Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Short Fiction

I took a class on “Vampires in Literature in Film” this semester, and opted to write a short story rather than a term paper. It was harder than I thought it would be. I wanted to present the story entirely through Facebook updates, blog entries and texts, but my prof didn’t approve. Maybe I will re-work it someday.

This one’s for the guys. You know who you are.

* * *

October 7, 2010: The Portal

Midnight: a graveyard. The moon is full. You and your companions move cautiously through a cold mist. You’re not sure what manner of undead you’re hunting, but you’ve followed the victim’s blood trail to an elaborate marble tomb with a huge winged figure silhouetted on the top. The blood seems to disappear into the angel’s shadow. The tomb looks ancient and you cannot read the inscription. The entrance is a slice of darkness amid lesser darkness. The portal is open.

Are you going in?

Max leans back, re-reads, and hits publish. He doesn’t have much time before the new guy arrives, but he likes getting the blog synopsis of the last adventure session up before starting a new session. This adventure is not his best – Moose actually rolled his eyes and said “Undead again? Come on!” but he hopes a new player will stir things up. Get the blood moving. Or maybe it was time for someone else to run an adventure, if the guys thought his ideas were getting stale. They didn’t need to know how little he planned out in advance…he wasn’t even sure what kind of undead they were stalking. Vampire? Revenant? Some kind of zombie? He had a little time while they figured out how to get into the tomb—not as easy as it looks!-- and then there was the labyrinth to get through. He had lots of traps planned. Max was good at traps.

Half the time no-one was paying attention to the game anyway. Justin couldn’t stop texting that bitch he married. So they joked: the “bitch” was his job. His actual wife, who started the joke, walked out on him years ago. So now it was Justin and the bitch, together forever. Moose, on the other hand, really was married to a bitch. A vegetarian bitch who pitched a fit over the upcoming hunting weekend; poor pussy-whipped Moose would stay home and eat…tofu or whatever. Mock duck. But Al would be there, as he was every year. Al was womanless, a chronic condition that made him a more reliable friend. Max didn’t know how he would have made it this far without friends. Even tofu-eating ones.

He pushes his hair out of eyes and gets up to clear the crap off the dining table. He sets up the Dungeon Master’s screen, to keep the players from seeing his notes, hitches up his jeans, grabs his smokes, dice and couple of books. A beer. While he waits, he flips through the Dungeon Master’s Guide, looking for monsters.

* * *

October in Minnesota: it gets dark early, but there’s nowhere to go.

Refresh, refresh, refresh. The vampire hit it again. Nothing. Nothing interesting on the Twitter feed. Nothing on Facebook, where his name is Joseph Hulf; Joe to his 473 friends. A very American name, a name of the times. He even checks MySpace, predictably peopled by musicians and loose women; good for hunting but not much else. He had immersed himself in World of Warcraft for some time, but it had lost its appeal. There was only so much thrill to be had in pushing buttons, alone, no matter how pretty the action on the screen. He leans back and lights a cigarette; in his opinion, one of the few fringe benefits of immortality. He sighs. It was time to it return to his sanctuary, sleep off the boredom and re-emerge as a new man in a new age: another all-too-short fiction of a life that would last until people became suspicious. He had done this many times but it was getting harder; the internet was a retreat but also a trap of records too easily traced. He should disengage, wait it out. Hunt sparingly, rest. But he keeps putting it off. The years of in-between, of waiting to become again, were the loneliest; the most lifeless.

The computer chimes. A message from Max Madenson on Facebook: Glad you like the blog! If you’re still interested in trying Dungeons & Dragons, it’s really different from playing anything online. We’re meeting at 7. Sorry for the short notice. Come early and I can help you create a character.

He is interested.

* * *

October 12, 2010: Descent

You stand before the tomb with your companions: Godrich the elvin Priest, a scarred Fighter called Samuelle the Disowned, and a Mage: Morde Flamethrower III. You are joined by a latecomer, a Thief who offers to help in exchange for a share of the loot. Typical. He calls himself Xantos. You do not know if this is his real name; you never can tell with Thieves.

After making it past the gate guardian and disarming some traps, you descend stone steps. Moss grows on the walls; you can hear water dripping. Samuelle slips and is steadied by Godrich. You come to the bottom. This is no ordinary tomb, but a huge vaulted space: echoing, empty. There is a ripe smell of decay, and you find what’s left of the victim. There isn’t much.

There are three corridors before you. One is dimly lit by a greenish glow. One flickers with torchlight. One is dark.

After some debate, the adventuring party chooses the darkness.

Dice roll, monsters are slain. Mountain Dew is consumed and pot is smoked. Dick jokes are made. It gets late. Joe does not want to stop playing; he wants to know what will happen next. When he leaves the warmth of the house for the cold of the night, he hunts distractedly. That night, he dreams for the first time in many, many years. He is in a tomb. He is sly, stealthy. He has a lock-pick. He has friends. They are stalking the undead.

This is so much better than World of Warcraft.

* * *

October 20, 2010: Signs of Danger

You seem to have turned back more than you have gone forward. This accursed maze has dished up traps, zombies and other hazards, but you know there is something…bigger down here. Some powerful evil that eludes you. There are clues, if you are attentive enough to notice. Something seems to float alongside you in the dark, silent but watching, waiting. Hungry. You limp on.

The tunnel ceiling is so low that Samuelle keeps hitting his head. He takes one point of damage every time, not enough to slow him down, but he complains bitterly. Flamethower has produced a dimly glowing ball that lights the way. Xantos and Priest Godrich check for traps. They miss one.

You hear a whooshing sound as a blade sweeps the air in front of you, like a horizontal guillotine. Everyone ducks, rolls and jostles. The Mage-fire goes out. In the darkness, someone screams. Something warm hits your face and runs down your neck; you hear a spurting sound, a sprinkling sound, then the thud of a body hitting the ground. The stench of blood fills the air- thick, metallic—

There is a crash, and a gurgle. Al’s pop glugs over his character sheet as the can rolls its way to the edge of the table. There is a pause, then everyone scrambles for paper towels.

Joe mumbles “I’m so sorry…” and helps clean up.

“Motherfucker.” Al says, but without heat. Joe smiles sheepishly. Justin high-fives him.

“Yeah, Max gets a little gory.” Justin grins. “You squeamish?”

“I don’t think so.” Joe replies. “I never considered it.”

“Wanna go hunting?”

“I beg your pardon?”

Everybody cracks up at that. Joe’s alright, but he sounds like a professor.

“Grouse-hunting. We’re going up North Friday night, so we can get out early on Saturday.”

“No…” Joe says slowly, “I can’t.”

“Are you vegetarian, too?” Max can’t help himself. Moose gives him a dirty look.

“No.” Joe smiles. “I don’t think so.”

“Well you’re welcome to join us if you change your mind, as long as you can keep from killing us all.” Justin is grinning again.

Joe gapes, wide-eyed, and everyone laughs. Justin nods to the spot where the pop can was knocked over, “I mean, you’re pretty fucking clumsy, dude. I don’t know that I’d wanna be around if you were armed.”

Joe has a strange look on his face: amused, confused and…something else.

“Ok, ok.” Max lights a smokes, inhales, pauses. “Where were we? Ok, it’s dark, and someone –maybe more than one someone-- is badly injured. You can’t see anything. What do you do?”

* * *

November 18, 2010: Interlude

It’s been hard to find time to get together. Flamethrower is sick again –he’s had the flu for like, weeks, and the elf’s working overtime.

But the adventure is going great! Xantos is a good fit for the group. He’s inexperienced but enthusiastic and really gets into the game. His accent adds to his character. He’s from England but has lived here for a long time. He wants to meet more often, which isn’t going to work. I may be unemployed but (sadly?) other people have lives. Maybe Xantos can roll up another character and we can have a one-on-one adventure? Could be fun. He’s only free nights, but it’s not like I have a lot going on.

I’ve gotten feedback from readers. W00T! Nice to know someone is actually reading this. I’ve been asked if there is another character, the second-person “you” that is used in the narration. Well, reader, it is you. If you’ve played D&D before (if you’re reading this, I assume you have) or I guess even if you’ve ever really gotten into a book, there is a “you” that walks alongside your character. That’s you in real life, you the player, or in this case, you the reader. Your character acts, but you’re the actor. Or something. Get it?

I might experiment with other points of view. But it’s you that’s in the game, really, so it’s you I write for. It’s supposed to draw you into the adventure, make it more real. Is it working?

Max rubs his eyes and stares at the screen. He isn’t sleeping well. For the first time since he was a kid, he is having nightmares. Monster dreams. It’s embarrassing, but the adventure is haunting him. He knows what kind of undead they are hunting: it flits across his bloody dreams. He wants to get this adventure over with and start a new one with no undead. It’s creeping him out. Worse, it’s humiliating; what is he afraid of? Vampires? Good God. He needs to get out more. He’s barely been out of the house the last couple of weeks; it’s cold out and he just feels drained. Maybe he caught whatever Al has. He digs around for a smoke, and stares at it for a moment before lighting up. He should quit. But fuck it, who wants to live forever? He takes a drag and exhales deeply.

At this time of night, everything feels sad and sinister: unreal. He feels as if he’s faking something, like he is somehow pretending at life. He feels worthless; no job, no girlfriend. He’s living on unemployment. His friends made lives for themselves, someone to go home to or at least a career. He wishes he could start over. He would do it all differently this time: be a new man. Maybe he just needs to take a break from the D&D. Or get some sleep, or both.

* * *

November 29, 2010: A Glimpse of the Adversary

You come across a vast and beautiful chamber, with lavish furnishings and tapestries on the walls. A fountain burbles in the corner. Thick carpets are strewn across the floor. As you enter, you smell the stench of decay. Six zombies stagger out of the darkness on the far side of the room. They are followed by a pale, stately man in dark robes. His eyes are red.

“You presume to defy me?” he says scornfully. “You are more foolish than you look. You will fall, and rise, and join my undead army. You will be my servants.”

The zombies attack.

It is a vicious battle. Flamethrower the Mage falls, and at a word from the robed adversary, rises. He looks crumpled, reduced, undead. He (it?) attacks your companions. Zombies are weak though, and he (it) is quickly destroyed by the enraged Samuelle. The other zombies also fall, hacked to bits, never to rise again. When the battle is done, the pale man is nowhere to be seen. You search; he is gone. Vanished.

Godrich looks down at what was once his friend. “We must burn it.”

“NO!” Joe shouts, startling everyone. Al moves his pop out of harm’s way. “Resurrect him!” He turns to the Priest “Don’t you have a spell for that?”

“Sorry, man, I don’t.” Justin replies. “He’s dead for real. No worries; Al will just roll up a new character. Anyway, you can’t resurrect someone who’s been turned into a zombie.”

“Why ever not?”

“Well, you just can’t. They’ve been made into undead. Their soul is, like, destroyed.”

“Yes you can.” Moose insists, in an everybody-knows-that voice. “A resurrect or true resurrect spell—“

“NO YOU CAN’T.” Max thunders. “And anyway, it’s moot. Your Priest doesn’t have the spell. Forget it. You can’t just go around resurrecting people. Dead is dead this time.”

“But this is quite ridiculous!” Joe protests “Why do undead lose their souls? Is that in the rules?”

Everybody groans, anticipating a lengthy search through rulebooks. Max looks at him coolly.

“House rules. Sorry. Now, Godrich just started a fire…”

Joe snarls. They play on. The fire gets out of hand.

* * *

Joe paces impatiently. When will they start? The other guys are gathered over a Domino’s box; Moose eats pepperoni with a look of bliss while Al, gesticulating with his slice, tells a long-winded story about brake pads. Max is quiet. No one has heard from Justin since last week when he texted that he couldn’t make it and was going to be busy at work for awhile. Joe left in a huff; everyone else hung out and played Mario Kart.

“Ok, looks like we’re a player short.” Max finally says. “D&D or Wii?”

Everyone but Joe votes for Wii. He stops pacing and strides over to the table. Suddenly the room is quiet.

“Enough of this,” he says softly, “I want to play D&D, and I want to play now.”

Max is used to keeping the peace, but not this. He smiles uncertainly. Joe does not smile, but reaches out to snag Moose’s collar. Eyes still on Max, the vampire pulls Moose, squawking and flailing in surprise, towards him. Joe is considerably shorter than Moose and has to bend him over backwards to bite into his throat. The scream is bubbly. Joe raises his head, blood dripping, and spits out a piece of meat. Moose is making gurgling sounds; there is a lot of blood now. Joe lowers his head and drinks, deeply. Al, pizza in hand, watches with a look of bewilderment. A phone buzzes, vibrating blood-splattered dice on the table. Max faints.

The vampire feels better.

* * *

Max stares at the ceiling. He remembers the pump and spray of blood, the screams and grunts and snapping bones. He remembers his friends. He sits up, opens the Monster Manual and looks up “Undead.” He reads the description for “Vampire.” It is familiar. There is nothing here that can help him.

He flips open his laptop and starts to write.
December ?January?: Need Help

I’m alone. My friends are dead.

I’m in some kind of dungeon. It looks like a motel room. This is the only room with anything in it. Outside it are stone passages and empty stone rooms. There are bodies too, old ones, like skeletons. They don’t seem real. None of this does.

He brings me food. I don’t know where he comes from, how he gets in or out. I’ll look up, and he’s there. He looks like a corpse. Did he always?

I’m really tired, but sleep doesn’t help. I have awful dreams. I’ve lost track of time.

All he wants to do is play D&D. I’m running the rest of the adventure for Xantos the Thief; he is tracking the vampire, closing in. It’s sort of messing with my head. The adventuring makes him happy though. He says he just wants to be someone else for awhile.

Yeah, don’t we all?

Thursday, December 9, 2010


When I found out I had been nominated to be one of the Twin Cities Top Ten Titans in Social Media, my first thought was: what the fuck am I going to wear? In my life, this is code for: I am not cool enough for this.

Last year, people like Kate Iverson, Dusty Trice and Rachel Dykoski were nominated (and won). Those are big shoes to fill.

This year, the list of nominees includes people who do far more than I do for social equity, social media and society in general. People who devote themselves to making a difference and are very much part of the Twin Cities: people who really are titans and deserve to be recognized. Me, I just come and go. I don’t feel like I belong in this company.

There is no way I am skipping the event tonight though. It’s at the Rogue Buddha Gallery; how could I miss that?  But I suddenly felt awkward.

The great thing about Social Media is that I can hide behind my profile pic. The one where you can’t see my double chin. 

So I’m feeling a little anxious about the whole thing. I never know what’s fashionable, and even if I did, I wouldn’t fit in to it. I am, kindly put, overweight. My sense of style could be described as “eclectic” : meaning, I wear stuff that I like, as long as I can find it at Lane Bryant. Meaning: my hair is currently multi-colored black, white, purple and orange. Meaning: for the last 10 years I’ve worn the same pair of lace-up black platform boots that, if I were in movie, would mark me as “alternative.” Like Lisbeth Salander from The Girl Who Played With Fire, but fat. And not punk.

What to do?

I am a middle-class American woman, so the solution is easy: new shoes.

My boots are old anyway. If I could find a slim, shiny pair like other women wear, maybe I will feel comfortable in the room full of cool people that I am going to encounter tonight.

Things are busy right now: I’m in finals, my writing is getting some national exposure etc. etc. and the only time I’ve had to get boots is today. Since the thingy is at 7 and it’s 5, that would be…now.  But I’m not at DSW Shoe Warehouse trying on shoes that will make me fee cool (enough).

No such shoes exist.

I admire and am inspired by other people, but I have to get over trying to fill their shoes. I can’t. And I don’t need to.

I am neither slim nor shiny. I’m just me.

I will go to this hip, ironically named and likely awesome gallery and talk to cool people I admire, and I will do it in my scuffed, clunky, out of date boots. I will feel sexy and awesome in them. They fit me just fine.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Monday, November 1, 2010

Flesh and Bone


The wheel of the year has spun around again. Today is the Day of the Dead, All Soul’s Day, All Saint’s Day. Today, I remember and pay respects to my predecessors: my beloved departed ones, teachers of my spiritual traditions, folk hero(ine)s who inspire me, artists and writers who humble me, scholars who provide my intellectual foundation, and the nameless ancients whose gift is my DNA. We are the living flesh on the bones of these ancestors.

A relationship does not end just because one person passes away.  We carry our dead with us: in our DNA, our memories, our hang-ups, our culture. But after their death, we can choose to have a relationship with the best part of someone, and let the worst parts go. We can forgive them.

We are defined by our relationships. In some ways, we are relevant only as part of a community. Your history, life and fate of are not distinct from the history, life and fate of your community. My definition of community used to only include people who live in my time zone, as it were. I don’t mean Central Daylight Time: I mean, people who are alive at the same time as me. But the truth is that we are supported and influenced by the dead as much as the living: community looks like a circle, but it is actually a sphere that crosses the visible and invisible realms. The community is our bones. 

My physical ancestors’ bones are part of the rich soil of India and the Caribbean. The land I live on now is contains the bones of Native American people and pioneers of European descent. My intellectual and moral heritage is built on the bones of scholars, artists, warriors and healers of heritages too countless to name. While my spiritual traditions are Neo-Pagan, Vodou and Hindu, this practice of honoring one’s ancestors is practiced across the globe. 

It is not ancestor “worship” any more than throwing a birthday party for someone is worshipping them. And it looks much the same: food is offered, candles are lit, we stand around and sing. For this one day, they are the center of the circle. We acknowledge their importance to us, and honor their essential spirit.

We should not dwell in grief, but neither should we forget our dead ones. They are our bones. Bones are strength. They literally hold us up.

When you see images of bones, do you shudder? One of the reasons people tell me they fear of Vodou is “all the bones:” images of the skeletal Spirits of the Dead. Why do we fear the dead? Why is the idea of departed ones a source of horror? Vodou empowered me to confront and overcome my own fear, to build a healthy relationship with the dead.

The Vodou I practice is based in New Orleans, but that is based in Haiti and the Caribbean, which in turn is based in Africa. Follow anything back far enough, you’ll end up in Africa. Africa is our bones.

West African philosophy charts an intersection of ancestors, community and time. You seem to believe that time marches ever onward: what is gone is discarded as you look eagerly forward. We live in the present and the future is before us. The past is history. This is not true. You may not be able to see it, but the past is your bones.

The African concept of time and community helps us understand this. In the West African system, there are two kinds of time: Sasa and Zamani. Sasa is encompassed by the memory of the community's eldest to the potential lifetime of the youngest. This is “immediate” time, the time of the living. Zamani is “far” time, the temporal geography in which the consciousness of all the community’s dead and unborn reside. It is heritage and hope. It the well from which both tradition and innovation spring. It is a sphere made up of many circular time-lines. It looks forwards and backwards in the same direction. Zamani encompasses Sasa like a womb, cradles, supports and nourishes it.  The future is the past returning, but we make it our own. Sasa is the flesh; Zamani, the bones.

Strip us bare: we are bones. The skeleton is us, seen through the mirror of time.

As we come around again to this time of year when the bones of the trees are laid bare, take a moment to connect with Zamani. Honor those who helped create the reality you dwell in. Let yourself love your departed ones. You cannot see them, but they are there, deep within, supporting you. Share their stories. Hold their wisdom. Forgive your dead.

Do not be afraid. Remember your bones.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Witch of Endo, part 1

This just in: It’s really hard for me to ask for help. I’m sure you’re shocked.

I had a midterm due at the beginning of the week; I have been dealing with pelvic pain from the endometriosis and feeling crabby and useless. I had every reason to ask for an extension on my papers but…I felt like a loser. I didn’t want to ask. It was hard to admit that I *couldn’t* do it. I hate “can’t.” I hate it in myself. I would never judge another person who asked for an extension on a paper because it felt like their pelvis was eating itself (and, actually, with endo, that’s not far from what is actually happening) but oh no, not ME. I can do anything, dammit. Except I can’t. It was humbling to look at my notes strewn around me, books piled up, Word doc open and ready to go, and realize: I can’t fucking do this. I need to go to bed.

I have two choices when I’m in pain and have a paper/project due: I can grit my teeth and work through the pain, or I can take a painkiller and work through the narcotic haze. The pain pills work pretty well but they make it hard to focus, retain information and express myself coherently. In short, everything I need to write a paper.

I have learned the hard way that the pain will not just go away because I ignore it.  Ignoring it will make it worse. So although I am capable of working through it, I will pay for it when the work is done. Often that payment is more than I can afford and --listen to me! I feel like I have to justify my decision to not stay in pain. It’s a little excessive. I have such little sympathy for myself.

There is some crazy part of me that believes that if I wish hard enough, or do the correct breathing exercise, or stop eating dairy (for the record, I’ve tried: it’s bullshit) or something, this disease will go away. So if it doesn’t go away it must mean that I don’t want it gone enough. Some strange part of me thinks I should be able to wave a magic wand and make it all go away: some part of me believes I can do anything, so why can’t I do this? It’s like the dark, distorted side of empowerment. I’m always hearing how tough people are, they beat cancer, just fucking kicked it to the curb. I don’t even have a life-threatening disease and I can’t kick it out of my own way, never mind the curb. It makes me feel inadequate and weak. 

Now I know that makes no sense, but at the same time I don’t know it. I remember being at the pre-op appointment before my last surgery, going though the litany of diet, meds, everything from the previous few months, trying to figure out where I went wrong, when my surgeon, who has been my doctor, therapist, advisor and friend for the last 20 years (yeah, I’ve had surgery often enough that I’m buddies -–good buddies-- with my surgeon)-- looked up from his note-taking, waited for me to stop, then said “Saum, this isn’t something you did.” I burst into tears. Because I needed to hear it.

I don’t have magical powers (Or if I do, they’re not that kind of magical power, but only good for conjuring 80s power ballads and rain). What I do have is a disease with symptoms I can’t predict or control. I have issues with giving up control –- and, baby, it is allllll about giving up control.

I also have a TF who rejected my request for a 48-hour extension on my midterm but instead gave me 5 days... and said if I needed more time it was not a problem. I burst into tears then too. Luckily I was just reading an email so there were no witnesses.

Something else my surgeon said that day has stuck in my head: Men are stronger, but women are tougher. They are also tougher on themselves. I don’t know if that’s true, but it certainly resonates. I doubt that it has anything whatsoever to do with my gender, but I have high standards for myself: I push myself, I love a challenge, and I do stuff that I am afraid of doing. I don’t give up. I think those are all good things. But, I also judge myself very harshly. I would never speak to another suffering creature the way I speak to myself.

Sometimes I think I’ll never be enough for myself. I construct and overcome hurdle after hurdle: going back to school wasn’t enough, I had to get into Harvard. Getting into Harvard wasn’t enough, I had to maintain a 4.0…and ok I’ll admit it, there’s times that I think my 4.0 at Harvard is worthless because all the really smart people are over at MIT.

There is a part of me that, assuming I get an A in this class, which I will move heaven and earth to achieve, will feel like I don’t deserve it because I got an extension on my goddamn midterm.

It’s telling that while pain is part of my everyday life, it’s not something I’m comfortable talking about. It hurts everyday, and I don’t just mean physical hurt. I have not ridden my horse in over a month. I live to ride, and I cannot ride.

I have blogged about pain it in the past but it’s something I struggle to express. I avoid writing about it. I avoid talking about it. I’m not registered with the disability support office at school although I ought to be. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away, but it does keep anyone else from knowing about it, from witnessing my vulnerability. I want to be tougher than I am.  I want a life that is miraculously free from “can’t.” I don’t want to need help.

But I’ve realized, while writing this, that needing is good for me (sorry, Buddha). It opens a part of myself that would otherwise remain closed. It humbles me and introduces another kind of empowerment: one that acknowledges that maybe I can do anything…just not on my own.

I titled this post The Witch of Endo, part I The “part I” is a promise to myself. I will keep writing about this. I will keep needing, too.

Thanks for your help. I appreciate it. I couldn’t do this without you.

Monday, October 4, 2010

American Shakti

Versions of this essay be viewed at The Washington Post On Faith blog,  and The HASC site, where you can also learn more about ShaktiSeva.

What is Shakti?

You already know.

Beyond any definition I can give you, beyond explanations drawn from scripture and authorities, is the true meaning of Shakti that each woman knows. It is true because it is your Shakti. It is the part of yourself that you reach into, the deep well that most of us discovered when we had nowhere else to turn. Shakti empowers us into ourselves, empowers us to be ourselves. When you look within for inspiration, solace, guidance, it is Shakti that gives answer and Shakti that acts through you. It is the wisdom of your great-great-great-grandmother, encoded in your bones, the wisdom of the all-Mother that rises through each of us. It is the effervesce of life. Shakti does not only exist in women, but it is through women that it flows. It is our essential foundation, and it is that which goads us to change.

Shakti is a Sanskrit word, but Shakti is beyond religion, race or nation. While the Hindu calendar recognizes Navratri (the nine nights of the Goddess), we are Hindus living in the wheel of Americans seasons. In Euro-American folk traditions, these seasons are significant: autumn is time to enjoy the harvest, to prepare for the quiet wild of winter. As we enter autumn, the air grows crisp, the days grow brief, and we grow introspective. As the days darken, the leaves brighten. We see the colours of the Goddess: gold, orange, red. The season lights its dia to Devi.

There is wisdom in autumn. Feel the city gird itself against the chill, the throngs of people shiver in the wind and wonder at the sky. Become a dragon, breathing steam in the morning. Hear the Goddess as she rustles through the corn, as she revels in the bounty. Feel her readiness for the reaping, the preparation of the long contemplation of winter. As the nights grow longer, let her sing you to sleep. See the trees dress up in their best, then scatter their garments to meet Winter with smooth, bare limbs. Feel the living roots reach deep into the warm beating flesh of our Mother Earth. Feel that power rise to greet the sun, to revel beneath the moon. All this is Devi, the Goddess. This is mother, sister, daughter. This is you and me. This is Shakti.

As that power comes through it becomes: we make it what it is. Whether you are in the boardroom or bedroom, you know the feeling. Shakti is power and Shakti is play. Shakti is the warm womb of the kitchen and the cool bravery of the battlefield. She is the quiet moment when we gather and the brilliant light when we shine. She is what all women know. She is without form yet encompassed by each of our forms. She is beyond and within. Shakti is the current that flows beneath the current.

Shakti is what is shared when women gather: not the essential but superficial knowledge of doing but the deep instinctive knowledge of being. Shakti is not chosen, and we cannot control it. It the flood, the rush of endorphins, the giddy laugh, the flash of insight, the swirl of energy through the cosmos. We ride it like a wave.

This is what Shakti is to me. What is Shakti to you?

This month of October, this season of autumn and Navrathri, take the time to find, explore and express your Shakti. Reach out. Create. Heal.

Celebrate Navratri in a way that is meaningful to you. Nine nights in a row, observe a ritual: it may be traditional, invented or a combination of the two.

  • Honor the Deities, Folk Heroes, Activists, Writers, Artists, Innovators, Politicians…the women…who inspire you.
  • Forgive a friend who wronged you.
  • Light your altar and chant the ancient prayers, then light a candle and take a bath.
  • Adorn yourself.
  • Arrange events to be inspired by or inspire others with your shakti stories
  • Start a journal, a blog, share your stories
  • Give yourself permission to create something.
  • Revive an old love: sing, dance, paint.
  • Write a letter.
  • Call your sister, friend, mother.
  • Have your friends over: share the profound and silly female bonding rituals of your heritage and youth: oil your hair, do henna, paint your nails.
  • Go out for the evening.
  • Sign up for a class: make pottery; learn to play the drums, knit a scarf.
  • Get moving: go for a walk, learn to ride a horse, take up a martial art.

Just as you already know what Shakti is, you know, deep inside, who you are.

This autumn, tend the light that glows within.

Rediscover yourself. Invent yourself. Become yourself. Most of all: revel in yourself.

Thursday, September 30, 2010


This is me:


This is me on Laryngo-Tracheao-Whatever:


Today, Urban bundled me in the car and took me to Urgent Care, where an apparently Halfling doctor who spoke from a deep hobbit-hole (but otherwise seemed competent) accused me of Laryngo-Tracheao-Bronchitis, which is an infection & inflammation of all of the above, and borderline Pertussis, which is Whopping Cough. Before I could gather my wits and come up with a suitable retort, he was gone. This has been happening a lot lately: everything is sort of trippy and dark around the edges: events, and occasional Hobbits, seem to leap out at me, then vanish before I can react.

Not that there is a whole lot I can say in my defense. I have been whooping it up lately; also, my voice has vanished: I can only communicate via squeaks, whistles and texting. If R2D2 was a teakettle, this is what he would sound like. Urban manages to keep a straight face (most of the time) and the dogs back away slowly. The Hobbit merely shook his head and stuck a thermometer in my mouth.

Well, I am home now, fortified with tea, broth and Kick-Ass (the movie!). I am feverish, contagious and wallowing in self-pity. I have been poked, prodded, assessed and scolded. I have been plied with antibiotics and threatened with hospitalization. Cough syrup has been forced upon me. 

On the upside: Urban is taking very good care of me, I’m enjoying the special effects, this isn't the Middle Ages so I won't die, and I get to eat ice cream.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Sunrise: 6:55am

Urban had an appointment on the 80th floor of the South Tower at 8am on September 11th, 2001.

I was going to tag along (to NYC & the Twin Towers) and take a tour of the building. On September 8th, the overseas colleague he was scheduled to meet got sick and said he was unable to make the trip. Everything was cancelled. No NYC, no tour, no visiting friends, nothing. I remember we were both quite irritated. Urban ran his own business and last-minute, out-of-state cancellations cost us money. It was nobody’s fault.

We had planned to be away, so we went to Wisconsin instead. We were at The House on the Rock when we heard the news. Now, if you’ve ever been to The House on the Rock, you can imagine what that must have been like. If you’ve never been there, I’m not even going to try and explain. Maybe another time.

Anyway, we made it back to our hotel and sat horrified in front of the TV with the rest of the nation. It was many hours before either of us remembered where we had originally planned to be that morning. I can still feel the look on my face.

9/11 tore a hole in the world. I don’t know why I’m here to peer through from this side. I can’t believe that “someone was looking out for me.” That implies that someone was not looking out for the thousands of people who died. The thousands of people that we watched die. I just don’t believe that The Great Whatever is a micromanager, or maybe any kind of manager at all. I also don’t (like to) believe that my entire existence is mere chance. Some guy in Japan got the flu. I got to live.

We all remember where we were. We don’t often get the opportunity to remember where we weren’t. Life is unfathomable. We never know where it will end (up).

One thing is sure...every 9/11 around 6am, having been awake all night remembering, wondering and praying in my own weird way, the sun will come up and the sight of that rising light, the re-brightening of our world, will make me burst into tears. 

I search for words I don't have…and feel the life that I do.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Where is the other tomato?

I dunno about you, but I need a break from the serious stuff.

Last night, I acquired two fresh, ripe tomatoes from a friend and put them on the back seat of the Red Barron (our Hybrid SUV). When we got home, there was only one tomato.

I wondered: Where is the other tomato?

I looked on the floor, under the seats, in the hatchback. Urban & I had gotten into a stupid fight (as if there is another kind) on the way home, so he was like, Jeeze, now what? My reply: Well, SOMEBODY has to take care of things around here! At least ONE of us cares about the missing tomato! He gave me a long look, but said nothing and went into the house, because, really…there's no response to that.

I got a flashlight & looked again. No tomato.
After awhile I gave up and followed Urban inside, where we made up, ate frozen pizza and Thai veggie dumpling for dinner and watched the first half-hour of “Southland Tales.” No one mentioned the tomato.

Before bed, I asked, a little shyly, if he got the tomato and just didn’t say anything, you know, to fuck with me. We were fighting. He gave that same long look (if you’re married, you know the one) and said no. We went to bed. I wondered about the tomato for awhile before I fell asleep. Where could it be?

At about 2pm today, I am in the kitchen making lunch when I suddenly remember the tomato. It’s a bright, sunny day so I head outside, open all the Barron’s doors, and conduct a visual inspection. I even check the glove compartment. No tomato.

Did the Barron eat it? I think not. That goddamn tomato is in here somewhere.

I plop onto the grass, wish I had a cigarette, and stare at the Barron sitting in the driveway, doors agape. He’s not giving up his secrets. After awhile, Sabbath (our barn cat) comes over to see what’s up. Sabbath is inexplicably fascinated by our vehicles, and relishes the opportunity to explore them. He peeks in the front seat and hops up. This gives me an idea. I shoo Sabbath out, and go get the dogs.

Dogs can smell stuff, right? They use them to find lost people in huge tracts of land and collapsed buildings, so I figure a tomato in a Lexus should be no problem. 

Barnabas and Shiduri have been observing the drama from behind the fence, and are delighted to be included. They rush out of the gate, see the Barron’s open doors, and throw themselves in. After some pushing and shoving, which B-dog predictably loses, they flop down on the backseat and grin at me in anticipation. I tell them we’re not going anywhere, and try to explain about the tomato. They do not care. Just like their father.

I am on my own.

Although they disappointed me, I feel bad that the dogs are excited to go somewhere, so I hop barefoot into the Barron and cruise around the neighborhood. When the dogs are in the car, I drive carefully. (I used to say “I drive like an old lady,” but a couple of years ago I got totally obliterated IN THE CELICA, my I-will-blow-the-doors-off-your-jacked-up-customized-Honda-with-the-ridiculously-huge-spoiler-you-gel-haired-little-punk car, pulling out of a stoplight on HWY 7, by a tiny little old lady in an Audi TT. She was wearing an “I Love My Grandma!” sweatshirt. When we stopped at the next light, she looked over, smiled, and said: I hope someday you can get yourself a real sports car, kid. I learned respect the hard way.)

Anyway, with the pups in the car, I drive carefully, which is boring but gives me time to think. At the intersection of CR 10 & 123, I have a brilliant idea. My normally aggressive driving is just what I need to deal with the tomato situation.

I take the dogs home, usher them out of the car and into the house, grab my purse, and hop back in the Barron, still barefoot. This shouldn’t take long. About halfway down our long farm driveway, I hit the brakes. 

I was only doing about 10 MPH, but figure that’s enough to roll that little tomato right out of its hidey hole. I crane around and look at the floor of the backseat. I don’t see it right away, so I hop out, open all the doors, etc., etc.

There is no sign of the tomato.

I get back in the car, turn left onto Harff Road, and, getting up a little more speed, try again. Get out, open doors, look for tomato. Repeat. I do this about four times, going a little faster every time—I’m not crazy (really) so I’m not doing more than 25-30 MPH. 

That’s when the Sherriff pulls me over.

Sherriff: Ma’am are you ok? Have you been drinking?
Me: Uh…no. I’m ok and I have not been drinking.
Sherriff: Do you know why I pulled you over?
Me: I look crazy?
Sherriff: (gives me a long look. I resist the urge to ask if he’s married.) You have been driving somewhat erratically. I’ve been watching you get in and out of your vehicle. Is something wrong?
Me: So, yesterday I got two tomatoes from a friend…

I tell him the whole story. He starts laughing when I get to the part about the dogs. When I am done, he give me directions to the nearest veggie stand so I can go get myself another tomato. I really want to explain that I ALREADY HAVE A PERFECTLY GOOD TOMATO and if I don’t find it, it will ROT and STINK in my car. But, sanity prevails. I just thank him and head home. This tomato thing, and the fact that I am the only one who understands that the smell of rotting tomato is not cool, is starting to piss me off. The cop didn’t care. Urban didn’t care. Even my dogs, who can usually be relied upon for empathy, didn’t care. Fine! I give up!

The Barron lurches to a stop next to the house; I slam my door and stomp towards the front door, then realize I left my purse in the car. I stomp back, tug open the passenger side door…

…and there, sitting on the passenger side floor mat, is the tomato. Red, shiny and silent. Where were you, little tomato?

I may never know. But I’m glad you’re back.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dear Friend, The Majority of People Can Still Be Wrong

The thing I always wonder about Nazi Germany is this: how did it happen? Did all the Germans just go insane? How does an entire culture get to the point that they can turn away and ignore the torture and murder of MILLIONS of people: and not far away, hidden from view people, but people they pass by on the street, people they do business with, people that are their neighbors? How do people support a political party that treats people, based on their religion/culture, as a problem that must be solved? Well, I think it helps that Germans were scared of “them.” Really scared.

It’s hard to reason with fear.

From: Saumya Arya Haas
Sent: Tuesday, August 24, 2010 6:01 PM
To: xxxxxxx
Subject: RE: Cold Chills

Hello Dear xxxxxxx,

It was truly wonderful to see you! and thank you for giving me the chance to respond to Wilders’ speech/ideas.

Regardless of what I say here… if you would like to know what Muslims think, you should get to know some Muslims and ask them, rather than basing your opinions on what someone else (including me) thinks that Muslims think.  However that’s not practical right away, so here is my response, based on my instincts, my experience with actual Muslims, living in India where Hindu-Muslim violence is not uncommon, being familiar with terrorist attacks (from many different groups: religious, political, secular, ethnic, etc.) in various parts of the world from a young age, and being an extremely patriotic American. It’s a long reply so bear with me.

Geert Wilders, the writer of this piece, is considered an extremist by many people. He is up on hate-speech charges in his native country, where no established political party will be associated with him. The UK tried to ban him from entering their country.


There is so much wrong with the reasoning in this article that I do not know where to start. Here is only one, minor, example. He says (about “Muslim ghettos”) :

“The shops have signs you and I cannot read. You will be hard-pressed to find  any economic activity.” Well, which is it? Are there shops, where presumably, people are exchanging money for products… or is there no economic activity?

What would you think of an architect who said “The pipes leak water everywhere. There is no plumbing in the house.” You would think they were mistaken, lying, or insane. How much would you trust their other statements?

Where are the references for his claims on facts and figures? is there reputable, government supported information, or are these figures produced by partisan organizations with an particular agenda? And if they are correct, so what? People can say, think and believe whatever they like. It is actions that count, and even that is does not justify discrimination. I’ve heard it said that the majority of convicted criminals in the USA are young African-American men. Should we treat all young Black guys like potential criminals? Lock them up just to be safe?

When you read Wilders piece, is there any other group that you would be comfortable generalizing about in this way? If you take out the word “Muslim” and insert the word “Black,” “Gay,” “Women,””Jewish,” whatever, how does it make you feel?  People call Wilder’s views racist and extremist because they are. As far as quoting numbers of what percentage of people fear Islam, I wonder, what percentage of Americans supported the abolition of slavery, women’s right to vote, interracial marriage, Civil Rights, etc, etc.? Do you think that if 60% of Americans are afraid of young African-American men we should do something about it? I’ve read that when it became legal for whites and non-whites to marry, the majority of Americans were against it. (I bring this one up because I’m in an interracial marriage and I know you would find it as distasteful as I do that there was a time that Urban & I, both American citizens, could not legally marry in our own country.)

The majority of people can still be wrong.

Wilder’s arguments and solution (which is not stated, but I am familiar with) do not stand up to common sense, common decently, the American Constitution or international human rights guidelines. People become criminals, and can be treated as criminals, the minute they are found guilty of a crime. Each person deserves to be treated as an individual. What crime have millions of Muslims committed, that we are so comfortable talking about them as though they are guilty of something? If Muslims are 25% or whatever of the population of Europe, so what?  Europe is made up of many nations and cultures; Muslims have been a part of that since Islam has existed.

The questions about Israel is a separate, political issue about governmental policies, not what citizens think. I know a number of (white, Jewish) Americans who are critical of Israel for whatever reasons. I’m not sure what that has to do with anything.

Wilder advocates against dialogue with Muslim leaders; I find that disturbing. His writing is full of absolute statements and hysteria.

I feel that Wilders’ speech and writings follow this formula and philosophy:

“It [does] not investigate the truth objectively and.. it present[s] only that aspect of the truth which is favourable to its own side. (...) [It is] confined to a few bare essentials and those must be expressed as far as possible in stereotyped formulas. These slogans [are] persistently repeated (…) Every change.. must always emphasize the same conclusion. The leading slogan must of course be illustrated in many ways and from several angles, but in the end one must always return to the assertion of the same formula.”

This is very effective because:

“[People]are ruled by sentiment rather than by sober reasoning. This sentiment, however, is not complex, but simple and consistent. It is not highly differentiated, but has only the negative and positive notions of love and hatred, right and wrong, truth and falsehood.”

These quotes are from Hitler, Mein Kampf.

Have you ever read the anti-Jewish rhetoric from Germany in the 1930s? It sounds very much the same. It was just as passionate, just as popular, and just as based on “facts.”

This is my theory: Germans believed that they had to protect themselves against an enemy, and that their survival depended on destroying this enemy before the enemy destroyed them. Germans began to believe that people who had lived peacefully alongside them, contributed to their economy and enriched their culture,  were dangerous outsiders who did not belong in Germany. I’m sure there were some Jews that were unprincipled, dangerous criminals—people are human after all. So, one Jew committing a crime became “proof” of the evil nature of all Jews. Jewish “ghettos” were portrayed as cancerous, dangerous cells that would spread and wipe out European values. Does any of this sound familiar?

What is Wilders solution? The mass rounding up and “deportation” of millions of people? Does that sound familiar?

The other thing I wonder about Nazi Germany is this: When was the moment? When did the German people tip from the talk to the walk? How did it go from free speech to state-sponsored genocide? Why didn’t anyone say: enough is enough. We are terrified of Jews, but we don’t have the right to eradicate them. Did any one say: We must stop before we do something insane.  If we look back with the luxury of hindsight, I think it’s apparent that there was not one moment, but many. Many.

The only cold chills I get are imaging what will happen to millions of innocent people if politicians like Wilder come into power.

I would like to be open and be able to talk about these issues, and I would like you to be comfortable talking to me. You are my friend and I love and respect you. But emails like the one you forwarded are hate speech, nothing more. I support the right of free speech for all, but it is a challenge to know how to reasonably respond to such virulent hatred masquerading as fact.

It’s ok to be ignorant and it’s understandable to be scared of things and cultures that we don’t understand. But it is not okay when our ignorance and fear is justification to limit the rights of other people…actually, there is nothing that justifies limiting the rights of other people. I cannot stand by in silence while my fellow (Muslim/Gay/Jewish/Whatever) Americans and fellow humans are demonized and have their dignity & rights stripped from them. These people are innocent. Where is this thinking going to end up?

I hope that you understand, and that your intrinsic compassion, intelligence and sense of justice will advise your thoughts and feelings.

With best intentions and much love,

Friday, August 13, 2010

I’ll help you pack, even.

Dear People-Who-Are-Afraid-of-Islam-And-Think-Your-Fear-Should-Affect-Other-People's-Freedoms,

You have a right to your feelings. But you do not have to right to expect your feelings to limit the rights of other Americans.

The 9/11 terrorists were angry, violent, screwed-up people, ok? Muslim, male, young, Middle-Eastern, dark-skinned, angry, violent, screwed-up. It's the angry, violent, screwed-up action that makes a terrorist. Nothing else.

Islam has nothing to do with terrorism, or, it has as much to do with terrorism as does ethnicity, national origin, age and gender...which is to say, nothing. We may as well associate maleness with terrorism...all the 9/11 terrorists were men. That's just as (ir)relevant as the fact that they were Muslim.

Most terrorists are men. Many cultures of "manhood" advocate violence, but I haven't noticed a backlash against male culture as terrorism. Imagine people making statements, writing tweets and articles or holding signs that say:

We will be overtaken by MEN, and their goal is to get people in Congress.

It’s provocative for these MEN to want a community center near Ground Zero.

Don’t Dishonor my Son’s Grave. No MEN Near Ground Zero.

It’s ridiculous, right? It’s ridiculous no matter what word is substituted for “MEN.”

There is a word for generalizing about people who practice a particular religion, look a particular way, or are a particular gender: it is called BIGOTRY and it is not protected by the Constitution of the United States, or any rational, moral or ethical argument.

So, get over the Islam thing. Or shut the hell up, let people worship as they choose and get some professional help for your anger, insecurity and paranoia. Or move out of the USA to a nation that does not give people the right of religious freedom. (Did Saudi Arabia come to mind? One of those nations run by…MEN?) If you can’t respect the basic beliefs of this country: Liberty and Justice for All—then it’s you who doesn’t belong here.

Best Wishes,

P.S. If you’re wondering what triggered this rant, it was this article:
Festive Muslim Holiday falls around Sept. 11 this year; US Muslims leaders fear backlash

It pisses me off that people in our country have to be afraid of celebrating their holidays. If terrorism is using fear to intimidate and control people, or words to that effect, and the Muslim community is afraid of us, who is it that is advocating terrorism??

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Night at the Temple

Concerts. Kirtan. Vodou ceremonies. I don’t care, as long as there’s music.

My body is caught in the current that flows over and from 18,000 people screaming along to Tool. I had a bad day, but that’s gone now. When the music starts, the music is everything. It both brings me completely into, and totally out of, myself.

50,000 people fall silent at the opening chords to The Smashing Pumpkins “Disarm.” We are sitting on a hill on Harriet Island, back when Lollapalooza was a tour. 10,000 people chant ancient hymns on the huge ghat steps leading down to the river in Varanasi. The whole city is lit by oil lamps on this sacred night. The State Theater is packed for the Black Crowes. We have balcony seats. I will talk about this night for the rest of my life, but right now, my whole world is Chris Robinson, on stage, wailing and dancing barefoot on a Persian rug. Over the course of two hours, 1400 people at the (old) Guthrie slowly lean forward more and more and more until we are all perched on the edge of our seats, breathless, as Ali Akbar Khan first caresses, then strums then totally fucking shreds on the sarod. All these experiences were distinct, but they are all the same.

Music usually raises a fierce joy, but there have been grueling times I endure only because music protects me, insulates me, wraps around me, and keeps the world out. Sometime the only thing that keeps me from being alone is a song that express what I am unable to articulate. Music lets me know that I am not the only one to feel something; it both helps me feel it more keenly and to overcome it: with music, the only way out is through. Sometimes I think that in buffering me from the reality around me, the music somehow absorbed it. So when I hear that song again, a little of that reality leaks out.

Music has always been something that frees me. At First Avenue, 200 people dance to P-Funk. George Clinton swings his multi-colored hair in a circle and yells “Are we LIVIN?” We roar back an affirmative: yes, we are livin. 100 people on a River boat chugging along the Mississippi jump up and down in unison to Michael Franti telling us to “throw your hands up high, ‘cause you never know how long you’re gonna live till you die.” The boat is shaking. 40 people crammed in an unfinished room at The New Orleans Healing Center groove to the Afro-Jazz rhythm of Kora Konnection from Senegal. There is no room to dance. A dozen people dressed in white do have room to dance around the center pole of a Vodou temple, as the drums call the Spirits. I am barefoot on the sand, under the stars, listening to music played by gypsies. We are deep in the desert of India, and I dance with my oldest friend.

Live music is best, but my everyday life has had a variable soundtrack coming from the radio, records, tapes, CDs and now our ever expanding digital collection. I love discovering new music, but I treasure the old stuff too. It can take me back to moments, places, people I have not seen in twenty years. The beat kicks in and suddenly I am there again, the memory stored in the music.

My husband and I, and most of our friends, slamdance to Ministry’s “Jesus Built My Hotrod” in the ballroom at a Marriot: he is wearing a tux, I am in my ivory silk wedding gown. We are grinning, young, drunk. I plug my headphones in and listen to Guns and Roses. Axl Rose is the only other human being who might be as pissed off as I am right now. I am in a car with my three best friends when  Prince comes on the radio. We crank it up, pull over on the freeway, and dance. We laugh like loons, and hug each other. My mom puts on a Peter Tosh record and we move to the sound of the Caribbean. Outside, the Minneapolis streets fill with snow. I must have been about six years old.

This is the story of my life. Then, now, always.

Bands I have seen live (as well as I can remember): 
Pixies, Beck, John Mooney, Smashing Pumpkins, Twilight Singers, Tori Amos, Ministry, Dead Can Dance, Flock of Seagulls, PJ Harvey, Bela Fleck, Ani DiFranco, Stanton Moore, Beastie Boys,  Sade, Black Crowes, Blink 182, Fall Out Boy, Sean Johnson and Wild Lotus, Panic! At The Disco, Gypsy Kings, The Decemberists, INXS, Beck, Billy Idol,The Killers, Liz Phair, Gypsy Kings, Modest Mouse, NIN, Roxy Music, Rage Against the Machine, They Might Be Giants, The Black Keys, Tool, Jewel, Ravi Shankar, Trombone Shorty, Jimmy Eat World, Aerosmith, Trip Shakespeare, Lenny Kravitz, Burning Spear, Alice in Chains, Ziggy Marley, The Breeders, Ali Akbar Khan, Babes in Toyland, Tracy Chapman, Michael Franti.

I would see every single one of those bands again, with the exception of Lenny Kravitz, who was so surly and wooden that he has the distinction of being the one artist who managed to make me dislike his music, which I previously liked, after seeing him live. Maybe he was having a bad day. But come on, man, you’re opening for Aerosmith. Have some humility.

Bands I hope to see:
MIA, Primus, Santigold, Lady Gaga, White Stripes, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Rolling Stones, Snow Patrol, U2, Gaslight Anthem, Arcade Fire, My Morning Jacket, Muse, Gutter Twins, Wolfmother, Rob Zombie, Vampire Weekend, The Strokes, Ozzy, Sleigh Bells, Prince, ZZ Top, Marilyn Manson, B.B. King,  Pink, Godsmack, The Cure, Atmosphere, Black Eyed Peas, Arctic Monkeys.

Bands I wish I could have seen:
Ramones, Queen, Johnny Cash, Joy Division, GNR, Led Zep, Patsy Kline, The Clash, The Beatles, Nirvana, Bob Marley, The Doors, Peter Tosh, The Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix. The thought that I will never see Jimi Hendrix live in concert sometimes depresses me.

I almost didn’t go to the last show we had tickets for (Modest Mouse at the Orpheum) because I felt crappy. I have endometriosis, which results in chronic pain. I’m not in pain all the time, but when I am, I’d rather be curled up on the couch at home. But I wanted to go, so, fuck it, I went. There was a great crowd, everyone on their feet, screaming, cheering, singing along to the music. I look around at the wonderful cross-section of goateed, pierced, vintage-clothes-wearing Minnesota geekdom, and think: these are my people! At first I just stand there, sort of bouncing, listening to the show. But music comes in my ears and out my hips, so pretty soon I am swaying and grooving. Tentatively. Pelvic pain and pelvic motion do not go together. But after awhile, the music just…takes me, and I stop caring. I dance. I stop feeling anything besides the music. I stop being anything besides the music.

When the music gets going the beat comes up through the floor and pounds through the air, pulsing my sternum like another heartbeat. Everyone is moving, jumping up and down or swaying in place. I feel the life coursing through me, those around me, the universe. There is no difference. How can there be? We share a heart.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

My own, personal Sita: a Blog entry with music

Click on the bold underlined links for songs. Other links are more information about terms.

I recently watched Nina Paley’s gorgeous, funny, moving, and profound animated film “Sita Sings The Blues: The Greatest Breakup Story Every Told.” You can watch it for free, here, so you know what this entry is about. It’s also just a great, great, great film.


If you are uncomfortable with irreverence, critical discussion and/or interpreting the Hindu tradition in contemporary contexts, skip the movie and this post. Please. You will find both offensive.

I believe that any understanding we have of divinity is more about our personal relationship with that aspect of Spirit/archetype/whatever-you-want-to-call-it than any sort of representative truth. My relationships do not reflect on anyone else’s. And, as it so happens, many of my relationships –-with deity figures, real people, my pets, myself-- are often challenging, tumultuous and difficult. I question and worry and occasionally blame and swear (yes! I swear at the Gods! If that bothers you, stop reading now!). I can be critical and difficult to live with. It doesn't mean I love any less. 

That being said, I’ve never liked Sita.

Huh? Who’s Sita and what did she ever do to you, Saum? Sita is (in no particular order) the loyal, beautiful, abducted, rescued, mistrusted, rejected and unshakably devoted wife of Rama.

Ok. Who’s Rama? Lord Rama is one of the incarnations of the God Vishnu, and hero of the well-known and beloved Hindu epic, The Ramayana.To many Hindus, Rama is the ultimate man, the perfect warrior prince who is wise, brave, dutiful, devout and also a total shit to his wife. I know that last bit is going to upset people. It upsets me, too.

I admit it. I don’t like Rama either. At all.

Why Rama? Why why why? When you are exiled, your wife follows you into the jungle where she will likely die. When she is abducted, she tells her captor that she will end her life before she breaks her wedding vows. When you rescue her and doubt her fidelity (Ravana was, after all, quite a charismatic, powerful, and persuasive fellow) she is so hurt that she tries to commit suicide by burning herself alive. According to some accounts, you help build the pyre. She throws herself in, but passes through this trial by fire unscathed. You take her back. You return home –-yay!-- and become king. After a few months, you tell her that this whole abduction thing has been terrible for your image. She is pregnant. You have her abandoned in the forest. Yet she raises your twin sons to sing your praises.  She never speaks a word against you. Your wife would die for you, Rama! And not just in a dramatic, song-lyric kind of way. She would actually die for her love of you. And you treat her like crap.


Re-reading what I just wrote, I realize that all of that is backwards. I should be asking Sita these questions. Why, Sita? Why do you put up with it?  You wimp. Stand up for yourself.

My dislike of Sita is actually so deep that it is evolving and multi-faceted. Here are some of the high points:

1. When I was a little kid, I thought she was whiny and boring. All she really does is get abducted and rescued. For that, I preferred Princess Leia, who could at least handle a blaster.

2. As a coming-of-age girl living in India, I resented that she was held up as the feminine ideal I was supposed to, but did not-in-any-way-shape-or-form, emulate.

3. As a teenager, I was, like, whatever. Bitch.

4. As a young woman exploring adulthood, she vaguely represented why I chose to live in the United States rather than India.

5. As a Women’s Studies scholar, my contempt became tinged with pity. I began to deconstruct her as a symbol of patriarchal cultural traditions that systematically strip women of their power.

6. She made me so uncomfortable that, like other stuff I dislike, I just stopped thinking about her.

7. I read Women Who Run With The Wolves and thought, there’s got to be a better Sita story out there somewhere. I found a few, and made up more, in an attempt to obscure the original Sita I knew.


8. As an occasional lecturer on Hinduism, I hauled her out as example of conflicting messages for women’s identity in contemporary India. 

9. I watched “Sita Sings The Blues” and realized that while all of these things are true, none are complete. What I dislike about Sita is that she represents a part of myself that I am ashamed of. She is me. I am her, in all her archaic, submissive glory.

I have both been that woman, and seen that woman. You know her too: the woman who seems so strong but who loves a man so much she will go anywhere, do anything, put up with abuse, suffer his contempt, endure his rejection, and still defend him, raise his children and never let her kids hear her speak a word against their father.

We all know guys who are great people but awful to their spouses. Rama sacrifices his relationship for his career as a God-prince. And Sita is the woman who sacrifices everything for the marriage that he is throwing away. In Paley’s film, Sita sings the Blues, but it could as well be Country (Paley did the Ramayana so well, but I’d LOVE to see the Mahabharata as a Country & Western saga, with everybody in cowboy hats, preferably directed by Joss Whedon).

This isn’t just an oppressed woman/abusive man thing, you know. Men are as just as stuck when it comes to archetypes, maybe even more so than women. Who wants to be the warrior every damn day? Where do men turn for reassurance that it’s ok to give up control, that they don’t always have to be the one doing the rescuing. It must be exhausting. There are certainly many male Sita-types in the modern world, men who love beyond reason and are doubly dammed by being considered unmanly for it. At least women have lots of role models for suffering.

Some people say that Sita’s relationship with Rama --actually, all romantic stories-- are not about men and women but about our relationship with God. I don’t know if I entirely buy this. It’s certainly not any more satisfying to imagine that in addition to occasionally following indifferent and abusive men, we also follow an indifferent and abusive God (although it would explain some things).

In the end, Sita asks her Mother Earth to take her back: the ground opens and down she goes. There may be something about a return to Earth-based traditions for individual empowerment, although it’s hard to imagine that’s what the composers of the Ramayana had in mind.


Of course, sometimes it’s worthless to try and figure out what composers of religious, or any, text really had in mind. It often ends up being conjecture, influenced by our own biased attitudes and experiences, so I’ll just go directly to understanding it through my own biased attitudes and experiences.

I was raised, and still adhere to, the belief that the characters of the Gods/heroes are not (necessarily) intended to be emulated, but to  present certain aspects of humanity in order for us to learn from them. I don’t think that anyone really believes that Zeus and Hera are a good example of how to run a marriage, or that because the Pandava brothers lost their kingdom in a drunken game of dice, we ought to follow their example. Huh? Who? Sorry, that’s another story…maybe with cowboy hats.

Does creation equal endorsement? Does representing a certain way of being advocate that it is a desirable way to be? Part of what makes me so uncomfortable with Sita is the implication that there is an admirable strength in this (feminine) endurance of (male) emotional brutality. Even worse, I believe there IS strength in it. Of course there is. But it seems exploitative to fashion a heroine to exemplify this quality.

If Ezili Dantor is the patron of single mothers, Sita is the patron of mistreated wives. I’d rather there was no need for either. But there is.  Sita is considered the perfect wife. But her existence has also helped me (and presumably other women) define what I don’t want to be, or wish I wasn’t.

Any hatred is self-hatred. I’m sorry Sita. It was never about you.

I want to identify with the fashionable female archetypes: Kali, Ezili Dantor, Boudicca, Rani of Jhansi. But there’s a little –or a lot- of Sita in me. Just as I cohabitate with Erzuli Freda, a good dose of the Virgin Mary (hold the jokes, you know what I mean) and every weeping, martyred saint I can think of.

Think about what unconditional love means. I mean, really think about it. It’s a concept we elevate, but in action it is a terrible force.

The thing about Sita that blows my mind is that she is not only devoted and loving, she seems utterly free of grudges or resentment (this could just be evidence that the Ramayana was written by a man). How do we tell the difference between healthy forgiveness and being an enabler of someone else’s abuse?

There is an awesome power in not letting another person’s actions influence how we feel. No matter how crappy they are, we will not be changed, and part of who we are is loving them. But we might love someone we absolutely cannot live with. I once loved a man I couldn’t live with, and I left him. I didn’t stop loving him. He didn’t deserve my love but he had it anyway. I am ashamed that I couldn’t stop loving him. My inability to love conditionally still upsets me.

I’m also blessed (and dammed) to know crazy, epic-sized love. I am hopelessly devoted, wildly enamored and irrationally infatuated with my husband. This love, and my own romantic fantasies, make me feel needy. Part of me desperately wants to be rescued (from what, it’s unclear, but a ten-headed demon-king + numberless minions would work just fine). It embarrasses me. I’m supposed to be empowered or something.


The idea of unconditional love is terrifying. Love will fuck you up like nothing else. It can be painful and humiliating. But we learn from it…I believe we only ever learn things the hard way (although it’s very possible that’s just me). It’s easier for me to be angry than forgiving. I’d rather scream along to Rage Against The Machine than sigh with Bessie Smith. Kali is the overwhelming rage of the Goddess, while Sita is the Goddess who refuses the path of rage.

As appealing as it is some days, I can’t go blasting through life ripping people’s heads off and sticking my tongue out at everyone. (It did take me a little while to figure this out.)

kali 002

But I haven’t made peace with Sita. She is part of me, and part of being human. I don’t have to be one or the other, violent/submissive, Kali/Sita…I’m striving for “assertive, but calm.” Ha. That’s why we have so many images of the divine. Because we are a collection of archetypes ourselves.

We all sing the Blues.

There is wisdom in our inner Sita: the selfless devotion of love, a refusal to let betrayal make us bitter or hateful, and the final surrender of falling back into into the source of our power. Kali draws that power up, Sita sinks down into it. Sometimes that’s what we have to do. Sometimes it’s all we can do. It doesn’t have to be the only thing we do.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Home Office

I am trying to work in my home office, while other work is going on in the house. There are a couple of guys updating the security system, which produces a regular & piercing beeping sound, like, well, like an alarm going off. The dogs, sensibly, are alarmed, and bark loudly in response. To be fair, this is their job, so my annoyance feels mean-spirited. It is cold and rainy; they can't be outside where there is no (or at least muffled) beeping. Sadly, neither can I. I have a  significant amount of work to get through today, so I am trying to ignore the noise and stay focused. I am also doing A LOT of deep breathing.

My nonchalant attitude towards the ongoing home invasion and resultant Very Loud Noise is deeply troubling to the dogs. They have come to the conclusion that I am deaf to the beeping and must be informed of it by other means. When it beeps, they bark. At me. Barnabas, a 65 lb Shepherd mix, has a weirdly high-pitched, jackhammer yap: wha! wha! wha-wha-wha-wha! wha! Shiduri, the 100 lb Great Dane, does not bark, but rather bays, deeply and loudly, like a submarine siren: Ah-AH-AH-AHWHOO! AHWOOOOOOOOOO! She is exactly ear level with me. 

When the beeping mercifully stops, the canine tweeter & woofer team strut around importantly, clearly feeling that they have frightened away the interlopers. After a couple of grumbled threats in the direction of the front door, they finally relax, and lay down on their doggie beds…we all sigh… just in time for the next terrible BEEP! which sends them scrambling and barking, and then the whole cycle repeats itself. This started at 8am. It’s now 4.

I think the noise hurts the dogs ears so I put cotton balls in them. They don't like it. At first, Shiduri shakes her head violently while she’s barking, which adds a Doppler effect, which only intensifies the siren-like quality of her bays. I feel the vibration in my sternum.  By now she is overcome by the futility of it all and has decided that this awful situation is Barnabas's fault. She commences barking at HIM. He tries to cram himself under my feet. One of the work guys comes in to ask a question.The phone starts ringing.

Why the hell do we have an alarm system? Anyone in their right mind would flee from the dogs.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Crude Karma

farm May 2010 005

Karma is a flexible word, yogic in its ability to twist into different meanings. People use it when something dramatic happens, to indicate luck, fate, destiny, justice, punishment or reward. None of those are quite right. Trying to understand karma through events is useful, but crude.

I don’t mean crude in a crass sense, but rather visceral, material, something in the visible world. Traditionally, karma refers to patterns of existence under the surface, the ebb and flow of the universe, a tide we affect as much as we are affected by it. It is as much what doesn’t happen, as what does. Crude, we can see. It floats on the surface of things; it can reveal some of what’s in the depths. Analyzing crude karma –what events mean-- can be illuminating, because it is based on things we can see. Events are the invisible process—the things we’re so used to we don’t see them anymore—made visible. Events can help us see, but we have to be careful to keep our vision clear and honest. The most significant lessons are the ones we don’t want to learn.

Every time there is a disaster, some Hindu somewhere says: It was their karma. This drives me crazy. Nobody needs to hear that after experiencing trauma. The way karma is commonly understood, this implies that suffering was deserved.  “Deserving” is another flexible word, implying either entitlement or punishment. Karma is morally neutral. It is not judgment and it is not license to judge others. No one is the authorized agent of karma: you can’t go around smacking people upside the head and then smugly proclaiming it must have been their karma. Bad manners and exploitation have no spiritual justification. The application of any ideal must stand up to common sense and common decency. We are each responsible for our actions.

Karma is the consequence of action. I could insert some poetic quotes from the Bhagavad-Gita, but I’ll spare you. The Gita is a wonderful, wise book, but we don’t need to look to the ancient world for battlefield examples; we are struggling through our own epics right now. We live in a time of dramatic, large-scale events. Now we have to make sense of them.

But understanding is a subtle, slippery thing. Trying to draw a direct correlation of one event to another is tricky. We want to ask: why is this happening? (or, why does this keep happening?) and come up with an answer. But understanding is not an event or intellectual exercise; it is a process. We live it.

Karma is not fatalistic; it is the opposite: the measure of how  our actions on the Universe affects us in return. However, it can appear fatalistic, because once set in motion, certain things must play out. If you drink water, you feel nice and hydrated, but at some point, you will have to pee. That’s an obvious (and crude) example, but a good one. When you’re a little kid, the need to pee is an event that just seems to happen, totally disconnected from anything going on at the time: one minute you’re building a tower, then suddenly….It can be pretty traumatic. I’m sure toddlers wonder: why is this happening to me? As you get older, you figure out that it’s not this mysterious thing. It’s not a punishment, reward, fate, justice, luck or destiny, but it didn’t just randomly occur either. To adults, it may be inconvenient or a relief (or both), but it’s not good or bad. You don’t feel guilty or proud of it. It’s just life in motion. You drink, you pee. You buy, you pay. That, crudely, is karma.

You can learn, and change, and next time the outcome can be different...to some extent. You will always have to pee, but it stops being an event. The drama that gives it an emotional or moral component is gone. You know it’s going to happen, and you learn to be competent. This might seem like a facetious example, but it’s not intended to be silly. It’s amazing, the things we struggle to come to terms with, then absorb, and then barely think of again. So much of what drives our lives has become invisible to us.

Life is driven by choice; according to Hindu belief, to be born (or not) is a choice: you return to life again and again not just because of “karma” to fulfill, but because life is fun; or, some say, we amass karma because we want to stay connected to life; as if life is someone you like but are too shy to ask out, so you leave your sunglasses at their house for an excuse to return. Karma does not have to be a burden. It’s frequently compared to payment, or debt: I think this is apt but misleading, because we have considerable emotional and cultural baggage about debt. No-one really likes the idea of being in debt: we’d all like to own our lives free and clear. But—debt is often what lets us have our cozy homes, our convenient cars, our work wardrobes, vacations, and so on. Incurring debt is often a lot of fun. The money you owe (or earn) does not express the joy and sorrow it helped you experience. Your home is far more to you than the value of your house. Debt can get out of hand, but it can be enriching, too. The process of living is a constant series of exchanges. 

In Hindu thought, Leela, the game board, is symbolic of the world we live in: a game with some rules, but we’re free to play, and it’s no fun to play alone! In Vodou, Ayizan is the spirit of both initiation and the marketplace. While these things seem unconnected, they are intertwined.  The marketplace is also Leela, the world. To initiate is to be in the world; to be in the world is to take part in the entertaining interactions and exchanges of life. You do this through your choices, which in turn become become part of the flow of energy. You may not be attentive to them, but your actions do not just disappear into nowhere when you’re done with them. There are other players on the board, and the marketplace effects everyone.

The idea of Karma unites us: what you do affects me, and vice versa. One person’s action ripples to effect many. There is no question of being deserving or undeserving. We’re all in this together. We all shop in the same market, we all swim in the same Waters. We all thirst. 

This sense of connection makes it appealing, and easy, to lay the blame for things that cause us pain on someone else’s doorstep, someone else’s actions. It’s tempting to blame our Mom, the Universe, God, the Government, Corporations, for letting us down, leading us astray, failing to protect us, or generally screwing us up (or over). But there is no “Government” or “Universe” that is above and beyond us, all powerful and all knowing. Our mom is a lady who did her best; our Government is elected and held accountable by us; our friends, relatives and neighbors work for Corporations from which we buy goods that we want to remain affordable, so we can do what we need to do, and enjoy life along the way.

There is no “them.” We are the Corporations and the Government. We are moms and dads. We are the Universe. This is our world, our joy, our mess.

Our actions are choices. I choose something, not necessarily something dramatic and moral, but an everyday thing, an inevitable thing: I’m thirsty. Everybody has to drink, right? So I’m thirsty. Right now. Excuse me.

Ah, that’s better. My lovely niece stopped by to do some yard work, and brought me an iced coffee from Caribou. Life is made up of such pleasant everyday moments, soon forgotten and usually unremarked upon. But, not noticing something does not mean it is unimportant. So much of what drives our lives is invisible. The most significant lessons are the hardest to learn.

Here are some consequences to my choice of drink: I’m not thirsty any more. I feel happy. I owe my niece four dollars. Later I will have to pee. I’m sensitive to caffeine so I’m going to fly through the day, get a huge amount of work done, and probably not sleep much tonight. If I’m up at 4am, that’s an obvious, a crude, consequence of my beverage. But the ripples spread further, wider: events rise out of process. I might not be the only one losing sleep because of my choices. Buying my coffee from Caribou in a plastic cup supports local jobs, as well as the larger coffee, transportation and petroleum industries.

Embedded in our everyday choices are a whole host of  consequences. Choices direct life. Karma is life in action. Now watch what happens. See the ripples spread.  When we’re all choosing the same thing, all acting the same way, those ripples coalesce into an a wave, a flood, an event that unbalances the world. The game board tips: we all go tumbling. Why does this keep happening?

This is crude karma. It is not done by “them” to “us.” It is not justice, or judgment. It is not luck, fate, destiny, reward or punishment. Although some people may bear the brunt of the suffering, they do not deserve it. We do not have to feel guilty or proud, but if we really want to understand, we have to live a process that can lead to a different outcome.

Our thirst leads us to all manner of tasty delights, but there is a consequence to reckon with, here in the material world. Actions continue far beyond our intent. Eventually the tide brings everything back to our own precious shores.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Svaha~I make this offering

*Here is another one from the archives, circa 2000.

I am not this, consumed by flame; I am not that, washed in water;
I am not that which drew air, nor am I that which walked upon the earth.
I am the earth, I am the air and I am the water.
I am the fire.
All that which is impermanent, I leave behind.
Svaha svaha, svaha, it is no more mine.

My father is dead. I watched it happen, as he performed his own funeral service on the banks of the Ganges. I have heard that Sanskrit phrase, svaha, it is no more mine, over and over again, my entire life. It is said with every offering given on the altar, into a consecrated fire or sacred river. In my family, it is said with humor and resignation, over opportunities or items lost. Our mental shrug, Oh, well, its gone.

That ceremony transformed my father, my Tata, into something else: a Swami, beyond definitions of family, gender, religion. He began a journey away from of me and mine, and sought a life of service. Swamis were not a mystery to me; I grew up with Baba, a guru who initiated me into our tradition when I was six years old. I felt lucky, even as a kid, to know him. He made a family of everyone who needed one. He made the world magical.

When I was nineteen, my dad, struggling with diabetes and a heart condition, was given a last chance by the doctors: a triple by-pass. This was back in the days when heart surgery was a thing of fear and miracles. In the voice that lulled me to sleep as a child with countless guided relaxations (oh, how I relished being able to make him yell when I was a teenager!) he told me that his life was coming to an end, one way or another. He wished to survive, but if he did, it would not be as it was. It was time. He would begin the process of transition towards Swamihood. My mother would care for him after surgery. They would live together as brother and sister for a time. They would part eventually, husband and wife no longer. Not divorce, he stressed, as though I didn’t know. He would renounce his former life, his family. Our father was leaving us for God.

It seemed natural that this was happening. When he said that he would need his children’s formal blessing, I was startled, as if he was asking our permission to stay out late. I must have talked about it with my siblings, my friends, but I have no recollection. I don’t remember feeling rejected or abandoned. It was actually kind of exciting, as if he had won The Nobel Prize or something. Tata was ours, but never only ours. We always shared him with so much, his books, his disciples and his mission. Much was shared with us in return.

Watching him chant his own funeral prayers was another thing. His familiar voice rising and falling, rising and falling as he sang the ancient hymns. I remember sitting in the mild mountain sun, catching my brother’s eye, and thinking, our father is dying.

I am grateful for the Swami who rose from that pyre, although it took awhile to sort things out. What do I call him? (settled on “Tata Swami”) How do I introduce myself? I can’t say “I’m his daughter” anymore, can I? Or can I? There were a few awkward years where no-one was sure how to behave, what was acceptable. This was new territory for all of us. I avoided him.

My relationship with Swami Veda is very different now, but that’s to be expected, I’m not a teenager anymore. I got over my joy of being able to make him raise his voice. Instead I have found pride, solace and inspiration in watching him become. My father had always been a teacher, but a Swami is something more. And he has become more to me than a father. I look forward to the few times a year that I see him, long nights when we sit up and talk. We have an ongoing debate: Are things as they always have been or does the world really change? We argue but also laugh a lot. He still loves to tell jokes, most of them based on awful and elaborate multi-lingual puns. Through Swami Veda, I have finally gotten to know my dad.

No matter what paths I walk, they are extensions of an ancient tradition. I believe the teachings of the mountain sages, teachings repeated in the Bible, Koran, Torah. Teachings spoken by priests and shamans and druids, wisdom based on experience of living: Know thyself. Let go of what limits you. Respect others. Swami Veda has brought that to countless people. He has acquired the weighty title of Maha-mandalashvar, a Swami among Swamis. He has been responsible for bringing the leaders of Buddhism and Hinduism together for the first time in twenty-three centuries, to be the first ambassador of Hinduism in China in I don’t know how long. I may only see him a few times a year, but when I am really in trouble, it’s his phone that rings in the night, where ever he is. When I sit down to meditate, it is his voice in my head…relaaax your shoulders…breathe deeply, slooowly, smoooothly. The echo of the father I let go.

I don’t think it will be so easy to let Swami Veda go, which is ironic.

Not today or tomorrow, not in the next six months, but, holy or not, he is going to die, to make that final life change. I have seen it, under the mountain sun. This time, I am afraid. When Baba died, I knew there was no-one who could replace him; but we had Swami Veda. I had Swami Veda. When he is gone, who is left? Who will be there for me?

And I find when I ask that question, I have trouble meeting my own eyes; for who is left is looking back at me. You skirt around it in your own way; for me it comes down, bluntly, to selfishness. I want mine, my life, my choices, my freedom. I wanted my father. I want the illusion of owning my life…even if I know it’s an illusion. But I am a child of our tradition; I am my father’s daughter. The voice in my head has become my own.

There is no “one” who will take over, who will be Our Father. Who will be mine.

It is exhausting to fight your own truth; I imagine it must be a great relief to finally, totally, just be yourself. I understand why traditions of self-knowledge are not so popular. Revelation can be very disruptive. Compassion is hard work. Surrender takes some getting used to. Our voices are useless if we don’t share them.

I grow tired of the bondage of mine. I know I am not this that walks, breathes, which someday will be washed and burned. I hope that I will have the strength to look at this life I have hoarded so selfishly and be able to someday say, with relief, svaha, it is no more mine. And then live it.