Thursday, August 31, 2006


Am I just going around and around in circles? Am I running away from something? I know that when I start to fantasize about winning the lottery or receiving a call from a publishing friend out of the blue, telling me that she or he reads my blog and wants to publish means that I'm ignoring reality again. Why am I looking for the easy way out, and wanting the quick fix solution?

Because I feel like while other people are striding heroically across the earth, I am on a treadmill of boredom and endless repetition…the kind where you have the same set of emotions so frequently you stop exploring them…you just label them and move on. Anger, frustration, bitterness…it’s all really just BOREDOM. I’ve always been addicted to novelty…I’ll admit it. I am forever waiting for signs and miracles and star alignment and daisies dropped in my path from the universe. And lately, either it’s not happening or I just don’t have eyes to see it. I sit on a plateau…in my mothering and in my writing life and in my marriage. Nothing is terrible and nothing is working, either.

I don’t want to blame being a mother (although, Lord, the tantrums are really wearing me down to a shrill little nub of a person)—even before Madam was born, I would fall into this passive rut, expecting some external thrill to shock back into wakefulness and life. But back then, I could jumpstart something, by taking a "mental health" day from work and reassessing my priorities, or traveling, or taking a class—just something that reminded me that I COULD take some action and move forward, however incrementally.

None of those options are possible anymore, for various reasons. I suppose it’s good that I can’t gloss over it anymore, this need to flit from distraction to distraction. But…I miss the sense of possibility I used to feel. I miss the fun, the excitement of having something to look forward to.

When I was in India, the women in TEG’s family would tell me that even though they stayed home with their children (none of the women in his family work outside the home, even though that trend is changing now), there were always so many things going on, family marriages to attend and help plan, religious festivals, birthdays, anniversaries, visits and vacations and dinners and parties to plan. They live in a sort of sacred festival time. I’m sure they also have their days when the children are screaming, when the work of doing and undoing becomes too much to bear. But on those hard days, they can call each other, go have tea, share the burden.

I suppose those are two sides of the same coin—the desire to add some variety and fun and purpose to my day, and the loneliness of not really knowing anyone really well here yet.

Wise Pixie once mentioned to me that I was free to choose another story, one that would fulfill me, instead of forever seeing myself with nose to the glass, outside in the rain while the celebrations went on inside. Unable to go inside, unable to be a part of it all. It’s interesting how much I have arranged my life, however unconsciously, to fit the confines of that story. I love the fact that I’ve been able to live out my gypsy dreams, moving with TEG from place to place. But I never dreamed of day when there would be only silence between us. Sure, I was always lonely whenever we moved—it’s not easy for me to make friends. But I always had him. I don’t feel that way anymore.

Blogging helps to fill those empty places, but I still feel at a remove—I don’t have the time or the ideas to post everyday, to comment as much as I would like, so I know that I’m still very much on the periphery of things. And that’s frustrating too—I started this blog to begin a daily writing practice, but I don’t post often enough for it to feel substantial. I mentioned once that I wanted to use this blog to gain momentum as I inch towards my writing dreams, but it can feel like the same hamster wheel—the same emotions, the same thoughts, the same words, no growth, just promises I break to myself and ideas that never lead to something more. Honestly, I see you all moving forward, doing the hard work of transformation, and I wonder why I can try the same things—the mirror meditation, Sunday Scribblings, journaling--and not get anywhere with them. But then I ask myself...where do I want to go? Am I putting in as much effort as my blog sisters? Or is this something else I try and then mysteriously give up before I can see any results in my life?

When I was in labor with Madam, I pushed as hard as I could, ineffectually, trying to move into the pain and through the other side, but I always stopped just before the push became productive. I had prepared so much for this moment, learned all sorts of mindfulness techniques and breathing exercises to surrender to the moment and allow my body to work instinctively. And yet...I was afraid of the pain, and that fear moved us back and forth, back and forth, but always in place. I tried so hard, knowing that her life was literally at stake. I tried with everything in me. So why couldn't I do it?

I couldn’t build on momentum. And I still can’t.

Ugh, I didn’t mean to sound as whiny as I just did. It’s just been a hard day in these parts.

Hope things are better with all of you.


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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Sunday Scribblings--Monster

Lately I have been going about discovering the truth in truisms...something that is harder than it sounds. We all go about quoting these pithy phrases to ourselves, "You can’t make another person happy." "To thine own self be true." "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." "The only moment is now..." and then proceed blithely to live in opposition to what we "know" to be true. Maybe this knowledge is hidden in plain sight—drained of all potential through being ever-present, but never really truly understood.

Or maybe I am just an expert at saying something again and again without really experiencing it, and without engaging with the monsters in the closet and in my mind.

Some days the room inside my head feels so crowded with monsters as to push my own self towards the fire escape. There is a veritable monsters’ convention taking place—a reunion of what I most fear, and what I most dread. They take all shapes and sizes, these monsters—but I suppose they can all be grouped (roughly...I think they would take offence to being seen as part of a clump...monsters have a sizable ego too, I imagine) in two basic categories—Monsters of Fear and Monsters of Deception.

The first group needs no introduction—they’re the ones clumped about in dark corners, eyes darting compulsively, chain smoking Pall Malls and talking incessantly about everything to be avoided, which is, well...everything. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the Monsters of Fear are not frozen in fear themselves. How else could they be so convincing? If they were sunshiny and optimistic and confident, they’d have no need of the company their misery creates.

These Monsters whisper all sorts of warnings (for they are afraid to raise their voices, unless they are screaming in terror)—don’t push too hard, don’t call attention to yourself, don’t try that, it might hurt you, don’t try, don’t do, don’t be, don’t say, don’t think. Just be safe and small and maybe, MAYBE the dangers of Life will rush right by you.

Of course, it never really works out that way. I find my Monsters of Fear don’t actually stop the bad things from happening—I still suffer. People around me still sicken and grow old and die. Not writing my books, not striding towards my dream doesn’t make me feel secure—on the contrary. I just feel more powerless, more short, more miserable and afraid.

So why is their song so seductive? Perhaps because it all feels the same, doesn’t it? The group of men lurking underneath the circle of streetlight that slices through the night—doesn’t that seem surprisingly similar to the feeling of putting one word in front of the other, imperfect and revelatory, and then showing them people and waiting for their scorn or their laughter? Don’t both feel as though you will LITERALLY die, as though your self will be annihilated?

I suppose this is where reason comes in. The men MIGHT rape and kill you—in actuality, not as a metaphor. Whereas, readers mocking you, throwing up their hands at your abject idiocy...well, it won’t feel GOOD, but you’ll probably survive to draw another breath, see another day. Clearly, feelings won’t clear up the confusion here, so it’s up Logic to roll up her sleeves and point out the differences. Maybe the feelings never go away, maybe they never change the whole time you are in motion. Maybe the monsters will threaten you with actual death with every new word floating on the white page.

But it won’t be true.

And truth brings me (yay, segue!) to the second group of monsters—those charming hucksters known as the Monsters of Deception. Oh, they are popular, these monsters, in fact...they usually don’t seem very monstrous on first viewing, or second. They seem to be sharing valuable knowledge, to be working for our best interest. They say, concerned, that maybe you shouldn’t be so quick to stand up for your own desires...after all, nobody likes a selfish person. And who do you think you are, anyway, dear—society, your family, the people who love you and KNOW you...they know what’s best for you. You wouldn’t want to disappoint them, would you? They NEED you to make them happy—only YOU have that power. They need to remind you that you are nothing without the people in your life and their approval of you. That you wouldn’t survive a day without them. So you need to be a good girl.

Here is where they join in dissonant chorus with the Monsters of Fear. You won’t be loved. You won’t be respected, or admired. And without all this, you won’t survive.

If somehow, you manage to tie yourself to the mast of your mental ship and avoid these powerful voices, don’t get cocky. The Monsters of Deception aren’t done with you. They’ll attack your methods next. Everyone needs an advanced degree, or the work has no value. You’ll never have enough time, because everyone needs 8 solid hours of time a day to work on their dream, otherwise, it’s impossible. You need to be a millionaire before you can even THINK of embarking on your quest, because otherwise, you’ll surely starve.

And on, and on, and on it goes.

I’ve been hearing these voices all of my life, and I though I’d heard every possible variation on these themes from the many, many monsters in my life.

But there was another one, a quieter one, so potent and so stealthy I almost missed it.

This is the greatest Monster of Deception of all. This is the monster who tells you that if only you hit upon the perfect formula of action, of thought, of appearance, that you’ll be able to keep every good thing in your life exactly the same. So you bend, and you twist, to try and always be the Adored Youngest Daughter, or the Sexy 18 year old Girlfriend, or the Woman Full of All Potential. You try and freeze time, or barring that, try to return to that good time again and again by repeating the same behavior in new situations.

But of course, it never works. Every moment circles and circles away from you. What worked today won’t work tomorrow. The people who admire you today may not do so tomorrow, or even later today. Movement, change, movement. So you end up stuck in a vision of yourself that wasn’t true one moment after it occurred, in a time that is gone forever, surrounded by the ghosts of people who are all different now. And in doing this, you abdicate responsibility for your actions in the present moment—because you want to stay in amber, preserved in your infinite potential, every choice still possible because no road is ever followed.

I used to bristle against the Buddhist idea of detachment, because I thought there were so many beautiful things I wanted to experience in life—and I WANTED to be attached to them, to suck the joy down to the dregs. But now I am learning that you celebrate and enjoy every wonderful aspect of life, but you realize that it will fade and change in its own time, and there is no way to grasp the moment in greedy hands that won’t ever let go.

On trying to learn these things, face these things, there is only one thing to be done. I will dare to steal into the monster’s ball. I will dare to point them out—you, and you, and you, in the hopes that seeing them will dissolve some of their power over me. And in doing this, I find myself falling back on those old truisms, but staring at them with a dawning comprehension. Hoping that for once, I’ll be able to match my actions to them.

You can’t make other people happy. You can’t step into the same river twice. To thine own self be true. We scorn these thoughts; have contempt for their simplicity. But they can be like stones for an oyster—irritations that we can build the pearl of our lives around. Mindlessly, we imagine that these little sentences are end ideas—we stop engaging them.

This is exactly what the monsters would like for us to do. To stop thinking, to ignore reality and the truth that sits, plain and patient, in our midst.

But can’t even a trite truism be a beginning? Can’t we sit with it; with all of the discomfort it brings in its wake?

So take a moment, really look at the thoughts you’ve always taken for granted. Imagine how your life would look if you listened to them, even if you don’t know if you believe them yet. And wait for the monsters to rise to the bait, to shout you down, remind you that you are small, weak, powerless, unworthy, stupid, inadequate.

See the truth they are desperate to hide.

You are enough. And you can change your life.

For more monsters in the closet, go here.


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Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Drained. There will be no fancy words tonight, but I still feel the need to check in here, to try and follow some of the threads dangling inside my mind tonight.

Madam is hurtling towards toddlerhood, and her normally sunny personality is being eclipsed by what feel like endless tantrums, complete with arching back and red faced screams and kicking my hands away. I find myself having entire arguments with TEG in my head, and innocent questions like "what's for dinner?" sound accusatory.

My apartment is still a chaos of boxes, and I despair of ever being able to find a place for everything. It always amazes me how completely motherhood has changed my life—TEG and I have moved 6 times in 7 years, and we’ve always been able to unpack and settle in within a matter of days. But trying to find pockets of time when Madam is happily occupied, and TEG is not on the phone, and I can dredge up the energy—well, this is not always possible. So there is a maze of half unpacked boxes and things that don’t seem to fit anywhere.

Let’s not even talk about trying to, you know, decorate the place.

And did I mention that my in-laws are coming to visit this week?


Several bloggers I admire have been writing about the Law of Attraction and learning how to manifest their desires in the world. This is something that fascinates me, in part because it sounds so simple. Use your emotions as a guide to try and observe your thoughts, then try to find thoughts that bring about happier emotions.

So why can’t I do it? I try to envision myself achieving my heart’s desires (writing and publishing a book, having more time to write, finding a way to make money, healing my fractious relationship), try to imagine how wonderful it would feel, try to imagine that it would all be possible. My thoughts are textbook examples of positive thinking.

And yet...I know I am lying to myself. Or rather, I know I don’t really believe it’s possible. I am beginning to realize that manifestation doesn’t so much have to do with the emotions caused by my self-consciously "happy" thinking, but rather with the deeper BELIEFS that directly contradict these thoughts. Beliefs about how utterly impossible all of my desires are, and how I don’t much deserve them, to boot. Beliefs that seem utterly resistant to all of my attempts to understand them, change them, listen to them, argue with them.

How do you all, wise readers, uproot these stubborn belief systems?

One thing I read about manifestation has given me pause. Basically, you can’t leap from low-grade depression or apathy to ABSOLUTE BLISS in one swoop. You need to go up the feeling scale gradually—from fear to depression to anger to frustration and so on until you reach the heights of love, appreciation, confidence, and bliss. It’s certainly not as exciting to think about slogging through all of that misery than it is to think that you’ll just FIX your mind and then abundance and bliss will shower blessings on you. And I do this with so many aspects of my life—I want to make every change at once, so that I can step fully into a completely new self, new life, new future. But this induces a fear that I’ll change so suddenly and irrevocably as to destroy the historical threads that tie me to my family, to my husband. And so I think a whole lot, but don’t make the leap into action.

This is a convenient excuse—to project myself so far into my dream future that it becomes a nightmare, and saves me from risking at all. It’s not enough to start writing, I must also get a tattoo (actually, I do want much does it hurt?), have lovers (all artistic wannabe bohemians do, don’t they?), leave my family, change my name, denounce my history. might be time to make one little change—and who knows? That might be the way to shave down the glacier of my resistant belief system.


I have a secret to confess here. I have a tiny bit of a phobia—driving. And if I am honest, it has affected the quality of my life for a while now. Once winter starts here in earnest, I’ll have to find a way to continue my daily outings with Madam—that way sanity lives. And that will probably have to include driving.

I have no idea why I am terrified of this—I drove in California (albeit reluctantly), but this is so much more of a city.

I have tried positive talk, "just doing it," associating it with pleasant rewards. Nothing has worked very well. I need some advice on other motivational techniques. This is something that serves to keep me feeling so dependant and, well, childlike (clearly the theme of the month here), and I am so tired of it but I can’t seem to overcome this fear by myself.

So channel your inner Freud, inner Jung, inner Dr. Phil and share your psychological wisdom with me; I could use it.

Sorry for the drab meanderings tonight; it’s late and I have miles to go before I sleep. So let me send you off into a post that is like a clarion call for me today, written by someone who is clearly able to manifest, and drive, and who is getting a lot more sleep.

Or am I just making excuses again?


Continue reading...

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Sunday Scribblings--Seven circles (the inner life of pets)


Apologies for the length of this little fictional sorta-fairytale...and the randomness. This whole weekend was bloggus interruptus.
The British regiment sat stiffly in the holy man’s temple, listening to him with varying degrees of politeness. Their uniformed rigidness clashed with the vibrant silks and vivid colors around them—reds deep as passion, as blood; yellows stolen from the heart of flowers. The gods stared, frozen little smiles on their lips—the eternal bleeding into the everyday, the way it always does in India.

"The soul has many lifetimes to complete its task." He explained in his clipped English. "And the soul can do its work, as an animal, an insect, even a plant. Atman--soul--is one."

"Well, yes..." the Colonial said, attempting to look thoughtful. "Ye-es, good story, that. Almost gives a chap hope, eh, Simon?" He gave Simon, his lieutenant, a stiff poke in the ribs, clearly mocking the old pundit, who sat serene, staring at both officers with eyes the color of milky tea.

John Wallingford stared down at the swirl of his masala chai, mortified and vaguely depressed by the talk. He was a nobody, a young man who had joined the regiment bound for India in the hopes that India would claim him, give his soul some heft and splendor. But, no, it appeared he would remain as anonymous amidst these exotic people as he had been on the foggy streets of London. Perhaps more so.

He looked up, right into the pundit’s startling eyes—endless green like new grass in a face like aged leather. Staring and staring with inexhaustible interest...why? Why would the pundit pick him out of this group? Surely there was nothing remarkable about him at all, especially in this illustratious company. He didn’t matter at all.

A soft cough interrupted his gloomy thoughts. One of the pundit’s daughters stole into the room, bearing a tray with additional biscuits and refreshments from the kitchen. Her long black hair hung like a rope down her back, ending at the place where her blue sari swirled loose around her knees. The men continued their talk, their movements, accepting her goods as though she were invisible, furniture. But John could not look away. The young girl moved like a dancer, swayed graceful like a lotus in a breeze. He wanted his gaze to put walls around him, surprising himself. He was amazed the other men were not silent before her, falling to their knees at her beauty, which was as yet not quite beauty. Perhaps they were correct. He only knew he was grateful for their inattention. It meant he could appreciate her all for himself.

All this time, her eyes had remained cast down, modestly, but as she passed John, she allowed herself to look up and hold his gaze. John grew tense with electricity, feeling every hair on his arm strain towards her. She had her father’s great green eyes, slanted and cat-like. They laughed warmly at him for a moment, then she was gone.

No one else noticed. No one, perhaps, except the old pundit, who smiled inwardly, well pleased.

A few weeks later, a plague of fever struck the regiment, felling the men one by one. John succumbed, fought the disease valiantly, but soon grew weak and knew that his end was near. Anonymous life, ignoble death.

The air felt close around him...drenched in water...pani as the locals would say. The heat throbbed tight around his temples and stretched around his eyes, swollen with fever and delirium. It wouldn’t be long now...soldiers always knew. His eyes rolled back into his skull, taking him back to foggy cool London streets, the clopping rhythm of horse drawn carriages, the low laugh of young women. Sweet relief, even as a reminder of everything he was about to lose

"I only hope the Promised Land awaits." he muttered, as the doctor turned away. His eyes closed for the last time...

And opened. John shook his head as if to clear it, shocked at his sudden great sense of well being. He stretched, marveling for the first time at his flexible limbs, his sinewy strength. How had he never noticed this agility before, this balletic grace?

He arched his back and rolled in the grass.

And stopped.

Rolled in the grass?

He ambled quickly, but on all fours, towards a small puddle of dank water. It was muddy and dark, but showed him all he needed to see.

A small cat, gray and striped, with a streak of white at the temples.

A cat.

Unbidden, he remembered the pundit’s words again, about the soul needing many lifetimes for its labors. Unbidden, he remembered their eyes, that family. Feline eyes.

John lay down and pondered this unexpected reversal in fortune. He had not mattered as a man, so he had returned as an animal. A fear ate at him...would he not matter as a cat, and be forced to return as vermin? Ambition flared in his furry breast.

He would find a way to make a difference in this life, to take this gift and use it , somehow.

Over the following weeks and months, John prowled the streets of Bombay, close to the ground, weaving himself through the narrow choked streets of the city. He learned to follow the wedding processions as they blared their triumphant music, knowing that the dancers and revelers would inevitably be careless with their food, dropping it and giving him a princely meal. He slid invisible into the fish stalls by the beach, watching the children’s nimble fingers as they eased the fish open, cleaning it in one swoop, fish guts falling ruby red to the floor for him to pounce on.

Most of all, he explored the city, from the glittering white palaces of the elite, with the servants that salaamed as they left the room, to the hovels where families would sit crushed with hunger, incense swirling around their cracked skin as they begged their gods for better days. He absorbed the language, the rhythms of the city that thudded with the hooves of cows, the tinkle of the rickshaws, the sing song of the merchants and the sway of the women balancing water jugs on their heads, as graceful as a waltz.

But why? Why had John come this? He couldn’t fathom what his soul’s purpose was, after all. He felt pulled inexorably, to give in fully to his cat nature, to release those human memories, memories of the man John he would never be again. But something inside him clung fiercely to that other self, clung fiercely to his memories and his humanity even as he wore the skin and the life of an ordinary street cat, lost and invisible amidst the great pulsating heart of Bombay by the Arabian Sea.

One day, he was feeling especially dispirited. He had been shooed from every step, the chai wallah had tossed a bucket of hot water at him (he had a very narrow escape from that one), and the street urchins chased him until he was half dead from exhaustion. He snuck into a local temple, feeling low indeed.

And then he saw her, hunched low before an idol of Ganesh. Praying and whispering and weeping.

"Bless me, Lord Ganesh. Make me love him, my future husband, as I take the seven steps with him. Make me love him, and bind him to me for seven lifetimes."

John stole closer, until his whiskers tickled the soles of her bare feet.

She smiled and pulled the cat into her lap, "Is this a gift, Lord?" she asked, laughing her way out of tears. "Is this the sign of my new beginning?"

John could say nothing; only stare at her with eyes that seemed almost human, affectionate. He burrowed his head into the folds of her sari, and purred loudly.

"It appears you have chosen me, little pet. You are the only creature ever to do so...and so decisive! I’ll take you home with me. We’ll be friends, you and I."

And thus it happened that John the cat went to live in the pundit’s house.

The house was a whirl of activity and merriment in preparation for Sia’s wedding (for that was the young maiden’s name). Young men in loose fitting kurtas came bearing bolts of fabric for the dresses and saris, fanning them out on the beds and furniture until it seemed a rainbow was trapped in those four walls. Every window was alight with small candles called diyas, welcoming good fortune and celebration. The maids whispered laughing in the hallways, and sidled in the kitchen to partake of the endless feast of naan, chicken, dals, mutton biryani...all manner of delicacies.

In fact, in all of the hubbub, Sia herself was quite forgotten, as the aunties bustled about making arrangements, haggling with vendors, and drinking endless cups of the strong, sweet chai.

Only her father watched her, especially when she came home with the cat. Pets were not common to that area, and there had never been any in the household. Yet, Sia was insistent, telling her father that Lord Ganesh himself had blessed their union. She was very forceful, which was unlike her, and John was humbled by her keenness. He tried to look suitably harmless, adorable, like a kitten, in spite of his ragged appearance. He would do anything to stay here; he knew a singleness of purpose that had never blessed him as a human. He needed to be near her, nothing else would do.

John cocked his head at the old man, who seemed almost to recognize him from that long ago lunch. But after a searing look, the old man shrugged and walked away, but not without a backwards glance as his daughter walked off hugging her new pet.

In the weeks that followed, John and Sia spent hours together everyday as she confessed her marriage fears to him.

"I want to feel important to him, dear cat. I want to be important to SOMEBODY. After years of being invisible, all I want is to come first. To be seen. To be loved. I would give anything, I would be the best wife in the world, but I must have THAT."

John would strain to tell her, to assure her that he would gladly give his life for her. But of course, he was only a cat, and so all he could do was lay his furry head on her lap and lick her palm.

"I know it’s foolishness...silly romance. Where have I gotten such notions? It’s odd, little pet, to think of how much I tell you. I never knew I had so much to say!" And she would bury her nose into his neck, and he would know perfect happiness.

While Sia slept, John would watch over her, memorizing her features, nuzzling her with his head when he dared. Such a love he had never known as a human—only as a cat had he discovered such an adoration. He longed only to make her happy, in any way.

The day of the wedding arrived, and John snuck out of the house, unseen by anyone except the observant pundit and two maids who had never liked him.

"Such devotion!" One of them commented to the others as they rinsed the basmati rice for the upcoming celebration. "If only I could find a man who would treat me like that!"

"If I didn’t know better, I would say he’s wasting away from grief." Said the other one. "He’s lost a great deal of fur...I spend enough time chasing hairballs! Once Sia Behan leaves for her new house, he won’t be long for this world, I’ll bet."

The riotous wedding procession danced closer to the house, as the groom sat astride his horse, a crown upon his head, strings of flowers draped in front of his face like a veil. His relatives danced to the baraat band, throwing coins to the crowds of young urchins who ran alongside.

John felt very much in the way at the temple, stepped on left and right, shooed off by the cooks and the maids and the elegant waiters. He hid himself behind the curtains of marigolds, and felt as out of place as he had so long ago as an English soldier.

He could sense that his cat body was failing him. No longer could he bound to Sia’s side in one joyous leap. His limbs were arthritic, the patches where his fur had grown thin were growing larger. But all of that only increased his urgency to be near her, while he still could.

She finally emerged, draped in a sari the color of red joy, head bowed from the weight of her gold and diamond jewelry. John paused, tail quivering. He had never seen anyone so beautiful. For one day, at least, Sia had gotten her wish. She was being seen, admired by all, especially the shy young man who was to be her groom.

Her pundit father led the ceremony, his voice and hands shaking as he chanted the sacred words, lit the sacred fire.

"And now the bride and groom will start their new lives together by making the seven circles around the promises to each other, seven lives to be shared."

John knew what he needed to do. Using up what little strength he had, he leapt onto the stage and hid himself in Sia’s voluminous dress. He began to take the seven steps with her, even as she walked hand in hand with her new husband.

Sia could feel him there, whiskers brushing against the tender skin of her ankle, and she knew. Perhaps she always had. She slowed her steps so that he could keep up with her and remain unseen.

The pundit bowed his head, satisfied.

While everyone celebrated at the marriage feast, John Wallingford, John the Cat, melted away to a warm corner of the garden. As his eyes grew milky with death, he realized that his dream had come true. His soul had found fulfillment in this life—in knowing Sia, in listening to her, in loving her. India had claimed him as her own, after all...brought him home to his love. And he knew without a doubt that he would see her again, in the next life.

He had made sure of it.

The veil that separated life from life was growing translucent, and John closed his eyes, felt the passing of his feline body. But the Gods were kind, and allowed him one human expression. He purred the Hindi word for love, pyaar, spoke to his Sia as he had longed to, even though she could not hear him. Their love had been before, their love would be again.

Soul is one.

For more furry scribblings, go here.


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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

More mirror work (and Poetry Thursday)

from the DHD Multimedia Gallery

I still hesitate on the way to the mirror. Oh, not because I don’t know what I’ll see...I do. Sometimes I even smile a little—it’s a bit like greeting a friend who is going through a hard time. In this case, familiarity has bred a certain affection. Sure, the hair is a little blowsy in this curls have seen better days. And the body is still a little lopsided, a little soft where it should be taut. But it inspires tenderness in me...we’ve been through a lot, after all. I’ve learned to look at myself curiously, like a child—is that what it means to be nonjudgmental? I genuinely want to know more as I stare at myself...why is my skin doing that? Are those lines around my eyes wrinkles? When did that happen? Look at that gray hair or two...where did those come from?

I don’t expect to look 18 anymore.

But the mirror work has brought up so many unexpected questions—why do I carry myself so tersely, unwilling to relax, to be touched? Why have I decided that sensuality is an aspect of my former life—does my body no longer deserve to wear soft fabrics, to be adorned and perfumed and soothed by rich lotions?

I’ve always thought of myself as ambivalently sexy. When I was younger, I loved to push myself forward, wearing provocative little chiffon dresses that murmured promises I wasn’t always quite sure I wanted to keep. I played with fashion, with vintage dresses that suggested something of the woman I wanted to become—artistic, bohemian, but also passionate and sensual.

Sex and sensuality is an enormous aspect of a Latina woman’s life—just watch Univision for five minutes and you’ll see a woman gyrating suggestively. I wanted to taste it, that power—I wanted to be watched the way my mother was, as she sauntered down the street. She owned every movement, calculated with a grace that seemed effortless. Beauty, my mother always said, is a woman’s power, and any pain it might bring (said to quell my complaints as I waited for her to finish getting dressed) was worth it.

But even as I longed to be beautiful, to be sexy, I wanted to be able to revel in my other side—the intellectual who loves to play in the ethereal realm of ideas, who wants to forget about the body and its tyranny for a while.

As I grew older, I felt like more of an awkward fit in my culture—all of the pleasing, teasing poses that other girls put on with ease...I just couldn’t master them. I’d inevitably grow serious, grow pensive. I couldn't quite pull it off, wasn't quite voluptious enough, wasn't quite flirtatious enough, or not in the right way, or not at the right times. And the greatest sin of all...I’d question the game itself. Why should I turn myself inside out to please a man? Why should every man be able to judge me in almost a proprietary way...judge whether my clothing was skimpy enough, my hair loose and wild enough, my curves beckoning enough? Why was it so important to make sure the man felt good, strong, macho—what about me? I wanted to feel strong for myself, confident even when I wasn’t being reflected in some admiring man’s eyes.

So I rebelled, wholeheartedly embracing the life of the mind—or the version of it that I could cobble together from my books and imagination. I didn’t want to be seen as one of those wild, "hot" girls, forever burning white hot for a man. No, I wanted to be cool, live for something beyond my own appearance. All of my most important moments would take place above my neck. I would claim myself as an intellectual, beyond those base bodily pleasures.

But now, facing myself in the mirror, I wonder...why did it have to be either/or? Was I like those men, seeing those beautiful girls as the sum of their bodies, denying them personhood because they dared to be lusty, to be physical? Yes, Latin culture tends to be patriarchal, but did that mean that they saw themselves that way? Why did I need to see them that way? Why did I reduce them?

And why did I reduce myself? So desperate to be taken seriously, I cut myself off from pleasure, from sweaty passion and the adult strain of taut calves in my high heels.. From enjoying my own body and knowing that I could STILL take myself seriously as a thinker even if I wore crushed velvet and blood red lipstick.

This is something that is coming up in my marriage, as well. TEG is very conservative with his ideas about women's appearance...he thinks less is, well...less. He's always said that he LIKES that I am "modest", especially compared with the way he sees Latina women in the media and when we visit my family in Miami. But...I don't feel especially modest, not really. I DO want to flaunt myself, after all. I want to come up with my own standards rather than feeling bound up in his. But I don't want to lose his admiration. And I don't want to have another reason to fight.

But it's beginning to feel I am affecting a reserve that doesn't feel true. And it's one more way I feel like I'm betraying myself.

I have such a hard time manifesting things in the world—my words remain trapped inside my mind, my body remains starved for beauty. I long to embody wholeness—to look on the outside the way I feel on the inside. Why can’t I claim that?

I want to turn the lights down low, and dance to salsa as it thickens like smoke around me.

And I want to do it for myself.

I have had Leaves of Grass on my mind for a few days now, especially this stanza, which haunts me as I continue to face the mirror.

I have said that the soul is not more than the body,
And I have said that the body is not more than the soul;
And nothing, not God, is greater to one than one’s self is,
And whoever walks a furlong without sympathy, walks to his own funeral, drest in his shroud,
And I or you, pocketless of a dime, may purchase the pick of the earth,
And to glance with an eye, or show a bean in its pod, confounds the learning of all times,
And there is no trade or employment but the young man following it may become a hero,
And there is no object so soft but it makes a hub for the wheel’d universe,
And I say to any man or woman, Let your soul stand cool and composed before a million universes.


For more poetic goodness, go here.


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Sunday, August 13, 2006

Sunday Scribblings-Mirror (who else can I still be?)

This is a quick short fiction. Um...and someday I might even stop writing about mothers and daughters. Someday.

Most of the time I ignored her, sitting there with her coffee cup, the milk chasing her spoon around as she stirred and stirred. She was like a parody of depression, leaning on her elbows, staring off into nothing. And believe me, I know from parody. Actors have to be careful of it.

"Sondra could have been anything, done anything. She is so gifted." Then she would sigh again and look intently into her cup. For a clue, maybe.

Sondra is my sister. Firstborn, the screen onto which my mother projected all of her hopes and dreams. And Sondra tried to live up to them, she did, for a long time. She grew her brown hair long and dyed it blonde, brought home so many boyfriends it would have made you dizzy to try and keep up with them, dazzled her teachers, her friends, and everyone else around her.

Until the one day she grabbed her bus pass and a change of clothes, and disappeared. She was 21.

At first, my parents thought she had gone back to school, or to a friend’s house.

But I knew right away. I tried to make my parents see, to get them to realize that Sondra hadn’t gone for an hour, or for a night, but forever. And not because she said anything to me, but just because...I’d spent a lifetime, 16 years, watching Sondra, studying Sondra, loving Sondra. I could have gotten a PhD in what I knew about my sister. And what I knew back then was that she needed a break. How long a break, nobody knew.

She’s never come back. Not yet. But I’d know it....I’d feel it if...if things were different. I think she’s still out there, still dazzling. She just needed a different stage for a while.

I can relate, but I spun that urge out. I’ve turned myself into an actress...quite a good one, as it turns out. I love to look into the mirror until I can’t quite focus, until I can’t see myself anymore. Only Lady Macbeth, or Daisy Buchanan, or Juliet.

But my mother avoids the mirror, avoids looking at anything too closely. Too afraid of what she might find. I don’t know why...Mom is beautiful, still milk smooth skin, still bright hazel eyes. Her only indulgence is her monthly hair dye. Blonde, like Sondra. I don’t even know what color her hair would be now, or what color it started. Was it like my strawberry blonde, or Sondra’s smoky auburn-brown? Or maybe some other color that only belonged to herself?

Our house used to be a cyclone of activity—two teenage girls colliding like atoms and dancing away. My father would sit in the den and watch us like a tennis match before his eyes flicked back to the television set. Only my mother stayed still, seemingly forever stirring coffee and waiting for someone to notice her. Only her eyes roamed us, making sure we were decent, making sure we were stars. Her little emissaries into the world. Especially Sondra.

My therapist says that I’m forever in danger of shaking free of myself, like a dog after a rainshower. She said something about projecting myself out and out, and how acting has made me diffuse like mist. But I like that about myself, living so many lives at the same time. Small lives, big lives, in between lives. It’s better than being a Trojan horse like my mother—where only the eyes are alive.

I am so afraid of being like my mother I don’t stop moving. I am so afraid of letting Sondra down that I pretend to be someone else.

So I decide to notice her, my mother. I decide to make her notice herself.

It’s easy enough to make a paper doll, did you know that? All you need to do is take a photo to Kinkos, enlarge it, and copy it again and again. Same with the clothes, the outfits of different selves. So I make the dolls, and I dress them, and I write the book.

The book that I will use to notice my mother. The book that will get her to face herself.

I leave it there for her, by her coffee cup. She pretends to ignore it, at first, pretends that she’s not curious, but eventually, she starts to flip through it.

My airline pilot
My Renaissance princess
My racecar driver
My nun, as author, as scientist, as karate black belt, as gypsy, as ballerina, as professor with a tweedy jacket.

I don’t see when the tears start, not the exact moment, but I feel them. Or maybe those are my own.

She looked up at me, wary, exposed. She doesn’t trust me, not yet, wants to know the catch. Wants to know why I’m playing with old wounds.

"Sondra could have done anything, mom. But what about you?"

She shook her head, maybe she was trying to shake the truth away. But it didn't budge. The truth of those potential lives was right in front of her.

"You don't need emmissaries, you know." The words that had choked my throat since Sondra left dragged past my lips, finally. "You just need to be your own mirror." The words hung there, like mist.

Was it like a fairy tale, did my words break the spell? No, not really. But something did break that day...some invisible spiderweb that kept my mother tethered to that chair in the kitchen...waiting for Sondra to come and live Mom’s lives for her again. Oh, sure, we still look for her, the one with all the lives inside of her. We wait to hear her key in the lock.

But my mother stirred that day, started reading, started talking to us again. She began to push herself back into the world. And she started looking in the mirror.

And me? I’m still acting, still projecting myself into Juliet and Marianne Dashwood and Alice in Wonderland. But they’re being pulled into me too.

I’m living so many lives through their words. But I’m living as myself in their skins.

And I’m learning to be my own mirror.

For more potential lives, go here.


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Friday, August 11, 2006



Wow, that’s a blunt title. If you could see me right now, you’d see me trying to look away.

I’m not exactly sure why. It’s not like money was a forbidden topic while I was growing up. On the contrary—money stumbled to the kitchen for breakfast, money fried up the plantains, money sat on the couch and drank beer with my father after a long day. Money consciousness was everywhere—and there was never enough of it. My parents dreamed of the day that they’d be able to afford the many luxuries they saw on television—or the day we’d be able to afford them in their stead.

Perhaps my greatest form of rebellion against my parents is to disagree, fundamentally, with their opinions on money and how essential it is to have a lot of it.

Of course, their message sunk in anyway, and suffered a sea change that I am only now dimly beginning to understand. See, I’ve always thought around money—worrying over specific bills, thinking about my own class issues. But I never really faced the way money shades every aspect of my life—how completely it lives in my shadow. On the surface, it’s simple—money is bad, a necessary evil with the emphasis on the evil part. I noted approvingly (and a little smugly) that most world philosophies and religions agreed with me. I would live my life unfettered by such material considerations! I would choose a career based on love and passion, not ever thinking about money! I would go to the expensive school, trusting that somehow I’d find the money to pay all of those school loans, even though the field of publishing is not known for being financially remunerative.

But this holy head toss about money masked a deep fascination with it—and a fear. I’ve always loved THINGS—beauty made tangible. When I was younger, I’d arrange and rearrange my small treasures, touch them like talismans, rotate them depending on my need.

I love objects and I hate that I love them. So I practice a form of asceticism, pretend I am above all that. Tell myself that I’ll prove that I deserve something I desire by learning how to make it (and alas, I never do). I’ll chastise myself for wanting something popular—am I a sheep? If I were really cool, creative, artistic, smart, fill in the blank—I wouldn’t need objects to validate that fact. Sure, I see all around that people use things to display something of their personality to the world. But, isn’t that a failing, somehow? Are we really the sum of all of our things? I feel in my heart that my answer is mostly a "yes" and I feel ashamed.

Meanwhile, I go around and around, putting off most purchases and suffering almost unbearable buyer's remorse on those few occasions I finally give in. I am the opposite of a conspicuous consumer. I am a material anorexic.

So I’ve long longed for money, but I never wanted to do anything to really earn it, fearing that it would compromise me, or sell a part of me that I could never get back.

On a deep level, I didn’t believe I could earn it. I didn’t believe I could offer something that people would want to pay for—that was what adults did. I didn’t believe that I could take care of myself, so while my friends from college made plans to move out of their parents’ homes and into small apartments crowded with roommates in outrageously expensive NYC, I stayed at home, congratulating myself on my good sense.

I watched them enviously. I could no more imagine paying all of those expenses on my own than I could imagine flying to Jupiter. I did the right things, I suppose, but always with that insidious little whisper in the background, I can’t afford it. I can’t take care of myself. No one will value me because I can’t do anything.

Oh, sure, I lived a good life those first years after college. Traveled, worked, had dinners out and movie dates. But the truth was, I didn’t pay for those trips—TEG did. He paid for most of our dates, movies—bought me books and CDs and leather coats and jewelry. He paid for most of our fairly expensive wedding. He paid for my first trip to India. Always, the refrain—he paid, he paid, he pays. And sadly, this makes me feel safe—like it’s fine to spend HIS money, but not mine (a moot point with a joint bank account--and sadly, I don't even know how much we have in the bank). My mother always wanted to be with a financially successful man—saw that as the way a woman achieved security and success for herself. She taught me that a woman should always have a sneaky little nest egg, caged from household accounts and hoarded from her "allowance" and that the man should pay for everything to show that he cares. I suppose that she saw that as the way a woman could wrest some control from a situation where she was essentially dependent and subservient.

I shudder to think that I have followed her script only too well. I don't pay our bills. I no longer have my own 401K or IRA account. My eyes glaze over when TEG shows me the spreadsheet. I thought this freed me to follow my happiness without worrying about money. Instead, I think about money, and power, and how I wish I had some more of both, all of the time.

So what do I contribute to our lives? I know money isn’t the most important thing—hell, I’ve spent most of my life loudly affirming that even as I repressed my own shadow desires for money and what it represented. Freedom. A way of propelling myself into the world. A way of being surrounded by things I love. Learning to depend of myself and stand up for myself, without endless compromises that really end up as me giving in completely. A way around the cognitive dissonance of considering myself a feminist, and living like a dependent child.

So much for me to face. When I do my mirror meditation, I see a woman who is waiting for her Fairy Godmother, or for ANYONE to take care of her. I see a woman who denies herself almost a matter of a course, so that the word "no" is the drumbeat of her days. I see a woman who desires and wants and needs, and feels powerless, and indecisive, and resents herself.

Why do I feel so much ambivalence about money? Somehow superior to those who have it and frankly enjoy it, but knowing that it’s a lie—this ascesticism is not rewarding, it’s not spiritual. It’s dour and soul killing. It just makes me feel endless lack, a hunger, and a fear that if I relax this death grip on myself for one second, I’ll spend every penny we have to feed this gaping maw of want.

In many ways, money rules my life just as much as it ever ruled my parents.

I don’t even know where to begin to heal my rift with money.

Sorry for the somewhat rambling nature of this post. I’m still puzzling this out, trying to name it somehow. I'm not sure I've done it here.


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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Thoughts on mirror meditation

It almost felt like a date. Every time I glanced in the mirror, I realized that soon I would be REALLY looking at myself. Not just pushing my flyaway hair out of my face, not just checking to make sure that none of my clothes had pureed sweet potato on them. Just...looking.

I decided I needed to somehow "fix" myself first...try to take care of the frizzies and maybe do something about that alarming little growth of hair above my lip and on my chin and... But this seemed somewhat against the principle of the project. Not to mention, I had a rainy day and a cranky almost-toddler on my hands, so I didn’t exactly have time to go into an extensive beautification ritual. Or, you know, any.

All day, I talked to myself about this, surprised at how apprehensive I felt about it. I was trying to orchestrate the experience, trying to prepare the insights before I even sat down.

It came to me that I do that too often in my daily life...project myself into the future and try to force experience into whatever narrow frame I’ve wrenched together with gritted teeth and throbbing temples.

So...Madam went down for the night, I went into the bathroom with the nicest lighting, and sat in front of the mirror.

This is so silly. I feel like a little girl making faces in the mirror.

I tried to look deeply into my eyes, but it just made me laugh. So I let my eyes roam over my face, trying to empty my mind, focus on accepting those tired bags under my eyes, that new blotchy skin near my lower cheek, the aforementioned alarming hair growth...

Stop! I took a deep breath, determined to stop the litany of my physical failings. No one expects me to look 18 anymore, or 21, but my mental image of myself has frozen there, and slides the image in front of my eyes whenever I am looking in the mirror. A kindness, perhaps. But also a way to avoid what is right in front of me. I looking for beauty or for myself? And why have I decided that the two are incompatable?

As I look for another minute, I slide into focus. Not as the 18 year old who seems to dominate my memory. Not as the 33 year old who gets glances only when she needs to be chastised. But just

I need to grow back down into my body. Perhaps as a reaction against pregnancy, since Madam has been born, I’ve avoided the physical as much as possible—choosing to lose myself (find myself?) in books and online, or in my writing. I can’t be bothered to take care of my body, my stretched, sagging, postpartum body.

It occurs to me that I don’t WANT to take care of it. It has disappointed me by aging, by requiring time I don’t want to give it, because it doesn’t deserve it.

What value does it have, after all? My mind is mind is the place where I can still pretend that I am the same person I was before I gave birth, where I can range lightly and freely in memories of my many selves.

My body is just there, inert. Unused and unusable. I treat my body the way other people treat stay at home mothers--like it needs to justify itself. Like it has nothing to say. Like it might have mattered once, but now needs to remember its place and remember that people just want it to be quiet and inobstrusive.

It occurs to me that this needs to change, somehow. I am a divided woman. Can my body be as interesting, as beloved as my mind?

I look away from the mirror now, unable to sit with this realization for very long.

But I know that I will be back tomorrow.
Thanks to Liz Elayne for the inspiration.


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