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.