Monthly Archives: January 2006


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I was something of a tomboy as a kid, and even though I was not very good at it I loved to join the boys’ kickball game at recess. This was back in the golden years, ages 9-11, when it was still possible to ignore the impending onset of strict gender roles. It was also in those not-so-golden pre-Title IX days, when girls didn’t play sports and there were very few teachers who thought they should. There were only a couple of us girls who had either the courage or the obliviousness to actually try getting in on the games. Lately, the memory of these games has been on my mind.

As soon as the recess bell rang I would trot out to the far corner of the playground where all the boys had already chosen sides, and stand around in the outfield until someone noticed me. I was a year younger than all the other kids in my class, and though I was pretty strong I was not what you’d call fast. I also didn’t have any place to practice kicking and catching that ball outside of recess, so though I wasn’t afraid of the ball I wasn’t very skilled at working with it.

All this was mitigated by the fact that there were some really wonderful boys in my class who would stick up for me and make sure I got to play. Michael Chamberlain in particular I remember as the one who was a leader among them and usually the first to insist that they find me a team to join. I’d play outfield (of course), and spent the whole half an inning both hoping that the ball came my way and being terrified that it would. I remember the sting against my forearms from catching the kickball those rare times that I did, and the sound the ball would make as I caught it–a chord of harmonics in a short, round echo. I remember the satisfying thwack against my instep when I made a good kick, which happened occasionally, and how the gravelly asphalt felt under my sneakers as I ran the bases. I can even recall the print dresses I usually wore, and my favorite pair of corduroy pants I was only allowed to wear to school on Fridays.

All these memories rose to consciousness last week after I got back to aikido for the first time since before Winter Solstice. As usually happens on returning to the spiritual and physical sport I love, I approached the mat with a mixture of exhilaration and dread that I recognize from my days playing kickball with the boys. Aikido is intoxicating to me — a serious workout as well as a powerful moving meditation. At the same time, there are some techniques that I am not yet comfortable with, so often my practice is to feel the sharp knot of fear in my gut and keep breathing and training anyway.

Aside from the sensei, I was one of only two women black belts on the mat last Saturday. I know how important it was for me coming up through the ranks to watch women of higher rank be successful on the mat, so that adds another layer to my awareness in class. Times have changed since 5th grade and I consider the men at my dojo to be my friends and equals in the art, and we train together in a spirit of joy and mutual affection. I recognize in their friendship an element of protection as well as respect, which makes them all the more dear to me and puts me in mind of my childhood friends back on the kickball field.

The lesson to me from this recent spate of memory is that sometimes it only takes one person to level the playing field. In a group of opposed or ambivalent people, it only takes one voice which speaks with authority and mutual respect to get the group to do the right thing. If I hadn’t been allowed to play kickball I probably still would have gotten into aikido, but I would have come to it without knowing in my body that being courageous and vulnerable can sometimes lead to acceptance and success. Tonight, I am very grateful for having learned that lesson when and how I did.

Fear of Spring

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Today I woke up late (ah, luxury!), so when I got up to walk Vince the sun was fairly high in a sky completely free of clouds. It was so clear I could see past the entrance to Tomales Bay all the way to the tip of Pt. Reyes, and the ocean was a balmy blue that looked more like Monterey Bay than Bodega Bay. I spent a glorious two hours in my garden, pulling weeds easily from the dark, warming soil. As a little full moon spell, I took all the plants people have given me as housewarming gifts and planted them where they would grow best. All the while, in the back of my mind I was thinking about friends in Minnesota, Vermont, New York, and what they would say about me soaking up the sun on a balmy January day in California.

After the big storms of late December, we’ve had a few scattered showers and quick storms that blow in and out in half a day, but none of the sustained wildness and wetness that caused major flooding so recently. In the past couple days the weather has gotten steadily brighter, culminating in the glorious day we had today. It is a guilty pleasure here, the way we can recharge our internal solar batteries while the rest of the world is blanketed in snow or covered with clouds.

Of course, there is a flip side to that pleasure. One morning recently, Jojo asked me in a tremulous voice if winter was over now. I recognized that worried tone in her voice. There has not been enough rain for winter to be over. More than that, we haven’t yet had enough socked-in, bundled-up weather to feel emotionally ready for the relentless sun of spring, summer, and fall.

No one knows what the Spring holds for California. This could really be it, and winter could now give way to skies that grow progressively more dry and brown as summer approaches. Or we could have a respite from storms for a couple months, then March might blow in with fierce wind and rain that rips all the blossoms off the fruit trees and leaves the roads a mess again. Even weirder, we might have a very mild early Spring, and then May and June could bring tropical weather: humid cloud cover and warm showers at unseasonable times.

However it plays itself out, the weather is unsettled, and unsettling. As we finally pull our heads out of the sand about global warming, I think worrying about the weather will become a national pasttime. Here on the Northern California coast, we are better positioned than most of the country to ride out freak heat or cold spells, but nothing is certain (not that it ever was). Meanwhile, what to do? Weather magic seems like a fool’s errand (but then it always has), and cursing what we have seems to be missing the point entirely.

I am trying to just take it at face value. Today I had a wonderful day in the sun, working in my garden. I also unearthed lots more soggy kindling and put it on the front porch to dry, because something tells me the rain is not far away and I’ll need all the kindling I can get for my cranky woodstove. Of course I would never wish any catastrophic flooding or mudslides on anyone, but I do hope the rain I smell in the air for later this week will be substantial, will keep me indoors stoking the fire as the winter gradually wanes into the uneasy truce of Spring.

Blogger’s Lament

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Oh why oh why did I choose wordpress for my blogging software? It’s great, I love that good feeling that comes from using open source software, and I’m proud of figuring out how to upload and configure it all by myself. But it is a little too geek-ified for me. Every time I upgrade to the newest version, I screw something up. Then I have to read scary-looking php files and edit things and upload files and change permissions and all this stuff that scares the bejesus out of me. Today I upgraded to the newest version and, sure as shootin, I screwed something up. And I still haven’t totally corrected the screw-ups from the last time I upgraded.

So if you can’t get to the comments section, or if your permalinks to earlier posts don’t work, or if you’re getting a “permission denied” message instead of being able to read at all, I’m on it. I’ve posted to the support forums, and hopefully some nice person will walk me through what I need to change in order for my blog universe to once again spin merrily on its axis.

Come to think of it, the last time I wrote a blogger’s lament post, it actually disappeared from my site. Maybe there’s some nefarious bug in the software that doesn’t let people complain about having to work too hard on their blog software. One whiny post deleted I can shrug off. But if two whiny posts get deleted, I’m going to have to dust off my Global Conspiracy beanie and head for the back country. Just letting everyone know.