During a recent trip to Kansas I had a few  hours to kill before my flight.  Browsing an airport  bookstores the Atlantic magazine caught my eye due to the compelling front cover which read:

                                   The Case for Reparations

Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.

 

     Nestled in the middle seat of a Southwest plane, I opened the magazine and poured over this lengthy piece that gave astonishing testimony to the realities of racism in America.  I could hear mutterings from wary readers that “slavery was a long time ago and Jim Crow is dead” or “African Americans need to move on. ”  Like the tragedy of the Holocaust—moving on requires reparations, acknowledgements from the persecutors to the persecuted that indicates not only a disdain for the past but a plan for the future.  Yes, slavery and human trafficking is no longer legal and laws preventing racial discrimination have been written but prejudice sentiments remain.  They simply went underground and donned a disguise.

      What struck me about this article was the rippling effect slavery has had on the African American race and on America in general.  One such glaring upshot was fair housing was limited to whites only. The author, Ta-Nehis Coates,  writes in this gut wrenching article; “Blacks were herded into the sights of unscrupulous lenders who took them for money and for sport.   Families were robbed of land that was rightfully theirs.  Land that had been paid for and farmed was within a day’s notice yanked away.  African American families were also evicted from homes they bought under contracts that unbeknownst to them were falsified.  Creating bogus contracts became big business by whites.  Black families were bamboozled; told they owed more than the amount of the agreed mortgage or handed mysterious property taxes with an impossible price tag. These contracts were scams that charged high interests and were exempt from any laws but there was no alternative or recourse.  F.H. A. loans were not available to black families.  And if a person missed one payment; they seized the property no questions asked and all of the money that had been invested up until that time (which included hefty down payments) was confiscated with no ramifications for the crooks and their contracts. 

 

     “This was hardly unusual. In 2001, the Associated Press published a three-part investigation into the theft of black-owned land stretching back to the antebellum period. The series documented some 406 victims and 24,000 acres of land valued at tens of millions of dollars. The land was taken through means ranging from legal chicanery to terrorism. “Some of the land taken from black families has become a country club in Virginia,” the AP reported, as well as “oil fields in Mississippi” and “a baseball spring training facility in Florida.”

 

     Restrictive covenants created by the Federal Housing Association were deemed illegal in the late forties and early fifties but like many of our laws that are left to interpretation, this didn’t translate to enforcement.  Whites were encouraged to keep their neighborhoods segregated at all costs. If you sold to a Negro you were terrorized.  Groups of Catholics and Christians formed a membership in Chicago that using scare tactics drove any ethnic group other than whites, out.  Coates recounts: “On July 1 and 2 of 1946, a mob of thousands assembled in Chicago’s Park Manor neighborhood, hoping to eject a black doctor who’d recently moved in. The mob pelted the house with rocks and set the garage on fire. The doctor moved away.”  Neighborhoods where black families lived were propagandized “undesirable” plummeting property values and promoting the great white flight.  A vestige of slavery, the outcomes of unfair housing has yet to be rectified.  And here in lies the crux of this article, which I recommend every American  read (it is available online) that we cannot pretend restitution has been made.  We as a country need to keep this conversation alive not for the sake of lingering in the past but in order for healing to truly happen, reparations need to be made.

 

As a white female, I have no idea what it feels like to be condemned for the color of my skin.  My neighbor, Charlie, does.  He is a delightful African American man who was raised in Georgia.  He is a Vietnam veteran, a seasoned carpenter, and has been married for thirty-seven years to a wonderful white woman whom he  “adores.”   Charlie will only divulge his past experiences when I hound him (which is frequent).  It is a past fraught with slavery as his mother picked cotton as a child and worked all of her life for a white family as a domestic.  During one of many of our conversations, Charlie recalls being served supper, as a child,  from the backdoor of the main house and was forbidden to enter any other way. On the backs of those that toiled in the fields, southern whites benefitted financially.  Charlie claims he harbors no resentment towards any one.  He rose above the chains of segregation bought a house here in California and raised a family.  But he notices things; things such as the gentrification of the neighborhood or they dwindling number of African Americans on his street.   

 

     A few years ago when I lived in Philly and taught for DeVry University I had several students who were from the projects; their family destitute yet they were clawing their way out of a destructive cycle of poverty and limited choices.  One young man in my speech class recited a poem that brought me to tears.  “I Can’t Read.”  The poet spoke of being pushed through the system for his skills in basketball but still he couldn’t pick up a book and read.  It was a reflective piece of work that gives pause to the deep-seated issue of race, reparations, and the flagrant need for repair.  It was a smack of realism tossed in my face.  I thought of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; how the hell are you going to care about an education when you’re hungry or living in a place over run with vermin and drugs.  It’s not enough to say oh geez that’s too bad, or geez those people are disgusting how could they live that way and yes how can they!   A paralysis as pervasive as a pandemic has settled into generations.  Of course the same can be said for any ethic group that trudged to America but the difference--families were not shredded by slavery.  Fathers or mothers or children were not sold off and never seen again.

      As my plane began its descent, I was still engrossed in the contents of this article.  I wondered where do we begin?  I thumbed over the claims of Coates that “Liberals today mostly view racism not as an active, distinct evil but as a relative of white poverty and inequality. They ignore the long tradition of this country actively punishing black success—and the elevation of that punishment, in the mid-20th century, to federal policy. President Lyndon Johnson may have noted in his historic civil-rights speech at Howard University in 1965 that “Negro poverty is not white poverty.” But his advisers and their successors were, and still are, loath to craft any policy that recognizes the difference.”   Perhaps it is in the most basic of places we need to start that of our own consciousness and cognition.  Realization of how the past continues to influence the present.    Perhaps it is in the re-writing of history to include the African Americans that paved the way for not only freedom but for advancement side by side the portrait of racism.  Like all communication problems, if there is no discourse there is no resolution.  Reparation may not lie in finger pointing and resentment but it does lie in fessing up to the damage and to ending blatant disregard for equality.   We may not have been the owner of slaves but we may be the owner of residual attitudes.  All races have their nuances and that is what makes for cultural diversity and the rich tapestry we call America.  But there lies an inherent elephant in the room if we as a country continue to tiptoe around the issue of race and reparations.  If we stand around and watch a person get bullied and do nothing—how does that distinguish us from the bully? 

 

 

 

 Blog Post What the Heck is Going on Around Here? has been updated.

Karen Devaney
Children's books, novels, poetry, plays, short stories, blogs

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BLOG POST BY KAREN DEVANEY - APR.25.2014 - 1:11 PM

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 The latest new alcohol trend has me perplexed—how can a country with the worst social health care (and educational system) in the industrialized world approve powdered alcohol?   Why not powderize McDonalds or Kentucky Fried Chicken?  Shoot—while they’re at it—whip up an all in one concentrate that gives you nasty fat, jacks up your bad cholesterol,  gives you diabetes in a week but---is screaming delicious.  I suppose the dummy down syndrome has trickled into the Alcohol and Tobacco Bureau.  There are over 29 million Americans living with Type II diabetes, 12 million with addiction disorders (or 1 in 12 people) yet we continue to create innovative ways to sabotage our health and keep people poor and ignorant.   

It is not that I am a teetotaler by any means; I live in wine country where I partake in the gift of the grapes.  My objection to the crystalized booze is why are we spending time and research on this? The finances required to reduce liquid into powder could have been spent on curing what ails not only the U.S.A. but the world; poverty, hunger and a host of other degrading health and educational issues.  Let’s face it greed is the driving factor behind this new poisonous concoction.  This new powder not only can be reconstituted it can also be snorted—regardless that this is not advised since when do people heed warnings. If it is snorted the person becomes inebriated immediately. I suppose snorters of illicit drugs will be grateful for not having to linger through the digestive system.  But for the misinformed first timer this could lead to death. 

Although I consider myself a liberal person—open to new theories and approaches to problems—this new party prop beguiles me.  What sort of chemical is used to create the seven flavors of the Kool Aid like packet of alcohol?  How much easier is it for under aged drinkers to access it—hiding a packet can be a slip in a pocket.  What about places where alcohol is forbidden—how will it be monitored?  Again—all these questions really are irrelevant to the greedy manufactures who are pushing yet another product that does nothing to increase our health, intelligence, or our spirits.  In fact—it is depressing that the battle to ward the constant bombardment of excess is interminable.

We should all brace ourselves for a new battalion of marketers to corner us with ads explaining how delicious the unique Palcohol cosmos are.  Happy hours will take on a new look as the waitress brings you a sampler similar to tea.  “Here you go—please discard your empties in the small mini recycle containers on your table.”    The Palcohol website suggests new dishes that can be doused with alcohol without changing the taste;  kamikaze guacamole salad.  There is an enormous concern (among the stunned and dubious) over the number of packets used to constitute one drink.  Teenagers who are already at risk for misusing alcohol can easily dump more packets in one drink and up the effects four fold.  Neat—a new issue to deal with Palcohol abuse.

 

My sincere hope is that someone in the Alcohol and Tobacco industry wakes up from their delusions of grandeur.  We need positive forward thinking changes—how about shutting down the fast food industry that has graced us with clogged arteries and obesity.  Or how about teaching Shakespeare to fourth graders, anatomy and physiology to middle graders, and bring rigor back to the high schools.  Why not be militant about young people going to college—make it accessible funnel the money saved on junk production.  Palcohol smalcohol—please can we take our eyes off the almighty dollar long enough to recognize disaster. 

 

 

What I Don't Like about Profit Colleges

 

Remember the infamous tale of the little girl skipping with her basket to Grandmother’s and is lured by the conniving wolf? (Why is it always a “little girl” that is bamboozled)?  Replace the wolf with for profit colleges and Little Red with students.  Although that basically sums up this blog; let me expound.  And let me say that not all for profits are as inveigling as the wolf.  Many employ quality teachers that sincerely care about their students and their education.  Many do not.  Similar to a swindling car salesman (never saleswomen) for profit colleges will promise the moon to close the deal.  When the car blows up down the street—the false claims go with it.

 Being new to higher education it has been challenging to find a teaching gig. ((I am a registered nurse that followed my passion for theatre then returned to college for a M.F.A. in Creative Writing).  At long last I landed a post in Philadelphia after teaching one semester on-line for the University of Phoenix—king of the wolves by the way.  University of Phoenix is pre-programed attempting any creativity is punishable by death.  Robots could teach for that place.  My husband agreed to relocate with much fretting and hesitation.  I won’t lambaste or name the Philly for profit as most of the professors I worked with were gifted educators.  The hybrid style of classes appealed to me.  Four hours in class a week, the rest online.  I taught Composition, Speech, Communications, and beginning writing courses.  Once a week I traveled to NYC to teach at their campus as well.  The students were diverse and many embraced their studies; many but not all.  What is the problem then?  High costs , think a first class trip around the world and lowered expectations; think never being able to get out of the plane.

In addition, there are no admission standards—okay fine.  But shouldn’t students at least have to know the difference between there, their, and they’re?  The chipper admissions counselor serenades  the under-prepared student (who barely graduated high-school) with soothing lyrics; “How wonderful it will be for you to graduate.  Your job opportunities will soar.”   In the mean-time the professor is expected to reel this remedial student onto shore.  I am to save her/him from the fate of failure that the college profiteers have generously set them up for while  they wave from the banks.  Setting up a student who has lived with disappointment, poverty, disadvantages all of their lives is cruel and disgusting.  Scrooge like, the for profit colleges have corporate mentality—they are motivated purely by the clinging of coins in their bank accounts.  Remorse is as foreign to them as the wolf in the story.  Who pays for their fat paychecks--the students who could not afford higher education in the first place?  Students who slave working several jobs, go to school, and find time for family.

 

My husband whined like a laboring moose during the two years on the east coast taking a breath only after we relocated to the west.  Back in California once again I found myself applying for college teaching positions.  Alas, I succumbed to yet another for profit-college desperate to stack my Vita aspiring to one day grace the classroom of a non-profit University.  Perhaps this is my fate; perhaps I’m the patron saint of rapacious schools riding in to save students from dire incompetence. Waving my "Get a Conscious  banner in front of  corporate noses.  This particular company as per the business has better marketers than they do programs.  But, despite their slipshod ethics and deplorable pay; I am there because I love to teach.  These students deserve a top notch education—they have invested not only their finances but their lives.  Shuffling books, babies, and jobs in order to graduate.  A polar opposite of the corporate’s focus that is not about the student's experience but rather the rise in their stock values.  The corporate slogans are high minded jargon backed by rhetoric steeped in the belief money is a man’s best friend. 

 Why bother to work in these colleges?  I meet students that are fodder for my convictions.  They are the majority of our country—hard working, sacrificing human beings that want to make a difference regardless if they were raised in the projects, have been profiled, or never thought higher education possible.  They have incredible histories from escaping a tyrannical country to being the first immigrant to go to college.  They deserve respect and educational equality—that is not left-over scraps from corporate greed.  The solution-- lower the costs for students and raise teacher salaries (thus decreasing the turn over rate)  pull off the corporate wolf suit and let Little Red do a victory dance.  Education like life is not a commodity.

 

  The Art of Make Believe

Since the age of five, I have indulged in make-believe; wrapping towels around my head transforming myself into a queen or a maiden or Rapunzel dangling from a castle window. Sheets transmuted into  exotic robes or forts or tents that you could only enter after reciting a secret code. I have not lost the ability to pretend and although I only wrap towels around my head after a shower and usually put sheets on a bed, make believe remains as essential as water to me.  It is a practical tool for pursuing a passion into reality; seeing yourself as the physician or musician stokes the fires of persistence.  Or in my case as a writer, performer the art of make believe leads me down sinuous alleys unseen by the naked eye. Imagination feeds my visions and dreams and lifts me out of the doldrums.  Make believe invents possibilities creates new realities amid what may appear irrational unfeasible. All too often society’s mantra is; “That’s not realistic.” when it comes to imaging the impossible defined as not practical or profitable.  But when you look at all the great artists, scientists, or philosophers—they all were/are practitioners of make believe asking the “what if” question and answering it against all odds.

These moments of what if’s come in a menagerie of sizes from the grandiose to the miniscule.  Seeing the change or the goal in the mind’s eye through imagination and make believe gives it energy momentum.  Using the imagination helps us problem solve through make believe scenarios.  In today’s frenetic society we have less and less time to imagine because the endless river of stimuli snatches our attention.  I have to consciously carve out imagination time—let my mind wander into the forest of make-believe. 

While growing up my father made up nightly bedtime stories while my mother blasted classical musical and lauded the theatre.  As a middle class family going to a live theatre or an orchestra production was hardly in the budget but we attended regularly in our imaginations.   The seeds were planted--I fell in love with it all music, theatre, writing, dance. My sister and I produced live shows complete with costumes (from the “dress-up” box) for our parents and friends.  Make believe is what brings prose and plays to life otherwise they would simply be words on a page.  It would not be practical to eliminate the art of make-believe; which I might add is not the same as being delusional!

Make believe or pretending on many occasions has gotten me to the place I want to be—literally.  When I was first studying theatre—although I had no experience—I had imagined myself many times on stage. I made believe I was confident regardless of my nervous system telling me otherwise and landed the leading female role in an enormous ensemble production.  Despite the harrowing first rehearsals, it was an exhilarating experience that forever changed the course my life.

As a children's writer make believe allows me to disguise messages in characters that are direct descendants of my imagination.  All children's writers--rely on their ability to see what is not there to let their mind run amuck as if in a waking dream state--where fish can sing, dogs talk, and elephants can fly around the world.  Make believe breaks down or introduces  challenging concepts for children--parable like.    

Make believe can take us to places long archived in time.  All of us have familial stories that are passed on mutating as they tumbled from one generation to another; some so embellished they are barely unrecognizable.  But the threads that link them to their essence remains no matter how exaggerated.  Imagination unveils stories that survived and allows us a glimpse of “what may have been.”  History relies on imagination and make believe—the pretending to be in a particular time give the writer the impetus to write about it.  It is impossible to really know what Shakespeare intended when he wrote Romeo & Juliet or what day to day life was like during The Merchants of Venice but through speculation and imagination we interpret.

Create a make-believe tradition; when my daughters were younger the night before their birthdays I'd slather the living room with balloons and crepe paper. When they awoke surprised and elated, I told them “It was the birthday Elves.”  They loved it and plan to carry this on when they have their own children (eek let’s hope that is not for a long time!).  I say it is time to bring back the art of make-believe let it roam free again in our modern society that is bogged down with constant googling and fact finding.  Let our children develop not merely math skills but their imaginations as well.  Rather than more why not less—why not indulge in making forts out of sheets and cardboard boxes or wrapping towels for crowns—cut the bonds that chain us to computer games and numbing stimuli.  Make believe can cure sadness, teach, entertain,  and bring world peace—if we only imagine.

 The Christmas Shaker


 
 This past week a bit of magic floated by and landed on a simple egg shaped shaker.  Let me explain.  I had organized a Christmas caroling event at several senior centers where I live.  It had been a while since I fa la la’d with a group but I was desperate.  Desperate to combat the corrosive commercialization of Christmas.  There is no profit in caroling unless merriment is marketable and I’m sure some crafty financier could find a way.  But our small scruffy troupe of singers was strictly pro-bono.  A musician friend of mine brought his paraphernalia; a tambourine, shakers, and music.  We sang our hearts out and the instruments were a huge hit.  He let me use them for the day as he had a wedding and couldn’t make the later times.   Our final destination was a large facility with many of the patients in the throes of dementia, much like the other earlier facilities.  When I handed the shaker to a lively resident singing with verve; she shook it like a salsa singer her arms waving in all directions.   Evelyn better known as “Eve” wiggled in her wheelchair while belting out each carol.  She knew every stanza by memory.  We the singers mind, you had to refer to our printed lyrics—it had been a while. 
The room was packed full of faces remembering songs they sang in yesteryears.  Despite wheelchairs, catheters, and the grey walls of an institution, the residents sang through their memory loss-- some with smiles others with tears.  Silent Night was a favorite and we sang it twice—each time the room rang out with voices that often rarely speak.  After singing for about forty minutes—it was time to go.  We went around and said good-byes and many of the Elders grabbed our hands and whispered “God bless. Thank you.” It was difficult not to cry—I thought about how isolated we are in this society and vowed silently to visit again. Then Eve asked with her sweet southern drawl “What girl scout troop ya’ll from?”  I wasn’t sure if she was serious or not but I laughed and thanked her for the compliment. She insisted though and one of the singers chirped “troop 45”. Eve laughed and slapped her palms together. We waved one last farewell and the room became a flurry of wheelchairs lining up for the trip back to their rooms. 
A few days later while returning the instruments to my gracious friend, I realized I’d left the egg shaker with Eve.  When I called the facility they reported they had not seen it but I was welcomed to stop in and look for it.  A few hours later I walked into the room where we had sung and spotted Eve right away.  She was cutting out green paper wreaths with a few of the other residents.  When she saw me her face lit up.  “I didn’t know what girl scout troop to call.  I have your little black egg. Let’s go get it.”  She quickly whipped her wheel chair away from the table and despite being in a hurry, I followed.  We got to her room and there lie the little shaker on a dresser beside a plethora of dated black and white pictures.  When I asked about the photos a silent film grew a voice.
Like a seasoned actress taking the stage, Eve grew tall in her wheelchair as she was transported back in time.  “Oh that is me in Paris before the war.  I was a fashion designer—Paris didn’t notice my color you know I made the finest dresses in Paris and come Christmas everywhere I looked women were wearing one my dresses.”  I told Eve how impressed I was and told her I can’t even sew a button on.”  She laughed.  I asked her more about Paris.
 
“Hmm, well Paris at Christmas-- sizzlin. Songs and celebrations--they started December 6th on St Nicklaus day—did you know there really was a St Nick?”  I said I did but it was as if Eve were talking to an unseen audience she ignored my answer and carried on. “Shoot St Nicklaus was a generous man lived oh back a long time ago.  He was a priest but before that his parents had died while he was very young you see and he inherited a lot of money—but didn’t keep a lick for hisself—did you ever hear about the gold in the shoes?”  I said no although I had and Eve continued.  “Well back in St Nickolas’ day see a girl had to have a dowry or else she’d be sold into slavery.  And there was this poor daddy he had three gorgeous girls- but no money for a dowry and soon they’d be all sold.  He cried and begged and low and behold… St Nick in the disguise of dark threw gold into those girls’ shoes that were drying out on the hearth.  That’s where the tale of stockings comes from.  Some say it was balls of gold that landed in those shoes that’s why my mother always put oranges in our stockings and hung a gold Christmas ball on the tree—a dedication of sorts.” 
Eve paused and I took my opportunity to ask her how she had gotten back to America.  I wondered how we veered so far from the origins of the conversation.  “Oh I moved to New York when the war was beginning.  I met my husband Harry there. He bumped into me while walking down Madison Avenue.  It was Christmas and snowing to beat the band.  We ducked into a diner for a cup of coffee waited for the snow to ease up.  Then we walked looking at all the pretty shops they was decorated so nicely.   We got married six months later.  I missed Paris real bad but there was no going back not with the war and all.  America didn’t favor designers like me—not like Paris.  But Harry bought me a little shop and we did alright—I kept on making dresses—sort a like an underground thing ya see. Come Christmas though—we had a flurry of business mind ya.”
I felt as if I was in a time warp hearing the sounds of the city and I asked Eve to tell me more about Christmas back then.   “Oh it was magic-- a feeling of excitement stirring the air and well it was as if you stepped off life’s merry-go-round for a few weeks.  Folks greetin one another, presents were simple homemade most of em.  My mama used to make all sorts of delicious treats. I tried but I was better at making dresses mind you.” Eve paused for a moment as if reflecting on her words and there was a shift in her demeanor.  She asked me to hand her a tube of lipstick sitting next to the egg shaker.  She pursed her mouth and applied the ruby red color then continued.   “Harry and I live in New York I wonder where he is he is usually not this late.  We have to get our Christmas tree.  I hope he’s not out drinking with the boys.”
At that very moment a nursing assistant popped his head in the room. “Eve you have to come to dinner now.”  I smiled and nodded cueing him that I was leaving.
Eve patted her lap and turned to me “Now what girl scout troupe did you say you are from dear?” then she winked.  I smiled back wondering where she was or which one of us was hoodwinked. We said our goodbyes and I grabbed the little shaker that led me through the archives of a life and back.  When I told her I would return as I wanted more stories she said matter of fact she may not be here; “When Harry gets home we’re going back to Paris dear.”   I looked around at the stark room, the yellowing linoleum floor and thought for her sake, I hope she gets there soon.

Then and Now; A Holiday Challenge

I am all for progress that facilitates growth while remembering the past.  But after glancing at news the day after Thanksgiving hope for time honored traditions seemed bleak.  Bleary eyed shoppers clamoring at steel bars demanding the stores open reminded me of starvation victims begging for food.  It was eerily pathetic and prophetic watching the Black Friday hullabaloo, an Armageddon for holidays to come.  I imagined the ghost of Thanksgiving future will be a drive-by Starbucks for a pre-made turkey and stuffing sandwich then on to the conveyor of stores to shop until you need another hit of caffeine, which you can drink from water fountain like stations.  No more smells from the kitchen no more giving of thanks no more taking time to gather—the face of Turkey day will be a store gazing extravaganza!  Children will be careened into massive daycares, learn corporate songs and slogans.  They will be fed stories about how the mighty Target and Wal-Mart saved Thanksgiving.  This holiday needs our support before it chokes on the infringing materialism that is suffocating all semblance of tradition. 

What about Thanksgiving past?  Will it be buried in the land of legends or worse forever forgot.  Will corporations spread propaganda about the dangers of celebrating the old fashion way—eeks—would it one day be out lawed punishable by death.  “You heretic how dare you cook your own organic turkey and creamed onions.  Why are you not shopping?”  I fear for the generations to come that they will no longer know what it felt like to make construction paper turkeys with your hands.  Or help prepare a family recipe of yams. 
The demise of Thanksgiving is insidious its ebb and flow hoodwinked by corporate America.  Yet this holiday in its raw essence is the holiday that unifies.  I say we un-hood ourselves and take back our traditions boycott stores and take to the woods.  Thanksgiving is the one holiday we can all agree on.  There are no restrictions or club memberships—you don’t have to be ordained into any political, religious, or social society to gather and celebrate blessings.  And after all that is the crux of Thanksgiving—even the name eludes its origins of acknowledging our blessings.
Counting ones blessings is perspective oriented and therein lays its vulnerability. One hundred years ago people gave thanks merely for the food they had no matter how small or great the amount. Now obesity demands super-sizing and the need for more is as potent as herion.  But as I mentioned in the beginning of this blog—I believe in progress with a point.  Counting of blessings may be spending the day with friends eating a vegetarian meal or going for a hike and then grubbing on a pot luck supper.  These mutations from the traditional Thanksgiving keep the vein of giving thanks alive.  Running down aisles looking for bargains bears no salutation to Thanksgiving’s heritage.     
Where will it end?  As a child, I remember the anticipation of Thanksgiving was terrific.  I went to a school with students from around the globe that were now living in America—and we linked hands in song and pageants.  It was a delightful time of being with family—and believe me I realize this may be painful for many adults.  But as a child I was oblivious to political differences or festering resentments as I was delirious with the smells emitting from my grandmothers kitchen.  My father insisted on a hike before the meal and it became our custom.  No stores not even food stores were open you merely gathered with family and friends.  As my girls grew older we hosted misfits Thanksgivings.  Friends and friends of their friends who had nowhere to go came to our house for dinner.  I began my own traditions such as making homemade pumpkin soup and serving it in a carved out pumpkin.  Simplicity and laughter abounded.  The day after, we go for a bike ride—not a mall.
 
As we enter into the holiday seasons, I call for all of us to take a step back into the past and find ways to save our holidays from the sneering corporations who keep their doors open to increase their profits. Children need a reprieve from the continual onslaught of modern demands.  Take them back into that enchanted world of cultural traditions.  I believe we need to protect our holidays from the so called progress corporate mentality shoves in our faces.  Take to the hills the by ways and rivers—reclaim your power to step away from stores as you bask in the refreshing light of merely being together in celebration.  













Marriage:  A Reflection of an Anniversary


Yesterday was my wedding anniversary—and I thought what better way to celebrate than writing a blog about it!  After ten years as a couple we decided it was time to deepen our commitment.  We took a leap of faith and viola here we are in our fourth year.  It has been four years of heaven and hell, growth and destruction, frustration and joy.   Like life there are valleys and summits each with their unique vista points and lessons.  To expect a perpetual state of romantic bliss is to set yourself up for potential treason and disenchantment.  It is the choices that are to be relished.   Those choices that sustain unity and the ability to survive assaults and to avoid the temptation to seek refuge elsewhere.  In today’s modern world commitment is considered un- posh.  The constant barrage of “what’s in it for me” syndrome can make married life feel more like a game of chess, strategic, calculating, than a  palpable practice.  And that is really what marriage is—a practice that like playing an instrument gets better with time and patience.  

My husband, Scotty, and I are incredibly different and innately similar.  That sounds like a mouthful of contraries and it is.  He is tall, I am short, he is a born and bred Californian, I’m from outside of Philly.  He loves motorcycles and racing—I despise them.  Oops I am trying to be more diplomatic and compromising on that topic; er they are not my preference.  I am a writer he barely pens a sentence.  He is an accomplished artist, I draw stick figures.  This is not a classic case of opposites attract though.  For it is the artist in both of us that recognizes the  similarities we share.  It is the passion for the palette the story the color and the words on a page that connects us on an artistic level that surpasses the obstacles.

As a writer, I often read to my husband that which I have authored—to get his impression and feedback.  He does the same for me with his art.  He has taught me about shades and shadows and how to decipher an oil from an acrylic.  In turn he has learned about prose and poetry and the lyrical sound of metaphors.  There is a camaraderie in viewing the world through art forms it is our plateau that we can escape to when trying to figure out  life.  Art like a marriage is always changing shape, taking on a new look, playing out in various scenarios.  Remembering this helps us realize that even the turbulent times will change as well.

The tedium of daily life bores both of us.  We are not huge routine lovers; although we do our best to maintain those that are essential.   We are goofy and immature at times like when we go  mountain biking to see who can get the muddiest or playing ping pong naked or making love in the middle of the woods during a hike.  At other times we are downright saps sobbing at pictures of our old dog, Jess, or dancing to our wedding song in the kitchen with tearful fondness. To break through the mundane we love to escape into nature and drink in the sense of freedom and connection that mother nature so generously provides. 

There were dreadful dark times that I thought would rip us apart for good.  But the artist and the child and the lover would pull us back to that place where we could negotiate and come to a profounder understanding of the other and the situation.  So I say that anniversaries are about that choice to bridge the gaps to focus not on what is absent but what could be-- to reinvest in the partnership.  We toasted all the hilarious times we shared and how far we have come from.  When we met I was raising my two wonderful daughters while he was skateboarding and surfing as often as he could.  He was the first guy though to ask me on a date to watch the sunset and to encourage  my theatre and dance and writing.  We managed though to pull out and honor the artist in one another, to take Sunday drives and dream, to cherish those moments, no matter how fleeting, of complete connected-ness.  We shared a day of anniversary bliss that will carry us through until the next time a hurdle shows up at the door.  But heck, that hurdle will merely give us more practice in the art of marriage and to leaping back into the safety of love and commitment

Labor Day, Moving, and Syria

A few weekends ago as we all know was Labor Day, a time that marks the end of summer and the starting of a new school year.  For many of us, not all, Labor Day marks the time when warm weather will succumb to cooler temperatures while the trees and vineyards transform into bouquets of orange, red, and yellow.  The harvest moons will hang in the chilly autumn air as the gathering of grapes and the spoils of summer gets underway.  Ah, such a poetic holiday but with it this year came a move and memories of times gone by. 

My husband and I along with gracious friends helped us move this weekend, which is never a romantic or poetic activity.  Lugging boxes labeled kitchen I thought about how much I loved autumn for its seasonal beauty but dreaded the returning of my kids to the school regime.  Our new place has loads of trees and as the wind rustled the leaves I recalled trying to squeeze in as much summer laziness with my daughters as possible before having to check spelling and grumble at lessons I felt were not important (I will save that for another blog).  That familiar sadness would come over me when they donned their new school clothes and trotted off to be with a person I barely knew.

All of this reminiscing led me to thoughts of the women in Syria and their children.  What rituals are they mourning as they flee or take cover from the mayhem?  How devastating to  be thrown into survival mode; no time to tell a story or share a laugh let alone think about school and homework and how to make ends meet.  How do they explain what is happening and why to their children?  I thought about the times I failed my girls in one way or another and sometimes wish I could do it all over (with a different husband and more insight of course).  The mothers of Syria would have to make difficult choices—ones most of us here in the states can’t fathom.  I feel a deep empathy for these women and all women who are the victims of decisions made by egomaniacal men--sorry guys but historicallly speaking you dominate as war mongers.

Both pontificating and moving are exhausting.  I couldn’t wait to sit down stare at the fluttering leaves and sip a glass of wine.  In other words, escape.  But for many escape from a harsh reality is not possible.  And I wondered what I could do to help.  I have my own set of challenges at the moment that I will refrain from discussing because in truth they are minuscule in comparison to global concerns.  I have done my share of counseling though and realize my concerns are important as well but I can put them in perspective.  That is the only thing I can offer at the moment—perspective.  Cherish the blessings, we found a place to live when it seemed futile.  And although we had little furniture, it happened that a friend was leaving for Spain for a year and needed a babysitter for her furniture.  (We had given ours away when we moved back to California from Philly).

 

Again, my thoughts drifted back to the women of Syria.  I imagined their exodus leaving memories and valuables behind gathering only their children and families to an unknown destiny.  I am trying to take time to meditate on peace for them and their country although I realize this does little for their immediate needs.  It is all madness, senseless, another time in history that will mar the lives of the innocent.  As I write this blog I am sitting under an old maple and the evening breeze is beginning to pick up.  Our move is over, my girls, now graduated from college,  are safe but the wars around us rage on.  

The irony that Labor Day was created to honor the American worker back in the 19th century is that now we, the working peole, are being snuffed out by elitist attitudes that have clapsed our economy and stimulated wars.  As the autumn winds bring a change in season may we also look at new ways to bring world peace without the muscle of bombs and chemicals.  I am not naive to the horrific danger of chemical warfare and the need to nip it before it spreads but let us not continue to react again and again like bullies in a sandbox.

 

 Yikes A Week Without Internet



Yikes, a week without internet—how will I survive such a nightmare? Due to a recent move and a mix up with the diabolical Comcast monopoly my home internet would not be available for a week or so.  It was the “or so” that concerned me. After the jitters wore off I regained my composure and created a plan.  I decided I would use the no internet time to write more as I would be less distracted with incidental emails and mindless web-surfing (all in the name of research mind you).  With a new found verve for less interruption I began the week blocking out sections of time for neglected projects and setting defined writing goals—that were reasonable. I would then use the nearby Starbucks (with grave reluctance) for sending finished work and keeping up on necessary emails.

It was a pathetic start I must admit.  Pining over not being able to check a fact at the drop of a click was irritating.  Pre internet I merely would have gone to the library and looked it up.  It became obvious to me that my concentration had been diluted with frequent intermissions.  Answering emails immediately was impossible (no I don’t own an iphone and my android is too lethargic to pen a proper response).  I found myself making lists of things I needed to attend to once at the Starbucks which by the way I realized is merely a glorified McDonalds filled with large people ordering sugar laden coffee drinks and a premade something or other.  I bought the only healthy thing in there, a little green drink that was five dollars.  People stared—see what I mean about my focus?

Finally midweek I settled into writing without worrying about who Facebooked or tweeted me.  I still checked on my phone but waited to reply until the writing was complete.  With all the marvels internet has gifted me, I realized it also has stolen.  It has snuck away with my time.  Time that I would have perhaps simply sat in conversation or indulged a daydream or spent reading or listening to KPFA rather than checking what the seas in Iceland are up to.  Conversations and stories fuel my writing along with good ole ingenuity.   Google kidnapped  part of my imagination but I have paid the ransom and want it back.

This has been a week of perspective and relearning to live without the immediacy of the net.  I think therein lies the real issue.  The conditioning of getting instantaneous results made patience a thing of the past—at least I have found this to be true in my case. To cultivate patience one needs to wait.  Between phones and computers we are in permaplug in mode and I don’t think this is natural.  Computers have shrunk our distance from one another but only on the condition that we relinquish our time.  We work longer hours now because we can.  The internet makes life easier and harder all in one—unless we put a limit on it.  Tame it—let it know who is boss.  I am not a politician why do I need news updates every fifteen minutes—enough!

Miracles happened this week with no internet (or cable).  My husband and I star gazed and talked more than we normally do about dreams and desires and fears that often go unspoken.  We danced in the living room and made love on the deck (there are no neighbors behind us).  There was a fantastic sense of freedom.  But sigh not for I have not morphed into a Pollyanna; soon I will be plugged back into the world of cyberspace with all of its conveniences and distortions of reality.  Internet definitely has amazing benefits—such as working remotely (which I currently do) and online college courses.  But like all things good—there are limits.  Let’s face it, Vitamin C is good for you but too much of it gives you the runs.  So I made a pledge to put boundaries on my net use to begin each day not with checking emails but meditating and being grateful and to be mindful of not overfilling my mind with useless computer chatter.  I think on a regular basis I will challenge myself and say no to the net—if even just for a day.  That way I will feel refreshed and centered—and running like the high speed after a cleanup.  If you are too frightened of trying this alone, there are now adult camps where nothing electronic is allowed.  You would be safe and supported with others trying to reconnect within.

To be Gay or Not to be--Is that the Question?

My husband and I were recently at a bar discussing with strangers the latest ruling for gay couples; the right for their marriages to be recognized.  I figured with the 4th of July holiday at our heels this ties into the celebration of freedom.  Which got me wondering, freedom for whom?  For all Americans or only those who can either afford to pay or who were fortunate enough to be born into it?  Freedom to be who you were created to be or is this elusive freedom merely for those who play by religious and/or societal rules?  Listening to various patron remarks I was struck by several in particular: “The bible says…” and “What makes people turn gay?”

Wow! What “makes” a person’s eyes blue, or their fingers chubby, or ears tone deaf?  I have my grandmother’s dimple, my father’s optimism, and my mother’s skin.  Did I choose these characteristic?  Of course not! I was simply born with them.  What makes a person attracted to the same sex is the same that makes a person attracted to the opposite sex.  Stop asking people to deny or change how they were created—it is as impossible as willing myself taller (without high heels).

This obsession with uniformity negates the definition of freedom does it not? The American myth is that this country was founded on tolerance.  But tolerance to whom?  Case in point, the American Indians—their sacred rituals and totems were viewed as worshipping the devil, savage.  These practices did not align themselves with other man made rules such as Christian rites and religions.  Society played God or god however you see it and deemed the Indian lifestyle in need of reform.   Tribal life was misunderstood and therefore ineligible for the same freedoms.  Gay couples wanting to express their love through marriage are a right of expression.

The Bible says a lot of things and there is no one on this planet let alone here in America that takes it all literally.  The old and new testaments are interpreted and their interpretations have transformed over the centuries.  They are dynamic and religions pick and choose which biblical mandates to follow.  Depending on the religion and the sector--the rules are malleable.  In the Catholic Church women cannot be priest while Episcopalian women can.  Both are Christian religions.  The biblical argument that Gay couples are not to marry because it says so in the bible is bunk.   Here’s a “law” we don’t follow: 

    Deuteronomy 25:11-12
If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.    

Thank goodness that one is not followed to the letter not that I would randomly grab a man’s crotch but in case my husband needed me—my hand would at least be intact.

     So, how does all of this pontificating lead me back to the 4th of July? It is our right as American’s to fight not only for our freedom but for our humanity.  In order to do this we cannot forget the past or leave out pertinent details that are analogous to contemporary conflicts.  Let us be grateful for the freedoms we have but let us also keep injustice in the conversations and forge forward to break down barriers of oppression.  Let us fight for those who can’t fight for themselves and remind ourselves that our history is marred but as Americans we have the ability to change. Let’s raise our flags and be proud that as Americans we can protest, demonstrate, and shout from soapboxes and treetops. 

My husband and I payed our bill and parted ways before I accidently punched someone for which I would have abnegated my sanity and appeal to reason.  I ended our conversation with a sarcastic "I think the bible forbids drunken and disorderly behavior" just in case they planned another round. And as far as marriage and partnership, may we drop our self- righteousness and remember that love is tolerant and with that we can all agree no matter who we love or how we worship.

 


 
 

  Health Care or Sick Care- Honestly!

 

I am baffled by the pure semantics of the phrase “Health Care.” It seems logical this term should denote health and the sustaining of.  Yet, here in America we (at least I and the other working class folks I know) receive what I like to refer to as “Sick Care” and that is not the “that’s sick dude” meaning radical, cool sick.  Frugal minded insurance companies prefer to pay for a lopping off of a limb or a removal of organs rather than funding alternative methods to treat the actual dis-ease. Pathology mandates treatments; symptoms lead the pharmaceutical crusade to rid the world of any natural balance and to restore illness to the lowly and the downtrodden to ensure stupefied subjects stumble around in a haze. We do not have to be rendered victims. Demanding insurance pays for all alternative treatments and implementing pro-health preventive programs are two ways to enhance (or diabolically destroy) the conventional kingdom.

I am tired, as many others are, of complaining about this when there are viable options to bring back the original significance of Health Care.  Do you recall the tearing down of the Berlin Wall?  The power of the German people who said enough!  Why can’t we as Americans storm the wall of perpetual pathology that keeps the pharmaceuticals vacationing in Biarritz?  Instigate a system that empowers health—health being homeostasis of the mind, body, spirit all in perfect harmony.  I realized as a writer and one who has experienced firsthand the side effects of conventional healthcare both as a professional and as a patient; I have an obligation to speak out.  Empower people/patients to treat their health or conditions as an individual.  Rather than proclaiming a diagnosis and then treatment plan based on the doctor’s perspective, base treatment on the patient’s experiences.  In other words, rather than referencing only the textbook symptomology and prescribing standards; listen to how each person has experienced a state of health or dis-ease.

Here is an example of what I’m talking about; take diabetes there are two types but those two types look different in each individual.  Applying a cookie cutter regime for every single diabetic leads to disaster and frustration.  What if mental illness was handled this way?  Not all depression or schizophrenia or neurosis manifests exactly the same way across the board—treatment has to be unique, individualized.  Healthcare providers need to form collaborative relationships with people encouraging them to be part of the holistic team that restores balance, rewards proactive behavior and establishes prevention as the key component.

I have Type I diabetes and have managed my disease despite the interference of so called specialists who have tried to scare me.  “You’ll lose your eyesight, your feet, your nose will fall off if you don’t do as I say.”  I have been accused of “cheating” when my glucose is high, which such accusations enrage me, which then cause the stress hormones to flair and my blood sugar to fly to the moon.  The last thing any patient needs is to be scolded and shamed—especially on a one time test.  As long as my A1C is good and overall my glucose is controlled back off.  Long ago I sought refuge in alternative therapies.  Insulin is only a small piece of the homeostatic equation—I do not define myself by my diabetes.  Rather, I blend the conventional with the nonconventional.  Insulin (my doses are low because of diet and exercise), supplements, meditation, dance, sex, spirituality interact on my inner theatre and each has a starring role. Why can’t massage, yoga, meditation, herbs aromatherapy be taught to endocrinologists?  And people lest we forget the Native proverb; “You cannot judge another unless you have walked in their moccasins.”  Drop the judging, it just makes people feel bad; instead scream to the insurance companies to pay for the alternative methods and at medical schools to update their programs! Naturalpaths are wonderful but too pricey for most of us.

As a nurse I saw horrific things that were simply caused by over prescribing.  Take this for that and when you get a side effect here’s another pill that will make your teeth fall out so be sure to take this yellow pill which may give you diarrhea so here is a prescription for depends—at a discount rate.  Honestly!  People unite and say enough.  Our bodies need to be given a little more credit.  A human body is always seeking ways to heal itself but we stampede it with crap and then get angry that it’s not functioning at full capacity.  You try putting on concrete boots to climb Mt. Everest—let me know how you make out. 

And don’t get me started (I think I'm in a full fledge rant) about the media—they pump the public with visions and definitions of what is a beautiful body.  They sabotage self-love with yoga models sticking their heads around their knees while on one foot and wonder why people feel incompetent.  If our healthcare provided free courses in alternative choices and we shout from the roof tops, (the same as mentioned earlier) enough!  Shred the illusive veils of publicity and expose the truth, which is humbly waiting to be noticed.

Listening needs to be emphasized; to actually hear people and to incorporate their cultural and personal preferences.  Treatment could be inclusive of spirituality as well as the healing arts--basics that are available to all despite income. It is one thing to have disparity of housing but in regards to health--no.  (Not that I commend any type of disparity mind you). Ask people what brings them joy?  Painting, writing, dance, theatre, knitting, biking whatever—those things that transform us are as essential as not eating processed foods. Health Care honestly needs to be just that; informative (uninfluenced by affluence)  and sponsored by innovative research that sustains health and the world we share. 

We need to be in constant conversation about these and many other health and wellness issues.  Leave me your ideas and let the dialogues begin. 

 



 The Magic of Story

“Ralph clung to the little wooden raft as he rode out the storm sobbing that the pelting rain had washed away his mud.  Suddenly the rain stopped and a gusty wind soared through his makeshift sail tossing the raft onto the river banks.  Ralph landed face first and was once again covered in mud and dirt.”  I grew up hearing bedtime stories that my father had constructed in his head.  Tales of Ralph the pig, Skippy the dog, Chief the horse.  My favorite was Ralph; the pie stealing raft riding swine that was always getting into mischief. Every night my brother and sister and I would settle in for a story that swept our imaginations away like magic.  It was a ritual.  After one was finished we plead for more and my father would stall until he would dramatically say, “Just one.” Stories were a seamless fabric of my childhood that far reached into my adult life. Stories stimulate our creative selves.
Like memories, stories leave us with something; a cry, a chuckle, a consideration. They are magic weaved into words that plop you in another world another time another being. Every idea begins with a story.  Einstein once said; “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.” I became a teller of tales long before I became a writer. My sister and I would create “shows” for our parent (the audience) based on a story; usually a queen and a princess were involved.  Outdoors, (back in the day when it was safe to play unattended by an adult) my favorite game was explorers.  We’d either pretend to have discovered a foreign land or an unknown galaxy.  I worry that children now are too stimulated to use their imaginations that their imaginations will atrophy like an unused muscle or wither into ashes and blow away.
During my brief stint as a nursing instructor if the students announced they had completed all of their skills for the day (temperature taking, medications, etc.) they would ask if they could go study.  “Absolutely not!” was my answer.  Go find someone to talk to and bring me back a story.  They would have to share the tale at post conference; a time after clinicals that we gathered to discuss the day’s events. We were at a rehabilitation/Nursing facility with mostly elderly patients.  The students were jarred to discover Mrs or Mr so and so was a farmer during the dust bowl or a veteran of WWII or made wine in the cellar of their San Francisco home.  The stories changed the way these students treated their patients—they saw them as a person with a rich past rather than a mere patient.  As I always said, older people didn’t cruise out of the womb using a walker.
When my children were small, I really got cooking with the storytelling.  I told stories about Ole Mr. Moon (there was a song that went with it), a star named Mattie, and the most beloved was the “Birthday Elves.”  These were the happiest elves on the planet they danced every where they went. When it was a child’s birthday they would tip toe in while the children were asleep and decorate with bright balloons and streamers that sparkled when the sun came up.  (It was only a few years ago that I finally stopped decorating—the girls were in college.)  These are priceless memories that never cost more than a few bucks to create and I got to be a child again--something I love to do as often as possible.
I remember begging my mother to tell me about when she danced all night in Philly in her strapless dress and red lipstick. Or how she had parties when my grandparents left and locked my aunts in the attic! Or when she was a little girl swinging on the front porch waving to the soldiers returning from war.  All of us yearn to hear the stories of the past that become part of us.  Those stories that fill us with grief we can re-write examine the facts of why did this or that happen.  There is freedom in stories you are no longer limited by time, place, or person.  If I want to write a story about a fearless woman who flew on the backs of elephants—I can.  I am grateful to have come from a long line of storytellers who have inspired me.  As for Ralph, I have ressurected him in the upcoming series The Adventures of Ralph the Pig; where he will be gallavanting about finding new ways to get out of a pickle.  So cheers to you and yours Share the magic tell a Story!
If you have a burning tale to tell—please share it here or on www.redroom.com/member/karendevaney
Story On!  
 

 Elitism Destroys Community


While reading Eduardo Galeano’s latest book, Children of the Days I was struck by the repetition of attitudes that extinguish civilizations, countries, communities.  The main crusader of this destruction is arrogance.  Superiority that claims one religion, culture, language, employment, bank account, or color of the skin should be entitled over another.  Blatant elitism that erodes community.

You may be wondering why Galeano’s Children of the Days inspired me to author a blog about elitists and community. The book spans through history with sweeping comparisons. For example; the most notorious library in the world burnt to the ground in the year 47 BC by an order from Julius Caesar.  Thousands of Egyptian scrolls lost forever.  Many millennia later America torches most of the books in Baghdad’s library during Bush’s tyranny against terror.  The main instigator ripping one society or community apart—arrogance.  It is happening here in the town of Sonoma where I returned after a stint in Philly.  Although much subtler than the burning of books, it is a growing weed strangling out people struggling to survive.

Delegating one part of town ghetto or differentiating the east side from west side stems from an inherent notion hard work equates wealth.  Wealth equates preferential treatment, righteousness.  The “we don’t want you in our neighborhoods you don’t earn enough to live among us” attitude thrives. I know plenty of hard working people, including myself, that do not own a house but have integrity, fastidiousness, insight and intelligence.  Let’s face it some of this is based on pure circumstance.  Buying or selling at the right time, landing that job (which often minorities are denied access to due to a lack of education but that is a whole different blog) or inheriting. The side effect of luck or newly acquired status is amnesia.   People forget those that came before them the seed sowers that paved a path now only available to a few.  Separetness strenghtens stereotypes that in turn perpetuate discrimination.

The reason all of this division is pressing on me and several other friends is the rental situation here in Sonoma.  As real estate booms again renters are getting squeezed out with outrageous rents and slumlords.  Just because agents and homeowners are making more money doesn’t mean the rest of the population is.  My husband and I have looked at absolute appalling dumps that are asking 1800 for rent with a deposit three times that amount.  If we gander at  slightly less slipshod places those are even less affordable.  Renters are clamoring, giving up pets, or merely moving out.    

I say we begin conversations about solutions for the Sonoma community.  There is a wonderful sense of unity instigated by the artists and philosophers of this town; we need theatre, culture, dance, and music to sustain.  A community cannot survive off of real estate alone.  Affordable housing will keep the place bubbling with innovative community building minds. It wasn’t the elite who founded Sonoma.  Pomo and Miwok Indians were far from elitist.  Perhaps we could harken their distant cry for peace and unity among people.

I realize this is not a new issue.  Carmel by the Sea was established by artists and writers; the bohemians.  Today less than half of the residents live there full time.  They have homes elsewhere yet have equal voting rights on laws pertaining to the community.  We can’t let that happen to Sonoma.  It should not be that folks who have rented for years are booted out of their places because the land lords want to slap on a single coat of paint and raise the rent.

Once again I return to Eduardo Galeano and his Children of the Days as he quotes Native peoples who have been overthrown by imperialism and greed. Conquerors, who demand the conquered denounce their right to speak their language, live where they choose. The following passage from this book sums Ait up beautifully.  A Columbian Indian named Quintin Lame (1880-1967) spoke to a group of landowners and said: “We have not come like unyoked pigs to stick our noses in somebody else’s field.  This is our land.”  Let’s try to remember the past in order to build a better future.   Let Sonoma be the hallmark of viable community living. 



 

Blog   Stop the Judging Start Listening A reflection of how there are more similarities between religions and spiritual practices then there are differences. 



Arguing for the sake of religion is an innate absurdity that denies the very essence of a spiritual tradition in the first place.  There is not one religion or spiritual practice that advocates killing other humans who are non-believers.  Indeed, compassion and navigating life with love is the bedrock of both Islamic and Christian beliefs.  The same can be said for the Jewish religion, Buddhism, Sufism, Hinduism and all philosophical and divine traditions.  Why then, do we demonize one religion or practice over another?  They all follow rituals that essentially bring us to the same place.   The place of Oneness that connects should not divide us.

The very word peace comes from the Arabic word salaam, the Hebrew word shalom, and the Aramaic word shlama. Three words all meaning peace and originated in the Middle East.  Here in the West we have been hoodwinked into thinking Islamic religion is bad and Christian religion is good.  The campaign that all Islamic people are terrorist is as ruthless as any other tyrannical crusade. We Westerners have amnesia for historically it was not the Islamic people who initiated such terrors as the Inquisition or the destruction of Native people for the sake of Christianity.  The holocaust, Chechnya, the bloody battles in Northern Ireland, and the occupation of Palestine were not orchestrated by people of the Islamic faith. The expansive list of who did what is not my reason for writing this blog but rather to clarify.  Extremists are extremists no matter what faith or persuasion they sprouted from. It is time to call a meeting of the hearts for Salaam, Shalom, Shlama, for Peace. It is time to stop harping and finger pointing and to remove the veils of ignorance.

I grew up in a Catholic family who went to church every Sunday and abided the Catholic rules to a point. Lent was a sacred time of fasting and prayer—no different than Ramadan or Yom Kippur (known as the day of atonement) or Nyungne the Buddhist practice of fasting and meditation for purifying the spirit. Hinduism fasts, called a vrat, vary depending on the day of the week and the need of the individual.  Sunday is for the Lord Sun or Surya and red is the color to be worn if you are fasting.   The threads of commonality are as pervasive as the differences.  Jesus and Muhammad were both from Arabic backgrounds.  The saints and sages and Buddha were graced with divine wisdoms that they shared with their followers. Because cultures of the world are now exposed to one another; it is the perfect point in history to embrace our similarities.  

My exploration of other religions and rituals began as a child.  I used to go to Synagogue on Friday evenings with my friends; it was at a Bar mitzvah that I had my first kiss!  My babysitters were Indian and wore beautiful Saris.  I met my first Buddhist in high school; she had a calmness about her that was radically different from my Irish/Italian high strung mother. At the time though I thought the Buddha was a strange little fat man who promoted un-emotionalsim!

It was not until I was an adult that I really began to delve into spiritual beliefs and practices.  I was driving a lot at the time and decided to get a few books on tape (yes no CD’s for me at that point—they were too expensive).  Quotes from Native Americans was the book that snagged me by the nose.  Listening to profound statements such as; “You ask us to go inside a building to praise God once a week, yet I give thanks to God every day when I see a sunrise or kill a deer for my family.” (a Cherokee Chief to a Missionary) conked me over the head as if suddenly waking up.  Not that it is a terrible thing to subscribe to one faith or religion, after all that is the crux of tradition.  But can’t we live in harmony with the array of spiritual practices—toss them in a blender and come out with an enlightening treat?    

When I began studying yoga my spiritual world blasted open.  The idea that God is within not one religion or belief but in each individual  brought a sense of freedom.  I began reading the works of Mahatma Gandhi, the Quran, and finally books on Sufism.  Sufism is brilliant because it honors all the prophets and is inclusive using Rumi, Jesus, and Muhammad to name a few as teachers. Depending on the semantics, meanings could be misconstrued unless studied and compared. For example Jesus said in one of the Beatitudes in his native Aramaic language "Ripe are those who whole heartedly follow their passion, by being Unified they see unity everywhere."  Rumi exclaimed, "Whether you love God or love another human being, if you love enough, you will come into the presence of love itself."  Each of these statements speak about unification through love. Each section of ourselves comes together in the heart. 

My question again then is why can’t we stop judging and start merging.  Why not incorporate religious teachings—why can’t we teach the different religions purely as a study like history or social studies?  Is it not knowledge all of us are seeking?    Knowledge that spreads unity,  understanding, and ultimately brings each of us and therefore the world to a place of  Salaam, Shalom, Shlama, Peace.

 

Blog When it’s time to Break the Rules

 Several years back while in graduate school for creative writing and still working as a nurse, I had a mother give birth to a stillborn in room 406.  It was a dreary Saturday in July with thick fog plunging temperatures into the fifties.  My daughters at the time were in high-school but the years between their birth to teens was a fleeting brush of wind; as if I’d taken a nap while time went into overdrive.  This was the woman’s first pregnancy that had not ended in a miscarriage.  Her baby as of twelve hours ago was alive and kicking.  She was shell shocked and needed time with her stillborn; a little girl she called Michelle.

The head nurse that day, a thorough rule enforcer, instructed me to tell this mother she had exactly one hour before the baby had to be taken to the morgue.  That was hospital regulation and she (the head bitch er I mean nurse) was simply following procedure. She didn’t flinch when I explained that the mother was Catholic and wanted the baby baptized and that she was alone the father had disappeared months ago.  It would take time to rally a priest on a Saturday in July, a favored wedding month; getting a priest at the last minute would take a miracle or at consistent begging.

The head nurse informed me that if I didn’t obey her (I believe she had been in the military) she would have me written up. I handed her a pen and called the doctor.  I explained to the very empathetic MD what was going on.  She wrote me an order stating the mother could keep her stillborn named Michelle for the length of my shift which ended at 4pm.  I hung up the phone thanked her and got busy delegating patient care with calling every Catholic Church in San Francisco.

Other nurses on the floor began to rally along with me.  We wrapped the baby in pink and yellow blankets that had been crocheted by the women of the hospital auxiliary and donned her little head with a pink hat to match the pink booties for her feet.  All of us checked in on this mother often and continued our search for a priest. 

The mother wept while rocking and singing lullabies from her native Philippines. She held the baby close to her heart and examined every feature over and over again.  I thought of my own birth experience and the joy of finally holding and smelling my beautiful newborn.  It was painful to watch this mother’s loss. 

By three o’clock and no priest we all began to worry that this baptism was not feasible.  One of the nurses, a wonderfully wise Jewish woman suggested we do the ceremony ourselves.  Why not, we had all celebrated births in our own spiritual way. Why couldn’t we put together an interfaith baptism?  We explain all of this to the mother and instantly she smiled as tears fell over her cheek bones.  “Please.” She said, “Please could you do this for my baby?”

One of us quickly went to the store for candles; we gathered a bible and the Jewish nurse had memorized passages from the old testament, psalms that she could recite.  There were six of us—each with our own role and intention.  After giving report to the nurses coming in for the evening shift (that way our other patients were being looked after) we gather in room 406.  We lit candles I sang a Catholic song I remembered from my childhood and each of us read or recited a dedication.  The mother held her Michelle and when it was over, she tenderly handed her to me.  I promised to keep her in the outfit she had and the mother bid her baby good-bye.

All of use wept shamelessly—all except the head nurse who assured me that I would receive “heavy repercussions for my insubordination.”  I have never forgotten that day.  There are times when man made rules need to bow to human feelings and empathy.  There are times when rules are frankly meant to be shattered.

As for my punishment, I was written up—but the report never made it to my file. The mother had written to the hospital a gorgeous letter of appreciation and I was pardoned by the powers that be.

What If?  A Reflection of an Education Revolution 

 It is no secret that America’s public education needs a revolution and I’ve had a revelation on how this would look in three easy steps—broadly speaking of course.  First of all--expect more from our children by hoisting the curriculum bar up at least five hundred notches send a “we believe in you” message rather than “you’re not capable so let’s keep it simple stupid.  Why should children of the elite be the only ones entitled to quality education? While those of us not in the one percent are required to fund the war.  Next, flush standardized testing or standardized anything for that matter down that massive proverbial toilet.  Use the plunger if you must but get rid of those pesky, labeling, pigeon holing beasts.  And finally, bring back the arts and language using multicultural literature and living history—bring in live storytellers who can bear witness to the past from a human perspective. Those who have suffered racism or the ravages of war or lived pre television and computers.  Utilize the elders of our communities as historians and valued cultural attachés.   

When should all of these changes take place?  Immediately no ASAP for this revolution, too many American children have already been trampled by the lack of access to knowledge.  What grade you may wonder, should content such as anatomy and physiology or world literature be taught?  Grade One!  Imagine interactive lessons about anatomy and physiology (from first grade up) that teach children about the human body and how it functions.  Why do we wait until hormones invade and sex education is skimmed over like a skipping stone to begin teaching children about the body?  Teach basic systems such as how we breathe, how are heart pumps how our muscles moves from the get go.  Then as children grow older the complexity of physiology can be introduced giving children a concrete foundation on how to respect their bodies.  Sex education is only one aspect of our brilliant mechanics—and because it is taught in passing, many get the facts mixed up.  (I was one of those misfortunate ones who concocted a hilarious conception about intercourse that I can’t or won’t share in this blog)!

Why shed standard tests?  Because they tell us very little and teachers teach to the test.  They (the tests not the teachers) bully kids around and make those who learn and thus test different from the benchmark to feel dumb, excommunicated from the “norm”, humiliated.  How does humiliation encourage children to learn? Well I have no answer for that.  As a professor I do know that building a compassionate classroom that encourages mistakes (I always reiterate to my students that I’ve always learned more from my errors than my successes.)  Stop giving mistakes the power disenfranchise.  A classroom should be a haven where mistakes are welcomed—that is why students are called students they are there to learn; not to be shamed and lambasted.

Testing derails teaching.  As teachers, we should all be employing innovative techniques that use old and new methods depending on the subject.  For example, learning math—memorization is critical.  Concepts come afterwards.  Be creative especially with the younger students.  Sing the multiplication tables, have older students help the younger ones—but above all—never single out students and embarrass them.  Nothing blocks learning more than fear.

 

 Finally—this education revolution demands that the arts and languages be reinstated.  If children from kindergarten up had to learn at minimum two languages and read multicultural stories, there would be a deeper compassion and understanding of the beauty of diversity. By middle schools students should be reading  books such as Not Without Laughter by Langston Huges.  A story  that reveals the callous reality of a prejudice riddled past or With Crow; The Tale of Two Sisters by Karen Devaney (yes me) a story that touches on Native themes and injustices of migrant workers.  Expose students to Shakespeare in high school as well as college classics such as All Things Must Fall by Chinua Achebe.  Introduce feminism and philosophical concepts so that by the time students graduate high school they are armed with a dignified education that will give them a greater understanding of the world at large.  Bring in dance and music from around the world that will unite us rather than divide us. Will you join me in making this education revolution a reality? Scowl at mediocry and stand for true equality that relies not on finincial prerequisites.  It begins by a conviction that all children not just the privileged deserve it.  Lay down the war weapons and pick up a book where wisdom and peace prevail. 

 Be sure to leave me a comment, reflection, or suggestion here.  My Blogs run a muck grazing on an array of topics.  I hope you enjoy! 


As Joseph Cambell said,follow--A Blog for All who can't contain their thoughts!

Dinner Rituals and Reflections


As I minced the basil and tomatoes fixing to toss them in the mix of squash and mushrooms sautéing on the stove, I began to ponder the many rituals of dinner.  Dinner was and is my favorite meal as this is the time when the family crawls in from their weary day ready to chat and laugh and eat.  Well, at least that is always how it was and is with my family.  When my daughters were still living with me, no matter how late in the evening, dinner was sacred and roll call was taken.  Absences were ill tolerated and therefore rarely happened.  This was not accomplished through threats and defaming rather it was the ritual itself that quelled objections.  The dinner ritual became the fortress against the world where we could defuse the harsh demands of modern life. Light candles, put on soft music, prepare and break bread over good old fashion conversation.
 

The dinner ritual began when I was a child--I would race in asking what was on the menu.  I loved to eat in those days, a habit I have continued.  I relished the telling of tales and laughter that floated through the air.  There was a real sense of belonging.  We never ate in front of a television or separately--if one of us in the family was delayed--dinner was as well.  Dinner was where you spilled your guts over happy/sad events of the day.  It was in a way a conflict resolution forum.  Airing grievances over meatloaf and mashed potatoes was easier that a mere conversation in the hallway.

 

As a single mom, I insisted on keeping the dinner rituals as a way of unifying the family, however small or large it was at that particular time.  Misfit friends often supped with the girls and I marveling at the fact we actually ate together-- every night.  When asked about their personal family dinner traditions, often they would lament that there were none.  

 

The dinner ritual had a sense of collaboration.  As the girls got older they became proficient sous chefs, table decorators, and meal planners.  Often we wouldn't sit down to eat until after nine (the European style I suppose) when all the outside activities; dance, theatre, soccer, or whatever had ended. But there was always a feeling of "ahhh" a sense of renewal.  Savoring these moments, both of my daughters are ardent keepers of the sacramental meal. When we are re-united the sentiment is the same--one chops, one sets, all clean.  My new husband (who grew up deprived of dinner rituals) has fallen in tow and we too never eat in front of a machine.  Rather we sip our wine and beer, then plop down to converse while stuffing our faces.

 

With the barrage of distractions, honoring dinner rituals is declaring war on technology.  Shut off any semblance of a screen light some candles and sit down to a meal together.  Ease family tensions away with even the simplest of meals; soup and salads or home cooked burritos or pasta--reinvent your personal cuisine.  My new favorite is Indian recipes.  Tune the world out and say yes to an age old tradition of breaking bread with those you love! 

 


           Where Have all the Day Dreams Gone?

 

Sitting in a window seat of a packed café in Sonoma (Norcal)—I glanced around noticing the young mother with a baby bundled in pink—its little fur shoes bobbing up and down, to her left was a chiseled chin man in a black overcoat clutching his briefcase, and to the right a teen ager huddled away from an old man with a cane.  No one was speaking—the drone of the espresso machine brought me back to Italy where I had visited a few years back. Italians are talkers!  Everyone, except the older man with the cane and myself, had either headphones or some sort of device plugged into their ears—their minds and imaginations prisoners of technology.  Like the old Peter Paul & Mary song, Where Have All the Flowers Gone, I wondered Where did all the daydreams drift?  As we whirl about in our busy schedules, there is little time for daydreaming.  Daydreams are reflections of our passion and creativity.   Mp3 players, Ipods, cell phones, mini televisions the size of your pinky toe nail, and itsy bitsy computers have robbed  and muted  this innate and healthy form of escape and problem solving.


     Daydreaming entices the mind to wander, (it has been scientifically proven if you don’t believe me Google it).  Daydreams help us relax the analytical brain and allow the creative self to see things from a different vista point.   Daydreaming takes your cooped up mind for a walk.  As a writer, daydreaming is part of my job. Heck it was a daydream that prompted this piece. Had I been listening to music or working on my computer thoughts and scenarios would have snuck past me like a tip toeing burglar robbing me blind.  Daydreams can be useful counselors helping you sort out difficulties.  How?  By letting the mind relax, deflect fear, and visualize innovative solutions

 

     Daydreams remind us who we are.  They tap us on the shoulder and show us images we can either disregard (the negative ones) or embed (the positive ones) soaking our psychic with affirmations.   Daydreams help us manifest our desires.  As children, daydreaming comes naturally; one of my personal favorites was picturing myself as a famous dancer.  Martha Graham had nothing on me when I was starring in my own daydream. Although I may not be a famous dancer, I do teach and dance African, Haitian, and Brazilian styles of dance.  I literally became my daydream performing and adoring the joys of dancing.

     Daydreams unlock our imagination, which for many of us is as rusty as an old bicycle that has been left out in the rain for years.  Daydreaming is a potent catalyst to creativity.  My first children’s book, Frederick the Forgetful Rattler  was born from a walk in the woods and a humorous daydream   I see (and hear) many people now, even when in nature, stuffing their ears with music or a chat (over nothing) on the cell phone.  Just the other day strolling down Sonoma’s peaceful bike path (the red winged blackbirds were in a full concerto) I had a woman come up behind me discussing her boyfriend’s sexual dysfunction!  Sadly my daydreams took flight, fearing for their lives.

Speaking of nature—I may sound Ralph Waldo-ish but please, Mother Nature offers a plethora of melodies without a download fee. Listening to the wind whistle through the leaves or the babbling of a stream soothes my nerves and makes me feel connected once again to the earth.  How many of us find that when listening to the swooshing sounds of waves on the sand a sense of tranquility drapes around us? A natural relaxant.

Back to the cafe, the older gentleman and I dropped into a marvelous conversation about how things have changed (Did I mention I am part Italian). He was the last of his family to survive a WWII camp and had one fascianting sentence after the other. He was the source of my daydream on the way home and the inspiration for this blog. We were basically having a private conversation as everyone else was tuned out. Wake up—unplug—let your mind plunge into a warm memory that makes you smile or relax or recalls your strength—Daydream about the book you will write or the vacation you will have or the countries you will visit while dressed up as a clown spreading laughter to children the world over.  Whatever your daydream is  indulge it—you can Twitter about it later. 

 Farewell To Philly 

                                                     A Farewell to Philadelphia
We rolled out of Philly around 2pm, slightly hung over from the Devils Den and a visit from the Irishman we’d not seen for two years.  The green truck was packed from bed to ceiling the side mirrors our only rearview as we jiggled down the plentiful pot holes of Philadelphia’s neglected streets. Our coffees spit from the sip holes while I shot some last photos of the city scape and my husband cursed the traffic one last time.  Although I was happy to be returning to California, I could not help morning this eclectic city that I was leaving behind.
It had been two years since we’d left the hills of wine country with its fresh produce and organic people, to live in the heart of Philly’s Italian section.  Our one bedroom apartment on the second floor with views of power lines in one window and center city in the other became home.  It was an adjustment having keys to unlock three doors to our place—but there had been recent murders in the area and I quickly became grateful for the protection.  This was my first time living in a city.  Trash lined streets, cigarette smoke, and the constant rattling of cars and buses filled any silence that dared to exist. This was my new abode—I embraced it-- ready to find and appreciate a new way of life.
The Italian market, only a few blocks away with its frenzied throngs, was my first discovery.  People screaming over Jersey tomatoes, babies bundled in blankets, old people examining potatoes haggling over prices, this was a quintessential open market.  Dangling in windows were enormous legs of cheese, salami, or ropes of sausage and fresh pasta cut to order from linguine to lasagna style was right next door.  A bustle of cultures brushed shoulders under the watchful eye of Frank Rizzo’s enormous mural; the Italian mayor who long ago left his fist on Philly.  He was loved and hated by all. 
If you needed herbs, you went to the Spice Store, which for forty-three years was/is owned by the persnickety Hilda, a German woman who loved to smoke.  For a dollar  a bag I ‘d buy oregano, turmeric, Vietnamese cinnamon, hot curry spices, and any other cultural spice I wanted to try.  The wooden floors squeaked as people mulled around finding what they needed.  I became obsessed with trying to make Hilda laugh but she was committed to being grumpy and rude.  When I told her I was leaving the city, she smirked, “you’re not tough enough.”
The cobble stone streets of Old City were something else I would miss.  I fell in love with the historic stones that our forefathers once rode their horses over.  I ogled at giant maples whose soil is a burial ground for those who fought for my freedom died as slaves and soldiers but now shades me from the summer sun.  The place where the declaration of independence was signed and dreams of democracy fueled peoples hope for freedom.  I watched busloads of tourists and children on field trips scurry to keep up with the tour guide dressed in period clothes talking about Betsy Ross and Ben Franklin.
After work it was a walk on the Schuylkill or off to the Wishing Well or some other neighborhood bar for a glass of wine, beer, and some fried pickles or scrapple (don’t ask what’s in it).  Philly food was no frills comfort and during the freezing winter months stocky soups boiled in every kitchen.   The Schuylkill River with a paved bike path that ran all the way to Manayunk was as close to a nature fix as I could get—regardless that the water could peel your skin off.  The ducks didn’t seem to mind so neither did I.

But what I miss the most, is the Philly folks with their crass manners and hideous

 nasal accents.  They are real, no beating around politeness crap, they are loyal

 and speak from their hearts.  They are sports lunatics—all of them, men, women,

 young mothers, and walker cruising elders.  If you feel down they’ll make you

 laugh, life sucks but we are all in it together sort of attitude.  Philadelphians

 celebrate weekly at their pubs and annually with parades that are second to 

none.  The Mummers and Thanksgiving parades are televised for their extravagan

t costumes and diverse music.  Philly folk know who they are, they often live and

 die in the very houses they were born.  I envy their commitment to a city that

 despite all of its flaws is overwhelmingly loved.  Farewell Philadelphia—I will keep

 you close to my heart and promise to keep watching the Fliers battle on the ice,

 no matter where I land. 

 


                                                     Pain and Perspective
 
Not long ago, I was running through the world with usual worries about family, career, and finances but was essentially pain free barring a few achy joints from the freezing cold of Philadelphia.  Regardless, that I have been on the east coast for one year, I still longed for California’s  Bay Area weather.  I’d been happy about my teaching post at DeVry University, my yoga classes, and the Spoken Word event I had organized here in Philly. But all that changed.  It was in the middle of a Monday morning the wee hours around 2am.  when I was seized by a severe pinched nerve in my lower back that took me to my knees and gave me great pause.  In the grips of pain, I yelled out in anger.
“How could this be happening to me?  Why, I try to be a good human!”  I was furious with God;  there must have been some mistake.  After all, it was a familial joke that I was the chosen receptacle for all the genetic defects; allergies, Type 1 diabetes, hypothyroid, accident prone.  So far I‘d been spared the family’s propensity for GERD and AFIB.   Surely, I was not being bestowed yet another diabolic disease from heredity’s deck of cards?
     As it turned I was.  Arthritis—lumbar stenosis to be precise.  It had been patiently waiting in the wings.  They, the doctors, were stumped as I was too young for this disease. They surmised it came from an injury years ago—well not that long ago really. The injustice of it all! I shook my fist in the air reminding God, the Universe, Brahman, Allah, Buddha,  and anyone else who would listen—that I taught and practiced yoga, was a strict vegetarian (except for the occasional salami), and took supplements daily.  I regularly (well as often as I could with my busy schedule) prayed for world peace and prosperity.  It was to no avail, the pain accelerated at the rate of a wild fire.  Within a week I felt debilitated, wracked with spasms and a swollen sciatic nerve.
     Most of you don’t realize before my booming writing career I was a Registered Nurse.  I worked with patients in pain and felt empathy for all of them—expect for the really obnoxious demanding ones.  How better to understand pain’s influence than to have lumbar stenosis?  I grew more empathetic by the second.  I was lodged on a white tiled pity pot and could not pull myself off.  I recalled the worst case scenarios—those who were crippled for life or had botched surgeries rather than a laminectomy surgeons looped off a knee.  Nightmares flooded my psychic and I was helpless, clutched in fear that made my muscles tighten and my symptoms worse.
     “Rest and heat.”  The doctor prescribed.   Wonderful I get to marinate in my dread a bit longer.  “We have other therapies and medications—but try resting and take these.”  He shoved a prescription of pills at me. I did as he said.  The pills made me feel as if I was drunk at sea during a storm.  I resumed good old Ibuprofen, heat, and called everyone I knew.  The conversations would start out fine until asked “How are you?” then I dissolved into a fit of sobbing wallowing in despair longing for my “other body” to come back.  I felt abandoned.
     Around day two, I talked with a fellow colleague who suffered from back pain since her early twenties.  She told me, “Karen, meditate, and believe in miracles.” Ba humbug was my initial reaction.  But soon after listening to guided mediations on healing and letting go, I did indeed begin to feel better.  The swelling subsided and gradually I returned to my yoga—my dear darling sweet yoga.  If you are not a practitioner yet—run to your nearest store for a mat and breath.  Something else began to happen; a new flowering perspective began to grow from the depths of my consciousness.  I knew on an intellectual level that worst things can and do happen to people.  Children with cancer, people suffering merely due to the lack of daily food.  My back was not the end of me it was perhaps a new beginning.
     I slowly turned inward, listened and read Deepak Chopra, my Rumi book, the Bible, and settled myself in.  Which is difficult for me—I like to move, see things, be outside, and here I was prisoner to my body—and the only escape was through my unconscious.  I had to surrender.  After much kicking and spewing, I finally did. Healing from within and allowing a manifestation in my life—required patience.  Living in a city or heck just living in America, does little to foster quietness or sitting in silence—can you hurry up and mediate already!  In addition my identification with others and being Italian/Irish demands a steady diet of people and activity. I was forced to find a balance—being alone had to be okay.  Historically my idea of alone was someone (preferably more than one) in the next room.  It was my crossroad to shake hands with fear.
     Thankfully the internet and my computer allowed me to stay part of the world.  They also brought me amazing meditations and interviews with Deepak.  He does not realize how much his words impacted me—God does hear us—and yes miracles do happen.  Maybe the miracle is not that may back is healed (there is still a ways to go) but the fact that I have rediscovered the essence of me.  Me without restrictions, a new improved me, a me that can say, “I am scared.’  but do it anyway.  Pain and perspective---they are both in some strange way, my guides.

CLEARING THE CONFUSION

ABOUT
HATHA YOGA
Recently I realized significant misunderstanding and confusion still orbiting around Yoga that I felt needed clarification. My personal practice began ten years ago—well I should clarify—my taking yoga seriously began ten years ago. Prior to that I was a dabbler. Tossing a down dog in here or there when my lower back and hamstrings tightened, which being a dancer and a bike enthusiast happened on a regular basis. The other day I overheard a tall stately woman on the corner of third and Pine declare that she was a “Christian” and therefore could not (or would not) partake in a yoga practice. She whispered, “It is against my beliefs to join a cult.” Tsk, I thought what a shame and a scam. I realized that this tall stately woman wearing Gucci boots and red lipstick thought, like many, that yoga is a religion. Yoga is not, I repeat—not a religion.
Although there are particular Yogas of meditation (which warrant their own in depth conversation) here I am discussing, Hatha Yoga where the committed atheist can stand mat to mat with the devout Catholic or Baptist or Jew or Muslim or whatever conviction one subscribes to and practice creed-less yoga. The chanting and om-ing that occurs in particular yoga classes does stem from an ideology but is not intended to indoctrinate. I admit it can be irritating listening to a two pound twenty year old pawn off her/his advice on how to live “organically” as they strut around in their Lulu Lemon attire preaching “Shanti” (peace in Sanskrit). But despite their well-meaning feet behind the ears intentions, this is far from authentic. Yoga is simply a way of connecting the outer body with the inner self by weaving the two together through the breath. Is there an element of spirituality or self-realization? Absolutely! But it is as unique to the individual as a finger print. Whatever whispers within your own heart, soul, or consciousness is what will echo through your practice. Imagine if you will that your mind is like a small turbulent pond rippling with the wind making it impossible to view a mirror image of yourself. Yoga calms the ripples to reveal a true reflection.
Personally, I am a language junkie and love to hear Sanskrit as much as I love to hear French and Italian. Sanskrit is an ancient language used by the original yogis and has been translated throughout the world. Yoga allows me to unplug from the demands of the day. Taking the time to practice I lengthen and strengthen my body while resting my mind. It is through the physical asana (posture) that whatever belief system or revelations are relevant to me, make their presence known.
Let me use an example to further simplify my point. Join me for a moment in a yoga class here in Philadelphia. In the class, which is instructed by me (yes I am a certified yoga instructor so I do know a thing or two) there is a woman from the Italian section of the city. She has never missed a mass in all of her fifty-four years as an adult. Next to her stands a man wearing baggy shorts and his body is painted with tattoos. He is a twenty-eight year old practitioner of Buddhism. Behind these two students stand a Jewish mother of two and a forty year old father who is Muslim. As we move through the breath into sun salutations followed by a rigorous asana (posture) practice each individual has their own working intentions. One may be trying to let go of tension the other to build strength. Regardless of their religious background—we all move together on our mats making our own unique connections with body and breath. All of us walk away with stronger bodies and more flexible joints. Whatever has transpired on an emotional or spiritual level is strictly personal.
Last week I had two new students whose doctors “prescribed yoga” as a treatment for their chronic pain and anxiety. The breathing exercises help alleviate stress by giving students a practical time tested way to quiet the nervous system. Increased flexibility through Yoga stems from the range of motion this full body practice includes. Rather than working one particular muscle at a time—Yoga works groups of muscles. Virabhadrasana Two or Warrior Two builds strength in the legs, abdomen, hips and arms.
I repeat, Yoga is not a religion. Yoga is a bridge to finding inner and outer resolve through breath and postures. The beauty of a Yoga practice is you can roll up your mat and take it anywhere in the world. It is a multicultural multilingual practice—Garudasana or eagle pose is the same in Vermont as it is in Milan. London, or Istanbul. So lay your reservations aside while you breathe through a Yoga session that will lighten your mental load while strengthening your body no matter where you happen to fall on the spiritual spectrum

                                                                          The Invasion of Wal-Mart in Them Thar Hills
     Driving from California to Philadelphia, my husband and I were eager to explore quaint towns kissed with mom and pop stores and cafes.  We conversed about the photos he would capture and the stories I would write—freshly uttered from the folks and heritage of each unique spot.  I imagined old men playing chess and talking about the “good ole days” in Barbara shops with the twirling red and white signs, farmers pedaling their produce at local markets brimming with juicy home-grown melons and tomatoes, and age-old establishments that carved regional landscapes with charm and character.     To our chagrin— we discovered there had been an invasion of franchises as far as the eye could see.  Miles on end of Wal-Marts, Burger Kings, and KFC’s, like the sands of the Sahara, splayed over hills and valleys.  Evil concrete people had ravaged the land and resurrected a monument to their franchise god—Wal-Mart sat king like planked by spawns of the franchise empire.
 
     Crossing into southern Wyoming, I felt confident the invasion would have been averted by protesting town’s people who were proud of their rich western heritage.  Like the pioneers of the past, Wyoming would stand guard against the defamation of its land. Years back when I had traveled to the Grand Tetons and marveled at their majestic stature, I knew no franchise could muscle down these mighty warriors.
     Once again—I was disappointed by paved parking lots like grand entrances (lined with gold) to the looming cathedral in homage to the Wal-Mart clogging the skyline view.  The people had tossed their saddles and drove in automobiles for their Starbucks double shot decaffeinated caramel macchiato with extra whip cream.  They waddled in droves to the Burger Kings to slurp down shakes and whoppers.  The trail heads lay weeping—alone no longer riddled with townspeople clamoring for exercise.  Wal-Mart sneered as its aisles were stuffed with hikers who long ago hung up their boots.
 
     We continued west seeking reprieve from the onslaught of the franchise front.  Driving into Colorado—the highway dissolved into a dirt road and we celebrated with verve—screaming out of our windows—“we are free” like immigrants seeking new worlds.  The oppression had ended or so we hoped.  Creeping into the back side of small towns there appeared to be no evidence of franchise infiltration.  We tiptoed into Grand Lake our eyes half closed afraid of a lone sighting but there was none.  Rickety board sidewalks lined the old town, known for absolutely nothing except the grandeur of the Rocky Mountain National Park.  
 
     Skipping into shops I began to feel safe enough to speak with locals.  We met George—a local of 43 years, who came from Houston one summer and never left.  We ate lunch over bubbling rapids, hiked alongside Moose and Elk, and sipped wine on the porch of a historical restaurant nestled in the mountains.  The sunset sprayed hues of orange and reds as the leaves of the aspens waved in the cool night air.  Ah—indeed we had found a solace from the franchise militia—if even just for a day or two.
 
     When it was time to continue east we bade Colorado good-bye with tears in our eyes—knowing the enemy was lurking.  Pulling into the border of Kansas and Missouri—we waved a white flag—we were surrounded.  Wal-Mart had defeated us in the land of strip malls where we were swallowed up.  As I unpacked at my sister’s home in Overland Park—I realized I had forgotten my favorite bra and shorts—it was at that moment I knew I too would join the throes of shoppers wandering down the aisles searching, searching.




Defining Lenses
Ambling a park during Sonoma County’s luscious spring season; trying not to sneeze myself unconscious a reoccurring epiphany pervaded my thoughts. It began after a recent conversation with my mother. Being back in California after almost two years in the east coast, where much of my family resides, has returned me to a place of familiarity, a place with echoes of myself.  My mother a staunch easterner likes only to visit California but claims “I could never live there.” Why I wonder?  The weather is sweeter, the wine abundant, the food fresh and local.  How could she not see this is a healthier place to live than in the suburbs of Philadelphia?  Simple—it does not define her. 
How I define myself is essential to my understanding of how my mother, husband, daughters, friends (the list is endless) defines themselves and how then this effects our communication or lack of.  It dawned on me to first view relationships with defining lenses to understand where and why communication crumbles and how to fortify it.  My mother, for example, defines herself completely different than I.  Neither right or wrong, although her fear based rational disturbs me, it is who she is, it is who I am.  She communicates from the definitions within and from the experiences that reinforce them.  These are her deep wells of reference.  If I remain perched only on my defining vistas our communication will either collide or miss each other all together. No matter what a comment sounds like to me, I have to consider the definition from where it came before blurting a knee jerk response.  Better to smile and realize it usually comes from a place of love and like flower varietals stems from soil other than my own.
This idea of viewing through defining lenses I realize is not original and I am certain psychiatry has given it an elaborate title. Really it boils down to practice and patience and I need a bit more of both.  But it does bring clarity, at least for me, to understand that when my husband rattles on about motorcycles and I think it is merely to irritate me, it is not.  He grew up with a cousin, Eddie Lawson, who was a world class champion racer.  I grew up with a memory of a dead uncle from a motorcycle accident.  Racing does not define me but it does my husband.  After years of self-righteous lectures that books are better than bikes, I clamped my comments and took a peek through these newly discovered lenses realizing other defining perspectives do not negate my own.  I can put down my picket signs and keep the gates of communication wide open.
There is an element of freedom in wearing these lenses.  The freedom to wade in self and others perceptions creates improved relationships and kick frustration to the curb. Naturally relationships are not magically deemed perfect by the defining lenses, they are merely more peaceful, malleable.  I listen differently now.  Rather than hearing words, I hear the origin as well.  Mind you this does not happen in every single conversation, not all discourse renders insight.  Sometimes we speak simply to share a thought—“Great party last night!” or “What an incredible day it is.” don’t require wearing the lenses.  Sometimes communication is wonderfully unassuming Yet when you feel confused or anxious or angry over a wayward banter, try the lenses out; perhaps those defining voices will be made visible..
I wonder if politicians wore the lenses would our world look different? Some argue this is naivety talking; it seems obstinacy has failed what if a world meeting was called and every leader was allowed to wear a single sheet.  No one could put their clothes back on until they came from a place of understanding—I suspect the defining lenses would help ease the glare of truth.
My mother remains dedicated to her soft pretzels and creamed chip beef.  She fixes food she has made for years and loves that she lives two miles from the mall and minutes from the childhood town she loved.  She dreams of my return and I of her riding on a surf board;neither of which will come to pass in this world.  The lenses have alleviated (some not all) communication blips and I hope over time, I will learn to appreciate motorcycles!