Thursday, June 2, 2011

Rapture and Recycling

Wild week: crazy day. Where to start! High winds and drought drove brush fires across New Mexico- and I passed great swaths of charred country as I headed for Amarillo. Move on to Joplin, which I drove by this morning. The highway near Joplin was teeming with trucks saying "Mobile Therapy", "Disaster Relief Team", "Help on Wheels" etc. There wasn't a healthy tree left along the interstate, as crews worked to clean up the uprooted, mangled, splintered remains of once lovely plantings. Rows of stumps, like the tomb stones in the national cemetery in Santa Fe, just wait by the roadside for- what? Chains and tractors I'm afraid. Rip them out. Start over. I have managed to pick a good week to drive thru tornado alley- but suddenly New England is torn apart. Springfield MA.? Not Springfield, Mo.? Bizarre. What's happening? Blooms of jelly fish wash ashore in Florida over the holiday weekend, stinging children and others playing in the sand and sea. 30 minutes outside St. Louis- in the homestretch for my motel- I started hearing this rising and falling hissssss- radiator? Oh hell. Over the hum of the a.c. and the book on tape I could hear it- and louder when I cracked the window. Damn. Pulled onto a side road, turned the car off and got out. Deafening. Cicadas! And let's not forget the forgettable non-Rapture this last week. Oops. Did it occur to any of those who had arranged care for the pets they'd be leaving behind when they ascended to the Celestial Inn and Suites- that they had not been wrong- that that was indeed the Rapture? And they hadn't been invited? Double oops.Okay, let's get real. Or at least really appreciative of what's on terra firma. For instance, this morning in Oklahoma City my motel was next to a Cracker Barrel Restaurant and Gift Shop. Ever been to one? While you wait for a table, you are stuck in the gift shop- and it is a fine place to pass 20 minutes. Or 5. I scored Green Tea bags for my sister- "Scripture Tea"- each bag comes with a bible verse. And a wonderfully tacky hand held, battery mic that lights up and illuminates your face in rainbow pulsating colors while you sing. (I know a little girl in Saratoga who'll be extremely happy!) They had Moon Pies, candy in vintage styled boxes, books on tape, and rocking chairs to sit in while you waited for your table...or you could buy one and strap it to the roof of your car. Then the high point of the day- bringing my beloved dog into the hotel tonight- to ascend to our own cloud # 206. Sometimes elevators don't phase him- but tonight- as soon as it began to go up- he went up on all his toenails and skated around like a spider with too much caffeine. Nearly wet my pants. Later I walked him around the little neighborhood behind the motel- and thought about my parents, as newlyweds, coming to St. Louis for Dad's first teaching job at St. Louis Country Day. The school occupied the land where the new airport is, so visual memories are buried. The dog and I passed rows of little bungalows, cheek by jowl, and it dawned on me that I was conceived right here- in Saint Louis! A few weeks before Christmas vacation 1951. What do you know! I don't think it means much- no miraculous conception or anything- but it was a nice way to end a week fraught with wind, bugs, tornados, stinging sea slimy-s, and raging fires. Brimstone it was not, but maybe an admonishment from the planet to behave ourselves. A new reader of mine, Blayney Colmore, wrote to me: "If we end up being a brief- if noisy- phenomenon in the geologic history of the planet, as hard-headed consideration might conclude, I wonder if consciousness may turn out to have been an unproductive and self-defeating avenue because it caused us to believe and act in ways that separate us from what we are irrevocably connected to." I agree- I have always assumed the earth would absorb and recycle us- as it does detritus of all kinds. A brilliant but nervous friend of my son's frantically asked his mother when he was five- "I need to know what comes after people!!!!! What comes after people??????" What did he mean? "Well- we know what came after dinosaurs- what comes after people?" Can't even wait and see! Meanwhile, we clean up the tornado damage, and dance with our dogs in elevators, and replant trees and crops, rebuild our barns, bury our dead, drink Scripture Tea (while giggling), learn how to use less and give more, bow to our neighbors and bow to your corner. We keep dancing. Perhaps most of all- be ever so grateful to be conscious for this experience- and at least try to live consciously. Maybe I'll get to come back as a praying mantis.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Adventures of the Wandering Toast

An explanation: About 5 years ago I was at a weekend meditation retreat in Connecticut. The teacher, Doug, comes from Boston a few times a year and his students in the area gather for the weekend to sit and to listen. In my case, also to squirm, itch, be impatient, cranky, and wonder why I was doing this. I am not one of Doug's regular students. I went on invitation of the host- and it was held in her wonderful, rambling farmhouse.

I meditate at home, sometimes in my local group, and while the rigors of sitting for a weekend with a teacher might serve me well....well, I don't like it much. But there was a bright spot that weekend. The routine was to sit for 40 minutes, then walk- very, very slowly around the room a few times, then move to a fast walk, then back to slow, then back to sitting. The room we were in was also the library- with a huge wall of books. The host was a buddhist, an Episcopal minister, therapist, traveler, an extraordinary gardener, and fabulous cook. Her library reflects all of those interests, organized by subject, then alphabetically.

During a slow walk section of the morning, as I passed the books, my eye caught the title The Wandering Toast. Then I'd moved past it, but was left wondering- was it a travel book on bread in foreign lands? A cookbook on all the things you could do with leftover toast or stale bread? A recipe book on jonnycakes- and other carbs meant for the road? The rest of the circuit of the room, at a snails pace, was excruciating! FOCUS Eliza- follow your breath, forget about the book! The book on....unleavened bread that the Jews developed? I did truly try to be a good meditator... or I would try once I got my hands on the book during the break for lunch.

As we approached the bookshelf I was positively salivating with curiosity! Would it be in the cookbooks? In religion? In travel? We sped up to the fast walk and I missed it! ARGH! Let it go- I told myself. Behave yourself! Try to keep on track here- feel your feet, feel your breath, listen to the room, be here, now. I was useless.

We slowed down again in time for me to non-chalantly scan the books as if I was just stretching my neck.......The Wandering Taoist.

Ever try to restrain belly laughter? Forget about giggles. It was worse than being in church as a kid, or watching a classmate sneeze milk out their nose in the lunchroom.

Taoism is about balance: yin and yang, life and death, darkness and light, joy and sorrow. There is peace when there is balance between the yin and yang. Well, I was beginning to see that The Wandering Toast had saved me from taking myself a little too seriously that weekend. My son Dave told me I am not really a buddhist- I'm a Taoist. I think he's right. In fact- I think I'm the Wandering Toast!

Last night I went to a party in this warehouse here in Santa Fe with my friends Bill and Helen for some great barbecue. Helen runs a terrific used bookstore, and Bill is an artist. He's in his 80's, and wheelchair bound from polio- but it doesn't stop him from engaging with life in a big way. The warehouse is owned by Pablo and his wife. He restores cars and motorcycles, and he rides a big trike. The yard around the place is a graveyard of old cars and motorcycles. Pablo's wife designs and makes the clothes for the Bishop of Santa Fe. Her sister Pia looks like a rocker, and designs religious jewelry. Lots of bikers at this party, an enormous (6'6", 280 lbs?) bagpiper from Boston, another couple learning to play the pipes, an older gay couple from across the street, the three of us, some other couples, and the most beautiful Spanish woman I've ever seen and her husband. A rather astonishing mix of lovely people.

Somewhere along the line Pablo has collected a bunch of wheelchairs. The party game of choice for these folks is wheelchair limbo. For the record- Bill thinks this is hilarious, tho he doesn't participate. The bar they go under is metal- none of the light bamboo stuff. Balancing on the 2 big wheels, they inch forward under the bar- scooting their butts forward as the bar gets lower so they can tip back farther. Then they do it in reverse- approaching backwards. Gotta do it both ways. Lots of wipe outs. Lots of applause and laughter. The other ongoing game was that stacking game with blocks- where you remove one block and place it on top. Again- lots of wipe outs, lots of applause and laughter. Lots of balance.

We went back to Helen and Bill's around 11, and watched this dvd on Tony Bourdain's visit to ElBullie- the famous Spanish restaurant, whose chef Bourdain has always made fun of- Ferran Adria- "the Foam guy". We finished the evening watching Tony totally succumb to the extraordinary talents and inventiveness of a chef who mixes chemistry with culinary arts- the moment with memory.

What a night. Talk about balance. Talk about fun, food, friendship, laughter. The Wandering Toast is happy. A little hung over...but very happy.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

When I was a young girl, I had me a spaceman

There's a Bonnie Raitt song going thru my head- "Angel From Montgomery"- great song- go listen. I'm on the road again, between NY and New Mexico. Last year at this time I was packing up in Santa Fe to drive back. Anyway, when I was 19, I had me a spaceman. The first real love I had was with a man about a decade older than me- an artist. I was thinking about him a lot today. He was "a free ramblin' man" as the song says. We rambled around the country together that summer, in an old VW van of course- it was 1971. He was one of the early video artists, and was also a great observer and appreciator of rural America, its people and their peculiarities. Ace Space Company was the name of his artistic venture. He spent his too short life telling stories about his travels in a brilliant piece of audio/visual performance art called "Next Exit". He graduated from the VW camper to a Dodge van, and moved on to a series of larger and larger RVs that housed his recording and performance equipment, his guitars,and whichever of his friends were sharing the adventure with him just then. For awhile he did a Video Postcard segment for some national TV weekend show- where he'd do "postcards" on alligator wrestlers, people who built their house-castles out of bottle caps, or an old southern guy who was sure if he braided his beard just right...and pulled it up onto his head just soooo...that he could levitate. (He was still perfecting his technique). Ace could listen to these people, and draw their stories out of them with total seriousness and respect. As a result- he had the most wonderful, bizarre, unique friends all over the country.
Anyway, I was driving west today, and there in the sky above me were crossed jet streams- a big X. That'd be Ace saying "The I love the road." and winking at me- relaxing me for the next 2000 miles of road ahead. Why the X? Back in 1971 a Canadian (I think) artist wanted to do a piece involving correspondence art- then a big thing. He wrote to many artist friends, and asked them to send in a B&W contact sheet (remember 35 mm film?). They would all go into a book he would publish. Whether we were supposed to use an X somewhere, or whether that was Ace's idea I don't remember. Ace had background in graphics and book design (MFA Yale) so he meticulously planned out every shot on the contact sheet ahead of time- who would be in it, where, order of shots, etc. We cut out a 3' tall X out of canvas....the birth of The Amazing X. It appeared in many subsequent pieces and conversations over the decades. We took it around the then tiny, sleepy town of Crested Butte, CO. where Ace owned an old house, and photographed the X nailed to the side of the great breakfast joint in town- with the cook next to it, and at the leatherworker's, and with this person and that. I climbed over barbed wire into a field so he could photograph it with the cows. I photographed him at the town highway dept.- sitting in a front end loader- payload up- with the X limp across a heap of gravel. The contact sheet was brilliant. Ace did just the right amount of careful prep- but was willing to totally wing it if a better opportunity presented itself. He had good instincts for turning down the road less traveled when the planned road wasn't too interesting.
Me? I decided to spend the first night on the road about 10 miles off the interstate, in a sleepy little town. I admit- I have the misguided tendency to think that west of the NY/NJ metro area is...well, Kansas. This turned out to be a tiny town, all lush with spring, and too many churches to count. It also has the largest high end Outlet center I've ever seen. So much for this road less traveled! But the day was full of wonderful memories and an old friend smiling in his rear view mirror in the sky.