Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Welcome 2014!

You gotta love retail during an American holiday such as Christmas.
The Trader Joe's parking lot, seemingly a suicide alley, an intersection with a 4-way stop light whose non-existent colors of yellow and red ensure horns blaring, folks dropping "F-Bombs" left, right and in between...
All in the name of love, caring and 3 wise men who gave frankincense and myrrh.  In turn, we give IPhones and Home Depot gift cards.  I know there's a connection somewhere and I know I'm supposed to get it, but I don't. I don't get the folks that say, "Keep Christ in Christmas" either. I did see a sign that read, "Keep Christ in Christian" and I get that. Seems the there is a great deal of amplification going on during the holiday season; dichotomies of caring yet irritability, giving yet expecting something in return. Emotions are flared. I read where folks used pepper spray at a Walmart, fought for the bargain on bath towels. I personally think there's an unspoken pressure to be kinder, gentler during the season and yet, that's asking the impossible and people become these human pressure-cookers. 

So, at times, the road is long, friends.
And often, it feels endless. Every damn step brings a minute mental battle and yet, we keep walking. Why? Well, the alternative sucks, that's why. And you know what? There are so many cool humans that I encounter day to day! They are the silent ones. The ones that are plain and ordinary to the common eye unless one takes the time to recognize their "Extra-ordinary."
And my friends, humbly I tell you this, I have done just that and these humans; these homo-sapians, are so beautiful. They are  exquisite and unique stories, waiting to be told.

2013 was a helluva year! It was jam-packed with trials, tribulations, pains, and extremely winding roads.  Yosemite-size boulders along the way.  Larger than life stumbling blocks, that made it hard, no impossible, to get out of bed some mornings for many of us. I have spoken to many a folk who bid "good-riddens" to 2013!

My solution to the whole damn fiasco, is to move on. With that said, I welcome 2014 with arms open wide and a bucket full of personal intentions!  They read, loosely, as follows:

One) Get my ass moving again! Climb a mountain, walk the beach trail, pop in one of my Richard Simmons dvd' s.
Two)  Continue to work, with diligence and commitment, on my writing and art forms.
Three) Let go of the past. (i.e. the yucky parts)
Four) Focus on listening and noticing.
Five)  Travel with my sweetheart.
Six) Breathe deeply and deliberately, especially when I find myself on those long, winding roads.
Seven) Love! Love! LOVE with all my heart.

And yours?  The curiosity is killing me, friends.
I learned, from a dear compadre, Shem, that making intentions for oneself, not just at the start of a new year, but regularly, is a very healing and positive thing to do. Not resolutions. They seem to be more firm and concrete, with an expected outcome. Not goals. Not set-ups to fail... But intentions.

intention |inˈten ch ən|noun1. a thing intended; an aim or plan she was full of good intentions [withinfinitive the Ukraine and Kazakhstan have both declared their intention to benuclear-free.• the action or fact of intending intention is just one of the factors that willbe considered.
2. Medicine the healing process of a woundSee first intention , second intention 

I personally like #2.Medicine. The healing part of a wound. I feel as if I should ponder that second "Webster" because isn't that why one would offer up an intention in the first place? To heal. No doubt, the world is in desperate need of it. No one can deny that. But, I propose to you that we each need individual healing as well, and perhaps that's a very good place to start.  The "wounds" of our childhoods, our recent spats with friends, family members, the sickening news story you heard on the radio that you can't let go of, the child being yelled at in a parking lot, the words that regrettably came gushing out of your own mouth, the lies that have been told...All these and more have left our hearts wounded.  
If you think of a literal wound to the skin or bone, the healing begins with surgery or medicine or herbs and fresh air.  But what about the wounds of the heart? They need medicine too.  Of course, setting an intention might not bring quick recovery.  But not setting an intention has zero chance for healing.

   Intentions toward others can bloom from a very pure and noble place, yet bring unexpected results.  Here's a Christmas story...     A close friend of mine shared a very personal account with me over breakfast a few weeks ago. The story has yet to leave my thoughts. With Christmas approaching, while serving in Viet Nam, he decided to bring gifts, a Christmas tree, the festivities of his own childhood, to the people there. His intentions were pure and good.  As he gathered everyone together to distribute the gifts, two things happened that cut so deeply into his selfless heart, that I do believe, to this very day, he ponders his good intentions.  The gift-giving brought jealousy and competitiveness, for the first time, amongst the parents; all fighting one another for the best gift for their child.  And outside the church, where the gathering took place? Poor children stared in, through the open windows, with sad, hollow eyes at a sight they had never seen before. For the first time in their young lives, they realized what they did not have.(heavy sigh)Intention # Six: Breathe deeply and deliberately, especially when I find myself on those painful, winding roads.
This is a painful, difficult thing to swallow; like a large uncoated vitamin that gets lodged in your throat. I had to breathe deeply when I heard my friend share this intimate experience and I have to breathe deeply now, as I share it with y'all.  The lessons of that day, of that time and moment are huge for the people, but more so, for my friend.  As I reflect on his story, my eyes are opened to the heart-felt intentions of his soul. I have a clearer vision of the man he is today and the man he was on that day so long ago. 
The intentions I set forth for myself will be for myself. But, like my friend who saw a wounded world that deserved some medicine, I may, at some time in 2014, make conscious intentions that, though from a moral and loving place, have an unexpected and unintended outcome. 
“When your intentions are honest and pure, when you speak or act from a place of selflessness and love, the feedback and returns are unimaginable and immeasurable.” ~Nike Campbell-Fatoki
Welcome 2014 and all it will bring!!!! Blessings to each of you as we travel this journey together. ~tpg

Monday, December 16, 2013

“How did it get so late so soon?” ― Dr. Seuss

So, I got barreled into the other day, by an older woman in a Ginormous Volvo SUV (government plates) while I was finding a parking space. My little (new) Yaris took a major hit, while her "tank" escaped unscathed. My day had already had a handful of icky challenges, so when I leaped out of the car, even though I'm a sucker for dogs, cats and seniors, my first instinct was to pump up the volume in my voice," Didn't you hear me laying on my horn?!!"
I megaphoned.
She was a bit frazzled. My guilt set in. "Well, it was my fault dear, but I do have the flu."

You know, the final month of the year is a crazy-hectic month, isn't it? I mean one attempts to find the serenity, to walk in the light, to offer up kindness to all... However, it doesn't always work out like one plans.  After the "I had the flu and that's why I hit your brand new, small car" incident, I managed to drop a package of 4 Dole pineapple cups in aisle 4 at Save-Mart, causing a large, liquidy mess. And prior to the tropical fruit mess, I dared to go into Beverly's Fabrics (lesson to self: Stay the fuck away from Beverly's Fabrics during the month of December) where my debit card was declined. Never mind that the store was packed and there was a crowd around me. The worst part of it (our account was "locked" due to suspicious activity, I was told by the bank) was that my homophobic next door neighbor was behind me in line and witnessed the event.

December is many things to many people: Christians honor the birth of Jesus. (Who was recently discussed, along with Santa, by Megyn Kelly of Fox News and declared absolutely, without a doubt, white), Jewish celebrate Hanukkah, Goddess-worshiping Pagans light incense and dance around naked under the full moon and the rest of us, just tread water to keep up and drink in heavy volume.

I have a love/hate relationship with December.
I hate the excessiveness of it; the spending, the over-eating, the extreme indulgence, except for the booze part. I like the booze part. I have a sharp dislike for the busyness and hurriedness as well. There's no time to be with friends because we are too busy running around and buying gifts for our friends. If you work in retail, you know how ugly December can be. "Why don't you have what I'm looking for??? I drove all this way in horrific traffic!!!" Sometimes, I feel as if December brings an explosion of giving to the sick, the homeless, the less fortunate, the abused animals, as if all of these unfortunates do not exist the other 11 months of the year.
There's some pretending going on too. You know my homophobic neighbor I spoke of earlier?
Well, she sent us a holiday card, which she signed by all her family members, even the ones that don't look at us when we wave.  This brings a conflicting response in my pea-brain head: How lovely they remembered us with this Hallmark gesture & how shitty it is that they hate lesbians.

Children are a huge part of this month, and that's sweet as fudge, yet I can't help but recall my observations when I was a teacher; specifically, the kids that "had a lot" vs. the kids that "had very little".  It really is amplified by this thing called Christmas.  When holiday vacation ends, and students return to school in January, there's such a competitive vibe in the air.  There's the kids wearing their $150.00 Michael Jordan basketball shoes and those that still have on their shoes from The Goodwill. 
There's the Banana Republic faux fur coats vs. the Walmart fleece zip-ups. There's the students that went to Europe to visit grandma and the ones that got to see Santa at the mall. It's a glaring, blaring oddity that cannot be denied. And then, of course, there's the poor families who open Visa charge accounts, with 24% interest rates, in order to buy their kids what they want, so that they don't get made fun of or feel less than. December becomes this month of incredible debt and living beyond one's means.  

There are two things I especially love about December.

THING # 1:
I love this face. It's a package of joy and innocence and a clear reminder of all that is truly important. Look at her light up at the opportunity to make her parents and her baby sister a present.
"Who knew Q-tips were better than paint brushes!"

"A flower-shaped lollipop is all I need."

"Why is my shadow so tall, Valerie?"
I love this face too:
"Baa Bee, I can shoot hoops!"
"I don't wanna eat my lunch. I wanna play!"

Aren't children the extraordinary magic of any month? 
True, unless of course, you're an over-worked elementary school teacher, in a classroom of 33 and no aide. (Shout out to my heroines in the public school system!)

THING # 2:
The second thing I love about December are the holiday letters.  So, I receive anywhere from 
2-7 each year. Most are lovely, though a few go on and on, in great detail. For example, the 100 awards their kid  received, or how many maps they had to use on their vacation, or what each child received for his or her birthday. Some are a bit "wordy" you might say, but all are sent with well-intentions, I suppose, as is the one I send every other year or so.
There are 2 that I receive yearly that stand out.  One is from an acquaintance of long ago and the other one doesn't actually come to me, but to my mom-in-law, who kindly shares it with me each year.
The following two are unedited.  (I swear to God!)
Here's to the joy and festiveness of the season!

"Do you like frog glasses, Valerie?"  "Yep, I do."

Christmas 2013

Dear Valerie,

Not one of our better years.  Bill (name change)  is worse and now has gallstones.  Can't be operated on as his intestines are too inflamed.  
My typewriter had the nerve to die. It's hard to find a used one.

They have been working on the new sewer in front of my house for nearly 3 months. The city's equipment keeps breaking.

I managed a couple of day trips and had a good time.

I hope you are doing well.

Merry Christmas.
Betty (name change)

Dear Mary, (name change)

It's been a banner year!
We began by getting a new minivan complete with a navigation system. 
It’s been a lifesaver! We have the routes to all the nearest hospitals and pharmacies pre-programmed. 
With the time we’ve saved from printing out directions, I’m now able to spend some time knitting. I’m just starting out but I made little Roxy a new sock to chew on. (This has really helped her stop chewing the couch.)

John is doing well. He landed a third job hauling trash, which helps cover all our psychiatric co-pays.
We are so proud of Brian (name change). During his last incarceration, he received the prison’s coveted Inmate of the Month award for his good behavior. And John and I were so impressed by the license plate he made for us for Christmas.
Annie (name change) is just terrific, too. Her soccer coach has noticed that she’s kicking harder than ever (though it’s still at the other players). 
And the other night, she actually sat down and did her homework.
It’s been a bittersweet year, as Felix, our cat, is no longer with us. One of the kids left the door open, and he never came back. John says he’s never seen a cat run so fast.
Well, that’s all the news we have to report for now. 
Best wishes for a happy, healthy, and hospitalization-free holiday season.

The Smith Family (name change)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Mina; From Marrakech to Marina

There's something very special about a conversation with a stranger. The initial anonymity that flows effortlessly between two people who know nothing of the other's past. 
Initially, there is no past. Only the here and now.
All of each other's dark secrets, poor choices, past trials and tribulations and yesterday's experiences can remain neatly wrapped; perfectly hidden and unopened. It's a clean slate.
Each person has control over what they divulge and how they divulge it.  
I like that part. For a while, it's safe. 
But, I also like the other part; the part that  grows, evolves, opens up like a tight bud anticipating the transformation to a sweet, fragrant blossom. Sometimes, you can control the pace, the process, the self-exposure, the unfolding.  But other times, it's as if that stranger unexpectedly taps into a piece of you that is so raw, so spontaneous, so heart-driven, that you don't even realize you're divulging personal information. Suddenly, before you know it, the stranger chips away at everything that you thought you could hide, and all that is left standing there are two friends laughing together...

Marrakech is undoubtedly not for everyone. This is a city with edge. It is contradictory and not easily fathomed, but for most people who visit, that is all part of its elusive charm. From the exotic market stalls of the medina to the westernised glamour of the Ville Nouvelle, Marrakech is a riot of contradictions and extremes – at once African and Arab, eastern and western, frontier town and modern city, religious and secular, elegant and rough-around-the-edges. At times daunting, occasionally maddening, always exhilarating, Marrakech is all about getting lost, letting go and opening up to whatever experience or encounter comes your way. 

Markets of Marrakech

After reading about Mina's homeland of Morocco, I can't help but think of the famous line spoken by Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz: "Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."  And she's not. In fact, she a long way from Marrakech, Morocco, along way from familiarity, along way from her family and yet, her disposition is friendly, hopeful and positive. There's a trustful ease about her as she speaks with me. She's forthcoming, though   we've only known each other a short while.

I see Mina as a yummy, delightful stew; a hearty mixture of strength and innocence, with a hefty serving of joy, wisdom and fortitude mixed in.  I do not know everything about her, nor do I profess to walk in her shoes. However, if I can pay tribute to this hard-working dreamer, who was once a stranger and now a friend, so be it.


There are two things that stand out about Mina, and if you were to ever meet her, I'm sure you would agree.  One is her infectious laugh that flows out freely, and often, like a sweet-tempered melody that you want to play over and over again.  And the second are her eyes; set deep into her smooth, olive-toned face, they are the shape of perfect almonds and the color of darkly roasted coffee beans. They're intense. When she looks into your eyes, you instantly know you are looking into the eyes of a soul much older than her 32 years. 

I was drawn to Mina instantly and our friendship is a testament to the fact that differences in culture, lifestyle, backgrounds and language are never barriers.

tpg: Do you know that many Americans have no clue where Morocco is?

Mina: (laughing) Yes, I know. This is true. Yes, many say, "Is that in Latin America? Africa?" I say,  No. No. Not Africa and they are very surprised!

tpg: After you tell them of your homeland, Morocco, are there other reactions?

Mina: Many think we all live in tents in the desert with no vehicles, no electricity, no water. I tell them, "No! No! We have all these things!"

tpg:  So then, do you see Americans as ignorant?

Mina: No, the people who know Morocco, mostly know Casablanca.  It's very famous and very expensive. I have only visited Casablanca one time. It's a very, very old city. 



tpg: Were there other reactions or responses when you first arrived? 
What has it been, five years ago?

Mina:  Yes. Five years. People had strange faces when I told them I was from Morocco. They kind of stand back and seem a little uncomfortable. Like, maybe they think "terrorist" or something. (laughing).

tpg: Did that anger you? It would me.

Mina: No. I just explain to them who I am and my family and they are nice after that.

tpg:  How about your family? You are married and have four boys? WoW! 
How do you do it?

Mina: I don't know! It's a lot of work.  My boys are all so different. One is very calm, quiet and does anything I ask of him like clean the table and help me. My middle son is very different. He wants to play basketball and doesn't want to study.  I want him to study. My baby takes a lot of our attention. My husband and I want our children to study and make the best in their education.  I worry about them if they don't do good in school.

tpg: Tell me about your husband. How did the two of you meet?

Mina: (smiling and coy) Hassan is a very good man and a good father. I met him at a friend's house. I liked him because he was the only man who doesn't look at my body when he first met me. He just looked at my eyes while we talked.

tpg: Is that unusual in Morocco?

Mina: Yes. It is always that way. A woman walks down the street and all the men look at her from her feet to her head and back down to her feet again. Some women like it. They feel ugly if men don't do that, but not me.  It is why I liked Hassan. He wasn't like that.

tpg: Has that happened to you here? Men checking you out?

Mina: No. I feel safe here. I can walk or take the bus by myself and no one bothers me. 
It's very different. 

tpg: Are you happy here?  Do you miss Morocco?

Mina: I am happy here because we want a better life for our children. But it is hard because my English isn't good, so it's hard to find jobs that pay well. I work cleaning houses in the day time and Hassan works at night at a place that cares for older persons. 
I miss my family, especially my mother. I have 4 brothers and 4 sisters still in Morocco.

tpg: NINE CHILDREN in your family? Your poor mom!

Mina: (laughing)  I know but it's not unusual there to have a big family.

tpg: Are you and Hassan planning on having more children?

Mina: No! We are not as traditional. This is why we leave. We have different ideas than our families.  We are, how do you say, the ones that are different in both of our families.

tpg: Some people say you are the "black sheep" of your families. I don't really like that term but if you and I were to have one thing in common, it would certainly be that!

...And so our conversation continued for more than 40 minutes in much of the same way:
Strangers morphing to acquaintances to ultimately friends.  Black sheep laughing at the world, pausing to appreciate the world, pausing to appreciate one another. 

She told me about the difficult economic times currently in her country. Europeans are coming in and buying up all the old mosques, historical buildings and opening high-class hotels, spas, restaurants. The result? Everything sky-rockets and the Moroccans can no longer afford to buy property in their own country. They work for the Europeans for close to nothing, struggling to feed their families. She speaks of her dreams: to see her sons go to college, to be able to buy a house, to visit her mother again...
We sip tea together. The quiet between us is comfortable as time slips away. 

In ways, this interview was simplistic; an immigrant, wife, mother. Simple dreams, the same as you and I. But in a way, the complexity of Mina's past, present and what lies ahead, can only be partially understood in one sitting. And she didn't share it. I knew she was withholding parts of past experiences and struggles; perfectly hidden, neatly wrapped. 

I'd like to attempt a closer understanding. I have such an interest in people and their lives. 

Mina: You know what is my favorite song? Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles.

tpg: I love that song too!

Mina: It makes me feel happy. It gives me so much hope.