Tuesday, August 31, 2010
It's the eve of August 31st, 2010. It's technically the beginning of the end of the dog days of summer. The end of the week marks Labor Day and the beginning of a fall cycle - back to school, back from vacation, back to work, back to back responsibilities.
In the days when I taught drama in high school, I loved this time of year. I loved going back to a crop of new students, mostly dysfunctional, pop smoking, LDS taking strangers living in the alternative universe of Las Vegas. It was Clark High School, Las Vegas, Nevada, an outpost of mostly dispossessed kids, with one parent, maybe two but they worked shifts on the Strip - some graveyard, some early morning, some split shifts. But they loved coming into my class because they knew I truly thought they were special. Our dog days were times of experimenting with improvisation and reading and acting in the new and exciting scripts from Off Broadway's golden years in the late 60's and early 70's. The weather didn't quit snap into fall mode because it was still hot as hell in Vegas until October. Yet, we sweat through that first month getting to know each other and allowing the senior thespians show the way to the newbies, the wanna-bes who took drama/theater to find a refuge against their adolescent angst.
Dog Days were days of optimism and hope in my life and they still are. Now my grandsons go back to school and I still get a thrill of hearing about their teachers and books and friends.
I love the fall weather. It's my favorite time of year. Los Angeles can provide that fall weather snap, cooler nights and less warm days in the shade. Sometimes there is a bout of heat around Labor Day, but I can still smell football season and see the band practice outside my yoga room at the John Wooden Center on the UCLA campus and sometimes catch a glimpse of the football team warming up on the field as I walk to my car.
As the feeling of renewal comes over me, I am cognizant of old memories from grammar school and high school when I was part of campus excitement and new classes and old friends returning to our familiar posts.
I'm feeing nostalgic for my parents, particularly my father because he drove me to St. Raphael's grammar school for so many years. I was so very happy growing up, and I loved sitting next to my dad in the car as we listened to Don McNeill's Breakfast Club on the radio. We would sit in the car and watch the Dominican nuns get out their taxis on the side of the school while my dad and I continued to listen to the radio. I wouldn't get out of the car until the nuns entered the building.
Every end of August and beginning of September memories come back with a vengeance and take me back deep into my past - a past that gave me my values, my sense of direction, my loyalties, and my sense of self.
Saturday, August 28, 2010
I'm excited today. In fact, I've been excited all week. I feel like I'm high all the time because adrenalin has been surging through my body with more than its usual speed. It was a good work week, teaching yoga every day - getting back to what I love doing. After experiencing the spiritual connection to Bali, it was a great feeling to connect my mind and body and breath in movement and intention. I also worked daily on marketing plans for my book, which was like another full time job. I even made time to dance tango on Wednesday night at one of my favorite venues - El Floridita on Vine and Fountain.
I was only away about 9 days but it felt like I was away a month. I guess that's a good sign that my vacation was terrific. And I'm still carrying Bali around in my heart, in my head, and in my future.
Okay, I won't beat around the bush. I'm having my first book signing tonight at my Saturday night milonga - the place where I regularly dance tango. It's actually called The Tango Room and we just celebrated our ninth anniversary at that particular studio.
I don't know what to expect from a book signing. But I'm just going with the flow and having a good time. Invitations were sent out and plans have been made to celebrate all 60 year old women in our tango community. It's free to all of us who have reached the 60th decade. A milestone for sure, and yet, we are all really very young at 60 it seems to me.
My book, Sixty, Sex, & Tango, Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer (still shamlessly plugging, aren't I), deals with turning 60. One day, right in the middle of being 60, I startled myself by consciously recognizing that I had turned 64. It was just a number to me. Nothing more than a number. I felt like I was 19; I acted like I was 19, and I moved like I was 19. In fact, I didn't move as good at 19. I like to think that living with joy, with yoga, with dancing tango has lead me into surrender and acceptance of living gracefully in my 60's. I'm now two years older than when I started writing the book and I feel younger. I feel like Benjamin Button decreasing in age. Maybe I'll die looking like a baby.
So tonight I celebrate many gifts I have been given: my family - sons and daughters in law and brother and sister in law and adorable nephew, my grandchildren - all five of them - my wonderful, loving friends, the tango and the pleasure and happiness that the dance has brought into my life, the ability to actually write a memoir about living joyously with gratitude and love.
I reflected today that I never had a vision about a book signing in my future. I just wrote daily for a year and a half joyfully. Sometimes I got so high on life that I wanted to scream. And sometimes I did just that. I screamed. Strange to me that I didn't have a vision of an outcome sometime in the future. It was just about the process, the journey that was a kick. So today I am surprised and I am grateful. And I wanted to share that with you.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
I'm home and the emersion back to reality has not taken place yet. Hey, the day is almost over and maybe I won't be jarred back into the daily news. A weariness is beginning to creep into my bones and my mind is fuzzier than at noon when I wandered through Ralph's trying to come up with a week's worth of food. Not Whole Foods? Okay, so I had a bunch of Ralph's coupons that needed to be used up.
While my body is shopping and organizing bills and juggling next week's marketing activity and classes, my mind is still back in Bali. I'm still flush with the warmth and generosity of spirit and daily offerings of gratitude that encompasses this most unique Hindu society. Despite the hundreds of motorbikes and taxis flooding the streets at all hours, the rhythm of Bali resides in the beats of one's heart. Care, kindness, and gratitude is the mantra chain. Karma determines your way into life and your way out of life.
One of the most unique experiences I had was attending a cremation ceremony. The funeral was held in a small village about 10 miles outside of Ubud - the city where I stayed - and it began in the home of the deceased. We were served water and cake before the ceremony began. There were relatives and villagers milling around or sitting. Music was playing; children were happily wandering around; the ladies were gossiping and the men were organizing and erecting the very tall edifice where the deceased body was to be placed.
When it was time to gather on the center road in the village, we all moved into the street and watched the finishing preparations. On the very top of the funeral edifice, a beautiful young woman, dressed in Balinese ceremonial clothes, sat perfectly still. She was a member of the deceased family. Below her was a life-size black cow made out of wood; upon that cow road an important person from the village. He looked like a cowboy in a western movie. He was happily showing off to the villagers how much fun he was having atop that cow.
In this particular funeral ceremony, only one man was going to be cremated. The deceased was considered to have some wealth in the village and so he was allowed to have his own separate cremation. Sometimes many people are cremated at the same time if they do not have the means for an individual funeral. This was an unusual event.
My friends and I hung out with two adorable Italian men who spoke English very well and so we all walked together down the pothole filled street, wind blowing dust around our bodies as the oppressive heat made our throats dry. I thought we should be sad at this moment, but no one around us was sad. Everyone was joyfully talking and laughing and it all seemed so, well, perplexingly not like a funeral.
We walked into a large field and the villagers stood back as those who prepared for the cremation did their work.. The black cow was situation on its own platform and was separated from the edifice where the body was held. Actually, the body was wrapped much like a mummy in ancient Egypt and placed in what looked like a casket. Then men lifted the casket and carried it to the cow where it slowly slide into the body into a carved out cavity inside the cow. Evidently, the cow had movable parts and functioned somewhat like a crematorium. In the ensuing half hour, piles of wood and straw were placed around the cow. Still, the crowd talked and continued to carry on as if they were standing around at a market place.
The family approached the funeral pyre to pay their last respects. The wood and straw were beginning to burn. When the cow was sufficiently burning, I walked up to the sacred cow which housed the burning body and paid my last respects. I knew from my yoga and study of Buddhism that this was a moment of transition for the deceased. His soul was moving on into the spiritual world and he would, of course, come back into another form. If he had lived life with good karma, he would return a happy man. If not, his life would be full of struggle.
I asked our driver, Wayan, why there were no tears. Why there was no sadness. Why were the villagers were totally relaxed and peaceful. The sense of balance in the crowd was pervasive. There were no high or lows; the energy of the villagers was uniquely tranquil for just having seen their beloved relative die.
Wayan told us about the Hindu philosophy of death and dying; it is much like the Tibetan philosophy of living and dying. For Hindus and Buddhists, death is a transition after life. That transition has meaning because the energy of the soul does not evaporate. The soul lives, it resonates in the universe at the moment of death. Death is a happy time in these unique cultures. It is a time to assess karma and give gratitude for life on earth. For those who are close relatives of the deceased, a wife or a daughter or son, then there may be tears shed but not in public. No one mourns or long.
I am still feeling the vibe of peace and non-violence at the core of the Balinese society. I sensed no anger; I sensed no impatience; I sensed no judgment. There is little crime and not much drug use. There seems to be a lack of coveting of things or fighting over the spoils of events or situation. The island of Bali and its people are embracing and loving and the the richness and textures of this most magnificent and lush environment and its spiritual people will have a long lasting influence on my soul.
I didn't do any yoga while I was away. My friends asked me if I missed the practice. But I told them that my practice was more meditative and not so physical because we were hiking most of the days and the physical exertion was vigorous. So my thoughts turned inward many times a day as I let my mind wander and absorb the purity of the air and the stillness in my environment. Can you imagine meditating in a rice field? It's heaven. And Bali is surely as close to paradise on earth as it gets.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
A few thoughts on travel before I leave for Bali. Bali. It sounds romantic and so "eat, pray, lovish." Let's set the record straight. I'm not going to Bali because of Ms Gilbert's book. While I found her journey somewhat interesting and a bit whiney, I truly believe there are more interesting anecdotes about sappy transformation. She ain't Carl Jung. To those of you who worship her journey, you can all throw rotten tomatoes at me when you meet me.
And while I am on the subject of eat, pray, love, Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem? Please. The guy Ms. Gilbert fell in love with on Bali was much older than she and fully Brazilian. Even though the movie comes out on Friday the thirteenth, it will be a great hit because most females between the ages of 20 and 75 have read her book - except two of my friends and my step-daugher, Camille, and these are ladies whose taste in literature would put book critics out of business. I hope Bali isn't over-run with over-wrought females looking for redemption with that shaman she chased and a Brazilian hunk she fell in love with. I understand from my traveling companion's friend - who just came back from Bali - that her shaman is not a celebrity who says the same thing to everyone who pays him gobs of money to release the evil spirits from their souls. "You will always find happiness." He should work for Hallmark.
I'm laying in bed and beginning to grasp the amount of time I am spending in the air to get to Bali. Probably around 22 hours with a layover in Taipei. My legs are already buckling under me. I lose a whole day crossing the international time line. And I'm leaving at the hideous time of 2 am Thursday morning. I'll sleepwalk into the cabin of the plane, try to get settled in my seat, realize that I have never been so uncomfortable in my life and ask myself why, oh why, I decided to vacation halfway around the world. Answer; it seemed like a good idea at the time - when my friend, Carol, told me on the stairwell of the Math and Engineering building on the UCLA campus after my yoga class that she and Adrienne were thinking about going to Bali for their vacation. I just jumped right in and invited myself. I wasn't even going to take a vacation this year. I was going to wait out 2010 without leaving the U.S
Impulse can be a good thing sometimes. It can be creative and engaging and even exciting. I've been impulsive many times in my life. But as I look around my bedroom with piles of clothes spread out everywhere and a bathroom that looks like tweens have been playing movie star with all my cosmetics and makeup, I'm having more than second doubts about leaving beautiful Santa Monica and the Pacific Ocean. Of course, one cannot swim in the Pacific, so what good is it except to gaze lovingly at its tepid shores.
The energy it took to prepare for this trip, the work I had to finish on marketing my book, getting substitutes for class and giving them detailed instructions about where I teach on campus (min-boggling), engaging my neighbor to water my plants and pick up my mail, excessing about all the details have thrown a damper on my travel excitement. Will it be worth it in the end? All will be revealed when I step off the plane at Denpasar in Bali. Wayan, our driver (almost everyone in Bali is named Wayan), will meet us inside the airport with our names on a sign and I hope I will begin to feel that I am ready for my adventure. After all, my traveling companions and I have outlined in detail all the places we want to go, all the restaurants we want to eat in, all the events we want to attend.
So this once in a lifetime trip is going to be great, right? I am hoping that tonight as I fall asleep, I will begin to surrender to the inevitable.
One more thing. I'm leaving my computer behind. I have not been without my computer for over a year. It has literally become my brain and that's pretty sad. It's time that my MacBook and I separate. It's not a divorce, mind you; it's just a 10 day separation and I can handle that. I'll blog when I return. I'll tell you all about my wanderings. And I swear I will not fall in love with a Brazilian.
PS My new granddaughter, Penelope Sweet, is doing very well. She is eating well and is even gaining back some of her weight. I will miss my daily updates on her progress.
Sunday, August 8, 2010
I never even gave being a grandmother a thought until one day five and a half years ago, I became a grandmother to Jordan Mac. And then two years later, Luc Daniel was born. Okay, two grandsons. That's great, really great. But the moniker "grandmother" was still kind of a foreign concept. After all, I was still living la vida loca, and my mostly monthly visits to my family in Las Vegas were keeping me connected but not especially engrossed.
Oh, but I had another son and he and my daughter-in-law were about to have Greyson Ambrose. And now, this little ball of energy a little over two years ago and making a deeper impression on my psyche. Okay, three grandsons. Doable.
I continued on with my yoga/tango life and buried myself in writing my book, Sixty, Sex, & Tango, Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer, continued my visits, divided my time between homes in Las Vegas, and never gave the grandma game another thought. Until...
Here comes Jude Love entering the world in January of this year. Happy new year, Jude Love and welcome to a growing family. Jude is the most chill of the grandchildren. He smiles all the time and loves the action in the house. He's straight out of central casting. Big, beautiful and bold.
I'm trying to keep this grandma scenario straight. I love them all equally. I love their energy and unconditional love and it's kind of fun being a quasi parent again - that is, when my sons aren't around to parent me parenting my grandsons.
"Mom, we talked about this...leave him alone." But it's about the filthy dirty Linus blanket dragging along the floor filled with dog hairs and ground in food and the thumb ever-present hanging from Luc's mouth so he can't speak let alone answer a question. Okay, I'll shut up.
This week I have another grandchild. A girl - my first girl - Penelope Sweet. She was 34 weeks at birth, 5 pounds 6 ounces of the most beautiful tinniness I have ever seen. Not bad for a premie - a fighting, feisty Leo premie who let's everyone know in the NicU that she is hungry and wants her dropper of milk.
I lovingly watched my sweet pea sleep in her plastic bubble attached to so many lines and monitors that I lost count. I can still feel the emotional connection to her lightness, to her divine being.
A girl. A real live girl. I had boys; my brother had boys. We missed the experience of having a girl. Suddenly, and without provocation, we have righted the confluences of the universe in our family.
I wonder at the miracle of birth, of a mother's love and her unconditional, immediate devotion to her offspring. I saw my daughter-in -law lovingly connect to Penelope with such finality that I was moved to tears. There are still miracles in the world to experience. I wouldn't have missed this grandma thing for anything.
Monday, August 2, 2010
Ah, yes. The bliss of a yoga retreat. There is nothing quite like the beauty of going somewhere special and joyfully doing nothing but yoga, chanting mantras, encountering holotropic breathing (an LSD high without the LDS), vegan cuisine, swimming and hiking and sleeping in the cold night air and trying to find the bathroom at in the dead of a dark night. And never getting there in time.
I hadn't been on a yoga retreat in about a year and a half. The last time was in Costa Rica and I was the only one in attendance. My daughter in law's brother was a yoga teacher at this particular retreat near Jaco on the west coast of Costa Rica, and he said he'd meet me there. But had decided to leave a month before I came and forgot to tell me. So I arrived and became a part of an Argentine family who ran retreats as well as lived an idyllic existence on the premises. I simply became an extended part of the family structure for a week. I didn't want to leave my new family when the week was over, but I had to go on tour with my adorable eco tour guide who ended up getting dengue fever and leaving me to fend for myself. I should have taken up their offer to adopt me and have me teach daily yoga to the locals.
This weekend's retreat was in the Ojai Valley. It was held at a place called Casa Baranca. There is a very large beautiful lodge on the grounds with a winery alongside. Tea houses are scattered around on the premises. The most beautiful yoga room I have ever scene is the centerpiece of the retreat. Next to that is a beautiful swimming pool with a jacuzzi. Hiking trails are everywhere.
I intended to not to talk very much. People who know me are laughing out loud now. But I had an intention to keep to myself. However, when I met he various yogis and yoginis and saw the huge smile on my yoga teacher's face, I knew this was going to be a great ride. Everyone was joyful. There was electricity in the air; energy was bouncing off everyone. It was so not a solitude moment for me and I surrendered to the collective energy.
I had no expectations about the retreat. I never do. I try to stay in the moment of my practice, listen to happy breathing in the room, the ever loud rock and roll selections by Steve, wait for the pithy comments, and relax into the flow of moment. The practice is always like a dance for me and the chanting is forever an inspiration. I get high with a little help from my friends. The holotropic breathing sends me into the world of the unconscious where the fears and dark memories reside, and by the end of the hour, they are all released into the universe.
We gather in the kitchen for meals and they are always lively and witty and full of fun. On this particular trip, there were some very intelligent people with exceptional talents - both men and women. One man, in particular, was a very funny Hollywood screenwriter who was never without an hysterical quip or riff on our grueling yoga practice or Steve's insensitivity to our physical pain. "It's all good," Steve repeats as his mantra. "I just don't feel your pain," he adds.
The physical beauty of the land, the way the early morning fog curls around the mountains, the way the sun rises to meet the sky, the perfect intensity of the afternoon sun, which made our bodies warm and supple, the blissful temperature of the pool, the sounds of birds and animals everywhere, the lovable resident cat, the cheerfulness of our vegan cooks, the outdoor eating patio that was surrounded by luscious ice plants and giant oak trees - all made my weekend glorious.
Even driving home on Sunday after a rigorous yoga practice and an exquisite vegan lunch produced no negative energy as I stalled in traffic on my way back to Los Angeles. My life was getting back into balance. I was on the road to recovery, maybe even to transformation.
Then, there is real life. There is my ever present sty above my right eye which won't go away. I made a pit stop at UCLA emergency care to see what was up with it because it looked like it was growing daily. Not much was up with it. It was still hard as a rock and cloning twins. Cleaning and shopping and unpacking and getting ready for Monday's work and the arrival of my step-daughter, cheerful as ever bringing me food and wine and joy were all part of my extraordinary day.
So it was a pretty great weekend, I'd say. I am grateful for my bliss, my joy of yoga, my new friends. I'm grateful my book is on Kindle and it looks smashing on my book page and all ladies who are reading it are laughing and really like the story. So, yeah, I into the gratitude mode as I shuffle the energy of the universe around myself and those whom I love dearly.
And today, another blissful encounter with my yoga classes. I walked into my 5:30 class, my last of the day, and wondered what the noise was about as I stood outside to listen. I finally entered and there was my book, Sixty, Sex, & Tango opened to the chapter entitled, "Men and Other Sociopaths I have Met" being passed around and everyone was laughing. I got ribbed to death and then we settle down for a energetic flow class. Another joyful day.