Friday, March 30, 2012

Lizard Brain Strikes Again

"I’m not a racist but…"
Any time you hear that opening (and unfortunately, I have) you can be assured that person is a racist. No one admits to it. Not the tea party people with their hateful signs, not the elected officials who send out racial slurs in emails and call them harmless jokes. And many of those are the same people who justify the senseless death of Trayvon Martin. “I’m not a racist, but when someone goes walking around late at night wearing a hoodie, looking suspicious…”

No matter how it is denied, racism is alive and well, and in fact, it is thriving in the lizard-brain.

Let me explain what I mean by lizard brain. The basal ganglia, termed “the Reptilian Complex” by American neuroscientist Paul Mc Lean, is the most base and simplistic part of our brain. This structure is shared by reptiles and birds, and was probably all we had before we evolved. Mc Lean theorized it was  “responsible for species typical instinctual behaviors involved in aggression, dominance, territoriality, and ritual displays”. We are all capable of operating from this lowest functioning part of our brains. We are also capable of functioning higher.

In our lizard brain, we are fearful and territorial. Advertisers know this. Media knows this. The Pharma industry knows this. Politicians know this. They push the fear button to keep us following them like zombies.

In our lizard brain, we are tribal. We attack people at sporting events. We fear people of other races, religions, socioeconomic standing. We move away to gated societies to keep “the others” out. 

In the military, they train soldiers to kill by making the enemy subhuman - “the other”…the “one you should fear”. It’s how Hitler was able to convince German citizens to look the other way while he committed genocide.

The vitriolic right-wing has done a bang-up job of making our President “the other” - “the one you should fear”. They appeal to uneducated, unworldly people, and go straight for the lizard brain. He is a Muslim. He is a Kenyan. His birth certificate is fake. He pals around with terrorists. I mean, really, when has any other president been subjected to such nonsense? Being called a LIAR in Congress? Having a congresswoman angrily point a finger in your face?

Let’s call it what it is. He is BLACK. And the vitriolic right wingers are sending the message: Watch out white people, for President Obama is “the other”. Its this kind of racism, directed even toward our President- the most powerful leader in the free world- that filters down to a young kid like Trayvon, walking home with some Skittles in his pocket.

Its no wonder that citizens who watch FEAR news all day long are feeling threatened. Their lizard brains are conditioned to fear the other, to protect themselves. I wonder what cable news Zimmerman follows. I think I can make an educated guess…

The only way to free ourselves from this hateful way of being, the only way to stop more innocent children from being senselessly shot down in the street, is to evolve. We must open our minds and listen. We must educate ourselves and others, to move our thinking to a higher place.

The next time you get one of those hateful, bigoted emails from your weird uncle, just remember, he’s coming from his lizard brain. The best thing we can do for Lizard-brain is not to engage with him or get angry (that’s where lizard brain thrives) but instead to expose him to something different (beauty, culture, love) that can only be processed in a different part of his brain.

When he makes a hateful post on your facebook page, post a picture like this on his:

It’s up to us to rise above our lizard brains. We have to be the ones who educate. Be the ones who encourage tolerance. Be the ones who put positive, enlightening information into the world every day.

And whatever we do, we can’t make lizard-brains our “other” – the ones we should fear, because then we are operating from our own lizard brains.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Writer's Block

Yep. I’m having it this week.  Since I don’t seem able to write around it, I thought I’d write about it.

When writer’s block strikes, I, of course, panic. “Oh my God, three days and all I’ve eked out are a few lousy paragraphs- and not even good ones. I have friends who write books in a month! I’ll never finish this book!”

Then I decide to spend the time editing my book instead, and suddenly, what I felt great about a few weeks ago, now reads like crap that no one will ever buy.
That’s when I know it’s time to “step away from the manuscript.” Seriously, just slowly back away…

I have good days - yes I do - those oh-so-sweet days when my mind is bursting with poetic phrases and deep insight. And on those days, I write. I do not answer the phone. I do not answer the door. I let the dustbunnies pile up. If the cat pukes, I leave it there until the muse passes. I reap that harvest, baby.

And then comes the dry season, when there is no harvest left to reap. Not that I don’t beat that dusty barren land for any sign of life…until I regain my sense and recognize it as an exercise in futility. At that point, I turn the proverbial soil (do laundry), chop wood (clean out my closet), fertilize the fields (read great books, have a long inspiring conversations with friends) and trust that the rains will come and something will take root and eventually, yes, I’ll write again. And the funny thing is…all of that is part of the writing process. Some of my best ideas have come to me while vacuuming, driving, hiking. Someone once asked Arthur Miller if he was currently writing a play. His response was, “Probably.”

The point is, I can’t treat my creative muse like an old work mule, cracking the whip over its head. I have to give it time to rest, ruminate, dream, reflect. And there are some chapters in my book I haven’t been able to write because, honestly, I’m just not evolved enough as a human yet. I have more growing up to do, more insight to gain.

I have to wait.
And trust.
And seriously…who likes either of those options? 

But just because I can’t see it, doesn’t mean a seed isn’t taking root underground right now. I can’t force inspired writing any more than I can force a flower to bloom. It unfolds in its own time.

That’s really a pisser, isn’t it?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Miracles in the Darkest Moments

I’m keeping God and the angels very busy with all the prayers I’m sending up these days.

I’m praying for my stepmother Dawn, who has surgery for colon cancer next week.
I’m praying for my sweet friend Anita, whose body went into toxic shock last night.
I’m praying for my Aunt Laura, who just had surgery for breast cancer.
I’m praying for my daughter in law Aya and grandson Ayumu to come home.

And in the middle of all this grief and darkness, I spoke to my mother for the first time in ten years. It was a peaceful conversation - an attempt to heal.
It was nothing short of a small miracle.

Once again, I find miracles in the middle of mayhem, and wonder if they could occur any other way.

It’s not as though Moses was hanging out with some friends one day, drinking wine, and said, “Hey you guys, wanna see a cool party trick?” - then parted the Red Sea. It’s always at the darkest moments that miracles occur.

What I am trying to learn now is not to fear the dark moments, and instead, to trust.
To trust that there will be good somewhere within.
To trust that some how, some way, all of the pain will be healed.
To trust in goodness, and love.

These simple things I know -  every bloom that falls off the vine will return again when the season is right, and the sun will rise every morning now matter how pervasive the darkness.

This is the hope that sustains me.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Spring Cleaning My Life

This is the current state of my closet. Some might call it a cry for help.

If the condition of my closet, or my purse, or my desk for that matter, has anything to do with my state of mind, then I clearly have some work to do.

Spring is the perfect time to re evaluate and reassess. It’s a time of new beginnings, a time of rebirth. It’s time for me to do some serious Spring cleaning, and I’m not only talking about my closet.

It’s time for me to clear the clutter, to let go of things that no longer serve me
To prioritize what matters
To take proper care of the things that I value
To honor my own space

It’s time for me to clear other people’s “stuff” out of my closet.

It’s time for me to see myself as the woman I am. Some of the things (clothes, ideas) that used to fit me, no longer do. I have to accept the size I am now.

It’s time to step into my own shoes, and let go of the ones I've worn out.

This closet is just a reflection of the clutter in my mind, and all the troubles I’ve been holding on to. I know an inner and outer Spring cleaning will do me good. I’ve often found that clearing out clutter in my home brings simultaneous change in my life, and creates a vacuum for new things to appear. Like when I take several boxes to Salvation Army and come home to find a random check in the mailbox, or a package from UPS containing something I really wanted.

Spring is on its way, daylight savings time begins on Sunday, and I am ready to embrace a new beginning. Today, I’m cleaning my closet. At least it’s a start…

What happens for you when you Spring clean, and let go of old stuff? I’d love to hear your stories…

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sluts Vs. Hate-Filled Windbag

Sandra Fluke bein' all slutty.

I’ve been reading all of the banter on social media and TV regarding the latest Rush debacle – his calling Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” for wanting women’s contraceptive methods covered by insurance. Saying he wants her sex acts taped and posted on the internet so he can watch.

Is anyone actually surprised that Limbaugh is a hate-filled windbag? He always has been, most likely always will be, so why should we even pay attention to him?

In my view, Rush Limbaugh is a sad, sad man filled with anger and resentment. I mean, look at the guy. He’s morbidly obese, and addicted to Oxycontin and Viagra (which his insurance most likely pays for). He’s been married four times- and no kids, by the way, so according to his theory, either all four of his wives were contraceptive-usin' sluts, OR, they were so repulsed by him they never let him touch them. Or he ran out of Viagra.

My prediction? Rush is doing a slow-motion fall onto his own sword, slip-sliding his way toward a full-tilt meltdown.  One day soon, he’ll be banished to the internet like Glenn Beck, or pitching a reality show like Palin.

But most of us really, really want him to go away now, and the thing is…we could actually make it happen. In the battle of Sluts Vs. Windbag, we have the advantage.

We’re standing in front of the Wicked Witch with a bucket full of water, people.
We hold the power to make Rush what he fears most….

We could stop quoting him, stop showing clips of his radio show all over television, stop talking about him altogether.

Instead, we could raise our own voices, and speak up for what we believe in. If more and more of us do that, we will drown him out.

It just may be Rush is one of the best things that ever happened to us contraception usin’, book-learnin’, voice raisin’ sluts.  Because of him, many of us are speaking up, and our voices are being broadcast around the world.

And he thought he was belittling us.
Oh, snap!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Love is a Risky Business

Love is a risky business. If you’ve ever opened your heart to another person, chances are you’ve been hurt. I know this, and yet I knowingly take the risk again and again. I’ve had friends and family chide me for it- saying I’m reckless, saying I have to protect myself. But I don’t want to protect myself from love.

And now, once again, I’m nursing a broken heart.

This is how it happened.

In the Fall of 2009, Troy and I had just gotten back from celebrating our 20th anniversary in Jamaica, our daughter Cristen was beginning her promising career in the music industry, our son Taylor was thriving in college, and Evan was busy learning the countries of the world. Everything in our lives was going as planned. We were peaceful and happy, our proverbial ducks lined up in a row. Ha.

One night that September, with tears in his eyes, Taylor said he had something to tell me. I already knew. His girlfriend was pregnant. It’s one thing to have your college-attending son deliver this news, quite another when the girl is a Japanese exchange student, who speaks little English, is here on a temporary visa and, by the way, had just lost her student housing and had nowhere to go.

So we took the risk…we opened our hearts, our lives and our home to a little pregnant, scared, crying, puking Japanese girl who hid from us in Taylor’s room all day.

On Valentine’s Day of 2010, with only three weeks to plan, I threw a wedding for my son and new daughter-in-law Aya. Over time, I built a bond with Aya. I took her to doctor’s appointments and talked her through her fears of birth and parenting. I introduced her to comfort foods- she loved my homemade macaroni and cheese and especially my brownies. She made us sushi and udon noodles and Kim-chi dinners. We introduced her to Thanksgiving and American Christmas traditions, which she happily embraced. We did art projects together. We lived peacefully together and awaited the baby’s birth.

Ayumu Cameron Dexter came into our lives on June 1st, 2010, changing our world forever. Once again, I was rocking a baby to sleep on my shoulder, carrying a little one around the house on my hip. Ayumu called me ‘Baba”. Aya and Taylor nicknamed him Baba-boy, because he was so attached to me.

In the mornings I would hear his little footsteps running across the hardwood floor, my bedroom door would fly open and he’d pounce. He loved to jump on my bed, count to three, then dive bomb on top of me. In the kitchen, he would push me away from my cooking and stand on his tippy-toes, arms stretched upward to be held. I’d pick him up and his whole body would relax into me, his head nestled into the curve of my neck. I would carry him around on my hip as I did chores or had phone meetings. He watched as I sat with my friends around the dining table, telling stories and laughing, and then would climb up on a dining room chair and tell loud animated stories in jibberish, emulating us,  cracking himself up. God I loved that.
He and Evan would chase each other through the house squealing with laughter. He loved to climb into bed with Evan as I read him bedtime stories. He loved to use our cats and dog as pillows. It would make me smile to see him asleep on Taylor’s chest, or playing guitar with Ojisan (Troy).

I loved when Aya would sit on my bed with me and talk until late in the night. I loved that every time she bought Ayumu a new outfit she would run into my room to show me. I loved doing arts and crafts with her, and taking her for knitting lessons and jewelry making lessons.

This house was full with chaos and music and two women cooking in the kitchen and dogs and cats and lots and lots of love. I was so happy. I thought we all were happy.

And then, just before Thanksgiving, Aya told me her Grandmother was having heart surgery, and that she’d be taking Ayumu to Japan to visit. I was fine with that, until she told me they’d be gone three months and would miss Christmas with us. But I understood her reasons, and had to adjust.

In January, Aya wrote to tell me she didn’t want to come back. She was happy being home with her mom and Grandmother - happy to be back where everyone spoke her language, where she could fully express herself. Her mother and grandmother had fallen in love with Ayumu. She had health insurance there, and public transportation. Free schooling, free childcare. She felt free there. Even though she loved Taylor and all of us, the pull of home was stronger.

Taylor flew to Japan for three weeks in February to see his son and try to work things out with Aya. The three of them had pre-purchased tickets to return on Feb 9th.

I had been counting the days until February 9th, and so had Evan. He ran into my room one Saturday morning, “Mommy! Only six more days until Ayumu comes home!”
That’s when I had to break the news to him, the news I had been carrying heavy in my heart. Aya and Ayumu were not coming home.

She says she needs more time. She says she might be back this year. Maybe she’ll come back to Taylor and they’ll get their own place, maybe she’ll just visit. She doesn’t know.

Taylor is absolutely committed to raising his son, and told her so. But what if she never comes back? How do you arrange joint custody across the world when a round trip flight is $1500 per person?

Every morning I get up and pray. I have never prayed harder for anything in my life. I am calling on every angel I have, every ancestor in spirit. I have always believed that love could heal anything, yet Aya was surrounded with love in this home, and it wasn’t enough. How can that be? Is my theory about love wrong?

I worry about my son’s heart- so heavy a burden for someone so young. I worry about my husband who carries this grief so heavily. And my daughter Cristen, and Evan and all of my friends who took Ayumu and Aya into their families as their own. We are all hurting.

Ayumu’s high chair sits empty in my dining room. His toys are piled in the corner of the living room gathering dust. I can’t bear to look at them. My cupboards are bursting with Japanese foods and recipe books. Every time I open them I feel a kick in my gut. Troy and I have been living with this - this dull throbbing ache that has become part of our existence.

We talk about it late into the night. We might as well talk, since neither of us can sleep. Did we do the right thing opening our homes and hearts in that Fall of 2009?  We always knew this was a possibility. Were we foolish to risk getting hurt this way?

We came to the conclusion that even though we will never heal from this, we wouldn’t have done it any other way. Even though the grief is unbearable, I couldn’t imagine a world without Ayumu. No matter what happens, I am grateful to have had these two years raising him, and loving him.

I am hurt by Aya’s decision to stay, but I remember how hard it was to be twenty-two, to be young and lost. I know she is afraid and confused by her feelings. We all made impulsive decisions at that age. All I can do is to love her, and embrace her, and hope that the pull of her American family brings her back.

My precious angel
And I have to believe in my heart that somehow, some way, love will bring Ayumu back to us. The storm winds have been blowing hard in my life the past couple years, and yet, some beautiful blessings have come with them. I must learn to bend like the willow. If I become bitter and rigid, I will break. I want to believe in love, no matter how many times it hurts me. I want to let the cold harsh winds blow through me, bend me, change me. I want to believe.

Happier times:
Oji gives Ayumu a guitar lesson
Troy-san walks Aya down the aisle
Aya's birthday
Father-son tradition
Evan and "his baby", as he calls him.

Cristen and her nephew, sitting in the audience before one of Taylor's concerts

Stich makes a good pillow
Family time doing Christmas crafts
Christmas dinner 2010
Ayumu in his usual place, right on my hip.

Taylor and Aya's first dance.
My heart will not heal until we are together as a family again.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Magic of San Miguel de Allende

The sun was just rising as we rumbled over dusty desert roads, finally pulling into the historic town of San Miguel de Allende. Uniformed children stood in the hazy fog of dawn, huddled along deserted roadsides, as they waited for the schoolbus.

The desires of my heart had brought us here. Amy and I had the good fortune to be on staff for the San Miguel Writer’s Conference, teaching writing workshops throughout the week- something I had always loved to do, something I knew I would come back to one day. And now, I felt I was home.

The van rattled down a narrow lane, coming to a stop in front of a rustic wooden door. We rang the bell, having no idea what to expect. When the door opened, we had to catch our breath. This palace would be our home for the next seven days, and Troy and I would have our own four-bedroom, two-bath guesthouse.

After unpacking, I stepped out onto our second story terrace just as a brightly colored hot air balloon floated overhead. The sky above was pinkish, dotted with gray clouds. The air was cool and balmy. I surveyed the magnificent courtyard below.
I had to pinch myself.

Every morning in San Miguel de Allende, Troy and I awoke to the soft, resonant chiming of church bells. We met our host, Leslie, in her cozy kitchen, where she served us hot coffee and fresh Mexican papaya with yogurt and honey, her dog Hector snoozing nearby.
  We’d chat over breakfast and plan our day, while hummingbirds and a particularly industrious vermillion flycatcher flitted about in the garden.

We walked to “work” every day. The cobblestone streets were so narrow you brushed shoulders with people you passed - not like Los Angeles or Manhattan, where you avoid eye contact at all cost. In San Miguel, everyone smiles and says Buenos Dias. I have never been in a place that felt happier. All the locals told me, “San Miguel is magic.” I believe them.

The days were spent swimming in a sea of brilliance. Amy and I taught workshops in the early part of the day, then were free to attend the classes and workshops of our colleagues, or perhaps attend a lecture with Naomi Wolf, Margaret Atwood or Joy Harjo. In the evening we were treated to a play (That Dorothy Parker, written by and starring my new friend Carol Lempert) or comedy with Second City’s Scotty Watkins, or Naomi’s film Protest 101. The conference was awash with opportunities to nourish my mind.

Everyone I met in San Miguel was a writer, artist, philanthropist, musician, therapist, filmmaker, winemaker, wine-drinker – the point is, all following their calling in life. The energy is palpable in a town filled with happy people. It is alive, sparkling, vibrant.

La Parrochia
As faculty, we were hosted at lavish brunches, nightly fiestas, and an enchanted cocktail party that I will always remember. Walking up the long candle-lit staircase of the historic Sierra Nevada Hotel, my knees buckled when we got to the top. The rooftop was lit by hundreds of candles, and overlooked the soft yellow light of the twinkling town. The gleaming spires of La Parrochia stretched upward like a beacon into the inky black sky. A sultry seniorita sang passionate Spanish lovesongs accompanied by flamenco guitar. I danced under the stars with my husband, deliriously happy. And just when I thought it couldn’t be any more perfect, fireworks spontaneously lit up the sky.

Other nights were spent at Jody’s table. Jody Faegan first envisioned this writer’s conference years ago, and brought her dream to life (Later, she moved back to the states, turning it over to the very lovely and capable Susan Page). Each evening, Jody extended us the invitation for margaritas and home cooking in her beautiful historic house, which 400 years before, had been the town orphanage. There was a group of 10-12 of us who’d gather each night, to fill our bellies and replenish our souls with great food, sweet wine, and the world’s finest tequila.

Around Jody’s table, you’d hear laughter, stories, confessions, political discussion, music, hopes, plans for the future. Souls were bared, dreams were encouraged, even a few tears were shed here and there.

Late at night, Troy and I would walk hand-in-hand back to our palace along the glistening cobblestone streets, through the Jardin, past the softly glowing spires of La Parrochia. True San-Miguelians now, we smiled, saying Buenos Noches to all the people we passed along the way.

On the eighth day, we loaded our baggage in a van and headed for the airport. As if on cue, the skies over San Miguel flushed a dramatic blood-orange red over heather grey clouds. How appropriate, that we would be ushered in by dawn, and carried home under this magnificent sunset.

My week in San Miguel was filled with synchronicities and tiny miracles. Life changing events occurred that may take me some time to unravel. My soul was replenished, my heart transformed by the people I met, and every experience I had.

Troy and I will be counting the days until we return again to this beautiful treasure- this jewel in the crown of Mexico. Until then, I carry a piece of it with me – en mi Corazon.