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.


  1. That meditation experience was hilarious. And Santa Fe sounds fabulous and perfect for you. Good eye, Eliza.

  2. You know I'll be ...well.. not bi-coastal, but bi-mountain ranges? Sangre de Cristos and the Adirondacks. The best I can do seems like the best of 2 worlds- eh?

  3. LOVE this piece...your ruminations over the possibilities, the yearning to get to that spot in the library again, the frustration as you passed it, the wisdom and difficulty of letting that frustration go (and all within the space of turn around the room!) and then the memory of a milk-out-the-nose sneeze! All brilliant! A great piece.



  4. E, terrific piece!
    Might I make a suggestion? Submit it for publication, somewhere. I can't tell you how many times I have spoken to nurses who said, "Oh, I can't write, I don't know how to tell a story, I don't have any stories to tell." I'd usually meet them outside my "Writing for Professional Publication" seminar, which was full of docs and nurses who thought that they DID know how to write and/or had a story to tell, when in fact they did not. You do, on both counts! And it has an arc and a point, for double bonus points!
    So what you do is brain-storm all the alternative life-styles, Yoga, New Age, etc. mags, and then either look online for their submission guidelines or email request them. (It would be a good idea to check out said periodicals for style & content to see where "Adventures of the Wandering Toast" would fit best, but we'll discuss that later...)
    Got it? OK, once you've done that, drop me a line and we'll proceed from there.