Monthly Archives: April 2008

Best Waking Dream of the Week

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Every so often I read a description of a mundane event which suddenly transports the observer into a mythic moment. Having just received a particularly moving account from a friend, I’ve decided to highlight these “waking dreams” in a semi-regular series of posts. I doubt I will be posting one of these each week, but “dream of the week” has a certain ring to it.

Feel free to email me waking dreams you think might be deserving of the prize—the prize being, of course, getting mentioned here. Ah, the pretensions of bloggers! My sole criteria: great moment + well-written. Is that so much to ask?

The following is from my friend Paul, who recently discovered he has cancer. This moment came during his pre-radiation scan last week.

The PET scan was in a trailer with a technician and two assistants. The technician brought a metal cylinder out of a lead lined box and opened it behind a shield of leaded glass. The assistants very gingerly moved out of the room while this was happening. The technican, a man who was obviously from India, took a smaller cylinder of it. Inside of this smaller cylinder was the dye. This he carefully put in another cylinder with a syringe fitting inside this. With this extended beyond his body, he walked towards me with the needle sticking out and injected me with the radioactive material.

I felt somewhat better when, during this process, he told me his name was Krishna and that he had done his morning worship. For a moment I slipped out of time and wondered if we were repeating the great battle scene in the “Bhagavad Gita” where Arjuna asked the Lord Krishna the great questions, “Why is this happening? Who am I here in this moment? Why do I have to do this thing?” The assistant came in and brought me back from the battlefield—she instructed me that I could have no stimulation while waiting for the dye to work, about 30 minutes. So I couldn’t listen to my iPod. Damn! The results were as they (and I) I hoped: the cancer was limited to the tumor and two lymph nodes and had not spread.

Old Home Week

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Now that more than a week has passed since my birthday, I believe I can give up my handy chocolate cake rationale. This is the rule that in the two-week period surrounding one’s birthday, any meal is best celebrated with a slice of chocolate cake. Otherwise, the terrorists have already won.

The weekend before my birthday I headed down to Santa Cruz. On the way, I had a delicious chocolate cupcake at a Peet’s in Berkeley, followed two days later by two (2!) chocolate cakes procured by my friends, who sadly couldn’t agree which bakery made the best one and so were forced to get them both.

Another two days and it was my actual birthday, which I celebrated by having my lovely niece and her boyfriend over to join Jojo and me for dinner, followed of course by a chocolate cake. Two days after that, the leftovers were finished and Jojo and I resumed our normal sugar-deprived existence. The memories of a birthday well-celebrated, we felt, would last us at least to May Day, if not Mother’s Day.

Today, though, I met my parents in San Rafael for lunch, because they like me and wanted to take me out for my birthday. Always one to oblige, I found the excellent Jason’s Restaurant, and got there just before the noontime rush. I ordered a glass of wine and the crab cake appetizers, and settled in to wait for them to arrive.

Watching my mother and father walk in the door of any establishment has become almost a comic necessity for me. First they overshoot the door, then one of them turns around and spots it. Then they do the “after you” dance, where my mother reflexively reaches to open the door only to be dislodged by my father, who insists on opening it for her. He is miffed that she won’t allow him to be gracious, and she is miffed that he chose this particular moment to do something chivalrous, which he never does at any other time. Meanwhile, all the nudging and dislodging serves another purpose, which is to insure that neither of them falls over themselves or the doorsill upon entering the room.

Today’s entrance did not disappoint, and I had a smile on my face as I rose to greet them both. They sat down and ordered their own glasses, and to my surprise my father started right in. “Have you read that book about how both Clintons should be in prison? Both of them!” Sweet Jesus, I thought, he hasn’t had a drop yet and already he’s incoherent. He continued, looking at my mother, “Where is that book, anyway? I haven’t seen it lately.”

To which I shot back, “Oh, it’s in the bullshit section of your library, right next to Rush Limbaugh.” But my rejoinder just served to get them even more heated. Next up was my mother, who said, “Do you know, Hillary lies. She lies! Did you hear what she said, about landing under sniper fire in Bosnia? She just lies!”

My mother has perfected this incredulous look, as though she still doesn’t know how she was transported from the 1950s to the present day. You’d think she was still fresh-faced from voting for Adlai Stevenson, her last foray into youthful liberalism, so convincing is her look of innocence betrayed.

By this time I was seriously worried. We hadn’t even tasted the crab cakes yet. (Where were they, anyway?) They hadn’t gotten their wine, no one had even glanced at the menu, and already this was turning out to be the longest lunch in history. I had to do something fast.

But my parents are such rabid anti-Clintonites that simply changing the subject does not deter them. They would be back, Vince Foster and Whitewater in tow, to make me regret ever agreeing to meet them for lunch. What I needed were not snappy rejoinders. I didn’t need facts, figures, or a suggested reading list. That had all been tried before. No, I needed the conversational equivalent of kryptonite. Something to render them completely mute and unable to muster a single comment about Hillary, Bill, Chelsea, New York, Arkansas, or anywhere in between.

Just then the waitress came to take our order, and I had a minute to collect my thoughts. Damn it, I had raised five teenagers. I am a master at artful re-direction, the verbal checkmate that arises in an instant to disarm any opponent. And these two, much as I loved them, were no Christopher Hitchens. Once flummoxed they wouldn’t soon recover. This shouldn’t be hard.

Suddenly, I had it. Kryptonite in hand, I waited patiently until the waitress had taken our order. “So,” I began, “what do you think of Obama?”

My father blanched, hands nervously reaching for his napkin. My mother stammered, looked into her lap, then looked at my father and closed her mouth. Checkmate.

“Do you think he would make a good president?” I asked, just for fun. Actually, I was mildly curious how they saw this strong new contender. And now I had all the time in the world to find out, because they would not be returning to the subject of the people they loved to hate for the remainder of our meal.

The food was delicious. We had a lovely conversation, me cracking jokes while we exchanged news of friends and family. After the meal we were all stuffed, but the waitress brought a dessert menu anyway. We each ordered coffee, and then I said, “and we’ll all split a piece of your flourless chocolate cake.” My parents smiled indulgently, and in spite of their full stomachs uttered not a word of protest.

It was delicious, and split three ways it was the perfect amount of chocolate cake to end a glorious run of birthday celebrations. I will be back at it next year, by which time we will blessedly have a new president and this painfully long election race will be a thing of the past. Another day, another source of kryptonite. I think I’m up for it.

Same As It Ever Was

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On Friday I spent a few hours at the Dandelion Gathering, Reclaiming‘s occasional hoe-down, business meeting and reunion of sorts. It was just a couple of hours away, and though I had a very busy weekend I couldn’t miss the opportunity to visit with friends from all over the country in a work-free environment.

The setting was gorgeous: rolling hills of meadow and oak woodland with an occasional stand of second-growth redwood. Spring in the Valley of the Moon: new leaves glistening in the vineyards and pollen floating through the air. It was deliciously warm in the sun and almost too cool beneath the big trees. Right off the bat I saw several people I hadn’t seen in a long time, and settled in on the porch to visit.

One thing I noticed in the course of the afternoon is that the things which drove me away from Reclaiming continue to rub me the wrong way. A case in point is what happened over lunch. I was at a table with some people I have known for a long time, and a few that I had just met. I was enjoying catching up with an old friend, when our lunch was interrupted with a lengthy announcement explaining that every table was now going to have a discussion about the same subject. Each table would take notes, and the results would be somehow digested at the BIRCH meeting the following day. (Don’t ask me what BIRCH is—I may say something cynical.)

The topic we were to discuss was diversity. To wit: why isn’t Reclaiming more diverse, and what can be done about it? I was already banging my forehead against the table in pain, but the intro continued, first singling out my friend Evelie, who got to stand up and wave because she is diverse, I mean Filipina. Then a woman named Rosa got to stand and say her 2¢, to the effect that people like her could be helped by people like us if we only knew how to meet more people like her.

I kid you not. I am dead serious, and by this time it was through sheer force of will that I was not 1) bolting for the door, or 2) standing up and saying something confrontational in the middle of the dining hall. The only thing that kept me from shouting out was the knowledge that if I did so, I would be in the middle of an even worse discussion than the one I was apparently now going to have.

Where to start when deconstructing our assignment? First, the assumption that we were not diverse. That diversity has nothing to do with class, gender, religious background, ethics, age, or food preferences. That in fact it has nothing to do with ethnicity unless accompanied by differences in skin tone or surnames. If it had been me singled out as though I were helpfully filling a space on some diversity Bingo card, I would have been personally offended. As it was, I was offended for all of us.

Second, the obsession with proselytizing, I mean bringing in new blood—no, I mean reaching out to others who could be helped by people like us. As several people at my table mentioned, other religions are not diverse, and they seem to have no problem with it. Wasn’t the point of a spiritual community to give aid to its members? Why were we even discussing strategies for bringing different kinds of people in, when we were gathered for a rare opportunity to meet each other face to face?

It was at this point that I had to point out the essential backwardness of our discussion topic. Reclaiming is insular. Painfully so, embarrassingly so. We really needed to be asking the opposite question: why don’t we get out more? Why aren’t more of us involved in interfaith activities? There’s plenty of diversity there, but that would involve going to meet others rather than reeling them in to us. Why don’t more folks even make the trek to San Jose for Pantheacon each year? Isn’t there anything we can learn from other Pagans?

Third, and this is where I can get a good rant going, I have had it with red herring questions like this pre-empting conversations about the real issues that Reclaiming has avoided for years. I am speaking here mostly of Bay Area Reclaiming, but frankly the patterns that have been set here get exported regularly to other areas, and I have seen more than one community plagued with the same issues that we have been mired in here for a decade or more.

The final straw for me on this was when I was still in the Bay Area teacher’s cell, I believe it was in the late nineties, and the group was essentially split in two, with neither side trusting or speaking to the other. It had been months, the group was moribund, and though we had plenty to discuss we were not even able to come up with a date for a meeting, let alone assure that some representatives from either side would attend.

It was a horrible dynamic and finally Thorn and I, who had some credibility on both sides, were able after several weeks of intensive lobbying to set a date and get people to agree to come. With assurances that there would be neutral facilitation, we were going to actually talk about the issues that mattered, and hopefully come to some resolution or at least respectfully agree to disagree.

Then literally the night before the meeting, Starhawk, who had been out of town, emailed saying that we should really discuss fundraising for scholarships so that young Pagan activists could attend witchcamp. Another person on the cell quickly wrote back and said that’s what she wanted to talk about too, and I watched in dismay as months of preparation were tossed out the window.

Disheartened, I could not even bring myself to attend the meeting. That was the turning point for me, the moment where I gave up my years of struggle to change the course on which our local community was set. Now there are virtually parallel Reclaiming communities in the Bay Area, and no encouraging signs that the two will ever be reconciled save briefly, when old friends are able to catch up over lunch or lounging on a sunny deck.

The fragile alliance which had led to that meeting was hijacked by the very mentality that hijacked my lunch table discussion at Dandelion: the insistence that Reclaiming is best served by bringing in new recruits rather than cleaning its own house. Blessedly, I found myself not a lone voice of discontent at the table, and we ended up with some meaningful feedback to offer the next day’s meeting. Then I got the hell out of there before a second discussion topic could be suggested.

The day was like that for me: lovely connections with old and new friends, interspersed with jarring reminders of the dysfunctions with which the tradition as a whole is saddled. Driving away, it was apparent that the former would continue to be scarce without attending to the latter, yet I am greatly relieved to have given up that Sisyphean effort. I love the people I love, and leave the rest. Reclaiming may have its new BIRCH structure. It may go on debating diversity for the next 20 years. Whatever. I am happily Remaining.

Meme: Passion Quilt

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I was recently tagged for another blogging meme by Chas Clifton. This one I like, however. It has produced a lovely post by AD, another by Cat Chapin-Bishop, and undoubtedly more that I have yet to spot. And in spite of my crusty exterior and propensity of late to blog about cars, it has captured my imagination so here I go. The rules of the meme are thus:

  • Post a picture or make/take/create your own that captures what YOU are most passionate for students to learn about.
  • Give your picture a short title.
  • Title your blog post “Meme: Passion Quilt.”
  • Link back to this blog entry.
  • Include links to 5 (or more) educators.

After thinking about it for a few days, I realized that the assignment is harder than it looks. How do you say something that is true, and inspiring, and doesn’t end up sounding like a commencement address? MySage/Rosemary Garden choice of subjects was also limited by my photography skills. In the end, I settled for this close-up of the part of my herb garden that is in flower now. Here is what I have to say about life, learning, and things that grow in the night:

You will often feel that you are going through the hardest years of your life. It will always be true. Accepting that life involves lots of hard work allows you the opportunity to do it anyway, and find ways to enjoy it. This will put you at a tremendous advantage over nearly everyone else. It will make the rest of us happy too, because there is nothing more inspiring than seeing someone thrive.

Somewhere along the line things will start getting easier, but you’ll be enjoying life so much you will forget to notice. Don’t take the easy times for granted, and don’t assume that a life of leisure is your birthright. Cultivate friends who can call you on the carpet if you become hubristic. There is nothing quite so unattractive as the fall of the arrogant—and they do fall.

Finally, no matter how hard things get, beauty appears. It comes unexpectedly, with breathtaking color and clarity. You don’t have to earn these moments, or deserve them, or even pray for them; they happen all on their own. The lesson here: you don’t have to do everything yourself.

Work diligently, but don’t deprive yourself of a good night’s sleep. Slow down enough to notice the blooming things. And even though you may be planting teeny little starter plants, space them far enough apart so that they have plenty of room to grow. The same goes for you.

I tag Pandora, Donald, Thorn, Katrina, and Oak.

Prius is the New Buick

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It’s funny how the generations relate to each other. Having been born at the tail end of the baby boom, I have had a love-hate relationship with my fellow boomers since I was young enough to know what was cool. The 60’s were cool, damn it, and I had been born 10 years too late to really say I had been there.

Cutting high school to hear Daniel Ellsberg speak in Sproul Plaza in 1978 seemed just, well, derivative. Seeing Crosby Stills & Nash or Emerson Lake & Palmer around the same time was to see not a heyday but a sad, substance-laden dénouement, the dregs of a really good party a decade earlier.

Like a perpetual younger sibling, I lived in envy of the generation that had come just a little before me. And they knew it, too—walking down the street as though being the generation to march in Selma and organize a Be-In gave them some sort of lifetime coolness credential.

Over the last ten years or so that has started to shift. Gradually, for instance, it has dawned on me that I am still in my prime while they are looking kind of old. By extension, many of the things held sacred by elder boomers are getting close to being the opposite of cool—of being places where cool goes to die.

Take cars, for instance. As my car gets close to the 250,000 mile marker, I have started looking around at the new hybrids on the road—Northern California roadways are chock full of them—and many are being driven by baby boomers. By far the ride of choice for conscientious boomers is the Toyota Prius, with the almost iconic rear window that dips down below the trunk hood.

I thought they were pretty cool for the first few years, but I have noticed a disturbing trend of late. Increasingly, Prius owners are turning into the elderly drivers we usually see in Oldsmobiles and Buick sedans. They drive slowly, even in the fast lane. They brake for a stoplight a good 500 yards before it arrives. They see no need to signal before turning, as though a half-mile of crawling along the roadway were enough to alert the cars behind them of their intentions. They will become a Prius marketing problem, if this West Coast trend spreads to other regions.

I have an uneven record of prognostication. Don’t expect me to choose the shortest line at the checkout counter. I can’t predict an election to save my life. But now and again I do have a moment of clarity, where the pathway from the present to the future unfurls effortlessly and I can see the signposts as clear as day. This feels like one of those moments.

If you are looking for a great car that will also have a cachet of cool for the next decade, you might want to look beyond the Prius. It is absolutely a great car, but I believe its days as a style trendsetter are numbered.

Was this important enough to warrant a blog post? Probably not. I am even chagrined that a perfectly fine moment of clarity was somehow duped into predicting car fashion trends. But sometimes it’s this type of thing that grabs hold of my mind and demands to be written.

As long as my car holds out, I plan to keep scanning the lanes to see what new cars are likely to capture the twin crowns of greatness and coolness and hold them for a while. Because here in California, we might say we don’t care about cool, but that’s only when we’re too cool to care.