Om Mani Padme Hum

As close as coffee is to my waking body, Quan Yin, or Avalokiteśvara, is to my waking spirit. I have a long history with her. As a child I had a friend who would “fly in” from various parts of the world to play with and comfort me. I was chided, punished, and thoroughly teased and humiliated for my “lying” and occasionally humored for my imagination, but I refused to deny my “imaginary ” friend.

Once I was looking through a large encyclopedia like book with a librarian, I was in fourth grade, that is the one detail that is clear, because the teacher who had sent me to the library to “be rid of my nonsense” was Mrs. Coons. I am certain I was being forced to look up and verify some piece of argumentative or informative trivia I had spouted to the class. This was a favorite punishment of mine, I really didn’t care if I was humiliated for being wrong or ignored for having been right, I got to spend an hour in the research section of the library learning and reading.

Going back to that day I have no recollection of what book we were using or what we were looking for actually, but the book was one that required adult supervision, being rife with full color illustrations of nude paintings and sculpture that had newsprint blanks paper-clipped to the page to save our poor impressionable minds from seeing the same parts we all had or saw on others in our living quarters of poverty.  What I do remember is that as my guide through this pitfall packed tome turned one of the newsprint covered pages, I saw her, my friend, perfectly depicted in a watercolor. I was old enough by then to know better but I blurted out, “I know her, that’s my friend!”

“Impossible,” the frustration and disdain in her voice wasn’t even colored with concern, as she slammed the book shut, “she is some mythological creature from Vietnamese culture.” In hindsight her choice of geographical placement was certainly colored by the war America’s sons were fighting. In that outburst, I declared myself a liar and possibly a budding communist and heretic and lost one of my few allies in that school, but I couldn’t help myself, I did know her.

If she had said “Tibet,” or “China,” or “Korea,” I might have found the  name of my friend more quickly, but it would be the 1970’s before I would learn that her name was many but in the form I knew her she was  Kuan Yin and was the Chinese Bodhisattva of Compassion.

Mahayana Buddhism has been calling me for years, I have read sporadically, meditated, attended events and listened to talks from the other branches of buddhism but certain Dharma is not to be learned without a teacher.  For 2016 I have found a center to study, meditate and learn from those who practice. My best description is that spiritually I can play the instrument of compassion be ear, but I cannot yet read the music.

I am the bard of old who can tell a thousand stories but has not mastered the art of the alphabet so the stories fluctuate with the telling, and he longs to write them down so they can go out and benefit the world.

It was a difficult decision but I had reassurance from the universe that I had made the right decision. I am a great believer in signs and when I first drove up to the Kadampa Clear Light Center a cat (a species not known for welcoming behavior towards me) jumped through my open car door window and settled warm in my lap, and a crow lit on the center roof and cawed at me, in Phoenix, where crows are rare. So yeah, think this is the right place for me to be and I look forward to sharing my adventure this year.

Please feel free to comment with questions, ideas and thoughts on my musings from your own path. Buddhism like the pure light of most spirit paths is the circle that takes in the good. All paths remain of equal validity to me, nor can I trod one that asks other than full respect for all living things.

Listening to “Songs of Kuan Yin” a collection I picked up in 2008 from my much missed record store in Tempe, reading “Transform Your Life” by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, and “Bodhisattva of Compassion” by John Blofeld.

Feel free to donate as well. I am working slightly less than full-time right now and moving once again means added costs so welcome but not desperate and note on your donation if you want it to be used for medical bills, living expenses, ongoing Random Acts of Kindness, or still gonna make it happen when health allows hike through of the Appalachian Trail.

Mostly, thanks friends for reading, I appreciate truly being seen and heard most of all.

Namaste.

 

Roll away your stone, I’ll roll away mine…

I am reading collected Archie comics while listening to Mumford and Sons and realize their album is just too perfect as a lead into today’s blog. Maybe not the composers intended meaning, but look carefully at the lyrics of half the songs on “Sigh No More”, and hey, totally the soundtrack to discuss some radical Zombie literature longing to bite into your imagination. Forget watching Walking Dead reruns, crack open a book and let your brain do the devouring of these unexpected zombies.

First up is the collected “Afterlife with Archie,” replete with all the classic Archie comic’s tropes and conflicts while incorporating a new closeted lesbian couple, the out but not yet completely accepted gay Kevin, a little V.C. Andrews style brotherly love, comments on class conflict and lots of great action, this is artistic and storyline perfection brought to us Eisner winning artist Fransesco Francavilla and Harvey award winner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. Volume one crushes it, volumes 2 and 3 are also available.

My second favorite is a little harder but not impossible to find out of print 2005 Holiday book by Christopher Moore, “The Stupidest Angel.” The humorous and heartwarming tale of terror, like Archie’s apocalypse, begins with a misbegotten act of kindness for a little boy by the same Angel that brought us Moore’s masterpiece “Lamb.” I know, I know, Christmas is dead, it’s January, resurrect it for a moment just for this novel and you won’t regret it.

My third undead recommendation is also the third in the entertaining alternate history, steam punk style Clockwork Century series by Cherie Priest. “Dreadnought”, is my favorite book in the series and stands well on its own. Part mystery, we travel with Mercy, a civil war nurse with ties to both sides of the conflict.  If you are a completest start with the Seattle-based “Boneshaker” and just know the story gets better and better. Atypical zombie origins and an impeccable storytelling make these books hard to put down, so maybe you will want to snag the Audible recordings, masterfully narrated by Wil Wheaton and keep the story going on your commute.

My fourth and final book feast is a series you have seen orbiting the science fiction circuit in 2015 due to its recent adaptation by the SyFy channel. “Leviathan” is the fist novel in the Expanse series. Like the Clockwork Century novels, the zombies of James S. A. Corey’s universe are just one cog in an intricate machine of terror, mystery, betrayals and unexpected heroism.

Try any or all of these cold, creepy corpse crawlers this January.  Snuggled up in your bed or favorite chair with a steaming cocoa, a tempting toddy, or a spot of hot, sweet tea, let the dark month of January crowd and scratch outside your windows, after all, they are just stories and you are still safe.

Aren’t you?

 

“I’ve got nothing on my mind, nothing to remember, nothing to forget…..

….  and I’ve got nothing to regret”

Another year older as of yesterday, or more accurately the last 364.25 days; I am in my late 50’s, far past any medical expiration date and even farther past any expectations of certain teachers, counselors and nay sayers.

“But I am all tied up on the inside, no one knows quite what I’ve got, and I know that on the outside, what I used to be I’m not anymore.”

I am another year older, with the weight and wrinkles to show for my journey once again through the valley of  “I’m Not Dead Yet.” I tire easily and breathe with too little exertion. I am walking and swimming and keeping track of what goes in, effort out, stretching and rolling and seeding and making step after step and breath after breath towards my  goals.

“You know I’ve heard about people like me
But I never made the connection.
They walk one road to set them free
And find they’ve gone the wrong direction.
But there’s no need for turning back
Cause all roads lead to where I stand;
And I believe I’ll walk them all
No matter what I may have planned.”

I am still so far from the person I want to  see in the mirror, the soul reflected clearly in the mirror of meditation and just as far from the person I would be for my patients, my friends, my family and lovers. So another year begins…

My next guided spiritual journey is through Buddhism, brought to me by Pema Chodron’s “No Time to Lose,” and my current life coach is “The Book of Forgiving.” I am back to “Thrive” and “Your First Triathlon” for my physical training.  I have a greater yearning to travel, not just the far away places still on my bucket list like Australia and Antartica, or even Alaska (what’s with all these “A”s), but a stronger yearning to go back to Noank and Mystic, to touch my ocean and on the way hug and connect with the few people who did not so much remain through my life as periodically  resurface.  Each person I chatted with or thanked for my birthday greeting in real time or FB is a reminder of how gifted I have been with people to both love and by whom to be loved.

“Can you remember who I was?
Can you still feel it?
Can you find my pain?
Can you heal it?

Then lay your hands upon me now
And cast this darkness from my soul.
You alone can light my way.
You alone can make me whole
Once again.”

So many people, so many different times, so many ways I have been broken, or fallen down, and every time life has placed a hand if I would reach, not so much to pull me up, but to walk beside me as I faced the challenges. We all get broken sometimes. It is up to us to make a new and beautiful mosaic, or sit in the ruins and throw the shards of our life at every body else’s art.

“We’ve walked both sides of every street
Through all kinds of windy weather;
But that was never our defeat
As long as we could walk together.
So there’s no need for turning back
Cause all roads lead to where we stand;
And I believe we’ll walk them all
No matter what we may have planned.”
To my children and friends, those especially who care enough to follow my blog, I am grateful that you hold my hand even if from miles and miles away.  From old friends I have not seen in decades like Serein (well one decade), and TC, and my own Donny to the friends who have been there as I fulfilled my life long dream and became a nurse like my sons, Sara, Gil, Pat, Regina, Jennifer and the whole wonderful Videan Clan, to my newest friends and joys like Saja, BAM, TAM, Archer, Stephanie and Brian, I can only say thank-you and I will do my best this year to be the woman you deserve!
Todays Blog is brought to you by “American Pie” by Don McClean. There isn’t a bad song on the album. And I can lend you the vinyl or the CD if you live nearby!
Also cannot recommend enough “The Book of Forgiving” by Desmond Tutu.
Now who is up for a vegan smoothie and a 5K walk?

 

It’s a Contest!

Prizes and all the nitty, gritty particulars will be forthcoming but here is the down and dirty! To enter this contest you must comment here or on my FB adding one author and which book by them you would have me read, under 500 pages, fiction or nonfiction, poetry, etc just no technical manuals. I am picking 12 I have not yet read, or do not remember. If I explain anymore now, it will make it less fun for all of you later. So go recommend!

After the apocalypse I get all the Oreos I want!

 

I hated them, and began, last and worst degradation, to hate myself. I clung to my ferocious habits, yet half despised them; I continued my war against civilization, and yet entertained a wish to belong to it.” from “The Last Man” by Mary Shelley.
Triple Double Stuff Oreos are proof that vegan food can be totally unhealthy; it is this non-food food that have, with the demise of the Hostess Twinkie, become my first choice for post-apocalyptic binges. Yup, I think about those things even while eating cookies and tea. I have been sort of obsessed with apocalypse and isolation since childhood. Anybody else remember “On the Beach” the Kramer movie that saps up and dumbs down the Shute’s book of the same name (with still pretty spectacular results I must add but as usual, the book is better.) I do. I was much too young to understand all the relational nuances I got watching it as an adult, but I got it, and it stuck with me the same way Hitchcock’s “The Birds” did.
Apocalypse and isolation, people living outside the structures of civilization, oh and dystopia; these are always my favorite stories even today, but as a child and adolescent, even more so. From Robinson Crusoe to Swiss Family Robinson, the tails of Captain Nemo, “My Side of the Mountain,” or the truly apocalyptic ones like “The Scarlet Plague” by Jack London, “Earth Abides” by George Stewart, or “A Canticle for Leibowitz”, “Alas, Babylon,” “Shadow on the Hearth” or in its own way “Planet of the Apes.” these and the fantasy stories were the works I could not get enough of, weedling the librarian to get me copies to check out (not available in the children’s section my card was valid in) or reading them behind the paperback shelves in the 5 and Dime. (They never kicked me out, although I rarely bought more than my 10 cent weekly milk money worth of candy; in return, I never stole a book from them, or anything else for that matter.)

When I was still pretty young and on a car trip to My Grandma Clegg’s; my little brother was on the way because we kept having to stop for Mommy to pee and Roxanne always got to hold the baby who couldn’t quite stand, so I’d say maybe 5; I told my family that when I grew up I wanted to go live on an “uninhibited” island, I meant uninhabited but my vocabulary often got ahead of my pronunciation. I didn’t realize why they were all laughing so loudly, until my oldest sister felt compelled to explain the difference in the most shaming way possible, however I did understand that they were illustrating why I wished to live away from everyone and why I have always been certain the apocalypse would come.

I still don’t get meanness; I still believe in love, compassion and kindness. In fact one of my loves of classics like Verne’s tales of Nemo and Shelley’s “Last Man” stems from their humanist faith that love can change and redeem a hard and angry heart, however both authors having moved past their era’s romanticism know that a rescued heart can still cease to beat inside an old or battered body and the delineation of good/bad/right/wrong is not as simple as birth, power, money or spiritual affiliation. In their books science is both friend and foe, the problem and the answer; just like many of my favorite modern novels.

They say “Last Man” is the first post-apocalyptic novel, but I posit it is far from the first apocalypse story. I suggest Gilgamesh and Noah are both stories of apocalypse, and any well read geek will realize I have also skipped over the writer’s we all read in school like Vonnegut and Bradbury, or any of the external act ends of the world, or the “cozy” ends of the world. Pandemic or nuclear holocaust or environmental destruction/infrastructure failure are my obsession. Man ends through his own inattention and acts of unkindness; and begins anew if any beginning is allowed (not all books allow our species to survive) because of the heroine/hero’s ability to see possibility and practice compassion.

And always, always the story is accompanied by the Cerdd Dant harp of isolation.

If you are one of the many modern readers who are a bit obsessed with zombies and plagues and isolation and the end of the world, go read “Last Man,” you will thank me later. Also if you are unfamiliar with any other titles here I can thoroughly recommend them.

What is your favorite post-apocalyptic novel? I always can use another good book!

By the way, if we both survive the apocalypse, I still get all the Oreos I want, but since there will be many Oreos and only us left, no worries, there will be some for you as well!

Thriving…

So I can honestly say that “thriving” is not the first word that came to mind when I put blogging on my list of things I choose to do today, but “Thrive” is my “word of 2013”.  My first word was actually “overwhelmed.” “Overwhelmed” was also my first conscious thought upon waking,  I almost rolled back over, snuggled with my dogs and went back to sleep; running back into my less than restful dreams, running away from the miasma of sadness, pain and responsibilities looming within that cloudy word. Key word is “almost”; instead I got up and put on my running clothes. If I was gonna run, it was going to be toward something, two somethings actually. I cut two carrots with one knife when I run in the morning. My dogs get some much needed exercise and attention, and I get healthier heart and lungs (as well as firmer thighs, so OK 2.5.)

I made my list of things to do today in my head as I started to walk. Like tangled yarn, I pulled the unusable pieces of my life apart and neatly wound tasks back up on themselves looking for the thread that would begin this day in a pattern with which I could live.  Organizing and prioritizing kept me from focusing on the pain in my hips and feet.  I know this pain, and know it is the kind I have to run through (as opposed to the kind I get in my knee or lungs that say walk awhile). I set my Endomondo goal as 3 miles (5K) and started to trot  with Cozi. By half a mile I was in my zone, no longer hurting or planning but just loving the sound and smell of the infant day.  “I can do this easy,” I though, but Cozi had other ideas.

I have been neglecting my four legged children as seriously as I have been neglecting myself and everything else, and his old dog body had had enough at 1 mile and Cozi began sitting down and staring at me about every half block. Cozi is one hundred and seven pounds of very adorable, very stubborn giant golden retriever  so I called it good and took him home. I then put Yeager on leash. Where neglect makes Cozi drag, neglect makes Yeager lunge. He and I spent 20 minutes walking circles (if you have ever leash trained a labrador retriever to heel, you can relate to this) and almost making it to the end of the block.  I fell short of my 5K, but I did my morning run. Achievement unlocked. Next it was time to physically write my list.

My list does two things, it helps me remember and it helps me focus.  I start the list with my word of the year. That is my focus. Focus is what makes plans and goals form from that miasma of “overwhelmed” into a restful sleep of I am achieving. I struggle each day to remember to not trade what I want most, for what I want in the moment, hence my word, “Thrive” at the top of the list.  Then I write everything I think I need to do, or want to do today. Also to help with focus, if something comes to mind as I am doing something else I add it to the list and go back to what I was doing until it is completed.

So “Thrive!,” I write. What that word means to me would be a whole blog in itself and today’s writing time is almost over so I can’t go into it now, just suffice it to say that for me thriving encompasses a particular picture of health, my religion of kindness, a commitment to building connection, a new commitment to integrity and to intellectual growth.  Blogging is my brief ode to connection today, as today is my first day home without any outside obligation in more than two months and I plan to recharge my seriously depleted introvert battery by not going anywhere or talking to anyone if  I can help it.  I need time alone as much as I need social connection to thrive, once again, two carrots with one knife

Anyway, Back to thriving, having a word for the year is something I borrowed/learned from one of my favorite genre writers, Debbie Maccomber. A romance writer of that kind of  book I generally refer to as a bag of verbal potato chips, where the vocabulary requires no dictionary. A reader can always spot genre fiction because the plot is interspersed every third page with sucking wounds or sucking face.  Like potato chips, genre fiction is addictive, I keep reading just five more pages until the whole book is devoured in one sitting. It amuses my slightly snobbish mind that Ms. Maccomber’s mental snack food has also been the source of two of my more useful self-help skills, that of the 20 Wishes Book and the Word of the Year. Maybe snacks of the right quality, consumed in moderation do have a place in my diet.

THRIVE. 

I could digress here into a hundred things that have been weeds in my garden of thrive, and why I am here a week into April, finally writing about it, but that would not help you or me, or anyone really. What we give energy to grows stronger, so instead I will talk about thriving.

Tomorrow.

My timer has gone off and another thing “thriving” around here is a mess of weeds in the front yard so I am off to pull them. Will check back later with my crock-pot recipe and any updates on this SOFT (Slow Old Fat Try-athlete) training achievements today. And FTR, I have been to the gym Monday and Wednesday and lifted weights!

 

Looking for a little creative insanity for myself….thoughts on life and Don Quixote

I have drafts all over the place on this site and so few new posts. I will admit to being in a blue funk. Death has been house sharing with me, or so it seems the last couple years. Family members and close friends, and now my young patient have all stepped out of life, leaving small rents in the fabric of my heart and universe. All this has happened while I have survived against the odds and I have been given a new lease on life.

So many times, when the news of another death has reached my ears, have I questioned why them and not me and tried to bargain for a do over. “It should have been me,” I tell my deity  “I have had a great life, pretty much done my bucket list so thoroughly I had to make new lists. No one’s life would be as impacted by my absence as the large hole this death has left.” Of course, I may tell my gods that, but I don’t know that for sure either. “Truly,” I say,  “no one really depends on me these days with all my children grown and independent; I have no significant other, no one sharing my heart or bed or paycheck, sometimes I go days with all my conversations work or retail related.”

That is what I tell them.

And nine months ago, in an interview with someone I still hope to ghost write a memoir for (on hold due to me, not him), one simple phrase knocked me to the ground and made me realize that I had some serious work to do again. That is when the crying really started. I made myself as small and as distant from everyone as only a compassionate person can, and in doing so had somehow stopped really living my inner life. I was Sancho not Don Quixote. I was outwardly still tilting at windmills in hope of an outcome, but knowing they were windmills, so I tried to find ways to avoid the bruises, the pain and the tears.

Commitment to a dream is a special kind of creative insanity. An important feature of all the happiest characters in Cervantes extensive literary work is their adherence to a path that has little or no reason to it. Another important feature of their paths is the number of times they are beaten, bloodied, robbed or otherwise betrayed before just as randomly rewarded. Joy (survival) is merely the acceptance of their having survived another day to pick up their lance and shield and golden helmet (shaving basin) to again serve that which they love.

Two weeks ago today, a smile and a laugh that was worth getting up and getting dressed for (on even the worst day,) was permanently taken out of  life.  I don’t know if I will ever be able to sing “Eeesny Weensy Spider” again dry eyed. I miss him terribly and my heart breaks for his mother and family. Ironically it was the chain of “bad” things happening in my life 2009 and 2010 that led me to this home, this job, and that young man and his brother and their amazing family.

I dreamed about him last night. We were all going to someplace, they sent me ahead to set up the oxygen and equipment, the family was told they had to travel in their own vehicle. (FTR, their mom would never have let them out of her sight like this but it was a dream) and when they got there both wheelchairs were empty. The chairs were being pushed through the mall to the facility by two attendants (my youngest sister and oldest sister, a whole other story). I freaked out and ran back to find them, the little boy who just died was on the floor, and stood up, he was a little taller than me. He hugged me, and then pushed me away, “Go find T****,” he said, “he needs you now, I don’t.” Then he laughed and said, “Thank you,” winked, and sang with hands “and the stupid little spider went up the spout again.” He strolled away tossing over his shoulder “Find T**** and then get back before my Mom kills somebody for losing us.”  A little further on I found T**** and started yelling for someone to help, for someone to go to the nursing home at the end of the mall and get a wheelchair, get the family, but everyone had an excuse for why they couldn’t help, and he was laughing but he had no oxygen so time was of the essence; I picked him up and started carrying him. Each time I thought I would drop him, a chair showed up for us to rest in, and then as I came around the corner I found his sister T******, and his Mom V******* and they said there were no wheelchairs but they had an office chair, the rolling kind.  I sat in it and held him and they rolled me up the stairs and to where his bed was. It was hairy but he was okay. I told his mom and sister that D***** was out walking in the mall, and they set out to find him as I settled T**** and told him we wouldn’t be seeing D***** again, that he was all better now. I woke up crying. I cried a few times writing this.

I don’t know how long this pot of Tear Soup will need to stew, and I don’t know what other losses I will face. I do know this year will continue to be challenging as I deal with the sad of multiple losses and legally address some of the things that have broken me in the far past.

What I do know is that I am singing for the dragons again, and this may look like a broken shaving basin to you but I can see that it IS the Golden Helmet of Mambrino.

In more pedantic terms, I will choose to hope and dream as I pick up the tools I acquired in PCT and grief therapy, recommit one meal at a time to healthy, kind diet; train for another race; serve as a nurse where the universe sends me; use my gift of words and laughter when opportunity permits; and most importantly, be open to the risk and love.

I would not trade a single moment I had with any of those I have lost, to avoid the emotional carpeting their death has brought.

Today my house is hairier and messier than ever, my Wednesday lunch containers are in bits about the yard (yes I forgot my lunch again, and the dogs managed to unzip the lunchpack and pull everything out while not destroying the bag, I need a video camera for when I am gone!), I have dishes to do, costume completion and knitting calling my name, as well as some cooking and baking for Fairhaven to fit in my day. So I will set this pot on the back burner for awhile, soup can be ignored for hours. I know it will call me back for a stir or two today, and there are many pots more to be made before it becomes just a seasonal dish again, but for now I am done with my Tear Soup. Thank-you for listening and sharing a dish if you read this whole blog, and I promise a better offering tomorrow. I have not yet done my annual itinerary for Fairhaven visitors and I have some lovely recipes just waiting to be shared.

 

If you have never read “Tear Soup” by Pat Schwiebert and Chuck DeKlyen, it is a children’s book I recommend for all ages dealing with loss, or dealing with someone who has had a loss. You can buy your own copy at http://changinghands.com/.

Namaste.