26 June 2014

Playing and being played

I just gave my cats a little electric guitar concert. I hadn't gotten out my fuchsia solidbody Godin for a long time; I had forgotten how messed up its pickups are and felt embarrassed for never having gotten around to getting them fixed. But on some of the pickup combinations the sound is just fine, and I have a booming chorus amp that adds to my meager musical efforts as much distortion and reverb and overall glow as I like at any given moment. This makes my little wanderings more fun, but loud for the little cats with big ears.
    Nora has probably heard me play two or three times in the two years she's been a part of our family. Her whiskers and tufted ears leading the way, Nora followed me into my office, her plume of tail high. Nora lowered her tail and crept closer to the amp's speaker as I played. She stopped, shook her head as if to shed the excess sound from her ears, and turned and trotted out of deafening range. She and Jack watched me from the sidelines as I played. Even though I didn't think the volume was that loud, the cats did look concerned from their vantage points at the edge of the room.
    When I play music awkwardly, or sit down to write without knowing what I will say until I say it, I feel sort of like a teenager who is about to graduate from college and doesn't know what is going to happen next. I feel perfectly positioned to take Tosha Silver's advice to do my things (because even though writing and storytelling is my main thing, there's more than one thing with me, always) and  see where the divine leads me. I feel more willing than ever to put myself in the hands of something that's not me, which is both a very new sensation and a very old sensation.
    It's a new sensation in that my judgments and skepticism have been falling away. I wonder lately whether each of us has a field of energy interacting with everyone else's energy field, or auras that mix and match or clash or that glow bright or dim according to circumstances or health or interactions with others. It's like starting with three colors of paint and combining them to make more colors: each time you mix two colors, you get something different. If there's one thing I've learned from my mother's health issues, it's that we are all so different, each exposed to a different set of hazards, blessed with a different set of genetic strengths and environmental advantages while having a unique achilles heel in each of our reactions to toxins, pollution, allergies, or other insults to our health.
    This sensation of turning my ... fate, for lack of a better word, over to something as vague as “the divine,” as Tosha Silver says, is also an old, familiar one in that I've always thrown the I Ching when I have not known what I wanted or where I was going. Sometimes I turn to the the ritual of shaking three pennies six times and recording the hexagram so I can look it up in the I Ching for advice, but it's more that I want some landmarks as I continue on my way, some signposts indicating what I should remain mindful of as I walk down the next section of the path. I trust that my contact with the coins will lead me to something I need to know at this moment. My edition of the I Ching has two different books that each list interpretations of each hexagram, so I look up the hexagram in each book to make sure I don't miss some detail I should to pay attention to, just the way I look up two different recipes for the same new dish so I understand how the recipe is supposed to work in theory, not just in one instance.
    Today I admitted to my sister that I've been having this growing sensation that science isn't all it's cracked up to be, that there's information I feel science's reductionist explanations leaves out, possibilities science doesn't admit. It's all these little coincidences that make me feel that way, and the ongoing feeling that the more I take chances and pick things up, the more things are being put in my path when I need them. I read about the actress Mila Kunis today, who said she decided to say yes for a year, instead of trying to protect herself, and a lot of great things happened as a result during that year as a result of all that yesing. I think my friend Hanna once said something to me about doing that, too, but I never really tried it.
    These days I feel I'm saying yes a lot, trying creative enterprises, asking for jobs that look interesting, and trusting the universe will say yes in one way or many. I also told my sister anything could happen; if getting a technical writing job is the next thing I do, that is part of it all, part of how I can serve my family and community, and I'll still have all these other things to offer, more things to which I can say yes.

21 June 2014

Strategies for Sports and Life

The only thing that ever makes me say, “I wish I could go back and do this over again” about my middle-school years is sports. I abhorred the chaos of basketball and soccer, while also being fascinated by the games in the abstract. I admired people who could ride unicycles or juggle, like my friends, or do cartwheels, like my long-limbed and slender mother, and I was curious about friends who went skiing every weekend, but for a long time I thought I had little in common physically with them.
In high school I took up running, skiing, and tennis. I loved hitting the ball around but wasn't competitive enough to become a strong player. I was not so assertive back then, either, and felt confusion about the difference between assertive and aggressive. The idea of fighting to get better at a sport was alien to me. I liked skiing because I was good at things you need time to do, like writing and reading and art. Things you could do and redo, not these we-have-to-play-the-best-game-ever-or-we'll-all-go-down-together, do-or-die contests of wiles and will.
A funny thing happened on the way to my gym classes, though. I started to notice that yeah, maybe I wasn't so great at pull-ups or push-ups, but I could ski or run or bike a few miles without feeling like I was going to throw up. And I loved that burst of energy and clarity that always occurred somewhere in my workout (the endorphins kicking in, no doubt) and felt that Aha! I'm-up-where-I can-see-again sensation.
My endurance has helped in all sorts of situations since. I tried trekking on cross-country skis, downhill skiing, and bicycling. I paddled rafts but especially loved taking a big oar boat through the rapids myself, analyzing the river to see the best path (there's that strategizing again).
But I do wish sometimes that I could go out and play soccer in a field with a bunch of people knowing what I know now. I see those But you could!s sputtering on your lips, but the problem with going out and playing soccer now is that given what I know now, I wouldn't play soccer on this set of knees. I've had surgery for meniscal tears on both knees and can just keep them happy and me fit with dance, biking, hiking, skiing and some squats. But given my current condition, soccer, distance running, gymnastics, and telemark skiing aren't going to be where I get my exercise highs. So hooray for my happy fortune in finding activities I love that literally make me leap for joy and stretch my body and soul. And hooray for the orthopedic surgeon and physical therapists who have helped me continue to use my legs for function and fun.
Recently, on my way home from my dance class, I stopped at a yard sale where I bought a tiny, intricately built cribbage set inlaid with metal strips to indicate the bounds on the scoring board. It had a piece of scrimshaw of a happy looking moose glued onto it. Last night I printed out the rules, tweaking the formatting until I could get them all on a single sheet of paper, which I completely filled with 10-point type. While the rules looked lengthy, I remembered cribbage as a fun game, even if it was one at which I often got skunked or double-skunked (I can't even bear to think about those times I was triple-skunked).
Back in about 1977, when I was about 14, my stepfather, Yankee, started me how to play cribbage. It is a game in which you set aside a couple of cards that go into the dealer's “crib,” essentially a second hand. You then take turns with an opponent laying down cards and accumulating points, to a maximum of 31 points and then you start again. Then you add up all the points for combinations of cards and runs. During each round of play, the score for the dealer's crib is added, so the dealer essentially gets to play two hands. Then the deal alternates and the new dealer gets the crib. You play to 121 points, usually, which is one point more than four “streets” of 30 points, which you score by placing pegs along a track on a board, leapfrog-style so you can see your existing score while you peg additional points.
But it all sounds more elaborate than it is, because there are limited ways to earn points. Play is fast-paced and you score points frequently. But you definitely have to think ahead about how to maximize the points, and you have to make decisions about what cards to keep when you are salting away cards in your crib as the dealer or which cards to pawn off on your opponent (the “pone” in cribbage-speak) when it's their crib. In other words, you need to strategize.
I have found learning to strategize one of the true pleasures of my life. A soccer team setting up a goal attempt a full minute before the ball is kicked toward the net, it turns out, requires as much planning and forethought as working out the details of a plot that involves multiple characters. When writing fiction, you have to be able to store things away to add later, or keep certain things out of certain characters' hands so they don't use them to hijack the story (a mistake I confess I've made more than once in my fiction).
I used to get mad at my stepfather because he knew all the cribbage scoring tricks – like getting two points for “his nobs” as the dealer when he'd turn up a jack as the top card of the deck.
My sister, my brother, and I all remember the night of the horrific carroms game with our father Steve a little differently, but we all remember it. Well, maybe my stepmother used her magical  religion's brain powers to clear that one out of her memory banks, but the rest of us remember it. It was one of those nights when my father was being a sore loser, this one worse than most. One of us was winning, and my sister and I remember differently who it was, but it didn't matter. What mattered was our father was losing, and he didn't like it. After a missed shot, he had a tantrum and threw the carroms and board across the room.
None of us wanted to play anymore (how's that for understatement?), but our father didn't want to walk away from the game because he was still losing. Emotional terrorism is what I call that now, and I had some serious unlarnin' to do when I sailed blithely and arrogantly into my adulthood.
And I wonder why I was never all that competitive. And why people thought I was.
But those cribbage games (and gin, backgammon, and pool, too) with my stepfather helped me learn so much about planning to win, not just winning. Those games challenged me enough to make me want to win against my stepfather (for once). The games were just tough enough to make me want to learn how to find the most bonus points along the way, not just when we stopped to total everything at the end. And the games were fun. He wanted me to learn well, so he would have a good opponent, not just someone he could knock down and win against every time.
While I had to discover my physical gifts on my own (yes, I can learn choreography! and bike or ski for hours!), my stepfather was the one who taught me all about grace in winning – and losing. He taught me true sportsmanship.

09 June 2014

Songs of Gratitude: On Being Seen

I keep circling back in my memory to the sweet eddy of time when I met – re-met, that is – my friend Hari at Olompali last month. It gives me joy every time I think of that moment:
“You're Flower?”
“I'm Hari, and I remember you.”
“You do?” I was tearing up by this point, seeing him in tears.
“Yes, I do. You were my favorite kid!”
Now we were both crying. The way Hari then so carefully and lovingly described his memories of our family told me he not only knew me but that he saw us. He saw each of us, and all of us together, which still moves me. He was among the community that was affected not only by our tragedy, but also by our presence at Olompali before that.
Every one of us is creating and always has generated those circles of ripples traveling outward, all the time, and my and Hari's wave circles overlapped in the late 1960s and are rippling into new patterns once again. I find more overlaps the more I peer into our pasts – Hari spent time in almost the exact spot in India where our child was born. He spent time with Thomas Merton, who had been a writing partner of my grandmother, my mother's mother, Paula Hocks.
Thinking about these warm waves still traveling toward me makes me remember another source of warm energy and care who rippled briefly in our lives. After looking through old photos with my mother recently, I have been remembering the year I lived in Venice, California with my parents, when we moved there together after I graduated from high school. I had a gap year, during which I worked a couple of jobs and not only saved money for college but also gained California residency.
My mother had been a home-birth midwife in Boulder and was determined to continue her practice in L.A. She started talking with doctors and trying to find backup like she'd had in Boulder – Ob/Gyns who were willing to go to the hospital on call as backup were she to call from a home birth that wasn't proceeding as it should. She'd had several doctors willing to meet her at the hospital in Boulder, but these doctors weren't so easy for an unknown, unlicensed home-birth midwife to conscript in L.A. So my mother had to be super-cautious and deliver babies at home only for people who swore they would call an ambulance or go to the hospital now if she said “It's time to go to the hospital.”
During this time, my mother delivered a few babies, and acquired an apprentice midwife named Lana. Lana lived in Sunland, a deserty suburb far north of the sprawl of Los Angeles-proper. We visited her there once, and she came to visit us in Venice a couple of times. We have photographs of her and my mother, both gorgeous women at the heights of their powers, with wise eyes and beautiful smiles.
While my mother was the essence of prepared and coolheaded in a crisis and had gifts for knowing how to make the pregnant women comfortable, keep labor moving, and help other members of the family feel useful and secure, Lana had another gift that to me seemed perhaps less pragmatic but was no less intriguing: she read palms.
Lana held our hands, looking closely at them, seeing the lines hatching a different set of patterns on each one. She described how the shapes and planes and intersections of lines predicted our fates as if our hands had each been inscribed at our births and we were each simply following our own hand-maps into the future.
I never saw Lana again after our few visits, but some of the things she said have stayed with me ever since. Like Hari, I feel Lana saw us, for who we were, what we had been through, and what we could become.
Lana said to me, “You are innocent. You have seen terrible things, but you will always have an innocence about you. You will never lose that sweetness.”
I will always be grateful to Lana for saying these things to me at that time, just before I set off and became independent. Her words gave me glimmers of hope for the renewal of my soul and openness of my heart in moments when darkness pulled me downward and muted my color and voice. Lana, I hope you know that you helped us so much, even though I feel we hardly got to know you.