In My Element


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I like pictures of my toes. I have them from all over the world: my toes on the steps of a temple, my toes squishing into black volcanic sand, my toes covered in dust from a way-too-long ride down a dirt road on a Chicken bus. But I think my favorite pictures of my toes are the ones I take only with my eyes as I float in foreign waters. Most of my travel, at some point, involves water. It might be an ocean, or a sea, or a cenote, or even a pool. I love to float on my back and watch my toes, the things that usually ground me to the earth, float and bob at the place on the horizon where the sky meets the water. It is my favorite souvenir of each sojourn, this image I file in my memory of me supine and levitated with the most ordinary part of myself merging two vast expanses.

I’m a Pisces and I feel at home in water. It’s an oft-referenced joke in my family that the first word I ever spoke wasn’t Mamma or Dadda, but rather Fish. Yes my mother used to rock me to sleep in front of a fish tank, whispering the phrase “watch the fish,” “watch the fish,” as her hushing lullaby to me, but I like to think maybe my first word was me knowing and declaring to the world where I would be most at home; where I would be in my element. I think about water a lot, about how it differs from the other elements. Earth holds you up, provides a resistance to move from, air and wind move past you and rush away, brushing the surface of your skin but never sinking in. Fire, well fire seems aloof not wanting much to do with humans, by nature it throws heat and sparks to keep us away. We can look but never touch. Water, now water touches all parts of you, every bend and fold, and water can hold you, caress you, carry you, it even becomes you soaking into you from the outside in. It can also move from the inside out, the barrier is permeable because really we are one with water. Scientifically we are water, for the most part.

I was on a plane flying back from my latest adventure where I had another chance to look at my toes while I floated in teal blue waters, and as I paged through the magazine in the seatback holder, I came upon an image I filed into my memory alongside the mental snap shots of my toes. It was a woman in the middle of an aquamarine pool, treading water looking directly into the camera, with small ripple rings of water emanating out from her body caught by sunlight. The thing that intrigued me was in the background around the sides of the photo you could see the edges of the swimming pool she was floating in the middle of. I started wondering if maybe one of the reasons I like to float so much is because I’ve spent so much of my life pushing off from the edges of a pool, from the edges of a lesson learned, from the edges of a failed relationship, the desire to move and grow spawned by desperately wanting to not be in the place I am. I’ve actually gained a lot of momentum and growth from pushing away from things in an attempt to move forward. Yet lately, finally, I’ve started floating. As I grow older, and more content and possibly a little more evolved, I find there are fewer things to push away from, and my decisions are made from the middle of the pool. I can move in any direction I choose. I have to admit pushing away from something or someone is sometimes easier because the choice of direction is easy: opposite and away. Starting from the middle, from floating is a little more difficult and requires more personal effort, more responsibility, more intention and decision. I know these are all rewards of adulthood, but sometimes feel heavy to hold above water and slow my movement. Thank goodness water is there in the middle, holding me, knowing me, supporting me in whatever I choose as my next direction.

I have been studying Buddhism recently, sitting silently in front of orange swathed monks each week, listening, searching, trying to understand the divine nothingness they speak of as the sacredly empty pinnacle of their practice. I enjoy the silent time, yet I have to admit I don’t think I will ever be a good Buddhist. Maybe I’m too Western, maybe I like language too much and trying to build an understanding of nothingness with the building blocks of words is a failed endeavor at inception. I just can’t find divinity in nothingness because I can’t understand how oneness can be in nothingness. I was speaking to a Monk about this, looking for some guidance, and admitted I can almost get there if I picture divine nothingness as divine everything. A place where everything merges and connects, where everything is touching everything and the edges fall away and all boundaries are permeable. And I think of floating in the middle, and being the woman in the water, and the direction I want to move next is down, slowly swirling into the silent depth of sacred connection, where everything merges into one, and the sea and sky and the blue of your eyes converge and move like I Am.



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I went for a walk in the wine country today and of course it was beautiful. I wasn’t sure where I was going exactly, I just knew I wanted to go up, to higher ground, in search of a view of the valley and the green yellow rows and rows of vines below. It had rained last night, and the wetness made everything glisten glossy in the slanted morning sun.

I am not from the wine country, a friend lives here, and my outsiderness was a great asset today as I walked. I could smell the earth, distinct and herbaceous, like wet spongy green moss though it was just wet black dirt. Intermittently I could smell the damp eucalyptus, caught in a breeze and delivered to me, fresh and healing, enticing me into deeper breaths like the Vic’s Vapor rub I use when my sinuses hurt. California gold finches played around me lighting and flying, I felt a little bit like Snow White sans the evil queen and sans any saving kiss.

It’s Fall here, post fires, post harvest. At the tasting rooms and restaurants you can hear the locals talking of harvest, of the fires, of who got their fruit up, who made it to crush. It was a disaster, some made it through and some didn’t. Fire and wind are unpredictable and indiscriminate. But it’s calm here now… the work has been done and it’s time to wait for the grapes, newly crushed, to turn into something amazing. I keep thinking about the crush, wondering how it’s done, what it looks like, if there was anything about it similar to the way I got crushed last night.

The reason I’m in the area is I had a workshop in San Francisco this weekend, and I’ll tell you workshop is an understatement. I paid a lot of money to spend 12 hours a day, 3 days in a row, with a group of people all in search of having our lives transformed. I am somewhat of a gypsy, a seeker, and I will always long for transformation. It’s in my DNA, which according to new research is also always transforming and changing as well which I am happy to hear. I left the weekend to unwind in wine country, transformed with a freshly minted vow of authenticity and commitment to courageous integrity. To speak up, to speak out, to connect and try not to hold secrets like humans hold, to not hold my secrets, one of which is a long-standing crush on the friend I am visiting. After tasting rooms and wine, and meals and wine, and wine and wine watching the sideways Fall sun set turning the valley of yellow-leafed vines dark, I decided no better time than the present to actualize my transformation and commitment to honesty, and reveal my crush to my friend. Well……. Crushed. It didn’t go the way I imagined in my wine softened mind. Not reciprocated and disruption to a long and beautiful friendship not really appreciated. I thought when you forged into new and evolved territory, when you committed to living life to the fullest and being the best version of yourself possible including truth telling and authentic confessions, the universe would at least have your back and provide a shiny new world, or at least a soft and tender landing. Yeah, that didn’t happen. I’m not sure if I feel more betrayed by the unreliability of my own mind and what I thought was real, or the universe for allowing me to drop flat on my face.

So today as I am walking, and thinking about the vineyards, and the grapes, about the smoky-sky apocalyptic harvest as the hills burned and neighbors helped neighbors. I keep thinking about the crushing and saying a private prayer that I can be a grape. That I can sit, post crushing, and if I wait, and if I am attended to by the friends I shared my disaster with, and I let the lesson set and ferment, to steep and change inside me, my own personal crushing will someday transform me into something amazing. Years from now I will be known, and celebrated, tasted and someone will take a long slow drink of me and tell me all the perfect components were present the year of my crushing.


Step Forward


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I learned to negotiate randomly placed crab holes with crutches this vacation. As if crutches in sand aren’t hard enough – crab holes can be wicked – one wrongly placed crutch-end suddenly six inches down a crab hole can send me and my 9 stitches vaulting pommel-horse style into a hammock, into a thatched roof hut, into a thicket of palm fronds, hopefully landing on my one good foot and sticking the landing al a the best Olympic athletes…

Sometimes you just don’t know what is coming. The day started innocently enough, we rented a golf cart to explore the island of Ambergris Caye in Northern Belize. I absolutely love driving golf carts on sand roads, it’s some sick tropical obsession I have. First we drove south past the air strip, the catholic church with its sun-faded Madonna, past the tortilla factory which was really two old women working side by side in silent unison, past the dump, down a path, past some iguanas until we ended up dead ended where the road washed out in a puddle I was too chicken to gun it through (yes, I’ve both drowned a golf cart and watched one go up in flames on previous adventures). We had an unexpected guest who joined us at some point on our explorations – 13 year old Ivan who appeared in the back of our golf cart like the ghost holograms who ride in your cart at the haunted house at Disneyland. I have no idea how long he was stowed away when I noticed him, but he was pleasant and answered our questions about this building and that, about the island. I treated him to a Coca-cola, and then was gone as silently as he appeared.

After South we explored North, past the German-expat bakery stop for an amazing sandwich, over the steel bridge now mending an old hurricane cut to the island, past the odd new modern Cinema building playing some movie from last year, to the Palapa Bar for fresh coconut water drinks, and finally back towards town. Really, the day was perfect.

That’s when I decided we should stop for a quick swim and ocean style bathroom break. I was only about 4 steps into the water – knee deep? thigh deep? I don’t remember, when I stumbled on something under the water. I stuck my foot out to brace myself and I didn’t feel sand, but something large, coarse and sharp. I could feel my foot being cut, sort of in slow motion, aware it was happening but unable to stop the action. The salt water burned, and when the pain didn’t subside in a few seconds, I knew it was bad. When I lifted by foot up and saw the 6 inch fillet-style slice and the blood running down my foot into the ocean I knew it was really bad. Thank god I have a strong survival instinct because the next 30 minutes were like an action packed movie.

I stumbled out of the water and started screaming to my friend to give me her T-shirt to make a bandage (I have no idea why I thought to do this – girl scouts, first aid training, too much TV?). Good thing Gap sells nice clean white V- necks for only $12.00 as hers was now sacrificed as a make-shift bandage. I got into the golf cart and started to drive while yelling simultaneously to some slack-jawed passerby “Where’s the doctor’s office! Where’s the hospital!” I have no recollection as to the answer, but I started driving there, trying to figure out what to do with my foot and the growing blood situation. Elevate, elevate – I tried to put the bloody thing up on the dash but it wouldn’t stay and only made a huge blood smear across the lower windshield. The sand in the floorboard began to turn pink as we drove the three blocks, five blocks to where stunned pedestrians pointed or said the doctor was.

When I saw the white sign with neat black writing “Dr. Gonzalez OBGYN” ahead on the street I had a brief moemnt of “you’ve got to be fucking kidding me” but I needed a doctor, any doctor. I whipped the golf cart to the side of the road, began hobbling up the sidewalk through the dirt front yard, all the while yelling to my friend to lock the golf cart – the guy said they get stolen a lot. Yes, strong survival skills. Now it’s lucky I’m no stranger to clinics and doctor’s offices in developing countries. Volunteer work and time spent south of the border had prepared me for the modest – or should we say meager – cinder block house with cracked tile floors, folding chairs, rusty-bladed oscillating fans, stacks of this and that in plastic bins behind the counter, and really bad bare-bulb overhead lighting. I made it up the sidewalk to the open front door, and the last thing I remember seeing was a row of about 5 pregnant brown Mayan women sitting in folding chairs against the wall. And then I passed out cold.

It’s not embarrassing to pass out because you don’t really know you have and you don’t really remember, but it is embarrassing to think back later about what you may have looked like while you were passed out. Here I was, almost 6 feet tall, blonde, white as any first-day tourist, in a swimsuit and T-shirt, passed out cold with my legs inside the clinic and my body and head on the front porch, my Gap bandaged foot creating an ever increasing pool of blood at the feet of these stoic faced, pregnant women. They were sitting like 5 golden brown Buddhas in meditation growing the secret of life in their bellies when I passed out, and they were sitting exactly the same way when I came to.

Dramatic tropical fainting and lots of blood is also a way to get to the front of the line at a Belizean OBGYN’s office, and when I came to I was quickly ushered to the back room which I think was probably a delivery room, but for me was going to be a 10 heinous lidacane numbing shots in your foot before we stitch you up room. I’m sure Dr. Gonzalez was as gentle as possible, but I proceeded to scream like a banshee when he started jabbing needles into the bottom of my foot. I writhed, I screamed, I bit my friend’s arm, and I cursed like a peg-legged pirate before I was sufficiently numb. 9 stitches went in. Personally I thought I did fairly well on the hysteria scale – minus the fainting and the permanent blood stain to the waiting room tile grout. Dr. Gonzalez was as stoic as the 5 pregnant Buddhas through the whole thing, and all he said to me at the end was, “you should try having a baby some day,” and walked out of the room. I was left in the care of his robust nurse Evelina who kept shaking her head and saying in island style English, “it so big, so big. I never see one so big.” I think she was trying to be sympathetic in a seen-way-worse but won’t tell you type of way, but I had to tell myself it was my size 10 foot she was talking about and not the massive slice on the bottom of it that was the biggest she had ever seen or I would have fainted again.

I spent the rest of my week learning to use crutches in the sand, accepting gifts of codeine and other pain killers from strangers (other guests at our resort, don’t worry), and laying by the pool with my leg propped up trying to convince myself the novel I was reading was as fascinating as nurse sharks and sea turtles and all the cool things my friend was seeing while she snorkeled one of the longest reefs in the world. Things I learned were: how to get in and out of a dock-side boat on my hands and knees, how to maneuver a mosquito net with one leg propped on a pillow, how to make soda water and lime juice feel like a cocktail, how to get from crutches into a hammock and back out again, and basically how to enjoy 7 days in a tropical paradise with no walking, no cocktails, no snorkeling, no swimming, no diving, no more exploring, and no more adventures. This was not the vacation I had planned and I didn’t understand why this happened.

A friend told me a story a few months ago – I was telling her how I felt ready for change in my life, like something big was right around the corner. I didn’t know what, but I could feel it – yet I felt frustrated waiting for this big change, this life evolution – especially with all the little daily crap and incidents that kept coming up. Like it was time for something big, yet I was having to deal with an inordinate amount of annoying minutia. She told me there is a Buddhist myth that when something beautiful, something significant is about to be born, the Universe distracts you with little annoyances, the minutia of human existence, so the beautiful mystical golden gift can be born in peace and perfection. We are purposefully distracted from ourselves, so something much better than we ever could try to control or conceive can be brought into our lives.

Maybe it was no mistake I ended up at an OBGYN, with 7 days of supine contemplation I didn’t expect, with simple tasks becoming feats of stamina and balance. I still feel that change coming, growing inside me. And when I try to imagine what it might be, what life has for me next, all I can picture are 5 golden pregnant Buddhas sitting in a row with the hum of a dime-store fan in the background. Serene, unmoved, waiting – patiently. I feel it inside me too – something sweeter than tropical mango, something wanting to be birthed in peace and perfection, in calm, filling me with golden light ready to emerge in flawless divinity when I least expect it, when the time is right. In the midst of my raw humanity – with blood and screams, fear and chaos – I know it is there, waiting, just waiting, to quietly step forward into my world.


Surf’s Up


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I’m a doer. I keep a list of things I want to do before I die, and I actually do them. It’s my bucket list of course, but I don’t want to carry them around in a bucket. I want to do them, as often as I can, mark them off the list, and then plan another. Recently I marked off “Learn to Surf.”

I practiced a lot before the big surf lesson outing, getting in shape, doing pop ups on a line, balance, yoga for surfers. I wanted to be prepared to make the most of the adventure. My surfing career up to that point had consisted of one crazy crash-and-burn ride in Costa Rica years ago, with my last image being from the top of the water mountain looking down the shaft of a super long board as it nose-dived straight into the ocean, me following, tumbling, sputtering, and somehow ending up with a nose full of sand and only half a swimsuit. I did not want a repeat.

I have to admit, carrying a surfboard is fun; in my mind I think it makes me look hot. It is the perfect beach accessory to look athletic and cool, and also cover a not-as-flat-as-it-once-was midsection. I was fairly content to just parade around in the sand carrying the mid-section concealing board, but my instructor had other plans. After a short briefing on the shore, a couple practice pop ups on a beached board, and an overview on the lay of the land (well water actually), my instructor and I set out for the first run. I was feeling somewhat confident but nervous, excited, and mostly just praying I could actually get up on the board knowing full well I had no idea what to do next if that happened. As we paddled out to our starting place my instructor turns and calls back to me, “oh, and if you see any giant sea turtles don’t worry, they might nudge you but they won’t bite.” Seriously, a giant sea in my path is about the last thing I need to be worrying about, especially because with my level of skill there won’t be a damn thing I can do about it. Turtles please beware. Thank God you have a protective shell.

I catch a few waves for short-lived rides, sort of get the feel of the water lifting and pushing me, my balance, sweet spot on the board, and finally I catch a wave, for real. The ride is amazing, exciting, I can feel the adrenaline rushing, I’m going long enough to be cognoscente of the feeling, adjust my feet to go a little faster, and I can hear my instructor’s fading cheers behind me. This rocks! Adrenaline is surging and I paddle back out as fast as I can to do it again, and again, and again. I feel high from the forward movement, the ride, and the real-time achievement of something new. I’m a badass surfer chick rocking it out wave after wave. And then I start to get tired. I realize on my next round I’m watching the waves a little longer, getting pickier about the sets, enjoying the sun on my shoulder as my instructor and I start shooting the shit a little. Talking about travels, adventures, passions, life. And the funny thing is, maybe I shouldn’t admit it, but I sort of like the floating as much as I like the surfing. I grab another wave or two, but somehow now the rides are the interruption to the real endeavor which is just being, just bobbing there in the ocean, feeling the waves, noticing the currents, the birds, the pink-blue sky, the connection with it all and the person I’m with. I start wondering if surfers surf for the high of the rides, or really for the chill of the time waiting?

In yoga they say the real work is done during savasana, after the pose when you are lying on your back, completely relaxed, doing nothing but letting the last stretch, twist, contortion, sink in. This is when your body starts to know the work, during the quiet time. Two different types of knowing; one for your brain, and one for your soul. I notice this too with my acquisition of the Spanish language. I can study study study but it is always months later, after a drink or two, when words I struggled to recall so many times in class have sunk from my brain into my being and magically appear on my tongue. My body knows, not in the moment of effort but in the lazy calm of being.

Maybe I am telling myself all this because I’m in a personal savasana right now, and because I’m a doer, it’s hard sometime to find value in not doing in the outward way I’ve been taught to measure achievement. I’ve been on a big wave of learning, of growing, a wild adrenaline filled ride forward, and now I’m just sort of bobbing, lying still and waiting for the next set. I’m also becoming pickier about my waves, and less interested in the big ride than in the simplicity of the still beauty in-between. I am finding joy in the way the afternoon light plays through the trees and glitters on the floor, or the ripening of my second tomato, or the soft cooing purr of a settled kitten. These things cannot be noticed from the top of a roaring wave.

I sat with some surfers at the bar after my first big day out, it was Triple Crown time and waves at Pipeline had been huge. They talked first of the waves, the rides, the wipe outs, and then once that was done the conversation softened to just an understanding of the sea, of the lifestyle, of hours spent bobbing and waiting, of unspoken knowing, of contently waiting for the next set, for the next ride forward and the savasana to follow where the lessons of the ride will truly be learned. I want to put this on my list, “Learn to Be,” chill, enjoy, find beauty in the simple, and it troubles me there is no place to put it. These are the things of being and they don’t get a line on a list. Yet as I sit and contemplate my silly to-do record, I realize being has been there all along, it’s the space in-between, the blank white savasanas which separate my rides. I won’t make a mark near these places as the space is too sacred, but now when I look at my list of “achievements,” I know where the real work is done.

Machu Picchu

It’s summer which is vacation time, and since I haven’t been on the subway a lot lately I thought I’d share some old travel pieces from years back. Enjoy.

So, if Rumi says there are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground, then one of them is surely to shake your ass like a crazy person on top of a rock, high in the Andes Mountains. Let me explain:

I went to Machu Picchu this weekend. A spiritual journey to the sacred lost city of the Inka. But I will tell you, day one was anything but spiritual, and my pilgrimage was a pain in the butt. To get to this sacred place, first must you fly to Lima, Peru. Then you must fly to the mountain town of Cusco. Then after a few days of chewing coca leaves to adjust to the high altitude, you must get on a train at 6:00am which moves at the pace of a snail through the sacred valley – past slums and streams, past oxen and rock throwing children and snow peaked mountains and even past gaggles of back packing trekkers – to a dingy tourist town where you exit the train and shuffle across a bridge with what seems like a million German tourists to get in queue for a bus, which will drive switch-backs on a dirt road up an unbelievable mountain, to drop you in a parking lot to get in queue with another million German tourists to buy a ticket to get in line behind even more tourists to enter the sacred place of the Inkas. All this to try to find God. I felt more like a lemming at Disneyland at Christmas, and it was very upsetting. How in the hell can I find God here with all these shuffling tourists? I decided I needed a guide, but the only one I could find who spoke English was in charge of two New York socialites who were tiptoeing across the architecture of the Inkas in Manolo Blaniks and carrying Prada bags. I ended up touring with them, and their designer shoes, and their fake boobs, and I’m sure someone has found God in a pair of plastic tits, but it didn’t work for me that day. I retreated to the dingy village that night to soak in the rancid hot springs they are famous for, and drown my failed pilgrim sorrows in a bottle of Peruvian wine and the conversation of a 19 year old German girl. I know, yes, of course, German.

Looking for God, day two: Armed with my best spiritual armor, a.k.a. an iPod loaded with U2 and an arrival of 6:00am, I entered the holy city of Machu Picchu. Okay, so walking through empty terraces and mist filled mountains, sharing the pathways with only llamas and the ghosts of civilizations past, oh, and Bono, this was better. Surely God will be here today. After softly traversing Machu Picchu proper, I arrived at the gate to Wynapicchu, which is the tall thumb of a mountain that frames the Inka city in the back. Only a limited number of nimble hikers are allowed access to this pinnacle each day. I sign my name in the entry book, and begin climbing. All I can see are Andean Mountains, mist, lush green leaves and vines, and stone carved steps; a lot of them. I mean, a lot of steps. Thank God for hours of squats in the gym because this pilgrimage is requiring a lot of my glutes though I would take the steps worn smooth by the feet of those spiritual pilgrims before me over the Stairmaster any day. Finally, hours later, sweaty with quivering quads, I make it to the top, and because I am blessed with long legs and an absence of caution, I get the highest rock, on the very tippy top of the mountain. All I can see for 360 degrees are mountain tops, jungle, mist, blue sky, and air forever. And all I can hear is my music. Seriously, it was as if I was standing on the top of the world, and as high as the mountains were, was the exact depth I could feel the magnitude reflecting in my soul.

At this point I had exhausted Bono and moved onto Seal. There is a song he sings, Love’s Divine, you may know it, it starts out a little slow and broken, and picks up, and then sort of lets loose with the chorus, “love is what I need to help me know my name,” and I’m standing, on top of a rock, high in the mountains, high above a lost sacred city, looking for God, at the end of my pilgrimage, and all I want to do is dance. Like really dance, to this song, on top of my rock. And I do. I turned my back to the other tourists splayed out on their trophy rocks like lizards in the sun after the long hike, and I just dance my ass off because at that moment, I completely and totally know my name and I feel something so great I can’t help but dance it to the mountains, and the sky, and the mist, and the red headed condor that decided to fly in circles around me. When the song was done I quickly scrambled down from my rock and walked into the jungle to hike for two more hours and hopefully not see any of the people who just witnessed the silent spectacle of my holy dance.

Later that evening, with the luck of a single seat, I had to ride the snail train backwards back through the sacred valley – past corn fields and pigs, barefoot children and women shooing chickens from doorways with brooms – away from the lost city of the Inka, away from the mountains and the mist and the condor. I was worried I would get train sick, but as I sat there I sort of enjoyed my backwards retreat, like when you see something so amazing you want to slowly back away and keep the vision of it in sight as long as possible. And as I thought about my weekend, and my pilgrimage, and the amazing sights I saw, the image I kept returning to was myself dancing like a fool on top of a rock, high in the Peruvian mountains. I went there looking for God, and what I found was a sacred space deep inside my soul that’s magnificence eclipsed the beauty of all the other things I saw. And just for a second, or a three minute song, on top of that rock, I completely and totally knew my name. And I think it was one of the names of God.

Love’s Divine
Then the rainstorm came over me
And I felt my spirit break
I had lost all of my belief you see
And realize my mistake
My time threw a prayer to me
And all around me became still
I need love, love’s divine
Please forgive me now I see that I’ve been blind
Give me love; love is what I need to help me know my name
Through the windstorm came sanctuary
And I felt my spirit fly
I have found all of my reality
I realize what it takes
Cause I need love, love’s divine
Please forgive me now I see that I’ve been blind
Give me love; love is what I need to help me know my name
Oh I don’t bend, don’t pray, show me how to live and promise me you won’t forsake
Cause love can help me know my name
Well I’ve tried to say there’s nothing wrong, but inside I felt me lying all along
But the message here was plain to see; Believe me
Cause I need love, love’s divine
Please forgive me now I see that I’ve been blind
Give me love; love is what I need to help me know my name
Oh I don’t bend, don’t pray, show me how to live and promise me you won’t forsake
Cause love can help me know my name
Love can help me know my name

Crazy Good

I tend to be a happy drunk which I consider a good thing, because if I ever go crazy, then hopefully I will be a happy crazy person, which I am starting to think might be, quite nice.

Cub and I were on our daily train a few weeks back, and it seemed like another humdrum uneventful commute. People coming, people going, Cub holding a nearby pole from her stroller doing an exaggerated side-to-side sway, essentially riding the subway like a big girl, like the rest of us. It’s a real crowd pleaser when she does this. Anyway, at a stop about mid-ride, a young guy got into our car. He was lean and tan, thin in the way yoga teachers or raw diet enthusiasts are thin and all sinewy muscle and flexible looking with a healthy “high-pro” glow. He seemed to be southeast Asian, which conjured more yoga vibes, khaki pants rolled at the cuff, oversized sweatshirt, flip flops… and a stuffed animal type lizard perched carefully on his left shoulder. Now this was no typical stuffed animal lizard, it was more like a velveteen rabbit stuffed animal lizard, made from mis-matched fabrics – maroon corduroy on half and woolly plaid on the other with some purple floral print on the tail, one dangly button eye and the other socket just a thread x where it looked like the button had fallen off and left the defunct threads there looking like a cartoon black eye. Now a stuffed animal velveteen lizard on someone’s shoulder is a little strange, but the thing that pushed this over the top of the strange-o-meter was the Home Depot grade chain around the lizard’s neck, draping down over the yoga boy’s shoulder, wrapped numerous times around his khaki belt loop, and then padlocked in place for safe keeping. This was not a pocket watch gauge chain, or even a dog walking grade leash, but full-on industrial thick chain. Possibly when traveling with lizards – real or velveteen – on the NYC subway it is good to make sure they are properly tethered, for their safety as well as the safety of the other passengers. But in my mind this was the clue that this guy was a little crazy.

Yoga boy and his velveteen lizard ended up in a seat across from Cub and I, and after a few minutes I could see Cub notice the lizard, begin to ponder the lizard, or at least just realize that this was new and different, this shoulder riding, motley fabricked, eye-missing lizard. Her wide-eyed gaze was all that was needed for yoga boy to look at me, lean forward, and say, “She is beautiful” and break into a wonderful high-pro glow smile. Of course this made me smile, and we rode along like that for awhile, Cub holding the pole doing her exaggerated “riding the subway sway” while staring curiously at the velveteen lizard; yoga boy in a peaceful commuter shavasana; and me taking it all in. When we neared our stop and I started to do the impending departure rustle, he leaned in again and asked me her name. “Cub,” I replied. He then bent down in front of Cub, leaned in a little and said directly and intently to her wide open eyes, “Cub. Welcome to this world. You are in, for a beautiful, ride.”

Now of all the crazy things a person can say to you on the subway, I have to admit this was not what I expected. And as we walked away from the train I couldn’t stop smiling, like we had just received an unexpected blessing from an unlikely sage. And then I started to think that maybe being crazy, if it happened in a certain way, could be a really pleasant thing. Like if all the crap and worry and stress just melted out of our brains, and we were left with only the good, where velveteen lizards on our shoulders brought joy, and our words of wisdom to a toddler on the subway are that life will be wonderful, if this was all that was left in our minds, then crazy could be good. Actually this is what many of us strive for in our spiritual practices, to see the good, to see the beauty, to approach the world filled with awe and wonder. And maybe this yoga boy with his shoulder lizard was crazy, or maybe he was evolved. And possibly those things could be the same and we just don’t know it. And maybe because I’m a happy drunk, I will be happy crazy if I ever go crazy, and that seems sort of beautiful and maybe okay. And maybe I will evolve, and all my hard spiritual work will pay off, and I shouldn’t worry about things so much, and how I’m doing, and if I’m evolving, and simply remember that this can be, that this is, at its core, a beautiful ride.

Tip of the day: Keep an eye out for elderly people and pregnant ladies entering your subway car. If you spot one and offer your seat first it makes you feel like a champ. If you don’t notice and someone next to you offers first it makes you feel like a gump.

Advice to youth


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Seriously, I cannot make these things up. I’ve been a little disappointed lately – the daily subway commutes have been sort of normal – commuters, students with their faces in their phones not even looking up to see the cutest baby ever, a few old ladies waving at Cub – but other than that nothing much to report. I even began to worry maybe I was assimilating too well into subway life, slowly becoming a jaded everyday-rider that had lost the ability to see the magic of the subway. Until today. Bam! The Universe quelled my fears and delivered in a big way. Here’s what happened.

Cub and I get on at our usual stop, running a little to make the train because I had to re-load the metro card and was doing so just as the train pulled up. We made it, a little sweaty and out of breath. I shoved her stroller into the closest open spot I could find, took my seat, and looked up. Nothing too interesting, smartly dressed business man reading the NY Times, another man reading a thick book, student playing candy crush, etc. Cub immediately begins grabbing at the corner of the NY Times dangling over the edge of her stroller, gets a good fist full and gives it a tug. Smartly dressed businessman looks up, and in a friendly attempt to mitigate her bad subway behavior, I apologize and say, “ she didn’t get a chance to read the business section this morning.” He smiles and we are cool. Then man reading thick book looks over, and says, “If she wants to read she needs to read this, the best American writing ever.” I can’t really disagree since it is the complete essays of Mark Twain. I take the book from his outstretched arm, turn a few pages for her as if to show her this amazing writing, then hand the book back. Now that man with thick book has my attention and I’ve proven amenable… the flood gates open.

He begins to tell me how novels are for the less talented writers who need the grace of all those pages, but the truly talented writers write shorts – because they are tight, and every word counts. It is much harder to write a short piece than a long piece, that he is a writer and he discovered this after 70 years of writing (he is now 71). That’s why he never finished his novel; he’s better than that. That Twain was a greater talent than Hemingway because as he got more mature as a writer he wrote shorter and shorter pieces, while Hemingway wrote more and more novels until he blew his brains out. “If I couldn’t write anymore, I would just read great literature by others, not blow my brains out. That’s stupid. That’s what you do when you don’t really have talent. I’m a writer, and it took me a long time to learn this.”

Smartly dressed businessman is giving me quick side-glances, which translate to WTF. I’m not exactly sure what to do, if I should respond or just listen, so I begin to study thick book man while he talks. He has a rumpled straw cowboy hat, greying medium length thick wavy hair, non-descript business style checked shirt, jeans, white tennis shoes, long self-manicured red finger nails with a few chips in the polish, and a cane painted with delicate purple lilacs. Hmmmm. He then shoves the complete essays of Mark Twain towards Cub again, and says, “When she gets older, look up my writing. My name is Ms. Tom Joelle (pronounced Jo-Elle) Benjamin,” and points to his name written in neat block letters on the end of the book, all bumpy yet precise over the uneven edges of the pages. “My email is Ms.Thomas.Joelle.Benjamin, M S T H O M……” I was just going to ask @ Gmail or Hotmail since it wasn’t really a valid email he gave so carefully (God I’m polite), when he says, “Ellen DeGeneres is famous because she has no edge. I have an edge. The general public is afraid of the edge so I’ll never be famous. I get paid in satisfaction, not in money.” In an attempt to be polite and contribute something to this odd conversation I look at Cub and say, “that’s how babies get paid too,” and smile.

I began to gather Cub and I up as people do when the next stop is theirs. Ms. Benjamin could see we were getting ready to leave, but before our stop he thumbed his book quickly, opened to a page, and held out Mark Twain’s essay “Advice to Youth.” He looked me right in the eye and implored me as if it was his dying wish, “when she is old enough, you have to read this to her. It’s everything she needs to know. The things I’ve told you today are shortcuts to things it took me my whole life to learn. Make sure she knows these things when she is young.” I said I would with a serious nod, acknowledged smartly dressed business man’s last eye cut with a half smile, and Cub and I were on with our day.

I’ve already googled Ms. Tom Joelle Benjamin, and I can’t find any place to read his writing. I probably never will, as he also told me he was on the way to the NYC courthouse to legally change his name so his brother couldn’t get a dime of his money. Then he paused, retracted and said he didn’t have a dime but he didn’t want his brother to even get two cents from him. I thought that was really funny because Cub and I got WAY more than two cents from Ms. Benjamin today.

I keep thinking about how odd that 9-minute ride was. Part of me wants to classify the whole thing under crazy guy on the train with thick book. But as unusual as the messenger was, I keep coming back to the fact that everything Ms. Benjamin said was true – and fairly profound advice: Don’t bury the truth in a bunch of words – know what you mean and say it. If you can’t master something in your life, don’t beat yourself up about it (or blow your brains out) – celebrate the accomplishments of those who have instead. And last but not least, sometimes being paid in satisfaction is more valuable than being paid in money. Thank you Ms. Benjamin for your “advice to youth.” I will teach the things you said to Cub as I promised. If she learns them young they will surely give her an edge.

Helped with stroller on stairs downtown: young 30’s Japanese girl, most likely graduate student, wearing a long lavender linen jumper with a white lace collar underneath. As we bumped down the stairs all I could see under the stroller were her feet. Under her prairie style collar and lavender jumper she had on black, knee-high lace-up Doc Martin boots.

Tip of the day: If you need to re-load your Metro card, do it at the end of a ride no matter what a big pain in the butt it seems to be and how much you just want to get home. If you do it when you are catching a train, you will feel rushed and really bummed if one comes and goes while you are punching buttons at the machine. Loading it on your way out avoids missed-train disappointment.



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I wonder what the penalty is for defacing a New York City subway car. I see they have a code of conduct printed and posted in various cars, but it just says what not to do – not what will happen if you do… and get caught. I saw a YouTube video of a young graphic design student so bothered by a certain Manhattan doctor’s horrible ads for clear skin she had re-designed them and was sticking her much better version of his ad over the old ones – and nothing seemed to happen to her… In addition to the code of conduct, the New York Transit Authority also has poetry printed and posted in various cars, and I really want that poem. Not just a copy of it, the whole 2 foot by 2 foot poster board print with red lettering on a white background and a big heavy red scaffolding up the side. The program is called Poetry in Motion, and technically my tax dollars go to pay for it, so it is sort of part mine in a way, or at least that’s what I envision explaining to the police. Plus, it would be a gift so stealing it would actually be a generous act of kindness.


Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;

Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.

And yet all this comes down when the job’s done,
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.

So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be,
Old bridges breaking between you and me

Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall.
Confident that we have built our wall.

-Seamus Heaney

I alway get excited when I get on the train and realize I’m near the poetry – it’s like finding a little gem. It’s not in every car, and then you have to be in the right part of the car that does have it. This poem, the other morning, just slayed me. Maybe because it is so simple, maybe because I had no idea what it was going to be about, or that the totality of all the conflicting and messy parts of a relationship – loving, fighting, building, breaking – could be summed up in four unexpected lines. It haunted me the rest of the day as I walked around the city – underneath many scaffoldings and past solid brick walls. I kept thinking of scaffoldings I had walked under in Hong Kong made of laced together bamboo poles that seemed to bounce and bow as the sure-footed workers walked on them – behind which were glass-clad skyscrapers that would shoot laser lights from their rooftops at night.

Convened around a dinner table later that night laughing and exchanging stories with new friends, the haunting poem appeared again. One couple had just celebrated their 28th anniversary, and over wine and dessert began to share their anniversary story. They had decided to forgo presents as they had had a “hell of year,” and have just a simple nice dinner out. The wife had prepared a card, and all she said was, “I was on the subway….” and I blurt out – “that poem!” She had copied Scoffolding into her card as a gift for her husband. When he opened the card and read the poem, his reaction was not expected – he wanted to know where she got that poem, why she gave it to him? He had also copied that poem into a card for her after seeing it on the subway, and was convinced she somehow knew until she convinced him it was poetic coincidence. They had both found a gem.

I’ve been looking for that poem all week, yes, to steal, for them. But all I keep seeing are empty two foot by two foot frames where the poetry should be. It seems many New Yorkers are also slayed by the simple complexities of love – being weak and being strong – being vulnerable yet solid – being laced together by the messy handiwork of love, which in the end is the foundation from which we move and flow around the city.

Here is a link to the Nobel Prize Winner reading this poem on his 70th birthday.

Helped with stroller on stairs downtown: older man, jeans, red t-shirt, grey hair and crooked teeth. He was very strong despite his age and managed his side of the stroller with one hand. He asked how old Cub was and pinched her cheek at the bottom of the stairs before wishing us a good day.

Tip of the day: Poetry in Motion is often at the end of the train car, on the short wall near the handicap seating. Look for it like it’s a treasure.

His feet are his shoes



His feet are his shoes, literally. There’s a homeless man I pass each morning in the Columbus Circle station. He is always asleep, tilted to the side, his plump body wedged between the wooden bench he inhabits and the wall. He wears a black coat and black pants both so dirty they are starting to look grey. I’ve never really seen his face, and I’m not sure when I began to notice his feet.

His feet are large, plump, and uncovered. They are cracked and scabbed, calloused and worn. These feet fascinate me, maybe because being barefoot in New York City is so forbidden to start with. Maybe because comfortable footwear for the daily trekking that happens here is of utmost importance as I’ve learned firsthand. His feet look like eggplants to me, when you broil them and the skin turns from purple to dark purple brown and begins to crack and blister up. Everyday I try to sneak a peek at his feet as I walk by. At first I thought maybe I should bring him a pair of shoes, but the bottoms of his feet have already become as hard and leathered as the souls of shoes and it would be weird to put a shoe inside another shoe. And then I began to fantasize about washing his feet.

I am fully aware that this is bizarre, and I don’t even know how the idea got into my head, but I really want, in some crazy way, to wash this guy’s eggplant feet. At first it was a strange impulse, and now it is a full color fantasy that plays like a movie in my mind each time I walk by. I would carefully carry a circular white plastic or soft pastel color basin of warm water up to him. I would gently and quietly place it on the ground next to his feet. Then I would place a fluffy white towel, folded in half, in front of his feet and kneel down onto it. Slowly I would touch and lift his feet, one at a time, and place them like treasures into the warm water. The water would have a layer of soft suds floating on it – lavender which I really like might be too strong for all those cracks and sores, so maybe it would be scented with something more gentle like honey, or vanilla, or maybe chamomile. In this fantasy movie I wash him with a soft cloth, like the kind I use on Cub each morning. A little square the size of a coaster made of the softest terrycloth you can find. I would move it slowly between his toes, and along the sides of his feet where the black line of dirt sits like a water line reminder left on a wall after a flood. Then I tenderly swaddle each foot in another fluffy white towel and gently pat them dry. I place them back on the subway station floor, gather my things, and walk silently away. He never wakes up in my foot-washing fantasy, nor does he know I exist and think of him everyday as I walk by in real life.

Sometimes I find the things that go on inside my head surprising, amusing, entertaining even to me. Like my subconscious mind is a circus, a carnival, playground, taking in all the stimulus from the day – the sights the smells the interactions and thoughts – then scrambling them up in a big tilt-a-whirl and feeding them back to me in fun-house style Technicolor sleeping dreams and waking fantasies. If the world, especially New York, is a big fun crazy place, the world inside me is bigger and more fun and definitely at times much crazier. I was smiling to myself about my weird foot-washing movie this morning as I sat on the floor in front of the bathtub. I was gently washing between Cub’s toes, combing out her hair, lifting her into a fluffy white blanket and tenderly patting her dry. That’s when I realized what the carnie circus master in my mind was prodding me to notice. This man with the eggplant feet that are his shoes was once someone’s baby. And I didn’t feel crazy anymore.

Helped with stroller on stairs downtown: somewhat non-descript white guy with a bad haircut, about 6 foot tall, navy shorts and maroon polo shirt, grey suede sneakers with no socks, looked like a graduate student. Shuffled near me with hands in pockets too shy to ask if I needed help until I looked at him and gave him a subtle nod and half smile indicating it was okay. He then asked if I needed help, I said yes, and gave him the rest of the smile. 

Tip of the day: if you are going to visit new york or move to new york, just know whatever you consider your comfiest shoes are most likely not going to cut it. This is good because it makes things more simple in a way – you will get a truly comfy pair of shoes, and you will wear them every single day. I wore the same pair of Merrell boots everyday for the first three months I was here, and now I wear a pair of Sketchers Go Walk loafers every single day. This also frees up closet space, which you will undoubtedly be grateful for.

I am a person


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Sometimes I play the game, “Drop Me in the World.” It’s a game I made up of course, and it is played entirely in my own mind. Drop me at any random location in the world: side of the road in Nicaragua, Red Square Moscow, island in Malaysia, corner of 59th and Columbus NYC, with no money, no phone, no contact list, just what I can carry on my back, and what would I do? Where would I stay the first night? What would I eat? Where would I start in building a new life, finding work, finding money, shelter, food? Who would I approach for help and what would my pitch be? What type of sign would beget the best results for begging on a street corner – which corner would be best, locally trafficked or tourist trafficked? You get the idea… you start from scratch and build a theoretical new life step by step in chosen location. I think there is an extreme survival TV show version of this game, where they drop someone off on top of a glacier, middle of the desert, deserted island and they have 72 hours to make it to civilization – the show is called Dude You’re Screwed.

I’ve discovered a new survival option that happens inside New York subway cars – in my mind I call it oratory begging. Once the train doors close, a person steps to the middle of the car and begins a speech: about how they are in troubled times, have suffered a loss, have children to support and would like to call on the humanity of all those listening to help in any way they can. They are typically very articulate, decently clothed and well groomed. The stories involve elements of things familiar to most people – rent or mortgages, job instability, family obligations. They are down and out, but down and out in a highly socialized way. They often point out they were once just like us, until something happened and they fell of the track.

Today when the doors closed, a 40 something man, thin, Kelly blue polo shirt and black pants, began his speech: “I – am a person. Who – believes – sometimes you must do what you need to do. And that – is why – I – am here today in front of you.” Everyone was silent because it is always a little uncomfortable to be trapped in a confined space with someone who is begging from you, but today I think the car was silent because this man, obviously a trained orator, had a BEAUTIFUL voice. He sounded part Southern Preacher, but less dramatic and more refined, like a professor, or public speaker, or actor who might be called as a back up when Sidney Poitier wasn’t available. He sounded like a man who would recount the foraging habits of the North American black-tailed prairie dog on a PBS show, or some quintessential fatherly voice whose insight and knowledge would make any childhood problem vanish into thin air and hugs.

I’ve also discovered, during confined oratory begging, you can feel the collective uncomfortableness of the other passengers, right along side the collective desire to help. Both are palpable, in equal proportions. Another game I play in my mind is called “Start It.” I suppose it is more of a sociology experiment, but in these situations I like to break the giving ice and be the first to put a dollar in the bucket, not so much because I think my dollar will really help this man, but because I want to see how many people will follow suit once someone makes giving collectively acceptable. Today I gave my dollar to Cub, who was entranced by his oratory (and probably secretly thinking “that man would really rock Good Night Moon with that beautiful voice”). She’s at a stage where she really likes to put things in… and take things out. She reached up and put the dollar in his cup. And then the lady next to me gave a dollar, and another girl across the car gave. I’m not sure how much he made off our car, or what his real story is, or what life he led that groomed such a beautiful voice, but it felt good to give and like good parenting to be the ice breaker. At the next stop the doors opened and he was gone, and in my mind I thought to myself “I too – am a person – who believes – that sometimes you have to start it. And let others draft off your intentional courage.”

Helped carry stroller on stairs downtown: Latino man, young forties, fit, heather grey T-shirt and jeans, large diamond stud in ear. Started down stairs next to me, stopped, came back up a stair and lifted the other side of the stroller without even asking if I needed help.

Helped carry stroller on stairs uptown: Weather was beautiful so we walked.

Tip of the Day: when you gather your things in the morning – metro card, phone, etc. – make sure to put a few dollar bills in a handy place. There are amazing musicians you may encounter, or oratory beggars, or who knows what and you will want a dollar ready to give. This is for you more than them. If the money is handy you can guiltlessly enjoy the music without having to rifle around in your bag looking for a dollar as the train pulls up. You will be more present in the moment, and I just read a quote that said “no one has ever become poor from giving.”