27 February 2009

Gateway to Second Chances

I don't know if it's a strictly observed tradition but I notice that while people are hyper-animated screaming for beads from the Mardi Gras parade floats, tossed beads that hit the ground usually remain on the ground. Nobody bends over to pick up dropped beads. They're sorta like pennies...

There's a double gate between my house and the next. Up until a few weeks ago, both gates were padlocked and I had a key to the padlock on the left. A complex, mostly-unarticulated set of rationale kept the padlocks in place. And the padlocked gates helped launch an ongoing series of complex but boring episodes involving the utility companies, UPS, etc.

A couple of weeks ago, I got tired of it. Since Obama's election, a lot of boring unarticulated shit has become unbearable to me and I've begun interrupting some of those processes. I unlocked the gate I had a key for. The other gate is still locked.

I started decorating the gates when I found a big red bow in the street walking home one night. Left over from Christmas, it was still red, still vivid, but discarded. I brought it home and hung it on the gate. Some days it looked forlorn; some days it looked courageous.

Last weekend of Carnival, the beads on the street started reminding me of the forlorn red bow at home. And then somewhere along the line, the abandoned beads began to provoke somewhat wistful reflection on people and places and plans in my near and distant past.

I'm reading "Instructions to the Cook: A Zen Master's Lessons in Living a Life That Matters".

...How do we find the ingredients? We simply open our eyes and look around us. We take the materials that are at hand, right in front of us... We work with what we have in each and every moment.
Our body is an ingredient. Our relationships are ingredients. Our thoughts, our emotions, ... The place we live, the leaves that fall, the haze around the moon, the traffic in the city streets...all these are also our ingredients.
Use Everything. ...take the ingredients we think are going to ruin our meal and figure out how to use them so that they improve it...

So I started picking up beads from the street. I like the broken ones especially but accept the intact ones as well. I weave and loop and tie them to the gates. The locked one and the open one. It's a conjure. A ritual. A charm. An altar. Announcing to myself and the Spirit of Chance that I'm willing. That I welcome an opening, a passage, a reprieve.

I welcome it with my humble self bending down to retrieve the beads while native New Orleanians watch. I welcome it with my creative improvisational self, making up the design in the moment. I welcome it with Staying Awake self, looking at the gates anew each day when I return with more beads to add.

And, don't you know? Second chances are beginning to erupt. My telephone was disconnected Mardi Gras night but my tax refund arrived the next day. A part-time job offer I thought was lost weeks ago resurfaced yesterday morning at a higher rate of pay. And a former employer who seemed to be blowing off my request for a written reference, suddenly resurfaced today in email, happy to write a letter of recommendation.

Thanks to CSer, Emiko, for taking the photos this afternoon.

23 February 2009

The Near Dear Dark

be happy be happy be happy be happy
It's Carnival Time in New Orleans

The dark mood embracing me tonight is seductive
familiar true comfortable
It took all day to make the king cake
But it's done: iced and sprinkled on the kitchen table, it
is beautiful delicious
It will serve 20-22. I don't know two people in New Orleans
who would share anything with me in this mood. Let alone 20 who would share
a whole wheat king cake.

It felt good last night
to get out of the car and walk back the way we came
cold night air, tears on my cheeks
horns honking and music coming from everywhere
and the streets full of cars and people
Free finally of the unnecessary argument in the car

To go home alone, to be alone again in that familiar true way

It doesn't matter any more to me
winning That argument
doesn't matter any more

You walk 50 miles with someone
Collecting wildflowers, always giving your friend the prettiest blooms
And once, you pluck a pretty flower just as a hawk flies overhead
and you pause
and watch him soar for a minute
it reminds you of something from the time before the long walk
it reminds you of something you've felt for a long time
You're not thinking about your friend or wildflowers. You're watching the hawk fly.
Your companion says "Hey! What's going on? I thought we were walking
I thought you were giving me flowers
Now you're gonna make me wait, like you think you have power over me."

I look at you, into your eyes
and I see how tightly you're gripping your idea
and I drop the bouquet
and walk away.
I don't care any more
I don't care that you can't understand
that you can't trust my intentions based on the last 50 miles
what you've seen of me so far
you can't get a grip on yourself, correct yourself
shut the fuck up

I'm too tired
I don't have any cigarettes
I've had This argument too many times already

20 February 2009

Zap! Mama

Two more huge ideas today.

First, a friend sent me this absolutely precious pun:

C, E-flat and G go into a bar. The bartender says, "sorry,
but we don't serve minors." So E-flat leaves, and C and G
have an open fifth between them. After a few drinks, the
fifth is diminished and G is out flat. F comes in and tries
to augment the situation, but is not sharp enough.

D comes in and heads for the bathroom saying, "Excuse me.
I'll just be a second." Then A comes in, but the bartender
is not convinced that this relative of C is not a minor.
Then the bartender notices B-flat hiding at the end of the
bar and says, "Get out! You're the seventh minor I've found

in this bar tonight."

E-Flat comes back the next night in a three-piece suit with
nicely shined shoes. The bartender says, "you're looking
sharp tonight. Come on in, this could be a major
development. " Sure enough, E-flat soon takes off his suit
and everything else, and is au natural.

Eventually C sobers up and realizes in horror that he's
under a rest. C is brought to trial, found guilty of
contributing to the diminution of a minor, and is sentenced
to 10 years of D.S. without Coda at an upscale correctional
And when I excitedly opened my email address book to compile a recipient list to forward this gem, I discovered only seven people with whom to share it. In the dream I am having of my life, there are at least 20 good friends and probably a listserv or club or some other group as well.

Wow.... I need to make some changes.

And, second...

I was gonna hook up with some people last night to catch the Muses parade. Over the phone in the afternoon, we'd agreed to rendezvous at Napoleon and St. Charles but when I reached the intersection and saw the size of the crowd, and the containment barriers and realized my friends would be coming from the other side of Napoleon, I suspected we'd not connect; especially since I no longer have a cell phone.

Anyway, we didn't find each other but D______ called my home phone later in the evening and left a message. Listening to it, I was a little bit amazed (is it possible to be a little bit amazed? maybe there's a word for that...).

Kindness and generosity and humility and sincerity were as palpable as heat in his voice. And I was immediately aware that my voice never sounds like that. In a split second I understood why: his heart is open and mine is not open any more. Your heart has to be open for your voice to sing in that key. There's a frog in my throat now--I don't let people hear how I'm feeling any more and I don't remember when I closed that opening. My throat and my heart are closed.

Maybe I need/want to make some more changes.....

Another Aha! Moment

Since forswearing my longtime stimulant of choice -- cigarettes-- I have not been the brightest bulb in the box. For years, stepping outside to smoke was practically a guarantee of a bright idea emerging. I'm learning how to think again. (I'm not making this up. There is research to support my claim.)

I just had a bright idea. On a par with my brightest nicotene-induced notions. Here it is:

In this job hunt, I've eliminated some fairly good prospects because the ad said 'Must have reliable transportation" and I don't have a car. It just dawned on me: I have a bike. The employer may not think of a bike as a reliable means of transportation but it is a reliable means of transportation. Granted, for job sites 5 or 10 miles away a bicycle is not an option for me; but here in town? Why not?

19 February 2009

Wishing in the Field of Pure Potential

One of the buzz items for me from Chopra's book was the idea of pure potentiality. Essentially, this idea is a belief that I can be anything. That I exist in the field of pure potentiality where everything is possible. Chopra says "Hang out in that field." OK.

So I'm washing down the shower curtain and scrubbing the bathroom floor in preparation for the Couch Surf visitors arriving today or tomorrow. Thinking Damn this bathroom is filthy and Damn I don't like cleaning. And I remember the field of pure potentiality... So I stopped cleaning and posted this ad on craigslist New Orleans:

Weekend Servant Wanted

Reply to: your anonymous craigslist address will appear here [?]
Date: 2009-02-19, 1:35PM CST

African American erotic dominant female seeks male submissive, age and race unimportant, for weekend services. Must have reliable transportation and be in good health. If interested, reply with email addressing the following:

1. Past experience as servant or erotic submissive
2. Why you are responding to this ad (25-100 words)
3. Drink, smoke and drug habits
4. Height, weight and ethnicity

DO NOT send erotic photos.

18 February 2009

Real Age

Have you taken the test? The Real Age test? If you want to take it, click here. I took it two nights ago. I am 12 years older than my calendar age.

I was really glad to learn that.

Miles and miles of wondering

I am hungry. I open the refrigerator and stare at the nearly empty shelves. Scowling, I think, There's nothing to eat. I begin to envision favorite restaurants around the city of New Orleans. Yes! I'll go out and eat. Somewhere between here and KIPP school. And I'll sit and read or write and have lunch for an hour and then go to work.

Almost immediately fear and guilt and anger start seeping into mind and body. How can I justify spending one red cent in a restaurant when rent is due in less than two weeks? What does it matter? I rationalize. Be happy now. Enjoy the freedom that poverty brings. I know what a responsible, mature, practical person would do... Is there any possibility of my becoming responsible and mature and practical before I die?

I look in the refrigerator again...

Tuna salad
4 hard-boiled eggs
stalk of broccoli
carton of yogurt
slice of bread
two slices of bacon
pint of half-n-half
tub of butter
4 Guiness

There's nothing to eat is not true. In fact, there's plenty to eat. The scarcity of options is the issue. Feels almost like an absence of choice but, of course, choice is always available. In this case, I have a choice among (between?) a limited number of food items.

Even if there were more items in the refrigerator, say, two tubs of butter and 6 Guiness and 4 cartons of yogurt and a full loaf of bread, I'd probably still complain about the lack of variety. What a funny thought for a woman who has frequently wept in grocery stores, overwhelmed by the variety and longing for simplicity.

And I think about my refusal to pay for cable TV because it's waaaay too much of the same old thing. Lots of options--plenty of channels--but they all look and feel the same.

And, finally, I return to the current practice of finding a place to stand in the space between all these thoughts.

I ate the tuna salad, the bread and a tangerine I noticed on top of the frig as I detached from thinking.

It's as simple as that.

16 February 2009


I have to return this book to the library today. It's 4 days overdue. The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success (Deepak Chopra). I quickly transcribed the Laws this morning (I have more than a casual interest in Chopra's philosophy. I just got distracted by other things and let the book go overdue) and discovered--interesting surprise--most of the laws are standard features of my life philosophy.

The question arises: so am I successful and just don't know it? or is the devil in the detail (is that the saying?), i.e., which part am I doing wrong?

Looking over the transcription I see some of what's missing:

  • daily meditation
  • daily communing with nature
  • carrying a written list of my deepest desires with me at all times
  • refraining from discussing my deepest desires with other people
  • silently wishing everyone happiness, joy and laughter
  • starting each day asking "How can I serve?" and "How can I help?"
  • Centering myself regularly in the space between my thoughts.

OK, (do your friends call you) Deep? I'll start with centering myself in the space between my thoughts. Let's try that for a few days....

15 February 2009

Bold Truth

It's official: I am no longer making ends meet. After a couple of months during which my basic expenses and income were in mysterious precise alignment, the dynamic has changed. In honor of this new development, I am making a few changes here at SITC.

Since Obama entered the White House (or shortly before), the world's felt different to me (and lots of other people, too, from what I hear). It's possible to take a full, deep breath again. To hear my heartbeat when I sit still. To view my reflection in a mirror without distortion.

I hear a Good Witch trilling gently, "Come out, come out, wherever you are...."

I am coming out.

I'm in dire straits. Financially, artistically, physically, socially, psychologically. This is not the first time but it feels like a first somehow. Feels important. To borrow a line from Joni, I'm "either gonna thaw out or freeze." I will either find a way out of this hole and back to the vibrant green surface or I will disappear. This is the last visit to Dire-ville.

I want to document the process. Without comment from anyone. I've censored myself (a little) to date at SITC. Why? To avoid having to explain or defend myself to identified gentle readers, my family or the occasional stranger who stumbled upon the blog. To sidestep or duck the pity or saving that might be provoked by my description of some poignant or painful reality. To maintain the sweet residuals of my reputation.

The filters are being removed today.

I'm not writing for anyone else now. This is for me and for anyone curious (compassionate, patient, brave...) enough to read the close-to-the-bone coming-of-age story of a gray-haired colored girl. I'll use whatever words and images best describe the process of recovery (or demise). The appropriate modifications to Settings have been made.


Bold truth #1: I bummed two cigarettes on Friday 13 February from J____. We were drinking at Cafe Atchafalaya on one of the first steamy nights of the season. The cafe doors were open and folks were wandering in and out between the bar and the legal smoking space.

What a great night! What a great day: I had eaten lunch there earlier in the day with R_______ from the old job at Ashe School. It's one of my best places in New Orleans, just a 10-minute walk from my house with a loving chef (as proven by the food) and really friendly staff. Lunch felt soooo good going back for happy hour seemed a good idea. The sky opened up and poured about half a block from home. Walking in the downpour even felt good.

Anyway, I was drinking Manhattans and had two cigarettes in quick succession at some point in the evening. [Conversations on the sidewalk with Joe (drummer), Tony (manager), Eileen, Beth, Stewart, Avery, Ruby, Christine (the bartender....who is misnamed).]

image by Lonely Pierot

Mornings: For weeks now my waking thoughts have consisted of the following fragments, swirling and repeating in no particular order:

What's today?
My back hurts --- this goddam air mattress....
Is there a reason to get up?
Do I have any food?
Do I have any money?
I've got to find some work.
I've got to make some money.
Am I depressed?

Not realizing the severity of the hole I was falling into, I asked for help a few weeks ago. Borrowed money. Then borrowed a little more. Then Daniel canceled his piano study with me on the day the rent was due and I borrowed some more.

Now I'm facing Mardi Gras. KIPP School will close for almost a week. Puts me in the hole $160.

I've tried to hang on to the KIPP job. For the kid's sake. For my sake because I enjoy teaching. For Mr. Hart's sake because he needs the help and support.

BUT for a couple of weeks now words like "cutback" and "layoff" and "reduction" have begun to be spoken aloud by the business manager and Mr. Hart and others. It would be crazy for me to wait for the axe with no backup plan. And even if they figure it out and don't have to layoff the music adjuncts, I need more money and it's difficult to fit another job around my one-hour-a-day schedule at KIPP.

My intention is to send a resume or make a call every week day.

Sharon Cummings, artist

A breezy exuberance floods my sensorium now that there is no way to make ends meet. I can stop sweating it. There was no tension waking up this morning. The truth of my powerlessness confronts me straight on. I feel soft and healthy and free.

04 February 2009

Further and further out of the Loop

It completely slipped my mind until I was standing in front of the freezer compartment at the market tonight, trying to decide between brownies and blackberry cobbler, and a somber male voice on the radio intoned a "today in black history" spot. The idea of it struck me as archaic or unnecessary...or something.

I wondered When did this celebration start? Do we still need it? I have no memory of it before the 70s and each year it fades further from awareness for me.

Wikipedia says the holiday originated in 1926 and is celebrated all over the world, usually in February except in the UK where it is observed in October. I wondered how they celebrate Black History Month in China....

Investigation revealed President Obama has declared this National African American History Month. So....does this replace Black History Month? Because surely other countries don't celebrate National African American History month, do they?

Here's something else odd: take a look at this excerpt from Wikipedia:

Negro History Month is also be referred to as Black History Month, or Negro Heritage Month. W.E.B. DuBois' 1935 work "Negro Reconstruction" was an early work in history that pointed to kneegrow contributions.[1]

In the United Kingdom (UK), Kneegrow History Month is celebrated in the month of October. The official guide to Kneegrow History Month in the UK is published by Sugar Media, Ltd., which produces 100,000 copies nationwide.[2]


A quick Google search produced a surprising number of hits on the word. Is this another one of those cultural developments I missed out on by not owning a TV?