Essence is emptiness.
Everything else, accidental.
Emptiness brings peace to your loving.
Everything else, disease.
In this world of trickery emptiness
Is what your soul wants.
-- Rumi, from "The Pattern Improves"
My Mac crashed Wednesday night. Hard drive wiped out. Nothing. Nada. Vacant. Nobody home.
Including the seven or so (not backed-up) chapters I'd been editing before plugging them into my (backed-up) 300-page book manuscript. Including all my photos from oh, the last 3 years. Including my iTunes. Including the vast thesis research I'd been planning to back-up as soon as I got back from Florida.
Sweet Jesus! The universe has a sense of humor.
So I've had a series of hot dates with the dudes at the Genius Bar, with more to follow today, in the naive hope that a desperate dream called data recovery might reunite me with my old Diana Krall albums and my research on Jesus's homoerotic relationships with the Beloved and pics of HW and I singing "I Got You, Babe" two weeks ago. If it doesn't happen today, my friends, it's called: new hard drive. Empty screens. No browser history. A fresh start.
The Greeks had a word for this emptying out: kenosis. It's big in theology, across traditions, actually, this whole goal of stripping down, emptying out, filling that silent still space with air and spaciousness and the transcendent hope that some kind of divinity might rush in.
It's ironic; I've been feeling mad blissed out lately, blowing through book after book on Buddhism and yogic theory and non-attachment and emptying out and acceptance and divine leela (the idea that it's all play, it's all God, it's all beauty, even that garbage heap on the corner or the annoying lady who answers the phone at the office). And feeling so enlightened and badass and meditative and peaceful and HELLO, world! So naturally, what comes next? An opportunity to practice that, for sure.
So I'm off to practice kenosis, and meanwhile, might be quiet for awhile. It's been remarkably refreshing, actually, to wake up and not rush into my morning SFGate and NYTimes fix. Do I really need to read 17 reviews of the new Sex and The City movie, or more bad trend pieces from Thursday Styles? Probably not. I feel achingly wonderfully still, and have been reading and thinking and breathing and doing yoga and spending hours with my friend's little snoozing baby on my belly, and dude, maybe that's some kind of grace. Cutting the cord to my morning news fix. And, er, online episodes of "The Bachelor."
So I'll see you when I see you. Cross your fingers.
Friday, May 30, 2008
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture
Awww - how much do I love this pic? My beautiful sibs!
You can almost smell the ocean and feel the wind whipping and watch the angry clouds blowing by at twilight on the beach. I think we're all just particularly cheesy in this one because we knew margaritas were around the corner.
Home again in SF, and it's damn good to be back. Playing a lot of catch-up today, all the laundry and photo-developing and mail-opening and peony-buying and filling the fridge again after a mobile month. I'm looking forward to unpacking my suitcase for good and settling in for more than a few days.
Took more photos in the last month than I have in years, so prepare yourselves for the impending photo extravaganza. It'll be wild, man.
Mad rawness going on. Raw lobster skin from too much oblivious swimming at the beach. Raw calloused hands from cranking the hedge-cutters on Sunday at the house. Raw muscles from stretching and scrubbing and hauling and raking and bending. Raw emotions, memories filling my thoughts. Raw blisters from the long run the other day. Raw writing from so much time to work on various planes. And raw energy, raw anticipation to throw myself into all the plans I've got for the next few weeks. And raw grapes and kombucha and broccoli and all that shit filling my fridge again after too much middle-American processed food and cheeeeeese and fries everywhere you turn.
It's good to be home.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Sunday morning here on the opposite coast, and the air is thick, the fire ants are bustling, and the sun's creeping higher. It'll be a hot one today, per usual - 94 plus humidity - in other words, who needs Bikram? Ready to lace up my shoes and get a good sweaty run in before hitting the beach later today.
It's strange to be here, good, but strange; memories and scents and cedar and evergreen, vaguely familiar roads traversing vaguely familiar neighborhoods that were once home to me for one amount of time or another. On the upside, the fruit here is insanely fresh and ubiquitous and cheap; San Francisco prices be damned, I'm eating as many blueberries as humanly possible in the course of these several days.
Memorial Day contorts me. I don't know what to do with it. I'm always torn by the genuine sense of loss that propels the holiday and my anger and frustration at the way we validate and sacralize war. Walking through the Atlanta airport the other day, it was camouflage everywhere I turned. How do you separate the noxious powers-that-be behind that camouflage from the too-young kid with a crewcut on leave?
I have to give props to Frank Rich for managing some melange of sense-making without sentimentality in this morning's NY Times. Not only does his Op-Ed draw on the current B'way revival of "South Pacific" - you know I love the musical-as-source-material bit - but it skillfully weaves together thoughts on war and theater and sorrow and complication, interracial marriage, and American confusion - all while the thrumming chords of "Some Enchanted Evening" swim along as underlying accompaniment.
In spite of my best intentions and in spite of some of its more cloying bits, I've always had a soft spot for "South Pacific," and it's about more than Luther Billis rolling his tattooed abs to the low beat of a drum, or Nellie Forbush washing that man right outta her hair. Michener's writing and Rodgers' and Hammerstein's resulting musical really must have been quite radical in its debut; I appreciate Rich's pointing out how remarkable it was as a product of its context. Revisiting the show today, there are still problematic bits, yeah, but really, as an attempt at making sense of a number of difficult and messy aspects of WWII life, it's valuable.
Riffing too long this morning; need to hit the pavement. Read the Op-Ed. It'll make you feel like you did something mindful for this Memorial Day before hitting the beach or the barbeque for the rest of your long weekend off.
Memorial Day at 'South Pacific' (NYT)
Thursday, May 22, 2008
"It was the time between the lights when colours undergo their intensification and purples and golds burn in window-panes like the beat of an excitable heart; when for some reason the beauty of the world revealed and yet soon to perish (here I pushed into the garden, for, unwisely, the door was left open and no beadles seemed about), the beauty of the world which is so soon to perish, has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder."
-- Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own, 1929
(And another Hopper favorite: "Chop Suey," also 1929)
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Random shit I wanted to post that has no feasible connection whatsoever to any definition of "rawness"
Back in the land of the living, for a few days at least.
How cute are Aaron and Courtney? (That shot is all Henna - thanks, Mrs. P).
What a good time. Highlights including, in no particular order:
* WaWa coffee (who am I kidding - that really IS first in line)
* Too much vodka Saturday night, and dancing in Dewey, and the Jolly Trolley, and Kristen and the Noise
* The fact that my clothes still smelled of salt and sea when I opened my suitcase yesterday 3,000 miles later
* HW on the porch at 4 am
* 32 Olive (again, please?)
* XM radio and a sunroof: hello, I-95 delays that don't matter anymore
* Yoga on the beach
* Running on the beach
* Anything on the beach
* Nicoboli on Sunday sitting in traffic on Rt 1: delish
* That blond tranny at the Purple Parrot Friday night: just like home!
* So many old faces (looking hot) in one place
* Pristine weather at Baywood on Saturday
* Guitars and living room concerts at 2am the night before
* Cecilia (of course)
* Hearing those long Delaware "O's" again around Reh-O-both
* Rapper's Delight, and Larger Than Life, and Wonderful Tonight, and No Such Thing, and....
Last but not least - a beautiful couple and a beautiful wedding. Congrats, you two - so glad for you both.
Low points, of course, need not be elaborated. Let's just say I'll be happy if I never have to fly through DFW again. Misery. I kept trying to draw on my yoga bullshit and sit in my lotus and meditate and be chill and accept it and "not resist" it and all that other Buddhist crap, and I'll tell ya - it's harder than you'd think. Especially when you've been sitting on an airport floor for 14 hours and the dude behind you is screaming about product marketing bullshit and Fox News Channel's blaring and your "Jesus Is A Liberal" luggage tag fell off two airports ago.
It IS good to be back home for a brief few days, though; I missed my job, and I missed my carrot juice and my kombucha and my Lara Bars and my vitamins, and I missed my yoga, so much. I don't realize how much I've nested here in SF until I go away and the distance and difference remind me with such glaring clarity how much I take certain things for granted. The long flights definitely crystallized a good number of revelatory things about life and direction and all kinds of other bullshit. I'm going to eat ten heads of celery and do like six hours' of yoga classes a day for the next few days before flying out again at the weekend.
Remind me sometime to tell you the one about the 4'11" security dude named Obadiah in Philly who hooked me up hardcore in exchange for some, uh, adequate compensation. Divinity comes in unexpected forms: among them, Wawa Hazelnut with French Vanilla non-dairy creamer, Trikonasana at the edge of the Atlantic with sand in my face, and my good buddy Obadiah, without whom I never would have had the pleasure of spending a good chunk of my life that I can never get back marching angrily (and futilely) around DFW Concourse A.
Monday, May 19, 2008
I've been stuck in the Dallas airport for 14 hours now. And counting.
There is a Fox News Channel store here. A TGIFriday's. And President George Bush Highway is out the door.
Shoot me now.
There is a Fox News Channel store here. A TGIFriday's. And President George Bush Highway is out the door.
Shoot me now.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
I've been thinking about Edens.
About how we look for them, how we put down roots to try to plant our closest approximations of them, how we build them ourselves unwittingly and seek them out in the spaces and silences around us.
It's May, you see, and the whole world to me feels pink, rosy, blushing. All this Nature stuff, all this 'blooming' and 'blossoming' and 'bursting forth,' all of those great living "B" verbs are coming out of my ears. And all I want to do is wrap myself in pink linen and earth tones and gauze and taupe and mauves and lavenders and prance around in ballet flats. (And no, I'm not smoking anything at the moment.)
I like May; I always have. I like its energy, I like the fact that it's sort of this humming buzzing build-up to summer, I like the fact that the air's still fresh and not yet heavy with Great Plains severe thunderstorm thickness or Mid-Atlantic malarial humidity. The summer's still new, the buds are just unfolding, and there's all this life bursting forth in the meantime.
May this year feels the same way, sort of this interesting heavily-perfumed cocktail of lots of Being Alive. Lots of reunions, sweet (the wedding this weekend at the beach) and bittersweet (the following week in Florida revisiting decade-old memories of cement-pouring and nail-gun-wielding and sitting on the tar-glooped roof with pieces of shingles cutting into my ass).
So I'm thinking about the ways we build our own Edens in the little corner lots of our lives. Drowsy with memories of attempts at making my own paradise in these former lives I'm due to visit: in Delaware (musicals and books and cocktails and skinny-dipping), in Florida (quiet and early morning runs and endless laps in the pool thinking I'd find something at the other end if I just kept swimming), and now of course here in SF, coming up on five years of building an Eden of my own here in the midst of my plants and my early-morning coffee and songs plunked out carelessly on the keyboard in the corner, songs that remind me of people and places and old pianos and tiny resonant practice rooms and the way voices change according to acoustics and air and temperature and space and energy.
I'm gearing up for audition season again, some three or four coming up in the next month, all shows I've been dying to do again: 42nd Street (a chance to dust off my tap shoes) and Girl Crazy (an old-school variation of Crazy For You, all my favorite Gershwin tunes once more) and maybe Will Rogers Follies (great wistful music, sharp dance) and most frustrating, Into the Woods, which I've been aching to sing again (and whose auditions frustratingly fall THIS WEEKEND when I am 3000 miles away - arghh!). My left elbow is still covered with scars from the pratfalls I did playing Cinderella nearly ten years ago, and I have to say, those are some of my favorite battle wounds ever earned. I'd like a chance to rough up the right elbow before I get too old for the ingenue roles and have to move on to the asexual housewife bits.
But where was I? Oh yeah, Edens. So last night was essentially the last free evening I'll have until roughly June, between travel and work and plans and whatnot. So naturally I spent it in my six-inch heels and fetish gear at the Power Exchange. (Oh wait, that was Monday.) Last night was a quieter one; I tucked into a cream chaise lounge under the fading twilight atrium downtown and settled into my lotus to write for a bit before meeting a friend to see 'My Blueberry Nights' (very "meh," btw, if anyone was thinking about seeing it). Curled up there on my chaise feeling like a Titian odalisque, I looked around and realized I was in what Carolyn Merchant, et al, have named "Eden commodified."
Merchant has done some brilliant work with nature and shopping malls and history, looking at the ways in which suburban-style shopping malls have essentially replaced former kinds of public space like parks and churches as the primary gathering place for contemporary citizens. She's an eco-historian who argues that this center of the pursuit of commodities has come to be the foremost place for interacting and making meaning on a social level.
Merchant wrote this great book, "Reinventing Eden," that I like to pull out now and then for a reminder. Here's a blurb:
The modern version of the Garden of Eden is the enclosed shopping mall. Surrounded by a desert of parking lots, malls comprise gardens of shops covered by glass domes, accessed by spiral staircases and escalators reaching upward toward heaven. Today's malls feature life-sized trees, trellises decorated with flowers, stone grottoes, birds, animals, and even indoor benches that simulate nature as a cultivated, benign garden. .... This garden in the city re-creates the pleasures and temptations of the original Eden, where people can peacefully harvest the fruits of earth with gold grown by the market. Within manicured spaces of trees, flowers, and fountains, we can shop for nature at the Nature Company, purchase 'natural' clothing at Esprit, sample organic foods and 'rainforest crunch' in kitchen gardens, buy twenty-first century products at the Sharper Image, and play virtual reality games in which SimEve is reinvented in cyberspace. The spaces and commodities of the shopping mall epitomize consumer capitalism's vision of Recovery from the Fall of Adam and Eve." (167-8)
So, this in mind, I'm sitting there with my book half-open realizing that in spite of the overpriced jewelers and the teenagers buying ugly shit at Bebe and the annoying dude hawking useless shit every time you walk past him, I'm kind of digging it. That sitting in the midst of this empty artificial urban Eden, there are parts of it - natural twilight, and open space, and comfortable chairs, and the low murmur of people moving around and under and above me, and that white-chocolate slab of a grand piano across the way, and the old Chinese grandpa snoozing in the chair to the left, and the German tourists wandering around in khaki with a map and a walking stick one floor down - that I can reconcile, that do give a glimpse of the Edenic in the midst of the overpriced perfumes and the ugly flowered bags and so many people trying to fill the void with acquisition and numb consumption.
And then "O Mio Babbino Caro" floats in from the empty electronics store on the left (why are they all empty??), and I'm rushed back to Newark and an echoing recital hall with killer acoustics and singing opera in the early mornings when no one else is around because they're all sleeping off their hangovers from the Stone Balloon the night before.
And I smile.
And five minutes later, it's "Isn't It Romantic?" and again it's another rush, this time to being, oh, 13, and hearing that song sung for the first time (Chet Baker?) and it sticks in my head somehow in spite of the cheese, and I think of the hours spent plunking it out on bad cranky upright pianos, and I remember the words, the few I do recall anymore from that old standard:
Isn't it romantic/
merely to be young on such a night as this?
And I smile again, and marvel at the power of an unexpected song to transport us, and think of peonies, pink blushing peonies, and I think of all the young lives I have known for the last ten years blooming and unfolding, and I think, god, isn't it romantic to be young on such a night as this, all twilight in the early evening when I am so rarely out and about to appreciate the soft light of 6 o'clock, and isn't it romantic to be young and watching people I love say vows to one another on the beach surrounded by people they love, and isn't it romantic to remember being 21 and sharing tequila shots and the incomprehensible faraway notion of turning thirty one day, and isn't it romantic to see the light fold in over the atrium and breathe in the peonies and know that summer is around the corner and it's fresh and it's pink and it's all roses.
All that in an unexpected moment sitting there in the midst of one of Merchant's re-invented Edens. I'm glad to see these Edens unfolding all around me. I feel like it's May in a lot of our lives, and things are blooming and unfolding, and we're putting down roots and pulling weeds and watering the young seeds of our own lives in our own Edens, constructed or not, and that's enough; and isn't that romantic?
Fig. 1: That's Cindy Crawford in another piece from the Leibowitz show at the Legion of Honor. I thought if I started things off with a hot chick, you might actually read my rambling bullshit.
Fig. 2: Peonies. I am slightly in love with peonies these days.
Fig. 3: Merchant. Read it.
Fig. 4: Baker. Play it.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Saturday, May 10, 2008
Good article this morning about Raj Patel's new book on the global politics of food, Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System. And another one to add to your must-read list.
Patel's book sounds like a combination of Naomi Klein's sharp critique of corporatization in No Logo and an insider view of the politics of agriculture, development and food production. In reading about it, I'm struck again by the realization of how political our consumption habits are; those of us in the affluent West in particular I think have the luxury of being oblivious to this, but it's important to soak up this kind of scholarship as a sort of reawakening when we too easily slide into taking our consumption habits for granted. What, and how, we eat is political! Period.
The politics of food are ugly and intricate; the combo of globalization and sociology and colonialism and corporate power is overwhelming and threatens to loom even further in the coming months as food prices rise. Do yourselves a favor and pick up this book. It certainly doesn't look like beach reading, but it seems to be a prescient analysis of an increasingly muddy global food crisis.
Raj Patel's "Starved" Offers Food For Thought (SF Chron)
Friday, May 9, 2008
B and I caught the Smuin Ballet's Dancin' With Gershwin tribute earlier this week down at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. I have to say, it was vastly disappointing.
We tend to be tough critics in terms of dance and choreography, I'll admit, but I went into this one really wanting to like it. Gershwin is my favorite mid-century American composer, even moreso than Ellington and Berlin and other stars of the Great American Songbook. Chestnuts like Love Is Here To Stay and They Can't Take That Away From Me have long been my defaults, whether it's singing or playing or just walking down the street humming a tune. So I was excited to see what the late Michael Smuin's co. did with its usual mix of classical dance and Broadway-style costuming and choreography.
There were a few moments of inspired choreography, yes, and the music was stellar, as expected, with a wide range of performers and some new renditions that I hadn't heard (Cher! Sting! Who'd have thought?!). But the costumes were loud and over-the-top, stealing focus from the dance itself; the props were gimmicky and gratuitous (parasols! desk chairs! fake afro wigs!); and the sets were awkward and amateurish. And please don't even get me started on the human-sized Biblical shadow puppets that ruined Cher's surprisingly enjoyable version of "It Ain't Necessarily So." The blue-hairs there that night loved it, but it all seemed somehow crass and cheap to me, pandering to mainstream tastes at the cost of artistry and creativity.
I'll know what to expect next time, but I have to say, it'll take good music like Gershwin's to get me to another Smuin performance, I'm afraid.
Smuin's Razzle-Dazzle Radiates in "Gershwin" (SF Chron)
So I've been reading all this shit lately about aesthetics and yogic theory. Part of my ongoing research, you know. And I find that just as I think I've got a clear picture of things, something gobsmacks me out of the blue.
This week, it's been the Lotus Blossom. Part of the reason I was ever interested in studying theology per se is that I wanted to further plumb the seeming overlaps between ostensibly different religions. You know, like the contemplative traditions in Buddhism and Christianity. The cross-religious notions of salvation. Bridging gaps, finding connections, you know.
So I got into this work on art and aesthetics the other day and it sent me through the roof. Turns out the lotus blossom has this remarkable cross-cultural sacrality - I mean, we're talking sacred symbolism in Hindu, Buddhist, Chinese, Native American, Japanese, and Egyptian traditions, just to begin. And it's this beautiful mix of using nature to symbolize the kinds of creative and spiritual ideas that are fundamental to any world religion.
The lotus - also known as a water lily, as in the kind you see floating in Monet's ubiquitous paintings - has always been a favorite flower of mine. I mean, jesus, I'm a Pisces; I dig the water and the peace and the grace and the wide open buds of the lotus. But little did I know it had such powerful symbolism.
The lotus is to the East what the rose is to the West. In Buddhism alone, the lotus represents enlightenment. Why? Because it takes root in the muck, in the dirty messy fertile soil at the very bottom of a pond, and has to work its way up through the dank scummy water (what the Buddhists use as a metaphor for our difficult life experiences in the material world) until it finally reaches the top of the pond, where it bursts open with the rising of the sun. This, of course, is the "enlightenment" bit. And the idea is that the spirit can bloom and flourish through any and all murky circumstances.
The sacred art and stories of India parallel this association of the lotus with rebirth. The ancient Egyptians saw a metaphor for creation and resurrection in the morning opening and evening closing of the lotus; they believed it was the first flower of the universe, the source of the gods, and they used it as a heavy theme in their art. To the Native Americans, the lotus symbolized the power of the sun to transform energy into food; again, creation.
Beyond that, there are fascinating implications for the medicinal use of the lotus and its heavily-seeded pods for inducing dreaminess and languor (according to legend), along with various shades of meaning attributed to the different colors of pink, white, and blue varietals.
There's a whole other realm, then, once you get into the yogic parallels of the asanas; the Lotus position itself and the opening of what are referred to as the Second chakras, which are rooted in the hips and pelvis and associated with openness and receptivity, adaptability and surrender.
But that's a story for another day. My yoga class awaits.
Thursday, May 8, 2008
Ooh, I totally want to be this lady someday. What a badass Zen-gardening dame!
I know I will definitely have her shock of white hair - looking at my mother and grandmother can tell me that much. But moreso, I want to be the one growing herbs and meditating in the garden and writing for Tricycle on a porch overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
The NYT is winning points with me lately for some surprisingly relevant articles. This one, "Dharma in the Dirt," is a sweet profile of Wendy Johnson, Zen gardener, Buddhist and former leader of Green Gulch Farms, an organic farm in Muir Beach that supplies tons of fresh local veggies to Greens, a vegetarian restaurant up on the water not far from my place.
Add Ms. Johnson to the list of progressive eating-growing local thinkers like Alice Waters and Michael Pollan. Yet another reason I love Northern California: it's such a hotbed for these kinds of people.
Dharma in the Dirt (NYT)
Did you catch this little article in yesterday's NYT? I kind of love it.
Basically, this guy Eric Asimov posits the question that maybe wine quality isn't all about ratings and bouquets and legs and all that other semi-elitist crap you hear about from the People Who Know. He cites two studies that show that, in blind tastings, people often can't tell the difference between the pricey and the swill, and in fact will generally assume that the more expensive is the better wine - even if it's the same wine!
Toward the end, Asimov hints that perhaps the beauty of a particular wine - be it Two-Buck Chuck or Dom Perignon - is more a product of the context in which it's consumed. So that cheapy Italian table wine you drank at that divey seafood restaurant in Manarola overlooking the Mediterranean while staring into the eyes of one hot Casanova might in fact brand itself into your tastebuds and your memory more forcefully than that $200 bottle you drank at the trendy restaurant downtown on the business account.
Context! Yes! There's something kind of romantic and populist and human about thinking about wine quality this way. A nice counter to the subtle elitism and status-seeking that is often a huge part of the whole choosing-a-bottle process.
Wine's Pleasures: Are They All In Your Head? (NYT)
Monday, May 5, 2008
You know what makes me want to drink heavily?
I write all this bullshit about art and death and books and San Francisco, and you know what the most consistent hits I get are for, as in multiple times a day, from Syria and Dallas and Iceland and Boise?
This one-off rant about fake eyebrows from last summer. And not because people are looking for theoretical rants about eyebrows. But because they want to buy stick-on fakes.
I'm just sayin'.
Most of us are familiar with Andy Warhol's Pop Art to the degree that we immediately recognize his iconic images of Jackie O, Elvis, and Marilyn Monroe. Little do many people know that Warhol had a deeply religious side, one which particularly emerged in the last few years of his life.
This morning's Chron has an interview with Jane Dillenberger, who's an art historian in Berkeley. She specializes in Warhol's images of the Last Supper. I was lucky enough to take a grad course on modern art and religion from her several years ago. Dillenberger, at 92, is this graceful spitfire of a woman. We sat in her living room and she held us all rapt with her stories of her work over the last half-century.
Above left is one of Warhol's many Last Supper renderings, this one with the Dove and GE symbols superimposed on Da Vinci's iconic painting (1986). Read the article for an interesting perspective on this eccentric and elusive American artist. Dillenberger's remarks about Michelangelo's Pieta at the end of the interview are particularly poignant, and to me best represent the mysterious power of art to indeed transcend the self and the small individual experience, particularly in the horrors of sorrow and loss.
Berkeley Art Historian on Creativity, Prayer and the Spirituality of Andy Warhol (SF Chron)