Saturday, July 30, 2005

Living My Life Like It’s Golden, Pt. III: My Inner Baby

The next morning I awoke fresh as the morning dew, sparkly as the sun alit upon the anticipated opening of new bud. I got the urge immediately to prowl, so I suited up and inserted myself into the day. I hadn’t walked more than 100 yards before bumping into a ritualist trio of Water Clan ilk—Steve, the teacher from Virginia; Matt the children’s author and his teen son Gabe—plus one of the Stones and Bones people.

The five us explored the paths that led through the Green Gulch organic farm and gardens, past the horse corral and the gorgeous Pelican Inn, connecting to the fire lane and pristine wilderness, a path leading all the way to Muir Beach. Along the way we found and picked fresh berries and cherries that weren’t quite ripe yet, a creek with several inlets, and more nature than I’ve had the pleasure of being surrounded by in quite some time. The grounds are a natural habitat for quail, the male of which is blue feathered, and I found a black salamander wi th an orange belly. The beach was fantastic, reminding me a page from John Calvin Batchelor ’s The Birth of the People’s Republic of Antarctica. The entire time I felt transported; I wasn’t far from the city but it felt like the other side of the world. The water people kept scouting for locations. They seemed further along than in the process than I was. The night hadn’t brought me anything other than a good sleep.

After dallying a bit we headed back. I was pleased to discover very hot water and impressive water pressure. The gong sounded, a cattle call for food. I loaded up on steel-cut oats, eggs and bacon, then headed to the yurt.

Inside was a free-for-all, people mingling and talking out of clan. Once Somé appeared on the scene, it was time to get down to brass tacks. He began by asking each clan to share their ideas with the group, and of course he started with the Fire people. We really hadn’t gotten that far, and I don’t know about the others, but I hadn’t the foggiest notion of what was going on. That was the funny thing about it. I was absolutely clueless. Someone from our group mentioned the embryo of an idea that had been suggested, something about dancing to represent the kinetic movement of flames. Somé wasn’t too jiggy with the Fire Clan's lack of preparation, and the other clans had better developed plans. For example, the Water Clan wanted to anoint everyone. But generally speaking it was clear that none of us knew what the day would bring. Because we had to adhere to the Zen Center’s meal schedule, we had to work quickly to come to consensus. What we arrived at was that Fire, Water, and Earth seemed like a natural grouping and Nature and Minerals seemed like a separate pairing. We also decided to hold our rituals in a clearing adjacent to the yurt, rather than elsewhere in the Zen acreage. With that, we were set in motion. Therefore, I don’t really know how it happened, but we, the Fire Clan, actually came up with a ritual.

I think the pressure of being least ready kind of propelled us into whipping up something appropriate right on the spot. We decided to set up a small fire at the farthest end of the field, bounded by eucalyptus trees on three sides. Tino had ceremonial tobacco and a portable charcoal burner. We decorated the area with various pieces of red cloth and fabric that people had or that we found in the yurt. A few people had brought candles. When I thought I had nothing to contribute, someone pointed to the memory wire necklace I wear almost every day, comprised mainly of red beads. Another enterprising someone had cayenne pepper and a couple people had brought ceremonial sage.

I shouldn’t and won't reveal the intricacies of our ritual but essentially, we created a space for people to enter individually, a place in which to reach some clarity about what each person would like to release or let go and what they would like to ignite within themselves. Each person was allowed as much time as necessary in front of the flames, a place for meditation, self-confrontation, and for asking for ancestral guidance.

After going through the fire ritual, participants next partook of the water ritual, which involved being led blindly to bank of a stream and doused with shockingly cold water. The Earth people created a ritual that reacquainted one with the feeling of being a child and touching the earth with that first awareness of grass under one’s feet or soil between one’s fingers. The yurt served as a village, replete with drummers—mostly djembe, and a set of djun djun.

Once each of the ritual spaces was ready, we gathered at the yurt to learn a song inviting our female and male ancestors to be with us. One by one, we led one another through each of the rituals. I was able to watch the first several people go through our ritual before I led them to the Water Clan spot, which was my Fire Clan post. People seemed really excited and eager to welcome whatever experiences were about to unfold.

I was surprised that some people took a lot of time before the fire. That was my first inkling that ritual is almost more about you put into it—the mindset with which you enter into it—than about structure. When folks emerged from the Fire ritual, you could sense a change. If they had meant to let go of something, they had. If they had meant to kick start something within themselves, they did. But I still hadn’t experienced it first hand, so I remained open yet puzzled. How did it all work? So you did a fire walk (w/ cayenne as a substitute for fire) and sat in front of a little Weber grill. How or why could that initiate change?

I didn’t really understand it all until it was my turn. After about 10 or 15 had gone through, initiates, I was relieved of my station so I could be a stand-in at “the Village.” Those who had cycled through the three rituals were led back to the yurt, where the song continued to be sung and beaten out on the drums. Meanwhile, those of us who had either already gone through or who were waiting our turn—we, were there to cheer those returning from their journey. I noticed that without fail, the returnees were utterly transformed—jubilant, radiant, exhibiting a lightness of being, glowing. I didn’t get it. For one moment I thought to myself, “eh, a bunch of hippies.” I mean this is the stuff of cults, right?

Then it was my turn. Claudia, walked me down the valley at wedding march pace. She asked me if I was ready, and I felt that I was. I also felt a little odd being walked like an old lady or an infirm person, but it was nice too. It felt … different. Because I was part of the Fire Clan, I knew what to expect. Or so I thought. I was asked if I was ready, if I had clarity of intention. Sure I did. I did the fire walk. I sat on my knees before the fire. I closed my eyes. And I don’t know why, but I was there for what seemed like an extraordinarily long time. In fact, it seemed like all time stopped and it was just me and … not thoughts, not feelings, just simply being. I thought about my mom and the ancestors whom I could name and those who I couldn’t. I thought about things that I have allowed to hold me back in this life. I thought about the things I’d like to accomplish. I say “I thought” but it was more like images parading before me at a less frenetic pace than the aversion therapy scene in A Clockwork Orange, though it was a much more pleasant sensation. When I passed what had been my station and was handed over to the Water Clan, I already felt like “huh” or “hmm.” Questioning but not really questioning what had just happened.

Then I was blindfolded and led down a small path where I could hear water babbling and smell it too. And that was a thing in itself—remembering that water has a water smell. Like the trust fall used in team-building programs, the inability to see did require surrender. In the dark, I was folded into a seated position and asked to think about purity of mind. Just as I began, I was shocked by a shivering cold trickle of water that became a thorough dousing. I felt like I’d plunged into a river, embarking on an under water swim. Then I was led to the Earth clan, where I was invited to dig my hands in a mound of freshly dug soil, to experience it like I had as a child.

All of this sounds innocuous, perhaps childish or silly, certainly not potent. I can’t explain to you how it very much was. It just was. But even I didn’t realize the extent to which it was until I was led back to the village. As I walked up the stairs to the yurt, those at the village clapped and cheered and as soon as I reached them, I felt arms wrap around me as we hugged and clasped one another. If you know me, you know that isn’t my thing, but the feeling was indescribable. I knew I had that same triumphal glow that the others had. I don’t know what others experienced but for me I felt like this is what happens when you die. You crossover from one existence to another and there are people or entities on the other side to welcome you back and they’re so excited to see you and you them because it’s a true homecoming. And I knew that that was what my mom experienced.

Now, ask me what my beliefs about death, dying, and the existence of an afterlife were prior to that moment. I hadn’t any. Certainly nothing succinct like that. Nothing that was a knowing. It didn’t faze me a bit. I basically had a dry run at passing out of this life into another. I’ll say it again, I can’t really explain it. If you were to tell me that I would sit in front of grill, get water poured on me and get some dirt beneath my nails and that afterwards I would feel profoundly different, I would have told you to go smoke some more crack. Even if you’re not entirely skeptical, it’s hard to swallow. All I know is that something changed in me, and that was just part one.

Later, when everyone had gone through the first set of rituals, we gathered together to do the remaining two rituals—Minerals and Nature—as a group. Mainly we banged rocks together. Seriously. We banged rocks and some things were said. The analogy of a butterfly was used. Then we danced. We were all giddy. It was great. It was so good.

* * *

Then we cleaned up, packed up, and went home and for days afterward I was quite spacey and not entirely in my body. Several days after the workshop, I was with Six whenI mentioned how I was still feeling like I wasn’t quite on this plane of existence. A little disturbed she said, “You know, I didn’t want to say anything, but you look weird! You look really different. Something definitely happened to you.” During that period coworkers commented on how unusually calm I seemed, like a “refuge,” one said, in the midst of chaos. I’d go running in the morning, and it felt like nothing. Not effortless, per se, but almost as if I was numb to it. I wasn’t in my body at all. It was a lingering after-effect that for the most part was more than welcome until almost a week had gone by. The lightness started to freak me out a little and to make matters worse I stayed up much too late one night, getting exactly two hours of sleep. The next day I started to feel anxious and the anxiety built all through the weekend. Whatever I’d done at Green Gulch seemed undone or as if it was becoming my undoing.

The ritual weekend made me vulnerable in a certain way. The mundane seemed dangerous and taxing. I couldn’t filter stimuli. But it did contribute to the finding of my inner baby. My senses were quite keen. The day after I got back from Green Gulch, Shez and co. invited me to Russian River. We went in Sharon’s camper, which was great for me. It meant I could lollygag in the back, be the spacy-invader without consequence. In Guerneville, we parked the camper in a supermarket parking lot. Shez and I were talking about race relations among other things when of the sudden I stopped and looked straight down. There, at my feet, was a tiny black infant, I’d say about the size of my thumbnail. She was tiny. It’s not like I was down near the ground tying my shoe. This was a tiny speck of child, dark brown against the black top, and I stopped at her like a buick stopping on a dime.

Finding her was really odd and bizarre and par for the course; I haven't figured out what to with her yet, but she has permanent resident on my shrine. And so back to the question, "how can we do, if we don't know what it is we're supposed to do?" The biggest thing learning I had was the answer to that question. Ritual is like life. The whole of it is about doing, most of the time not knowing what it is that we're doing. Sometimes not even knowing why we're doing it. Like we get up each morning and breathe, just because. Doesn't matter if we like it or don't like it, doesn't matter if we want to or don't want to. It just happens. The years stack up, and we end up with a life to look back upon. We didn't have a road map or an instruction manual or a blueprint. While we're looking back, it so happens that we still in the midst of living. Of figuring out by doing. As a corollary, therefore, a lot of life is ritual. After that weekend, I realized I am involved in numerous rituals, some daily, some monthly, some annually, some irregularly. But ritual is life, living is ritual with intention.

My intention from here on out? Let's just say it's a work in progress.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Living My Life Like It's Golden, Pt II: Sacred Ritual

But I left off talkin' 'bout how I've been living my life golden. Yah. So two weekends ago, I went to a weekend workshop on Ritual and Sacredness. I had no idea what to expect other than the description provided by the course sponsor, the Institute for Health and Healing (IHH):

In the indigenous world, ritual based on the magic of Nature plays an essential role in village life. Many people find that African healer Malidoma Somé helps them reconnect to the natural, old instincts of their souls in ways that strengthen their own beliefs and self-understanding. Experience earth-based ritual and teachings as a doorway to self-discovery and community-building.
The only preparation I had was the self-imposed reading of Somé's autobiography, Of Water and the Spirit: Ritual, Magic, and Initiation in the Life of an African Shaman. In it, he desribes several rituals performed during his initiation. Whether the described events were literal or figurative, I knew that some serious shit was gonna happen.

That Friday, I had an ultrasound in the morning, and while the technician couldn't give me any diagnosis, I knew she'd found something. Meanwhile, I still had to figure out how I was getting up to Green Gulch. The sun was hot and bright, and I had the day off with no schedule to adhere to. I decided to eat first and figure out the travel logistics later. I took a leisurely stroll to way to the vegan stylings of Cafe Gratitude. Sitting in the sun at a sidewalk table I enjoyed a cup of "I Am Grateful" (Cat's Claw tea) and a bowl of "I Am Luscious" (live wheat with young coconut juice). I know, I know, it's hippie dippie, but I had to get in the zone.

Once fed, I called Golden Gate Transit and found out how a couple of buses could get me most of the way there, so I threw together a bag and hightailed it to Civic Center. Once boarded, I resumed Of Water and the Spirit, though part of me felt like reading it was cheating. Instead, I let the hum of the tires lure me into sleep. I awoke when the bus pulled into Mazanita, across from the Buckeye Roadhouse. I couldn't resist; the vegan was tasty but not quite filling. I parked myself in a booth and enjoyed pan roasted artichoke with creamy tarragon dip and grilled ahi tuna with wasabi cream and pickled ginger.

I'm relaying all these seemingly mundane details in an effort to convey my mindset, which was that I was very open to simply enjoying life, taking things in stride and living in the moment. Yet, I also wanted to work through some things. In my bag, alongside Somé's book, I had some letters from my mom, a journal, and a pen. A cab carried me and my belongings the rest of the way to the Zen Center, where I found a delightfully austere room with my name on the door.

After a quick self-tour of the grounds, I unpacked my bag, fixed my mother's picture so it was overlooking me from the headboard, and settled down to finish the last 20 pages of Of the Water before the workshop began at 7pm. Those are the pages in which he conveys the outcome of his initiation, and I felt they might give me some clues in what to expect, which is why I sort of felt like it was cheating. In his telling, he notes how the elders insisted that the less he know about what might happen to him, the more effective—and less dangerous—the process would be. Too much knowing ahead of time engages the analytical brain instead of the instinctive center of wisdom, i.e. working intuitively from within. Part of me wanted to go into the weekend oblivious to the possibilities and part of me wanted to be as prepared as possible. I went for my comfort zone—preparation.

The evening was quite chill. I threw on a sweater and hopped into the bed, settling down to finish Somé's story. That's when I discovered that the book had vanished. Disappeared. Some might call it "lost," though when's the last time I've lost a book? I thought back on the day—Gratitude, my apt., the bus, Buckeye. At each, I'd had the book. I'm certain of it. But somehow it was gone, and appropriately so. So began the unknown. Shocked but not shocked, I fell asleep again.

I dreamt strange dreams before awaking to the clanging gong that announced meal service. The dining hall was just across the way. There I made first contacts with some of the other participants as well as mixing with the Zen temple residents. Silence is observed for the first ten minutes. We newbies tried to be respectful, but I spied whisperers and twiterers scattered about the room and knew they were my fellow initiates. We introduced ourselves and surrepticiously sized one another up. At my table was Steve, a teacher from Virginia. I believe he came the furthest though later I met a children's author and his teenage son, both from Royal Oak, Michigan. I sat next to a woman who is a healer who works with the homeless population and across from a woman with spiritual beliefs that led her to the workshop.

The workshop was held in a yurt on the Zen Center's grounds. About 30 people were signed up, of which a handful were men. The youngest participant was the aforementioned teen, but I'd guess most people ranged from late 20s to early 60s. I may be being slightly too generous on both ends of those numbers. I don't believe I saw any Asians, one or two Latinos, and I was one of four blacks (three women including myself and one man). Many of the participants, but certainly not all, were affilitated with IHH, meaning that many are healing arts practitioners such as masseuses or accupuncturists or Western medical professionals with an interest in integrative medicine. The IHH librarian was there as well.

We got seated in the yurt, some on chairs, others like myself on zafu, or meditation pillows. Upon entering the space, I made a beeline for the coal-burning stove, next to which was a mudcloth-like rug and two chairs. When I announced my intention to take one of the seats, Toni, a participant and facilitator shook her head, saying "there's where Malidoma is sitting." I'd figured as much, but hey it was worth a shot. I grabbed a cushion and parked my bad ass on the floor with everyone else. One thing I noticed from that vantage is that the law of nakedness extends to feet. At nude beaches and other venues, it's always the people that you don't want to see naked who are always the first to strip down. Shoes had to remain off and outside of all the Zen Center structures, even the rooms for overnight guests. But that didn't mean you couldn't wear socks. I saw some ugly toes that night, real ugly. Woof.

Across the way from me were a few drummers. Again, some were participants who'd brought their drums and others were there specifically to drum, particularly the next day. Drums figured prominently in the events that were to take place and eventually led to my newest acquisition—a djembe—but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Malidoma and the woman who was introduced as his partner, sat front and center, or at least what goes for front and center in a round space. For an hour or so he regaled us with his unique blend of sagacious knowledge and irreverent humor. He is softspoken but in a way that allows his speech sound like it's directed intimately to you rather than simply being difficult to hear. He made some general comments, similar to the one's I'd heard from his mouth this past March. I received his words differently though. A relaxed yet simmering excitement was present that was different from the delight I'd experienced hearing him speak in a Jewish Temple, with a couple hundred people seated in pews. His talk then was also more structured: during the temple lecture, Somé had been "the respected indigenous healer" who came to deliver an interesting talk about theoretical ideas, i.e. the kind that you think about and possibly internalize. In the yurt, Somé came across more as an older brother with thoughts to share about actionable ideas, i.e. tips and suggestions culled from personal experience that might come in handy but hey it's up to you, take 'em or leave 'em, I mean who am I to tell you what to do? It's your experience. The effect was both daunting and comforting. He was telling us that he couldn't tell us what we would experience because we would make the experience. He told us that he wouldn't tell us how to the make the experience because the experience would be made and only then would we know how it had occurred. I thought, "what the fuck is he talking about? what is he doing? correction, what are we going to do? how can we do anything if we don't know what it is we're supposed to do?" Hold that last question.

The questions were free floating in my mind, rather than barrage style. I wasn't stressed out about it. I was simply confused. Maybe a little anxious, like when you can't wait to turn the page in a book or see the next scene of a movie 'cause something is gonna happen, it's gotta, but what? It was fun. Like an amusement ride but a mild one, something better than a ferris wheel but just as gentle. Using the last number in the year of our birth, we were divided into clans. The Fire clan. The Water clan. The Earth clan. The Mineral ("stones and bones") clan. The Nature ("witches") Clan. Each clan was given the same mandate: devise a ritual for that element. That was it. During his "sibling chat," we'd touched upon these elements and some of their potential meanings, but we'd done so in the larger context of what is this crazy life about? There were no hints of "this is what you should take from this" or "listen closely to the next clue" or any kind of instruction. We didn't know anything. We didn't even know we'd be divided into clans, let alone expected to create ritual.

To do so, we began with community. Getting to know our clan selves. I was/am Fire Clan. We flamers gathered together and made sparks, introducing ourselves and sharing our ideas about fire. In my group were two French women, one from IHH and another, Natalie, who was there in part because her brother had died in Togo ten years ago under mysterious circumstances and she wanted to make peace with it, with her ancestors. We had Tino, a facilitator who has been working with Some for years. We had Christy and Kit, also from IHH. We had a woman who is some kind of spiritual leader, I can't recall now of what denomination; I believe of an eastern sort of religion. And we had me, also there seeking ancestral connection following a death in Africa.

We talked about fire—its power, its danger, its usefulness. How it's a force of change, how it transforms whatever it touches. We talked about it in the negative and in the positive. Fire as the igniter of passion, I said, and compassion, Tino added. Before we'd had much chance to delve into this ritual business, however, it was time to get some shut-eye.

We wrapped up around 9:30. Leaving the yurt was tricky business; night is pitch black out in that zen wilderness, despite torch lit paths. I wasn't surprised to quickly find myself off the path without having noticed; it was only when someone called to me that I realized I'd kind of tranced out on the crunch of the wood chips underfoot. I had lost my sense of time and place already; I was on fire, thinking how funny it was that just a day earlier Juju and I had debated my astrological fire/water conundrum and how she'd be tickled to know I'd been dubbed fire through and through.

Called back, I fumbled my way to my door and entered my temporary home sweet home. Out there in the woods, I worried that I might discover other little roommates of furry, winged, or crawling kind, but there was nothing for which I was grateful. Then I washed up and got back in bed, thankful that it had actually gotten a bit warmer, as often happens with kooky Bay Area weather. I was able, thus, to hunker down with my mom's missive, something she'd given me before I'd even left Ann Arbor, something I'd never been able to read all the way through. But that night she was in the room with me, and I felt oh so empowered. Tino suggested each of us see what the night's dreams might bring us in terms of ritual. I slept eager to see if Doris would plant any seeds in my head.

to be continued...

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Gay Heaven

I'll admit it. I was trolling Craigslist: looking at apt. listings, jobs, and not looking for chicks, per se, but I did want to know if Mango, the infamous girlie "tea dance," i.e. afternoon party, was going on, and where better to find out than the "women seeking women section." That's where I stumbled across the following anonymous posting in response to someone who had written, "WOW! when i moved here i thought i would be in gay heaven. but i was very wrong. i moved here from an area in america where there are no open homos. i am from the upper midwest. i came here expecting something better than where i left."

While I can sympathize with the gal I've dubbed, "Disappointed from Dubuque," my beliefs are more in line with this savvy someone's response:

First of all, SF hasn't been "gay heaven" for a long time. Basically since the dot-commers chased a lot of community out. It's still more of a mecca for gay white men, but a lot of women and men of color couldn't afford to stay here. Some of us have been here long enough that we're either in rent controlled apts. or have had time to establish ourseleves in business, careers, or whatever.

Secondly, I've been here almost 20 years, but I grew up in a small town in the midwest also. I think what you desire out of the community is an unrealistic, idealistic fantasy. It sounds great, however, the fact is, we DO come from different backgrounds, religious beliefs (or non-beliefs), education levels, socio-economic classes, cultures, political backgrounds. We DO have different morals, standards, goals, and desires.

Not all of us think the gay marriage issue is the most important issue in the world right now. Some of us don't want to emulate heterosexual marriage. Some of us would rather put our energy and resources into other things going on in the world like all the innocent people being killed, and who we put into office, and AIDS in Africa, and alternative fuel sources etc. Some of our community are actually Republicans, and I for one, will never see eye-to-eye with them and have no desire to stand next to them in the fight for them to get married when I can't stand anything they represent.

There are thousands of "straight" bars in this City and people can choose where they want to hang out based on whether they are with like-minded people, the kind of music they play there, the dress, the bartenders etc. We, lesbians, [however] have limited places to go, and sometimes it's difficult because the minute you start talking to someone you realize you have absolutely nothing in common other than you're both homosexual. She starts talking about some kind of music you've never heard of, the latest reality show, the latest pop idol etc., but has no clue as to who Karl Rove is and doesn't care. Maybe all she's interested in is what kind of car you drive and when you tell her you got rid of your car and bike/walk everywhere in the City, she doesn't understand that it has nothing to do with your income level and rolls her eyes. Do I have to like that person? Do I have to support her?

Do I have to support the Republican woman who voted for the Governator and wants to cut back education, police and fire-fighter funding? Do I have to support the woman who can't hold down a job, has two kids at home but is out drinking and doing lines in the bathroom? (nothing against drinking and doing lines). Do I have to support the ftm who hits on my girlfriend and grabs her ass and acts more misogynistic than any of our straight male friends? Do I have to support the woman who approaches me and tells me her boyfriend is at home and wants her to pick up a woman so he can watch us? (unless you're into that).

Basically, I do not like all the lesbians or gay men in this City and don't feel any connection to them. I hate the Castro with all its homogenized shallowness. I love this City and have a lot of friends of all sexual identities, ages, races, and sexes, and we support each other in our goals and dreams and day-to-day troubles because we share the same ones. I do not share the same everything with the entire lesbian community so I cannot support the entire lesbian community. So ... that's my rant for today and now I'm going out to enjoy this gorgeous weather with the people—straight, bi, and gay—in my life. Hopefully you will find your group of peeps.

He he he. I'm so glad I'm not the only disgruntled dyke in town. : )

On the subject of gay marriage, I'm all for it ... but it's a mixed bag. I have concluded that for gay people of my generation and younger, it's not something we were pre-disposed to think about as a realistic possibility, and so we're not trained in the longevity department, i.e. we don't necessarily have the "'til death do us part" mentality. Sure, I know all about the divorce rate in this country, and yes, I know there are plenty of gay couples who have been together for years and years, but my personal experiences in SF lead me to believe that we homos are time bombs ready to go off at the slightest trigger when it comes to commitment.

I will allow for the fact that quite possibly it's just me. I haven't made it more than six months with anyone out here, with the average being about six to eight weeks. The one woman with whom I really thought and felt I could and would want to be with—we lasted about four months. When I relay these facts, people often say "well, you must be a commitment-phobe." Usually, they don't know that I had much longer relationships in my 20s. Years not months, i.e. real relationships. I don't know what the hell to call my experiences these days; to use the term "relationships" to describe my SF liasions would be stretching things wider than the elastic on Fat Albert's pants.

I also like the part Miss Anon wrote about how "maybe all she's interested in is what kind of car you drive and when you tell her you got rid of your car and bike/walk everywhere in the City, she doesn't understand that it has nothing to do with your income level and rolls her eyes." I recently was on the 5th or 6th date with a girl who seemed simpatico until I "forced" her to walk from 14th & Market to my place in the Mission—about 10 blocks. She got pissed, and whined the whole time, telling me I need to get a car. Then she exclaimed, "Walking reminds me of when I was 15 and didn't have a car." I responded, "Walking reminds me of the 15 years my mother slowly lost the ability to walk—before she died last year." You like that? I got plenty of 'em. War stories.

Sigh. Gay heaven. I don't know about that. Though, like Anon, I also despise the Castro, I'd much rather it exist than not. Put it this way: We have our freedoms in SF, that's for sure. I don't take them for granted, but they come with a high price as do most things in this city. I may sound bitter about it, and sometimes I am, but lately I've just been working on accepting the situation as it is and taking it from there. In other words, I'm working at making my peace with it: the courage to change the things I can, the serenity to accept the things I can't, and the wisdom to know the difference as they say. I hope "Disappointed" is able to make her peace with things here. I'll be rooting for her. Hell, I'm rooting for myself:

"One wonders. One doesn't quite understand. But the truth is that the intimacy and closeness was all an intricate hoax, an ingenious dream, a subtle but half-hearted mirage. That is what I thought once I'd entered the city. And so I concluded: don't be strong; don't be alone; don't be proud; it's your only chance ever to understand anything at all. Be fragile, be tender, humiliate yourself, and let the discoloration of dream close in on you. Do that, and oddly enough you'll remain healthy; you'll be yourself; you'll discover the best way to live in this particular most fruitless and tantalizing of possible worlds. The reality becomes a cruel dream while the dream fades into a tender man-made reality."
—Frederic Prokosch
The Asiatics

Thursday, July 21, 2005

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I wanna tell you why my life is golden, really I do, but before I get back to the previous mental travelogue I've gotta make a pitstop, which may, without my telling you so, be confused with the previous steam of consciousness. Whichever way you decide to call it, here's the deal: tonight is not only a full moon, but it's the most powerful full moon of the year. In Hindu, it's called Guru Purnima, guru meaning "one who dispels the darkness of ignorance"and purnima meaning "full moon." This is the full moon for thanking one's teachers whether affectionate and loving or dispensers of harsh learnings. Having experienced the benefits of ritual firsthand, I am eager to partake. I was going to cut my hair [see previous posts], but I've decided to postpone. It's enough, for now, to very publically, and I hope graciously acknowledge some of my teachers. To each and every one of you, I owe much of who I am.

There are people I like, many people I love, and a few I hope to never have to cross paths with again. But they've all taught me things about myself and about the world at large. Even this process of identifying my teachers has taught me something: of all the people I've known, only a handful of you on this list are truly assholes. Cynical me, I thought there were more than a few. Glad to be wrong ... for once. Ha!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Living My Life Like It's Golden, Part I

I finally got my hands on the “new” Jill Scott. I used the quotation marks because it came out so long ago that it’s practically a museum piece. Anyway, I was absolutely thrilled to give it a spin, but after a listen I realized I’d set myself up. I mean it’s aiiight. It doesn’t do me like the first one got me done. But, one track has been lodged in my brain for a few days now as it’s the perfect description of how I’ve been feeling the past several days, particularly the line, “I'm livin' my life like it's golden, golden, golden, golden, golden, golden.”

Yah. I got a little derailed at the end of last month, but a lightness has come upon me. I should add that it’s not yet a steady as she blows kind of lightness. For one thing there’s no particular “she” involved. But the overall effect of these mostly ups with a few intermittent downs, is one of buoyancy. A bobbing along, like I’ve been uncorked and the cork is making its way into some exotic somewhere. That said, let’s consider the following rambles to be part of a travelogue of sorts.

I’ll start with some astrology—always good to check in with that. Saturn entered Leo last week. Bully for me! Saturn’s been like a straight jacket on my karma for the past couple of years; I couldn’t be happier that it’s moved on. I’m sure it accounts for a great deal of this lightness I’ve been feeling. But Saturn in Leo, if you believe in all this stuff, has some potentially ominous learnings for mankind at large. I encourage getting familiar with it because according to astrologer Lisa Dale Miller, the next two years could be a doozy for some of us. She writes, “Humanity stands on the threshold of Saturn in Leo, having rejected mastery of the compassionate, loving action of the heart; the highest lesson taught by Saturn in Cancer. Though I have never been one to tout doomsday scenarios, based upon how poorly our species navigated Saturn in Cancer, my assessment of Saturn in Leo is bleak at best.” Those of you who know me, know that I’ve always been one to tout doomsday scenarios, so I didn’t need her to lay out her case, but she did, and it’s worth reading even if you find it all to be mumbo jumbo.

Even I admit that “the-sky-is-falling” tone Miller takes is a bit much. For example, I do heartily love this sentence: “America's vision of itself as the 'superpower' will be threatened during this next two years. Seems the time may not be too far off when we may have to cede this title to China.” You know, I’ve always wondered about China. Since about 1985, in fact. That was when David Thornbury, arguably my first boyfriend, started taking Chinese in college, which was a pretty odd thing to do in Michigan in the mid-1980s. But he had this whole thing about the Chinese having their day one day and how he would be one of the few prepared, which basically was a function less of his political savvy and more of his megalomaniacal opportunism. Some might argue that the political savvy and megolomaniacal opportunism are the same thing, but there’s a slightly different nuance between them.

Anyway, it was only days after reading Miller’s prediction that Six told me about the nuclear warnings made by a China’s General Zhu Chenghu, should the U.S. interfere in China’s dealings with Taiwan. He even went so far as to declare "We . . . will prepare ourselves for the destruction of all of the cities east of Xian. Of course the Americans will have to be prepared that hundreds . . . of cities will be destroyed by the Chinese." I mean that’s pretty hardcore.

Now, before I get people screaming at me, this does not make me happy in the slightest. But this is the kind of stuff that pushes me from merely surviving to thriving. Danger has a way of making one feel really, truly alive, abuzz. Sure I’d rather be safe than sorry, but I had to let my mind wander to the dark places so I did, and I took Six with me. One recent twilight we talked about this stuff. First she wanted to know how many military soldiers the U.S. has. We spent some time doing the math: total number of US soldiers (Army, Air Force, Marines, and Armed Reserves) vs. total number of North Korean soldiers vs. total number of Chinese soldiers. You don’t need me to tell you how lopsided it is. Actually, I would love to tell you exactly how lopsided it is, but I got the info last week from some pages on The Federation of Scientist’s (FAS) web site and guess what? Tonight I get “This resource is no longer available on the FAS web site.” How’s that for paranoia-making?

The FAS, by the way, is "a nonprofit, tax-exempt, 501c3 organization founded in 1945 as the Federation of Atomic Scientists. Our founders were members of the Manhattan Project, creators of the atom bomb and deeply concerned about the implications of its use for the future of humankind. FAS is the oldest organization dedicated to ending the worldwide arms race and avoiding the use of nuclear weapons for any purpose." There's a project worthy of support.

Meanwhile, I don’t have the gumption to dig up the actual raw numbers again, but we concluded that given the state of things, nuclear weapons are the only resort. I mean if there are only say 500,000 American soldiers and triple that everywhere else and everybody hates us, what else can we do? Again, I am not pro-war, and I’m certainly not advocating the nuclear alternative. I’m just looking at some stark realities. If you’re interested in some other ones, check out the FAS’s Nuclear Bomb Blast Calculator, an “interactive tool [that] illustrates the devastating effects of a nuclear weapon detonation in selected U.S. cities. Follow up with The Fallout Calculator, which“demonstrates the profound range of fallout from a potential nuclear bomb detonation in various inhabited regions of the earth.” Yah, it's pretty trippy. Then jump on over to Global, poke around and get completely depressed.

Their somewhat convoluted mission is as follows: " is focused on innovative approaches to the emerging security challenges of the new millennium The organization seeks to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons and the risk of their use—both by existing nuclear weapons states and those states seeking to acquire such capabilities. aims to shift American conventional military forces towards new capabilities aligned with the post-Cold War security environment, and to reduce the worldwide incidence of deadly conflict. The organization is working to improve the capabilities of the American intelligence community to respond to new and emerging threats, reducing the need to resort to the use of force, while enhancing the effectiveness of military forces when needed. also supports new initiatives utilizing space technology to enhance international peace and security."

Then jump back to Lisa Dale Miller. Remember the cork bobbing up and down? We’ve just taken a nasty post-cold war plunge, but I have promised lightness and it's coming. Miller reminds us that art is one of the many counter-weapons we have at our disposal. Indeed, “a discussion of Leo is not complete without calling up the artist. Leo rules creative self-expression. That means expression of a creative gift that is uniquely yours. There is after all only one you." Yet, don't pat yourself on the back just yet. She also notes that "Saturn in Leo could be a very dry time for many creative people who don't take their craft very seriously. Frankly there is an epidemic of mediocrity in movies, music, visual art, dance and theatre; fueled primarily by a growing fear of telling the truth. We have become addicted to denial as a means to explaining why we do terrible things. If we are lucky, the art world might recognize its tremendous power to influence, and become more responsible about the tenor and quality of the work it produces.”

Ah yes, art. Yes, that’s an upward bob. What else? Ritual, community, nature … shamanism. Last weekend, I went up to Green Gulch for a spell, no pun intended. Green Gulch is a part of the San Francisco Zen Center, Soto lineage, if you’re in the know. Nestled on land that lays between Muir Woods and Sausalito, it is gorgeous and peaceful and was the perfect setting for a day-and-a-half long Ritual and Sacredness workshop with Malidoma Patrice Somé, whom I wrote about back in March. Sponsored by the Institute for Health and Healing, Somé led some 30 of us through self-community-created fire, water, earth, minerals (“stones and bones”) and nature rituals.

Lemme say a few things about it because most of it I actually can’t share for reasons ranging from too personal to too indescribable to the warning that Somé gave us that in being disclosed some of the magic will lose its power. So a few things. One is that I have never felt closer to complete strangers and though it was not necessarily a lasting effect, I have come to understand that we are all one and it’s quite possible for humans to experience the one-ness of all things.

Another is that the importance of getting back to nature as often as possible cannot be understated. Even if the only bit of nature accessible to you is the tuft of grass growing between the sidewalk in front of your house, nurture it. But if that’s all you have, it’s worth considering the impact of a dearth of nature on your life. I thought my once or twice a week ride to the ocean was enough, but a day in the woods, a half hour with sand or grass beneath your feet every single day, a nightly gaze at the stars … those moments will erase everything untoward in your life and prepare you to “step into your individual responsibility to actively heal the pain and problems of this world,” as Miller suggests.

Lastly—and this merits some serious consideration—prior to this weekend, I thought it was just the gay guys who are having sex, but I think probably the hippies are doin’ it all the time too. Free love never really died for them, that’s why they’re always twirling around and being looking upon each other with doe-eyed looks and really feeling and touching each other and everybody. They can’t keep their hands to themselves. That’s another thought that made me buoyant. And made me feel like I should become a hippie.

I have reverted to irreverence, my comfort zone. I would apologize for the disjointed nature of this, but I’m not going to because I am disjointed and I’m golden, too. And I have so much things to say, but I’ve had technical difficulties of myriad sorts. But I’m still golden. Do you know what it feels like to be golden? I will try to tell you.

Next: How I found my inner baby.

Monday, July 11, 2005

The Last Pot of Nineteen Fifty Pu-erh

Halleluiah, I'm back. At least for now. No, I haven't abandoned you, but I have suffered a technology mutiny. My wireless connection at home is no more. If you own Jane Addiction's "Been Caught Stealin'," nows a good time to give it a listen.

But more importantly, Vani and The Ron will be in Israel for the next coupla weeks, during which time I've agreed to take care of Sampson aka Sammy aka Rudy aka Rude Boy Tabby, and what better way for me and him to bond then for me to do my thing with the blog. So, matzoltov to Tel Aviv, catnip to Sammy, and well, fuck, I don't need any special cheer.

I might need some special cheering up, but I'll save that for later. Just know that though women are trecherous, my madness for them rarely stops (in time). That said, Sammy is much worse shape than I am. That is one sad pussy. But me, I've always got more than one game going at a time, so if one goes tilt it's nothin' but a little eggggo, know what I'm sayin'?

Yes, this particular entry is just me stroking myself in public. Hey, somebody's gotta do it, little goat that I am. Chuckle. Ah, that did make me smile. Women still suck though. But before I grouse all night about that, and believe me I can, here are wiser words than I can craft at the moment. And yes, they're from a chick (no, not the tea house girl, but from a paisan in the land of the lost whose compass works better than mine) received a few weeks ago, but they never fail to remind me that all is well:

Last night after I saw you I went to my meeting. It is a meeting where we write for 25 minutes then share about what we wrote or just get current on what’s happening for us today. During the writing I hit upon the root of a tree that I thought I had yanked out years ago, and it sent me into such emotional upheaval that I had to leave the room for a few minutes to cry heavily.

I already had an appointment scheduled afterwards, and we had agreed to meet at Samovar. I arrived 30 minutes early, dazed and still teary eyed. I ordered a tea soup and white tea. Of course, I couldn’t help looking at the pu-erhs. On the 1950, it was noted that "this is the last batch," and I noticed that the price had jumped significantly. I decided to practice shopping therapy and asked to purchase a quantity. Have you noticed the price for 150g of 1950? Yeah, I was willing to spend. I was feeling QUITE emotional!

After Rick called a manager, who informed him that there was no more that could be sold (NO MORE!?!), he brought out the last pot of 1950 and placed it before me.


I saved the leaves and will enjoy them again for breakfast. I have brought with me to work my tiny elephant tea pot. I have brought my camera to take pictures that will be attached next time. I have also brought one of the pu-erh cups you gave me for my birthday. What else can hold this magnificent elixir? What present is more appropriate? Whose cup more worthy?

This morning, Lorna Mabunda, I share with you the last infusions of 1950 Vintage Extra Aged Pu-erh.

Aw shucks. Just when I think I'm out, they pull me back in. I love wenches er women. Meanwhile, stay tuned for comments on trannies, my prediction for the next superpower contender, a meditation on my new found personal life optimism (yes, I said optimism and I've got a whole box load of it though I'm not quite sure where I set it down), a grouse about the workplace, and all the usual shenanigans.