Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Favorite September Moments

I cannot believe this year is so nearly to an end - it's going by like seconds! I could not limit my memories this month - there were so many; what a rich month of goodness.

1. Roaming my gorgeously blue, pristine city with my Mom on Labor Day
2. Sitting out on my fire escape with a clove, in a skirt and bra on a warm, sultry night... being, praying, singing, listening
3. A warm, vibrant, starry night on the patio of Coffee Bar, having a two hour Ethiopian meal, wine, a cigar and a deep talk with my husband
4. Italian night in North Beach with J & J (Jus & Jason) - food & "Il Postino" under the stars
5. Spontaneous singing and playing of guitar and piano by candlelight at our place with David, Anna & Amanda
6. Uproarious laughter & delight with my Tash over absinthe & champagne at Water Lounge before meeting Dan & Ben at Conga Lounge
7. Another great night serving at Tenderloin SRO + helping w/ Human Trafficking website launch & leader's group
8. Incredible industry-only food events I got invited to (La Cocina & Orson private event w/ John Scharffenberger & Elizabeth Faulkner)
9. Good talks & laughter with Ben on his weekend visit (especially our Caribbean/Jamaican meal on the water at Miss Pearl's Jam House)
10. Examining amazing classic cars and watching Charleston champions at the Great Gatsby
11. Dinner and life-giving prayer at Amy and David's
12. Reuniting with Salem friends at Randy's luncheon
13. Perfect meals, beers, talks (+laughs/Jovi Punch!) w/ Jason at Monk's Kettle & Magnolia
14. Goodbye nights with Anna at Medjool, OSHA, Chloe's, B&B
15. A cozy 15 of us in blankets watching "Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou?" in Dolores Park
16. Louise's beautiful ordination ceremony (we did music) at Miraloma
17. Heartwarming prayer & a fab home-cooked meal at our place w/ Ty
18. Early morn & late night talks/walks w/ Dannee, specifically magical, romantic meals & conversation at Bar Crudo after my hellish work week & the relaxing, sultry Saturday after

"Bad is so bad that we cannot but think good an accident; good is so good that we feel certain that evil could be explained." - G.K. Chesterton, "The Man Who Was Thursday"

Currently watching : Persepolis

Friday, September 19, 2008

Waking hours

In a week of sleepless nights, sickness, then breakthrough (what a beautiful, freeing night at Amy & David's last night!) ... spiritually, as well as physically, I feel gratefully overcome even as I am heavy to face the upcoming hurdles at work and in many commitments.

"I learned the best way to manage some kinds of painful thoughts, is to dare them to do their worst, to let them lie and gnaw at your heart till they are tired; and you find you still have a residue of life they cannot kill." - George MacDonald, "Phantastes"

Dan and I talk of death in bed in the wee hours while it's still dark as I awake, unable to return to sleep. The brevity and fierceness of existence overtakes and paralyzes me in those moments. My sweet husband talks me through, shares the fears but ultimately, lets it go. We cannot hold on, terrifying as it is to accept death and old age (granted, I'm far from there, but I see it on the horizon, clearly at times).

We've shared many a tender talk of death and the swift passage of life before - talks that always remain special to me for the vulnerability in which we see the thin thread always between us and death at every moment. The thread we'd rather not acknowledge but ultimately have to.

Oddly, what comes out of and is left from those waking hours is gratefulness. I realize in the brazen light of day that I wouldn't feel such an ache of loss if I didn't have something rich to lose. We have so much, Dan and I. I am cognizant, as I am whenever I stop to reflect, that we are truly happy together... we have fought to find and keep each other and it hasn't always been easy, but we've been supremely happy together and our daily life reflects that.

Never am I happier to come home than to him, and he to me. Never has it been better to share all the things I love most than with him. Never have I regretted leaving my singleness behind, just as being with him has not taken away my independence but only made me more of who I am, freer, strengthened in unity as we reach for the same things. It's amazing to look at our life now, the habits we share, the way our cozy nights home play out (we've had a number of sweet ones lately) and see that even to the littlest detail, we're living the life we dreamed of living, we're in the kind of space we hoped to be in.

We have not, and do not, talk of forced stereotypes we have to fulfill with each other, in marriage, in life. Our home, whether in chores, decorating, obligations, daily activities, is not divided into 'his' and 'hers'. Sure, we share many passions, though not all - we each have our little things we work on separately (though in the same room as we share in our industriousness - Dan sews, works on the website or music, while I read, write, organize). He and I each have nights with girl or guy friends and both love our alone time. Always have. But there is no labeling or restriction, no closing in or dividing. All is on the table. All is possible but that we dream it together. All can be had if we agree and are lead to the same place... the point is to seek together, create together, evolve together, form who we have been, are now and will be, together.

That's why even pursuits like my food writing, I do with him. Though I write and research, we both enjoy the fruits of the research together (it's great to have a household of passionate eaters!), he builds and works toilessly on the website, making it ours, even with my name on it.

Community efforts, Arts Nights, human trafficking (and other issues we work in together), hospitality, constantly opening our home up to guests, groups, talks, meals and creative exploits. We create that space together, as we long prayed our home would be such a place, even though a one bedroom apartment. We've seen no end to incredible memories here - almost five years in this apartment! Hard to believe.

We travel together, planning in excitement, each into the details. We go to places of European ethos like we did alone in our 20's, sharing the same desire and value to live out that ethos (of the arts, lingering, good food, wine, culture, conversation, aware of beauty, poetic) in our own life, which we do in the life we've created here in San Fran.

As we did at age 18 when we met, we still both thrill to the foam on a cappuccino (or crema atop a good coffee), the gentle light of sunset, to the strains of a classical piano solo or a jazz quartet, the chime of ancient church bells, watching people and pigeons in a town square or Italian piazza, smelling the smoke out of a BBQ hut in the South, whatever it is, we come alive in the details. How rare a gift is that? It means we can create a life of these things, celebrate them, embrace them, surround ourselves with them and soar in the freedom of our spirits when fully ourselves.

How can I not be grateful? I ache to lose because I love my life. I sometimes fear loss and old age in my sleepless hours because it could mean losing this, losing Dan, losing the freedom we take for granted, losing the beauty of a life made by two best friends, not two people trying to make the other into a certain image, ideal or mold (thank God, I got broken of that in a fierce way in the years before our marriage).

I fear because I have so much. I realize I cannot love my life too much nor hold on too tight. For what we ache for most... together... is ultimately not fully fulfilled now. Every thing we love and share is a taste, always leaving us ravenous for more. I have to believe that over that horizon called death is all that more. Not the end but the next chapter... more full and ragingly beautiful than I dared hope.

Currently watching : The Office: Season Four

Saturday, September 13, 2008

the effect is cumulative

I've been reading through a book I picked up at work, Danya Ruttenberg's "Surprised by God", one of the many we get from publishers (usually pre-release - I love my job!) It looked intriguing and I have to say, is way better than I expected. It's a memoir from a young atheist living in San Francisco, who gets in touch with her spiritual side here, growing from hazy spirituality to a full on, practicing Jew (her heritage, but had not been her religion).

Interestingly enough, she avidly studies the Christian tradition, including my heroes like Merton and the Desert Fathers, weaving together the rich traditions of faiths into her Judaism. Her honesty and commitment come through in her writing and it's a refreshing read.

There are many passages I resonate with, am mulling over. Here are merely a few:

"I would listen to Tchaikovsky on my Walkman and weep at the moon... I was equally moved by the shadows that were cast across the lawns by porch lights and the chunks of paint peeling off the old houses, or the weeds sprouting tenderly between sidewalk cracks. It was all too much for me to take... Colors seemed deeper, corners sharper."

"It seemed that I was always floating... not on absinthe, but on how beautiful and free it felt to be young, alive, twenty-three, and living in San Francisco. Watching my breath was beautiful, the rainbows on the lamps were beautiful, everything felt mystical and light, airy and full of limitless possibility."

"That's the thing with instant change - it's usually not change. Either that, or it's not actually instant. The real story of spiritual awakening tends to live beneath the surface for a long time. It's much more subtle and much less linear than it may appear; many of us absorb small changes in tiny doses over years before they even begin to flit up through the upper layers of consciousness... Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi writes... 'There was a long series of these epiphanies, often unrelated to one another, and the effect was cumulative.'"

"As entranced initially as I was with the fireworks, they cannot and should not be the yardstick by which we gauge spiritual maturity or power. Real power comes from doing painstaking work inside the dark, gnarly corners of the heart."

"The dominant culture depends on our sense of isolation. As long as spirituality remains an individualized, personal experience, chances remain good work will sit forever inert & untapped. That is to say, those who practice their spirituality without community are much less likely to demand change in & upheaval to the status quo, or feel that they have the power to do so."

"A committed religious life is not about chasing the next great high... It's about staying focused & present & connected to God in all the small moments, the hard moments, the drudge moments... It's about learning how not to confuse sugar highs with real, sustaining nourishment."

In talking of her feminism & how much she runs up against that, the holding back of women in faith circles /religion (boy, do I understand!): "When are we speaking out of arrogance or self-righteousness & when out of a strong sense that Divine justice is at stake? The answers aren't always clear. Nor is it always clear when it's time to work within the system & when it's time to operate from the prophetic tradition, to reject religious complacency & to follow the seventeenth-century Quaker exhortation to 'speak truth to power'."

"The thing about this 'being present in the moment' business is that it's infectious. Once you start paying attention to where you are, how your breath moves in and out of your body, what you're eating, and how you feel, it gets harder and harder to turn off awareness. It gets harder to walk past a homeless person and not look her in the eye, see that she is human and, probably hungry. It gets harder not to realize that every purchase you make has a potentially global impact, that it may support a local artisan - or a corporation that trades in sweatshop labor."

"Meeting God is about having our souls ripped away, having everything we may have ever understood about who we are pulled out from under our feet - and having to pick up the pieces afterward. We have to figure out who we are and what to do once the comfortable and the familiar have been taken away." [This is faith exactly!]

"... for every person with a religious resume and an overinflated sense of self-importance, there will be dozens of lay-folk who are slowly learning the opposite... that the hard work of a spiritual practice has an indelible effect, that deep change comes gradually. We find that, little by little, this practice takes us back to our work, back into our relationships, our families, our old hobbies, and our slightly revamped ideas of fun. We find that, through the persistence and the tears and negotiations and the uncertainty and the terrifying moments after something old and familiar has slipped away and before something new and strong has come forward to take its place - through it all, we can feel the sweet presence of Infinity humming below the surface, changing how we see the world and our lives in it... For even as one undergoes the profound transformation inherent in waking up, real life goes on."

Currently listening to: The Definitive Collection By Muddy Waters

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Southern Writers

I've long had an affection for the great classic Southern writers, first and foremost, Flannery O' Connor. Then Walker Percy, another favorite of mine for years. Faulkner I respect but can't say I love. I'm fascinated by his writing and story-crafting style (one-of-a-kind), but somehow removed from really caring about his characters. "Gone with the Wind", naturally.

Another "big one" I hadn't got around to until now, is Eudora Welty, Mississippi's Pulitzer Prize-winning author. I recently read the book that garnered that award,
"The Optimist's Daughter". What a beautiful piece of simplicity and understatement, told straightforwardly, without frills, with tenderness. The following passage moved me deeply, as the main character, Laurel, reflects first on her dead parents, then on to her husband, Phil, who died at a young age:

"A flood of feeling descended on Laurel. She let the papers slide from her hand and the books from her knees, and put her head down on the open lid of the desk and wept in grief for love and for the dead. She lay there with all that was adamant in her yielding to this night, yielding at last. Now all she had found had found her. The deepest spring in her heart had uncovered itself, and it began to flow again.
If Phil could have lived -
But Phil was lost. Nothing of their life together remained except in her own memory; love was sealed away into its perfection and had remained there.
If Phil had lived -
She had gone on living with the old perfection undisturbed and undisturbing. Now by her own hands, the part had been raised up, and
he looked at her, Phil himself - here waiting all the time, Lazarus. He looked at her out of eyes wild with the craving for his unlived life, with mouth open like a funnel's.
What would have been their end, then? Suppose their marriage had ended like her father and mother's? Or like her mother's? Like -
'Laurel! Laurel! Laurel!' Phil's voice cried.
She wept for what happened to life.
'I wanted it!' Phil cried. His voice rose with the wind in the night and went around the house and around the house. It became a roar. 'I wanted it!'"

Currently watching : A Star Is Born

Friday, September 05, 2008

Solitude gives birth to the original

"Solitude gives birth to the original in us, to beauty unfamiliar and perilous - to poetry." - Thomas Mann

Last night, a night of solitude on my fire escape: warmth, smoke, gentle waves of light and air. I returned to myself once again and knew full peace. I felt the I Am close, wrapped around my skin, and I soared with what has been my core since I was a girl. The home I know within me, a place no one can take away.

"... art heightens life. She gives deeper joy, she consumes more swiftly. She engraves adventures of the spirit and the mind in the faces of her votaries..." - Thomas Mann in "Death in Venice"

Afterwards, I wrote in my journal by candlelight in my cozy home that, "the time for singing has begun... again". There is something new stirring in the wake of loss, gain, swift passage of time, failed dreams and realized ones, slow progress and unexpected surprises. There is a new dawn emerging and I am living it expectantly, humbly raw and open, waiting, trusting.

"Here I lay in delicious reverie for some time; during which all lovely forms, and colours, and sounds seemed to use my brain as a common hall, where they could come and go, unbidden and unexcused. I had never imagined that such a capacity for simple happiness lay in me, as was now awakened by this assembly of forms and spiritual sensations..." - George MacDonald in "Phantastes"

Reading : The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible - A. J. Jacobs

Monday, September 01, 2008

Favorite August Moments

1. Getting lost with Dan in the world strains of music from Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, etc... at a Kronos Quartet concert
2. A day of tastings, sunlight, adventure, relaxation, drink and communion with Jus, Jason & Dan in Alameda
3. Weekly hashing out ways (and writing a game plan) to fight Human Trafficking with our BJM leadership team
4. Sitting for a few hours and writing in Coffee Bar with my Dan
5. Breakfast alone on one of my "writing days" at the countertop of Haight's Pork Store Cafe," talking with locals, watching eggs scrambled, sipping down coffee
6. Excitedly talking with Annelies of the possibility in our lives at the "Bottle Shock" screening
7. Bridal dress shopping with Amanda and Anna all day long (lunch at Level III!)
8. Reconnecting with lifelong friends and breathing in the mountain air and Grand Teton majesty on our trip to Jackson Hole, WY for Jon's wedding
9. Special meals (Bushi-Tei, Espetus, Pizzaiolo, Tsar Nicoulai, Regalito, Urban Tavern and so on) with my husband of conversation and life
10. Noontime Gershwin & Chopin piano concert in Old St. Mary's with Dan
11. Mama's SF visit (Bette Davis movies at the Stanford, "Mary Poppins" under the stars, roaming old ships, good food, singing/playing music)

Currently watching : Mad Men - Season One