A Lesson on Love, and Antilamentation

Show me love, show me life
Baby show me what it’s all about
Robyn

On the first day of the year in 2014, I learn, once and again, what Love means.

It started with an innocuous hike.

David and I decided we’d spend New Year’s Day exploring Point Reyes, about 30 miles north of San Francisco. In the spirit of easy-like-New-Year’s-Day, we took our time and got to the trail head bright and not-so-early at 3pm (more like 3:15). After getting lost, five steps from the parking lot (“We are such sad city people, Nikki”), we were finally on the right trail at 3:30, stoked to catch the sunset on the beach (we totally meant to get a late start for that!)

We took a 4-mile walk through the woods and onto the wet sand, marveling at the coastline and history of the land (Point Reyes is beautiful, I recommend checking it out if you have the chance).

Then came a mini crisis.

After getting back to the car at dusk, I discovered the 4 ounces of modern magic that is my phone was missing. The shiny new one I just got. Gone missing.

“Where was the last time I had it?” “When did I use it last?” “How could I have lost it?” A flurry of questions came to mind. A mixture of panic, grief, guilt, anxiety, and fear, along with the evening fog and chill, draped over me like a cape.

And guilt, especially guilt, took a strong grip of me. I felt like I had ruined a good day, and it was only the first day of the year. I felt rotten.

“What do we do now?” “What do I do now?” It was dark. The sun had set and temperature had dropped. We were ready to head home for dinner. The optimism that maybe, *just maybe* my phone was somewhere on the trail, and that if I just walked back, I would find it, was mixed with the fear of making my partner upset with me, amplified by my conflict-avoidant tendencies.

We took a deep breath, discussed our states of mind, mental and physical status, and decided to walk back “for ten minutes”, which turned out to be a full walk back to the beach.

“Come on iPhone, please be on the trail,” I silently prayed as I held his hand really tight to warm up our cold digits.

My iPhone, however, couldn’t hear my prayers. It was out of battery, maybe buried somewhere under the sand, or washed out to the Pacific Ocean, or maybe fell into someone’s hands.

“May they find it useful!” we tried to cheer ourselves with whatever altruism we could conjure up when the glimmer of hope faded away at the end of the trail.

On the walk back, we looked up at the wide open space above, ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the star-filled sky, and me silently looking for some divine intervention, (because, you know, the missing iPhone *might* fall out of the sky and hit my head at any moment, right?)

“I’m so silly. I’m silly Nikki,” I lamented. “No, you’re human Nikki,” David corrected me, and I could have married him right there and then. I mean, I *am* going to marry him. But I swear I could have grabbed some random stranger on the trail and asked them to witness our vows, except that we were the only ones crazy enough to be out stumbling in the dark (with the deers and foxes).

“We can hold a funeral for your iPhone,” David squeezed my hand tight, then he proceeded to sing to the tunes of the Heart Sutra, which he’d only heard once a couple days before. I busted out laughing, and he winked at me.

We drove back through the long windy roads of Highway 1, surrounded by seashores and rocky cliffs and giant trees. They all seemed to mirror my inner mental landscape.

I realized then, that all these things I do, all the yoga classes, the meditation, the writing, the reflection, the OCD swallowing of books on human neuropsychology and behaviors and communication, everything all boils down to one fragile and fleeting moment of what I do when things don’t go my way, when I feel the pain of loss, fear, hate, sadness, guilt, anger, and disappointment.

More importantly, I realized, that another human’s love and compassion can also teach me what all those books attempt to do, in the flesh, in real time. When all I want to do is go on a self-criticism pity party, another human’s open heart and sense of humor can help me learn to have compassion for myself. And that, to me, is Love in action, full stop.

Love is when another human does a hike twice with you, in the dark, and helps you realize that you need a better device-management pocket system, but won’t let you go into a self-blaming “I’m such an incompetent idiot that I can’t even keep track of a phone” monolog.

Love is when another human helps you see that there’s plenty of room to improve, and yet still holds the space for you to feel ok, to not beat yourself up for all your flawed human ways.

Love is when someone feels your pain with you, but won’t let you dump a basket full of fear, insecurity, guilt, shame, anger, sadness, frustration, etc., in a Vitamix, blend it on high, and down it until you’re nauseous. In doing so, they show you what love looks like, and teach you how to love, starting with yourself.

Last Sunday, in a Dharma talk at Green Gulch, Jeremy Levie spoke about the Four Immeasurables. He read a poem by Dorianne Laux called Antilamentation. It seems so apt right now, so, here’s to 2014, to more compassion—for ourselves and others—, more love, and more poetry. Happy New Year to you.

Antilamentation

Regret nothing. Not the cruel novels you read
to the end just to find out who killed the cook.
Not the insipid movies that made you cry in the dark,
in spite of your intelligence, your sophistication.
Not the lover you left quivering in a hotel parking lot,
the one you beat to the punchline, the door, or the one
who left you in your red dress and shoes, the ones
that crimped your toes, don’t regret those.
Not the nights you called god names and cursed
your mother, sunk like a dog in the livingroom couch,
chewing your nails and crushed by loneliness.
You were meant to inhale those smoky nights
over a bottle of flat beer, to sweep stuck onion rings
across the dirty restaurant floor, to wear the frayed coat with its loose buttons, its pockets full of struck matches.
You’ve walked those streets a thousand times and still
you end up here. Regret none of it, not one
of the wasted days you wanted to know nothing,
when the lights from the carnival rides
were the only stars you believed in, loving them
for their uselessness, not wanting to be saved.
You’ve traveled this far on the back of every mistake,
ridden in dark-eyed and morose but calm as a house
after the TV set has been pitched out the upstairs window. Harmless as a broken ax. Emptied
of expectation. Relax. Don’t bother remembering
any of it. Let’s stop here, under the lit sign
on the corner, and watch all the people walk by.

And here’s an image of one of the beaches at Point Reyes, courtesy of The Seattle Times, since all the photos I took are somewhere out there in the ether. May you find a good home, iPhone.

Point Reyes

Point Reyes

 

Baby, if you’re going to create

“–you know, I’ve either had a family, a job,
something has always been in the
way”

“Something has always been in the way.” This is the most damning thing to hear when you want to create, and you’ve got excuses. I’ve got excuses.

My story is the same as everyone. I’ve been working a demanding job. I’ve bitten off more than I could chew with my yoga training. I’m building a maximum viable relationship. I’m stumbling in the dark planning a wedding.

None of this takes away this relentless, insidious urge inside to make something beautiful, to write something revealing, to read something juicy.

“One day,” I think, “one day, I won’t have so much to do.”

Then, I’ll sit down with the most perfect 100% organic cotton bound journal with handcrafted recycled paper and inspirational sayings from dead philosophers and restart journaling, only *this time* it’s every day for forever, for real this time.

Then, I’ll take my latest and lightest and thinnest MacBook Air to the trendiest coffee shop and get an exquisite organic fair-trade cup of espresso with foam art made by the barista with a copy of “If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?” on the counter, open up Xcode and Photoshop and Coda 4 or 5 or maybe even 6 at that point, and make that one app I’ve been talking about since Ramses took over the Nile Delta.

Then… and then… and only then…

But, as LL Cool J says in Hey Lover, “It’s a fantasy, that won’t come true.”

So, it’s a tender reminder from Charles Bukowski: “air and light and time and space have nothing to do with it, and don’t create anything except maybe a longer life to find new excuses.”

air and light and time and space

“–you know, I’ve either had a family, a job,
something has always been in the
way
but now
I’ve sold my house, I’ve found this
place, a large studio, you should see the space and
the light.
for the first time in my life I’m going to have
a place and the time to
create.”

no baby, if you’re going to create
you’re going to create whether you work
16 hours a day in a coal mine
or
you’re going to create in a small room with 3 children
while you’re on
welfare,
you’re going to create with part of your mind and your body blown
away,
you’re going to create blind
crippled
demented,
you’re going to create with a cat crawling up your
back while
the whole city trembles in earthquake, bombardment,
flood and fire.

baby, air and light and time and space
have nothing to do with it
and don’t create anything
except maybe a longer life to find
new excuses
for.

© Charles Bukowski

Vulnerability and Creativity

“Imagine creativity and innovation without vulnerability. I’m asking you for a work product that has never been made before, that’s completely innovative, and I need you to be creative. And I need you to send it to a group of people, half of them are going to think it’s stupid and not going to understand it. No vulnerability there.”

Brené Brown – making the case for why vulnerability and creativity go together.

 

The luckiest

Floor lamp

Well I’ve been on the road, as you can see with the suitcase on the floor.

Tonight, as I sit here at the bottom of my bed, looking at my nearly-burnt-out floor lamp, laundry unfolded, by my side a half eaten banh mi because I pompously asked for it to “be drowned in Sriracha”, and paid dearly for it, I’m reminded of this poem by Charles Bukowski:

My doom smiles at me

there’s no other way:
8 or ten poems a
night.
in the sink
behind me are dishes
that haven’t been
washed in 2
weeks.
the sheets need
changing
and the bed is
unmade.
half the lights are
burned-out here.
it gets darker
and darker
(I have replacement
bulbs but can’t get them
out of their cardboard
wrapper.) Despite my
dirty shorts in the
bathtub
and the rest of my dirty
laundry on the
bedroom floor,
they haven’t
come for me yet
with their badges and their rules and their
numb ears. oh, them
and their caprice!
like the fox
I run with the hunted and
if I’m not the happiest
man on earth I’m surely the
luckiest man
alive.

Live in the layers

This morning I lazily opened up Dream Work, stumbled on the poem “Stanley Kunitz”, and a flood of memories came rushing in.

Years ago, on a very early morning–before dawn even, it seemed–my brother dropped me off on his way to the airport, and since he was short on time, he let me off where I’d make a short walk to my apartment in Lower Queen Anne by cutting through the Seattle Center and he can continue on out to the highway.

As I walked by an unassuming corner across from the Center House, I saw words etched into big pieces of polished stone, and that’s when I discovered the poem The Layers by Stanley Kunitz.

When I resumed my walk, these lines stayed on my mind,

Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.

I am not done with my changes.

Stanley is a pretty decent (read: crazy good) gardener, it turns out. In “Stanley Kunitz”, Mary Oliver wrote about discovering that “it isn’t magic”, and here she blasted her notion of him strolling about idly among the birds and the bees and the trees.

I see him on his knees,
cutting away the diseased, the superfluous,
coaxing the new,
knowing that the hour of fulfillment
is buried in years of patience–
yet willing to labor like that
on the mortal wheel.

Today, the image forming in my mind is a poet laboring away in his garden, “raking the trimming, stirring up those sheets of fire” patiently pulling weeds among the leaves and vines.

And speaking of gardening and my brother, this reminds me of a time when we saw Candide, laughing our asses off together and silently drove home together, me pondering on the last line of the play. Pangloss was philosophizing about sequences and possibilities of events in life, and Candide simply said, “We must all cultivate our own garden.”

Stanley Kunitz
by Mary Oliver

I used to imagine him
coming from the house, like Merlin
strolling with important gestures
through the garden
where everything grows so thickly,
where birds sing, little snakes lie
on the boughs, thinking of nothing
but their own good lives,
where petals float upward,
their colors exploding,
and trees open their moist
pages of thunder–
it has happened every summer for years.

But now I know more
about the great wheel of growth,
and decay, and rebirth,
and know my vision for a falsehood.
Now I see him coming from the house–
I see him on his knees,
cutting away the diseased, the superfluous,
coaxing the new,
knowing that the hour of fulfillment
is buried in years of patience–
yet willing to labor like that
on the mortal wheel.

Oh, what good it does the heart
to know it isn’t magic!
Like the human child I am
I rush to imitate–
I watch him as he bends
among the leaves and vines
to hook some weed or other;
even when I do not see him,
I think of him there
raking the trimming, stirring up
those sheets of fire
between the smothering weights of earth,
the wild and shapeless air.

The Layers
By Stanley Kunitz
I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.

When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.

Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!

How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.

Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.

In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”

Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.

I am not done with my changes.

True heroism

I’ve been mildly obsessed with this page for a few weeks. I keep it open among  20+ other pages, occasionally forget about it until I’m cycling through all the tabs, come across it, then I’d sit and stare at it for a few minutes, smiling.

It reminds me of a quote I heard once by Wendell Berry, an environmentalist and author, “The real work of planet-saving will be small, humble, and humbling, and (insofar as it involves love) pleasing and rewarding.”

"True heroism is minutes, hours, weeks, year upon year of the quiet, precise, judicious exercise of probity and care—with no one there to see or cheer. This is the world." – David Foster Wallace in The Pale King

“True heroism is minutes, hours, weeks, year upon year of the quiet, precise, judicious exercise of probity and care—with no one there to see or cheer. This is the world.” – David Foster Wallace in The Pale King

The Pale King quote is grounding, and quite humbling. What’s also neat, is the quasi-hidden navigation on the page. You mouse over the colored bars, and oh, look, more quotes with the same category tag! You mouse over the quote and get the posted date and other social media sharing options, which, at worst, are typically vomited on a page to accompany an article or image.

Does it work as well on other devices? Nope. It works ok, but not fantastic; it’s only optimized, and–to use a word my friend Brendan has been using lately to describe games and software–pleasurable on one medium.

But, does it matter? I would contend not. Not for what I use it for, and not for what I find it useful for. Sure, right now there are lots of healthy spirited discussion out there (and probably one nasty one) about responsive design, cross-channel design, build once run anywhere content, etc. etc. It makes good sense, yes. Yet, I find the discoverability and animation on this site so… what is a good word here, I think “delightful” would do it, yes, delightful, that I really don’t care that it doesn’t behave the same elsewhere.

So, sometimes, maybe, just maybe, getting one thing right for user satisfaction, in just one way, is sufficient?

Here, you play with it. http://exp.lore.com/post/21718540108/true-heroism-is-minutes-hours-weeks-year-upon

Rilke and the Greatness of Death

I have been on a kick, collecting poems about Death, not morbidly, but with a feverish yearning to learn how I can live each moment of every day with more fire in my gut and under my butt.

I fear that if I don’t do this, I will sloth around, wasting time, lamenting and whining like Arjuna before Krishna.

I’ve been through a few losses, small losses. Small as they are (in the sense that no one died a biological death), I feel the intensity of the emotion in my physical body.

It’s as if I’ve been thrown in playpen full of baby tigers and elephants, and even though we’re having fun (and they’re so cute), these animals don’t know how big and powerful they are, so things ache a little when we play around.

One night while going over old podcasts I’ve been procrastinating on, I found a couple nice Rilke poems/quotes.

“The great secret of death, and perhaps its deepest connection with us, is this: that, in taking from us a being we have loved and venerated,

death does not wound us without, at the same time, lifting us toward a more perfect understanding of this being and of ourselves.”

– From A Wild Love For The World, a conversation with Joanna Macy on On Being.

A few happy clicks and reads later (woohoo, the Internets!), I found Sonnets to Orpheus, and how I love the image of singing while climbing, a ringing glass that “shatters as it rings”. It reminds me of Leonard Cohen’s Anthem, “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

And whoa, I’ve never thought that I live “among the disappearing”, but hell, that’s what we are, transients.

Sonnets to Orpheus, Part Two, XIII

Be ahead of all parting, as if it had already happened,
like winter, which even now is passing.

For beneath the winter is a winter so endless
that to survive it at all is a triumph of the heart.

Be forever dead in Eurydice,
and climb back singing.
Climb praising as you return to connection.

Here among the disappearing, in the realm of the transient,
be a ringing glass that shatters as it rings.

Be. And, at the same time, know what it is not to be.
That emptiness inside you allows you to vibrate in resonance with your world. Use it for once.

To all that has run its course,
and to the vast unsayable numbers of beings abounding in Nature,
add yourself gladly, and
cancel the cost.

Otherwise

Yoga teacher Andrea Skelly read a poem in class last week, and I have been thinking about it a lot.

The poem is titled Otherwise, written by poet Jane Kenyon.

Otherwise

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.

All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.

I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.

But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

Happiness, and the Point of Friction

QOTD today:

The products we design are going to be ridden in, sat upon, looked at, talked into, activated, operated, or in some way used by people individually or en masse.

If the point of contact between the product and the people becomes a point of friction, then the industrial designer has failed.

If, on the other hand, people are made safer, more comfortable, more eager to purchase, more efficient—or just plain happier—the industrial designer has succeeded.” – Henry Dreyfuss, American Industrial Designer

Emphasis are mine. Something about the idea of friction is sticking with me. Also, I like this as an effect of a design: “or just plain happier”.

No, we don’t always have to merely be more productive or efficient. Happiness is a legitimate goal on its own.

Seattle for Amit Gupta

“I don’t know Amit Gupta” is a frequent preface in most posts about Amit Gupta and his fight against Acute Leukemia. What inevitably follows is a brief description of who he is, what he’s done, and most importantly, why the reader should care: this amazing human being needs your help–no, *our* help–to fight for his life.

I learned about Amit through that birdie Twitter, and wasn’t really sure what to do at first. He seems to be popular enough that Seth Godin and other luminaries are helping him fight the odds. If my list of People Big on the Internet is buzzing with #IswabbedforAmit, then what good am I to the cause? How much more help can I bring? I was chillin’ with that villain the Bystander Effect.

A part of me wants to jump on the bandwagon and retweet. Yeah! Retweet all the tweets! A part of me asked myself how effective that would be, and more deeply, it confronted my motives. Would I publicly voice my support because all the cool kids are doing it. Would I do this if it weren’t for all the Internet celebrities? It is, after all, an easy button to click or touch, and I’ll unlock that Groupie badge. Over-analyzing and Analysis Paralysis, yessir, I has it.

Something deep inside, thankfully, keeps it real for me. Whenever I see someone who might be South Asian (if they’re from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, or Sri Lanka), I keep wanting to walk up and ask if they’ve registered in the Bone Marrow Registry.

What this tells me is what The King would say: “A little less conversation, a little more action please”. A human out there needs help. I can do something about it. I don’t need a complicated decision tree to anal-yze that.

So, Seattle, grab your fleece and let’s start walking. I’d like to hold an event, a West Coast party similar to like the one happening in NYC October 14.

What does that mean? Glad you ask. I need help with:

  • If you have experience organizing a drive like this, I would love your help.
  • Getting registration kits and paperwork. (I have no idea how this works.)
  • Contact an agency, like SAMAR or AADP to help.
  • Recruiting as many eligible people to come
  • Securing a venue. It does not have to be a bar/restaurant.
  • Getting good entertainment. Do you know a good band? Are you in a band? Come play for us!
  • Getting food + drink
  • Getting the word out
  • If something like this is already happening. Let me know how I can help and we will have one big ol’ party.

What if I hate parties?

Screw parties! The most important thing you can do is get anyone you know, or suspect might be, of South Asian descent to get tested.

Also, it does not have to be a party in that boozing and groozing way. I can teach a yoga class and lead a meditation session. You come destress and maybe get your cheek swabbed. We all win. (Yes I made up “grooozing”, a cross of cruising and grooving.)

This is for Amit Gupta, and it’s also to spread awareness for the bone marrow registry. I knew nothing about leukemia, but after digging around the Internet, I’ve learned a few things that have propelled me to take action, such as the low chances of finding a genetic match for bone marrow if you’re a minority.

Most often, bone marrow transplant patients need a donor who is of the same ethnic or racial background. BUT, people of color are drastically underrepresented in the bone marrow registry.

Tragically, most adults and children from diverse backgrounds cannot get the life-saving bone marrow transplant they need because there is no match for them in the registry. More donors from diverse backgrounds are desperately needed. – swabacheek.org

So, to summarize:

  • If you are South Asian, please get a free kit in the mail, stick a Q-tip in your cheek, and return it.
  • Hell, you don’t even have to be South Asian to do it, here is the linky poo to the Bone Marrow Registry again.
  • Oh, hey, are you rolling around in Kyle’s money? There is a cost of lab tests and database maintenance that you can help cover.
  • If you’re in Seattle and willing and able to help me put on a little (or big) party of any kind, please write me at dragonc@gmail, or @dragonc on Twitter. Again, if you’ve done this before and can help, I would appreciate it so much.
  • Who the heck is this for again? Amit Gupta. From what I gather he is a pretty swell guy.
Let’s give a spit, Seattle.

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