Monthly Archives: May 2013

Pilgrimage: Journey and Destination

Wildflowers in Swedish Meadow by Circespeaks

Wildflowers in Swedish Meadow by Circespeaks

To see a World in a Grain of Sand and a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour.

–William Blake

The little flower carries a promise. It is not dangerous to see ones smallness. Small is not worthless….That which is small can bear the grand in the wonder that holds the infinite…

–K.G. Hammar

Pilgrimage in Sweden today is more focused on the journey than the destination, as was traditional in medieval times, and as is traditional in many Catholic pilgrimage sites, such as Lourdes, even today.

Pilgrimage is a common metaphor for the journey of every life, from beginning to end. Surely many of us are also more focused on the journey than the destination. Even those who have a very clear vision of what the ultimate destination following life on earth is, often agree that the right sort of journey will lead to the desired destination, even if the path is not clearly mapped.

It is at this point that opinions, religious and spiritual convictions, diverge. The journey that is sacred for one, is secular for another. In Swedish pilgrimage today, the distinction between the sacred and secular is not sharply drawn. Many of these pilgrims reject the language and authoritarianism of organized religion in favor of spirituality. Whether a Swedish pilgrim joins a pilgrimage through a tourist organization, an educational or cultural association, or a church, or because it is conveniently passing through the person’s hometown, the sacred and secular are brought together with every step of the journey. Though atheist pilgrims, and some agnostic “seekers” would not use the language of sacred and secular, pilgrimage is both for all. Pilgrimage takes place in the physical lived world, and is sacred, as in set apart from daily life and activity. Each footstep may be a lived prayer or a step towards improved psychological or physical health.

Ideally, we would all live each moment as mindfully as those on organized pilgrimage, but for those not devoted to the contemplative life this is not an easily achieved goal. Nor do all desire such a life. Leaping first and looking second may yield surprising benefits along with the possibility of risk.

Walking and running are not my usual forms of exercise, but the misty morning called to me. Once outside and in motion, I was greeted a woman holding a booklet in her hand. She was only momentarily distracted from meditating on booklet which appeared to contain Christian prayers or Bible verses. When I arrived at the track, I noticed a woman walking slowly yet speaking rapidly without pausing. Her words had the cadence of a prayer, perhaps from the Qur’an or other sacred text, perhaps a repetition of her own petition, or the recitation of multiplication tables. She spoke a foreign language, so I can’t be certain, but the latter seems most unlikely. She spoke with focus while walking, and stopped praying or reciting when she stopped walking. Though we may not think of short walks as pilgrimage, local pilgrimage has also always existed, especially for women, who could not leave the home for any length of time. Lunch-hour pilgrimages go forth from the Pilgrimage Center in Gothenburg, Sweden, and from many Swedish parish churches. We are each on our individual and communal pilgrimage. A common Swedish pilgrim prayer, the prayer of St. Birgitta follows. Rather than beginning by invoking “Lord,” which has an authoritarian, masculine, Christian connotation, simply substitute “Spirit Within,” “Earth,” “Gaia,” “Higgs Bosun Particle” or the name of an inspirational figure or religious leader of your faith.

“Lord, Show me Your Way, and make me willing to walk it.”

–The Prayer of St. Birgitta

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Student Driver: Keep a Safe Distance

My father’s old Rover, a British Racing Green stick shift sedan, was the car in which I first took to the road. It ended up in at least one ditch, but men in a pick-up winched it out, and the driving lesson continued. I must have passed the road test, of which I have no recollection.

I do recall that my mom and I were both amused and annoyed at having to show up at the insurance agent’s office to prove that I am female, my unusual name notwithstanding. The guy was probably looking for an excuse to lure my glamorous mom into his office.

Six months after the arrival of child number three in So Cal, where driving is unavoidable, my back & I were tired of jamming kids into the back seat of a sedan. The boys were pros at every bucking-bronco car-seat-spurning move. So I popped the baby in the stroller, walked down the hill to the local Ford dealer, and bought my beloved Ford Windstar minivan. It was “champagne” in color. Sure enough, I baptized its bumper at the local toy store the very next day.

Two coasts and many cars later, I never thought I’d be a student driver again. Just yesterday, I allowed “the kids,” as I now call “the baby” and his friends, to take my Acura to a folk music festival in PA. Their cell phones are all turned off, so life at the festival and in their new tent (early graduation gift) must be good.

Since my car was always the road trip, camping, ski trip, kid car, I have not driven a stick shift in many years. Today I asked my husband for a morning ride. When he was late picking me up, I decided the time had arrived for me to get behind that wheel. Five minutes later, I triumphantly texted a friend that I was ready for my yellow Lamborghini. You know, the one in the Bond movie.

Two hours later, I expected, but was not offered, a ride to an appointment further away. Relatively confident and a bit late, I took the shortest route. Traffic was backed up a busy, hilly street. Creeping stop-and-go traffic on a hill is not the neo-novice’s driving dream.

It started raining right before I left the house. Not knowing how to operate the windshield wipers and the bunny-hop jumps up the street should have been sufficient signs to plead for help. But I was in “I can do it myself” mode. And off I went. The traffic and “the fool on the hill” (Lennon-McCartney) were a problem. I braked and put the car in neutral, and was sure not to give it too much gas when it was time to inch up the hill. I forgot all about the hazard of sliding backwards into the car behind me, and very nearly did so.

At that moment, I earnestly wished to bring out my “student driver” sign, but I have none. Choosing between the lesser of two evils, I mercilessly rode the clutch, left leg shaking a bit, up that hill. I made it to my appointment, stalling out only once, in the destination parking lot.

I was a zippy, if slightly choppy, driver on my way home, but I was right: I can do it myself!

TSA: Warning or Endorsement?

Sometimes I think I have had more wardrobe malfunctions than Janet Jackson! Many thicker leggings have zippers in the back. This sounds sort of sexy, but ends up being somewhat silly. For the sake of comfort, I prefer underwear with soft, lacy edges instead of hard elastic.

One day, while wearing my zipper-in-the-back leggings, I needed to use the ladies’ room at the hair salon. I was easily able to pull everything down, but was unable to pull it back up. It so happens that zippers devour lace. There I stood with pants & panties, now an inseparable unit, down by my knees. I had to call for my stylist’s help. She pulled and tugged to no avail, and finally took scissors and sort of disentangled the two items of clothing. I went home with a sweater tied around my waist. The hook and eye at the top of the zipper was missing the eye, so was also absolutely useless. Since I had recently gained a bit of weight, the zipper rushed down at my slightest move. Only “the power of positive thinking” and mincing Geisha steps got me to my car without further humiliating incident.

Not long thereafter, skin-tight leggings, requiring no belt & little imagination–underwear issues or not–seemed ideal airport wear. I couldn’t hide a credit card, not even a dollar bill, under those leggings. Wasn’t I surprised when I was selected for a TSA pat down! “Miss”–or was it the offensive ma’am?–“I am now going to firmly press your buttocks and thighs with my hands.” Huh? That was an extremely uncomfortable experience, and I am not disconcerted by human touch in the form of innocent, incidental contact in crowded spaces. The TSA officer’s unwanted touch brought back a confusing childhood groping experience, also by a complete stranger. In preparation for Zen airplane mode, and so as not to overreact, I tuned out what was happening to me. Guess I will go with my favorite muu-muu next time. My goal is never to end up in a private room with a TSA agent!

My daughter, who has short hair, a very athletic body type, and gender neutral look, had a unique experience on her latest trip: she was first patted down by a “dude,” who determined that there was some gender confusion on his part, and surrendered her to a female TSA agent for a second pat down. This agent was a bit more reserved than the one who patted her down the time before. That TSA agent asked whether she wanted to stay in New York and go to a party that night.

Ah, professionalism. Signs announce that one-third of Transportation Security Administration agents have served in the U.S. military. So has the Ft. Hood Army officer allegedly running a prostitution ring. This man was a member of the “Ft. Hood Sexual Assault Response Team.” The Air Force officer charged just last week with an alleged parking lot groping held a similar position, also created to prevent sexual assault. I now think I have been misreading a TSA warning as an endorsement.

It Takes a Village to Grow a Gardener

Coypu Courtesy of Wiki: Eat Your Vegetables!

Coypu Courtesy of Wiki: Eat Your Vegetables!

While I was sitting on the porch this morning, broccoli seedlings at my feet, a man arrived to repair the crumbling porch steps. We didn’t discuss the steps much.

The experienced gardener generously complimented me on how my garden was coming along. I have two cherry tomato plants, not started from seed and confess that it is not a beautiful garden. We commiserated on the difficulties of starting bell peppers from seed. Out of two sets of ten seeds, started indoors, I have one minuscule pepper plant. First I overwatered, and then underwatered the second time I tried.

When discussing the tomato plants, I explained that the tomatoes doing well thus far are Golden Globe cherry tomato plants. I have never succeeded in producing larger healthy fruit. Also an organic gardener, my morning mentor gardener suggested that a bit of lime around the base of tomato plants would be helpful against blights. The horn worms require me to be more vigilant. That means spending more time outdoors in the garden.They always seem to find the largest, plumpest tomatoes, just as they are almost ready to harvest. When I find the happily munching horn worms, I just toss them along with their bounty into the ivy or compost pile.

Robert, my mentor gardener of the day, made me more consciously aware of gardening culture. He has thirty tomato plants in his garden, and donates the surplus to his neighbors and either VFW or VVA.

Not only was Robert happy to share expertise and encourage my novice efforts, but he shares the physical fruits of his labor as well. Are there grumpy gardeners? Thus far, my efforts begun in early April have demonstrated that not only plants are cultivated in the gardening process. So, it seems, are the people tending the plants and the soil they grow in. The smell of earth, the dirt under my finger nails, and caring for the little seedlings and tender young plants will, I hope, cultivate me as well and make me worthy of this giving, sharing sub-culture.

My past solo efforts have not been very fruitful. Maybe my efforts as a novice accepting help from the gardening community will, with persistence, bear enough ripe fruit for me to share.

Beware of a woman bearing summer squash! So far, I have three surviving plants. Four of eight seeds sprouted and one poor donated and transplanted seedling was mercilessly weed-whacked. So the world may not be overrun with summer squash just yet. Is it possible to grow too many peas? The first crop is sprightly and soon ready to flower. With success comes temptation and the desire for more. It often turns out that there is a clutch of baby bunnies being raised inside the garden enclosure, so planting more may stave off disappointment should Peter Rabbit and his family come calling.

In theory, I do not object to eating rabbit. Eating wild rabbits as well as the deer that are destroying our forests here would help our threatened Sourlands survive. Eating wild boar and nutria (large rodents also called coypu, species m. coypus) that are uprooting native plants and destroying swamps in Louisiana would also be a public service. In practice, all of the above critters are quite safe from my clutches or landing in my All-clad cookware. The pots and pans will be brimful with peas, carrots, and broccoli anyway!

Big, Yellow Bouncy Ball by Circespeaks

Big, Yellow Bouncy Ball by Circespeaks

True confessions of the erstwhile politically correct blogger: I love sports. I watch NBA basketball. At this very moment I am sincerely hoping that the Golden State Warriors do “mess with Texas” and the San Antonia Spurs and win game 5 of this playoff series. Once again, we have young, male, mostly black or brown bodies, as a commodity. NBA players are well paid, and probably doing what they love best, but these players are a commodity nonetheless. At some level we all are commodities. The Alzheimer’s patient in a nursing home, unaware of her surroundings, unable to recognize anyone, provides work for those who care for her. So, for now, I am just going to enjoy this game. Unrealistic role models another day.

Some confusion arose on Mother’s Day during game 4 OT of GSW vs. Spurs when someone wanted to know who the GSW are. Adding to the confusion, I explained in all sincerity that the “Garden State Warriors” are a lesser known NBA team. As Recently as Sunday, Oakland was firmly planted–as firmly planted as possible in earthquake territory–in California, the Golden State.

It is half-time now, and I am confident (sports talk…really, I don’t know, but the Spurs are in more foul trouble) that the younger GSW team will win. The rock is not the only bouncing ball I love. Why do I love the pink playground balls of my youth, fuzzy green tennis balls, and, yes, big, yellow bouncy balls? I don’t know. The inflated, thus spherical truncated icosahedron, the soccer ball, has played the biggest part of my life (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truncated_icosahedron.) Not the traditional “soccer mom,” I also played myself and have the scars to prove it. The ball I once loved best was a tiny red rubber football I named “Fifth,” my transitional object at the age of four or five.

The big, yellow bouncy ball was a recent purchase. I miss having little kids in the house. There are still big, bouncy boys, but they don’t go with me to Target and plead for toys any longer. This time, I thought, I will buy the one that I like best. It just so happened to be a very large yellow ball, shot through with streaks of orange. My favorite colors!

I brought home a toy for a two-year-old and suddenly every male who entered the home, from 18 to 50ish, behaved just like a two-year-old. Glass ceiling lamps have rained down, inflicting injury requiring Steristrips. A ceramic candlestick, the last of a wedding gift set has been twice-broken and twice-glued since I brought that ball home. It has narrowly missed paintings, a plaster cast bust on the fireplace mantle, and other objects more of sentimental than monetary value. Given all the destruction this object has wreaked, I probably should have taken it outside, or popped it, and put it in the trash. Common sense does not reign. Shards of glass and ceramics continue to rain.

Thanks to a successful ACL reconstruction, I had a great time chasing fuzzy green balls on the Community Park tennis courts today. A student of tennis in New Jersey (where adult soccer is not readily found) I too, have been commodified. The instructor was inspired; I was inspired. It was a good day on the tennis court. My favorite strokes, the backhand and overhead, were favored in today’s group lesson and play. It was magical. That last steal and transition basket was magical, too.

Despite the teachings of my late and esteemed Professor Otto Maduro, at times I do my best to misrecognize the power and politics behind sports, and to simply enjoy the human spirit and body in action. My mom and I also enjoyed bouncing that yellow ball back and forth. And we didn’t break a thing šŸ™‚

This Artichoke will Save the World

This Artichoke will Save the World by Circespeaks

This Artichoke will Save the World by Circespeaks

We, who are fortunate to have enough food to eat, spend time thinking about how that food arrives on our tables. We are also concerned about what it does, or at least should, in our personal views, consist. Two of my favorite bloggers have also written about the ethics of eating today.

What should we eat? How much control do we have over the means of production and the effect that food production has on both the people who grow and package our food and the animals we eat? These questions are examined today by both Rachel Marie Stone, (http://rachelmariestone.com/2013/05/13/eat-with-joy-justice/ ) and K Blake Cash, (http://kblakecash.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/vegetarians/ .)

Not only do veteran bloggers concern themselves with food and sustainability, but so do those whose livelihoods depend upon it. Without water, we can grow no food. The privatization of water is a disturbing subject. Water wars and concomitant environmental destruction in the U.S. West and in China, as well as ongoing drought in Africa and the Middle East are ongoing problems. That’s just a random sampling from the buffet, all selected from the too-little-water side, reflecting my San Diego roots.

So, what are concerned people to do? Cook and eat at home is generally rule #1. We typically follow this rule, but I wonder about economy-of-scale. If only we had communal cooking facilities. It could be my turn to cook the brown rice for many families this week, and the turn of another to roast vegetables, or…even make beef stew.

Composting, wasting little–depression-era style consumption of leftovers is practiced here–buying and eating less of the foods that put the greatest strain on the environment, and participating in a local CSA farm are among the things easier things we do.

Those who are not vegetarians (I am a former vegetarian, not so now) can buy and eat less meat. If available and affordable, it is better to buy pasture-raised meats and dairy products from grass, not grain-fed, animals. The best scenario is when these purchases can be made locally, so that the miles to market by the delivery vehicles and shoppers are minimized. Small, local, organic, community-supported agriculture is best. I usually shop at the local grocery store when not at the health food store.

When I enter the grocery store, a taxing flowchart weighs heavily on my mind. “No,” I remind myself, “it would be worse to drive fifteen minutes each way to shop in order to buy food from a corporate-owned grocer packaged in compostable containers.” When organic produce is wrapped in plastic on Styrofoam trays, I forgo organic in favor of less packaged produce. The Styrofoam is surely more toxic to the earth than whatever amount of pesticide and herbicide was applied to these two lemons/these two bell peppers is the answer I arrive at through applied calculus.

No. I don’t really do calculus, and though flow charts are pretty, and I am sure an engineer, or even I, could draw one of the thought process I go through in selecting every item I purchase, I don’t really have a physical grocery-item-selection flowchart. But I do obsess. It weighs on me and takes a toll. Shopping is no breezy task. The health of the environment rests heavily on my shoulders. I am of the “we are all complicit” school of thought. Furthermore, good intentions are just not working. New atmospheric carbon levels were just recorded this week. How depressing. And due to the storms and saturated ground, it was either two trees or our humble abode. The trees were coming down with or without help, so though it is always painful, I reluctantly gave the thumbs up to have them removed. The last time I resisted tree-removal too long it almost cost our neighbors their humble abode.

None of this is fun! Amazingly enough, I enjoy eating and drinking and don’t worry much about calories. Once the food is on my plate, I live for the moment. But I’m convinced that I take food far too seriously. How can that be? Without food, living things die.

The return of fun: I enjoy drinking local beer (and Belgian beer as well, so I am not a purist.) Maybe it is only a symbolic gesture, but I am once again starting a garden this spring. Thus far, the most exciting and bizarre thing I have going is one artichoke plant. The peas are doing beautifully, as is the Romaine lettuce. I promise not to deprive my local health food store of business, as the rabbits may eat it all, and I have no livestock on the premises, nor the ability to grow spices from the far east or tropical fruit–yet.

Maybe, just maybe, I hope, my little raised bed gardens will reduce the number of trips I make to the store and the packaging and transporting of our food. Why must every head of lettuce, cilantro, parsley, arugula, spinach, collards or kale have a paper and metal band wrapped around it?

Yes, I feel completely helpless regarding the building of dams in China and even more so about the draining of the Colorado River.

I’m certain that the rain that falls unbidden from the skies and my lone artichoke hold the key to saving the world. Then I recognize the risk that my artichoke, lettuce, peas, and rich soil of home-cooked compost are just lulling me into complacency, as my neighbor is lulled by driving her Prius or Tesla. Circe does lulling well, and the results are generally not gratifying. Are we all lulling one another?

The Raw and the Cooked: Boxers in Gym Class, Oh My!

The Raw and the Cooked, an iconic work in linguistics and anthropology by Claude Levi-Strauss, demonstrates the oppositional categories that we firmly hold in our minds. The mind/body conundrum is one with which I have wrestled a bit here. Why does this matter? Ignoring the entire grey scale, or should I say “brown and beige scale” in between black and white, is a relevant example. Categorizing people as either black or white, as either male or female, without recognizing intermediate positions, is a widespread form of social oppression.

Naked and covered, or naked and dressed, is also such a category. Why does this matter in the Western world? At a time when many of our young people are being criminalized for nonviolent, victimless crimes it does. The widespread incarceration, largely but not exclusively, of minority youth, damages the fabric of our society. No youth of any race, ethnicity or skin tone is immune to this all out for-profit war on the young. Privatized prisons profit from the captive bodies of our young people–primarily black and brown males–slavery of our times. A new book on this subject is The new Jim Crow : mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. (I am in line to borrow a copy at the local library, so have only heard parts and read reviews to date.) The facts, not just statistics, but facts, are appalling: we are the most incarcerated nation in the world. Not so many years ago, young male bodies were a commodity sent to Vietnam. Today, there is an illusion that those serving in the armed forces do so by choice: some do; some don’t. Those of low socioeconomic status may have no other option, and gamble with their very lives when they “voluntarily enlist.” The voluntary enlistment of guardsmen and women, forced to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan, is most certainly a fiction.

Today my subject is not quite as dramatic, but may, nonetheless, severely impact the future of a high school student. If hearsay is correct, a young man changing in the gymnasium of our public high school has been charged by police with sexual harassment. If these charges are upheld, he will become a registered sex offender. I know nothing about this student other than that he is 18, and will thus be charged as an adult. If he must register as a sex offender, his prospects of future employment, not to mention his reputation, are at stake.

This is the sort of overreaction to any minor infraction that makes it nearly impossible for young people to negotiate the world today. The offense this young man committed was not one of public nudity, but of changing from pants to gym shorts while wearing boxers. Boxers and men’s bathing suits cover the same areas of the body. Police involvement in a high school student’s efforts to get to class on time and be changed for PE so as not to lose credit, is yet another symptom of our societal need to control every minor nonconformist act of the young.

A recent New York Times article by Erik Eckholm reported that criminologists agree that police presence in high schools does not prevent crime, but does funnel many students into the courts (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/12/education.) Student behaviors typically brought to the attention of the principal or vice principal are now matters for law enforcement, and high school students are caught early in the dysfunctional loop of our criminal justice system.

My older son, who graduated from the local high school six years ago, reports that he routinely changed from shorts to pants in the gym, and that there was neither reaction nor repercussion. We must turn down the spotlights trained on non-violent behaviors of young people, occasionally trying to scramble over the virtual barbed-wire fence that education has become. We must save that energy to pursue corporate offenders whose actions have systemic, adverse social effects. There is no one too small to fail. Let us concern ourselves instead with the corporations above the law because they are too big to fail. Much effort is being put into anti-bullying campaigns, and rightfully so. These efforts are focused on preventing harassment and sexual assault among students. Yet adults, and a criminal justice system spiraling wildly out of control, bully an even greater number of young people.

Let us hope that the person “harassed” by the sight of a young man’s boxer shorts recovers in short order. Let us also hope that any person harassed by this sight never turns on the television, watches a movie, or opens a newspaper or magazine, wherein young men seductively attired in tight underclothing routinely appear. Let us hope that this nonsensical incident has already been laid to rest, and that this young man is able to pursue his post-graduation plans without interruption or blemish on his record.