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“Is hang gliding the one that looks like a parachute?” asked the young woman at the lunch table.
“No,” said Sandra Grantham with authority. “A hang glider is more like a kite and you are suspended horizontally underneath. You control your flight with a bar.” She explained that you learn at the beach running on little baby dunes, and progress to ever higher hills. “My goal was to take off from from Glacier Point in Yosemite, the only place in Yosemite you can hang glide from. But you had to be a Hang 4 and I was only rated a Hang 3.”
A crash while hang gliding damaged Sandra’s hearing—“Have you been to England before?” she asked me, because she heard “England” instead of “India”. Now then I HAVE been to England, so that sent our conversation sideways for a little bit, but we found our way back as we will here now. Sandra was positive that the crash had been caused by her equipment. Something had prevented her from controlling the craft properly. “The owner of the shop didn’t believe me, so he took my kite out himself for a flight.
“He came back white,” having nearly crashed badly. The vertical supports, in fact, were completely out of alignment.
Was it that she’s a woman? Or was it the white hair? Sandra didn’t say exactly how long ago this happened, but in the telling it sounded recent. Sandra is 74, lives in nearby Niles, California, and, unlike many of us, has no need for the folderol of hair color. Or, it seems, folderol of any kind. “Have you been here before?” I asked, meaning 1440 Multiversity, where we are taking Brave Magic, with Cheryl Strayed and Elizabeth Gilbert.
“Oh yes,” said Sandra, “I was here right after they opened last year, for Zen Tango.”
Zen Tango. I just let that sink in.
I love mealtimes here, and not just for the fresh food I do not have to prepare or clean up. Every table is a community table. The conversation meanders all over: current events, creativity, science, the miracle of being here,—“I feel like I’m having an affair with myself” said Susan from Massachusetts—, children, careers, hang gliding, travel and even shopping.
Especially shopping WHILE traveling. I like to buy things I can actually use. I once bought almond extract from Country Cupboard in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, because I knew that every time I used it (which is only for cheesecake) I would remember visiting Jessamyn as a freshman at Bucknell. Marmalade from England—not India—provides the same memory hit. So do the little ebony earrings I got for a dollar at a flea market in Zambia. I thought they were so cheap it wouldn’t matter if I lost them. But costing a dollar has become part of their charm.
“I was on a world cruise,” said Sandra, “and our very first port of call was Bali. In the market I fell in love with a pair of beautiful carved wooden hands.” Sandra positioned her polish-free hands elegantly a foot in front of her face. “I loved those hands. I love hands in general and I was working as a massage therapist then. But Bali was our very first stop. I thought I’m on a WORLD CRUISE, and I can’t buy everything I like. But I so much regretted not getting those hands.”
I still remember the outfit in the shop window 20 years ago in Edinburgh. When I went back later the shop was closed. And then I had to catch my flight. And I especially remember the reclining Buddha from my last trip to India. It was exquisite, white marble, somewhere between 80 and 120 years old. It was a little expensive, of course it was. It was also heavy, even though it was only about ten inches high. How would it do in shipping? I was also tired and overwhelmed. I had bought a number of things already and the store itself was enormous, a warehouse that went on and on, sensory overload to the max. The opposite of zen tango, or at least my vision of zen tango. Some pieces in the place were new, made for Restoration Hardware, for example, and some were old. Some were relics, figures from old temples, and some were trinkets for a bazaar, already falling apart. I didn’t have enough faith in the moment to respond to the Buddha that called to me.
I started to share this but Sandra stopped me.
“No. No. There’s more to hands story! At the end of the cruise the ship organized a white elephant sale for people to get rid of the things they’d purchased that they didn’t want. So of course I went. And there were my hands!”
I laughed, quite sure my Buddha is not going to appear at a white elephant sale. Then again, I am only a Hang 3 shopper.
Sandra is definitely a Hang 4.
So before departing for India I’m sleeping extra, packing thoughtfully, and making sure the details of my life are in perfect order before leaving for a month. Right?
Wrong. I am spending a wonderful few days with Elizabeth Gilbert—Eat, Pray, Love—and Cheryl Strayed—Wild—at 1440 Multiversity outside Santa Cruz on what I’m calling a writer’s weekend. It’s sort of that, we are certainly doing writing, but it’s more about facing whatever is inside of us and allowing it to empower whatever is trying to get out into the world.
“If I have one piece of writing advice,” said Liz yesterday, “and I really do have only one, it is to know who you are writing to.
“When I ask someone who they are writing for they usually say something like, ‘anyone who has ever been hurt and is trying to heal’, or ‘women over forty’. Folks, that isn’t someone, that is a demographic. You cannot speak to a demographic. You speak to a person.”
With Eat, Pray, Love, she was writing to her friend Suzy, who was going through exactly the same divorce experience. “She was exactly me, but with a kid.” With her forthcoming novel it is a different friend, one who could relate to the topic of showgirls and women who really do want to have a lot of sex.
I love Liz Gilbert, really I do, she could be a stand-up comedian if the writing career falls apart, but when I am writing I do not think of one person. I think of a small group of friendly people around the dinner table. When I write here in this space I’m writing to Ellie, and Joan, and Ted, and Bobbie, and Linda, and Ijaz, and Stacey, and Trissie a few more. Maybe a few dozen more. Maybe a few more than that. Certainly not a demographic.
Not only are Liz and Cheryl charming people and engaging writers, they are also insightful teachers. One of the tools is writing letters to various aspects of ourselves. Because it really is just a few of you here, push your chair out a little from the table and make sure you are comfortable. Have another cookie if you like. Since we are cozy I feel safe enough sharing one of the most powerful exercises.
The idea is to let your fear talk to you. For five minutes. Let it say its piece, directly. Liz gives the prompt, which is the first line of the letter.
“Dear Karen, I am your fear. This is what I have to tell you. You are paralyzed right now. Notice that? Even thinking about hearing from me, dealing directly with me, puts you in a state of panic. But really, the thing you don’t think about is that that is my job and that I serve a good and useful purpose. Really, I do. I watch out for you. I protect you. I work to keep you safe, but…and this is hard to admit, sometimes I am too good at my job. The carpenter pounds nails. The surgeon cuts flesh. And I instill terror. There, I said it. Terror.
It is my one and only job. I can try to do it a little less vigilantly if you can at least admit that I am here. No one wants to be ignored.
Respectfully, Your Fear.”
That felt good. Now I think I’ll have a cookie.
And finish packing.
What have I been up to? Quite a bit, actually.
This makes me chuckle, since I’ve encouraged a foreign-speaking friend to zap “actually” out of his vocabulary since he uses it so much. “You actually want me to stop saying actually?”
My head has been down, writing what I hope will become a new book. More on that another time.
My plan—God willing and the creek don’t rise—is to check in and appear here more regularly. Not every day, as I was for awhile, but semi-regularly, most especially when I have something to say. A good idea, don’t you think? Trying to avoid writing just to write….as I try to avoid talking….just for its own sake. I remember the story that William F. Buckley told television critic Gene Shalit that he could point at any article in the New York Times and write a column about it.
“Yes,” replied Shalit, “I think I’ve read that one.”
At this moment I’m preparing for a trip to India, my third in a year. Stay tuned and you’ll hear more about that. Before my spring trip Wendy Zanino of Manhattan Beach Vision asked, “Do the people in the village need glasses?”
“Sure.” I’d never thought about it specifically, but of course they must.
“Would you like me to save some for you?”
And before you can “Namaste” I was managing, with on-the ground help, a one-day eye camp in the village of Kanai in the Indian state of Rajasthan.
It was Good Friday and we got to use a large school classroom. Friends hauled a swamp cooler over in a tractor. It was 104 degrees in the afternoon. Children peered through the windows. Women in veils and men in turbans jostled to get in. Men go first in Indian culture, but not here. I said we would alternate, one man, one woman. No one is used to appointments or waiting. No HIPAA confidentiality rules as everyone was watching to see if that eye machine was painful. Some of the women required coaxing to remove their veils to get the exam. People walked kilometers or came on buses hoping to be able to see better.
Amazing experience to help so many people for so little. With the help of Wendy’s frames we got 125 people glasses, for less than 10$ apiece, including exam, case, lenses and cleaning cloth.
Now I’m going back and hoping to do it bigger and better. Next month we’ll set up shop in a larger village nearby. Tuesday I picked up a large box of glasses from Manhattan Beach Vision and have spent a good amount of time sorting.
And here’s where you come in….if you like. I was happy to pay for the eye camp last time. And I’m happy to do so as well this time….BUT, if I can get help paying for the eye camp, then I can also get a dentist. The water in the area has hugely excessive fluoride which ruins people’s teeth. That is on top of the usual problems of people who have no professional dental care. My daughter Ariel suggested GoFundMe for the Eye Camp and set it up. The link above will send you there. Any amount is welcome.
There is no cost of any kind to the individual recipient. I am not an NGO. There’s no paperwork or overhead. It’s me—and YOU—helping people who need it.
After two and a half years in San Francisco, it’s feeling ever more like home. I’ve got all my professionals in order–thank you Jessamyn–and know many of the little quirks that go along with living somewhere. Barry at the outdoor table at Peet’s holds Greta and Marlowe’s leashes in the morning so I can go inside and get a coffee. I have my sneaky little parking place for the Vespa right in front of Pilates. And we use the secret entrance to Baker Beach for early morning dog walks.
Was going to share here about about my travel experiences. It’s been a very fortunate year in that area, but as I started in, it sounded braggy…and so you will be happy that I know how to use my delete button.
Clever reader that you are, you can see tell from a couple of these pictures a few of the places I’ve been. Was also fortunate to study with both Tony Robbins and Bryon Katie in 2017.
And since you know I like a good story: here’s one of my favorites—probably THE favorite—of the whole year.
Early in 2017 I joined Unity of San Francisco, love the place for its quirkiness, the classes, the great music, and the love and acceptance all around. You never know what will happen. One week everyone in the congregation was given a new $20 bill.
In July, I began an Abundance class at Unity, deciding that I was “all in” for abundance. I’d do the exercises, bump up the commitment, do whatever it takes. On Sunday afternoon July 2 the class went from 1 to 3 p.m.
At 3:02 I received a text from Jessamyn. “Did you know the Ballet School is for sale?”
For 50 years my mother operated her ballet school out of an old Victorian home in Napa. A spectacular edifice, it was lovably rumpled, like a well-worn toe shoe. Where the kitchen used to be–a ballet school doesn’t need a kitchen—was the girls’ dressing room, mis-matched linoleum curling a bit at the edges. The bathrooms–one up, one down—were pasted on the back because the home was built long before indoor plumbing was a thing. We all loved the leaded glass, the grand stairway, and our special spaces at the barre. I was nine when she bought the place and would stand next to the mantel, where the hairpins rested, while Mama put my hair in a bun before ballet class.
In January 2016, six months after Mama died, Daddy sold the building to a developer who transformed it into a glorious home.
The costume closet became another bathroom. The upstairs studio became two bedrooms and the layout was rejiggered to scoop some of the hallway into the bathroom and make a laundry.
The huge redo took about six months and he told the home in August of 2016 while we were still reeling from my sister Alicia’s death. Two couples bought it together intending to both enjoy it themselves and rent it as a vacation home.
In fact it had been on the market 47 days and there was a new price reduction. Two days later on July 4 I went to look at it.
It is entirely new and yet warm and familiar. A feeling unlike any other building I’ve been in. The walls are the same, high ceilings, simple molding. There’s the little curved area under the double-hung sash windows at front. The banister doesn’t squeak any more, and the missing spindles have been replaced. The treacherous staircase now has a tasteful sisal runner on it to promote quiet and reduce slipperiness. (Why didn’t we think of that?)
Where before three little doors went into the studio area now there is a large opening with a grand feeling.
And the kitchen! A fancy Italian oven, high cabinets, with period-looking handles. The understair closet Mama had piled with “stuff” is now a pantry.
The Ballet School is both utterly familiar and utterly new at the same time.
Several weeks later it was mine.
Especially exciting because it feels like not just for me but for everyone in our family. (Big thank yous to Daddy and Ariel, for occasional onsite help…accepting deliveries, gardening, managing trash barrels and such.)
With Alicia and Mama smiling down on the whole proceedings, we got to have Thanksgiving dinner at the Ballet School. Who knew the yard would be suitable for beer pong? For the first time in years that we got everyone seated at one table.
When I talk about the place people say, “You OWN a ballet school? You teach ballet?”
Well…not exactly, but you have to listen to the whole story.
And now you have.
Happy New Year.
Uncooked egg whites? Putting on wet underwear? Seeing something you know you shouldn’t?
A NYT Sunday magazine story “Is An Open Marriage a Happier Marriage?” –they post earlier online–gave me a major case of squirms. And I’m clearly not the only one. In just a few hours the elegant piece, written by Susan Dominus and photographed by Holly Andres, had racked up nearly 1,000 comments, and now much more. A large of plurality of them use some form of the “have cake and eat too” argument, as in, it does-not-work, or not really possible. A few express wistfulness or vague jealousy…as in, I wish I could do that…
The story definitely has keyhole-appeal, learning things you normally don’t get to. The married couple that actually invites her boyfriend to come and live with them and their toddler son. The seeming fact that women are seeming more likely to request an open marriage. Of the 25 couples the author interviewed only six of them were opened by the husbands, and generally the wives are more active outside the marriage. But there’s no pretense that it’s a scientific or accurate work of sociology and that’s important I think.
Somewhat usual in a piece like this, the author inserts herself in an interestingly ambiguous way. She’s both curious and feels like a bit of puritan for her straightness. And yet, oddly, finds herself lying to her husband about dinner with a colleague while on a business trip. She tells him she has had dinner with a group of colleagues, instead of the one the one man she’s drawn to. Nothing untoward happens…..except in her mind…
While she questions her motive, the lie doesn’t fit with the whole open marriage idea…supposedly in these situations there is never any lying involved.
I’m more or less suspicious. Mostly more. How long do these arrangements last? Are they are way station as couples delude themselves that their marriage is ending? The couples are suspiciously white and upper middle class, since as the author says, people really can’t constantly renegotiate their marriage relationship if they are juggling three jobs.
And the seeming result, much discussed, is generally openness and freedom in other areas of the relationship as well. Why not go straight for the emotional openness instead of get it as a seeming side effect of additional sexual relationships? Because the impetus really does generally seem about sex.
In the way that stories about parenting generally only consider young-ish children, this story about openness in marriage has hugely to do with a certain stage of marriage and sex. Which is great. I’d love to get me some. But what about marriage in the age of Viagra? Or do these additional seemingly crucial, and even permanent relationships fade away when someone gets really sick.
Hard not to put oneself into the idea in a story like this, which is interesting from a distance. Who doesn’t want to know the complications of other people’s marriages….? But close up?
As one who was married for 35 years, it seems hard enough to manage one relationship, without the the complications of multiple others on both side.
Old-fashioned. There. I said it.
Ick. Said that too.