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I recently went to practice meditation for a weekend at Deer Park–a monastery in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. In this tradition, everything from eating to working to walking is a chance to connect with your breath and practice mindfulness. There are also teachings called “Dharma Talks.”

One of the talks consisted of a video of Thich Nhat Hanh teaching about different types of consciousness, specifically “mind consciousness” versus “store consciousness.” Mind consciousness is described as our conscious thoughts, those that occupy us as we’re thinking about the past, worrying, and planning. Store consciousness, on the other hand, is the body of information a person has taken in and stored away. One’s store consciousness is often accessed unconsciously. It’s the part of your consciousness that gets you home when you’re driving but distracted in your thinking instead of focusing on the road.

Later that night, I sat up rereading Hanh’s book “For a Future to Be Possible: Commentaries on the Five Mindfulness Trainings.” The mindfulness trainings are guidelines of sorts for living according to Buddhist principles. The fifth mindfulness training emphasizes the importance of mindful consumption–not just the things we put into our body, but also the things we put into our mind (our “store”), including the kinds of books we read, movies we watch, and conversations we engage in.

At one point in the book, Hanh begins talking about how to be with someone who is dying. He recalls visiting a friend who was dying and in a lot of pain. His friend’s pain eased when his visitors helped him recall happy memories. Hanh explained that he massaged his friend’s feet because often when people are dying they can’t feel parts of their bodies and that massage can be very comforting.

I had read this book in November of last year, the last time I spent a weekend at Deer Park. When I got the word that my Grandma Aimee was dying, I did not remember reading this passage. However, as soon as I heard she was dying, I felt compelled to get to her and–granting that I made it in time–massage her feet. On my way to airport, I stopped and bought a bottle of jojoba oil and a bottle of orange essential oil with the description “cheering” written on it. I did make it before she died and gave her a foot massage that night.

She lived for another day and a half and during this time visitors streamed in and out of her room and she received them all graciously. I saw that Grandma Aimee was consoled by the happy memories her loved ones shared with her and comforted by the traditional Catholic prayers said at her bedside. Several times I pulled out the orange essential oil and just let her smell it or rubbed some on her shoulders and she would light up, smiling at the familiar, happy scent.

As I reread Hanh’s words about comforting the dying after her death, I was struck by how I did not remember reading this and yet as soon as I heard that my grandma was dying, I knew what to do. I’m so grateful this information was in my “store.” xoxo

P.S. Here’s a link to the eulogy I wrote for Aimee.

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My place in the world is right here.
On the back porch of a house in Detroit:
A breeze stirs from time to time, cutting through the June air.
It catches the wind chime. I close my eyes and hear: clinking glasses, the hum of a Tibetan singing bowl still carrying on after contact.
The sun lights up the leaves at the top of a young tree.
One of my feet touches the ground.
The other is suspended a few inches above, as I sit one leg crossed over the other.
My place in the world is right here.

The above is excerpted from a free write on the first day of the Allied Media Conference. I had just been at the UAW Constitutional Convention and was feeling a little disjointed from switching from one gathering to another and anticipating a third: the US Social Forum.

The AMC was a totally new experience for me. I’ve wanted to go for several years and finally got to.

I was immediately grateful to be in a space where “we spend more time building than attacking” is one of the core principles.

I moseyed through the AMC, pacing myself and resting. I started out by participating in make/shift’s collaborative editing workshop. Collaborative editing is one of the ways make/shift practices feminism(s).

Next was the workshop on radical m/othering, parenting, and childcare collectives. I appreciated the tips for how to be more inclusive of parents and children in meetings and community gatherings. These were simple things, including: saying up front that children (and the sounds they often make) are welcome, offering childcare is helpful to parents even if they opt not to use it, acknowledge children, and offer to hold them or play with them if their parenting is occupied.

Poor magazine schooled us all on “poverty scholarship” and the difference between research done by academics outside the community and the “we-search” that they do. The folks at poor magazine take media-making and research into their own hands.

Finally, in a workshop focused on responding to violence in our communities outside the formalized police state, we explored the “middle path” in responding to violence: community accountability. The Audre Lorde Project’s Safe OUTside the System uses a step team to raise awareness and do outreach. Always a Safe Space (ASS) hands out guides on how to pick people up in safe and respectful ways in the bathroom lines at queer clubs. And Community United Against Violence hosts a fun “safetyfest.” One thing that the person from CUAV said that stuck with me is that isolation is one of the major things that contributes to people both being harmful and being harmed.

At the USSF, a lot of the things I participated in were with UAW. At a discussion on labor, faith, and community activism, the new UAW president, Bob King, said that unions are strongest when we’re active participants in our community. He said that over the years we’ve done a good job building up great contracts for those we represent, but haven’t done enough to protect other workers in our community. He said that unions must fight for everyone in society. I couldn’t agree more.

The next day we marched to Chase bank in protest of Chase’s role in the foreclosure crisis that Michigan is experiencing and their bankrolling of JR Reynolds which is currently denying its workers decent wages and working conditions.

One of the evenings, I caught some of the art programming outside at the amphitheater. A poet talked about non-cooperation in two specific ways that resonated with me: 1. not believing the lie that you are not good enough and 2. challenging our over-consumption. Of course, these two things are very intertwined.

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Law 12. “Use selective honesty and generosity to disarm your victim.”
And by “victim” you mean “girl”—never “woman”
And by “victim” you mean yourself
Except if you fall in a forest
and you don’t see it
does it matter?

No.

Law 16. “Use absence to increase respect and honor.”
Don’t be too available.
Find an excuse to get off the phone.
Don’t linger. Excuse yourself to say hi to a friend—she told you to check this place out after all.
Wave at the hottest girl you can make eye contact with.
Exit.
Be caught off guard when your “victim” dances with someone else.
Was that supposed to happen?

No.

But who cares?
Girls are a dime a dozen,
except—

Law 20. “Do not commit to anyone.”

I decline
a swig from the flask
once tucked under the seat of your mid-life-crisis car.

You shoot your head back
gulping vodka
tucking the flask away
as you step on the gas.

Tracing the zigzag of LA freeways
hard
fast.

You are taking me to the Magic Castle
so I am supposed to be
grateful
giddy.

According to you
I am

cold.

I get that way at certain times with certain people and I never unfreeze.

Months later you ask me to travel the world—or some portion of it—with you.
I suspect that traveling means unfreezing.

So, again,
I decline.

“It’s hard enough to have a relationship when people aren’t playing games,” you say, your humanity rising above your ego for just a moment.

Sometimes I resent your formlessness as I struggle to follow, keep up, learn my own shape, only to unlearn it and learn it anew; to teach it to myself.

I TRUST EVERYONE
will let me down.

(imagined as a cartoon character’s word bubbles. she’s screaming the first, represented by all caps; whispering the second in a tiny font.)


This week’s writing is mainly inspired by The 48 Laws of Power. Instead of one coherent poem, I came up with a whole bunch of fragments. The “you” in each is a different person/situation. I would like to know which of the fragments are most compelling, ideas about integrating them, and spots that are unclear or confusing. In general, I also like to hear suggestions about punctuation and language choices.

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This week I went up to San Francisco with LA CAN. The 50 or so of us on the bus met up with folks from all over the West Coast for a “House Keys Not Handcuffs” action. Despite the rain, several hundred of us marched through the streets of SF to deliver our message at the federal building. And through it all, we enjoyed the rain with a lot of help from a very spirited marching band. The next day this quote came to me in the form of a love note left on the gift exchange alter of the Evolver Long Beach “Give It Up” event/spore: “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

On the way up to SF, we watched several movies, including Revolutionary Road. The movie has really stuck with me throughout the week. An excerpt from my journal writing about it: “It’s a movie about people’s reactions to nonconformity and the pressures to conform. It’s also about the label of ‘mental illness’ and what gets deemed crazy and the ways other (unhappy) people will use this label to put down others in order to feel better about themselves and their own unhappiness.” I’d love to discuss this movie more with others who have watched it.

Also, this song is where the name of my blog comes from. Dar Williams’ “After All” is an anthem of sorts for me. “And when I chose to live, there was no joy, it’s just a line I crossed. It wasn’t worth the pain my death would cost. So I was not lost or found.”

“Go ahead, push your luck …” This song also inspired one of my sisters’ tattoos!

One thing that has meant a lot to me over the last week is having relatives post pictures from when I was younger on Facebook as part of the retro/throwback phenomenon. These photos mean a lot to me because they help me remember connections to my childhood and my family members. Here’s one that my Aunt Kelly posted:

[removed 2/09/11, feeling shy at the moment]

According to the date on the back, I am about to turn three here.

As I write I am experiencing one of the things on my list of simple pleasures–hearing my cat, bell, snore. My turn soon.

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1/11: “I sent my friend Jenni a text asking for a writing prompt. She’s a sixth grade teacher and gives her students’ prompts for their journal writing assignments. She sent me two back: ‘What’s your favorite daydream? Or, what is the hardest thing about growing up?’ Those two things interplay with each other in interesting ways–my daydreams versus growing up. The hardest thing about growing up is figuring out where to focus my energies–what will have the most impact in terms of creating a more just, humane world and creating a sustainable world.”

1/12: “I am drunk right now. Perhaps I should write a poem about vodka tonics.”

1/14: Reflecting on #14 from my list of simple pleasures: “Sharing meals with friends and loved ones … I remember going to a (what I thought was fancy at the time) Italian restaurant with the cheer team I was part of/co-captain of in high school and expressing, for the first time that I can remember, my utter satisfaction with eating–with a meal. I think I said something along the lines of ‘I love food.’ I was so content. I remember some of the other cheerleaders kind of laughing at/being amazed by this statement. It is, however, completely true.”

1/15: Tweeting from LA CAN
“There’s nothing more basic than being treated decently and having a place to live.” ~Al @LACANetwork
“Thank you, Dr. King, for passing the torch to us.” ~Deborah @LACANetwork

1/16: Poetry prompt found online: “Write a poem that starts with a one word title, two words in the first line, three in the next, and continues by adding one word per line.”

***
Dinner
It’s Christmas
Waiting for sisters
Love by my side
They arrive with smiles, hugs
I have prepared an appetizer spread
Three cheeses, sun-dried tomato and olive tapenade
Also heirloom tomatoes, crackers, two kinds of bread
I am relieved when they find something they like
Peppermint patties procured for Kate lest there is nothing else
I watch, noticing that she also likes the tangerines and strawberries
The once picky Maggie eats olive bread, fresh mozzarella, and tries tapenade
So much to grasp and this is only the beginning of the meal
Tony plays music and video records me mashing potatoes and checking Tofurky
We steam broccoli, drink chocolate port, finally sit down for dinner
We laugh at the Tofurky which Tony has expertly carved
Everything isn’t for everyone but we all have something
Then we almost can’t decide on a movie
Us each dancing around our top picks
I am nervous and generally agnostic
Sherlock Holmes is the winner
During I cringe, laugh
Afterwards we walk
To lights
Unlit
***

It’s fun to use these prompts to practice writing, even if what comes from it isn’t, well, poetry.

On tap for the holiday weekend:
Dissertation writing
An additional interview for the make/shift roundtable discussion I’ve been working on

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Well, I’m doing it! I am writing my way through 2010, as resolved. Since posting on January 1st, I have written in my journal each day.

Some of the things I have written about are:
A list of things I want to do after I finish my dissertation
Associations that I have with the word “harmony”
Finishing one journal and starting another
Approaching old things with a new perspective
My thoughts on Christ
Dreams and dreaming
Exploring friendships that I’ve had over the years
A free write/poem about yesterday

And tonight found a prompt online: “List 31 simple pleasures. Every day for the next 4 weeks, write about one pleasure for 5 minutes.” I came up with a list of 48 and made myself stop there. I’m not going to write about each one for the next month as the prompt suggests, but may write on them throughout the year.

The goal for the coming week is to make some progress on my dissertation (so I can get to that list I talk about above!). I have made some significant progress on the dissertation this week though and went to LA CAN twice this week, but I need to write the dang thing!

I’m exhausted after a long week which was exacerbated by being woken up by my cat, bell, who needed to go to the vet this morning. She’s okay, but she really must stop eating things like strings and rubber bands and, in this case, ribbon from a holiday present. Before I go to bed, I’ll end with a random sampling of simple pleasures:

#8 walking or riding my bike along the ocean
#43 being inspired by amazing writers, poets, activists, organizers
#35 seeing a harvest moon
#25 eating popsicles on a hot day
#32 seeing my sisters and other loved ones happy
#11 drinking tea (even better with a friend)
#16 candlelight

Tomorrow I will be working on editing down an interview that will be featured in the next issue of make/shift.

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Christmas 2009.

The card says:
“Wishing upon a star … that your holidays are bright with joy!”

The not-so-fine print.
Before I open the card, Tony comments that by the handwriting it would seem that my mother was in a good mood when she wrote it.
Manic, I think (not fully trusting/knowing what to make of her bipolar “diagnosis”), but not necessarily happy.
I have learned to distinguish the tenor of her letters by how big and bubbly her handwriting is. The bigger and bubblier, the worse.

I don’t even get to open the envelope before she begins.
“I have already waited 2 long 4 u—I forgive the behavior but I don’t have to like it.”

Behavior? We have not talked for over a year. And I was the one who last initiated contact.

Inside:
“Christine,
This is the last communication I will attempt with u so far as I’m concerned you are rude, insensitive to others, unethical, etc. etc. etc. I wish 2 make amends 4 my (50%) part of whatever I may have done as I possess no short-term memory at all—only long-term
Get over yourself & your Southern California attitude—I have washed my hands of u—have one of your yuppie friends advise me of your death as I disown u & will only leave you one cent.”

Reading her words ripped me open. The cruelty threw me. I talked back to her:
What?! Are you kidding? Fifty percent of “whatever” it was that you did—I was a child, you were my parent, you were the adult, you were supposed to take care of me. Fifty percent?! And I’m not even letting the past get in the way of our relationship. It’s the way you continue to abuse me in the present that keeps me from being close to you.
My yuppie friends? My Southern California attitude? You don’t even know me. You don’t know me because you have no boundaries. Because you’re a narcissist. Because you would rather put me on a pedestal or, alternatively, imagine me a “bitch from hell,” as you once called me. (Do you remember that? It was a long-time ago.)
You’ll leave me a cent? That’s more than I imagined you would leave me. Last I knew you had no money.
(Not a judgment; just a fact.)
When did you ever own me?

My reply (also via Christmas card):
“Mom—
Funny, I had planned to send you a card with the following message: ‘I am appreciative of all I have learned from you.’ That remains true, but I thought I’d also enclose your latest communication since, as you say, you have no short-term memory. Perhaps reading it you will remember why I keep my distance and boundaries. Perhaps not. Either way, I wish you all the best.”

I responded within minutes of reading her letter. Put my response in the mailbox the next day. Mailed it off to her in care of some guy I’ve never heard of.

It’s been a week and my heart is still broken. It’s been thirty years and my heart is still broken. Not everyday. Not all the time. But right now, it is.

Part of me is ashamed to even put this out into the world. To acknowledge that this is my mom. That this is me. For so long I worried that I was “crazy, like her” or just like her, period. The rational part of me, the part that kicks in most of the time, remembers that what I really think is:
She did her best. (Do I really believe this anymore? I’ve been telling myself this for the last several years.)
There are lots of good things that I learned from her and from being her daughter; and those are the things to dwell on.
And I am not her. I might be like her in some ways, after all, I am her daughter. But I am not her. Not even close.

Sure, but tonight my heart is still a little worse for the wear.

Oh, and Jess wrote this amazing, thought-provoking-for-me-in-so-many-ways post a while ago and I finally read it today. In it (among so many other things) she discusses her relationship with her mom who, she writes, “I’m trying to stay connected with on some level, who I forgive for many things and appreciate for many things even as I keep deciding not to trust her, not to let go or get open with her.”

For most of the last decade, I have tried to stay connected with my mom on some level after not talking to her for about three years right after I graduated high school. But for now I am tired of doing the how-close-is-too-close dance. My calves are aching from “taking the high road,” as Babs put it. I may be stronger for it, but I am not a saint or a martyr. And I don’t aspire to be either of these things.

Luckily, I do have many much healthier relationships with people I love, including the other people I’ve mentioned in this blog—Tony, Jess, Babs. These are just some of the people I would vow to be there for through the good and the bad, through sickness and health (etc. etc. etc.!).

So, here’s to love and commitment.
And to telling the truth about our relationships.

Almost the new year 2010.

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