“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.

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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.

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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.  

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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.

 

 


 

 

Still Sundays

August 14th.

“The present is the whole of the past concentrated.” ~ Iqbal; Bernard Shaw on Tolstoy’s “What is Art”?; opinions about opinions; Anders, the homeless man in London, on books.

 

I awoke this Sunday morning in some rainforest. The rain, glossy chandeliers, was falling without crashing. It took me a minute to realize I was in New York City.

It was nice to take a break from putting thoughts on the braille made of words last Sunday. Does Stillness too take a break? No, I don’t think so. We do. It’s hard to swim in peace: no sharks of conflict that actually bite, no shore of tomorrow, no ship of yesterday, how long can you stay afloat in the now?

Words don’t come as easily as they once did. Is that what the beginning of old age of understanding looks like? The head of understanding has silver hair that sparkle. The more you understand, the more calcium of precision lost in your bony words. Maybe I don’t want to understand after all, just like people who don’t want to grow old. Both are inevitable, might as well do it gracefully, which means more stretching and less running.

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Hello Sunday, August 14th 2011.

It’s my brother’s birthday. This particular brother works for Los Angeles’ law enforcement and is assigned to the special unit called “Counter Terrorism and Special Operations.” That is a fancy way of saying he is the main bridge between the oceans of confusion, fear, and understanding. He is the communication vehicle amongst all who have many reasons to not trust one another: the L.A.P.D., the United States federal government, immigrant citizens and legal residents, the extremely wealthy Muslims who own the strings to various lobbyists to the guy who works at the local 7-11 who most can’t tell apart from a Bangladeshi or an Indian, those Muslims who like parasites have found a home in the United States’ skin to spread fear and hate using religion as an excuse, and also those Muslims who have fled their respective countries so they can worship a God however they wish or no God at all without being persecuted for their beliefs.

Happy birthday, Prince. I admire your courage and have tremendous respect for your efforts to maintain harmony with integrity in a very chaotic world. Thank you for your service.

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When the lightest touch wakes you up…A Nap In the Únětice Village

The wonderful and inspiring Czech photographer  Jan Pohribny invited me to his village where he lives with his wife, a beautiful woman and amazing artist and photographer too, and their son who enjoys playing the guitar and can cook a wonderful meal! I didn’t join his photography students for a project but when I saw the photos through others, I knew I had to make a trip on my own. I did and I am grateful.

However, getting there was a bit tricky. The bus that was supposed to be a simple ride from Prague to the last stop, which was the village, terminated the route two stops prior to the last stop. It was just that bus! I had gotten on the anomaly bus! The 12:00 p.m. bus doesn’t go all the way to the last stop which is the village. I had no airtime on my Prague simcard and no cash to purchase any and there was no ATM or restaurant in site given it was a very residential area, part of some other village.

I didn’t worry because the worst case scenario was for me to wait until a “normally” scheduled bus came after 45 minutes and once at Jan’s village I would try to call him. Village has to mean “small”, I decided, so I would somehow find him once there. Meanwhile, I walked into this car dealership near the bus stop and asked if anyone spoke English. And one man replied, “Very small English.” Good enough for me. I told him I was sorry that I would not be buying a car that day but instead just needed to call this number since I had no airtime.

I left Jan a message that I was near and well either he could come to pick me now or I will get on the next bus and he can pick me up from the last stop in 45 minutes.

I didn’t know what to else to do….except…relax…

20 minutes later Jan came looking for me and said, “I knew you would be taking a nap somewhere around here. They didn’t know where you had gone after you left the car dealer ship.”

 

I was amazed to learn that an important historical period and culture, Únětice, is named after this small village just outside Prague. It´s due to the excavations carried out in 1879 by local doctor and amateur archeologist Čeněk Rýzner on Holy Vrch (bare hill) that overlooks Únětice. It was here that he uncovered 56 graves dating from the late bronze age (roughly from 200 to 1500 BC) . In later years, far bigger and more important sites were discovered in the near locality and elsewhere in Central Bohemia. You can read more here.

 

We walked down the road from Jan’s home to the green fields. There I saw a very colorful cemetary. And a very trendy tree!

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While walking Jan pointed that the plant on the ground was a healing plant of some sort. He didn’t know the name.

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The poppy fields in Unetice are not home to the same kind of poppy in Afghanistan, the hub of opium trade.

This is Jan taking a photo. “For any real photographer there is always something new no matter how many times you have seen something before,” he said.

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This is looking down at the village from the top of a hill that we walked up. There was a beautiful creek to explore and much more but I started getting sleepy. So Jan told me how to get back once we got back down the open field. As I have mentioned before, I am a light sleeper when taking naps in parks, but perhaps because this was such a small village, or perhaps this part of the earth really had some unique magnetism pulsating from the core, but I was knocked out!

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I was in such a deep slumber that I didn’t even notice this woman’s dog sitting next to me for at least 5 minutes! She came running after him because she was worried he was chewing my shoes which I had taken off to nap! I was startled because I didn’t hear this hyper noisy dog at all. I took their photo and went back to sleepy.

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And then an hour later was woken up by the softest, slightest touch. Mr. Lady!

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I sat there too happy that I couldn’t trace a single dream—best kind of deep sleep—and noted the little guy on my finger. I was overcome by the contrast: the vast green field, the deep hills, the trees, the noisy dog, earthlings, cars and then this little ‘bug’.

There really is enough space for all of us if we can just stop stepping on each other.

Reminded me the end exchange between a mountain and a squirrel in Emerson’s poem “The Mountain and the Squirrel” which Iqbal translated in Farsi and Urdu as well.

“If I cannot carry forests on my back,
Neither can you crack a nut.”

A sleep so deep that only a little lady bug could wake me up…