“The only people for me are the mad ones…”

September 01, 2014

Champaign, IL: At some point a couple weeks ago I was searching for the nearby Target. I took one wrong turn on a midwestern road and ended up on a freeway heading straight here…

ILpark ILpark2 ILpark3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My west coast wildness is oozing at the seams and spilling onto other people’s clean furniture.

I am on an island, or am I the island? I push people away.

A big, burly American man is wearing a black t-shirt with one of those hipster mustaches on it. The mustache is filled in with the American flag pattern. I order a margarita and see him looking at me at the bar. His very serious, stern faces winks at me. No smile. No nothing. I can’t help but burst out into a little laugh, as some of my margarita spills out of my mouth.

A new PhD student strikes up a conversation at the bar like this: “Hello my name is Sam, I am completely new here and don’t know anyone!” Hi Sam. I’m new too, it’s nothing to be so anxious about, I wanna say. I talk to him for a while but the rest of the night I can feel his ungrounded discomfort, and feel like I need to get away.

Nothing is free and we all want something from each other. And so sometimes it can be exhausting being out in the world.

 

I took these pictures at the Berkeley Art Museum soon after I learned that I would be leaving the bay area for Illinois. I wanted them to remind me of the creative, performative, simple aesthetic of the bay area imagination. Of the ease with which everyone can do anything and be whatever, whenever.

bam bam2

 

 

 

 

bam3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a terrifying reality to being a politically radical, brown girl dancer in this place. When people here honk and curse me out while I’m riding my bike on the main road, or give me funny looks when I laugh and cheer too loudly at a concert, I feel a violent sense of suppression of my being by an unfamiliar culture and society.  We may take for granted that being “different” is cool or hip everywhere; it is not. In some places, it is plain scary to be different.

It makes me remember what has always drawn me to the west coast. At some point, I realized that being on the Pacific edge made me feel like whatever I was would be okay. It made my soul stop squirming under my skin, and learn to relax. And there I have thrived in my identity and becoming.

I naturally fell in love with Kerouac and the beats around the same time I truly fell in love with the bay area. So it is fitting to end with this quote I am savoring tonight:

“The only people for me are the mad ones,
the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time,
the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn
like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” -Jack Kerouac

 

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Void

July 03, 2014

There is a familiar emptiness that arises, always around but often dormant.

It is around even when I am at work, looking at my computer screen and feeling the meaningless futility of what I am doing. Does this work matter to anyone? For anything?

It is around when I am home, after a day to myself, during which I worked on a project or two which though satisfying in their own small ways, do not fill the empty space of “What is the point of my existence here?”

It feels slightly further away when I go out in the evening and occupy the dark night and the buzzing space of nighttime energy. Getting lost in a sweaty bar amidst pounding music, the emptiness feels further away.

But an hour later, my body has grown accustomed to the pounding rhythms and the sweaty bodies around me stumble in their drunkenness, shoving into me uncomfortably and the emptiness is back – a great expanse of  space between my experience and of those around me.

 

The emptiness all but disappears when I see a dear friend for lunch and we bicycle through town, laughing and sharing stories, and sharing the same high plane of love and joy. But even by early evening when we part ways, I see the emptiness down the block. I look at it and say, “Hello, I spent the day with my friend. I will go home now, read a book and eat dinner.”

 

Emptiness is still.

 

I invite him into my bedroom, because after a joyful day, I know he will not take over and he will be a healthy reminder of the general shape of all things. She will show me my life as a story with no end, with only blank spaces. I will welcome this openness, embracing the unknown, thanking her for existing.

 

Life is changing in big ways right now. And the emptiness begs for deep and strong attention, which is almost too much to handle. She says, “Look at me, be with me, hold me in your arms and in your head and in your heart. Take this void. What do you propose to fill me with, knowing full well that I am ever present?”

 

The small acts, I cannot completely revel and relax in them. Because I see the great power of the emptiness, I see that it is pure potential. And if I a-void it, I will miss the great opportunity it presents. Because he is saying that I can choose more than I have been able to choose for a while! This is the time to cast new stones, and say Yes! and No! And Again! And Never again!

 

And this is me! And this, no! And maybe I don’t know so much about this!

And maybe I can face this fear!

And maybe I am not who I thought I was!

And maybe look at this question more honestly this time! And maybe don’t pretend to know what love, integrity, creativity, joy, peace, confidence, intelligence, spirit are! Maybe you still have no idea!

bird


a bird that flew into the window of our moving car and died on impact and lay on the road, still so gentle and soft, from full flight to sudden disappearance

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A circle of thoughts and some extensions

May 30, 2014

What I think about when I’m idle and alone:

-What should I do?
-Maybe I should call someone to hang out… who?
-It’s always the same people. Why do I wanna see them anyway?
-Maybe I shouldn’t just socialize to avoid being alone.
-What do I wanna do, then?
-What actually matters?
-People do matter (1)
-But there isn’t anyone I really want to see now.
-I just wanna be around people.
-For what purpose?
-I don’t know.
-What should I do, then?
-Maybe something creative by myself.
-Okay, I can do that. But what is the grand scheme? The point? (2)
-Do all of the activities I can possibly engage in have some coherence?
-Is there any point to any of them, or to them all together?
-Will I always feel this sort of emptiness?
-No activity can possibly encompass my purpose for existing.
-I wonder what this emptiness is…

  • Why am I here?
  • What am I doing?
  • What is worth doing? What matters?
  • Who matters?
  • Am I here to give something? To take something?

    Almaas says meaning in life comes from greater intimacy with one’s true self.

  • How can I become more intimate with myself?
  • Who is my true self?
  • What is she doing right now?
  • How close am I to her?
  • Am I getting any closer?
  • Can I do things to be more intimate with her?

    I stop searching through activities and possible ways to spend my time.
    I am a little less afraid or rushed to do something.
    It doesn’t matter what the time is.
    My mind is poised for careful use.

1. People do matter
-The people that matter to me matter as much as it matters that I’m alive. In fact, through them I become alive. I find meaning.
-Is it wrong that my loved ones fill my life with purpose?

  • The people that do matter I will never lose. This I know for sure. With every ounce of my aliveness. Because the reason they matter is we have met each other at some cosmic level, either by choice or by necessity. And since we have contacted each other at the level of ultimate understanding, there ain’t no gettin’ in the way.
-So, no, I don’t think it’s wrong to find meaning through them. In them, I see the divine.
-How do I decide who matters?
-I am cutting out all those who did not stand the test of time. I am purging. I am getting better at doing this. I am learning to accept that I cannot be close to all people, even if they are nearby.  I think I know love through the people that matter.

2. Is there a point to any activity?
-What is my life’s work?
-Am I on the path, or diverging?
-When I read I gain cognitive understanding.
-When I create I feel joyful and productive.
-When I move I feel alive and vibrant.
-When I meditate I can more easily connect to myself.
-When I uncover the patterns of my physical form I feel the fabric of myself changing; I feel empowered by experiencing myself as the witness to change.
-When I work with people, I feel I am helping.
-When I think about the world, I feel moved to help create change.
-When I am out amongst people, I feel inspired and alive.

Every activity offers a different gift. Is just one of these my grand purpose?

 

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On thursday

March 21, 2014

It’s okay to be sad
Sadness, like this,
it’s about surrendering to the situation.

A lot of other feelings can stand in for sadness.

But sadness emerges when you stop building layers on top of it.

Sadness is the last straw. There is always a last straw, after every other one in the bunch has been taken.

Sadness like this
is about yourself being sad.

It is acceptance of an inherently sad situation. Grief or a loss.

Sadness is not a performance.
And sadness is not what you do to get something you always wanted.
It is accepting that you can’t have it,
you never could,
and you won’t keep trying to believe something there is no evidence for.

It is the final facing up to reality, the reality that is yours alone and the entire truth.

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How he doesn’t give

March 18, 2014

Everyone knows
priceless value
whatever Mastercard can’t buy

 

This American boy
raised on oatmeal and
Ayn Rand propoganda

 

He cannot receive or accept any gifts from me
Because receiving in earnest
makes any decent man indebted
by some force, not dollars,
but by some deeper universal law,
that binds us all in the economic exchanges
between sugar and oxygen, water and waste

 

He fervently fights to be certain
that whatever I do, I don’t do for him.
Lest it be an act of care,
a desire not for self alone, but for the bond that forms from giving,
to give, a giving that is receiving

 

He grips tightly to the boundaries
between him and I
To receive would dissolve
his self and my self
into the amorphousness of
darling human
you are me and I am you

He will not participate in the exchange of priceless gifts

He will not give me the satisfaction of receiving by giving

Little does he know of worlds
where my desire and your desires converge into
the singular desire for you to have what you desire and your desire
for me to have what I desire.
Where the things we thought we wanted are only excuses for mutual joy
which we realize we give each other anyway

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I wonder what feeds me

February 09, 2014

One I know for sure:

Things, and people, and places that have aged. Wrinkles, rust, chipped paint, wisdom, laugh lines, a certain slow buffer in living.

I want to hear music in a language I don’t understand. I look at a book with pictures of humans in places I have never been, living lives I could never fathom. I am hungry for the thought of other realities, the unknown unknowns.

So much of America is youthful speed, vacuous activity. I wonder if I would be better suited to a life somewhere with more age. I am fed by history and by the delicate timbre of my father’s voice – it immediately buoys my heart.

As I lay in bed, reflecting on various aspects of my life, some more satisfying than others, I think of my family and breathe a sigh of relief. I vibrate with their memory and move forward. I am fed by my sister’s ability to expose her vulnerabilities, and by my mother’s capacity for strength and resilience. I am fed by their well-earned laughter.

Last night, I am in a bar bathroom. As I pee in one stall, I overhear one woman helping another woman make herself throw up.
“It’s okay, I’ve done it lots of times. You just put your finger down your throat.”
My heart sinks for this betrayal of life. Of course, it is not an unfamiliar experience for myself and for many; the self-hatred, doubt and frustration that ultimately would lead one to perpetrate a violent act against oneself. Sometimes it is obvious, like purging your body of the food that is supposed to sustain it. Other times it’s less immediate, perhaps more of a prolonged lifestyle pattern that reflects an irking self-loathing. Perhaps the thing that keeps so many of us from being good to ourselves.

Once upon a time, my experience of such a state lead me to the brink. If I wanted to survive, I had to answer a few questions frankly: “Do you want to live or die? Do you believe you are worthy of being alive?”
Once I found the answer was yes, there was nothing to do but live with utter honesty.

I believe in good and evil, and a boundary between them that is subtle but unmistakable. We lie to ourselves all the time. And we are really good at numbing the feeling of remorse. In every moment, we make a vote for good or evil, even in the thoughts we choose to think.

I am fed by transformation and the process of unearthing my darkest demons. I am fed by the feeling of growing closer and closer to myself, of telling the truth and letting go of everything else.  When I am fed, I feel that I am as big as the universe. What does hugeness feel like?

It feels like invincibility, and flying. The feeling that no person, event or circumstance is threatening.
I believe that being and doing are not opposed, they are the same thing. Their antithesis is judgement and resistance – anything that chokes up the freely moving flow of change and action.

I am fed by a flame and by empty walls, and by a story that is colorful and confusing. I am fed by the mere thought of humanity in places I have never been. I am fed by the way life circles back around itself, when old friends and lovers re-enter and show me so clearly what has and hasn’t changed.

I am fed by being fully submerged in the narrative of my life. And by the intimate relationships I can have with songs, rainfalls, and neighborhood streets, so that I am never alone.

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The Knife and the Onion

November 03, 2013

The onion: round, layered, strong, complex.

The knife: sharp, direct, straight, cutting.

How are the two to get along?

I cut the onion in half. A cross-section is two-dimensional and incomplete. The knife sees no other way. It is, itself, mostly understood from

a two-dimensional perspective.

 

I slice the half-onion into thin half-moons.

Then I chop down perpendicular to those cuts. Cutting away, I am

dissatisfied by the knife’s inability to acknowledge the roundness

of this allium.  The diced pieces are not square as the knife would

like them to be. They cannot be, because the onion is essentially

round. If the onion was a square form, and its layers neatly

stacked… my knife and its chopping would yield symmetrical, even

cubes.

 

But the onion is round, layered, strong and complex. These

qualities cannot ever be denied, only ignored when we take the

knife to the onion and attempt a grid-like chopping pattern.

 

The sharp, phallic tool and the round layered fruit. How are they to

exist in mutual harmony? Should the knife be, perhaps, reformed so that its cuts reflect the natural inclinations of the onion? Should the

onion be cut forever in a way that ignores its essential round complexity?

I don’t know. But what is certain is that no matter how they meet, a knife with an onion can lead to an endless variety of delicious soups and

stews.

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Manizhe

October 25, 2013


I sat in the armchair at the back of the room, swallowed in the dark while the light from the living room poured down the hall and faded just out of reach. I saw myself in the space, charged by its structure, its light, its dynamism. I felt called to notice it, revel in it, make it my art.

Not to write songs, make films, or paint pictures am I called. But to notice the beauty, the darkness and the art of consciousness filling a space. To make possible the locating of life within a fragment of time and space. And to live. Living as just that; sudden awareness of the self within the world, no matter how immediate, no matter how expansive.

To meditate as a state of being. We cannot separate where we are from the moment we exist there. Time is a dimension of physical space. The sun cannot be said to be setting unless you find yourself just at the place where it disappears from your horizon. So it is with every phase or era of our lives. The years, the moments inseparable from the landscape, the people, the air that consumes us.

She died in April and the last time I saw her, we sat under a tree, sipping coffee and nibbling on cake. Every corner of this place is still filled with her. She is as much gone as she ever was here. She was always a figment of my imagination.

People die but they never go away. They are forever present in the very places we knew them. We can always hold in our hearts the particular gifts of another because they fill the space inside of us as much as they ever filled the space outside. As long as I am alive, so is everyone I have ever known.

Everything is the way my eye sees it. All I need to have love is myself with just the right orientation to the world. How can we love someone who is gone so purely, so easily, so simply, but have such problems loving those around us who are still living? We ask nothing of the dead, or so I hope. Can we love the living with as much abandon and surrender as we would afford them if they were, suddenly, no longer living?

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Country to City

September 19, 2013

After a week of renewal, rest, recuperation in the vast and open spaces of Maryland suburbs, I return to my home in urban Oakland. The airplane I ride on makes the five-hour flight through a changing landscape of clouds, some thick and seemingly solid, others barely a wisp in the wind. As we fly against the rotation of the earth, the daylight lingers, and the horizon changes from hazy blues and grays to crimson, fuchsia and orange.

I think to myself, flying on an airplane has got to be some completely unparalleled sort of experience when it comes to becoming suddenly aware of what time, space, and consciousness are. In the suspended space 30,000 feet above earth, it seems as though time is also held in suspension. I have always found great peace and solace on flights, receiving literal and metaphorical perspective on my life. About three-quarters of the way through the flight, I notice a tiny, black jet in the distance, floating across the sky in the opposite direction from me. There it is, nothing holding it up but air, truly flying. And that’s where I am too. Flying in the sky. Unattached to any place, unattached both to my place of departure and to my eventual point of arrival. Floating just with my thoughts and wishes for a life that seems so far away.

This trip surprised me in the amount of comfort, affirmation and support it gave me. Through seeing old friends, colleagues, professors, to waking up for days in a warm and cozy home surrounded by green space and the still-bright sun of an east coast Autumn. But it also gave me a new understanding of space, place and who I am within them. A perpetual anxiety right at the center of my chest which has been present for the past year completely disappeared when I got myself out of urbanity and spent a week sleeping and waking in a real home.  Time seemed to go by with so much more leisure and ease in that country environment. As it is necessary to drive most places and nowhere of interest is really very close by, every drive is a journey of sorts, a road trip. I felt slower, softer.

 

As much as I enjoyed the return home, I remembered once again why in the world I had decided to pick myself up and move across the country away from all the comforts of a familiar place and old friends, to a much more urban, much more economically challenging and unpredictable city environment. As difficult as the last year has been, I needed to challenge my slowness and my softness . I wanted and needed to be in the thick of everything, lost in people of all sorts. And that same anxiety in my chest which greeted me almost immediately upon arriving at San Francisco International Airport tonight, is the same feeling that has so toughened my skin, made me speak louder and more confidently, and sharpened my gaze. It is an alchemical phenomenon – anxiety transformed into a hardened, quick, capable layer. The very way I hold myself, the integrity of my spine, has changed in tangible ways.

So to a new year, to new friends in this shifting, sometimes shady, city with whom I share my current life. I am ready for the city now, ready to take it on again.

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Self-love Self-work

July 31, 2013

Today at the farmer’s market, a man handed me a postcard that reads ” If you’re not working on yourself, you’re not working.” An apt reminder for me. What do we spend most our time working on? Generally that which pays our bills, and perhaps after that, some sort of external, creative project. Something we affect, manipulate outside of ourselves. To accept that working on ourselves is worthwhile is to accept that transforming our individual experience is possible without changing anything outside of ourselves.

I often wish the  job that I get paid to do could be more closely tied to the internal work of self-transformation that I am engaged with. I wish that we could speak more openly, systematically about the process of working on ourselves, and not only at the watercooler, but as part of the bulk of our work. We should question our patterns and wonder about the way we do things. We should consider our past, reflect on our assumptions and judgements, destabilize what we think is our unchangeable way of being, brush our teeth with the opposite hand. We ought to know ourselves intimately, and possess ourselves fully.

Recently, my pops recommended I read “The Art of Loving” by Erich Fromm. It is a very short, completely digestible volume that I recommend to absolutely everyone. I am moved also to write about self-love, and yet so aware of the hippie, mushy, cliche of that statement. But, actually, it is revealing of our culture’s limitations that speaking of self-love has been stigmatized. Any kind of love begins first with love of self. One’s relationship with oneself is a reflection, a microcosm of one’s relationship with everyone, everything else outside.

What can it mean to truly know and love oneself? And how does that kind of love affect the way we exist in the world? And how can our existence in the world as self-loving individuals, affect our communities, societies, countries, world?

Here is a trimmed version of the introduction to the book I just mentioned. I hope you will read the book, and I hope it will encourage you to make the work of the self a greater priority in all that you do in your life.

 

happy monk

“Is love an art? Then it requires knowledge and effort. Or is love a pleasant sensation, which to experience is a matter of chance, something one ‘falls into’ if one is lucky? This little book is based on the former premise, while undoubtedly the majority of people today believe in the latter.

Not that today people think love is not important. They are starved for it; they watch endless numbers of films about happy and unhappy love stories, they listen to hundreds of trashy songs about love – yet hardly anyone thinks there is anything that needs to be learned about love…

Most people see the problem of love primarily as that of being loved, rather than that of loving, of one’s capacity to love. Hence the problem to them is how to be loved, how to be lovable… Many of the ways to make oneself lovable are the same as those used to make oneself successful… As a matter of fact, what most people in our culture mean by being lovable is essentially a mixture between being popular and having sex appeal.

A second premise behind the attitude that there is nothing to be learned about love is the assumption that the problem of love is the problem of an object,  not the problem of a faculty. People think that to love is simple, but that to find the right object to love – or to be loved by – is difficult… Our whole culture is based on the appetite for buying, on the idea of a mutually favorable exchange. Modern man’s happiness consists in the thrill of looking at the shop windows, and in buying all that he can afford to buy… He (or she) looks at people in a similar way… Two people thus fall in love when they feel they have found the best object available on the market, considering the limitations of their own exchange values… In a culture in which the marketing orientation prevails, and in which material success is the outstanding value, there is little reason to be surprised that human love relations follow the same pattern of exchange which governs the commodity and the labor market.

The third error leading to the assumption that there is nothing to be learned about love lies in the confusion between the initial experience of ‘falling’ in love, and the permanent state of being in love, or as we might better say, of ‘standing’ in love. If two people who have been strangers, as all of us are, suddenly let the wall between them break sown, and feel close, feel one, this moment of oneness is one of the most exhilarating, most exciting experiences in life. It is all the more wonderful and miraculous for persons who have been shut off, isolated, without love. This miracle of sudden intimacy is often facilitated if it is combined with, or initiated by, sexual attraction and consummation. However, this type of love is by its very nature not lasting. The two persons become well acquainted, their intimacy loses more and more its miraculous character, until their antagonism, their disappointments, their mutual boredom kill whatever is left of the initial excitement. Yet, in the beginning they do not know all this: in fact, they take the intensity of the infatuation, this being “crazy” about each other, for proof of the intensity of their love, while it may only prove the degree of their preceding loneliness.

This attitude – that nothing is easier than to love – has continued to be the prevalent idea about love in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. There is hardly any activity, any enterprise, which is started with such tremendous hopes and expectations, and yet, which fails so regularly, as love. If this were the case with any other activity, people would be eager to know the reasons for the failure, and to learn how one could do better – or they would give up the activity. Since the latter is impossible in the case of love, there seems to be only one adequate way to overcome the failure of love – to examine the reasons for this failure, and to proceed to study the meaning of love.

The first step to take is to become aware that love is an art, just as living is an art; if we want to learn how to love we must proceed in the same way we have to proceed if we want to learn any other art, say music, painting, carpentry, or the art of medicine or engineering…

If I want to learn the art of medicine, I must first know the facts about the human body, and about various diseases. When I have all this theoretical knowledge, I am by no means competent in the art of medicine. I shall become a master in this art only after a great deal of practice, until eventually the results of my theoretical knowledge and the results of my practice are blended into one – my intuition…

the mastery of the art must be of ultimate concern; there must be nothing else in the world more important than the art… And maybe, here lies the answer to the question of why people in our culture try so rarely to learn this art; in spite of their obvious failures: in spite of the deep-seated craving for love, almost everything else is considered to be more important than love: success, prestige, money, power… Could it be that only those things are considered worthy of being learned with which one can earn money or prestige, and that love, which ‘only’ profits the soul, but is profitless in the modern sense, is a luxury we have no right to spend much energy on?”

Erich Fromm, “The Art of Loving”

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