Monday, December 29, 2008

Doubt - a review

Philip Seymour Hoffman gave an incredible performance; he always does. But he didn't hold a candle to Meryl Streep. She was amazing. She nailed her character perfectly. If she doesn't get an Oscar for her role, well, then there is no justice at all in the cinematographic world.

The film was well written, too. The characters were convincing; multilayered; complex. There was moral ambiguity. And the film ended without resolution; it ended with a question that is not comfortable to ask and is not easily answered.

Summary: Go see it. Now.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Season's Greetings

Attentive readers will note that the tonight's subversive baking experiment has been in the planning stages for a very long time:

O, the pink background... I'm a little disappointed with that, but unfortunately the only sheets I could find to use as backdrops were white and pepto-pink, and it looked even worse on the white. Well, the gingerbread outhouse is all about the flash-in-the-pan shock value anyway, so maybe bright pink was a good choice.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Pumpkin Pie

Response to NoR's Pecan Pie post:

For the near pie, I used a plain old sugar pumpkin; for the far pie, I used a cheese pumpkin. Both pumpkins were from my (summer) CSA. I've never made a pie with a cheese pumpkin before. I'm itchin' to do a taste test.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Physical education

Well, I'm long since back from Oregon, as all readers of this blog already know, I guess. What can I say about my trip? Well, like the Dave Matthews song says, I ate too much, I drank too much. Too much! Saw sea lions and elk. It was a good trip.

In yoga class last week, I was reminded of a PE class in high school. I was sitting on the bleachers with my friend Travis who, for reasons to this day unbeknownst (or anyway forgotten), reached over, grabbed my nipple, and twisted it. Hard. It was brutally painful and he wouldn't let go, no matter how much I begged. He just kept saying, "The pain is not there." And eventually, it wasn't anymore. I stopped attaching to the sensation, and only then did he let go.

I wonder why he did that? I suspect that he was trying to show me the difference between pain and suffering. He was reading a lot about Buddhism at that time.

Alternatively, perhaps he was just being an asshole. The memory of the lesson on pain versus suffering is what remains, though.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

"...the cradle of escape"

Quoted from a poem I wrote years ago while sitting at the Bakery on a ridiculously warm December day; the full line is "Her solitary Mecca is the cradle of escape," if I remember correctly.

So... I feel totally burned out by work, and in a feat of remarkably good timing, I'm going to Oregon tomorrow to spend a few days on the coast with my siblings and some of our friends. I may or may not post while I'm there. I don't know if we'll have access to the interwebs.

I wanted to post something about statistics and science and democracy and how I generally trust their results because they are fundamentally messy processes and the messiness tends to cancel itself out when averaged over large scale experiments, but I just don't have time to put it into words right now. Oh wait... I just did.

Monday, November 24, 2008


OMG, there he is, it's EDWARD CULLEN!!!!!! He's SOOO dreamy! I just have to scream in the middle of this crowded movie theatre! OMG, new scene and there he is again! More screaming! I just can't take it! Oh Edward, walk out of the screen and come to me! All the other girls in my 8th grade class don't understand you, but I do!!! OMG!!!!

So... I went to see Twilight on Friday night. Let me tell you, watching a teen vampire movie on opening night in a theatre in which almost every other seat is filled by 13 year old girls ramped up on Pepsi, Milk Duds, and burgeoning endocrine systems is an experience like no other. I think I may have permanently lost some of the high range of my hearing.

I went with my friends T, E, and R. We were pretty much the only ones in the theatre over the age of 30. Well, we were pretty much the only ones in the theatre over the age of 14. So while the rest of the audience was screeching, I was thinking about Freud's theories of motivation and how that relates to why vampire stories are so compelling. According to Freud, eros and thanatos drive us in varying proportions through everything we do. But thanatos (death instinct) is terrifying. Vampire stories work, perhaps, because they remove some of the edge from thanatos (vampires can't die), and translate it to something else (they are compelled to kill). They are foreign creatures because they are removed from human frailty by immortality, but they are familiar and romantic because they are still driven by eros.

Or, you know, whatever.

I really liked the movie, but it probably wouldn't grab the attention of anyone who isn't at least partially enthralled by teen melodrama and the undead. I really want to read the books now. I'll have to see if the library has them.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Russian Science

Every time I think I've run out of things to write about, some idiotic new idea pops into my head.

I was reading an article in the New York Times this morning about the possibility of creating a wooly mammoth. Technically, it's not cloning because the proposed technique wouldn't use extracted mammoth DNA; rather, it would compare the extracted mammoth DNA to the DNA in the egg of an African elephant, and change the elephant DNA to match the mammoth's. Anyway, the article mentioned that there have been Russian attempts over the years to get well preserved mammoth eggs to gestate, but they've failed because the eggs weren't viable.

This got me thinking. How did the Russian scientists not realize that eggs that had been frozen for ten thousand years were no longer viable? I don't think it would even occur to an American geneticist to try such a long shot experiment. Can you imagine standing in front of a funding board and asking for money to thaw out some mammoth gonads and see if they'll still produce furry baby elephants? You'd never ever get funding for that in this country. People would think you were insane. I think these Russian attempts must have taken place during the Soviet era, when there was enough bureaucracy that wild little projects could be buried in other proposals and rubber stamped.

This also brought to mind stories I've heard of the Russian space program in the 60's; big dreams, crazy schemes, somewhat (i.e., rather) lax safety protocols. I have to admit, I sort of admire that "well, it does sound crazy, but let's just try it and see what happens" mindset. Is this characteristic of Russian culture? I wonder.

Also, the idea of mammoths being brought back, of herds of pachyderms wandering the Russian steppe and the North American prairies, is just awesome.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The legend lives on

Perhaps of limited interest to the readers of this blog, today is the 33rd anniversary of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. I won't go into details here. The wikipedia entry is quite a good summary. I usually mark the day by thinking about nautical disasters in general, and my father, because this is one of his favourite songs. I still haven't contacted him. I still need to contact him.

I don't know what it is that makes nautical disasters so compelling for me. I think of a line by Dar Williams: "I thought the ocean; the ocean thought nothing." Maybe it's because despite the incredible human ability to anthropomorphize and personify almost everything in our environment, the ocean resists, absolutely. It is not kind, it is not cruel; it just is.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Yes We Did

I've been composing this in my mind since Wednesday, but I wanted to wait a few days for the exhilaration to die down before posting. I went to bed on Tuesday night before any of the networks had made an official prediction of the election winner. It looked promising, but I'd thought so in 2004 too. Also in 2000. So, with Amy Ray's sage advice ("Don't assume anything") thundering across my synapses, I dropped off to sleep with hope, tremendous hope, but also tremendous trepidation. I thought it would be best if I got a good night's sleep before steeling myself up to find out who won, and who lost.

Well, fate had other plans for me. Rather, my friend [J] had other plans. He drunk text messaged me at 1:20am with the following: "Fuck yes. Obama." Then he drunk dialed me 30 minutes later and left a wonderfully rambling message about love, change, and the promise of a new future. I really wish I'd saved it. I would totally turn it into an MP3 and post it if I had.

For the most part, I'm quite jaded about politics, and I usually end up pulling down the lever for the candidate I think has the least capacity to harm her or his constituents. Triage voting. This time was different. It marked the first time I'd voted for a winning presidential candidate, for one thing. In 2004, I voted for Kerry; 2000, Nader (whoops!); 1996, I wrote in a vote for Colin Powell. So I guess I've always been an idealist. Obama is almost too good to be true, even by my idealistic standards. That speech he gave on race last spring? When the GOP was slinging about all that nonsense about Reverend Wright, like a passel of angry monkeys slinging their own shit? His speech was amazing. It brought tears to my eyes then, and it still does when I think about it. I was already an Obama supporter when I watched it, but that was the point at which I realized that he was the real thing; not just play acting the role. He didn't mince his words. He didn't go on the attack, and he didn't pull punches. He said more in 30 minutes than any other leader has on that topic in decades. Look it up on YouTube and be amazed.

After the third debate, one of my yoga teachers talked about the two candidates as "warriors." One, angry, bitter, ready to attack, unable to reign in his animosity. The other, cool, calm, reserved, letting groundless accusations and false statements slide off of him like water off a duck's back. Words by Rudyard Kipling return to me now: "If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools..." He bore it. He bore it and smiled. Another teacher, in Wednesday night's class, described Obama as a yogi. I don't know if he's ever been on a mat, but truer words were never spoken. As I've written elsewhere, in advanced yoga practice, the mat disappears.

Which brings me to Wednesday. Wednesday was amazing. In the morning, I watched Obama's gracious acceptance speech, and again was moved to tears. Everyone I know, everyone I ran into, was equal parts relieved and ecstatic. Wednesday night's yoga class was incredible. There were other factors involved, I know, but I was amazed at how much more open my body was than even the day before. My old practice, the practice I'd been accustomed to prior to slacking off last summer, was finally back. It's astonishing to me how much tension I was carrying in my body in the weeks leading up to the election. Do you remember the scene at the end of Return of the Jedi when the Death Star has been destroyed and the Ewoks are beating out a victory song using the stormtroopers' helmets as drums? Wednesday felt like that. Relief. Ecstasy. Release.

I will remember Wednesday as the day that I realized we'd turned "Yes We Can" into "Yes We Did." Congratulations, President Elect Obama. Congratulations to all of us, really. We've waited a long time for someone of this caliber to be elected.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Personal update

Apologies for the sub-par video quality.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sticky Squirrel

So, about six months ago, my brother in law and I were in his kitchen, cooking, and as often is the case in such situations, I was waxing philosophical (read: ridiculous). My particular rant that day was the lamentable lack of a national drink of Canada. From his vast well of knowledge, [T] offered me some simple guidelines on how to design a mixed drink, and I set myself to the task immediately. In short order, I had devised the Sticky Squirrel (the original name I gave to the drink referred not to the ubiquitous gray rodent but rather to the national animal of Canada - my finely honed sense of discretion forced me to rebaptize the drink with a less suggestive appellation.):

Alcohol: Canadian whiskey (2 oz)
Sweet: Maple syrup (1/2 oz)
Bitter: Acorns (3 or 4) (here's where my creative insanity really came into its own)
Shake like mad, and pour over rocks. Add some Canada Dry to dilute it a bit. Optionally, garnish with some pine needles.

Well, last night as part of my birthday celebrations, we finally did a trial run. I was expecting it to be thoroughly undrinkable. I was expecting that the hours I had spent earlier in the day first collecting acorns out on the mud flats of the Wallkill and then shelling them and processing them through many changes of boiling water would be all for naught. But much to my surprise and delight, my reaction after the first sip was, "Oh, that's quite good!" So let it be known that Canada now has a contender for a national drink, invented by an admiring foreigner, which seems somehow appropriate to me.

I wonder if it would be in bad taste for me to nominate myself for the Order of Canada?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Hallowe'en rant #2

Continuing with a line of thought I started mulling over many years ago and first began to expound in writing last year (because, you know, once I get an idea in my head, I can't put it down until I've beaten it completely to death):

A (really) brief history of Hallowe'en: Samhain, Celts, harvest, darkness, evil spirits, costumes, candy, Madison avenue, blah blah blah. The details have been written in fine detail elsewhere, so I won't repeat. The important point here is that for better or for worse the holiday has undergone an evolution, thanks to the twin forces of Christianity and capitalism. It's easy enough to bemoan this fact and lament the change, but it's occurred to me that perhaps some element of the original meaning hasn't been lost. The day was originally an opportunity to look directly at the darker side of culture, the chaotic forces which threatened to destroy a society; now it seems to be an innocent chance to play dress up. But look at what we choose to dress up as. Young women, almost invariably, seem to prefer costumes better suited to street walking than to casting out demons. We give ourselves a chance to dress up as anything this one time each year, and I think it reflects a poorly hidden desire of the collective unconscious that a substantive part of the population choose to parade as hookers. Hallowe'en is still an opportunity for the darker parts of our culture to rear their heads. You just need to know how to see them.

Tangentially, I love this time of year. Slate grey skies, forests a sea of orange, yellow, brown, burnt umber. Wind, rain, flurries. It's beautiful; but not the gaudy beautiful of early fall or the manic beautiful of spring. Sombre, rarified beauty.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


I've been thinking about this a lot over the past few months. I don't believe in astrology, but I read and mull over my horoscope monthly. I don't believe in god, yet I pray and sometimes even chant the names of Hindu deities. I don't even understand what is meant by the words "spirit" and "soul," but I devote a large part of my life to a practice that would be no more than fancy gymnastics if not for its metaphysical underpinnings. Am I just hedging my bets? No. I don't have any lingering doubts about astrology; I don't even have any curiosity about the existence of god. As for spiritual matters, I tend to think that the work we do is what matters in life. Why the inconsistency, then? Why do my actions and beliefs not gel?

Maybe the question is wrong; maybe there is no underlying inconsistency. There is value in prayer even if it goes no further than the person who is praying, because it focuses and calms the mind. Same is true of chanting. Astrology is a bit harder to explain... maybe I just like the idea of getting vague advice that I can interpret through the lens of my own perceptions. The mind is a curious beast; you can feed it garbage or you can feed it gourmet, and either way what it chiefly wants is to make sense of the meal.

It does appeal to my DIY/punk ethos to explain these schisms away as taking the trappings of various and sundry belief systems and putting them to my own use. I guess it worries me that the difference between being punk and being self-delusional is so fine. And it worries me that I do not think of myself as a materialist, yet I'd be hard pressed to prove that I'm not.

H'mmm. Maybe that's the point.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

"cold and drunk as I can be"

So, a few years back I decided that I wanted to bag all of the fire towers in the Catskills. I had already hiked Overlook a few times, and the next tower I set my sights on was Hunter Mountain. I tried it. Really rough terrain, lots of elevation. I didn't quite make it to the top. Tried again. Another failure. Again. Again. I gave up. So it goes sometimes.

Well, yesterday I finally did it. Unfortunately, my sense of accomplishment is tempered by the fact that I beat the shit out of my knees on the way down. They're a lot better now, but I'm still concerned. I was treating this hike as step one in a training regimen to prepare me for a NOLS trip to the high Arctic that I've been thinking about taking next summer. That's not going to happen if my body isn't in decent shape. In addition to my knee issues, I also have a shoulder injury from years ago that never really healed, and which makes it difficult to carry a pack. Plus wrist issues that have been plaguing me for the past few months. Plus... the courses I'm interested in have an average participant age of ~20, more than ten years my junior. How much would I enjoy a month in the company of the summer-break-from-university crowd (even if it's in the Arctic, the place I want to see more than anywhere else)?

I applied for (and was accepted to) a NOLS course once before - sea kayaking in Prince William Sound in 2000. I didn't go. The weird thing is that I can't for the life of me remember why I didn't. I was in pretty lousy mental space at the time, and that must have had a lot to do with my decision to back out, but I remember none of the specifics. This was when I was living in Beltsville, MD. Three days after I would have left for the month long course, I came home after work to discover all of the utilities turned off and a note of foreclosure on the front door of the house where I was renting a room. The landlord (who much to my surprise was not the owner listed on the foreclosure notice) was nowhere to be found. That was one of the worst weekends of my life. I had no one to turn to, so I called my father, who I hadn't spoken to in six months. He put me in contact with some relatives who were living locally and who kindly put me up for a few weeks. I was humbled by their generosity.

Sometimes, still, I lie awake at night and wonder if it wouldn't have been better for me to have gone on the NOLS trip. I would have returned to MD to discover that my apartment was no longer mine (according to the foreclosure notice, the house was to be sold at auction in two week's time, and I had no lease). What would I have done? Panic was my usual response to stress back then. Would NOLS have changed my outlook on life? Is it possible that I would have just shrugged my shoulders and calmly worked through the situation? Hard to say. Revisiting the past is always tricky business. I wonder, though.

Well... I'm in a different place now, geographically and emotionally. All these memories do come up for me, though, when I think about NOLS. Most of the draw of next summer's program is my fascination with the far North and my desire to see it before it all melts, but I know that some of the appeal is the possibility of salving memories from this sore spot in my past; proving to myself that I can, indeed, do this.

I have plans to do some more hiking later this week, assuming my knees are on the mend by then. I guess I'm going to go ahead with my training regimen, unless/until it becomes apparent that physical limitations are going to make a NOLS trip infeasible for me. In which case... I don't know what I'll do. That would be quite disappointing.

Oh, and regarding the title of this post - I'm neither cold nor drunk now, but I've wanted to use that Gordon Lightfoot line as a post title for quite a while, and I figured I'd better use it now or else I'd waste it on some horribly maudlin diatribe, when I am actually drunk.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Indigo Girls - UPAC, Kingston, NY

Great show last night... I think it was the 16th or 17th time I've seen them. I miss seeing them play with a full band, as they did on their tours in the 90's, but they are good solo acoustically too. I was very happy to hear them play Three Hits and Reunion; it was really nice to hear Chickenman live again too. My siblings and I hung out for a bit by the stage after the concert. Sully, their head roadie, gave us guitar picks and a copy of their setlist. Then we waited outside by their bus for a while, and my brother got his picture taken with Amy Ray. He was so happy, I thought he was going to wet himself.

There was a time in my life, my early twenties, when I went to concerts whenever I could. Now I just don't any more, and that's sort of sad. I have too many other distractions and competing priorities. Last weekend, Nellie McKay played in Woodstock, and I didn't go to see her because I'd been hiking and biking all day and I was tired and wanted to turn in early. Lame! What was I thinking?

Speaking of competing distractions, I've been taking a break from TV for a while. I wrote a few weeks ago about getting agitated and irritated every time I turned the damned thing on. That kept happening, so I've put the remote to rest for the time being. Curiously, I still feel sort of on edge, but I don't have the boob tube to blame anymore. Maybe I'm just detoxing from media withdrawal. I'm sure Marshall McLuhan would have had something to say about that.

I don't know if I'm going to break my stint of television abstinence to watch the debate tomorrow night. I'm kind of tempted to, but I know I'm 100% guaranteed to feel agitated and irritated if I do. Besides, the debate I'm really looking forward to seeing is the vice presidential debate (which unfortunately is scheduled for the same night as the Canadian national party leader's debate). This afternoon I saw a clip of Katie Couric interviewing Sarah Palin, and I discovered that not only is Palin bat-shit crazy (this, I'd already realized), but she's also completely unable to think on her feet. She was just spouting a bunch of talking points that must have been fed to her by the McCain campaign. Even when Couric asked her to clarify one of her responses, she just paused for a few seconds and then repeated what she'd just said, word for word. I can't wait to see her debate Biden. It's going to be a complete train wreck.

Part of me does feel bad about looking forward to seeing her destroyed in the debate, but that sense of guilt is overwhelmed by my anger. Is Palin really the person the Republican party deems to be the best candidate for vice president? Someone with no relevant experience, someone who is stupid, vain, and self-involved enough to believe that it's good public policy to ban library books which espouse a different point of view from one's own, and that political office is an appropriate platform from which to act on personal vendettas? Someone who believes the fundamentalist horse shit that life is a constant battle between Good and Evil and there is no middle ground or room for negotiation? I think I am justified in looking forward to watching Biden tear her apart into little pieces of crazy.

My father used to (and probably still does) quote Winston Churchill, who said that "a free people get exactly the government that they deserve." I disagree. We deserve better than this.

Ugh. This post is in dire need of more editing, but it's past my bedtime so I'm uploading it to the interwebs as is, crows feet and all.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Walking across the street by the bus station early this morning, I was almost hit by a car. I was lost in my thoughts and the driver clearly wasn't expecting to encounter a pedestrian at 6:30 in the morning. She swerved and braked at the last minute, my heart went from a fugue to a rhumba beat, and we managed to avoid a messy situation with ambulances and police and insurance claims and medical bills and me crying in public.

Anyway... that's not what I meant to write about today. Last week, I wrote in my journal that I miss "the risk and vulnerability of being held in higher regard than I felt worthy of." I've been brooding over that line for the past few days. This is where my courage fails. Not when I'm up in front of a yoga class teaching - I know that's a challenge, so I steel myself up for it. Not over this past summer, when I climbed up a cliff with the intent to jump off it into the water, but chickened out instead - I realized I was just doing it to prove to myself that I could, and that just wasn't a compelling reason. I lose my nerve at quieter moments than these; unfamiliar; interstitial. I look away when I should hold a gaze. I say something when I should be silent. I stop to reflect and figure it all out when it's time to put thinking aside and act. And ultimately, I hesitate or walk away because I'm unsure. I lose things because contrary to popular belief, I'm pretty lousy at being calm and quiet when it matters most. I run away when I should take a deep breath and wait to see what happens next.

This video's more or less irrelevant, but the song hits the nail on the head:

Monday, September 22, 2008

The other New Paltz

I've been riding my bicycle quite a bit lately. In the past, I've had a habit of riding the same routes over and over again (rail trail out to Rosendale, back roads up to North Ohioville); but recently, rather than revisiting these routes, I've begun adding some variety to my peregrinations. There are roads in New Paltz that I never travel by car because they don't lead to anywhere I've ever needed to go. On bike, however, I'm much more inclined to investigate side streets and cul-de-sacs. I'm discovering that there are parts of New Paltz that I didn't even know existed. Over the past month, I have been pedalling through large developments of McMansions on five acre lots with manicured lawns and artificial ponds, tucked away on side streets off 299 heading up the mountain.

Now, as a dedicated conservation-minded pinko liberal progressive wacko, I know I'm supposed to bemoan the existence of these antiseptic monstrosities with much hand wringing and shaking of fists. (Can one wring his hands and shake his fists simultaneously? Perhaps this is a Zen koan for the modern age.) But I don't. I'm going to be honest here. When I pedal though these neighbourhoods, my first emotional reaction is surprise. My second is curiosity. (Who lives here? What do they do?) And much to my embarrassment, my next reaction is envy.

Partly, this has to do with money. Sure, I love the condo complex where I live now. (I love listening to my neighbour's radio blasting NPR all day through our thin walls; I love watching the college kids who rent here playing redneck golf out on the lawn; I love listening to my neighbours across the parking lot screaming at their kids.) All cynicism aside, I really do like it here. But a lifetime of indoctrination into the American dream has succeeded in instilling in me a nagging sense that I ought to be striving for Something Better, and by "better" I mean more expensive and more isolationist. I know it's retarded, but to some small extent I've bought into the myth. (I hope no one takes offence to my use of the word "retarded." It seems appropriate here.)

Partly, though, this envy of mine relates to something other than money. I grew up in a gigantic, beautiful, old house in the middle of nowhere, and I miss it. The place still shows up in my dreams sometimes, representing the past, familiarity, and a returning to myself. Am I seeing poor surrogates of my childhood home in the McMansions of New Paltz? I don't know. Maybe. But I fantasized about big, new, emotionless houses like that when I was a kid, too; then, I suspect what they represented were escape and the illusion of security - twin cradles which I craved when growing up, and which were in short supply.

The burning question on my mind is how the people who live in these houses experience them. What do they feel when they return home in the evening? What did they feel the first time they drove up the driveway? What most appeals to them about their dwellings? What concessions, if any, do they feel they've made in order to live there? What do they value? Who are they? Unfortunately, this other New Paltz offers me no answers. It is silent for me. I don't know who lives there, and I rarely if ever see anyone out in the well manicured yards.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Burn After Reading - a review

Brad Pitt - hilarious. Until... well, until no longer hilarious. Malkovich - characteristically annoying. Clooney - meh. Swinton - characteristically cold. McDormand - also hilarious.

The movie made me think of Seinfeld; a bunch of generally obnoxious people doing stupid things with tepidly amusing results. I didn't care about anyone in the movie, ergo I didn't care much for the movie. (I wasn't a big fan of Seinfeld either, for the same reason.)

Also - DC and surrounding suburbs. Good god. I have the capacity to feel nostalgia about almost anything; generally pleasant experiences, generally unpleasant experiences. Living outside DC is the one thing in my life I have never felt an iota of nostalgia for. The movie was a sort of reminder of the emptiness I felt when I lived there, when I didn't yet quite understand that the chief thing that I was looking for, people to connect with, I was never going to find there. It was wholly alien territory for me. And remains so, on the rare occasions when I return (which, apparently, I will be doing once again for work in the next few months).

Confidential to Percy: I have figured out how to use google analytics, and it is gratifying to see that I am getting hits from Chennai. It gives me the illusion of internationally popularity.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Last Unicorn

Yesterday was hot, humid, and miserable, and I hid inside most of the day, practising yoga, writing in my journal, and discovering that there's nothing good on TV on Sunday afternoons. After a brief period of fruitless channel flipping, I decided to watch The Last Unicorn. I bought the DVD a few weeks ago, largely to assuage my curiosity about why some of the women I know find this film so compelling. I'm not going to bother writing (much) about the obvious hero's journey stuff or the Rankin-Bass animation nostalgia that the movie stirred in me or even the cheesy/awesome soundtrack by America. Others have no doubt already addressed these topics. Instead, here's what I got from the film: it's basically a coming of age story for a girl who wants to find out what happened to all of her friends. She discovers that they've been collected (for lack of a better word) by a bitter old king in a lonely castle by the sea. In the course of discovering this, she begins to undergo transformations leading towards adulthood, and she learns of the costs and curious appeal of mortality.

There's kind of a lot packed in there, actually:

  • The hero is a girl. This still hardly ever happens in pop culture, though I guess it's a bit more common now than it used to be.

  • The bitter old king, collecting youth as if it possesses some quality that can be reacquired; isn't this pretty much exactly how pop culture works now? Look at that big dust-up about Miley Cyrus a few months ago. Why do we care? What the hell was she doing in the middle of People magazine or whatever it was in the first place? I think a lot of adult (or proto-adult) culture is based on vicariously living out fantasies through teens and tweens.

  • I don't know what to make of the film's ending. She succeeds in freeing her friends, with rather limited help from her male companions. Interestingly, the film's romantic figure, the classic hero, is pretty much useless. She ends up saving him. It's her friend, the wizard, who gives her the most help - but even here, his help is limited, and for the most part she saves her friends and herself on her own. But what exactly has she saved? She retains her immortality by eschewing the advances of the prince, but in doing so, she learns regret. (The hero is always fundamentally changed by the journey; this is why Frodo needs to leave Middle Earth at the end of The Lord of the Rings. But I digress.) What is the film trying to say about childhood and adulthood?

  • I can see why this movie was important to girls who first saw it when they were on the cusp of adolescence. It must have offered some solace that although big changes were afoot, some semblance of who they were as children could carry through with them to adulthood. I'm vastly over simplifying here, I know; partly this is because I'm not done mulling this over. Also, pedagogic as this may be, I want my readers (all three of them) to think about this for themselves (if they've seen the film) and not be over burdened with my ruminations.

In addition to the above, I guess the thing I liked most about the movie is that it was genuine. It didn't contain the sort of self-referential oh-aren't-we-clever humour that permeates most animated and kid's films today. The film told a story that I as an adult (or reasonable facsimile thereof) found interesting and thought provoking, but it also appealed to kids. It did this not so much by the schizoid approach of cute little animals and over-the-little-ones'-heads pop culture references, but by telling a simple story, and telling it well.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


A rather exceptional teacher in the local yoga/Buddhist community shuffled off this mortal coil this past Labour Day. I hadn't studied with him very often over the years, but the few times I did were memorable. I remember him leading a kirtan once, and instructing us that the Sanskrit word "jai" is an expression of excitement; he translated it as "hot dog!" Then he thought for a moment and changed his translation to "not dog!" in deference to vegetarians. That still makes me crack up a little bit when I think about it. He also taught a primer on Buddhist teachings one Sunday afternoon last winter (which I mentioned here), and this was when I really got an inkling of the depth of his practice. Jonji had been diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer about 8 months earlier. He'd gone through one (or more) round(s) of chemo. He warned us at the start of the talk that due to the medications he was on, he might have to run to the bathroom without warning. And he still sat with greater stillness and equipoise than I could muster. He didn't budge during his talk, even when I was cramping up and squirming around. He had this presence that's hard to describe... humble, honest, fierce, compassionate. And he told me to tell more jokes.

I went to Jonji's memorial service on Saturday. Sad to say that when paying my respects at his alter, it did not occur to me to think of a joke to share with his spirit, but in his honour, I will share one here.

What did the Buddhist say to the hot dog vendor?
Make me one with everything.
And when he complained that the vendor did not give him enough change when he paid for his hot dog, what did the vendor reply?
True change comes from within.

Rest in peace, Jonji. Thank you for your teachings.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Sweet Shiva!

I'm sitting here stressed about a million things - the cavity I'm ignoring, my workload which alternates between non-existent and overwhelming, the fact that I haven't been tapped to substitute teach a class since giving my sample class, the weird creaky noises coming from my car that my mechanic tells me to ignore, my finely honed skill at shooting myself in the foot in so many aspects of my life - when out of the blue (well, out of my iMac's speakers) comes relief from a wholly unexpected quarter: Afghanada has been renewed for a third season. The first new episode will air today. In two hours. Happy happy! Joy joy!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Last day of the swim season... I decided I'd best make the most of it. It wasn't my best swim of the season, probably, but it wasn't my worst either. I did four laps, 3/8 of the total distance of which was freestyle. Upon exiting from the water, I had the pleasant sensation of exhaustion and dizziness that I often feel after a good workout. Afterwards, I picked and froze about a quart of wild blueberries. Then I came home and took a nap. Not a bad way to start the day.

I've found a pattern in my television viewing habits: I turn on the TV, flip through the channels until I find the least obnoxious programme, then, after about twenty minutes of viewing, realize that I'm scowling, fidgety, and slightly anxious. Then I turn off the TV. Maybe it's time to hide the remote from myself. There are certainly better ways I could be spending my time.

I feel like I'm nestled between two extremes right now. Twice in the past month, friends have told me that they're pregnant, which is wonderful and exciting. On the other hand... I have another friend who is self-destructing, who will (hopefully) be checking into a rehab tomorrow, if he doesn't back out at the last minute. And my brother is apparently attempting to construct a wall between himself (and his girlfriend) and the rest of the world. So here I am sitting in the middle of all this, happy and slightly envious of my friends who are creating new life, concerned about (and slightly angry at) those who are bent on destroying the good things they have.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Fighting the water

So, when I was growing up, I took swimming lessons at the YMCA every Saturday morning. I don't think my parents especially cared whether I could swim or not, they just wanted us kids out of their way so that they could clean house or fight or sleep or throw potted plants at each other or whatever. (My money's on throwing potted plants at each other. Or... whatever.) Anyway, I remember that early on in my training my instructors commented that it looked like I was fighting the water. Eventually I hit my stride, I guess, but in the beginning, every movement looked like I was engaged in a life and death struggle against an amorphous enemy. I wasn't using my energy very wisely.

Well, I've long since stopped fighting the water literally, but I still have the sense that I'm fighting it figuratively sometimes. I've felt really frustrated since getting back from Guatemala. What the hell am I doing? During the past year, I had this great over arching drive in my life - teacher training. Now that's over, and I feel like I'm floundering. I need something new to motivate me, around which I can order my life, and I just don't know what it's going to be. And I know that the harder I look for it, the less likely I'll be to recognize it. So I'm still fighting the water. I need to let it go. It's not going to come until I'm calm.

Another phrase that's been dancing across my synapses lately - "went without the meat and cursed the bread." It's from a poem by Edwin Arlington Robinson (if I remember correctly). I've been letting my desire for things I don't have taint my appreciation of the good things I do have. (And of course, the things I'm talking about here are not really things.) Like fighting the water, this is completely counterproductive. Can I be grateful for what I have and still want something else? I guess that's the trick.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

"...resolved to being born and so resigned to bravery..."

Last night, I taught my sample class at Jai Ma. I'd been fretting about it earlier in the week; worrying if I was ready, if I'd planned a long enough sequence, if I'd stumble over my words to the point of distraction. By Tuesday afternoon a sort of calm of resignation fell over me. If I wasn't ready, I was never going to be. I'd done as much preparation as I could do, and I needed to let go of expectation and just let it flow.

There were a few improvements I could have made to the class - holding postures longer, a bit more explanation on gross alignment in some postures, giving more options for modifications in challenging postures; but on the balance, the class went very well. I was calm; my sequence was well received; I didn't fumble (much) with wording; I gave a lot of touch corrections and was comfortable doing so. Most importantly, perhaps, I enjoyed the process. I enjoyed planning out a sequence, and I enjoyed watching it unfold in front of me.

It is a relief to have this done. I had felt it hanging over my head since June, when I finished my teacher training; but what with international travels, a slight case of yoga burnout, and struggles with self doubt, I kept putting it off for the past two months. Now I can begin substitute teaching at Jai Ma. And paying back the debt of gratitude I owe the yoga community for keeping me (relatively) sane over the past six years.

ADDENDUM: It struck me this afternoon that my audition at Jai Ma was hands down the best job interview I've ever gone on! I got to wear shorts and I didn't have to make up a pack of lies about where I see myself in five years.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, RIP

I know this is a bit belated. Solzhenitsyn, great 20th century Russian author and misanthrope, died about a week ago. The very next morning, there was an eight page obituary in the New York Times (well, it was eight pages on their website; I don't know how long it ran in the paper). This brought up something I've wondered about in the past... the Times must have had most of this obituary already written, right? So if you are famous and live long enough, major newspapers will assign staff writers to write your obituary, even if you're not pushing up daisies yet. What an odd thing to contemplate. I wonder if they also write obituaries for out of control starlets who seem like they could die at any moment. Britney? Lindsay?

I hate the fact that I just mentioned those two in a post about Solzhenitsyn. Totally inappropriate.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, rest in peace. I ran into a Trotskyist on the private bus from Xela to Guate a few weeks ago. You probably would have hated him, but I was just grateful for our conversation (which punctuated the endless stream of Jean Claude van Damme movies that were, incongruously, playing on the bus).

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Regresé a casa

Well, I'm back home. I was expecting to get back to New Paltz at 8pm last night; instead, thanks to a variety of airport delays and reroutings, I got back around 5:30 this morning. Spent more than 24 consecutive hours in planes and airports! Yippee!

I am so tired. And I've almost completely lost my voice. It's been a rough few days. I'll have more to say, of course, but for now, a teaser: a shot I took of an indigenous woman and her child in a one room chocolate processing facility in Xela (Quetzaltenango):

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Guatemala, in brief

Well, I´m here. Enjoying sharing bus rides with chickens, clases de yoga en Espanol, and as expected, assaulting the locals with my atrocious Spanish. There is more to write, obviously, but I don´t have a lot of time right now. I´ve been writing copiously in my journal, and when I return to the states this weekend, I´ll post some of my observations and experiences here.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

One last post before I go

I'm off to Guatemala tomorrow... or anyway, my roundabout journey begins tomorrow. I'm sitting here all packed and freaking out a little bit, so I'm going to post some of what I wrote in my final essay for the teacher training:

"Mandiram is usually translated as 'temple,'" but Krishnamacharya offered another definition from the Sanskrit roots of the word: "'the fire that dispelled darkness.'" I'm mulling over the possibility and implications of translating mandiram rather as the fire that resides in darkness. I've never been comfortable with the us versus them mentality of good versus evil, light versus dark. We all contain both. It's enough of a struggle to live with one's dark side without demonizing it and trying in vain to cast it out. It is harder, but ultimately more satisfying, I think, to learn to live with the things we don't like about ourselves. There is a quote by Barry Lopez (from Arctic Dreams) which addresses this directly (and which I constantly find myself rereading): "No culture has yet solved the dilemma each has faced with the growth of the conscious mind: how to live a moral and compassionate existence when one is fully aware of the blood, the horror inherent in all life, when one finds darkness not only in one's own culture but within oneself. If there is a stage at which an individual life becomes truly adult, it must be when one grasps the irony in its unfolding and accepts responsibility for a life lived in the midst of such paradox." Mandiram. Fire residing within darkness.

"'There are only two castes,' he [Krishnamacharya] would say: 'Men and women.' And he gradually came to regard women as the superior, at least in terms of Yogic practice." Oh boy. Rather, oh girl! Where to begin? Well... he's wrong, of course. Everyone is created equal, men aren't better than women, women aren't better than men, free to be you and me, blah blah blah. On the other hand, let's be realistic for a moment. He's right. The vast majority of yoga teachers I've studied with, known, or known of have been women; yet I've only ever heard of (or known) male teachers who were engaged in morally questionable behaviour with their students. When was the last time you heard of a cult leader who was a woman? I haven't either. Whenever I see the bumper sticker "Well behaved women rarely make history," I think to myself, no, poorly behaved men are usually the ones making history, and that's really not something to aspire to. I don't know what to make of this apparent schism between genders. Maybe it's nature. Maybe it's nurture. Maybe I'm seeing a difference where none actually exists (but if so, then Krishnamacharya apparently saw it too). Maybe this perception of mine stems from some deep well of self-hatred, but I don't think so. (I've spent enough time on the box-of-tissues end of the psychotherapy couch to know self-hatred when I see it, and this ain't it.) Whatever the reason, I find myself in a peculiar position. I have to hope that whatever failings my gender might incline me towards are surmountable through self-awareness (svadhyaya) and concerted effort (sadhana, tapas). And almost certainly, they are. I'm inclined to think that when it comes to cross-gender comparisons, intra-group diversity is more pronounced than inter-group diversity (i.e., men and women have a lot more potential for commonality than difference).

Okay, moving on, as I've probably stopped making sense to anyone but me...

Regarding attachment, "perhaps the strongest of these [memories and latent impressions] with adverse effects upon our actions is the irresistible, eternal desire for immortality. Much, if not all, of our previous Yogic practice is meant to help free us from this desire: in essence, from instinctive self-preservation." Reminds me of a great line in an Ani DiFranco song: "I don't care if they eat me alive, I've got better things to do than survive." I'm also reminded of Freud's great dichotomy – the two opposing forces which drive humanity, eros (creative life instinct) and thanatos (death instinct). The desire for immortality that Desikachar talks about is really not an embrace of life, though it masquerades as an outgrowth of eros; desire for immortality actually arises from a fear of death. It is therefore an outgrowth of thanatos, the death instinct. Truly embracing life and experiencing it means recognizing and accepting that it will end. We wouldn't value it otherwise.

The excerpt from Krishnamurti's speech renouncing gurus and religion resonates strongly with me (predictably). He's right. If you take something of value (like truth, though there are other examples) and try to nail it down, put it in a box, codify it, sell it, or give it a brand name, it ceases to be what it was. The once beautiful thing disappears. It was only beautiful or valuable in the first place because it was not simply described or easily conveyed. The struggle to discover what is important or what is true is itself the thing that is important. This is, in part, what is meant by the observation in the Bhagavad Gita that we are entitled to our efforts, but not their fruits. If I had to condense all of the teachings of yoga into one statement, that would probably be it...

To be a teacher, one must devote one's life to practice, remain a student of yoga oneself, always speak the truth, and care more about the student than about oneself. "It is not the most brilliant intellect that makes such a teacher. It is the inner capacity to care about someone else more than yourself."

The student must be committed, must accept what is taught even if she disagrees, must accept full responsibility for her own learning, and must exhibit humility and respect towards her teacher.

"...the journey toward happiness is above all about deeply felt and conscious experience." Even crying can be blissful when it is deeply felt and conscious. Here, as elsewhere, I speak from experience. Kind of a lot of experience, actually, now that I think about it.

Whenever I challenge myself, step outside my comfort zone (which is certainly what I'm doing by going to Guatemala, a country where I barely speak the language and have no familiarity with the culture), I find myself thinking of my friend Byron. Perhaps it is pathological or morbid for me to do so, but I want to believe he would have been proud of me for pushing myself. He was one of very, very few people whose judgment I deeply valued and whose approval mattered to me.

Ending on an up note (and back to yoga briefly): At my graduation ceremony a month ago, my brother asked me if now I could finally use my Jedi powers to help him get his X-wing fighter out of the swamp, and I said no, it's YOGA, you must have heard me wrong.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Swim update

After a few weeks of hardly any yoga and lots and lots of swimming, I have the following to report: 1. My endurance is definitely improved... over a mile is no longer a problem. 2. My speed must be improving too. The swim-freestyle-for-laps-and-laps-and-laps people were there last night doing their thing, and they only passed me 3 times (last time I swam with them, it was 4, and over a shorter distance).

I'll be in yoga class tonight... I'm kind of dreading it, I know I lose flexibility quickly when I don't practice regularly.

There's a "master swim class" tomorrow up at Minnewaska that I will probably go to. The last time I took swimming lessons was twenty or more years ago at the YMCA, and for the vast majority of those two decades I wasn't doing any sort of proper swimming at all, so I know my technique definitely has room aplenty for improvement. In fact, I'm almost embarrassed to go to the class tomorrow and be critiqued.

I leave for Guatemala on Monday... maybe I should start packing or something. I looked up "to shower" in my Spanish/English dictionary today. "Ducharse." I don't think I'll have difficulty remembering that one. Sheesh, I can be so puerile sometimes.

I had a discussion last night about whether it's okay to be angry at someone else (or yourself) when you recognize that anger really isn't appropriate or well warranted. Maybe okay vs not okay is not the right way to look at it. When I get stuck in anger, figuring out whether it's justified never gets me anywhere. I just get more and more frustrated. Unfortunately, sometimes it's an intractable situation and there's just nothing else to do with it. What I really need is a distraction.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Tagged by NoR

So this is the task:

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123
3. Find the 5th sentence
4. Post the next three sentences
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

This is going to be so unsatisfying for my tagger... I'm in my office, so the nearest book is a programming reference guide:

"You can store text that is generated by the macro facility during macro execution in an external file. Printing the statements generated during macro execution to a file is useful for debugging macros when you want to test generated text in a later SAS session. To use this feature, set both the MFILE and MPRINT system options on and also assign MPRINT as the fileref for the file to contain the output generated by the macro facility."

I tag... anyone who cares to be tagged by this.

Wow... I think this is now officially my dullest post ever! I almost fell asleep writing it.

ADDENDUM: I just noticed that my copy of the unabridged Shakespeare (one of my copies of the unabridged Shakespeare, anyway) is closer to me than the programming manual is. Oh well.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


That last post was supposed to be mostly funny with a side order of serious, I think I got my ratios mixed up.

Monday, July 7, 2008

water, water everywhere

So I'm a scorpio (shocker, I know), and apparently that's a water sign. I have no idea what that means, but it seems like there's been an awful lot of water in my life lately. #1 - since finishing the teacher training, I pretty much can't stand the thought of being on a yoga mat anymore. I'm burned out. I think I'll come back to my practice in a while, but right now, no. So I've been swimming a lot lately, up at Minnewaska. #2 - there's a periodic and very very very annoying leak in one of the bathrooms in my condo. The leak originates from the unit behind mine, so there is nothing I can do about it apart from alert the management, which I've done, and hope they do something to fix it, which so far they have not. Water torture. This brings up my shit to a degree that is probably hard to imagine for anyone who does not know me well. Understanding why this is such a big deal to me has not so far made it a smaller deal. #3 - My mother owns a lake house which is currently involved in legal issues which involve me and which I don't want to deal with. But since when is what we want a predictor of what we have to deal with?

I had to laugh on Sunday afternoon - I was at the town pool (more water!) helping with the testing of new Minnewaska swimmers, thinking about all this water, and the irony of the song that's been playing in my head for the past few days struck me:

Hopefully, I'll be able to avoid any nautical disasters of my own. I should take some perspective from this song, probably.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Happy Canada day

Slightly drunk on expensive Canadian beer from Bacchus right now, so please disregard any spelling and/or grammatical errors...

Went swimming this afternoon up at Minnewaska - did my mile, with much less emotional hullaballoo than last year's first mile swim. There were two other swimmers also in the lake while I was doing my laps. They were swimming exclusively freestyle. They were swimming when I got there, and they were still swimming when I left, and they passed me at least three times. By my rough calculations, that means they swam at least two miles exclusively freestyle (plus whatever they'd swum before I got there and whatever they swam after I left). Granted, they were stopping to tread water for a minute or two after every length (1/8 of a mile), but still, wow. I know there's a triathlon in the 'gunks in September, maybe they were training for that. I keep thinking I'd like to train for that and take part in it some year, but I hate running, so realistically, it probably ain't gonna happen.

I'm kind of afraid of the swim-laps-for-hours-and-hours people. I see them coming up behind me with their synchronized strokes, and I feel like a little kid stuck in a corn field with grain threshers bearing down on him. I try to give them a wide berth. I kind of wish there were a standard rule of thumb for where the faster swimmers should swim, but some of them seem to like to stick to the rope, and some of them stay further out. It makes it impossible for us slower swimmers to know how best to stay out of their way.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

more yoga ramblings! yay!

Okay, I was all ready to close the book on post-training rambling, but I just found this, which I wrote in mid May:

I did my second of three assistant teachings this morning; [J]'s all levels class in [C]. It went well. I felt comfortable doing it, and that has been the big stumbling block for me to work through in this training. I really am getting there. "I can win this," as River says in the last episode of Firefly.

This is graduation weekend for SUNY New Paltz, and I mulled that over on my drive up to [C] this morning. I've known college students who really blossomed and unfolded in the course of their undergraduate years, and it has been beautiful to watch; but that was not my experience. I remember an abiding sense of emptiness after I got my degree. The questions "Well, what was the point of all that?" and "What now?" loomed. Those questions don't present themselves to me in the same ominous overtones with respect to the culmination of my teacher training. I know what this was all about, and I know what happens next. This has been a major part of my blossoming and unfolding, in a way that college really wasn't. As college was about listening to other voices, this has been about listening to my own.

Anyway, this morning's class was all women. I felt a little uncomfortable and out of place at first, until I hit my rhythm with assisting and adjusting, and I forgot that I had the only Y chromosome in the room. I'm not 100% sure what to make of my discomfort. I'm comfortable with friendships with women, obviously, and I'm comfortable practicing with women. Why not teaching? I think it's the power differential. I'm not a peer anymore when I'm at the front of the room giving directions, or making adjustments. I bear a different level of responsibility, and I know how badly that responsibility can be abused. The phrase "trembling before g-d" comes to mind for reasons I don't entirely understand. Maybe that makes sense given the central role this practice has in my life. I know how vital this has been to me as a personal practice, unimpeded by concerns of the sincerity of my instructors. I want anyone I teach to have that same experience.

On an entirely unrelated note, in a month's time, I will be in Guatemala on holiday, assaulting the poor unsuspecting natives with my absolutely atrocious Spanish, and probably contracting aeomebic dysentery. Can't wait! I've never been outside the US and Canada before, and I really have no idea what to expect. "Show up and see what happens" is the mantra I'm choosing to apply to this situation. (Of course, I AM doing some preparation as well... brushing up on my Spanish, getting injections, doing some amount of planning. I am fortunate in that I'll be traveling there with friends who have been there before.)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Waring blenders and microscopes

[largely bastardized from a journal entry I wrote this afternoon, while sitting in the Muddy Cup and eavesdropping on a group of nursing mommies and social workers]

I've spent the past two days mulling over the best way to write this - not because it's a difficult topic, but because it's important to me and I want to write it well. I didn't come up with any great ideas though, so I guess I'll just jump in and see what happens. I completed my teacher training this past weekend; took my final exam on Saturday, and had the last class session on Sunday. I had the impression that no one wanted to leave at the end of Sunday's session. Certainly I didn't.... Now that it's over, I find myself in familiar, well-worn territory: reflecting on and contemplating that which has been...

...there are things I understand better now than I did before the training. I get what samskara means now, having caught myself building new samskaras around the prospect of student teaching. I get that tapas and svadhyaya are necessary conditions of ishvarapranidhana; we need to study ourselves honestly and work earnestly in order to produce something of value to offer up. And I get that, as the Bhagavad Gita says, we are entitled to our efforts, but not to their fruits. It's not about self-denial. It's about mindset. Work becomes its own reward when it is undertaken with honest intention and diligent effort. Work ceases to be work, and becomes something almost sacred; a covenant between self, Self, and That-Which-Lies-Beyond-Self-And-Permeates-All. For some, this means god. For me, it means Love.

I often shy away from the use of superlatives, but as regards my instructors and fellow trainees, I can say without equivocation that they are the finest, most dedicated group of yogi(ni)s with whom I could have hoped to share this process. A more generous, courageous, grateful cohort is difficult for me to imagine. I am honoured to have had the great fortune of practicing with and learning from them, and I look forward to continuing to practice with and learn from them, in whatever form that may take. So thank you all - fully, completely.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Recent reflections and adventures... recorded (for the most part) in my journal last night while sipping tea at the Muddy Cup:

  • If whiskey is a poor man's Prozac, then chamomile tea is a poor poor man's whiskey. Or do I have this completely backwards?

  • Regarding the imminent culmination of my teacher training: One of the benefits of doing a training this way, stretched out over many months interspersed with day to day life, is that one's usual issues continue to arise, but because of one's ongoing studies, one is impelled to use a new set of tools to deal with them. Life becomes the crucible of practice. Life becomes the mat, and then, suddenly it becomes clear that there is no mat, and maybe there never was.

  • I successfully executed a stealth sconing on Friday. I took off from work for the day, woke up early, made pumpkin ginger scones, and dropped them off on the doorstop of an old friend who I hadn't seen in a while (and whose birthday it was).

  • My first CSA distribution of the season is today. Huzzah! I can't wait to see what I'm going to get (in addition to mounds and mounds of greens).
  • Saturday, May 31, 2008

    words in passing

    Last week's episode of Canadia 2056 was incredibly dull. I think the writers are running out of ideas (and honestly, the premise was pretty weak from the start). Good episode of Battlestar Galactica (aka Battlenerd Galactigeek) on Friday, though. The religious and heady (yet vital) philosophical themes in well written science fiction make me think that sci-fi is really coming of age. But then I see a few minutes of the impossibly bad programme Doctor Who, and I'm back to thinking that sci-fi is still largely the domain of rubbery monsters, bad acting, explosions, and unnecessarily dramatic music. Honestly, I'm embarrassed to call myself a geek sometimes. Sometimes.

    Anyway... for the past few months, Friday nights have found me at a friend's house watching BSG. Usually, I arrive early, and we spend some time talking about yoga, mindfulness, being present, &c. We draw from a common vocabulary about such things that is largely lifted from Buddhism and Tantra, but these are not academic discussions. They are grounded in a desire to make sense of our experiences. Saturday mornings, on the other hand, I usually spend in a coffee shop, working on yoga homework. Rather, trying to work on yoga homework. Mostly I seem to get distracted by snippets of the most inane conversations imaginable. A few months ago, I listened to two "men" talk for over an hour about fights they had been in. Street fights. Bar room brawls. They were comparing notes. WTF?

    Recap. Friday night: meaning of life, spirituality, what does it mean to be human, blah blah blah. Saturday morning: Dumb and Dumber shooting the bull about people they've beat up. Am I being overly snobbish about the stupidity of other people's conversations? I would probably have found this conversation absolutely hilarious/ridiculous/fascinating if it hadn't distracted me from what I was working on.

    It makes me wonder what people say about the conversations that they overhear me having... maybe I'm just as bad in my own way. I'm sure there's someone in New Paltz who thinks of me as that obnoxious prick who's always going on about secular humanism.

    Wednesday, May 28, 2008

    Guilty pleasure

    So there's this radio drama that airs on the CBC every Friday morning at 11:30, and I simply cannot stop listening. It's called Canadia 2056; it features science fiction, American-Canadian relations, intergalactic toilet plunging, amorous computers, a brain in a jar, romance, action, comedy. It really has it all. It's like a mash up of Futurama, the Hitchhiker's Guide, and this stupid audio production of the story of King Midas that I did in grade 5.

    What is it that's so compelling about radio dramas? And why aren't there any in this country? (Or if there are, where are they?) Why do I have to outsource for my auditory amusement? Afghanada (when it was on the air, and I hope it's coming back for a third season) also held me totally in thrall.

    Friday, May 23, 2008


    As my training winds up, there's all manner of thoughts running through my mind, and I think this blog is going to be a clearing house for them over the next few weeks. I'm going to start with my translations/commentaries on the first three yoga sutras of Patanjali (I'll list these in the format Sanskrit... English translation... Squirrel translation).

    Atha yoganusasanam
    Now the exposition of yoga is being made.
    When is the best time to practice yoga? Right fucking now!

    Yogas citta vrtti nirodhah
    The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is yoga.
    Yoga is when your mind shuts up.

    Tada drastuh svarupe vasthanam
    Then the Seer abides in His own nature.
    Then you can stop frontin', and start dealing with what's real.

    I somehow doubt my own vulgar and dumbed-down translations are going to catch on, but they're helpful for me.

    I did my third and final assistant teaching last night, for a Basics class. I ploughed through it, but I was definitely not on my A-game. I kept stumbling over words and directions. It sucks that I ended my assistant teachings on a down note. My second assisting (which I did on Sunday) had gone much better; I think the difference may have been that Sunday's class was first thing in the morning, so I was fresh and vibrant, and yesterday's was in the evening after I'd spent all day staring at a computer screen writing code, and my head was still stuck in zeroes-and-ones mode. I'm concerned about what this may mean for my future as a teacher. Does this mean I'll only be able to teach competently on days on which I wasn't thoroughly immersed in computer code? I hope not. I never planned to give up my programming career in order to teach yoga; I want to be able to strike a balance between these two disparate worlds in which I live. I don't want to have to choose.

    My mind is very much drawn to contemplations of effort and surrender today, so here's another excerpt from one of my recent yoga essays:

    Effort and surrender. "Ay, there's the rub," to borrow a phrase from Hamlet. We do our practice, whatever that means for each of us; we are compelled to interact honestly with the world and treat each other as well as we can, but we don't control the outcomes of our actions. Effort is trying to do whatever is right in the moment; surrender is hoping like hell that our actions are beneficial to others (and to ourselves), and realizing that the effects of our actions are beyond our ability to control. Sometimes, everything turns out the way we think it should. Sometimes, well, not so much. Effort and surrender is intense practice, so a lot of the time we try to avoid it. Donna Farhi enumerates some common avoidance techniques: neurosis (throwing our hands up and saying, "I can't control anything; it's all someone else's fault; I give up."), half hearted effort (self-explanatory), conditional perfectionism (diligent effort coupled with a refusal to accept any outcome but the one we desire), and impossible perfectionism (in which we keep moving the goal state so that it can never be achieved, because achieving some desired outcome would require relinquishing control). Diligent, honest effort followed by genuine surrender opens the doors to possibilities that just can't present themselves otherwise.

    Not that I'm any sort of an expert on surrendering control. I understand it in theory well enough, but theory isn't worth a damn when the rubber hits the pavement.

    On an up note, here's another snippet from an earlier essay:

    Farhi writes a lot about the importance of slowing down, and how frantic the pace of modern life can be. This reminds me, of all things, of the introductions to several cookbooks that I own. It seems that every time I page through a cookbook, the author's first priority is to bemoan the rapid pace of modern life and lament the fact that no one makes time to cook anymore, despite what a calming, soothing, centring thing it can be to make a daily routine of preparing a meal. The same, of course, can be said of yoga. (When you start looking for it, you discover that there's dharma everywhere, even between the recipes for shish kabobs and pork tenderloin.)

    Friday, May 16, 2008


    The last time I visited my father was in 2002. The last time I spoke to him was probably 2004 (I ran into him on the rail trail), and the last time I saw him was last summer (I took off before he saw me, so we didn't have any interaction). I've been avoiding him for a long time, and eventually he acceded to my requests to stop trying to contact me. So the letter I received from him a few weeks ago informing me of his diagnosis with prostate cancer came as a bit of a surprise. The letter was pretty short on details; no mention of his course of treatment, his prognosis, or whether the cancer was caught early. When I first read the letter, I didn't feel much emotional response to its contents. Mostly what I noticed was the fact that he'd spelled prostate wrong, and that his grammar and sentence structure were atrocious. Distractions from the real matter at hand, I guess. I harbour at lot of anger towards him, some of which is well placed, some of which probably is not, but the whole mess of it has long since grown stale, and I have other emotions and memories competing for supremacy. Nothing with family is ever linear or cut and dry. My siblings (who have also shut him out of their lives) and I seem to be of a common mind that we should at least send him a card to thank him for letting us know and wish him well with his treatment.

    Unrelated to the above, I've been favoured with dreams of wish fulfillment for the past two nights. Wednesday night was rated PG. Last night: G. I'm keeping the details to myself. Dreams are a good road map to where my mind is, but they are ultimately just a map; they are not the territory itself, as I have to keep reminding myself.

    Saturday, May 10, 2008


    Because I'm too lazy to write anything fresh, here are some excerpts from recent writings. First, from this morning's journal entry:

    Yesterday, I told [my therapist] about quinuituq, deep patience - sitting by a seal hole, motionless, for hours, waiting for a seal to surface. There's absolutely no sign of anything happening until the very last instant. One simply waits. I've lately been wondering at what point the hunter abandons the hole and walks away, giving up the hope of catching a seal at that hole. How does he know when to call it quits? When he is in that calm mindset, quinuituq, does he simply know when it's time? Does he come bck to the same hole the next day and try again? How does he feel walking away, knowing he may have missed the seal by a few minutes?

    My guess - and it's only a guess - is that when he's in that mindset of deep patience, he knows when it's time to walk away, and he probably doesn't second guess his decision when he does. But only if he's in that mindset; only if he is calm, and deeply patient.

    And from a yoga homework assignment I handed in last month, and just received back (a summary of the excellent book Bringing Yoga to Life by Donna Farhi):

    The box of monsters that Donna Farhi writes about, the uncomfortable parts of our psyche, may be likened to weeds stabilizing the soil of a steep slope. They are unsightly, perhaps, but they are performing a vital function, and it's important to tread lightly around them as we uncover what that function is. We are more than our box of monsters, though this is impossible to remember at times. "I am always a bit suspicious of people who walk around spouting angelic proclamations about how wonderful and beautiful and full of light everything is. When I meet people like this I have an overwhelming desire to go out and buy a handgun." Wow. I mean, wow! In years to come when I reflect on this book, I suspect that this will be one of the chief passages to which I return. Not that I advocate yogicide, of course, or any sort of violence for that matter, but I think I know exactly what Donna Farhi is talking about. Life isn't all kittens and rainbows, and it's very hard to deal with people who pretend that it is. Keep it real. (Of course, sometimes it is all kittens and rainbows, so the other half of keeping it real is recognizing those times as well.)

    A lot (all?) of what Donna Farhi wrote about the descent into the pit of despair rang true for me. There is no bottom to the pit; there is always lower to go. Sometimes a breakdown, or a "dark night of the soul" (p. 206) occurs with no apparent reason. Not everyone experiences this, but many people do. This isn't necessarily a one-shot deal; we can find ourselves in the pit more than once. To call these sorts of experiences humbling robs them of some of their rawness. "Flattening" is a better word. One is pummeled by travels in the pit of despair that Donna Farhi writes about. Yet there is perhaps no other way to discover that the small self doesn't get the final word. If the small self is annihilated and we still find a way to keep on truckin', then there must be something more to life than a shopping list of "I am"'s, "I want"'s, "I don't want"'s, and "I fear"'s.

    There's more to say, but I think I'll stop here. I'd like to end on an up note for a change.

    My yoga teacher made some lovely comments about this paper; she called my writing lively, funny, and insightful. That felt really good.

    Wednesday, April 30, 2008

    Quirks & Quarks

    Here are the rules: 1. link the person who tagged you, NoR. 2. mention the rules in your blog… 3. tell about 6 unspectacular quirks of yours 4. tag 6 following bloggers by linking them. leave a comment on each of the tagged blogger’s blogs letting them know they’ve been tagged

    (I don't think I'm going to tag anyone else, but here are a handful of my unspectacular quirks; btw NoR, #4 on your list isn't something I'd call unspectacular.)

    1. I listen to CBC Ottawa pretty much every morning (as I'm doing now); despite the fact that I don't live in Ottawa. I don't even live in Canada.
    2. I've been telecommuting (not just once or twice a week; exclusively) for the past seven years.
    3. There are two degrees of separation between me and Bruce Campbell.
    4. I carry a cotton hanky wherever I go so that I don't have to use paper tissues.
    5. I can't walk past a sink full of dirty dishes without rolling my sleeves up and washing them. My brother and sister are aware of this and use it to their advantage when I visit them.
    6. I like taking naps in my car, sometimes.

    Thursday, April 24, 2008


    Did my first (of three) assistant teachings last night. It went okay, I guess. Some of my touch corrections could have been a bit less tentative. I found it really, really hard to triage who to give touch corrections to, but I guess this is something all yoga teachers experience. I know that I didn't put a whole lot of "me" into the teaching; partly, this was because I was nervous; partly, it was because it wasn't my class; I was just assisting another teacher.

    Next up: assisting an all levels class on Sunday morning. I think that will be easier; I'll be less nervous, already having assisted once, also because no one I know will be in the class! It's surprising how big a difference this makes. By way of analogy, two people can be sitting next to each other in a bar having completely different experiences, because one has been there a thousand times before and has all sorts of memories and expectations associated with it, and the other is there for the first time. I'm finding the same thing is true with teaching. Last night's class? I've been to that bar before, kind of a lot. I know the patrons, and pulling pints for them was a totally different experience than sitting there getting sauced myself.

    Yes, I may have taken that analogy a bit too far.

    And yes, the title of this blog entry is in Klingon.

    Friday, April 18, 2008

    "How many nights I prayed for this, to let my work begin"

    At last, the inspiration for the title of this blog is coming into fruition. (I have discovered that almost everything I write eventually comes true in one form or another, if I write it well enough. I choose to see this as a blessing, though it has its downside.) My yoga teacher training is two months shy of completion, and we have now entered into the student teaching portion of the course. I'll be giving classes to some of my friends this coming week, and will probably be assistant teaching a class of real live yogis on Wednesday (unless someone else signs up to assist that class before I do).

    I was nervous when I learned that the next portion of the course would include student teaching. I knew it was coming, of course, or at least I should have known, but I guess I just didn't think much about it. Two things occurred to me which have mitigated my fears, at least mostly:

    1. This is the whole point of the training. Now is not the time to question myself.

    2. Samskara is a Sanskrit word; briefly, it means a sort of emotional scar or pattern which effects our interactions with the world (and the conditions of our eventual rebirth, if you buy into that sort of thing). I realized that worrying about teaching was creating a new samskara for me to deal with, and frankly, I don't need any more samskaras to deal with. Not if I can avoid them.

    Still, I'm somewhat nervous. I am about to leap feet first into the crucible, and I'm not certain what will happen. Probably best not to think about it too much.

    Tuesday, April 1, 2008

    Dreams, borrowed poetry

    I keep dreaming about zombies eating my brain, or other sorts of B-horror monsters sneaking up on me and terrifying me. I've been waking up in a dead panic, heart racing. Usually, I can tell pretty quickly what my dreams are about, or if they are just random neural firings. These do not have the feel of random neural firings. I think there's a message here, but I can't see it. Which means I get to sit with it, stir this cauldron of images and memories, and hope that the meaning percolates to the surface.

    Seemingly (but not really) unrelated, part of Mary Oliver's "Wild Geese:"

    You do not have to be good.
    You do not have to walk on your knees
    for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
    You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.

    Tuesday, March 18, 2008


    From Sunday night:

    Some very peculiar dreams last night. One involved shooting up heroin. I woke up terrified of the health and safety risks involved, and scared that I'd never be able to give blood again. It was only after a few panicked moments of wakefulness that I realized it was only a dream. I think that dream was a reflection of overblown health concerns I have in waking life.

    Another dream: I was at a banquet of some sort. It had a science fiction feel to it; perhaps it was on another world. I think the other revelers must have had a substantially different biochemical make-up; they drank alcohol to stay sober and water to get drunk. I remember wondering about this in my dream. I think I had a hard time finding my way back home, or to my spaceship or whatever, after leaving the party.

    Thursday, March 6, 2008

    Wind of Change

    The title of this post refers to the Scorpions song from 1990. In my memory, this was an exciting time. I was 15; walls were falling, families were being reunited, the cold war was ending. The whole year felt like spring to me. A lot of this feeling came from the fact that my parents, too, were (temporarily) reuniting (though less dramatically than those families long separated by the Berlin Wall) after a (long, long, long overdue) year long separation. My father had cleaned up his act, and everyone seemed hopeful.

    Actually... this post wasn't supposed to be about my family stuff, but I felt I had to mention that as background. The theme of this post was supposed to be: what the hell happened? So many good things (well, except Gulf War I) seemed to be happening in the late eighties and early nineties. Then we had the boon years of the Clinton administration, then everything went to hell. How the hell did we drop the ball? And how do we pick it up again? Maybe I'm misremembering the sense of optimism I perceived back then. I was young and unjaded (well, less jaded), and my memory of world history might be coloured by my memory of my own history (cf: above).

    I attended a talk on the four noble truths and the eightfold path of Buddhism a few weeks ago. Afterwards, I had a private moment with the speaker, and he gave me the following dharma advice: tell more jokes. Corny ones. In rapid succession. It was damn fine advice, so here's a joke for this post: How many Iyengar teachers does it take to change a lightbulb? One, but she needs a mat, a bolster, a blanket, an eye pillow, a chair, a strap, and two blocks.

    It's kind of funny if you've studied yoga with Iyengar teachers.

    Saturday, March 1, 2008

    A mix for the big appointment

    So, I have this morbid ongoing project that I like to think about at odd moments, for reasons at which I can only guess, and which I won't go into right now. The project: selecting songs that would properly eulogize me if I were to meet an untimely end. In no particular order, here's what I've got so far:

  • Wave of Mutilation - The Pixies. This is the first song that I knew would make the cut.

  • American Tune - Paul Simon. Very grounding and humbling. There's not a shred of ostentation or pretension in this song.

  • The Darkest One - The Tragically Hip. Hard to explain, exactly, but for me, this song has the character of a love song that one could sing to oneself during moments of despair.

  • Membership - The Tragically Hip. Like most Hip songs, I have no idea what this is about, but it feels like a theme song for me. Something about a river.

  • O Canada Girls - Dar Williams. "I'm so sick of forgetting myself to remember who I am; and you say, 'Yeah, but why so cold, and so Canadian?'"

  • Finlandia - Indigo Girls. The acapella version of this is beautiful.

  • Hasn't Hit Me Yet - Blue Rodeo. The last time I went on antidepressants, I remember driving to the pharmacy to pick up my prescription, listening to this song. I wasn't very familiar with it yet, but I knew it fit the moment perfectly. Still makes me cry sometimes.

  • Brothers In Arms - Dire Straits. Makes me think of my friend Byron, for some reason. I never discussed the song with him, but I think he would have gotten it.

  • If It Be Your Will - Leonard Cohen. A prayer, a dirge, a love song all wrapped up in one neat package.

  • Watershed - The Indigo Girls. I don't think I heard them play this song in concert until the 13th or 14th time I saw them perform. It was a long time to wait.

  • Lord, I Have Made You A Place In My Heart - Cry Cry Cry. The only convincing gospel song I have ever heard.

  • Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life - Monty Python. Good to end on an up note, I think...

  • Secret - Meryn Cadell. ...or not.

  • Slightly less morbid line of inquiry: if there were a movie made about my life, who would provide the soundtrack? Right now, I think The Tragically Hip. They write beautiful songs that are almost impossible to understand; sort of the REM of the north. Readers of this blog (both of you)... who would you choose?

    Wednesday, February 20, 2008

    " makeshift as we are, we are..."

    I've had this thought in my head for a while now, and I keep hoping the words to explain it are going to arrange themselves perfectly without any effort on my part, but that just hasn't happened yet. I keep forgetting that writing (like yoga) is not magic, it's work, and takes practice. So here's my practice:

    One of my recurrent issues is feeling like I don't deserve anything that I have, or want. I don't deserve this relationship, that job, this house, these friends, blah blah blah. Generally this feeling only strikes when I'm down on my luck or stressed for some other reason. Like a zit before a blind date, it always comes at the worst possible moment. So I've been sitting with this realization about myself for a while; perhaps a few years since I really started to see it. Recently I've had a revelation: of course I don't deserve the things I have or want. No one deserves the hand they've been dealt, either good or bad. That's not the point. The point is that whether I deserve it or not, it's my hand and I need to play it.

    A side factor that plays into this sense of not deserving, which I've lately recognized, is that I'm much more comfortable wanting something than having or working towards having it. I know this comes from growing up in an environment in which it was much, much safer to live in my head than to make my desires and needs known, but even knowing this, it remains a mindset which is dreadfully difficult to abandon.

    Tuesday, February 19, 2008


    And now, for your reading pleasure, a brief game of tag! Thanks to NoR (some of whose responses I wanted to steal/borrow).

    1.Post these rules before presenting your list.
    2. List 6 actions or achievements you think every person should accomplish before turning 18.
    3. There are no conditions on what can be included on the list.
    4. At the end of your blog, choose 6 people to get tagged and list their names.
    5. People who are tagged write their own blog entry with their 6 suggestions.
    6. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged.

    My list:
    a. Spend some time away from home. I didn't do this, but I wish I had.
    b. Find the off switch for the TV (computer, iPod, xbox, &c)
    c. Try something new, fail miserably, discover that failing does not kill you.
    d. Start writing a journal.
    e. Learn to cook and clean up after yourself.
    f. Register to vote (okay, this you'd have to wait for your 18th birthday for).

    I'm only tagging green weaver, who I think will have some interesting and well thought out responses.

    Tuesday, January 29, 2008

    Science koan

    Okay, enough maudlin claptrap already. Sheesh.

    My best friend in high school and I used to challenge each other with (often semi-idiotic) thought questions - if dinosaurs were resurrected would they be kosher, and that sort of thing. There's one I've been mulling over for a few years now, and I think the time has come for it to see the light of day:

    Take earth (please!), as it is now. Remove all people from it. Remove all representations of people from it - no statues, no video, no images. I don't care why everyone is gone, we just are. Maybe there was a disaster, or maybe we heard there were good investment opportunities in the Andromeda Galaxy. Anyway, we're all gone, leaving infrastructure, cars, office buildings, etc. intact. Now imagine that someone from an alien civilization lands on earth. Would he/she/it be able to determine what we looked like just from the things we made and used? Would they be able to tell we had a torso, a head up top, and four appendages? Five fingers on each of two hands? My guess is that in very gross terms (approximate height, size, shape), it would be possible to reconstruct us physically. How many (if any) of the physical details of our existence would be irreproducible, though?

    I really don't know how I struck upon this question. I think it came to me as I was driving a few years ago.

    Also: happy belated 50th birthday to the Lego brick. I think I still have my Junior Builder's Club card from ~1979 somewhere. I should laminate it and put it in my wallet.

    Friday, January 18, 2008

    More maudlin veneration of the land

    Another quote, this time from Mary Morris' Wall to Wall (excerpted in Home Ground):

    All my life I had imagined this terrain, a country as much within me as without, a landscape that seemed almost of my own making. I could not look at this land and not think about its history. And I could not think of its history without thinking of my own. We crossed frozen ground, ice-trimmed lakes. Peering through the open shade, I saw a world outside that seemed no different from the one I carried within. Cold, hungry, empty, and vast.

    I think she was writing about a railroad trip through Russia, but I can't read that without thinking of Ontario.

    Tuesday, January 15, 2008

    "I have a good, and I have an evil"

    I spent 95% of last night's yoga class thinking about how sick I am of yoga and how I never want to see another sticky mat as long as I live. Then the thought struck me that it's time for me to pick sides; to keep feeding into my anger and frustration, or stop. Like in those old Looney Tunes cartoons, I have a devil sitting on one shoulder and an angel on the other. The devil keeps telling me to sit on the couch all day, eat doughnuts, watch TV. The angel tells me to get off my ass, stop bitching, and go to class.

    I don't know why my angel swears so much. I feel sorry for her. I think she's ready to throw in the towel some days.

    Friday, January 11, 2008

    Jesus Camp

    A few nights ago, I watched the most terrifying horror movie ever made. It's a documentary called Jesus Camp. I felt so bad for the kids in that movie. Their parents, their pastors, their entire culture tells them that the physical world is rife with sin, that physical pleasure is evil. The scene in which the ten year old girl says that dancing for the holy spirit is okay, but dancing for "the flesh" is wrong, is horrifying. How are these kids going to deal with puberty in a few years? Their bodies are going to be giving them signals that their indoctrinated minds refuse to accept, and no one around them is going to have any sympathy. Something's going to have to give. You can't internalize that much hatred and fear without doing some serious damage.

    I am a big fan of Philip Pullman's books. Jesus Camp helped me to understand why Evangelical Christians are so afraid of him; his philosophy is completely antithetical to theirs. This is how I summarized Pullman's message in a recent email: "What the books argue in favour of is existence itself - the here and now. The beauty and the wonder of that which is right in front of us, and within us. The books are distinctly against relying on a superhuman power (whether a god or an unaccountable organization) to dictate morality." No wonder there was a call to boycott the Golden Compass movie (which stunk out loud, incidentally, but the books are great). Hell, most of the kids in Jesus Camp weren't even allowed to watch or read Harry Potter, and that's practically a paean to Christian values.

    I try not to get too obsessed with other people's beliefs. I don't burden people with my belief system unless they ask, and I expect the same courtesy from them. Worship whatever you want to, just leave me the hell out of it. But when you're fucking up your kids with your idiotic and dangerous beliefs? That's not acceptable.

    Totally unrelated: my yoga teacher training program runs through June, and I've been thinking that as a reward to myself for finishing the program (assuming I finish the program), it'd be nice to go to Prince Edward Island for a week or two, rent a bicycle, and ride from one end of the island to the other. I've never been there before, and I'd like to cross it off the list of provinces I have yet to visit. I don't know if I'm in good enough shape to do that much riding, and I've been having knee issues lately, so those are issues I'll have to address before I decide whether to go. I have this vision in my head of PEI the way it must have been a hundred years ago, when L. M. Montgomery was writing. I know it's certainly not the same now, but maybe I could still get a sense of the history of the place.

    Finally, a wonderful, wonderful passage from Barry Lopez's new book: "Whatever their styles and emphases, many American poets and novelists have recognized that something emotive abides in the land, and that it can be recognized and evoked even if it cannot be thoroughly plumbed. It is inaccessible to the analytic researcher, invisible to the ironist. To hear the unembodied call of a place, that numinous voice, one has to wait for it to speak through the harmony of its features - the soughing of the wind across it, its upward reach against a clear night sky, its fragrance after a rain. One must wait for the moment when the thing - the hill, the tarn, the lunette, the kiss tank, the caliche flat, the bajada - ceases to be a thing and becomes something that knows we are there." Those last few words especially are haunting to me. I've never read anything else quite so well written about what it feels like and what it means to find oneself merging with a landscape; for the land to become not just something out there, but something to which one is intimately, vitally connected. No longer other. Kindred. Family. I have that sense here, in the Hudson Valley; I have had it in south eastern Ontario as well, where I spent healthy chunks of my youth. I did NOT have it when I lived in Maryland for a few years, and that is a large part of why I never liked it there.

    (Note: I pieced together much of this entry from recent emails, which may explain its slightly disjointed character. Guess if I posted more frequently I wouldn't feel as obligated to cram so much in to a single post.)