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Archive for December, 2006

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New Year’s Eve

Sunday, December 31st, 2006

I got all the papers graded. I’ve laid out five of the eight pages of The Midnight Special, I’ve realized that maybe the piece of writing due January 31st can be easier than I envisioned, and I can’t bear to think about the next round of classes. Instead, it’s New Year’s Eve, a time I love to reflect on the gifts of the passing year and to hold the whole planet in my heart with gratitude, compassion, and tenderness, so how could I not blog this day? [read on]

The Midnight Special

Monday, December 25th, 2006

Here’s some shameless holiday promotion for a cause I believe in: in January the first issue of The Midnight Special, a fledgling literary magazine for Texas prisoners, edited by prisoners in the writing workshop John Speer and I have been running for three years, will appear: just as soon as our friends at the Henry David Thoreau Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fort Bend County, Texas (Thoreau for short), get it produced and mailed out. Subscriptions to the new magazine, to be published twice a year, are free for prisoners and available to people in the free world for a $10 donation within the USA, $13 for international air mail. At the moment we have nearly 200 subscriptions from prisoners but a scant 5 (count ’em, 5) from free-world people, so we’d sure like to see a few more subscriptions roll in. We need the donations to finance the paper and postage for the prisoners’ subscriptions after our support from an anonymous donor runs out. We don’t yet have a way to take donations online, but I’ll include the postal address at the end of this blog entry. [read on]

Watching X-Men in a room full of cons

Friday, December 22nd, 2006

Last night John and I had the end-of-semester holiday party with the prisoners in our writing workshop. We brought a movie (two movies actually, though we only had time for one and a half-hour of the other), and they gave us a holiday card with messages like, “Thank you for my little oasis of sanity.” The story of how we ended up with X-Men is worth telling, and the experience of watching that movie with this particular group of men was wrenching. [read on]

The Promise of Joy

Sunday, December 17th, 2006

As I drove to the park for my walk this morning, Handel’s “For Unto Us a Child Is Born” came on the radio, and suddenly I was twenty-eight, pregnant with Seth, and full of joy. Throughout that pregnancy I played the Messiah, danced to it, hummed it, and grinned. The baby I was carrying had excellent genes, and our life was going to be one surprise after another. The joy of that music is the joy of possibility. Sitting in the parking lot on this warm Texas morning in December, it came to me clearly that I have spent most of my sixty-one years living in joy, expecting something wonderful. Expectation is not necessarily, as some Buddhist texts warn, the seed of disappointment or suffering. It is its own fulfillment. Anticipation fills life with wonder, hope, a vibrating YES that is not (for me) ever diminished by fulfillment. When the anticipated event arrives, it is what it is, never what I thought it would be. Sometimes it’s better; sometimes it carries a hidden load of pain. But nothing can erase the joy of anticipation. Those times in my life when I have been joyfully expecting some event, change, or beginning (pregnant, about to move to a new place, on the brink of a new project, packing my boxes and giving away my possessions, half my body already over another cliff-edge)–those times I was IN JOY. I was not living in the future but living in joy, in anticipation of possibility. The promise of joy is joy itself. [read on]

House of Sand

Saturday, December 16th, 2006

Early yesterday evening I watched the Brazilian film, House of Sand with my friends Ruth and Gerri. They hated it. Gerri thought it was “amateurish.” Ruth found it slow and thought the time changes were awkward, the character switches gimmicky; she became restless and paced around her living room, waiting for it to be over. Some friend I am. I hung on to the last minute and am still haunted by the slow power of the film, by its visual gorgeousness (not since Daughters of the Dust have I seen such composition), and by its questions: given life’s impermanence, what can we hope? what exactly does it mean to “make a life” in the harshest possible circumstances? [read on]


Saturday, December 16th, 2006

Points of clarity arrive. Last night a great sea-fog enveloped Houston, and swirling mists in the urban sky arranged themselves in auras around pink-orange spotlights towering over Highway 59. I gazed out the glass wall between my living room and the balcony, gazed into the night in wonder. Fog! If I could draw or paint, I would. Writing is another way to meet the moment. It has its ironies–by the time I find words for this moment, another has arrived. Now it is Saturday morning, the sky is thick with curling grays and whites and smudges of blue; the spotlights over the expressway are merely chrome against the sky, and the magic has passed. The Friday night sky-scape disappeared before I found words for it. However words are the medium I have reveled in since I was six; writing is part of how I breathe and be. Writing gives me focus, slows me down, concentrates my attention, allows me to meet the moment and savor it. Fog. Inner and out fog are miraculous. Maybe there will be a time for me to let writing go, but that time hasn’t come yet. So I continue. Why blog? Blogging is how I connect with other people, known and unknown, who happen to be on the planet with me in this dot of time. The comments from David, Lynda, Christopher, and Constance gave me joy and were a comfort, much as Pooh’s friends’ hanging their clothes over his legs consoled him when he was in a tight place. My community of good friends and like-minded beings is flung wide over the globe, and I note with some surprise that I have become a solitaire. When did that happen? I see students every day, of course, but I’m happy with the boundaries around our relations. I see John once a week when we go to the prison together, though we will now take a break till mid-January. Other than John, there is no peer or comrade I see or talk to as often as once a week. That comes as a surprise to me and is, I know, unusual in American culture. I don’t have a cell-phone, seldom use a LAN phone, don’t in the course of my day announce my whereabouts to anyone. The quiet in my life suits me. I have time to read, watch movies, walk, and go my quiet way without having to explain myself to anyone. That has not been easy to arrange for myself, and I cherish the odd life I’ve created. But there is something in human connection that is nourishing, warming, consoling. The blog feeds that sense of connection. And so here I am. Continuing.

Why continue?

Thursday, December 14th, 2006

Reading or listening to Eckhart Tolle , I fall silent. As Tolle observes, ego generates pointless activity, useless words. Why speak (or write)? What is there to say? Tolle questions the usefulness of thinking, feeling, and doing. Better to BE, and be part of the seamless all. That should be joyful, powerful. Instead there is this feeling of loss, confusion. I don’t mind that; I look at it. It is neither joyful nor sad. Lost. The voice of the blog falls silent. “She” (the voice) has lost her amour propre and doubts she has anything worthy to say. Worthy–that old song. Judgment arises and with it discomfort. The person who uses the pronoun “I” is disoriented, groundless, accompanied by old habits of self-judging. As this disorientation continues, I notice some sadness (the “pain body” perhaps). What will take the place of the old yawp? There was an exuberant energy in blogging, a feeling of connection with “unique visitors” on the journey at the same time. Travel notes. Now, troubled by the possibility that on some ultimate threshing ground, nothing in my life could possibly have meaning for anyone else, there is disconnection, isolation, uncertainty, as though I were suddenly dropped off in the middle of a swamp in a fog. Beautiful lighting effects, strange echoes, everything indistinct. I make my little noise. This blog. The keys on my computer echo in the quiet of my apartment. In the near distance, beyond the trees and on the surface of the expressway, I hear the roar of traffic. Around the block, at the mall, there is Christmas music playing and the slap of debit cards being swiped. I have lost the way. How interesting. Now what?

The Joy of Deleting

Sunday, December 10th, 2006

Yesterday I was full of sadness. Inadequate sleep, a change in medication for migraines, end-of-semester weariness, and holiday blues each contributed its flavor to my little cup of bitter melon tea. I felt sorry for myself, and although I tried to lift myself out of the mire of ego and use my personal sadness to connect with others, I basically ended up sucking my thumb. I’d spent Friday night watching Akira Kurosawa’s beautiful film from 1952, Ikiru, and I’d started listening to an audio version of Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth. I wanted to say something about Kurosawa and Tolle, and I hoped to get myself out of the funk, but it didn’t work. So this is the wonder of cyberspace. I just went back and deleted that whole post. Wiped it out! Yes. Hit delete, left that moment lying in its mire, and moved on. Ah, so much better. Some moments in life are better deleted. I don’t, however, want to delete Ikiru, which stays with me and haunts me with its beauty and tender, faint optimism. I not only watched the very slow progress of the two hours and twenty-three minutes of the film, I then turned on the commentary and listened to an insightful film critic talk about the shots, camera techniques, actors in the film, and social and political context of Japan in 1952 as I watched it a second two hours and twenty-three minutes. Today I continue listening to Tolle, alternately falling asleep to his voice and then waking up (really waking up) and laughing out loud at my own hilarious struggle with what he calls “egoic mind,” particularly in the realm of the roles I play as teacher and parent. Instead of trying to write more, I am going to listen to Tolle some more, drift and dream, probably fall asleep again, and wake to watch the vivid yellow and deep purple pansies on my balcony blow against the gray sky on this quiet afternoon.

Octogenarians, Intellect, and Buddhism

Tuesday, December 5th, 2006

It was an extraordinary weekend. Joe, the father of my friend Kate (aka Pho Nguyen, the nun who is SuCo Dieu Thien’s student) was in town for his annual visit with his daughter, staying at the meditation center. He was freed momentarily from Kate’s mom, who stayed in Michigan because she won’t countenance her daughter’s Buddhism, and clearly he was feeling frisky. He called me early Sunday to say he’d been up since 4:30 and had about all he could take of Vietnamese ritual for one day, was walking to mass at the nearest Roman Catholic church, and hoped I would pick him up there and see what else we could do with the day. I love this guy. He’s 80, a medical doctor with a great sense of humor and a sharp mind, and he and I have had several meetings and fifty or so emails about Buddhism, his daughter, and SuCo Dieu Thien. I picked him up at the Catholic church and we went to the Unitarian Universalist church, to hear my friend John’s mother Mary talk about daring and unconventional women in the genealogy of Jesus to a group of non-Christian skeptics. Mary is approaching 80, is a graduate of the Univ of Chicago, and has the kind of articulate intelligence I usually only encounter in great books, so I wasn’t going to miss this! Naturally, Joe was gob-smacked by Mary, so several of us went out for a Tex-Mex lunch and watched Joe flatter and flirt with Mary, who parried his attentions with grace and a certain blushing pleasure. The intellectual play between them gave new meaning to gallantry. After that, I took Joe back to the meditation center, where SuCo was waiting for the two of us with a lesson that has left me walking a-tilt, considering once again that maybe she IS a teacher of great wisdom. [read on]

Dreams, Omens, Birds, and San Francisco

Saturday, December 2nd, 2006

Last night, very weary, as I often am on Friday, I watched part of a DVD of the David Attenborough series, “The Life of Birds,” thought about how hard most birds work to feed themselves (nonsense the expression “free as a bird”), felt great compassion for the birds–working almost without rest every day of their lives. At 9 p.m. I gave in to my own exhaustion and huddled under the goose down for an early winter sleep. I woke suddenly from a dream that I met a mirror image of myself on a sunny path through the Marin hills by the Pacific and said to her, “This place has it all!” Awake, momentarily confused by the goosedown and the shadows in my Texas bedroom, I didn’t know where I was. I saw the clock: 1:59 a.m. Then the music started in my head: “If you’re going to San Francisco, you better wear some flowers in your hair….” So maybe it’s going to work out for me to live at Green Gulch. [read on]