Category Archives: General

Everything that doesn’t fit anywhere else.

Redefining Luck

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It has been eight years this month since I left the family home I’d made in Sebastopol and moved out to the coast. With little money, a fledgling career, and two daughters still to support, it was a leap of faith greater in magnitude than any I had yet tried to pull off in my life.

The past eight years have been marked by significant losses and hard-won gains. My business crashed in the downturn and I scrambled to build a new one. My father, nephew, and several friends died. As hard as I worked, progress was always slower than I hoped on many fronts.

And yet, I have had tremendous luck. Not the kind of luck that means my worries are over, not the luck that prevents me from having to make hard choices more than once. But a slender thread of luck and serendipity is all we need sometimes to affirm that we are on the right path, doing what we’re supposed to be doing, no matter the risk.

Golden Gate Bridge 75th AnniversarySometimes it’s the small pieces of luck that feel the best, like approaching the Golden Gate Bridge on its 75th Anniversary just as the sun sets behind it. Or catching the most beautiful moonrise by virtue of getting home late after a hard day.

One of the first things I needed in my new life was to rebuild my wardrobe for where I was going, not where I’d been. I had no money for clothes, but sometimes I’d have a sudden urge to visit one or another of my favorite stores. Invariably, the one thing I really needed would be there, in the perfect color and size, at a super cheap price.

Other times my luck was larger and more harrowing, for instance when I had no work for several weeks at a stretch. I was doing everything I could to generate more work, so I took my unwanted time off as a nudge from the Universe to sit down and write that book. Each time, I had just long enough to finish the project before work started flowing in again.

And then there were numerous instances when bad stuff happened in mild ways, or things broke but the damage was minor. At every turn there was something that tested my faith and resolve, and unfailingly the answer came back: Yes. You are on the right path. Keep going.

You don’t pass this kind of luck by. You thank it, accept it, be grateful for it. Gratitude increases both the size and frequency of luck, helping you stay healthy and live longer in the process. It is absolutely my magical tool of choice.

In his memoir, Robert Johnson names this kind of luck “slender threads,” “the mysterious forces that guide us and shape who we are.”

The possibility of the slender threads operating at all times is so staggering that most of us can’t bear it…Life is not meaningless, it is overflowing with meaning, pattern, and connections.

Serendipity, synchronicity, luck, fortune, fate. Call it what you will; it will answer.

I still have grand ideas of the kind of luck I want, and I continually shoot for them. Maybe soon one of those big plays will succeed in a flash of light. Meanwhile, a million little moments of luck glitter on the path all around me, lighting my way down the road no matter what.

Before the Wind Comes Up

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Spring comes early to the North Coast, and with it comes the wind. There are very few days in the Spring when the air is still, and many more when the house is buffeted all day by wave after wave of cold, thundering marine air.

Some nights the wind picks up around 4 am, loud enough to wake me up. I can feel it testing the give of the glass panes on my window, like a crazed tympanist tuning a drum. Even though I am well-protected and warm, I reach for a pillow to protect my head from the blasts.

This is a wind that works on all levels—the exterior and the deeply interior. Some days I have only to look at the wind blowing outside to feel it at work in my own mind, tearing loose what is hastily nailed down and forcing the trees to anchor their roots even deeper.

This morning I looked out through windows glazed with a season’s worth of salt spray and saw the treetops motionless against the sky. Throwing on a light sweater, I took the dog outside for an early walk in the sweet light of May Day. It was a morning when everything seems possible.

Even when still, the wind is a palpable presence here. It danced in a slow-moving swirl around me, full of energy but relaxed, letting the dew hang on the tips of the tall grass until it ended up on Vince’s fur, or slowly steamed away in the sun.

On other walks I have felt halfway around the folly of my clothes choice. I prefer to think of dressing as giving instructions to the elements on how to behave, the result being that I am frequently mad at myself for not dressing warmer. But today, even with just a t-shirt and thin sweater on, I was never cold.

That in itself seemed like a hopeful sign that something new was possible, was in fact presenting itself right there in that moment. And it felt like if I just walked one more circuit in that perfect balance of cold and warm, I would fall into synch with it too. The door that had formed from Winter’s blasts and then blew itself open in the Spring would be there, and I would have the eyes to see it and step through.

Usually my reverie gets punctured in some way before I return to my house and get to work. But today nothing has interrupted the flow of that golden energy. In fact, as the day matures toward afternoon the treetops still hover in disbelief, waving quietly to themselves and letting the sun penetrate their innermost branches.

In this morning of grace I felt inspired to write. Miraculously, the day has cooperated, and this blog of my heart that I have left unattended for too long finally has a new entry. I feel whole again.

It is still a time of stripping away in this country. Too many people are struggling too hard, far too much of the time. But something new and wonderful is most surely rising up, with all the force of Spring and a gale wind behind it. If you step outside, maybe you can feel it too.

An Eye in the Storm: Victor Anderson’s Memorial

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I wrote this piece shortly after Victor Anderson’s death, in October 2001. I am reprinting it here because Victor’s name came up in conversation with a friend this morning, and I realized that I want the story of my experience at his memorial to be available to readers here as well.

Things just hadn’t been smooth ever since September 11th. Schedules were thrown into a whirlwind, individual intentions and goals suddenly disappeared into an abyss as larger issues came into sharp focus. So I wasn’t really surprised when, just as I thought I had a free Monday to start picking up the scattered threads of my work, I got Max’s email announcing plans for Victor’s memorial on my first unencumbered work day.

Though I had only met Victor twice, I knew it was important to pay my respects on his passing. When my circle had gone down to spend afternoons with Victor and Cora I had been captivated by his enigmatic presence, and understood the stature he had achieved as a teacher and a shaman. At the same time, he rubbed me the wrong way, and eventually I found myself getting up to help Cora in the kitchen as Victor went on weaving his sorcerer’s threads of world history, comparative religion, past lives, and magic in the living room. Still, he was too important a figure in the Feri tradition of the Bay Area, and also in the Reclaiming community, which had been my community for nearly 20 years, for me not to go if I was able.

I drove down from Sebastopol, worrying about traffic and whether I’d make it to Hayward on time. Then I reminded myself that the whole day was given over to ritual time, and the only thing to do was relax and let things happen. Macha and Anna Korn helped by coming along for the ride, so I could catch up with friends during the drive. We pulled into the Chapel of the Chimes in good time, as a light rain spattered the windshield.

There is something very magical, and primal, about memorial services. More than anything else the memorial helps us make the transition between thinking of a person as living and thinking of them as dead. But to me the distinction is not as clear cut: there is death in being alive, and a life after death that is longed for like a release from an arduous task. At the same time, the presence of a once living body that is now disintegrating is an unassailable fact that demands from each of us a transformation of our relationship to the person who is no longer there.

Memorials also help the departing soul orient to the spirit world, and make the final break from its body. My experience that day was that Victor was completely conscious and aware of everything that went on at his memorial. I felt a deep sense of rightness when his son bowed before the casket, acknowledging the living presence of his father. Perhaps Victor was so strongly present in the room because even as a man he dwelled in the spirit world more often than not. My heart went out to Cora, who looked so frail and grief-stricken, and for whom the occasion was clearly far more than a time to philosophize.

Victor’s spirit was so powerful, and palpable, that I wondered whether the memorial would actually help him depart in any way. Then Sean Folsom began playing Amazing Grace on the bagpipes, and anyone in the room who was not yet in tears soon got there. The energy in the room shifted, as the sound of the pipes seemed to infuse every molecule with a more intense vibration. Riding the waves of power being generated as the piper walked to the altar and back, Victor’s spirit washed over us as he began to separate from all the material objects in the room—his body, the flowers, the candles, the people—and fly out the open door, into the world beyond.

There is no easy transition between being witness to such an event and finding oneself in a parking lot in Hayward, amongst probably the largest crowd of Feri folk ever peaceably assembled. There were people there I knew and loved, many I didn’t know, and some people I’d only known through email. Conscious of the long ride home through the gathering rush hour, and partly because of the awkwardness of the occasion, I didn’t want to stay long.

It was on the drive north that the storm really got started. An occasional sprinkling gave way to darker clouds and distant rumblings. Heading across the bridge to San Rafael, it was raining steadily, and bolts of lightning crackled from the clouds to the dry earth. In California, the first rain of the season is always an important event, but this was no ordinary storm. We don’t get thunderstorms that often, particularly ones that cover as vast an area as this one did. The clouds were high and dark, and the sky for miles around looked like a giant blackboard. The sun was sinking behind the hills, but here and there it shone through and bathed us in light as the rain came down and lightning struck all around. The bolts were clearly visible streaks like hieroglyphs against the sky, sometimes in rapid succession in the exact same shape, sometimes dancing all across the horizon.

I remembered someone that day mentioning that Victor had been born in a storm. As I drove through Petaluma, thinking about his teachings and my conflicted feelings over them, the setting sun came through under the edge of the clouds, right on the horizon. Sandwiched between dark hills and dark sky, it looked for all the world like an eye in the storm. I thought it was Victor, sight returned on a greater scale, checking to see who was paying attention. Since I apparently was, I started talking to him, acknowledging his prowess in leaving in so strong a storm.

I wished him well on his journey, and also prayed that the days of vengeance and vendetta in the name of religion were passing away just like his life, just like the storm. That is the place where I have to part company with Victor’s teachings, and I told him so. Many at his memorial said that he chose this time to cross over in order to work his influence on the other side. Given the opportunity to speak to him in that final moment, it was important for me to put in a plug for non-violence, which I believe to be the highest spiritual calling. I have no idea how his power will be felt now that he has passed on, but that day I prayed it would be for the greatest good.

Finally, as I climbed out of the Petaluma valley and the horizon receded from my sight, I found myself reciting the Buddhist prayer over and over: may all beings be happy, may all beings be happy. I feel privileged to have known him and Cora, however briefly, and am very glad to have made it to his memorial. I won’t soon forget how that bagpipe gathered Victor’s spirit and all our prayers and hurled them out beyond the veil, nor will I forget meeting him eye to eye, and heart to heart, as he left on the rays of the setting sun.

Look Ma, No Hands! – Dream Talk Radio Takes Off

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Last Thursday marked a milestone for my radio show, Dream Talk Radio, when I broadcast my last live show from the KOWS-fm studio in Occidental. For over three years, I have spent every Thursday from 9-10 am on the air, talking about dreams and sleep health, culture, creativity, and broader social issues. But from now on I will take my show to the cloud, so to speak, broadcasting on podcasts exclusively.

I spent the first ten minutes of last week’s show talking about how Dream Talk Radio came about and how it has evolved since that first live show in January, 2008. Then I aired a really interesting conversation I had just a week earlier with Leo Laporte, whose internet TV network, TWiT-TV, is based just a few miles away in Petaluma. TWiT (This Week in Tech) is currently building a 10,000 sq ft studio in the heart of Petaluma to house its growing broadcast operation, which now includes 40+ hours per week of live streaming video. I talked to Leo about how he built his network, and whether he sees its role in the community changing now that it will have a much bigger physical presence.

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If you are at all interested in where broadcasting is heading in the years to come, I encourage you to listen to the full show (it’s only 25 minutes long). At this point TWiT-TV has millions of viewers every month, and during each live show there can be over a thousand people commenting through an IRC chat. You’ll often see the show host peering down at the computer screen to bring up a point made by someone on the chat in real time, which makes it a very different viewing experience than watching regular TV, but also fascinating in its newness.

As for Dream Talk Radio, I now have up to 1,000 listeners for most of my podcasts, and have many recordings of past shows ready for upload in the near future. I also have several interviews in the works over the next couple months, including an update from Rev. Patrick McCollum about his religious freedom court case.

Not being on the air every week will allow me more freedom in scheduling my shows, but I couldn’t have arrived at this point without the amazing opportunity of having a show on local, low-power FM radio. If you’d like to support my former community radio home, KOWS gladly accepts donations. And if you want to find out about my upcoming shows, I post them on the Dream Talk Radio Facebook page and also on Twitter. It’s a whole new world of radio, people—I hope to see you there!

Mugwort Harvest!

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Fall fell with a thunk today, as the air turned from summer-fog-wet to winter-is-coming-cold. You have to live here for a couple years at least to feel the shift, but California does have four seasons, and they change roughly at the cross-quarter days: May 1 for Summer, Aug 1 for Fall, Nov 1 for Winter, and Feb 1 for Spring.

We have been socked-in all summer here, with only occasional glimpses of sun. This has been fine with me, since I find the quality of light under cloud cover to be extremely conducive to creativity, and besides, all you need to do is travel 10 miles inland to be in the hot sun again.

As weather anomalies go, I think the California coast got the better part of the deal compared to the rest of the country this summer. It has been a prolific season in the garden; all the flowers and herbs are going out of their way to celebrate the cool greenhouse-like conditions, and the colors have been extravagant. Here is just one bouquet I picked last month.

Everybody warned me that planting mugwort was akin to saying I wanted my entire property covered in mugwort. With some extreme pruning and digging up of runners over the winter months, I am happy to say that so far it is staying put in its bed—but it has taken over the entire bed, crowding out the other artemisias planted there and providing me with a lifetime supply of mugwort in just one season.

Last summer I made the mistake of harvesting the mugwort too soon; only afterward did I read that you’re supposed to wait till it flowers to pick it. This year I have been much more patient, but even now, late in the summer, it is not quite ready to harvest. The cool weather has delayed its ripening, but it is the most amazing slow-motion transformation. As the buds develop, the stalks and leaves turn a burnished purple-red and the plant gets strongly fragrant, reminding me of another common psychoactive plant (one that is much more lucrative to grow, sadly for me).

My friend Corey came over and asked what I was going to do with all this bounty, but I haven’t quite gotten that far. After hanging it to dry, I will use some of it to make dream pillows, but that still leaves about 90% unspoken for.

Mugwort tincture seems excessive; it is such a strong plant already that putting it into tincture form could be more harmful than helpful. Mugwort oil sounds like a good choice, but I would love to hear from others on what works best. Are there any dreamers and/or herbalists out there with great suggestions to share? Meanwhile, here is another view of the garden, where Pacific mugwort, yarrow and rosemary all mingle and kvetch, overheard by a nosy strand of passion flower.

Math Is Not Linear

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Okay, I know this doesn’t have much to do with the main subjects of this blog, but in addition to everything else I tutor middle school kids in math. Not very complicated math—I excel at introducing algebraic concepts to 5th and 6th graders, while helping them understand fractions and decimals. I am not a math pro by any means (I wilt at the sight of logarithms) but I love helping kids figure out how to approach and solve problems.

One of the first things I tell my students and their parents is that every single kind of math was invented to help solve a problem. Math is not just a blunt weapon designed to hasten children’s introduction to nihilism. It actually has a point, and that is to help people look at a problem, figure out what they need to know in order to solve it, and then go about finding a solution, step by step. Mathematical thinking—logic, pattern recognition, decoding—is really creative thinking.

The presentation below is made with a super cool new technology that will make PowerPoint obsolete one of these days. If you’ve never seen it before, head over to Prezi.com and see how it works. It takes a while to load, but when it does just use the right arrow button to forward the presentation. To see a full screen version, click on “More” and then choose full screen. Thanks to Alison Blank, the creator, for beautifully illustrating/animating one of my favorite education rants!

How Time Flies

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What a banner weekend—a heady mix of the new moon, Ramadan, Rosh Hashanah, and Autumn Equinox. The air has that piercing clarity of autumn too, with the touch of morning chill that makes the apples and pears so crisp and flavorful. My little apple tree is still too much of a fledgling to bring forth a harvest, but a next door neighbor has two neglected pear trees that are overhanging our backyard with the most succulent-looking fruit that is just about ready. Even not being a huge pear fan, I am practically salivating watching those plump, golden pears ripen slowly in the autumn sun.

This weekend was also an anniversary of sorts—the anniversary of the end of a relationship. I told my dream group the other day that it had been four years since I’d left my marriage and moved to the coast, and they were all aghast. Had it really been four years? To them it seemed like a year or two at the most. Yet having lived through every day of that transition myself, I could assure them that yes, it really had been that long.

But things do have a miraculous way of starting over. Once we declare something dead, and give it time to pass away, something new really does rise up to take its place. When my ex and I bought this property several years ago, one of the first things we did was plant some fruit trees in the back corner of the lot. We hooked these young pioneers up to the drip system, didn’t bother protecting them, and left them to fend for themselves. After about a week the deer found them and quickly made a nice meal out of every single thing we planted. Our trees were decimated, and we abandoned the project in favor of more practical things.

Then the lot filled up with construction debris from our various remodeling projects, and soon the whole place was all choked over with weeds and berry vines as well. When I moved in to stay four years ago, cleaning up the back lot was the least of my worries. I managed to haul away the household toxics and have the tallest weeds cut down to suit the fire department, but that was the extent of it.

LoqMcB

Now my sweet new boyfriend wants to plant a garden back there, and has taken the unprecedented step of actually cleaning out all the construction and yard debris. It took a while, but once the crap was hauled away and the entire place mowed to within an inch of its life, we got a big surprise.

There, newly uncovered and looking quite sturdy, was a lovely McBeth Loquat tree that had survived the massacre, with its nursery tags still attached. It had simply bided its time after being so badly treated by us and the deer, and grew back slowly under the cover of the tall weeds. Now that its drip connection is fixed and the deer have been ousted, I take great pleasure in greeting it every time I go back there to watch the garden progress.

fruit

And that in a nutshell is how to survive a divorce. Hunker down, do what you need to do to survive, but never forget to unfurl your leaves at the least little bit of sunshine or rain. Life is too sweet, and too precious, to deprive yourself of a minute of it. And in time, you may surprise yourself by blossoming more than you ever thought possible.

What Rough Beast

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In the darkness before sunrise I got up, put the kettle on for tea, and went to the computer for a first pass at headlines and email. It was a bit early for poetry, but my eyes were caught by a snatch of it, in all places on the New York Times op-ed page. My favorite econo-guy Paul Krugman had titled his Monday column “The Widening Gyre,” and quoted the first three lines of the poem right up front.

What caused Krugman to think of Yeats’s famous poem while studying economic data? And did he think twice before summoning the spectre of some unnamed dread whose hour has “come round at last”? It is certainly a sobering metaphor for the economic crisis which is now spreading to developing nations, especially at 6 a.m. when one hasn’t even had a cup of black tea yet.

I have more to say about these myths and stories that are being tossed around both consciously and unconsciously these days. Much more, especially given the threads I spoke about in my last blog post. But one thing at a time here at the Blog o’ Gnosis, and right now I have to pick up my daughter, walk the dog, and make dinner. Life does shuffle on, with or without the slouching.

Stopping on a Paradigm

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Yesterday in a Sebastopol parking lot I ran into an old acquaintance who, like me, drives an aging car. I joked with him about the fact that we were still keeping our jalopies going, when he came over to me with a conspiratorial smile.

“I don’t know what you believe, but there’s this website…” Oh no, I thought. Please don’t start talking about 9-11 conspiracies. Please, please, please. “…where a lot of people are finally coming out with their UFO experiences.” Okay, UFOs. Are we going into crop circle territory? Or chemtrails? Please no, please no.

My friend continued, “Anyway, they say that any day now there could be a huge electromagnetic blast from the sun, and if that happens all of these,” he gestured with his arm at the late-model cars surrounding us, “will get their electronics fried. And the only cars that will still work will be ours!” Trump card in hand and still wearing a satisfied smile, he strode off on his errands.

It strikes me as highly unlikely that our old cars, increasingly held together by rust and duct tape, will save us in some post-apocalyptic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang scenario. Sure, they get better mileage than most cars on the road, but will there be gas to put in them if a rogue solar flare eats up the world’s electronics? Even in a perfect, pre-doomsday world, just how much longer can we keep them running?

One is hard-pressed to know where to start in refuting some of the claims overheard in Northern California towns these days. I am rather proud of the fact that I manage to stay friends with good people who hold what I consider to be lunatic fringe ideas. Yet I am frankly alarmed at what passes for reason among intelligent, well-educated people who ought to know better.

I saw another eco-activist friend in town recently, while the bailout bill was being debated in Congress. Her greeting to me was an enthusiastic, “The Empire is falling!” This is a woman who lives so close to the margins of solvency that all I could see was the great gray bricks of the Tower falling right on her head. And she was elated, obviously unconcerned with just how she was going to survive if her sidewalk stand ran out of paying customers.

Tracking world events while having almost daily exchanges of this nature has caused me no small amount of cognitive dissonance. I am struck by how easy it is to lapse into belief when thinking is just too complicated. Marx may have considered religion the opiate of the masses, but had he been alive today he would have quickly revised his notion: around here, “paradigm shifts” are definitely the opiate du jour. And things have only gotten worse with the spread in recent years of the leftist version of Christian Endtime predictions: the 2012 prophecies.

I recently met an accomplished businesswoman some years my senior who told me in all seriousness that “these times” demanded a new way of thinking. She was convinced that the “old way,” defined by competition-based, hierarchical, either/or thinking, was on its way out. In order to survive in the years ahead we all had to embrace the new paradigm, which emphasized supportive social networks, enlightened cooperation, and “both/and” thinking. Again, she had that conspiratorial tone to her voice, but it was overlaid with the lustre of knowing that she was somehow sent here to help shepherd people from one bank to the other, across the ruinous tide of “these times.”

I have heard versions of this scenario so many times now that I really must ask the question: if the new paradigm is about both/and thinking, why does it hinge on throwing the old paradigm out? Shouldn’t a both/and paradigm have room for the old paradigm, too? In fact, by its own definition it must have. Therefore the internal logic of the idea doesn’t even make sense, and only proves that anyone who embraces it either never learned to reason, or is desperate for a way to believe in doomsday while not being a Christian. And because this is now a both/and world, I assume that both my conclusions are correct.

There is no doubt that huge, unprecedented change is taking place on our planet. Climate change and the spectre of global economic collapse are ample reason for us all to be running for whatever safe haven we can find. Yet having lived through the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, the Harmonic Convergence, the Oral Roberts Death Watch, Y2K and Bush v. Gore without having any major appliances explode or noticing any Rapture-like behavior, I simply cannot believe this is anything more than a very difficult period that we will live through somehow.

If people need a new laudanum to get by, then fine. The marketing of 2012 fantasies is, after all, the Mother’s Little Helper of the aughts. Yet it should never be mistaken for more than that. In fact, my personal preference for doomsday scenarios is the Rapture, for one reason only: at least in the fundamentalist Christian world view, they are all raised up to heaven while the rest of us get to keep the planet. In the New Age version nobody gets teleported, and we are stuck listening to crap about new paradigms until we die. This is not intelligent design!