22 October 2009


Steve G (see "To Be Known", 26 July 2009) is still in touch. I placed my FaceBook account in hibernation mode again recently and he's begun to send email again.

Yesterday he wrote
Miss You...
that's all I can say...
Memories of our love have been cropping up and I ... wish I had been more mature when we first met...
I asked "What do you remember?" and he responded with an astonishing number of specific, vivid memories. He remembers the red dress.

It was the most I'd ever spent on a piece of clothing: $100 for a floor length, wool blend, body-hugger with long sleeves. Tiny scallops along a very low, square neckline. I bought it to wear to a frat dance at DePauw University--the school I'd attended the previous year.

Steve was still enrolled but I'd dropped out at the end of Spring term and returned to Kentuckiana. I lived two hours away in my first apartment. I was driving my first car to my first real job--weekend news anchor for WINN radio.

The trip back to Depauw for a November dance party would be my first since leaving. Steve and I had not talked about what my leaving town meant. This was an important trip. I was ready to talk about the relationship. What were we doing?

For such a special occasion, I needed a special dress. I bought the red dress in one of the "better" shops downtown and it was truly a psychotropic experience finding it, trying it on, and seeing my reflection in the mirror. I loved that dress--so well made--and I loved how I felt in that dress. The fabric clung to every curve and angle of my body. I was worried about my nipples showing. Today, there would be no issue but in 1973 being obviously bra-less in public was still noteworthy. Glamour Magazine had recently offered a nipple concealment tip: Band Aids.

Back home with the dress, I tried it.

Heavens no!

Without question, the effect was a far more offensive spectacle than small natural bumps. So I abandoned the idea.

Today, 36 years later, Steve writes
please don't think I'm trying to cause you pain, but, black raspberries... God...
I think he's talking about nipples but I'm not sure. If so, what does it mean that we have separate nipple memories from that trip?

What does it mean that I remember very little about him, the first boy I ever loved? After a few hours of consideration, two ideas have surfaced.

1: The unforgettable male lover in my life came 16 years later. Memories of him displace those of any men before him and eclipse those of all men after him (so far).

2: I come up with scant specific memories older than a decade or so about anyone outside my family.

Maybe other memories of our relationship (what IS the word? 'relationship is waaaaaaay to mature a label for what we were doing and 'courtship' sounds ridiculous...) will surface for me if we keep our rekindled connection alive. Maybe the contact and interaction will ring a few bells and I'll remember things I've forgotten. What was it that Zora Neal Hurston just said in Their Eyes Were Watching God?...
Now, women forget all those things they don't want to remember, and remember everything they don't want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.
Another idea just dawned:

I'll have to re-read our correspondence (you see what I mean about my memory?) but so far it seems all of Steve's memories are from late in our time together. He doesn't have much from the time we were both in school and spending lots of time together. His memories start after the red dress weekend.

For me, after the red dress weekend, there was no future for us. Apparently I went through the motions for awhile but didn't pay close enough attention to make memories.

16 October 2009


This is a photo harvested from a Google search on "discretion." There's quite a bit I could say about this picture. But I won't. Still, I found it difficult to pull my eyes away from the image so I'm including it for those readers who might respond similarly.

Very often, I say too much. People who care about me have given this feedback for as long as I can remember. I am not discreet.

judicious in one's conduct or speech, esp. with regard to respecting privacy or maintaining silence about something of a delicate nature; prudent; circumspect.
Especially the "maintaining silence about something of a delicate nature" part.

When my son was about 4 years old, we had lunch with my sisters in a restaurant in downtown Louisville. My son was always gregarious and being cute as a button, strangers were easily charmed into interacting with him. An elderly woman at the next table had already made eye contact with him and smiled and waved. "Mom, she looks just like ET!" he warbled loud enough for most everyone to hear.

I'm not so indiscreet as that. With focus, I can refrain from telling strangers they look like computer-generated film characters.

Human nature is very "delicate" socially. Sometimes, in some settings, it seems impossible to avoid bruising some or all of those present. Sometimes, in some settings, it feels like the only thing going on is everybody being careful of everyone else's delicacy and avoiding saying too much or asking too much or revealing too much or caring too much. Laughing too loud or looking too long. Standing too close or too far away. Staying too long or leaving too soon.

[I had a vague sense of direction when I started writing today. At this juncture, I re-read an email correspondence from earlier today between me and a new friend. Feeling certain that the words in my half of the correspondence would support an evolving thesis in the blog, I wanted to cut-and-paste relevant passages.

But after reading and re-reading several times, I see the whole situation differently. What in the world was going on with me this morning?! Whiny drama queen....

I can't reprint the passages here. I'm embarrassed.


if the current situation is typical or illustrative

my indiscretion, at least sometimes, is an attempt to be seen. Pathetic. Manipulative. Indirect and ineffective. But, all the same, it's a cry for attention.]


integrate that bit of awareness and go forward.

10 October 2009

Full Engagement

The purple flowers of a bush growing just outside my bedroom door open in sunlight and close at night. The leaves of the bush are a vibrant green. It thrills me when the big yellow butterfly stops by: the color combination is almost psychedelic.

Summer is winding down. The morning sunlight is less intense. Dead purple petals litter the ground around the bush. Today, the yellow butterfly was nowhere in sight. There was only a trio of small, rusty-mud colored butterflies, flitting about, choosing a bloom and parking on the lip of the flower. They lean headfirst toward the throat of the bloom and push their heads inside. For a long minute, they drink. I looked closely for signs of breathing and saw none. "What a way to die!" I thought, just before one of the three awakened from his stupor and floated lazily to another flower face.

Drinking deeply, total abandon, hardly breathing, focused....pleasure.

I'm re-reading Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. In the lush, trembling arrival of Spring, the central protagonist, Janie, has a conversion experience--the first strong stirrings of womanhood are excited in her adolescent mind and body. I hadn't felt that part of the book so strongly when I read it 10 or 15 years ago.

I'm also reading and re-reading as many Toni Morrison books as I can find at the library. I finished Sula last night and Love is at the bedside table. I want to re-read Beloved and Tar Baby, too. Morrison is a national treasure and, like the butterflies, she does lean in single mindedly with total focused abandon in her work. Drinks deeply and produces literature that satisfies deep thirst.

Sun calls the flowers. The flowers call the butterflies. Call and response.

It's said that creative activity is the way we humans cooperate and collaborate with God (however you conceive or define that word). We meet God halfway in a never-ending call-and-response cycle. The response part is crucial. I wait sometimes, too much of the time, for a Call. For an inspiration so potent that I will be compelled to respond. Fully, deeply, with abandon. Yet, the Call is all around me and within me all the time. God's part is done. The response part, my part, lags.

This, for me, is at the core of religion or strong faith or spiritual practice. The practice is about showing up, over and over again, stepping into partnership with God, dancing with the Life Force. Staying Awake.

This is a rather neglected aspect of my life for a few years now. Mostly I only talk about spirituality now, reminisce rather than practice. I live what I believe, as far as that can be done without taking action. It's a passive spirituality.

The topic of talented black male visionaries in the non-profit world has come up a few times lately. Among the provocative ideas the topic sparks, I wonder what drives them. Is it a response to a Call or something inside that won't let them rest? Or a combination? Or something else? Is their vision their religion?

artist: Erik Kaye

The momentary hallucination I mentioned in the last post included a sense of passionate, purpose-driven living. My house guest this week walks with one question these days-- "Is it sustainable?" This week we've applied the question far beyond the housing, ecology and political themes that generally inspire her work. What about purpose-driving living: Is it sustainable?

I don't have the last word on that from personal experience. I've read that such work/living, feeds the worker and so it IS sustainable.

This week, I will run an experiment. I will respond to every creative call. Will Response feed me? Is it sustainable?

09 October 2009

Taking the Reins....Anybody seen the reins?

The counselor at Job1 ("Business & Career Solutions") gave it to me straight: the strength of my resume and breadth of experience are liabilities in the New Orleans job market because it's a "word of mouth" town and people hire people who are (or seem to be) like themselves. I'm not from here, I talk "funny".

He suggested I start attending Franklin Baptist Church, a reportedly progressive-thinking congregation. Many of the members are successful and well-connected--to each other and beyond--in NO. He believes I will find and make the connections I need while simultaneously becoming more familiar and similar to folks here.

Then he opened a box of miscellany and pulled out a Calvin Coolidge quote for me to read:

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan "press on" has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race”

"Persist at what?" I asked.

My imagination seems to have packed up and left town permanently. I don't have an idea. Or, as it's usually phrased "I have no idea."

"God helps those who help themselves" I think. So, damn it, I ought to be doing something. But what?

How many stories have I told about leaving my house and winding up in an interesting situation somewhere on the streets of New Orleans? It's a proven likelihood. The catch is I don't usually leave my house unless I have an appointment, an errand to run -- some specific business in the world. Otherwise, I'm content to stay home. Home is where my heart is and when I love my home, I spend a lot of time there.

I'm out of ideas, completely uninspired about what I can do, from home, to stimulate my personal economy. It's astounding how blank my mental slate is. If I were a writer, I'd call it writer's block. But it's my life so it's a life block. Immobilized. Caught like a fly in resin.

Since I was raised in a Baptist Church, it's likely the culture of Franklin Avenue Baptist will not be strange to me. It will be strange to attend a church for other than spiritual reasons. I don't remember ever doing this before. When the counselor mentioned it (he says he's Catholic) an immediate resistance flared in me--part "I don't do church any more" and part "That would be wrong!"

I haven't counted the idea out of hand.

I notice that perhaps my inspiration is returning; I did, after all, come up with the idea to call a job counselor on my own! And, as is the way here, taking one step has rewarded me with 5 new directional arrows to choose among.

Yesterday a friend (who is a house guest this week) asked a very good question and I felt a little 'ping!' in my brain and, for a couple of minutes, felt myself in a different reality. A reality constructed by my own choices and efforts as always, but the result of having made a different set of choices and efforts in my life. I was the person I might be if I'd made different choices over the last 10 years ...

I was wearing different clothes and my teeth were beautiful. My body was buff and my attitude was positive. I had a car. I had friends in New Orleans, the kind of friends you kiss and hug when you see them. There was a scanner and a regular telephone in my house. I was a good cook and I had a long-time lover with a slow hand (slow eyes, slow tongue, slow breath).

I'm not unhappy. I am, again, as ever, very tired of money-based stress in my life.

Perhaps if I were unhappy or angry or ambitious, I'd be about some passionate strategy and tidily resolve my financial concerns. I'm none of those things. I'm stressed but out of crisis. Uninspired. Alert. Willing but seasoned. Watching to see where the story goes next.

03 October 2009

Pressured Speech

As it happened, the man next door and I made eye contact as I stood with coffee and cigarette on the balcony the morning before I left Boston. He had worked really hard the previous day removing the tree roots exposed at last after his years of raking the ground.

The reports I'd been given were wrong: he's only been raking his yard since last year. He's creating a memorial garden for his deceased mother. He wants to grow roses. Maybe the absence of grass or lawn is good for roses?

My understanding of the term is incomplete but I would describe his speech as "pressured", i.e., he says more than the conversation requires, as his mind free associates among the warehouse of data in his head, repeating certain phrases and rambling somewhat from topic to topic. I talk that way, too, sometimes. It leaves one feeling purged, like after a vomit, but, for me, accompanied by much less physical discomfort.

24 September 2009

Check the Map

"Not I personify, but the anima personifies me, or soul makes herself through me, giving my life her sense-- her intense daydream is my 'me-ness', and 'I', a psychic vessel whose existence is a psychic metaphor, ..." - James Hillman
"...I want my students to see ...that they are as capable of shaping the world as it is of shaping them. ... newfound appreciation for his [family] history allows Milkman to see himself as a link in the chain between the past and the future..." Marc Schuster from "'Gimme Hate, Lord!' Facets of Love in Song of Solomon" in The Fiction of Toni Morrison: Reading and Writing on Race, Culture, and Identity

I am in Boston this week, helping a friend (and former employer) prepare for an IRS audit of his non-profit organization which I once served. This work and I found each other last week. My earnings here will pay October rent.

Some people associated with this project see me as a savior. This is largely because my left brain almost always goes into overdrive when I'm around these folks [I just took a quiz online to measure where I am after two days' contact...] and of the hundreds of volunteers and staff associated with the group since Katrina, I am the sole survivor left on the Gulf Coast.

Right Brain/ Left Brain Quiz
The higher of these two numbers below indicates which side of your brain has dominance in your life. Realising your right brain/left brain tendancy will help you interact with and to understand others.
Left Brain Dominance: 8(8)
Right Brain Dominance: 9(9)
Right Brain/ Left Brain Quiz

If the last four weeks are an indicator, I will not save the day. Anything short of disaster will be a complete reversal of September fortunes.

I'm not in savior mode. I don't know exactly what to call this mode but "savior" is definitely a misnomer.

Three cats and a dog live in the South Boston apartment where I'm staying. I am allergic to cats. Luckily the weather allows wide open windows and physical distress has been minimal. This morning I have itchy eyes and nasal congestion. These reactions are reassuring -- yeah, I'm still me.

The backyard of the house next door has no lawn. The man who lives in the house has spent every dry weather day of the last 8 years, raking the ground and removing all pebbles, grass, weeds and leaves. He bags what he harvests and the trash collectors haul it away twice a week.

I watched him on and off all day yesterday. It's fascinating. Medium-sized bits of brick or stone outline two narrow strips on the north end of the yard. A single line of similar stones runs the length of these strips. From the second floor balcony where I stand, it looks like a Kahloesque uni-brow above two Asian eyes.

Yesterday, after sundown, he spent almost an hour toting pitchers of soapy water from inside his house, dumping them onto the side porch and watching the water drip through the wooden slats.

On this second morning, he is meticulously snipping all branches, twigs and leaves extending over or through the fence between his yard and the one next door. The woman who lives with him appears to be slightly disabled, both physically and mentally. When she comes out of the house and touches anything, he screams at her.

I think this would be called obsessive compulsive behavior but he seems quite focused and sure of himself. I'm told he has lowered the grade of his yard by at least 4 inches since moving in over a decade ago.

It feels like something is being worked out through my life. Maybe this is, as Hillman suggests, Soul making herself through me. Is it possible to know Soul's objective? To participate and contribute to the mission? Can I do something more than just fumble blindly, be more than a vessel? I listened last night to my hosts' discussion of the man next door, how he is spending the days of his life. What do observers say about how I am spending the days of mine? What do They see?

I don't know much about the lives of my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents. Beyond a few immaculate anecdotes, I have little information about the story before I came onstage. Still, I have a sense of how I have been shaped by ancestors, how the past makes me what I am.

The link between my life and my son's is clearer to me but still hazy. I can see a little about how I contribute to who he is.

I can't see how I'm shaping the world.

18 September 2009

Three Notes

Last night a neighbor sought to explain the "real New Orleans" to me. It's not the first time I've been on the receiving end of such a tutorial since arriving here in 2005. Does it mean anything that the only people who ever try to spell this out for me are always born and raised somewhere else?


I met Sara Roahen Tuesday night! I walked over to the Alvar branch to return Bill Clinton's book (couldn't get past the first 20 or 30 pages...what a disappointment) and the dear head librarian remembered my effusive praise of Gumbo Tales. "You know your girl is talking tonight on the West Bank," she warbled.

"My girl? Who's that?"

"Gumbo Tales, of course" she said, looking at me like I was the most fickle of readers. She doesn't know yet that I fall in love every time I read good writing.

Guessing (correctly) that my piano student for the afternoon would neither show up nor call (part of the storm of misfortune and rudeness and loss referenced below), I biked down to Canal Street and caught the ferry over, reaching the Hubbell Library only 10 minutes late for the reading. Shamelessly smitten with Sara, I plopped my sweaty self down in the front row.

Hers was not the face or voice I'd imagined while reading the book but I was not disappointed. What a precious young woman! Besides having the opportunity to thank her for writing the book and to tell her that I love her and the book and give her a big hug at the end of the reading, I'm glad I went because

a) I learned that she and her husband moved back to New Orleans last year!
b) Her humor and candor about her creative process was refreshing and inspiring.
c) The view of New Orleans and the Mississippi River was heart-breaking-ly beautiful that night from the West Bank. It's rare I'm down on the River after dark.

The storm seems to be over for now. "I'm at the mercy of my life," was the description I gave a friend several nights ago. For almost two solid weeks, the barrage of irreparable loss was intense, unpredictable and unrelenting. I understand more clearly now why people jumped out of windows during the Depression. Last week, I couldn't stop thinking about suicide. I decided to "just say no," every time the thought came to mind--for as long as I could.

Finally came a day with not a single turn of misfortune....and then another day when several people thought of me and called or dropped an email. I slept well that night.

So everything is gone. I have nothing left to lose. Feels like I'm starting over from scratch -- except there's no "scratch" left to work from. Feels like the storm has passed over, like the house and barn were destroyed and the fields and livestock decimated but I survived. I'm alive. Where do we go from here?

11 September 2009


In answer or response to comments about recent blog posts:

--The earthquake I experienced while living in the San Francisco Bay area (The Letter H: Rambling as Directed) caused only minor property damage and no loss of life.

--Bradley Whitford (Name Calling) is an Emmy-winning actor from The West Wing.

--No one in my immediate family has died recently. (The Letter H: Rambling as Directed)

--All the writing on this blog, including "Lord Loss" from last week, is my own unless specifically attributed. The images are chosen from Google Image searches done on a word or phrase from the post.

--Donovan (Heat) is my housemate. We are not romantically or sexually involved with each other. I believe he is gay but he says he is not.

10 September 2009

The Letter H: Rambling as Directed

The instruction from last night's dreaming was "blog H". What does that mean?

It is difficult to ask for Help. Because, except in cases of emergency--drowning, hair on fire, and knife in the thigh, for example--it is difficult to know specifically what to ask for. Asking for Help is also risky: first, because there is the potential for the true nature of the one who asks and the one who responds to be revealed in the interaction; and second because the request may set in motion a story one has no desire to participate in or witness.

Although my mother insisted throughout my childhood that I had no sense of Humor, I know now she was mistaken. This is not to say I am incapable of an obdurate humorlessness at times; there are innumerable situations in which the forced gaiety of other villagers is crassly inappropriate. It feels like a civic responsibility to keep a straight face. Still, my memory stores enough hilarity to ensure some fun when the time for Life Review arrives.

My piano students and I have been looking at our hands this week. I'm working on Rachmaninov's Prelude in C# Minor, challenged by the size and progression of the chords. It is rumored his hand span encompassed the interval of a 13th on the keyboard! This shatters my long-held belief that I have exceptionally large hands: depending on the notes in the chord, a 10th is my maximum stretch.

Also shattered this week, my belief that I have advanced math aptitude.

[Note: Contrary to my first thought, I am not bored by this blog post. I am terrified of what people will think of it...]

Only one restaurant in my experience met my expectation when I ordered "extra crispy" hash browns. A little diner in San Francisco on Irving Street, N Judah line before the turn onto 9th Avenue. The cook produced a dinner-plate size, crispy potato cookie--with cheese if you like. It was the best. I hope they're still making hash browns this way when/if I ever get back to San Francisco.

I am no longer afraid of becoming homeless. Delusion or no, I believe there are a handful of people who would take me in.

Hurricanes are another matter. Sucked into New Orleans on Katrina's tailwinds, I've come no closer to the real deal. Friends insisted and assisted last year's evacuation for Gustav. Bill was close enough to shorten my stay on Star Island last month. When I lived in San Francisco I longed to experience an earthquake. The fulfillment of that longing was strong enough to educate without injuring. I have a longing to experience a hurricane but, given where I live, I don't voice this longing even in the privacy of my own thoughts.

I miss my grandson, Henry. We hardly know each other since I've only visited him twice and he's never visited me in the three years he's been alive. His parents post photos of him on a blog set up to track his sojourn on the planet. I especially like pictures like this one that capture a full-front gaze. He doesn't remind me of his father, my son, any more. Looking into the eyes is a little like looking at myself, a little like hearing my name called and a little like being embraced...or hugged.

Hubris, harmony, hips and hallucination are additional "h" words but for a variety of reasons I lack the energy to discuss them this morning.

Something must be said about heart before I close.

A month ago I boasted that everything I wanted was coming to me. My heart was full, elated, exuberant, grateful. The past two weeks have been marked by loss of biblical proportions. I feel this, too, in my heart. I am exhausted, depleted, afraid. If I asked for help now, it would be a request for relief or strength or inspiration but who, besides the God of my forefathers, can grant such a request?

I no longer believe in that God.

From my aloneness and aliveness in the Universe, I call out, cry out, only half-believing that personal cries impact the cosmic field. Today I will write, walk in the rain, play piano, rearrange the furniture in my bedroom and perhaps cut my hair. These substitutes for prayer.

04 September 2009

Sir Michael

Morning radio on WWOZ is all Michael Jackson today. Dozing in and out this morning NPR informed me Michael's body was finally laid to rest last night. Some place fancy; where was it?

Ah, yes. Google (how did we live before you?) harvests more than 170 million hits on "Michael Jackson"! "Entombed Among Hollywood Royalty" at Forest Lawn mausoleum reports The Australian.

What a life, no?

Michael's death surprised me but did not elicit an emotional response. What can you say? With celebrity of the magnitude that he endured, you are mostly the projections, conjecture and cravings of fans and the media and big business. Everyone who ever thinks of you, thinks of you under the influence of their own fantasies and nightmares.

I suppose we could call it "public service," giving the world a screen to dream and freak on.

When celebrities die, I always hope there's a book. A collection of letters. A journal. Some written clues about the true heart of the celebrated "public servant." Extraordinary, tragic, gifted public servant.


My parents' playlists dominated the airwaves in my childhood home: Nancy Wilson, Dinah Washington, Lou Rawls, Sarah Vaughn (my mother's music)and Moms Mabley, Redd Foxx, Bill Cosby--with Pearl Bailey or Louis Armstrong thrown into the mix occasionally (my father's playlist).

A Jackson Five album somehow found its way into the family collection. We played it on the hulking combo TV-radio-record player stereo cabinet unit and danced around the living room after school. The custom among adolescent girls, possibly practiced worldwide, was to choose a fantasy boyfriend from among the members of popular boy bands--the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Osmonds, Monkeys. I was 15 and I think Jermaine was my choice in the Jackson Five. It was never Michael; he was too young.

I only ever purchased two Jackson albums: Off The Wall and Bad. Each appeared briefly in my personal Top Ten before being relegated to the "never listen to it but can't quite throw it away" bin. Great dance music and I was dancing a lot in those days. I'd hardly noticed Michael in the Jackson Five but he was a much brighter star and more exciting artist on his own.

I didn't pay much attention to him between album releases. All of the media drum-drum and yak-yak had begun years ago and was at a fevered pitch by the time I noticed the covers of the gossip magazines. It struck me as more of the usual ridiculous waste of time that tabloids make their stock in trade.

Michael seemed as capable as any other celebrity of ignoring the drivel and maintaining a focus on his artistry and personal wholeness. I didn't see him as fragile or at-risk. This image, the jerri-curled young artist, was how I remembered him. A bright-eyed artist having a good time as the world responds to his gift.

But his appearance began to change. Dramatically. Looking back, I wonder if each cosmetic modification brought him more fully into donning a mask, living in it, so that even alone, looking into the mirror, he saw only the mask. His natural face erased.

What do the eyes see when they look into the eyes in the mirror, the eyes in the mask? Is that infinity called "soul"?

I once knew a woman whose concept of the world did not include "soul." OK. Give me another word for who and what the eyes see in a mirror, for where and why the heart feels what it does during that gaze....

How many of the gazillions of photo images taken of him did he ever see? Photos are mostly freeze-frames or snapshots of personality but personality is an aspect of "soul".

I cringe when I try to perceive some truth about Michael Jackson from the traces of him found in snapshots and video clips. I feel sad or trapped and then I remember that these feelings are emotional byproduct of my own projection onto a man I never met.

Dancing to the music this morning, I tried to find something true about Michael in the music but remembered again that whatever I feel is just more projection.

What, then, is the significance of group projection? What does it mean when lots of people look at a man and feel a similar ache in their heart? Does consensus validate the projection?

In many photos from the last two or three years, Michael looked already-dead to me. A gifted ghost. And so, while the recent video clips of his children highlight the less-frequently documented collateral damage of his life, these children were raised by a ghost. They are the adopted children of a ghost.

My mind bends into knots trying to imagine their reality...

His body is at last retired.

Maybe someone will try to make a movie? Feed our dreams and memories of the ghost with more images?

02 September 2009

Lord Loss

Sometimes I feel him coming before he arrives. But always I am breathless and surprised when he arrives.

We are not lovers but we are intimates. He is faithful. No matter how long we are apart, he always returns to me.

He knows me well (finally I notice that he knows me much better than I know him...) He is sensitive, consistently perceiving where I am vulnerable and focusing his dark gaze there, touching me there.

He is bigger than me. I have never heard his voice. The sounds of him are deep breathing and heavy footsteps and the hushed rustle of his clothing when he listens at the door.

He shows me no mercy. He is true to his nature. He takes whatever he wants from me. I am his submissive. He puts me in my place. He takes my breath away.

He's like an angel -- he is not afraid of me and he looks me right in the eye.
I fear him but I do not resist him. I don't love him.

He is brutal. Each time we meet, he wounds me--in the eyes, the heart, the hands. No man-made restraining order can hold him. He does what he likes.

Here is the strange thing: his abuse feels sometimes like love to me. I am freer, lighter after each encounter. He takes my innocence. I am less afraid of the World because of him.

He is here now and I don't know how long he will stay. This is a long visit. I hurt but the process has been slower this time. It's as though he seeks Recognition, wants me to know him. Between blows, my cells reverberate with echos of the deep, beautiful, mourning within him.

It almost feels like Love.

30 August 2009


Donovan and I had our first heated discussion last night. The morning after, I am drinking coffee and smoking pot and reflecting...
  • what a strange night! The walls of the house became radioactive with reflected, bouncing red light about midnight. I stepped out on the front porch to investigate and found a fire truck, paramedics van and ambulance truck parked in the street with motors running. Two men in white unloaded a gurney from the paramedic van and rolled it to the foot of the porch stairs of 820. Except for the crisis lights strobing on each vehicle, the street was as quiet as church.
  • A few hours later I stepped out back for a cigarette and wondered again why rainstorms happen so rarely after dark in New Orleans. Half an hour later the thunder and lightning started. It rained very hard for about two minutes.
  • If I wasn't me and I was reading the story of my life, I wonder if I'd read all the way to the end. The story line swings between only two poles: mundane merriment and vapid abstraction.
I don't like heated discussions.

That's not true. I don't like heated discussions with people who are as insecure or more insecure than I am.

I remember now that the training I took in Essential Problem Solving Skills gave conflict resolution short shrift. I need some training in how to defuse a charged situation; specifically, how to ratchet down the emotional flares in myself and the other person. It's hard to think, i.e., negotiate, listen, respond, consider, when emotions are running high.

The aftermath of un-defused heated discussion is never pleasant. What's possible after two people face off, hurling molten emotion at each other? What's possible if either of them does not at some point choose to shut up, take a breath and listen? If only one person does this, where can the discussion go?

This morning I'm gone to where I often go after a heated discussion: a whimpering resoluteness that I will not trust again, will not open again, will not share anything or accept anything ever again. I can only trust myself to listen to me and understand me. No one loves me like I love me.

I don't like this place. I don't like that an exchange with another human can lead me to embrace attitudes that I normally abhor. Even though I know it's only temporary--that before I know it I will revert to form, become myself again (it's inescapable, this return to myself)--it is messy and uncomfortable in this moment.

It's times like these I'm almost drawn to sit meditation. But I rarely succumb.

Usually, I start writing.

29 August 2009

Name Calling

I'm in one of those life phases where The Big Hand is bringing me whatever I want. Examples include contemplating the long grass in my backyard and entertaining strategies for taking care of it--Otis knocked on my door within 20 minutes, a homeless guy with access to a lawn mower. Or thinking "I need at least 5 new students to pay September rent"--seven new students have enrolled since then.

Every now and then there's a funny twist in the process. Reportedly, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie maintain a residence here. So I've lost count how many times I've wished I could "meet Brad." He's cute but the cherry on top is that after seeing him in two live interviews, I also like the way his mind works.

Brad, Brad, Brad I've whisper-chanted when I'm out in the Quarter. So far, not even a remote siting of Mr. Pitt.

It tickles me that I sort of met "Brad" on Star Island. Not Brad Pitt, but Brad Whitford. Well, actually it's Bradley but his brother, my old shoaler (see previous post) calls him Brad. Even funnier: he does not look even remotely like a "Brad" to me.

Someone at the bar last night called me a "smart ass." So, in true smart-ass form I guess, I renamed Mr. Whitford during the conference. Doesn't he look more like "Caleb" than "Brad" to you?

Reflections on Star Island

Two weeks after my first visit to Star Island and attendance at the Life on a Star gathering, several scenes are still vivid in my mind: the dark interior of the tiny chapel gradually filling with light as shoalers (island lingo for attendees) enter with lanterns, carried up the hill from the main hall; lace curtains dancing on ocean breeze at windows; the clamor and frenetic energy in the dining hall at meal times; late-night cocktails with new friends under the generous branches of a rare tree (there aren't a lot of trees on the island).

A parting gift to staff and workshop leaders was a refrigerator magnet photo of the island. The part of the island shown in the photo is not an area I frequented; it may have been one of a few off-limit areas. The scene is of a curvaceous, lonely, rocky coastline. At first glance, the photo appears shot in b/w because the contrast between the sea's brightness and the profound black of the shoreline rocks is stark. Closer examination reveals a diverse palette of blues and greys. It's an eloquent visual representation of the spirit of the land as I felt it.

As a new shoaler, I was paired with an "old" shoaler whose responsibilities were to welcome me into the community and explain various traditions. It was a match made in heaven. Besides being handsome and a good listener, he was a splendid conversationalist and a model "family man" with a gorgeous, sensitive wife and two bright, stunningly beautiful daughters. [Note: David also writes for Fortune magazine and emailed a couple of pieces yesterday. Not surprisingly, I discovered he's also a fine writer. The tone of his work reminds me of this blog but his vocabulary and timing are more polished than my blog writing.]

Preparation and facilitation of my play-shop was a primary focus throughout the week. The playshop succeeded famously: attendance remained high all week, participants reported having fun and doing things in the sessions that they would usually "never" do (I regret now not pressing for specific examples...); and I learned a great deal that will benefit future play-shops.

My love-hate relationship with the Unitarian Universalist movement goes way back. My time on Star Island increases the love side of the equation. Not to say there weren't some "characters" on the island; not to say issues of white privilege and confused regard of race didn't come up; not to say the UU penchant for over-talking and over-thinking wasn't in evidence. Not to say any of that.

But I met some people of enormous intellect and uncommon passion and compassion. I heard beautiful music -- there were several accomplished pianists among us and adept renderings of Chopin and Brahms floated in the dusk air many afternoons. I laughed with tears in my eyes at least twice during the week.

The seven days I spent on Star Island felt like a much longer period. Of course, magic contributed to the distortion. But other factors include
  • everyone being on the island intentionally,
  • many of the people had known each other for a long time;
  • some only saw each other once a year on Star Island
  • a critical mass of attendees held the conference theme, "Building Community" in mind
  • every stage of the human life span from infant to elder was represented
"You will come back" is a traditional chant on Star, most notably heard on the pier as boats depart at the end of the conference. Star Island touched my heart--both the people and the place--and I shed tears as our boat pulled away. I don't know when or if I will ever return but I want to.

A residual of the Star Island experience--and my trip overall--is a surge of creative inspiration. I'm playing and writing a lot since returning home. Although there were plenty of pianos scattered around the Island, I did not play much--mostly for lack of sufficient down time, i.e., quiet solitude, to allow the mood to play to arise in me. I was distracted by the opportunities for conversation that existed at every turn. I noticed old shoalers were more skilled at gracefully exiting and carving out spaces for introspection and solitary recharging and renewal.

Overall, I missed the food of New Orleans. Memorable exceptions include a couple delicious cookie recipes. And I definitely ate more vegetables than usual--a change my body enjoyed.

The island snack bar served Lime Rickys in plastic cups but they were no less bright and refreshing than the version in this picture. Yum! I want to try my hand at making them here at home. After drinking my first, I was often either thinking of drinking one or surrendering to the craving for another.

My stay was cut short by one day due to Hurricane Bill. The sweet irony of being so far from New Orleans but still dealing with hurricanes felt like more proof that I am becoming a New Orleanian.

For the record: the next time I go I'll bring:
  • guitar
  • piano music
  • better sandals
  • "fancy" shoes for dress-up night
  • an extra pack of cigarettes (if I'm still smoking)
  • camera
  • sketch pad and pencils
  • blue jeans
  • swimsuit
  • flashlight
  • toiletries dispensed to smaller containers (Newark airport security confiscated everything on the return trip)
  • sleep mask (many thanks to Sam for loaning me hers)
  • insect repellent (thanks to Carlton)
  • Bourbon (thanks to David)
  • backgammon board

28 August 2009


Today's adventure started last night.

My housemate called early in the evening from his office. A young mother of two was in trouble and needed shelter. He met her through his work with New Orleans Outreach. She'd returned to New Orleans a month ago to live with the father of her children (at his mother's house) but after a domestic dispute the previous evening and a trip to the emergency room, she was homeless.

I agreed to provide shelter here in our big half-double for her, her 4-year-old son and 10-year-old autistic daughter, for one night. We all retired for the evening without a plan for the next day. My practical brain was screaming; my improviser's brain was giggling.

It is the next morning and there is still no plan. The kids are sweet but periodically rambunctious. The young woman is on the phone (my housemate left his for her) with her mother. My practical brain is fretting, They're off task! She needs to be calling social service agencies this morning. But mostly I am calmly watching this situation unfold: I made coffee for us, laid out newsprint and markers for the kids, showed her how to work the washer/dryer and retired to my computer to write these lines.

Isn't it curious: if we were in a disaster/crisis situation, my practical brain would have no complaint. But because this is just another day, I'm somewhat annoyed that my agenda for today has been preempted.

Life is a trip. And I am a sojourner...

26 August 2009

A Rave for Gumbo Tales

All that talk about "recognition" in the last couple of posts didn't put my contemplation of the concept to sleep. I walked with it for a few days. No surprise then that Sara Roahen's book jumped off the shelf into my arms when I stopped by the library to return a CD. How to resist the subtitle: Finding my place at the New Orleans table"?

What a beautiful book! Even the cover reflects warmth and whimsy and affection. I expected an introspective confessional of a post-Katrina transplant, the book is instead a "heartfelt, quietly passionate book" by a woman who " may not be a child of New Orleans, but by the end of Gumbo Tales one can't help thinking she's an adopted daughter." (Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post)

I took the book with me on my trip to New England (more on events of that journey in later blogging...). I read at every possible opportunity for the irresistible "fix" I enjoyed. The book stirred me emotionally. As I read I was falling in love with Sara Roahen, wishing I was Sara Roahen, missing New Orleans, discovering and re-discovering New Orleans --- and, in the end, getting my heart broken (Ms Roahen doesn't live here any more; meeting her was the #1 item on my To-Do-When-I-Get-Home list.

She mentions Sazeracs early in the book. I was still in New Orleans when I reached that discussion; sitting in the lobby of the Embassy Suites waiting on a CouchSurf guest, an exceptionally convenient location that day because the bartender there mixes an enchanting specimen. I sipped and kept reading.

Roahen is honest and good-humored and courageous. I felt myself surrendering (even further) to New Orleans; whatever resistance remained to giving my whole heart to this city vanished as I read.


The conference was a deeply inspiring seven-day sojourn, on a rock surrounded by water. An island adventure. Reading on the island, I felt the great geographic distance between "here" and "home." There were moments of "The Earth is my home" over the week I was there, but the book evoked increasingly intense feelings of "There's no place like home." A trumpter played during evening chapel the third or fourth night. He was good. We talked afterward and I learned he'd just returned from his fourth trip this year to New Orleans. He loves New Orleans. I told him hearing that kind of music--solo trumpet after sunset, a picante crooned "Amazing Grace" against the hiss of ocean waves gently slapping the rocky shore--provoked a beautiful homesickness. I thanked him.

I still had two more days away from NO the night I finished the book. The morning immediately following I felt like I'd said goodbye to a friend.

I was away from phone and Internet for almost two weeks. The studio was of course closed. So my plate is full now playing catch-up, a hundred tasks and responsibilities needing attention. Probably a good thing not to be obsessed with a book right now.

But I will find an address for Sara and drop her a line. It's such an honor to read good writing.

06 August 2009

Impetuous Thunderstrokes of Summoning

... Recognition- a noticing, accepting, anOther loving something in us that's personal, individual- something we can believe- should be somewhere on Maslow's pyramid, maybe after food & breath. ...DOES love include Recognition?

Thanks, Pam.

I sat up late writing through the most recent waxing moon. One night it was an excellent interview of Tim Wise in the July issue of The Sun that sparked me. I wrote for hours with the intention of transcribing it here; but when I looked at it by the light of day through rested eyes there wasn't much there worth transcribing.

Wise's candor and humility are inspiring. His descriptions of White privilege, unacknowledged or denied by many made me think of shadow --- light reveals it. The metaphor resonated so strongly that I couldn't go to sleep.

By the end of the interview, there was no doubt in my mind: I have to change the title of my workshop. "Final Conversations on Race in America"?

I wanted [people] to talk about race ...with a depth of honesty, humility and willingness previsouly unknown to allow this to be the final conversation. ...That day will come but it is not here yet. To focus on putting the conversation behind us misses the point. It is the quality of the conversation that will make the difference. "Final" points us in the wrong direction.
Wise's honesty helped me to trust what I hear in my heart and see in my life and to believe in it. I had been only going through the motions with the workshop plan until that night.

I also realized the components of the workshop are not in the correct sequence. My objective was clearer to me after reading the interview. A trio of themes to guide our work for seven days emerged and I knew the sequence of exercises and activities had to be rearranged to support and facilitate fluid comprehension--and engaging exploration-- of the themes .

When I can hear and see and believe my life, I feel energized. ...I serve the world better ...the Work benefits. This is sounding dangerously similar to "hope" which sometime in the past I decided was not something I "did". Maybe that is changing, too.

The question was "Am I talking about Hope when I talk about hearing, seeing and believing?" A good question.

Pam's comment on the previous SITC post contains a good question: "When I talk about Recognition, am I talking about Love?" Actually her question is "Does Love include Recognition?" and the answer is "Absolutely!" at least it is a given in my yearning/criteria for loving partnership. It must. It must.....

Which is probably why I've been in so few loving partnerships.

Someone can say to me "I love you." If you can see me and you say these words, that is one thing. If you cannot see me, you are talking to yourself. You are telling yourself what you want to believe. It's masturbatory. Is that a word?

You can devote yourself to my happiness. Buy me things. Listen to my songs and my rants. You can tell me the truth. Bring me soup when I'm sick. Loan me your car. Have sex with only me. Live with me for 30 years.

If you can't see me, I feel like a ghost. The Invisible Woman.

Or like an animal in a zoo. Or a lion tamer.

Does Recognition include Love?

One true answer: I would hope so but I won't complain if it doesn't.

Another true answer: Recognition and Love are synonyms.

One more true answer (drawn from the poem): Maybe. What's essential is that you have savored a notion of me, thought my name for a long, long time. And so I am deeply familiar to you when we meet. And I can see it in your eyes. And it makes me feel precious to myself.


The answer to the other question is "Yes. Hearing, seeing and believing is as close as I come to having Hope." It is an awakened, excited, meditative state. Staying awake is the goal. I wouldn't put a "Keep Hope Alive" or "Believe in Hope" bumper sticker on my car (if I had one) but I print "Staying Awake" on my business cards sometimes. I can't say hopeful; but I am staying awake and I will leave a light on for you...

Hearing and seeing are also a part of Recognition. In the poem, the poet is recognized; is there mutual recognition? Yes, the poet correctly perceives the Beloved, not as a God on a distant cloud, but as the one here now, with whom self-disclosure and recognition are simultaneous events. Perhaps not impetuous Divine thunderstrokes, but there is thunder in the encounter.

02 August 2009


At my new place, I sit on the front steps and have a cigarette and suddenly my chest fills with a strong sense that someone should be sitting with me. It doesn't hurt...but it almost does.

At night, I sit in the same place and long to see stars but a bright streetlight hangs on a pole directly across the street. It's oversized: if it fell toward my side of the street, it would crash the roof and divide the house into perfectly symmetrical halves.

It casts a soft light but still obscures the stars. I can't see a single star. The moon is closer and brighter so I can see it but it is distant; it lies outside the dome of light that surrounds my electrified town.

I notice I am growling, grumbling or grinning most of the time lately.

My housemate, D, is fearful about CouchSurfers. He has never visited the website or known anyone who hosted or surfed. I sent him the link a week ago and he hasn't looked at it. He's tense about the surfers scheduled for August. In the middle of the month I will go East for about 10 days. Last night,
D asked me, "You didn't schedule any of them for while you're gone, did you?"

He didn't hear a growl but he felt a sting when I answered him. I successfully suppressed the growl. "What?! Are you serious? You actually think there's a possibility I would invite strangers to visit my home while I'm out of town, a home I share with another person, and not talk to the other person about it? That's insane and inconsiderate. You really don't know me..."was all I said -- but my stomach churned and..grumbled for the rest of the night. I'm feeling better this morning.

This is the last day of Satchmo Summerfest 2009. I rode the bus down to the French Market and Mint yesterday and wandered through the milling crowds. I was grinning. The smell of food in New Orleans is usually grin-inspiring and there were plenty of food booths in business. Satchmo was a grinner of course and his music makes people grin. It makes little kids and older people start kicking their feet up and shaking their butt. Lots of good, live music going on and that made me grin.

My motor is humming. Grrrrrrrrrrr.... Revving up. The next few weeks deserve my committed attention and energy. The down time after the push to get moved into Mazant has stretched into lethargy. It's a new month. Girrrrrrrrl!! It's time to get moving.