Sunday, February 28, 2010

Gold Medals to Hockey and Writing Event

"They have national health care, don't they? You think they might have let us have the gold medal."
                                           
And so ends the Olympic Games, with Canada walking off with the gold medal in hockey. My reasons for wanting teams to win and lose are less rational than other people's. I wanted Canada to win the gold medal in hockey because I figured they deserved it for hosting the Winter Olympics in spring-like conditions and for having spent huge amounts of money to host this thing. I didn't want the US to lose exactly, just not quite win. That doesn't make me anti-American, by the way.
                                                          
Speaking of gold medals, here's one to Lighthouse Writers Org in Denver for last night's writer's Buzz at 910 Arts on Santa Fe.         
Well over a hundred people showed up to hear four writers speak about their soon-to-be published books. The writers talked, read, told funny stories and basically shed some Lighthouse light on the craft of writing and the tricky business of getting published.

Arriving at the event almost on time, we pressed our noses against the window and figured we'd never squeeze in. Two people in front of us, said, 'no way,' and left. We pushed in anyway, and each found some space up against different walls.  Finally, the door had to be left open on this late February evening, to cool down the room. Right....so many bodies listening to poetry, fiction, memoir that the room temperature soared.
All kinds of people, young, old and in-between gathered for a writing event on a Saturday night in Denver. Not hanging around doing the chatty cocktail sort of thing, but sitting and standing and listening.  Makes one proud to be in Denver....And proud to be a Lighthouse member.  This little light of Lighthouse light just keeps shining...everyday. Let it shine, let it shine.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Close Encounters of a Daily Kind

Inside each person there's a story waiting to be told. I've been thinking about the range of people I encountered yesterday....I sometimes think there's not enough diversity in my world, but on days like yesterday, that diversity cup runneth over.  Close Encounters of the Daily Kind

     Let's start with the beautiful, smiling man at Kaiser. From there,
    A man moving into his fiancee's house, trying to find his space and place
    A woman from France, with Native American affinities and roots
    A woman who designs upscale handbags for upscale women who carry concealed weapons
    A massage therapist who wants to help abused children know what 'good' touch is like
    A woman whose journey has taken her from the proscribed rules of religion to the freedom of a personal
    relationship with Jesus
    A man who puts tap water into blue bottles to make it taste better and who waters his now flourishing
     plants only with water from a blue bottle
    A person who wants public options and health care for everyone
     A yoga goddess
     A person who doesn't want health care for anyone who can't pay for it
     An attorney who wants to practice creativity
     A woman who has been to a cougar convention
     Someone who lost 185 pounds.
     A person afraid to go out alone at night
     A person who avoids all medication
     A person who never met a pill she didn't like
     A woman who ministers to pilots and flight attendants
      A retired pilot who is now an x-ray technician
     A woman whose mother gave most of her money to one of those phony e-mail pleas
      A man who would like to be appreciated
     A person with lots of money; a person with very little

The woman who designs and sells fine leather bags for concealed weapons opened my eyes to a world I'd never imagined.  "You can't imagine how many women carry guns. Everywhere."
No, I can't. I can't imagine one woman I know carrying a gun. I spent all day yesterday trying to think of a woman I know who might possibly carry a concealed weapon. Zero. Nada. No one.
If you do, please don't let me know. I like my reality as it is right now. 
Obviously, each of the persons described has multiple characteristics. So many other identifiers could be added: political; ethnic; social; sexual; gender; religious; cultural....and that doesn't even get to kind, loving, mean, nasty, gentle....all the adjectives that really describe us. But there is a tale waiting to be told inside everyone.

     
     

Friday, February 26, 2010

I Can Afford It


"I'm sorry, the doctor didn't call in the prescription; you'll have to call him and come back next week to pick it up."

"But, but...I need to take this for several days before I have the cataract surgery, so I need them now."

"Well, I'll see what I can do. Take a seat for a short while and I'll beckon you when I have an answer."

Irritated, I turned to take a seat, when a tall, older African-American man with white hair and beard tapped me on the shoulder,
"Just want you to know, miss, when she told me to take a seat for a short while I still had black hair."
He roared with laughter and as I chuckled he said "Just wanted to make you smile."

He went on to get his prescription, told the assistant he'd give her an i.o.u. and laughed again. I watched him talk with several people, laughing with a much older couple about how much medicine it takes to keep ticking these days, commiserating with another man about an independent hardware store that had just closed down. He kneeled and talked an unhappy sick blond- haired little boy into laughing.

As he walked out and nodded at me, I smiled and asked, "And what makes you so happy today?"

He stopped, smiled big, looked straight into my eyes with his kind, beautiful face and said:

"Because it's free. I can afford it. Not much I can afford in this world today, but the one thing I can afford is to be happy." Deep smile lighting up the waiting room,  he touched me on the shoulder and walked out the door.
A woman sitting behind me, waiting for a blood test, turned around and said 'right on, brother.'
A large gift of love and kindness had dropped into my lap and the laps of everyone in the waiting room.
I want to cry and laugh when I think of him...and I can't stop thinking about him. I'm not really exactly sure what it means to be blessed, but I was blessed today.

'I'm happy because I can afford to be happy, because being happy is free."
I can afford it also. Pass it on.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Good Luck, Health Care

I Dwell in Possibilities, a fairer house than prose - Emily Dickinson.

This is probably a good day to hang out in the house of possibilities. That prose house hosting the talks on health care is probably filled with steam and pontification passing as prose right now. 'Possibilities, not prose' might make a good slogan.

It's supposed to be a really big day for health care...or not. The president and other politicians talking all day, with updates coming every nano-second from every medium that is or is not the message. And with twenty-four hour news available the choice will probably be listen to people talk about health or watch the seemingly healthiest bodies in the world compete for gold medals.

Something about me doesn't want to watch, read or hear the conversation, especially when everyone is posturing for the right sound bite at the right time. Not a great response for someone fairly well-educated, someone who takes voting seriously, is it? If they were all locked in a room with a mandate to agree upon a health care plan within 48 hours or all lose their own health insurance, I'd be there. That's all it would take.
Lucky for me, we're going to the theatre tonight. I'd rather have my fiction on stage than be saying, "OMG, You couldn't make it up" about reality.

Speaking of health care, what was the President of Nigeria doing for three months in a Saudi Arabian hospital, talking to no-one?  If he was in the hospital for ninety days, he has a heck of an insurance policy.
He's back, but the acting president Goodluck Johnathan is still in charge. Perhaps the acting or real presidents of every country should have Goodluck as a first or middle name. Now that I think of it, perhaps everyone in that health care meeting should be Goodluck for a day. Bet that would change the tone and temper of the conversation. A little levity would probably go a long way in that room.
Well, good luck, Goodluck.

Imagine one of our presidents exiting the country for three months? Medical leave of absence? It's hard for us to imagine there would be better health care for our president somewhere other than in the U.S.Medical tourism is growing all over the world, and many people are better for it. But it's still hard to imagine a US president choosing to go to Thailand, India or Saudi Arabia for treatment. We know we have the real deal here, we just don't have it for everyone. But, one of these days, some good luck is going to come the way of health care for all.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Road Rage

7:45 a.m., and a tall angry man is screaming in my face:  Whoa...I am just going to yoga.
I drive this road almost every day...down Quebec, cross Alameda, and on to Quebec again. Shortly after the light, Quebec moves from two lanes to one. I'm still to the right, moving nicely, before the lanes become one. I hear a small noise and see a car edging up right next to me. It comes from behind, on my left, cruises right along next to me. Maybe an inch between the two cars; I feel as if there are only two doors between my body and his passenger seat. The small noise disappears as he races by. He pulls over, as do I.
Getting out of my car, I don't see any visible damage, so figure it's his lucky day. I am expecting an apology, an 'Oh my God, I hope I didn't scrape your car. I'm so sorry."

Instead, full of rage, he bellows, "You hit me.You hit my car. The sign said you had to move over for me. You hit me on purpose."
Those of you who know me, know I never back off from these scenes. I never have. These days, I figure I have 'the little old lady look' on my side, so am more crazily courageous than I should be.
But this is different. Way different. Stunned, I look at his car. No scrapes, no sign of anything.
He doesn't stop screaming:  "There's damage. It's just under the plastic where you can't see it. You hit my car."
I say nothing.
When he stops, I walk back to my car and sit until he pulls away.
Maybe it was this morning's headline about a middle school, "Gunfire hits two kids" and the accompanying picture that silenced me. Perhaps it was my musing on the Dalai Lama the past several days.
I'm just feeling a little silenced today.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Dalai Lama Meets the Olympics

The Dalai Lama and Shaun White. Two of my favorite people show up on Larry King during the same hour.
I undedrstand Shaun showing up, but even after the interview, I'm not sure why the Dalai Lama did.


Again, I have nothing against Larry King (I do wonder why he doesn't have a better hair colorist). But had I pulled the media coup of the week and landed both Shaun White and the Dalai Lama, I'd have given Larry the night off, and set the table for Shaun and His Holiness to have a dialogue.
Being an uber-control freak, I might have asked them to touch on why they both laugh so much, what they could learn from one another, and how each of them gets to those moments of oneness. That would be the first half hour; the remainder of the show they could chat about stress, meditation, and the dangers of living in a world that is constantly feeding their egos. 
 Once the Olympics are over, Shaun White, Lindsey Vonn, Bode Miller will no longer be prominent in my mind, but the Olympics will linger.
As much as I love watching people who are so skilled and transcendent in their sports, the medal counting irks me. I'm probably the only person you know who wanted Canada to win the men's hockey game, or at least tie. I know, I know. It's fine with me when a person I like wins; it's the count, the race to the top that doesn't work for me.
This mini-rant is prompted by the fact that I sat with a group of people the other night, and several of them were talking about the figure skating events. One person said, 'I hate the North Koreans.' Someone else said 'I hate the North and South Koreans.'  As you can well imagine, things got pretty ridiculous very quickly. The context was confined: Only in the Skating component of the Olympics do these people dislike the Koreans.
That same evening, someone said "Oh, I love Johnny Weir; he's so Lady Gaga. I think he's fabulous." When her friend commented that Weir had stated publicly that he loved wearing furs, the young woman was devastated. "Oh, I thought for sure I would adore him forever, but I can't be crazy about someone who believes in killing animals for costumes." End of silly Olympic affair. That makes more sense to me than disliking a whole country.

Maybe I speak out of both sides of my mouth, or just have conflicting thoughts.  In 1968, when Black American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists to make a statement about the plight of Blacks in America, they were thrown out of the Olympic Village and shunned by millions. At the time, I thought they showed great courage and  applauded their acts. They had been inspired by the sociologist Harry Edwards who formed a movement that year for Black athletes to boycott the Olympics as a way of bringing attention to the Black American situation. The movement failed, but Smith and Carlos took the opportunity to make a statement on the platform. You can bet that they never found a product to endorse.
I'm not sure what would happen if an analogous situation were to happen today. Hope we don't have to find out.
I wonder what the Dalai Lama would say about Tommie Smith and John Carlos' attempt at a non-violent protest.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Dalai Lama

"The Dalai Lama kicks metaphorical ass."

Ever since I read that line this morning, it's been on my mind. It conjures up graphic, cartoon-like images for me. Makes one proud to be a metaphor lover.

Like millions of others in the US and around the world I love the Dalai Lama. I've been in his presence, in a room with hundreds of others, and had the same experience I had heard other tell.  He can walk across the stage and, without a word, bring silence and an aura of the sacred into an auditorium. Even with his brawny security guards standing at the ready looming behind him, he emits the power of peace.
The Dalai Lama is Spirituality. Spirituality may be one of those concepts that is almost impossible to define, but it's also one of the 'I know it when I see it,' and he's the real thing.

His message is so simple, and so hard. Eliminating attachments, letting go of ego, finding peace within to bring peace to the world... Moving from thought to action is a whole other story. 

He's so playful, so human. How many other world leaders smile and laugh as often as he does in public? Actually, like many others, I've been thinking about him prior to and after his meeting with Obama. What's not to love about a man who throws snowballs at news reporters, who attempts to be modest, egoless in spite of outrocking most rock stars. And how can anyone not absolutely drop-dead, be absolutely crazy about a man who claimed not to know who Tiger Woods is?  Ever since reading about Tiger Woods' non-news briefing claiming he was going back to his Buddhist roots, I feared the next piece of news would be that the Dalia Lama would be meeting with Tiger Woods to counsel him. There's no reason for the Dalai Lama not to counsel Tiger Woods or anyone else, but I was hoping it wouldn't happen.
Instead of mentoring Tiger Woods, tonight His Holiness is meeting with Larry King Live.

If I had heard the announcement on SNL, it would have made more sense. Why Larry King? I'm sure he's a nice enough guy, and there are no important movie stars binging, starving, exchanging mates, so why not the Dalai Lama?   Stranger television bedfellows there must be, but I can't think of them. I don't think there will be any metaphorical ass to kick tonight, but we know who could do it with a smile.

                                                       

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Conflicts of the Heart

The only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself...

This quote popped out to me early this morning when I opened my desk drawer, looking for a stamp, and found an old DU card with the line scribbled on it. Definitely my writing, in pencil. This is the oft-quoted line of William Faulkner's in his Nobel Acceptance speech decades ago.

Must be a reason this old card surfaced this morning. The human heart in conflict with itself...

So many conflicts, so little time. Secrets often turn out to be conflicts of the heart. "I should have told..." "If only..." "I'm so jealous and I know it's not good to be jealous so I'll never admit it." "Her research is brilliant, but I'll never admit it." "I think I believe in God, but none of my friends can find out."
I know,conflicts of the heart can be so much bigger than some personal twitch of discomfort; on the other hand, I'm reminded that tiny conflicts can set one's heart aflutter.

Hard to believe, but there was a time in my life that I had to make up 'sins' in order to have something to say in confession. Chances are, if you were raised Catholic, you went through the same process. One had to have something to say in confession, but after "I fought with my brothers," "had bad thoughts about my parents" there wasn't much to say. So, I made things up. Even little "I told a lie to my grandmother," or "I envied Dorothy Swider in math class today."

Which was worse in this tiny scheme of heart conflicts: lying to the priest or having nothing to say to the priest? If I had nothing to say, that would mean I was pretty perfect, and it wasn't good to think of oneself as perfect. Only God was perfect...seven year old conflict resolution: I'll make up something for the priest. We'll both be happy.

Oh, if only conflicts of the heart stayed that simple.
Watching the Olympics, one sees the heart conflict of "Oh, I hope he/she isn't really hurt, but Yea! now I'm in second place." The human condition.

One of the most painful conflicts of the human heart is hanging on to anger or resentment when it's time to let it go. It's not that we don't know about this stuff; does anyone out there think it's really smart or good to hold on to anger or resentment? I doubt it. But letting go is something else. It's that middle stage where the heart wants to hold on, almost needs to hold on to anger, but some small spot in the heart has been softened, opened just a crack, become vulnerable. A different type of ache emerges. No longer a world of duality: Open and shut. Hard and soft. Yes and no. So painful.

I'm reading a great book by Carleen Brice, Orange Mint and Honey,. Shay, the daughter, is filled with pain, hates her mother, and will not forgive her mother for the past. We're with her at first; the alcoholic mother abandoned her daughter, left her alone for days on end as a little child. Not much conflict here.
The real pain, the conflict, begins when the daughter sees some good in her mother, recognizes her mom's redemptive qualities. Maintaining her resentment, anger, and distrust drains her energy. She's on that shaky ground where holding on to the pain is tearing her apart, but the fear of letting go is still too risky.
Won't spoil the rest of the story for you, but conflicts of heart abound in this novel.

Me? I'm going to try to keep conflict-free today. What about you?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Got Brains?


 Yesterday I followed a van with a ‘Got Brains’ bumper sticker for about six miles. Actually, I followed most of the time, but did change lanes twice to catch a glimpse of the driver. He appeared just to be a guy, any guy, maybe in his thirties.
Why don’t I know what ‘Got Brains’ means? I googled the two words and came up with lots of vampire allusions, a couple of weird you tube videos and some ads. I found the site where one can purchase Got Brains stickers. So I’ve been thinking about why someone would put such a sticker on his car and what the responses would be.
Got brains?  I don’t know. You tell me. Yes. No. Left them at home. They’re on steroids right now. My dog ate them. A virus destroyed them. The bumper sticker amused me all the way up 6th Avenue.
With ‘got brains’ still playing itself out in mind, I listened to a conversation at a local coffee shop today.  It only takes a mouth to slurp the coffee, eyes (and brains) to read a book, so my ears were tuned into the young man across from me.
He punched some numbers into his cell and said softly “You’ll see me right away. I’m sitting in the first chair on the right when you come in.”
Not five minutes later, another young man comes in, sits down and pulls out his computer. The caller hands over his ipod. Not a word yet. The computer geek starts working furiously; about ten minutes later the person who handed over his ipod says, “How did you get into this business?”
“Oh, my friend at school was doing it and I saw how much money he was making so I got into it also. Easy. Great money.”
“What school?”
“Yeh, XXX High.” (don’t want to get anyone in trouble!)
“Shit, man, that’s where I went to high school.”
” For $20 more I can set you up so you can get any app you want for your phone, IPod, computer free. Anything.”
“Shit. I don’t have another twenty. How ‘bout meeting here during the week?”     
They finish the deal; IPod handed back, money handed over.  This must be the new drug deal.  And I’m still thinking, Got Brains?  These kids have brains. I couldn’t figure out a way to get a free app if it were actually free, and if I knew there was an app somewhere that I actually needed. App that.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Road Home


Yesterday’s blog was all about ancestors, DNA, the long journey from East Africa to wherever each of us is today.  The story, even with missing or questionable parts, speaks to all of us. The map provided by the Genographic Project is a stunning visualization of how and when groups took different paths.
With images of that journey prancing across my mind, I read about the latest endeavor of the talented, brilliant and passionate team leading Denver’s Road Home, part of Denver’s ten-year plan to end homelessness.  The road home. Stunning vision.
Thousands and thousands of years ago, the non-survivors probably outnumbered the survivors.  We understand the perilous conditions, the limited tools, all the unknowns that led to the death of people on the journey. Conditions were cruel. Challenges insurmountable. We get it.
However, it is within the context of this vast scheme of the human journey that homelessness today is inexplicable to me.  How has it happened that so many people in the world are homeless?  Is homelessness an inevitable part of the journey, just another blip on the screen of a longer narrative one of Dame Fortuna’s Grand Designs or life constrained by pre-destination?  I don’t think so.  I keep seeing that map of earliest humans trudging forward, not even really knowing to what end, but moving. Moving on. The Road Home.
The question of homeless people, especially in major cities of the ‘civilized’ world reminds me of a conversation I had in London this past fall. Waiting to get into Parliament, we got into conversation with one of the guards. He explained that this was one of the busiest days of the year in Parliament as it was the opening of the discussion on health care.   Once he realized that we were from the U.S. he corralled us into conversation about health care. “How can you Americans call yourselves civilized if you won’t even give healthcare to your citizens?”
This wasn’t the first time someone in England wanted to talk health care with us; in fact, almost everyone did. But this was the first time the question focused on what it means to be civilized. We were not the appropriate people to answer the question.
“I don’t know” was the best I could offer. Now, I don’t mean to get off on a health care ‘which way is the best way’ tangent here, but prefer to focus on the ‘civilized’ and ‘citizen’ part. What does it mean to be civilized and have people on the streets, sleeping in boxes?  And who are those people on the streets or sleeping in shelters?
Katie Symons, ex-DU colleague, friend, now on The Road Home team gave me some insight into the latest research about Denver’s homeless. The research is not based on some theoretical findings from a computer-generated program (not that there is anything wrong with computer generated programs). This research came from interviews, person to person, face to face interviews with 276 homeless people. I learned that a good number of the highly vulnerable people on the streets are over 60 or are veterans. I’m feeling sort of preachy here, but that doesn’t sound very civilized.  I’m pretty much an anti-war person, but I’m not an anti the person who served in the war person. And pro-civility.
‘The Denver survey found that the at-risk homeless have been on the streets for an average of 4.6 years, versus a 1.5-year average for others surveyed. Four and a half years on the streets? In one of the healthiest cities in the United States?  How does one get back that chunk of time, or probably a more crucial questions is, who wouldn’t be vulnerable after four and a half years on the streets? How civilized is that statistic?

Speaking of civility:  In 1992 my brother and I took our Aunt Mary to the Smithsonian Exhibit called The Etiquette of the Undercaste. Yes, the Etiquette. The exhibit was designed to replicate the life of the homeless, with mazes, mirrors, voices crying, voices shouting, wailing, talking and sirens roaring the whole time. Aunt Mary was probably in her sixties, and had led a nice, civilized, Catholic, giving life.  If you have a single aunt, or a single Irish-Catholic aunt, you know Aunt Mary.
To enter the exhibit, one had to lie down on a slab. Someone would shut the door on the slab and push until one got out on the ‘other’ side. Dante’s Inferno was nothing. Then a short walk through a maze, and into darkness, and around a corner where one could choose to cook B ig Macs at minimum age or sell crack at good prices. Within ten minutes, a guard had to come and help Aunt Mary out of the maze. In spite of the numerous cups of tea and nourishing food, she couldn’t stop shaking for hours.
That was after fifteen minutes. What would happen after four and a half years?
I know, I know. You are thinking ‘Is she insane? And what about her brother? Are they naturally cruel people? Were they arrested?’  No. Naïve perhaps, even a tad ignorant on the common sense scale. Aunt Mary is no longer alive, but the memory of that day in Washington DC is as vivid to Garrett and me as if it were part of the Denver Business Journal report.
To continue excerpts from the report:  ‘A survey last week of Denver's homeless population found that 44 percent are at risk of dying prematurely if left on the streets, slightly higher than the national at-risk rate.
Sixty-two of the 276 homeless people surveyed had a combination of mental illness, substance abuse and chronic disease, for example, while 48 had three or more emergency room or hospitalizations in the last year.’ 
…Oh yea, about that Health Care problem. I also learned that one of the more vulnerable women had been to the emergency room over thirty times in the past three weeks. I know some people think the homeless or poor go to the emergency room as if taking a walk in the park, but thirty times? Do you think something might be wrong?
‘Forty-four percent of the Denver homeless people surveyed met at least one criterion classifying them as high risk under the "Vulnerability Index," a tool created through research by Dr. Jim O’Connell of Boston Healthcare for the Homeless indicating that certain medical conditions place a homeless person at a higher risk of death than others if they remain on the streets.Assisting in the survey were outreach workers from several local community organizations, including the St. Francis Center, Urban Peak and the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.’
Something in our DNA must not want people to be homeless, to be without the care they need.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Who Are You?


Who Are You? No wonder The Who was called on to ask the question during Super Bowl halftime; no wonder we sing along each time as if it’s a brand new question/ Who oooo Are You? Where did 'you' start, and what path did your ancestors take?
Scientists in those DNA labs must be working overtime. Last year it was Charles Darwin. Just a few days ago, it was King Tut; today the focus is on Desmond Tutu. Turns out Desmond Tutu isn’t quite what he thought he was.

Here’s a brief summary of the findings of scientists who decoded DNA in some people from southern Africa:
Any two Bushmen (in the study) who spoke different languages were more different – genetically – than a European and an Asian. Now, push me on this, and I won’t be able to tell you what it really means, but from here it sounds pretty amazing.
Even the Bushmen who lived within walking distance of one another were more genetically different than an Asian and European. What exactly does that mean? How can such differences exist between and among people whom we assume would be incredibly similar? It’s not as if people from the U.S. or Europe decide to move to South Africa and become bushmen. That doesn’t happen. So when and how did mutations, differences occur?
Apparently these scientists found 1.3 million small variations in human DNA that hadn’t been discovered prior to this study. If you’re interested, the article on the study appears in the latest volume of the journal Nature. I haven’t read the article, just some info in the papers and on line.

In many ways, the search for knowledge, for understanding is more compelling to me than the outcomes. Equally compelling is how one thing leads to another and another. Backwards, sideways, forwards, the quest for knowledge propels each generation. That’s the miracle for me.
Desmond Tutu was a bit surprised, as he was chosen specifically to represent the Bantu ancestry, to learn that his mother’s ancestry includes at least one Bushman. Now the Bantu have a history of farming and the Bushmen of hunting and gathering. If I remember correctly, we think – or we used to think – that Bushmen are the oldest known of human ancestors.
Perhaps we have to stop asking “Who Are You?” or “Who Am I?” How can anyone possibly answer those questions with any degree of certainty?

National Geographic does genographic studies for about $99. A couple of years ago, I gave myself a holiday present, justifying the cost as a contribution to research. I sent in a swab from my cheek, and several weeks later learned that I belong to haplogroup H. I learned that my group left East Africa and travelled for many thousands of years across Eurasia and now we make up the most frequent western European haplogroup. There were a couple of mutations along the way, or at least that’s how the string of 569 letters of my mitochondrial sequence shows up.
Don’t think for a minute that I really understand my mitochondrial sequence or have a clue about the following sentence, “the letters A, C, T, and G represent the four nucleotides of the chemical building blocks that make up your mitrochondrial DNA.”
At best, mine is a skimming of the surface understanding, but even so, it’s fascinating.

The Genographic Project, by the way, traces the mother’s DNA only, as it is trying to get back to our earliest ancestor – the woman at the beginning. Who was she, where did she live…and what’s her story? What’s our story? And how long can we stick to it before another version comes along?

A Little Dirt is good


“If a grandmother somewhere in the world ate a particular food regularly you can bet that it’s good food, and good for you.” 
That’s the line I heard when I turned on NPR this afternoon. Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, and other books.
A caller was asking whether ‘tempe’ is a good choice in foods, and the above was his response. He admitted that it wasn’t a very scientific method for judging food, but suggested that science was now just catching up and verifying the wisdom of elders.
He was speaking, of course, of grandmothers who were around before the advent of fast foods, packaged everything, grandmothers who lived prior to the time that most foods had shelf lives of more than two years.  I’m afraid my generation of grandmothers would not be good resources or role models.
To be fair to the rest of us, it was easy for our elders to not succumb to fast-food cooking, drive-by eating; those choices weren’t available to them.
Pollan nails the American paradox about food, “The more we worry about health, the less healthy we seem to become.”  Maybe a more accurate statement would be ‘the more we talk about being worried about….’     As we all know, talk is still cheap, intentions are fairly inexpensive also.
“Yes, a little dirt is good for you,” he responds to another caller.  In fact, the lack of dirt, the fear of dirt may be a cause for the dramatic rise in allergies. So the fear of germs that has propelled Purell and all the other hand sanitizers into a permanent state of wealth just might be doing more harm than good. I laugh to myself, thinking of my father and Granny Phelan repeating Pollan's exact words.
Do I really need to wipe my hands and protect myself from the last person just pushing a Whole Foods cart? Did said person bring whatever danger lurks on his or her hand into the store, or was the danger picked up in the store? Overkill.  We rebel in our own little ways, and refusing to use the hand sanitizer at Whole Foods is one of my small acts of rebellion.
Last night two women were talking about food prior to yoga class. Same conversation, even though, I later learned, neither of these women had heard of Michael Pollan.  One checks every item she buys to make sure it hasn’t been genetically altered; the other has fresh goat milk and farm eggs delivered to her home.  I think about the box of wheat thins sitting on my kitchen counter.  Which of these food groups attracts you?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Tut Tut


'Egypt's famous pharaoh, King Tutankhamun, was a frail boy who suffered from a cleft palate and club foot.' This innocent sentence has stayed with me all day. Sitting in a meeting in Lakewood, driving to yoga, opening the mail.... something about King Tut having a club foot and cleft palate is rather haunting.
Why should his looks, his illnesses, the sibling relationship of his parents matter? It makes perfect sense that scientists are doing DNA testing and CT scans on his remains, and it gives me a sense of awe and great respect for what doctors and scientists are able to do. Every research lab everywhere holds unknown promises for all of us.
On a scientific level,this is all important information.
What concerns me is my own personal response. New York City, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1979. So many decades ago,we waited for hours to see the remains of King Tut in New York City. This famous boy/man had spent nine years on the throne, ages 10 - 19, and had been murdered, or so we thought. The gold, funeral mask, and power is what attracted me and my friends and colleagues to hop the train to NYC for the exhibit.
Would it have made a difference way back then had I known this young King was sickly, and afflicted with a club foot and cleft palate? In my imagination, he was an heroic young man, surely as beautiful as that gold funeral mask we waited so impatiently to see. Surely he had the athleticism of a young god and the rare wisdom of a king.
What difference would it have made in the history I created for Tut and all of ancient Egypt? What difference, if any, will the more recent findings make to the study, the worship of King Tut?
Lord Byron, the great Romantic poet, had a club foot that he tried to hide most of his life. Mary Shelly said of Byron that the club foot had an impact on every action in Byron's life. Could the same possibly be said for young King Tut?
These might seem like silly questions, and, in fact, they probably are. Fortunately, today the questions would be 'When should we make corrections,take care of the conditions? But that is now.
Nthing has changed, really. Well, other than my perceptions. Construction, de-construction, restructuring. How busy our minds keep themselves.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fat Tuesday

Finally posting some Fat Tuesday thoughts now that the weekend's CT thoughts made it to the blog.

Fat Tuesday, Carnival, Mardi Gras…full frontal attack of food, fun, festivities. Samba, samba, samba. Fat Tuesday revelries become Lean Lenten humility on Wednesday. I know New Orleans is having its own extended Mardi Gras, as well it should. Let those Saints, religious and athletic, come marching in.
New twist this year in Rio, as the 7-year old leading the parade in Sambadrome burst into tears before the parade got underway. I don’t know why a seven year old was chosen, am not sure how I feel about the choice, but it doesn’t matter, as the courts cleared her way to participate.

Julia Lira did make me think of the wonderful movie, Black Orpheus and I found a clip from the ending on YouTube today. But even more interesting to me, was the Peter Bradshow article “Why Obama is Wrong About Black Orpheus” from The Guardian that I found on the omnipresent, omniscient Google.
Black Orpheus is the 1959 film by Marcel Camus, recreating the Orpheus and Eurydice myth in the Rio carnival; it won the Palme d'Or at Cannes that year and also a Golden Globe and an Oscar for best foreign-language film a year later. The beautiful, dangerous love story of Orpheus and Eurydice is transformed into a tale during Carnival.

But for the young Barack Obama, neither aspect was persuasive. According to Bradshaw, in Dreams from my Father, Obama recalls:
"We took a cab to the revival theatre where the movie (Black Orpheus) was playing. The film, a groundbreaker of sorts due to its mostly black, Brazilian cast, had been made in the fifties. The storyline was simple: the myth of the ill-fated lovers Orpheus and Eurydice set in the favelas of Rio during carnival, in Technicolor splendour, set against scenic green hills, the black and brown Brazilians sang and danced and strummed guitars like carefree birds in colourful plumage. About halfway through the movie I decided I'd seen enough, and turned to my mother to see if she might be ready to go. But her face, lit by the blue glow of the screen, was set in a wistful gaze. At that moment I felt as if I were being given a window into her heart, the unreflective heart of her youth. I suddenly realised that the depiction of the childlike blacks I was now seeing on the screen, the reverse image of Conrad's dark savages, was what my mother had carried with her to Hawaii all those years before, a reflection of the simple fantasies that had been forbidden to a white, middle-class girl from Kansas, the promise of another life: warm, sensual, exotic, different.". . . "The emotions between the races could never be pure; even love was tarnished by the desire to find in the other some element that was missing in ourselves."

I’ve not read Obama’s books, though I think I should. Those of us who loved the film and eagerly watched the years it showed up at Cine Studio at Trinity or at some UHartford film festival were probably somewhat naïve and ‘unreflective.’ I loved the tale, the exotic, erotic, mythic dimensions, and loved the children dancing and sun rising at the end.
It does no good, really, to go back and view the film, looking for a way to critique myself, find flaw in my reading of a film so many years ago. What would be the purpose? Still, Obama’s commentary is another stark reminder of the power of context. Peter Bradshaw may be right that Obama is wrong, but, for that time, at that time, that’s his story. He should stick to it. I'm sticking to mine. And I still love the ending.

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0jZRkFt

Animals


I have this thing with animals. Last week I wrote about some dog experiences I had. I figured I had said enough, played my awkwardness with animals card long enough, and chose not to even mention the dog that was sucking his paw during yoga while I was trying to practice exhaling more air than I had inhaled. Maybe I was supposed to be taking more time exhaling than inhaling. I don’t know. I do know that the dog was making sounds that suggested he was far more relaxed than I. No stilted, staccato breath coming from him, just happy, relaxed high-pitched sighs. The more relaxed he sounded, the less relaxed I felt.

If you read my previous blog, you know I went to an extraordinary sacred temple on Sunday. BLEAT. BLEAT, BLEEEEEEAT.“Follow the sound of the goat to the temple,” said Alyssa, so putting one foot in front of the other, I muttered, “Can one still be a goddess without an affinity for animals? I have fond memories of most of the pets I’ve had – little Corgi Branwen, cocker spaniel Speckie. True, there were those cats that brought non-stop allergies alive in the house; the dog who brought families of fleas; and Argus, who held us hostage many a night.

I’ve walked through farmlands in Spain, been followed by cows in Switzerland, scared sheep in England, sat uneasily on an elephant in India, tumbled off a broken down nag in Cape Cod. It’s not that I don’t know animals. The problem is that animals know me. And I swear they don’t like me. I’ve tried a little conflict resolution and deep breathing. I watched the film Temple Grandin twice because I was so fascinated by her affinity with and understanding of animals. I stand in awe of this woman and her deep wisdom and brilliance. We are at opposite extremes on the understanding and connection with animal scale. And don’t get the impression that I think we humans just plopped onto this earth in our present condition. I get evolution.

So, I’ve been feeling a bit glum about this situation until I received an e-mail from my friend Diane Wendt today. Yea!!!! I am not totally lost. I do know and like – am crazy about – a woman who breeds dogs. And I know this woman because I know another woman who has and does own dogs bred by Jaimi. More than you need to know about me and animals, but I had to share this with you.

Jaimi Glodek, our good friend and Westie Breeder, is in New York City today and showing two Westies in the Terrier Category this morning.  Edward won Best of Show and Henry came in third.  Jaimi and Edward will be strutting their stuff tonight starting at 6 pm MST on TV via the USA and/or CNBC channel.  There also may be a video put up on the Westminster Dog Show later in the day in which both Edward and Henry are visible.  Do drop into the website at http://www.westminsterkennelclub.org/ for more detailed information.

Goddesses

“Come with me to a Goddess retreat Sunday morning. You will love it, I promise,” said my sister-in-law Alyssa. Never one to pass up a meeting with goddesses I joined Alyssa and her friend Jane in search of the goddess retreat in Canton CT. As it is Valentine’s Day, the Chinese and Tibetan New Year, I trust that many goddesses must be on call, waiting to strut their stuff on this day of love and celebration.

Canton is an old CT town peppered with deep red, yellow, white clapboard and old brick colonial homes, each surrounded by acres of farmland shimmering in a white dust of snow under the sneaky New England winter sun. We make our way through the windy roads, admiring the scenes as we round each curve.

At last we find the elusive long, straight-up driveway to a contemporary house sheltered by the hilltop trees. Behind the wooden house with its large windows and screened in porch sat another building. Following the strings of Tibetan prayer flags flying in the hilltop winds, I heard a not-so-familiar sound. BLEAT. There he was, the huge white goat behind his invisible security fence.

“Follow the sound of the goat to the temple,” said Alyssa, so putting one foot in front of the other, I muttered, “Can one still be a goddess without an affinity for animals?
I must be a goddess; I gave Roscoe a book on the Kama sutra, The Book of Love, for Valentine’s Day. That’s a goddess sort of move, I think.

The Women’s Temple in Her Name is a beautiful space, a space Nora Jamieson built to fulfill her dreams of having a place where women would have a sacred space to meet, pray, heal, sing, learn, and/or meditate. It is a place for women to offer gratitude to Quan Yin, the goddess of compassion.

Nora has designed guidelines, if one is so moved, for entering the sacred space. I enter with awe and a sense of wonder. Imagine, this woman, along with her male partner and friends poured the cement and hammered floor joists into place themselves. Prayers were inscribed in the walls, floors, roof by all those women who contributed to the support of this building.

We call to the spirit of the four directions once we begin. Each direction I turn, there is beautiful art on the wall, sculptures standing, and gifts from the earth. Feathers, bones, candles, statues of deities, a mandala, drums, and so much more. Three thankas are on one wall; an old bookcase full of wisdom catches my eye.

We spend time in song, in silence, in full listening, and conversation. It’s not a workshop, a structured class; there is no product.

I’ve had a range of experiences in the world of the spiritual. I’ve been guided by a wise man in a sweat lodge and watched a hungover shaman pretend to call to his gods, talk on his cell phone, and grab the breasts or butt of every young woman in site, in almost perfect synchronicity. Shyster shamans, faux goddesses, sweat lodge deadbeats are all out there. But just often enough one meets someone with pure heart and intentions, someone who believes in human kindness, and wants to share his or her soul with others.
I leave with my heart full, the valentine in me singing and dancing to the sound of the drums.

Tobacco


I’m in Windsor CT, peering out a hotel window on some tobacco barns in an area that was once a thriving tobacco growing complex, recalling a Huron Indian myth. The myth says that in ancient times, when the land was barren and the people were starving, the Great Spirit sent forth a woman to save humanity. As she traveled over the world, everywhere her right hand touched the soil, there grew potatoes. And everywhere her left hand touched the soil, there grew corn. And when the world was rich and fertile, she sat down and rested. When she arose, there grew tobacco . . .
If the myth were to continue to the present it would say, and when the world grew busy she called some consultants. Together, with their hands, they fertilized the soil anew and replaced the empty tobacco plantations with rows of hotels to accommodate even more consultants who would come to town looking for a place to rest between meetings.
Windsor CT was synonymous with tobacco-picking throughout most of my youth and pre-teen years. “When your father was a child he walked a couple of miles and then hopped on broken-down bus packed with other boys under sixteen. The bus made its way along the bumpy back roads to Windsor where they jumped off at one of the farms, stood in the sun and picked tobacco leaves all day long. Sun would beat down all day long, causing those boys to sweat pimples all over their backs. And your cousins Bobby and Harvey worked tobacco during the summers when they were young.” 

A whole generation learned how not to listen when the ‘when I/we/she/he was young’ tobacco litanies began. The tobacco work stories were the worst, but shoveling snow for three hours in order to walk five miles to school, putting cardboard in the bottom of shoes to cover the holes, hand-me-down clothes, books, pencils fell in the category of ‘shut my ears’ stories. Learning how not to listen 101.  
  The tobacco picking stories diminished and disappeared over time. Young city boys were replaced by men coming from Puerto Rico to earn money. Some stayed on, finding autumn work in the apple orchards, bringing their families and enrolling children in school. Times changed, people changed, but the hard work in the fields remained. But the stories began having a harder edge.
Perhaps it was the times….I was listening in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, listening and joining the voices of protest around the country.  We boycotted lettuce and grapes to support the cause of migrant workers in California, and thanks to Bobby Kennedy and Cesar Chavez, began rallying around the tobacco field workers’ causes. We didn’t boycott cigarettes, and certainly had no problem with cigars, but the plight of the workers, the abusive living and working conditions, became rallying points. Things changed.

 Funny how time and perspective can change things. Because I did all I could to not listen, to not get the moral of the story as a child I never did feel compassion for the plight of workers who were my family. It took the plight of strangers and some perspective to catch some retroactive compassion.

From the eighth floor of the hotel, tobacco fields, dusted lightly with snow, are to my left. Another hotel is to my right. I suppose from a distance the snow could be seen as ashes, the remnants of the final cigarettes that called CT home. Imagine those two proud men walking the streets, chests out, puffing on fine cigars? Those cigar wrappers were once hanging in one of those tobacco barns. Today, the two large tobacco barns sit still, providing a ready-made scene for practicing artists in search of a landscape, writers seeking a story, or someone holding a memory.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Recently there was an article somewhere, probably The New York Times, about aging and why time goes by so quickly the older one gets. Lots of theories and discussion about how a year becomes a smaller and smaller percentage of one’s life over time. So a one- year period between ages 59-60 is a much shorter percentage than it is from age two to three. Makes sense. Maybe it takes longer to move, read a book, play a game at 65 than it does at 25. I don’t know; to me, some things seem as if they just happened yesterday, but simultaneously, feel they’ve been going on forever.

For example, in many ways I feel like a newcomer to Colorado, as if I just arrived, hardly know the state. Other times, it seems I’ve been in Denver forever, it’s ‘home.’ So it is both. Denver became my new home in 1993, so it has been a while. Same with this marriage. On the one hand it seems forever; on the other hand, just recently. It will be fifteen years this August. I don’t even know if that is a long or short time.

I got another perspective this morning. Every year Webster Hill school has a fundraiser for Heart Awareness and Heart Health. Smart move, as they then celebrate Valentine’s Day in the afternoon.

Students from every grade have a time period in the gym in which they jump rope; parents and friends can donate money for the number of minutes jumped. Friendly competition, all for a good cause, teaching students to exercise for their own heart health while raising money for a Heart Foundation. In the weeks prior to the Heart Jump, students are encouraged to practice in gym, recess, and at home. The children sit in groups of five or six, and take turns jumping for one minute. A whistle blows, and it’s time to rotate. This goes on for forty-five minutes, leaving time for multiple turns.

First I watched the five year olds. Most of the time, the rope was laid on the floor and students jumped over the rope. A few took on the challenge of actually throwing that rope of their little heads and trying to jump over it. But most of it was sneaky moves back and forth across the rope on the floor.

Then came the second graders. Some of those seven year olds were speed jumping, speed twirling, a few jumping on one foot. Not a rope on the floor. The speed demons were exhausted after their first three times. One could almost hear the thumping hearts in that space. Between turns they’d race off to the water fountain, gulp a few times, and come back.

What a difference two years make at that age. On the other side of the chronological ruler, what changes happen between 48 and 50 or 62 and 64? Not much that I can think of. There seem to be fewer markers, years of distinction. I know, we’re finished developmentally. No long full speed ahead, just a zigzag here, a short reversal there.Can't remember exactly when nouns started disappearing, when it was necessary to have a pair of glsses in the car, another pair in the kitchen. Slow, incremental, slug like changes.
Get the jumpropes out, but save the double dutch for someone else.



Maybe we should all organize some Heart Jumps. Do some realize and see what the differences are. I will be smiling all day just imaging various groups of us in a jump rope marathon.