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Packing up, moving out

Sunday, July 22nd, 2007

I’m humming “leavin’ on a jet plane.” Some of you may recognize the allusion. (The remaining lyrics to that song have never held any meaning for me, but I’ve hummed that refrain to myself for so many years it’s almost a theme song; that, Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on the Wire,” and Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me, Babe.” I love these leaving-town, heading-into-the-sunset songs.) So here’s the deal: I’m packing my sleeping bag and my carry-on, putting my toiletries in a clear plastic baggie for Michael Chertoff’s benefit, and heading west on Southwest Airlines. [read on]

This miracle!

Tuesday, July 17th, 2007

Each day I see a little more clearly what a miracle it is to be single, responsible to no one but myself, still relatively healthy and as sane as I’ve ever been, and about to live in some beautiful new place where the necessity to earn a living and provide for other people no longer dominates my life. Scales fall from my eyes. I want to move into a new landscape and touch it, smell it, roll in it, squish it between my fingers, chew on it, drench myself in it, know all its seasons and moods and colors, know it well enough to adore it: I want to move in and grow roots in it and make something, maybe something with my hands, that doesn’t have to be successful, doesn’t have to please anyone, or sell, or meet anyone’s standards but mine. If that is possible, life is about to become true in a way I haven’t experienced since I was four. For the first time, I see how dishonest the necessity to earn money has made me, how habitual that dishonesty has become. But I also see that it is possible to drop dishonest habits and come home to a home that is not a place but a way of being. [read on]

Letting go of all those photographs…

Sunday, July 15th, 2007

I’ve spent the last couple of days sorting through my life in photographs, from birth to the present moment, preparing to let go of yet another big box of artifacts. An online photo processing center called Snapfish is offering 30% off what they call “memory books.” That spurred me into a new phase of my continuing effort to lighten the weight of what I haul through life with me. [read on]

Farewell to Basho

Saturday, April 7th, 2007

This is a hard day. I took Basho to his new home. It’s a necessary step toward my new way of life, but Basho has been my familiar for the past five years: we’ve meditated together every morning and slept together every night; we’ve watched the dawn rise on whatever balcony I had at the time. We breathe in the same rhythm and are perfectly at peace with each other. We have a completely harmonious connection. When I left home in the morning, he would walk me to the door and mew goodbye. When I came home at the end of the day, he would run to the door when he heard the key in the lock and be there when the door opened. He was eight months old when he came to me, and we bonded as I hadn’t bonded with another animal since I was a child. For five years he has sat in my lap as I graded papers, read, worked at the computer, watched movies, or talked on the phone. The contours of his body are more familiar to me than my own. I’ve slept beside him longer than I’ve ever slept with anyone else, lived with him longer than I’ve lived with anyone but my children. He has a wonderful new home with another cat, a dog, and a woman who loves to read with a cat in her lap. It’ll be a great set-up when he gets used to it, but it’s unfamiliar now. I sat with him for an hour in his new home, and although the trip had unnerved him, he settled into my lap in a house full of new smells and gradually became more at ease and finally started to purr. But when I stood up to leave, he followed me. His brow wrinkled, and his eyes looked confused and fearful. I had to push him away from the door to get out. His new home is an hour and a half north of where I live, and as I drove home in the rain, sobbing, I listened to Andrea Chenier at the Met, and cried some more. I have four sets of papers to grade, and I can’t even bear to look at them. My body feels like wood. I think I’ll go to bed and pull the covers over my head. I feel the absence of his warm soft body like a great howl of emptiness.

Nomads, misfits, travelers

Thursday, July 6th, 2006

Five days before I leave for Portugal, I reflect on the nomadic life, its treasures and its costs. Travel shapes us. Travel gives us the opportunity to reinvent ourselves. It also makes us outcasts, exiles, misfits, wanderers and nomads, the family of Cain. In the Judaic creation myth, Cain was cursed to be a vagabond because he killed his brother. Cain traveled from Eden to the land of Nod, married a Nod-woman, and begat tent-dwellers, musicians, and artificers. Where did the people of Nod come from? I feel my ancestral relation to Cain and the Nod-people, and I know in my blood the hunger Cain had to belong, but the people of Nod never did belong, even to themselves. They were outsiders. My tribe. [read on]

The way we learn

Wednesday, June 28th, 2006

Suddenly time, which flapped wetly about me for days, is speeding up. I’m teaching Manko to drive (but she won’t be ready before I go), doing back and leg exercises the physical therapist gave me, making hurricane plans for Manko and the animals, teaching this interminable course (we’re on Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs now, much better, and on a roll headed for Whitman and Dickinson and final exams). I keep going back to Phil Cousineau’s wonderful instructions, from The Art of Pilgrimage, and today, his instructions (for pilgrimage, for life) and Manko’s driving lesson came together like a clash of cymbals (pun not intended, I groan), like a clash of Zildjians from Seth’s rock n roll drum kit, like a great crash. Here is the juxtaposition: [read on]

Reading Portugal

Wednesday, June 14th, 2006

First, read. Do people who were not invalids as children hold this rule to their hearts as I do? Don’t know. But I know that since mid-February, four months ago, I have accumulated, read, highlighted, and written marginal comments in fifteen books about Portugal. I have spent days and nights on the internet, reading blogs, emails, websites, photo galleries, and adventure stories. If I were hit by a truck tomorrow (which is always possible on Houston area freeways), my brain would spill out images, pictures, stories, and descriptions of a place I have never been except in imagination. Books. Books have always been my goad to adventure, my ticket to freedom. These are some of the passages that would tumble out of my brain:


“Some of the most idyllic spots on the stretch of coast west of Leiria are in the Pinhal de leiria, a vast 700-year-old pine forest . . . an area of great natural beauty with sunlight filtering through endless miles of trees and the sea air perfumed with the scent of resin”(Rough Guide). [read on]

Walking. THAT miracle.

Tuesday, June 13th, 2006

Suddenly the landscape of the dream is shifting. I saw a physical therapist yesterday, part of my plan to get in shape for the journey. I put on my hiking boots and the clothes I plan to wear on the plane, took my backpack, fully loaded for the month’s journey (only 14 pounds, plus five pounds for the frontpack with water). The physical therapist had a form to fill out, labeled “Goal for Treatment.” I said the optimal goal would be for me to walk, over the course of a month, the Portuguese Camino to Santiago, 150 miles, with a number of side trips (by bus) to places like Bom Jesus do Monte, near Braga, with its stairway of over 1000 steps; to Sintra with its magical gardens; to Alcobaca and Batalha, every inch of which I hope to explore on foot while, somehow magically, achieving that stillness Jon Kabat-Zinn describes: leaving July 12. After measuring my range of motion and examining my medical records, she gently explained, “That might be a bit overly ambitious for you; one might even say unrealistic.” It is a pattern of my life that I need frequent reality checks. [read on]