Friday, October 29, 2010

Ego Eradicator

Every time I twist one way or another, take a shallow breath, or feel my head getting too big for my hat I learn something new.

A Yoga Trick to Eradicate that Swollen Ego:

Stand tall and comfortable, root yourself, and feel yourself connected to the earth.
Stretch your arms out wide, shoulder height, fingers stretched, with thumbs pointing upwards.
Take those thumbs (symbol of the ego), fold them into the palm, and wrap your fingers around them (fingers of consciousness).
Breath in and out rapidly...pump your stomach (diaphragm) as you breathe in and out (you'll see it moving in and out unless you have the body we all dream of having).
Feel the warmth from your breathing. Feel that swollen ego dissolving.
Bring your hands down to your sides, carefully and gently unwrap those fingers of consciousness.
Trust that your ego will no longer need to be at the center of your universe, trying to manipulate things.

Try it. What do you have to lose?  Well, maybe a tad of self-importance. Don't worry, at least for me, that self-importance finds its way back home all too quickly.

Nature is a Haunted House


"Nature is a Haunted House - but Art - a House that tries to be haunted." —Emily Dickinson


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Journey to the Unknown

Many journeys on my mind today. I keep thinking about Ann, our beloved pilgrim, walking so many miles every day and am in awe. And I've got other upcoming journeys on my mind.
Heading to CT for Halloween. I've always loved the rituals associated with Halloween, and the more I've learned about Celtic Christianity, the more sacred I find even the silly rites of the night. So here's a bit of history. Be warned. There's more coming this week, as we know Ann will be celebrating the Day of the Dead and we'll be celebrating All Hallow's Eve.
Here's what I know (from the Library of Congress and other sources)
Halloween had its beginnings in an ancient, pre-Christian Celtic festival of the dead.
The festival observed at this time was called Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween). It was the biggest and most significant holiday of the Celtic year. The Celts believed that at the time of Samhain, more so than any other time of the year, the ghosts of the dead were able to mingle with the living, because at Samhain the souls of those who had died during the year traveled into the otherworld. People gathered to sacrifice animals, fruits, and vegetables. They also lit bonfires in honor of the dead, to aid them on their journey, and to keep them away from the living. On that day all manner of beings were abroad: ghosts, fairies, and demons--all part of the dark and dread.
According to the American Folklife Center,
Samhain became the Halloween we are familiar with when Christian missionaries attempted to change the religious practices of the Celtic people. In the early centuries of the first millennium A.D., before missionaries such as St. Patrick and St. Columcille converted them to Christianity, the Celts practiced an elaborate religion through their priestly caste, the Druids, who were priests, poets, scientists and scholars all at once. As religious leaders, ritual specialists, and bearers of learning, the Druids were not unlike the very missionaries and monks who were to Christianize their people and brand them evil devil worshippers.
A rose by any other name...
As a result of their efforts to wipe out "pagan" holidays, such as Samhain, the Christians succeeded in effecting major transformations in it. In 601 A.D. Pope Gregory the First issued a now famous edict to his missionaries concerning the native beliefs and customs of the peoples he hoped to convert. Rather than try to obliterate native peoples' customs and beliefs, the pope instructed his missionaries to use them: if a group of people worshipped a tree, rather than cut it down, he advised them to consecrate it to Christ and allow its continued worship.
Pope Gregory re-branded Samhain and many other religious holidays in a way that kept everyone somewhat happy. No slouch he, in a world where the terms marketing and branding weren't glimmers in anyone's mind. 
The old beliefs associated with Samhain never died out entirely. The powerful symbolism of the traveling dead was too strong, and perhaps too basic to the human psyche, to be satisfied with the new, more abstract Catholic feast honoring saints. Recognizing that something that would subsume the original energy of Samhain was necessary, the church tried again to supplant it with a Christian feast day in the 9th century. This time it established November 2nd as All Souls Day--a day when the living prayed for the souls of all the dead. But, once again, the practice of retaining traditional customs while attempting to redefine them had a sustaining effect: the traditional beliefs and customs lived on, in new guises.
All Saints Day, otherwise known as All Hallows (hallowed means sanctified or holy), continued the ancient Celtic traditions. The evening prior to the day was the time of the most intense activity, both human and supernatural.  (excerpt from Jack Santino, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress).
Pretty clever transition, All Souls Day, All Saints Day....all sorts of days rooted in the ancient rituals and traditions of the past.  I suspect that the concept of the dead walking among the living, the living being able to cross over to the 'other' world will never lose its place in the human psyche. We're all looking for a glimpse, hoping to find what the Celts call the Thin Place.  More on thin places tomorrow.
Keep the spirits dancing.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pilgrimage to Chimayo

Winter Pilgrim Ann Sieben has made it to Chimayo!  That's 375 miles, give or take a few for wandering, from Denver. Pretty amazing, and even more amazing, is that she just escaped the mountain snow in CO.

That completes the  first leg of the pilgrimage, but a big one (bit strange talking about 'leg' as a destination here instead of talking about the leg muscles that conquered those 375 miles). For those of you who haven't been there, Chimayo is a pretty sacred place. Whether one believes - or not - that miracles occurred there doesn't matter. Over the years, pilgrims and other holy people bowed their heads and prayed in the Sanctuario de Chimayo that it feels sacred. I'm not looking for a miracle, but still have my little box of dirt from Chimayo tucked away.  
Many believers in the Santo Niño de Atocha also come to Chimayó. In the beginning of World War II many New Mexico soldiers were stationed in the Phillipines because of their fluency in Spanish. During the long siege of Corregidor and the subsequent Bataan Death March many of our soldiers prayed to the Santo Niño de Atocha and many believed that they survived as a result of his intercession. After the war these soldiers began the annual Easter tradition of walking to el Santuario de Chimayó in honor of the Santo Niño de Atocha and in memory of the Bataan Death March. The tradition flourished, and in the days leading up to Easter the roads and paths in north-central New Mexico are filled with people young and old making the journey on foot. This particular piece of info, lifted from the web this very day, is particularly meaningful to me. My Uncle Dan, a tall, black-haired, rocking Irish man, survived the Battle of Corregidor and long years as a prisoner of war after the Bataan Death March.  While he was a prisoner, my grandmother made her own little pilgrimage around the windows of her living room, reciting the rosary ten times a day. She believed her rosaries helped (and the fact that Danny ate his porridge every morning as a little boy).  Now I have this sweet connection to Chimayo locked in my heart.
But....enough about me. I have taken excerpts from our winter pilgrim's blog and am going to paste them here. You'll be able to start at the present (Chimayo) and work backwards to the beginning. Hope my cut and paste sufficed to shorten Ann's three posts, but didn't edit out anything significant.  Hope you feel as attached to this pilgrimage as I do! Enjoy.

I've arrived in Chimayo, America's most-visited pilgrim destination. New Mexico has proven to be pretty roller-coaster-y through Carson National Forest, and in the rain and low clouds, I wasn't able to see the snow on the upper peaks very often. Beautiful land... yet odd to link cactus and rain. This marks the successful completion of the first leg of my pilgrimage. I know I've pushed a bit hard through the mountains - even with the extra weight of the snowshoes, I managed over 26 miles per day... daily mountain marathons, literally, no wonder my feet are so achy - nonetheless, I hope other pilgrims follow, at their own pace. I've found that churches are as helpful here as anywhere in Europe for assisting pilgrims with accommodation and doling out the all-important stamp for the credenziale. There are pilgrim-friendly people everywhere.

Walking through history again  Thursday, October 21, 2010

One of the finest parts of the pilgrim path is the connection with history. After going down down down to Canon City (and by the way, there's a tilda missing from above the first n in that town's name), I climbed up up up along the Oak Creek Grade - aptly named because of the number of scrub oaks along the gulches and brooks in every color of flame. Although I was vying for a 30-mile day, the steepness of the graded dirt road did me in... over 2,000 feet of elevation gain in just a few miles followed by rolling ups and downs that seemed positively endless. Angels, where are you??? Right there, at the Oak Creek Grade General Store. I made it as far as that and was offered some refreshment and the use of their computer for the last blog. Audrey, the proprietress matter-of-factly told me that I'd stay the night there in the cottage. It shocked me in a way because my mind was set for another 4 hours of walking, though it was already 4 in the afternoon; however, my feet and my lungs begged to accept the offer. Done. Husband Jack, an old cowboy - really and truly - was full of interesting history that makes a pilgrimage all the more worthwhile.

Oak Creek Grade was not only the path used by the early American explorer Zebulon Pike, but also a Ute footpath between their summer and winter grounds. History, right there under my feet. No towns exist along the 30-mile stretch yet people live there happily, off the grid. These off-gridders are a wholesome bunch. I've learned about 'barn churches' in rural America - working barns that are repurposed on Sundays for a makeshift multi-denominational church services. Although towns are few and yearnfully far between, the people I've met have been warm and inviting, always fulfilling my request to fill my water bottle. Without people, a pilgrimage simply couldn't work.

With some help from several off-gridders, I've made it down into the San Luis Valley. The town of San Luis itself is noteworthy for its grassroots shrine of the Stations of the Cross - bronze statues made by a local artist on a path built by the community on a hillside above the town. Atop the hill is a beautiful domed chapel in a European style. I've got some watercolors and will upload them when I get the opportunity. The important thing is that this is a beautiful pilgrim destination in its own right... hear this Denver pilgrims, 10 days of walking makes a nice pilgrimage in a spectacular and varied landscape.

Mountain Marathons!  Saturday, October 16, 2010

I'm a pilgrim again! and loving every minute of it =)
Admittedly, my feet are killing me, but I don't care. I'm glad I packed on a few extra pounds before leaving... the high mountains require far far more calories than I can possibly eat in a day, even if I were interested in carrying food along with me. Up and down the mountains, dancing around 10,000 feet... a day of rain, a day of heat, another day of rain, two more of heat... I sleep well.
Right from the get go, I can earnestly cry out to all American pilgrims - do your next pilgrimage here!! The send off was spectacular - hundreds at the morning Mass last Sunday stayed after the overwhelming pilgrim blessing in the forecourt of the Our Lady of Guadalupe church in Denver to hug me and wish me well. It was wonderful, and very personal in a way I never experienced as a visitor in Europe. And then, after walking along the South Platte River bike path to Littleton, some fellas outside a pub shouted their greetings and insisted I let them buy me a beer and hear about my journeyPeople are kind, they really are.
As for accommodation - always the most difficult part of a pilgrimage off the beaten pilgrim paths - I've managed something every night, of course, but in such a uniquely American way: in three of the six nights on the road so far, a hotel has comped me a room in exchange for a mention on this blogsite.
I entered Monument on the new Santa Fe Trail footpath that they're in the process of extending between Denver and Santa Fe, and when they do, no pilgrim from Denver will have any excuse not to walk to Chimayo via this route. It's a greater distance than going through the mountains, but better accommodation opportunities and shorter daily distances are the benefits.
Up in Cripple Creek - a boy is that an UP! - I entered the village at the point of exhaustion and stopped in the first place I saw - no other opportunity to even sit in a chair since leaving Woodland Park 28 miles back and several thousand feet of elevation between - a Ruby Tuesdays, where Don and the rest of the staff took very gentle care of my refreshment and revitalization
Now I'm in the thick of the difficult part of Colorado - today, 30 miles to a small town where there's no resident priest, then 32 miles to no where, then another 30 miles over the last mountain range I'll need to cross in Colorado. I'd dream of the ease of the San Luis Valley, but I'm way too tired these days.
Now I'm in the thick of the difficult part of Colorado - today, 30 miles to a small town where there's no resident priest, then 32 miles to no where, then another 30 miles over the last mountain range I'll need to cross in Colorado. I'd dream of the ease of the San Luis Valley, but I'm way too tired these days.

I like the walking even through the difficulties not present in European walks - I fill my water bottle from the streams and plunk a chloride tablet in and wait before drinking... I struggle to find a place to sit on the ground not already occupied by some type of cactus or otherwise prickly growth... but the beauty of the Colorado Rockies this time of year is not to be missed.

Ciao until the next time I find an internet point!

Monday, October 25, 2010

For Grapes' Sake

Ripping winds, pulling leaves off trees, and a rainbow.....all at 7:45 this Monday morning in Denver.
By 8:30 winds died down and leaves gone to gather in comfortable piles. Rainbow disappeared and light drizzle in the air.  A wonderful way to kick off the week -- a robust reminder of how chaotic and beautiful the world is.
 And as a reminder of the synchronicity of things, here's the poem I tucked away yesterday, when the morn was mild, for today's posting. 

by Robert Frost

O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
To-morrow's wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
To-morrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow,
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know;
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away;
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes' sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes' sake along the wall.

Give it all for the grapes' sake.  Moving into Celtic time this week. 

Friday, October 22, 2010


Just minding my own business, joking about my own sense of authenticity,  I was jolted into worrying about the Other.  Not just the ordinary Other -- that person who looks, acts, dresses differently than I do. No, this is the real Other. For a joke and a jolt, try voting.
The joke was the number of oddballs running for office. The jolt was in the amendments and questions. I'm giving you the final Ballot Question straight up.  It requires a Yes or No answer:

Shall the voters for the City and County of Denver adopt an Initiated Ordinance to require the creation of an extraterrestrial affairs commission to help ensure the health, safety and cultural awareness of Denver residents and visitors in relation to potential encounters or interactions with extraterrestrial intelligent beings or their vehicles, and fund such commission from grants, gifts and donations?  (italics mine)

Authentic. Word for word.  Well, you bet. Yes. Count me in. I want some cultural awareness in case I bump into one of those beings or their vehicles. Will they have vehicle insurance? And who's going to pay their medical claims? And who's to say 'they' won't have as many unintelligent beings as we do? They'll all come. Set up that commission, right now.
Talk about an out-of-body and mind experience. Do you know how many times I read that last entry on the ballot? Even tried the Spanish translation.  Go figure. Even checked Roscoe's form, just to make sure some trickster hadn't sent me a fake ballot. Nope. Roscoe, too, will have the opportunity to vote on an extraterrestrial affairs commission.
Count me in on Health and Safety issues also. Those ET's better bring their Purel with them and any other products necessary to join in the community.
That's the news for the weekend. You couldn't make it up.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Remember Who You Are

Not my photo. But minus the blond hair and vest, it could have been. Tad sweet and another tad smug.  Photo is of Pamela Slim, writer of this great posting.
Starting with Dennis Lehane's talk and moving on to Garrett's Mindfulness for Children, I've been mulling over the big A... Authenticity this week.
I struggle with the word, and the discomfort it engenders, because there's the authentic me who shows up when I least want her around, and there's the authentic me who is more ideal than real.
Somehow this mulling, milking or mawkishness led my fingers from one click to another and here we are.
Do you have those moments, moments when you just feel this is who I am? With an adjustment, a shake and a shift, she fits right into my skin. The body remembers her, as does the soul. I remember her. I feel her, and feel my heart pumping when she asserts herself. A flighty thing she is. She goes away, gets lost, but eventually comes back for a visit. I feel the shift in atmosphere as she breezes in.  This is Who I am. Anything less is not good enough.Wish she's stay around more than she does.

you, less than

[Today's guest post comes from Pam Slim.]
You, Less Than.
I still remember the smell of damp ivy from a recent rain as I stood in the backyard, waiting for my Dad to take my picture.
It was 1971 and I was five years old. I was wearing a brightly colored knit vest, a present from my grandma. I tied my shoes myself, but was not totally sure I had them on the right feet. It didn’t matter. I was one powerful little girl. The Champion of the World.
My Dad smiled at me, squinting his eyes as he crouched behind the camera. I was safe, cherished and loved. He snapped the picture.
Things blew up after that, rather quickly.
My Dad left home and his marriage, to find himself. That’s what people did in the 1970′s in Marin County, California.
My world of family dinners and Dr. Seuss bedtime stories in my Dad’s lap ended. It was scary, unfamiliar, off-balance.
The way I had known myself: child of happy parents, member of a “normal” family was no longer.
I spent a lot of time trying to figure out who I was. I tried to be a perfect student. And when that got to be too much, I inhaled, a lot. In my twenties I fell into a treacherous lover’s arms and paid dearly with a broken heart and wounded soul.
I found martial arts, self-employment and writing.
And one day in a box full of old family photographs, I found the picture.
Holding the yellowed edges in my hands, I remembered who I was. I felt who I was. Who I had always been, except when I forgot.
Circumstances can cause you to question who you are.
A boss writes you a stinging performance review.
A reader leaves a bitter comment on your blog post.
A vocal audience member questions your authority in the middle of your presentation.
A publisher sends back your treasured manuscript with a crass note.
A spouse berates your manhood, or womanhood.
And you go from You, The Champion of the World to
You, less than.
You, squashed.
You, angry and off-balance.
You, the misfit.
You, the fuck up.
When you fall into this deep pit of treachery and despair, you need something to pull you out. An image, a word, a note. It helps when this object reflects both the love you have for yourself as well as the love someone has for you.
Like a picture of you through your parent’s eyes.
Or a note from an impassioned reader who loved the piece that you loved to write.
Or a rock from a beach that was so beautiful you could swear that the sand was kissing your feet.
You, less than, is a lie.
Remember who you are.
[Pamela Slim is an author and coach. You can find her at Escape From Cubicle Nation.]

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

We Teach Who We Are

Are we always teaching? Teaching ourselves, one another, strangers who walk by? Ever so long ago, my two young sons and I took a road trip to Washington DC. All the glories were ours: The White House, Smithsonian, Lincoln Theatre, The Mint, National Geographic, memorials name it and we saw it. Stayed with Garrett and Jane in their ever so cool Washington digs, rode an elevator with Ted Kennedy and got his autograph.
What is the enduring memory from that trip? I stole french fries from the cafeteria in the White House. My version of the story is that the line was so long that, one by one, mindlessly, I devoured the fries. I didn't pay for the french fries I ate at the White House.
I know, this is a very bad time for someone of my political persuasion to be confessing crimes in the big house. Another democratic scandal, another female liberal gone bad-- they'll be hauling me back to CT and throwing me in the ring to wrestle Linda McMahon for punishment or sending me off to mean girls Christine Donnelly or Sarah Palin to do confession.
I have the photograph album, the Ted Kennedy autograph, the postcards that reveal the historical nature of our road trip.  But I stole the french fries.  Almost three decades later, and that was the teaching of the trip.
That's a long introduction to an essay just published by my brother, Garrett. He writes for the Newsletter of the Mindfulness Practice Center of Fairfax VA.  I'm printing the article in its entirely because it's the first time I've seen the Five Mindfulness Trainings applied directly to our exchanges and experiences with children.
What if something like this were the mission and goals of our schools? Our lives?  Thanks, Garrett.

By Garrett Phelan
If we smoke our children will smoke; if we drink
alcohol our children will drink alcohol also. If
we talk and act violently, our children will,
likewise…. We have to teach others by our way
of living, not just our words. (Thich Nhat Hanh,
Creating True Peace)

Young people are natural experts in
detecting any lack of authenticity in adults.
As parents and teachers, whether at
home or in school, we must live
mindfully in an authentic heartfelt
way so that children see mindfulness
practiced in each moment and can experience a
safe space.

I find sharing mindfulness practices with
children challenging because many kids feel too
awkward; their friends don’t do it or they are
too much in a hurry to slow down. It often
proves futile to try to get them to balance their
emotions, suggesting that they practice sitting
or walking meditation, breathing quietly, or
mindful eating. Young people are often resistant
to parents, relatives and teachers who seem to
want to dictate yet one more way they are
supposed to live their lives.

As Quaker educator Parker Palmer says in The
Courage to Teach, “We teach who we are...
Teaching, like any truly human activity emerges
from one’s inwardness, for better or worse. As I
teach, I project the condition of my soul onto
my students, my subject and our way of being
Who we are makes a difference in the
happiness of our children. When we slow down
and practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings,
we have both our guide to live happily and our
guide to support young people to live happily.
Allow the presence of our children to be a
mindfulness bell to bring us to awareness of
how mindfully we are living. Allow the
challenges of bringing up or teaching a child
to awaken mindfulness in ourselves. The life of
our child or our students depends on it.

 I have attempted to create Five
Mindfulness Practices With Children. I invite
you to adapt these or create your own practices,
intentions, or gathas (poems) to remind yourself
that we teach who we are. The most important
way to offer children happiness is for them to
experience mindfulness by being in our

• Be respectful and compassionate—
especially when young people are most
Aware of the suffering in young people when
they feel no one notices them or cares about
them, I vow to affirm young people every day
by being fully present and cultivating
compassion for them. I am determined not to
pressure, criticize or humiliate young people in
a manner where their self-confidence or self-esteem
are wounded .

Be generous with my time and energy.
Share my happiness with them.
Aware of the suffering caused by
anger, greed, selfishness,and sadness,
I vow to create a safe environment
for every child.  I will give  generously of
my time and  energy to the whole child. I vow to share
my experience of happiness and beauty with the young people in
my life. Knowing that I already have enough to
create the conditions for my own happiness, I
understand that knowledge can help me create
the conditions for happiness in children.

• Offer children true love—let them know
they exist—whether they seem to accept it or
not. Create a safe space for failure as well as
“Without true love how do our young people
know they exist?” (Thich Nhat Hanh)
Aware of the suffering caused by loneliness,
neglect and lack of true love, I vow to offer
love through compassion and understanding to
young people, especially when they are angry,
sad, confused, frustrated or anxious. At their
most volatile and unstable moments, I am
committed to offering a quiet and safe
environment for them to calm their intense
feelings, to give them space and time to relax
and breathe.

• Speak and listen only to understand and
develop compassion.
Aware that words can cause much pain and
suffering, and that young people especially
can be crushed by the unmindful speech of
adults and that of their peers, I vow to use
mindful speech in my home, in the school
culture, and with other adults so that we speak
to understand and not to control, punish or
humiliate. I vow to  model consistently for
all beings -- whether children are
present or not -- calm, gentle and positive
speech. I am committed to stopping and
listening deeply to young people with full
concentration and without judgment. I vow to
mediate whenever possible unmindful or cruel
speech between young people.

Model healthy consumption in all aspects
of my living.
Knowing that unmindful consumption can
cause much pain and suffering, contributing to
anger and loneliness, I vow to be a model for
young people by modeling healthy consuming.
I will share worthwhile experiences and
activities with young people that enhance
happiness, peace and understanding in them.
Please remember that we teach who we are.
Our way of being together with children is our
                                                  FALL 2010 The Newsletter of the Mindfulness Practice Center of Fairfax

I swear those french fries are still rumbling in my stomach......

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

His Hat Still Fits His Head

"The point of poetry is to be acutely discomforting, to prod and provoke, to poke us in the eye, to punch us in the nose, to knock us off our feet, to take our breath away."
- Northern Irish poet Paul Muldoon

"There is no language like the Irish for soothing and quieting." - Irish Playwright John Millington Synge

Smacked down by the devil; lifted to the sky by the angels. It's always both ways, same time, all the time with Irish writers.

Last night, along with about 400 other people, I found a comfort zone in my seat at Mile Hi Church in Denver as Dennis Lehane held me spellbound for well over an hour. Perched myself right in the first row, catching him smirk, pull his left shoulder back, lift an eyebrow and chuckle. He had a couple of small pieces of paper in one hand, but never seemed to look at them. Never missed a beat. It wasn't a lecture, not quite a talk, but more an intimate conversation punctured with laughter. Felt like an intimate chat with a long-lost friend, newly discovered brother. The question and answer period was long, fun, and pierced with insight and profundity. Dennis Lehane wears the Sacred and the Profane of the Irish like second skin.
 Mo Anam Cara. A night with my soul mate. Four hundred people having a similar experience. Community at its best.

If you aren't familiar with Lehane's novels, you might be with the books converted into movies: Mystic River; Shutter Island; Gone, Baby Gone. Lehane fired at least one agent who wanted him to give movie rights for Mystic River. 'Never,' he said. Then Clint Eastwood showed up. The rest is film history.

This wasn't a church revival meeting, but an event sponsored by the Jeffco Public Library. All those people sitting in a huge, contemporary church, listening to Jeffco Library's InSight and inPerson Distinguished Author Series. How about a shoutout for libraries and literacy? All those readers gathered on a Monday night. Loving literature, loving language, loving real people and far removed from the latest down and dirty political tweet or the big guys bumping into each other on Monday night football. Fell in love and in hope with the world last night.

Irish writer Dennis Lehane's hat still fits his head, but I have to wonder why. For anyone who thinks the art of storytelling is dying, find your way to a Dennis Lehane reading.
For openers, before the introduction of Lehane, the library's speaker thanked everyone for coming, hoped we'd all enjoy this free series, and mentioned we could leave a donation for the library...only if we were so inclined. Casually mentioned that as of Jan 1st, the library would be closed on Mondays due to budget cuts, but urged people not to worry about program cuts.

Five minutes later Dennis Lehane saunters on stage, grins and says, "Well, I'm giving half of my stipend right back to the library. Libraries made me who I am today. Libraries are the Great Equalizers, shouting out 'you, you poor or middle class you' - you're as important as anyone else. These books are yours for the reading." Could have been a revival meeting, after all.
I'm talking Lovefest here. Libraries Save Lives Every Day, shouts Lehane.

Sure enough, he has the requisite Irish ingredients that lead to storytelling excellence:...drinking ginger ale, listening to stories at the pub on Saturday mornings with his dad, going to the library after school with mom. Curiosity. Humor. Family legacy of gathering to swim in nostalgia Saturday evenings. An added gift: Watching Jimmy Cagney movies on tv with his uncle. He took it all in, every last slippery syllable.
Not only can this man write...and can he write, but he can tell a story.  All those cliches about the Irish way with words are doing a jig right in front of me. He's funny, and knows he's funny. He's a teacher, an historian, a contrarian of the best kind.

For my brothas' Garrett, Terrance, adopted brotha' me. Dennis Lehane is the brother you didn't know you had. You have the same father...the one who wondered why you didn't do better, learn a trade,  take the post office exam instead of trying to write. Wondered what all that college stuff was all about. The same father as Lehane.... had no idea who the hell Clint Eastwood was, as he wasn't in Bonanza. But that didn't stop him from telling Clint how much he loved his movies. Blatherskyte.
The father who could spin a yarn and craic at a moment's turn. The one who'd smack you down the minute you thought you were something. The one who made sure your ego never got bloated...hence the 'hat that still fits your head.'  He's your brother who also half believes that the Irish forgive everything but success... or being arrogant about success. No forgiveness there.
He's your brother who went to his high school reunion to find two of the people he most wanted to see were missing: one in jail, the other in re-hab.
Don't misunderstand me...Dennis Lehane is a woman's man/talker/writer also. He gets it. Can make a woman fall straight into love with his chosen male character. And his own character. He can write women because he listens, observes. reflects.
He's the muse to all writers who tried to follow the 'write what you know' advice we all receive. He cracked the code, gave out the secret last's write about what you know in terms of Emotions. The Big E. Write about contempt, bitterness, lust, awe, wonder, spite...write what you know. Now I get it.
OK, Dennis Lehane is related to all of us who love to read and write, to those of us who think God is a bit of a comedian, and to those of us who know that there better be a point to whatever story we're telling. Not so easy, getting to that point. One of the reasons  Becket said,
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. ...'s all about stories. Always will be. And making sure the hat still fits.

Monday, October 18, 2010


Memories of Childhood have no order and no end. - Dylan Thomas

Halloween is spooking me early this year. Seems as if some pretty savvy marketing folks have figured the controversy over Christmas decorations (to creche or not to creche, Santa or Frosty, all the Children of Abraham on the mountain) is just too tenuous, too fraught with impending lawsuits and contempt, that they've turned their sights on the ghoulish instead.

I know, the anti-Halloween folks have made their stands in the schools. Too pagan, too wicked, unChristian, maybe just too much fun, so many schools have figured out how to have a fall break during Halloween. And 'hallow' doesn't show up on the standardized tests, so why worry about the sacred. Day of the Dead? OK for some schools, but a little too much information for others. Take a break.

In contrast, the bigger, inflatable black cats and vampires have made their ways onto front lawns and sidewalks. Ghosts, vampires, ghoulish sounds....and pumpkins galore. Must have been a great harvest this year.
In my neighborhood and some areas surrounding me, graveyards, bones, gigantic blow-up black cats and huge, red-eyed spiders peer out from every corner and doorstep. One gigantic spider web enveloping the area. I took a short stroll to look at actual red leaves on trees last night, and found a parade of strollers out looking at houses decorated for Halloween. I'm not an arachnophobe, but I'm not sure I need spiders the size of an stegosaurus on my front lawn.

Halloween brings back all those memories of childhood...the neighbors who wouldn't give to my brothers or me because they didn't like our father. We ranked the neighbors with ease: the meanest turned off the lights and went too bed. Next in line, the mean and cheesy who handed out apples or offered slices or orange. Then the one-Hershey kiss type....still cheesy. One could move up the ladder from mean with proper attention and astonishment at who was hiding under the masks. And the winners: sweet and scared, and with a whole candy bar to give. Pure uninhibited sugary joy.
But the real work happened after the trick and treating. First problem: parents wanting to parse it all out. Who didn't hone some fine negotiating skills at Halloween?
Then the hours of trading candies (two tootsie rolls for a Mars bar, bribery, and, finally, all out stealing. Clumsy and apparent, but stealth.
Never did figure out if it was ordinary sibling rivalry, out-of-the ordinary sibling rivalry, greed, or selfishness, but all those unsavory characteristics showed their stuff on Halloween. Ghoulish.
Churned up all sorts of memories and taste buds and still have almost two weeks to go.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Change is Going to Come

Continuing the week's theme of high hopes - emerging from down low in a Chilean mine - seems only right to keep those high hopes for the future embedded in our minds through music. I'm sticking with music, and straying far from the political mine and mind fields out there...
Allegory of the Mines: Looking for Love in All the Right Places. It's all one Dance, one song, One Love.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Allegory of the Mine

Compare and Contrast.  Plato's Allegory of the Cave is going to have company:  Allegory of the Mine should be emerging soon.
You might be thinking, "oh, yea, something about the light and shadows."  "Is it what we see isn't necessarily real?" or "It's too hard to face the truth?"  That was long ago and far away when I did or did not read it. Back in the day of Cliff Notes, way before going on-line and buying the complete essay to hand in or, at the least, re-word.  For those few philosophy, classics or English majors, you might remember the paradoxically heavy and lofty discussions in what we once called dorm rooms...or in a local pub.  And we all thought Woody Allen was always making reference to The Allegory of the Cave, no matter what the subject.
Flash-forward to contemporary students and bloggers who can go to Google with any glimmer of a thought and here's what you'll find.. College students still working on that Allegory. 

This is part of a very long article I found written by Chris Barry, a student blogger.
A blinding flash of light and I suddenly realised that one of my favourite movies, The Matrix is in fact a retelling of Platos famous cave allegory.
I rushed to my preferred source of information, the Internet, to discover what information, if any, there might be on my apparently innovative perception. I discovered in fact that there are entire courses devoted to this topic and a plethora of web pages all concerning this idea. OK so I wasnt the first to think of it
However, it remains that there are many recent films that reference Plato's allegory of the cave, which is interesting to note, since his philosophy was developed nearly 2500 years ago and theoretically should be out of date now, especially, if we believe in the notion that we are progressing towards an ultimate knowledge. Did someone say the end of history? Perhaps it is just Hollywood that is stuck in Greek era philosophy of 400 BC?
The three movies that I have decided to discuss today with reference to Platos allegory of the cave are The Matrix, The Truman Show and Ghost in the Shell. Due to lack of time, I am only going to discuss The Matrix in depth.  Chris Barry.   

Somewhat comforting to note that students are still trying to figure out if it's really true that we're merely watching shadows, but think we're right smack in the middle of reality (I know, I know, we can't know our reality as unreality, so what's the use?) And is it true that if one of us does take off our very cool shades and actually sees a ray of light, sees the first inkling of  truth, the rest of us will find that person mad?  Alas, probably.

But I'm on a different story now, a story that might reveal a whole new way of looking at things. What if those Chilean (and one Bolivian) miners really saw, felt, lived The Truth in the dark? What if they need those dark sunglasses so they don't become re-tainted by the non-truth, the non-reality. Remember, we're talking Allegory here, or at least I am trying to do so.  
I'm straight-out obsessed with this thought, and have been since last night.  Seems to me some real, capital T Truth must have been shining in for those miners to survive.   Bear with me as I try to sort through my Allegory of the Mine thoughts, and please add your thoughts and comments at any time. 

And just because immaturity has always been a strong trait of mine, here's 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Stop and Celebrate

World-wide day for celebration. We rarely have these days, days where people 'round the world agree there is an event to celebrate, an event that showcases our global interconnectedness in such beautiful form.

After nearly seventy days trapped underground, the Chilean miners are emerging.  We're on number 26 now. Twenty-six out of thirty-three men up safely from the mine in Chile. What a sweet victory for technology and human collaboration, in the mine and above.

A new myth (myth in its sense of embracing profound truth) is unfolding right in front of our eyes, a saga for all humankind. A tale to be told when things appear beyond hope, beyond repair. Heroes and leaders abound in this story.

The poorly designed mine collapsed in early August. Chile's government took over operations and the world-wide collaboration began above ground. A man from Colorado leaves his work in Afghanistan to put his drilling skills to work in a drill shaft in Chile.
Under ground, thirty-three men began their own collaboration, rationing food, setting up systems, with a seemingly perfect balance of leaders and followers living out a savvy survival strategy designed in an underground hole. 

We'll be saturated with news, and probably be overwhelmed with meaningful and meaningless details for the next couple of days. Books, tv shows, movies, biographies will tumble out of all of this, all too soon. We'll hear more about Luis Urzua, Jeff Hart and others. 
For today, I'm just going to sit back and seize the opportunity to reflect on the resilience of the human heart and spirit. And I've set an intention to also pay homage, give thanks,  to all those whose visions, research, and hard work produced all that was necessary to bring us this day for world celebration. We need this.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Who's Been Thinking My Thoughts?

Since Sunday night, I've been having moments of  'I wish I were Maureen Dowd' or 'Well, I wish I wrote like Maureen Dowd,' and even 'Why does Maureen Dowd have the same thoughts I do but write about them so eloquently?' True, she's a bit edgy at times, even been called abrasive. So we have some things in common.

 For several weeks now I've been mulling over when to see the film The Social Network and how to see the new version of Wagner's opera Das Rheingold in HD on screen.  Thoughts, intentions, goals. Not big intentions, like a pilgrimage to Mexico City, but still intentions. The Ring cycle is a stretch for me, but I'm a Tristan and Isolde fan, so I want to see and hear it in one setting.It's a lofty intention for someone with my fluttering mind.
Brace yourself for Maureen Dowd's column from this past Sunday, brace for the stretch across centuries and the ability to ferret out and connect the dots. Brace for the mind that reaches in and finds the core human passions that reside in the deep heart's core.  If you've already read it, you already know why I'm suffering for Maureen-envy this week. If not, I think you'll see why. Brilliant mind.
I'm off to the The Social Network this afternoon; don't know when Das Rheingold is coming my way. But do I have a Dowdesque vision for both.  Maybe AWE is a better word than envy. I am in awe.

Lord of the Internet Rings

It didn’t take long, sitting with an enthralled audience and watching the saga of the cloistered jerk who betrayed those around him and ended up unfathomably rich and influential, to understand why it has been hailed as a masterpiece.
They had me at the mesmerizing first scene, when the repulsive nerd is mocked by a comely, slender young lady he’s trying to woo. Bitter about women, he returns to his dark lair in a crimson fury of revenge.
It unfolds with mythic sweep, telling the most compelling story of all, the one I cover every day in politics: What happens when the powerless become powerful and the powerful become powerless?
This is a drama about quarrels over riches, social hierarchy, envy, theft and the consequence of deceit — a world upended where the vassals suddenly become lords and the lords suddenly lose their magic.
The beauty who rejects the gnome at the start is furious when he turns around and betrays her, humiliating her before the world. And the giant brothers looming over the action justifiably feel they’ve provided the keys to the castle and want their reward. One is more trusting than the other, but both go berserk, feeling they’ve been swindled after entering into a legitimate business compact.
The antisocial nerd, surrounded by his army of slaving minions, has been holed up making something so revolutionary and magical that it turns him into a force that could conquer the world.
The towering brothers battle to get what they claim is their fair share of the glittering wealth that flows from the obsessive gnome’s genius designs.
The gnome, remarkably, invents a way to hurl yourself through space and meet up with somebody at the other end.
All of these mythic twists and turns in “Das Rheingold” at the Metropolitan Opera in New York were a revelation to me. I’d never seen the Ring cycle. I didn’t even know what it was about. I loved everything about Peter Gelb’s $16 million production: the shape-shifting, high-tech stage, the mermaid sopranos dangling from wires, the magnetic Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel, who plays Wotan, the weak ruler of the gods who tries to renege after bartering his gorgeous sister-in-law for construction of a gorgeous castle. (The moral of the story: Never mess with your contractor, the contractor always wins.)
But as I watched the opera, my mind kept flashing to the “The Social Network,” another dazzling drama about quarrels over riches, social hierarchy, envy, theft and the consequences of deceit. A Sony executive called “The Social Network,” the David Fincher-Aaron Sorkin movie about Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his circle of ex-friends and partners, “the first really modern movie.” Yet the strikingly similar themes in Wagner’s feudal “Das Rheingold” — the Ring cycle is based on the medieval German epic poem “Das Nibelungenlied,” which some experts say helped inspire J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” — underscore how little human drama changes through the ages.
We are always fighting about social status, identity, money, power, turf, control, lust and love. We are always trying to get even, get more and climb higher. And we are always trying to cross the bridge to Valhalla.
W. P. Ker defined the heroic epic as “the defense of a narrow place, against odds.” And that can just as well sum up the modern epic of the antihero Mark Zuckerberg.
In “Das Rheingold,” the dwarf Alberich is mocked and rejected by the Rhinemaidens. “Fury and longing/ fierce and forceful/ surge through my spirit,” Alberich sings.
Thwarted in lust, stewing in rage, the gnome turns to greed and vengeance. He steals the Rhinemaidens’ gold, returns to his sulfurous, subterranean cavern and forges a gold ring that “would give unbounded power and wealth.”
He uses the ring to enslave the other dwarves, “the Nibelungs’ nocturnal race,” and forge and weld more gold trinkets, as well as a magic helmet that can make him invisible and teleport him through space.
“No one can see me/ though he search for me/ yet I am everywhere/ hidden from sight,” Alberich says, in a perfect description of the elusive Zuckerberg and Internet users in general.
Then, in a mantra that could belong to Jesse Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg, Alberich warns the gods: “Beware!/ For when once you men/ serve my might/ the dwarf will take his pleasure/ with your pretty women/ who scorn his wooing,/ though love does not smile upon him.”
The 1854 Wagner libretto has ornate language like “the soft zephyrs’ breeze.” The 2010 Sorkin screenplay has snappy, syncopated language about Python Web servers and Pix firewall emulators.
But the passions that drive humans stay remarkably constant, whether it’s a magic ring being forged or a magic code being written.