Article

running

I must have been running more than I thought.

My legs and lungs were strong today, propelling me around the lake as the sun rose over my hometown, Oakland. The few runs and workouts I’ve gotten in while on the road for five weeks must have had more of an impact than expected. Or perhaps it was walking around Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and a handful of airports with a 35-lb backpack and a 15-lb bag of scuba gear that made me this strong?

I would have liked to cycle—working my way up into the hills in the dark and then flying home in the light. But my bike is far away, kindly held by the same man who holds my heart. So the journey home was less swift and exhilarating than it might have been. But I arrived back here anyway, the movement of my legs having pulled away whatever was masking the thin wall of hurt and anger I hold inside, around my more sensitive parts.

This homecoming is a mixed bag. I am both home and not home, in my own bed for only a few nights. I walked in at first and was surprised to see all of the familiar things: the couch draped in maroon, my floor pillows with a good story behind them, my books whose titles paint a picture of where my mind goes, the art that speaks my subconscious. All these things mine.

—Oh, I thought. —This is what it’s like to have a home. That’s mine.

I had forgotten.

I was laid off on October 23 and within a week, I was on the road. I call it my ADVENTURE (all caps) traveling to rediscover myself and be a little more free—for now or maybe forever. I’ve been in Portland (Oregon), the Inland Empire, Monterey, the Shenandoah Valley, Santa Barbara and the Channel Islands (on a boat!). Today is ADVENTURE, DAY 38.

My travel TRX and running shoes accompanied me on the ADVENTURE, and I burned many calories scuba diving in the brisk Pacific waters off the southern California coast. I have schlepped my stuff from hospitable place to hospitable place. It has been important to keep moving and incorporate a modicum of physical discipline into this wandering, easy life.

So perhaps I have, in fact, been running more than I thought these past weeks. Arriving home, I have been dealing with the cleanup after my absence—unpacking, sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, washing, laundry, putting everything away where it belongs from where it’s been misplaced. And I feel the urge to move swiftly in my body.

Swiftly, though, away.

Because being back here, where little has changed, makes me wonder what. the fuck. I’m doing.

I have a cacophony of expletive-filled questions ready to be shouted from behind my heart and ringing between my ears. They all point to the same place: a destination where my heart and ego don’t hurt anymore, where I’m done being wrenched by and missing and mourning what I have lost in this short succession of months.

I am standing still now and my emotions have finally caught up. They’ve hit me from behind like that last wave as you walk out of the surf, exhausted from swimming against the current and thinking you’ve made it.

I hadn’t realized I had outpaced them these past few weeks of ADVENTURing—and so efficiently. I must have been running more than I thought.

Article

men who watch trains

Who are these men who watch trains?

They stand by the tracks as the Amtrak Coast Starlight inches its way up the line of the Pacific, past rodeo grounds filled with firefighters preparing to fight the latest SoCal wildfire; as it picks up speed along the remoteness of places like Conception and Arlight—where someone owns a tiny mesa between the tracks and the sea where six airstream trailers are circled, gleaming spaceships cum glamping wagons.

The first was a handsome, square jawed Latino, his shiny black and shoulder length hair pulled into a low ponytail. He also wore a neat goatee. He had headphones in and was sitting cross-legged against a low concrete wall. Close by, there were signs of encampment—the remains of a makeshift tent, graffiti and empty food wrappers, maybe a tarp. A little farther along, an onerous, man-sized smudge of black from a fire someone had burned along the wall. Its shape and size reminded me of those Tibetan tankas with the Buddha in the center and a blue flame enveloping them. That lotus shape, wide and round at the bottom and tapered to a delicate point at the top.

I’m used to seeing desolate, desperate people near train tracks and highways. Ruined tent cities that are so worse for the wear. Tin-sided shacks with that grease of longterm human inhabitation, but utterly inhumane as accommodation.

This man looked like a man with a comfortable enough home who had decided to walk and watch the trains with a mobile soundtrack. Maybe smoke some pot or just breathe in the afternoon sun. Unlike the older, portly man who waved at the train—a full armed, enthusiastic and constant wave—the young man sat with his gaze slack. Unlike the Santa Barbarians at the playground waving to the trains with broad smiles, exciting the small children on their hips, his face was relaxed. He seemed content, perhaps, in a different relationship to the train and this voyeuristic passenger inspecting him as I slid by.

Then, pulling out of San Luis Obispo, the White blonde man-boy in tie dye. He stood, a ten minute walk from the platform, in knee-high grass with “nothing” else around. I imagine the train had punctuated a mid-afternoon walkabout, a quiet reflective hour alone on two feet. He didn’t waive, either, or smile. Didn’t look for recognition or a reciprocated greeting from us as we passed, seeing us maybe, but not looking.

And finally, the men I saw in my imagination behind the windows, walls and barbed wire of the penitentiary. As the sun set behind its drab tan walls and square sides, and we rolled on, into the dusky, golden hills.

Article

diane

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her fall. Slowly. In slow motion.

Her baggy wool sweater and corduroy pants made it hard to tell if this old, falling person was a woman or a man. And gender seems to fall away as we age out of the demands of reproduction, doesn’t it?

She hit one of those massive, sharp-cornered bookcases on the way down. She was at first lilting sideways, overweighted by her tote bag full of borrowed books. And then the weight was too much and down she went like a cut tree falls slowly, first vertically, then sideways. She cried out, and cried out again when she hit the ground.

Once on the ground she yelled again, giving words to her pain and calling for help. I was thankful that she was conscious. If she hadn’t been—or if she had been a man—would I have leapt out of my chair and run over to her like I did? If she didn’t have the voice of a cultured woman? A voice and a request that said she had grown up with enough, suggested her homefulness and that she would smell sweet—or at least not offensive—if I got close?

I took her head in my hands and laid her down gently. I put my hand on her shoulder like I wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. I spoke soothing words and sent her love through my hands. Perhaps I was being sweet, but it is her sweetness that lingers with me.

I wished I had known more what to do. But I didn’t, so I talked. I asked her if she was from Santa Barbara.

—Born and raised, she said.

I asked her name.

—Diane.

I told her my own name, that I was just visiting, and that I come from Oakland.

—That rabble rousing city, she said. And I laughed lightly. Gently to not inflame her injury and her fragile, greying state.

She told me I had to go see the botanical gardens while I was in town. And the courthouse—there’s no other building like it. And the Alice Keck Memorial Park and Gardens.

—They’re beautiful, she said, closing her eyes tight as she said it. —Just beautiful.

I’m nearing the end of my time in Santa Barbara and I have not been to any of these places. These places that a 75-year-old woman who has lived here all her life can still describe with such a kind of awe that she has to close her eyes so tight and purse her whole face just to keep it together in the face of such beauty.

As the paramedics wheeled Diane away, sitting up on a stretcher, she waved to the librarians with a pained smile. That kind of wave where your hand is still but you move your fingers—either altogether or in a wave.

She didn’t look to the back corner to wave goodbye. I don’t think she ever saw my face.

Article

hills

I had two hands on the land today, asking if it was awake.

—Land, wake up! I said aloud. —Are you awake?

I don’t know if it’s the land or me that was too deaf to hear. I wanted to merge with the land and feel its golden hum. I wanted there to be a pulse I could feel and since I couldn’t feel it, I was wondering if maybe it wasn’t there at all.

After all, this land has been grazed to thickets of thorn by neglected cattle. And then the land watched that cattle go unfed and uncared for until they died, their bleached bones jumping up from under the tractor to surprise my father one day. What a sight that must have been for this Korean American Yale-educated gentleman farmer whom the Virginia minister across the street thinks of as the personification of Manhattan.

I can only imagine his sensitive heart (which does exist under the tough hide he bares to me) broke a little to be confronted by death. Death at all, but in this case death of innocent animals at the hand of human neglect. Death, showing itself somewhere unexpected and so idyllic.

Well before the cattle died here, I know men died here, too. I see their ghosts walking through the high grass in Union and Confederate regalia. Not regalia because no doubt they were simple infantry men—fodder for a confusing and complicated war. Uniforms, I guess. Drab blues and greys that maybe their white bones jumped out from under at one time, as well.

—Soon, I reassured the land. —Soon this will all be planted with trees.

I stood and imagined these golden hills turned emerald green. Dozens of acres of pines and hardwoods will be planted that my dad means to stand for at minimum fifty or a hundred years. They will be his legacy for his grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Thinking of that is what brought me to squat there, knees deeply bent, two hands on the ground and a welp escaping my throat. If there’s an inheritance for them, then they will surely come to exist! That’s what a part of my heart tells the rest of my still aching heart.

I looked over the rolling, golden hills. The thought that this land was for them jolted through me in a charge of emotion. What emotion? Maybe hope. Longing. Confirmation. Liquid optimism tinged still with grief.

I want to connect with the land so she can tell me if my father’s dream which is my dream will come true.

I wanted to fall asleep there in the warm grass. If we could melt together, she could have secrets or knowledge for me. I could know things beyond what I know. The land could grow time to see seven generations from now. She could tell me if I will, indeed, be walking these hills in forty years. And if I won’t be alone.

Article

tapestry

I found it.

I found the tapestry that appeared the day before yesterday behind my closed eyes. It is red, it shimmers—and today, it is complete.

On Thursday, when I first saw it, I quivered at the verge of tears the entire day. It was so beautiful, and also contained so much of a story. And the tapestry wasn’t fully finished—it still radiated hope. And it turns out that I am most tender and vulnerable when I still have hope.

Today, it’s complete because every thread of the story has been wrapped up. The job, the baby, the marriage and the lover. The loose ends are tucked away, knotted up—and the whole piece has been sprayed down with a finishing lacquer. Rather than the raw, unfinished liquid light it had on Thursday, this metallic-y tapestry is now solid.

I won’t touch it for fear that I’ll know just how hard it is once it reaches my hands. I prefer to hold the paradox in my mind: that it’s softly rumpled like linen while glinting like knives.

I see it behind my closed eyes still, after separating my love for him from my love for me and letting him go. But it doesn’t elicit tears or tenderness anymore—only closure, certainty and acceptance. And reverence for how my hands and feet and mouth and heart fashioned it, a vehicle for God’s art.

Every design has a purpose.

a red metallic tapestry hanging on a white wall

ab+ga, El Anatsui

Article

faith

So this is what it’s like to be a woman of faith.

I am prostrate before Her, held along with my broken heart. Though momentary, the grief is complete. For a few seconds, I cry. Contorted tears. Onto an Oriental rug and into the air, I spill the contents of my heart.

“Here it is.” She holds up in her hand this one more thing to give up. One more thread in the tapestry of shedding and growing to pull—and pull—to its logical, loose end. I see it, and for a microsecond I hesitate. She flicks her wrist before I can refuse.

After She’s begun the unraveling, there’s nowhere left to go but down. I submit like I’m free falling, taking in both how swiftly and slowly everything moves. There is nothing left to do but savor and learn. I also submit to the reverberating pain because I have faith—because She has faith—that I will survive and emerge improved. And that this is all part of Her plan.

With Her help, I have given up this thing now, ripped it clean off. The cut was quick. I open my eyes to survey the heart contents spilled in the air and on the floor. In this sacred space, I see a constellation of insights and learnings about myself and about the tricky obfuscation of mind. The way that my Dear One honed right in on the blame, self-directed hostility and assumption of failures I carry. And the way he could say it and it bounced off my suddenly deaf ears.

I’ve seen that mind trickery before. Been on the other side of it and circled, circled—poking, coming back and poking while it seemed like the other person had become selectively hard of hearing. Even though they’re speaking to this glowing nub of pain over and over again. And then finally, they hear me: the kernel, the original wounding, the source fracture wound is acknowledged.

And then, tears.

And then, freedom.

I close with gratitude for my own freedom. And for my good karma to have developed such spiritual skills in this lifetime that at the outset I was not surprised that this, too, was to be taken away. And for my Dear One providing unwavering compassion and care. And for my own radiance reflecting off the silver lining of yet another dashed dream.

All of this freedom originating from faith—from a subjugation of myself to faith. To Her.

Article

i am the white room

I woke up this morning in a white, padded room. Not a room, exactly—it has no walls. The floor seems to blend into walls that are not there. It’s an optical illusion. The light plays a trick on the eyes, so you’d think there was a wall where there’s only more wide open space. I resolve to stay in the seated position I found myself in, rather than stand up and risk falling on my face.

In some moments there is something there other than space. The room takes form in those moments when the silence and the emptiness bring up a desperate rage in me. I scream. I claw at the air—and it’s such a relief to find my fingers met by something rather than nothing.

Each time I go to claw the air, I feel a rip like tissue paper under my fingernails. I am screaming and shredding tissue paper, or perhaps mattress stuffing. It is so satisfying, and endless. And white. Rip, rip, rip. Tear, tear, tear. Everything blinding white.

After the clawing and screaming, I am breathless. The rage is gone—I’m just small and spent now. I want to lie down and cry but no tears come. Can you be too tired and beaten down to even cry?

When I first found myself here, the whiteness of everything felt almost blinding. It piqued anger and rebellion; harsh. Now, it feels like being held in a cloud. I can’t explain the shift. Everything is bright—I can neither sleep nor perk up enough to explore. I can only be right here. Right here, in this place without walls, ceiling, objects, distractions—without even past or future.

In the quiet, I notice: I’m breathing. I’m just breathing now. I also note that my tongue has pressed up against the roof of my mouth again—that thing it does when I’m anxious. Making it relax and feeling some space around my whole heart open up. My eyes are closed, but I can half feel, half see the white light all around me seeping into me. Slowly, the sense of me in a room disappears. But when my body is gone—somehow, I’m still here.

I feel full now. Full and empty at the same time. In my body but without the borders of my skin, bones and muscles. I feel that I glow, and am white. I am the white light now.

Now, I’m that holding the container for whatever is here. I refuse nothing.

I am the white room.


 

Sometimes (i.e., on good days), meditation is like this.