Saturday, July 17, 2010
I never have been very good at math.
My Enneagram sign (2-the Helper) says that makes sense - that I am more an ideas person than a numbers person. I'm more a person person. So when my employers tell me I'll have 17 13 or 14 year olds in my summer program for the next two weeks, it means little. Not until I see their files, then especially, not until I see their faces, will I have anything in my mind to work with.
I tried to send them some of that empty space this morning. I did Tonglen for my students-to-be (and myself!), 24 hours before the whole shebang begins. To these strangers, who to me now are what Pema Chodron calls the "neutrals" - I don't know them yet, have no expectations, they are just open slates to me. This is a pretty good state to be in, and I won't be in it again with these kids. I won't be in it with myself for two weeks, as teaching this program takes me to the edge of myself; full on energy, full on teaching skills, full on time use.
Earlier this week, Birdfarm sent me three books on teaching - the first of which I am almost done with, and which was the one she'd brought up the most when we were talking about, surprisingly, not teaching at all! We were talking about power relationships, and in particular, about one of the shoots we did this last weekend in Seattle for a Miksang Level II program I was teaching. I was describing how different the two groups gathered in one park were - white, middle-class folk in a dog park and black and Latino folk gathered at a hepped-up car show. The different groups responded quite distinctly to being photographed (our topic was "People and Other Sentient Beings") - the white middle classers scoffed a bit, posed, looked awkward; the black and Latino folks smiled, went about their business, didn't seem to care much or used it as a chance to connect, rather than disconnect.
She recommended Other People's Children by Lisa Delpit, which I certainly ordered and carried at Rainbow Bookstore for years and never ever actually looked at, seeing as how I wasn't teaching, much less teaching African-American kids. It's a great book on integration and segregation at far more nuanced levels than just "merging" kids of different races and classes - beyond the physical mixed classroom, there are power struggles at stake between, in particular, white teachers and black kids all the time.
Mainly, Birdfarm was talking about how uncomfortable "white people" (meaning, us, white, middle class Americans) are with their power, and how we purposefully or subconsciously push away our power, try to hide it, act passively, in order to disavow it. Only we still have it, and especially those with less power in the room know it for sure. When we take our power and own it, use it for the benefit of others, it's ok, and others can respect it. Usually. Unless we are secretly not benefitting others.
It's pretty complicated, obviously, but damned important going into teaching a, likely, mixed classroom of class and race variety in the next two weeks. What those figures don't tell me is how power will play out, and even the races of the kids can't tell me that. Only interaction can tell me that, and only if I listen.
Yet another reason why math doesn't particularly appeal to me.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
I went into a Post Office this afternoon, and waited in line, watching a solo woman clerk interact with numerous international students, most of whom had a limited grasp of English and couldn't understand her directions quite clearly. 2 or 3 had to come back a third time, only to be corrected and start again. Key words were missing, key ideas, and I felt the loss, felt for the international students, wondered at how privileged I am to "get it" - especially reading Other People's Children, recommended to me by Birdfarm, as of last night.
Then it was my turn. I took up a few packages - copies of my new chapbook destined to friends, a mix cd (comment on the last blog entry and you can get one, too!). One package I hadn't gotten the address for yet, and I sheepishly grabbed that one without making eye contact - Oops!, I uttered, and slipped it into my bag.
"This is wrong" she stated, and sighed, looking over her glasses at me. I felt a deep gulp arise, just from her stare. "It's written on here wrong." She paused and looked at me, and it took until she asked me if I knew how to correctly address an envelope, which I had just seen her do - for the third time - to a young Taiwanese woman - to realize she thought I wasn't from the US. I blushed, felt angry, how much mail have I sent in my life?! - then chilled down a bit - sure, I did do it wrong, turned the wrong way, only good for parcel post, not for an envelope. She carefully explained how to do it, and I asked if we couldn't just send them parcel post? Yes, but we had to move the return address around, etc. This whole time I was burning shame, burning away a feeling of having done wrong, and not because I did wrong, but because of the way she had addressed me; like a child.
In getting some space, some curiosity about the situation, which usually helps, I took a deep breath and looked around as she scanned the items and added up my total. It was then I saw a sign directly in front of me, almost impossible to miss, now that I was looking, that told me my clerk is very hard of hearing, and reads lips, so make sure to face her straight on. It also said, with a small smiley face, that sign language is spoken there.
Wow. Did I ever miss that. The power of the situation suddenly shifted, and I looked back at the clerk, re-considering our whole conversation, the way she had repeated everything very carefully to all the folks who'd come before me, always using the same phrasing.
"Will that be all for today?" she asked me, and suddenly I heard her voice another way- vulnerable, unsure, and slightly dampened, as speech from folks with hearing impediments can sometimes be - soft on the consonants.
"No, thank you," I said, sure to make eye contact with her, enunciate clearly without overexaggerating, and shaking my head. She smiled - actually smiled! - I don't think I'd looked at her face once the whole transaction, so absorbed in my own experience.
I had another blog post planned before this happened. It turns out it's still relevant. I left my psychiatrist's office with renewed prescription for meds, and a conversation she and I had had buzzing in my head. She had talked about Temple Grandin, and her latest book, which includes a concept "that I believe is as fitting for humans as animals" as she said. Grandin talks about how the "seek" part of an animal's mind - the sniffer, the explorer - manages to suppress anxiety as it is in action. So animals use it for not just the purpose of sussing out the situation, but also to alleviate anxiety about the situation. But it works the other way, too, I think. I think that sometimes we seek in order to stave off anxiety - compulsive shopping, anyone? myself included! - and that seeking can actually become drug-like - always wanting something new, for instance, instead of the "same old same old."
And yet, when we attune ourselves and become curious about the moment - like I did at the post office, like meditation trains us to do, or Miksang, or writing, or just deciding to pay attention (go Reem!), we do realize that the world is always different, always changing.
Meditation teachers say it all the time - hell, *I* say it all the time - "get curious, it'll help, help the panic, help the sadness, open things up." But now I have another understanding of this.
That the story is just that - a story - and as it turns out, the story I had in my head at the post office was just that, a story, missing a ton of the nuance in favor of a familiar situation, as gross as it was. The anxiety I had in interacting with this woman was old business, old news. It wasn't relevant - it was triggered. When I made the choice to seek out, not anything in particular, but just to sniff around a bit, I found better data, more relevant, that could help alleviate my anxiety and give perspective. For humans, I think, the "seek tampers anxiety" could be true, but of course, we can even take it a step further, have cognition about that new information. From disconnect to connect in a few short seconds.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
-title of blog post is lyrics from "Walk a Mile in My Shoes" by Coldcut
-image is album cover of "Alpinisms" by School of Seven Bells
I am working on a mix cd for Bermuda Triangles, my first memoir. The memoir is subtitled "A Young Woman Lost in the Sea of Intimacy" and is mostly about dating and sex, working on boundaries of intimacy and openness, from ages 8-28. I am 3/4 done with the rough draft of the book, transcribing notebook after notebook, story after story (I write in longhand first). A student and friend sent a cd of the last six months, music she found during that time that related to a certain theme, and I was reminded of my former love of "soundtracks." A feeling of the music, songs I have connected to in a span of time, whether new or older. This student/friend had helped me to make an Orphano soundtrack, back when I was working on that (not dead but currently shelved) novel about a post-apocalyptic world of parent-less folks.
So here's the soundtrack for Bermuda Triangles. Like with Orphano, I would LOVE to be able to publish a mix along with a book. It seems like such a great idea, doesn't it? Soundtrack to a movie, soundtrack to a book. I imagine it hasn't happened because it would be so hard - rights and all - and books don't gross like movies. Still, I can dream, and in the meantime, listen to songs that parallel the writing while I am writing or transcribing...
There'll be a second mix, maybe, too, but for now, this is more recent music, things I have, in fact, (re)discovered (old or new) during the writing time, as opposed to songs that were relevant during those tumultuous young dating years featured in the memoir.
Anyone who leaves a comment here on the blog gets a copy!
Make sure to email me your snail mail addy.
Bermuda Triangles Soundtrack V.1
Iamundernodisguise - School of Seven Bells
F*cking Boyfriend - The Bird and The Bee
I'm Not Calling You a Liar - Florence & The Machine
Walk a Mile in My Shoes - Coldcut
Just a Thought - Gnarls Barkley
Good Girl Gone Bad - Herbalizer
Where Are My Panties? - Outkast
Hate on Me - Jill Scott
Dickhead - Kate Nash
Nothing Out There For Me - Missy Elliot/Beyonce
Showin' Love - Nneka
We Fight/Love - Q-Tip
Save Me From What I Want - St Vincent
Quicksand - La Roux
Heart Skipped a Beat - The XX
No No No - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
O.N.E. - Yeasayer
Everybody's F*cking But Me - Asylum Street Spankers
Tuesday, July 06, 2010
The title of my post on losing weight wasn't called Gaining and Losing, but that was the topic.
I got many responses - comments on the blog and also over email - people noting that they, too, had in some ways had mixed feelings about losing weight. I barely addressed what I meant by that, though, and a few folks were curious. So here it goes, an attempt to get at the nuances of those "emotions stored in fat" that I was talking about...
First, please hop over to Praying Horse to read her comments, as I'd basically be repeating them.
What I have encountered is that, on a literal, external level, I have surely used fat as something to hide behind; something to blame when I am feeling sad, something to excuse self-hatred or explain it. For example, I often tell Dylan that the first sign of depression (meaning, not of emotion, but of emotions being shoved under) is me talking about or thinking about how much I hate my body. I could be the same weight as yesterday and a week before, but the "hatred" arises out of discomfort with more than my body - with emotions, in particular. So on the surface level, the fat shelters me from my own emotions, and on a surface level, I have to deal with them more, face my self-hatred for instance, if it can't hide in my fat, metaphorically.
On an inner level, I definitely rank as an emotional eater: eating when bored, sad, scared; when feeling empty, angry, tired.
But on a secret level, the relationship between fat and emotions goes even deeper for me. This is where Praying Horse's comments really come into play. There's no science, and I am not purporting a theory, rather, talking about the emotional/physical response and my intuitive feelings about connection. The way to say it that feels right to me is something like:
As I am losing weight, I am burning through old emotions that are stored IN that fat.
I have literally had dreams of childhood or adolescence, flashbacks to emotional states, and been triggered by things that haven't triggered me in a long time. This also means the positive emotions, too: felt a happiness and calm, a peace and resilience (from time to time) that I hadn't felt in a long time. Where are these coming from? Intuitively I don't think they are coming from the *fact* of losing weight as much as, as I said above, what is stored in the weight.
I did acid when I was younger on and off for a couple of years. The going theory about acid flashbacks, which I no longer suffer but did for a few years after, is that they are stored in fat. If you burn that fact, the flashbacks are released. This is the intuitive image in my mind for this weight loss/emotion gain process. It ups the ante, means I am dealing with more, and more directly, and need to not cover it over with food.
So the process of exposure, of rawness, of losing my shell and opening up, feeds itself. It's very akin to meditation, what Chogyam Trungpa calls "being processed" - eg cooked. This imagery is powerful for me as well, for obvious reasons. Cooking breaks down the chemicals, softens the walls, makes the food more digestable, palatable, even flavorful. My emotions in the last months have been like food, for sure: juicy like steak, mashed like potatoes, crisp like salad.
As I burn through layers of both my hiding in weight and also hiding from myself in eating, as well as burning through the emotions buried in the fat, I'll keep writing about it. For now, though I wanted to say a bit more about it, so you'd actually hear the experience a bit more clearly.
Any others who have experienced something akin to this, please comment. Thanks for reading.
Friday, July 02, 2010
Last night, before meditation at the Shambhala Center, I finally did one of the practices I was given at the 10-day retreat I did a week or so ago. I hadn't made space for it at home yet, and we had the supplies at the center, so since I was a bit early for setting up, I settled in and did it.
A practice I had done again and again for a week in a tent full of 100 people became, for me, intensely concentrated with just me alone in the silence of my local center's shrine room. In just 10 minutes of practicing, a LOT changed, shifted and I felt completely opened.
After meditation and cleaning up, I went home to do ordinary household things with Dylan - mow the lawn, weed, water our fruit plants/trees (strawberry plants, raspberry bushes, pear tree), etc. It was a cool evening, few mosquitoes, and the yard felt utterly alive to me. I slept heavily, fed by the hard work, though it took me awhile to go down, so entranced with the perfect evening air.
After the cats woke me at 5am, I went back to sleep and had this dream:
The Sakyong, Jamgon Mipham Rinpoche, who's the main teacher in Shambhala, was staying in our house. Even in the dream I thought of a story Diana Mukpo told us at the retreat - that she and Chogyam Trungpa (Mipham's father and former head of Shambhala) used to drop by their senior students' houses without warning for dinner, to see if they were uplifting their lives for everyone, including themselves, all the time. So here he was, in our house, currently without a bathroom sink, with tumbleweeds of cat hair and dust rolling around, and dirty dishes in the sink. I was mortified, but also so glad he was in my house. I went to a talk and saw him speak there, but then went home early and stayed up late cleaning. When he came back he seemed happy but said nothing about the difference in the house.
The important thing is that *I* felt it. When I told Dylan about the dream, about the stories of dropping in on their students, he looked mortified. "Too much work," he noted, and I tried to explain again - this isn't some outside standard, this is making your home as good as you want it to truly be as often as you can so that you can be your best - most alert, most rested, most supported. He got it, then. The Sakyong appeared in my dream not to bless me, not because I am special, but to remind me that I can be as prepared for myself, as honoring of myself, as for him. That I want to be. That there is no difference between me and him.
So I cleaned up my office today, put the shrine together with new supplies, and everything somehow found its place that had seemed homeless before. Putting together the books and texts from the retreat, a photo of the Sakyong fell out of my bag and landed face up on the floor. A slight smile, eyes directly looking at me, he reflected my own state - cleanliness is next to godliness, yes, but not some external god. Our own internal god, our own internal basic goodness, beyond good and bad, can land and open best in an uncluttered space.
The practice opened me up to this, I know that for certain. It, ironically, instead of taking me back to the retreat, brought me more here - into my home, into my life, into my "stuff" (of literal and metaphorical meaning). It's about time - as the retreat becomes more of a dream in my mind, a memory, the past, I don't want the teachings and their effect on me to fade. Last night was a reminder of how quickly it can all come back, and then some.
Here's to tasting just enough of the dream to sharpen up reality.