now I know why people from New York talk about New York. It’s just reminiscing about an idea that does and does not exist. Kind of like the meaning of life, there is and isn’t one.

She is going to San Francisco for a seniors’ comedy workshop. She says, “Seniors should practice sit down comedy because stand up is too hard for us.” It made me smile. She is charming.  “That’s easy when one is around the right people,” she says.

She is strong. “Well, of course I am strong. I challenge myself.”

She started late in life:  “I began my business at 47. It became a huge success. It is never too late to start over or hell in my case start for the first time. Comfort is doing what you want to do when you want to do it. That’s rich. Going to Saks to buy stuff is easy if you have money. Most people with a lot of money don’t have the comfort of time to do what they really want to do. Now don’t get me wrong, I like very nice things too.”

She tells me more,  “Between my first marriage of fifteen years and a few long affairs in between I finally really fell in love at 60. I think no one should get married before 60.” This makes me laugh out loud.

She is 75 and doesn’t understand why people can’t understand her desire and investment to renovate her kitchen. “Sure I don’t like to cook but I still get my legs waxed and I have been single ever since my partner passed on. What does one have to do with the other?”

I tell her she is funny. She says, “I can be miserable too. It’s a choice.”

There are many other things she tells me. But I will save those for fiction.

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“The Buddha says you are a Buddha. All you have to do is wake up.”

That’s what Marco Rojas says during classes just as our attachment to identities is about to get expunged from our cytoplasm so we are closer to the nucleus in every cell. I wish this could happen without work but apparently you have to work for it. Very hard. Conscious effort that sometimes looks sweaty.

“You are New York,” I have been told on more than one occasion.

No.

I, you, and each one of us, is much, much, much bigger than any place that wants to claim our identity.

Freedom.

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Time for a nap.

I forgot that flights to San Francisco are longer than to Los Angeles. I heard that the San Francisco airport offers a yoga studio! I can finally stretch my back in public without looking like an odd flamingo. The lay over ought to allow time for that. Stretching that is. Not looking like a disproportionate flamingo.

Stillness travels everywhere.

~a.q.s.


 

A Still Sunday with Love

April 22, 2012.

Mirror Mirror on Stillness’s wall which Sunday is the truest of them all?

Last Sunday I was swimming in the lakes of nostalgia for certain places and this Sunday the present is all I could ever hope for.

Nostalgia, I hope you like the caricature we have created of you, a doodle of escapism framed in fad.

When I am nostalgic about certain places and times, it is without longing to “go back” unless I am desirous of being imaginative and want to go “back in time” to a period in which I was never born or participated. My nostalgia is more an impromptu tribute to all things for which there are no photos or words.

 

This Sunday New York City is overcast and my father can’t rejoice enough about the weather. I ask my mother if he keeps saying “this is so glorious” because he knows I wish for the sun, you know to just tease my attachment. He overhears and replies, “No, no, no! Not at all! One must be grateful for rain! It is so divine, even if just from a geological and climatological perspective. A constant reminder of how things are working from rivers to clouds.”

My parents are here for the weekend, resting after their trip in Turkey and before their return home to the village farmhouse in California. Yes, a divine Sunday.

I ask my mother for a synonym for the word divine that is not in the dictionary. Why? she wants to know. Because if I use the word divine it just doesn’t look right. She stares at me like I am still eight and asking for a different colored crayon.  Nature, nature is another word for divine, she says confidently.

It is a very natural Sunday. It is unprocessed and ordinary. It is instinctive and intuitive. It would almost leave you to consdier that love was not made or caused by humankind but by some supernatural force.

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When I meet people and they ask me why I write on Sunday mornings, despite all the whys I have articulated in all the previous Sundays, all I can offer is, “There is just something about a Sunday morning, no?”

This is usually followed by, “Will this exchange be part of the upcoming Sunday?” I always reply, “I am not a reporter.  It all depends on the exchange and how long it takes for me to process serendipity and synchronicity and then there is the task after the processing packaging it all in the right words.”  And there is no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to words. And there is no telling what all gathers through stillness. I am as surprised when I am done writing and every Saturday night I don’t think I will be writing anything the following morning.

This Sunday morning I really didn’t want to write anything. I wanted to just talk with my mother instead. She suggested why don’t I transcribe part of our chatting over tea.

 

Here I offer the exchange:

How did you like visiting Turkey?

I am impressed when in any culture all three generations or more can be found together. We saw this in Spain and Italy as well. This means each generation is learning something from the other. Because when we disconnect people of different ages they all have a tendency to feel lost.

But I just wrote last Sunday that loneliness is not a disease like everyone has made it to be?

Being lost is different than feeling lonely from time to time, and as you well know lonely and alone are not the one and same. What I mean is that when you have so many generations in such close proximity, then one has to learn to be patient, caring, etc. What we have now is adults in nursing homes, children with baby sitters or in day cares, and the middle group believes they are entitled to few responsibilities.

What do you mean?

What I am saying is that we want this illusion of freedom without realizing that freedom is not without responsibilities. So I observed a lot of mutual respect for one another regardless of age when I was in Turkey. I saw people helping one another on many occasions. Here we volunteer time at homeless shelters, soup kitchens, nursing homes, terminal hospices, but we are not willing to take responsibilities for day to day affairs for anybody.

A persistent belief exists that what makes America and other countries following in the footsteps of America so great is that without these extended responsibilities one can achieve so much more when it comes to personal, individual goals. What do you say about that?

But at the end of the night when this high achiever is finally by him or herself he or she feels incomplete. Part of being human is being connected. Truly, genuienly, connected. That requires time and effort. Balance is necessary, of course, and that demands real conversations. And sometimes one conversation is not enough and sometimes the dialogues are challenging.

What if couples or families just can’t communicate? There is no tolerance to even have a real conversation?

People have to invest time. And if there are members who are not willing to do so then that is practice for tolerance. It requires courage and effort to find other resources to make sense of situations that one has very little control over.

Any other observations about Turkey?

I also observed that couples in Turkey seemed to be very bonded with one another. Of course I didn’t get a chance to speak to many because language barrier was a big challenge. That was the difficult part about traveling there. Most of the locals don’t speak English unless you spoke with someone in the tourism industry. But still you can make plenty of accurate observations. I did get a chance to speak to two different couples and they both said the same thing. Once you have decided to be with someone, you have decided. There is no wishful thinking for some ‘other’. I am sure there might be dysfunctional exceptions to this but in my observations I have never come across more content couples. There are no dowry or prenuptial pressures as found in South Africa and Egypt on the men and Pakistan and India for the women. Both sides pitch in depending on their resources. And if the families have the resources they help the couple significantly.

Limit to childbearing is encouraged by the government. I am not sure to what extent, if at all, it is regulated but it is certainly a frequent reminder I was told. Most families do prefer 3 or less children. So basically it is a very mindful decision.

And we found it very humorous that every other man’s response was, “I have to ask my boss,” while we were in the middle of making bookings for anything. Finally your father began inquiring, “Who is your boss? Like a manager? I thought you were the owner?” And the response was always the same, “Oh, my wife. She is a great boss.”

You mean their wives were running or managing the businesses with them?

Oh no, no. Just that in their ‘free time’ while at work, they were occupied having conversations with their significant other.

Any final thoughts?

I was surprised by the amount of smoking. 12 to 80, men and women, chain smoking and coughing their lungs out. And I worry about the young generation, a lot of 14 to 20-year-olds are hooked on Facebook no different than the cigarettes. Here in the United States we are having conversations about what does it mean when we have the instant urge to share and in other parts of the world the social media epidemic is only beginning.

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I watch my mother get up and go to the kitchen to help my father fix omelets for brunch. I am moved to tears by their love. For one another. For the world. And for making sure that we know by example that love is an action, it is more than a feeling.

There are moments like today when I don’t know how to offer my gratitude to the Universe or even “pay it forward” for having this much abundance of an ever-evolving love. There were times while growing up, despite plenty of love, my relationship with my parents was quite tumultuous. I don’t know why we assume loving means some perfection. I believe the purpose (one of them anyway) of love is harmony not some state of perfection.

I think about the conversation in the car with my father last night about Oscar Wilde, I think about the conversation with my mother in the afternoon about the purpose of a fight in a relationship: to strengthen loose ends in a relationship, not to assert one’s ego, and I am delirious with joy for the time with them. This doesn’t mean I am not annoyed that my father insists I use the GPS that “speaks aloud to me” while driving and he remains unnecessarily worried about candles in my apartment because of his fear that I may forget to blow them out before stepping out.

I believe majority of the people are good people because of my parents. I know this is not true every day because majority of the time I come across people who are self-absorbed.  But I still hope for such people because of my parents. Man is nothing without hope and hope demands we risk failure for our dreams.

Today on Earth Day I remain attached to the hope that if those who care don’t give up in their small efforts to live more authentically—and without attachment to how many people know about them living authentically!—we can still make our blue marble a better home for all of us.

 

Good People by W.S. Merwin

From the kindness of my parents
I suppose it was that I held
that belief about suffering

imagining that if only
it could come to the attention
of any person with normal
feelings certainly anyone
literate who might have gone

to college they would comprehend
pain when it went on before them
and would do something about it
whenever they saw it happen
in the time of pain the present
they would try to stop the bleeding
for example with their own hands

but it escapes their attention
or there may be reasons for it
the victims under the blankets
the meat counters the maimed children
the animals the animals
staring from the end of the world

Source: Poetry (December 1999)

 

All Sundays are true.

~a.q.s.