Sunday, August 26, 2012

Women on a Beach

Light chooses white sails, the bellies of gulls.

Far away in a boat, someone wears a red shirt,

a tiny stab in the pale sky.

Your three bodies form a curving shoreline,

pink and brown sweaters, bare legs.

The beach glows grainy under the sun's copper pressure,

air the colour of tangerines.

One of you is sleeping, the wind's finger

on your cheek like a tendril of hair.

Night exhales its long held breath.

Stars puncture through.

At dusk you are a small soft heap, a kind of moss.

In the moonlight, a boulder of women.
                                  Anne Michaels

It’s a small wish I have - to hold a writers’ retreat at the beach.  I want us to stay in one of those beachfront properties with broad balconies decorated with comfortable blue and white striped cushions on lounge chairs overlooking the Atlantic.  I want a big house with enough room for privacy and places to share, a Jacuzzi and a pool would be nice, a large dining table, intimate corners where small lamps with sea shells carefully glued to the side of the base glow into the amber sunset. 

I want us to be able to walk on the firm crust of sand in the first morning light when the sand looks like stone and crumbles beneath our weight.  I want to look up from a page of just written words and see the pelicans glide across the ocean’s aura.  Reach for an ice chilled club soda with a slice of lemon sizzling in the bubbles.  Breathe in the salty air crashed across the dunes from a million frothy wave ripples, watch the sea saliva peel from the sand like a thousand slippery tongues, and find just the right next word on the slipstream of a screeching gull hawking its belly need.

In the evening I want to dine at my favorite restaurant, “just hooked,” completing a meal of encrusted ahi tuna with a fine decadent slice of rich flourless chocolate cake with sea salt and toasted chopped hazelnuts and served with a scoop of coffee ice cream.  Eaten slowly, perhaps shared because it’s richness is nearly too much for one person to endure in a single sitting.

I want to fall into a soft large bed with fine cotton sheets to the sound of the sea crooning to the stars around the moon, spinning a fine tale in the repetition of the drumming on the shore.  I want to turn over on my bed, and there on the shore, spot my companions, watching the moon dance across the ebbing tide creating a boulder of women, dark against the coagulating stone of sand, cool after the heat of the day, holding onto the warmth of each other.

Photo:Full Moon Over Varkala Beach by Nitin Joseph

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Birthday Blog

"If we didn’t have birthdays, 
you wouldn’t be you.
If you’d never been born, 
well then what would you do?
If you’d never been born, 
well then what would you be?
You might be a fish!
Or a toad in a tree!
You might be a doorknob! 
Or three baked potatoes!
You might be a bag full of 
hard green tomatoes."
"Or worse than all that…Why,
you might be a WASN’T!
A Wasn’t has no fun at all. 
No, he doesn’t.
A Wasn’t just isn’t. 
He just isn’t present.
But you…You ARE YOU! 
And, now isn’t that pleasant!"
"Today you are you!
That is truer than true!
There is no one alive...

...who is you-er than you!

Shout loud, “I am lucky 
to be what I am!

Thank goodness I’m not 
just a clam or a ham

Or a dusty old jar of 
sour gooseberry jam!

I am what I am! That’s a 
great thing to be!

If I say so myself, 

Last Saturday was my birthday.  So was the day before.  It’s not that I was born twice or any thing esoteric.  I was born in New Zealand on August 11th.  It’s August 11th on the 10th in New Zealand.  So I celebrate a trans Pacific birthday.  It’s not that I do anything terribly wild or even wonderful.  There comes a point where birthdays are low-key affairs.  But, I definitely celebrate myself.  I’d hate to be “a doorknob” or “a dusty old jar of gooseberry jam” or, God forbid, a “WASN”T!”

In truth, I use any excuse in August to celebrate myself.  I buy myself presents, take myself out to dinner with friends and sometimes without, get a massage, go to the beach, and am generally very kind to myself.  I like birthdays.  I don’t mind getting older except for the aches and pains that come creeping in the door and end up staying as permanent guests. 

This year I bought myself a sky blue sun hat and a print of a wonderful painting by Damon Pla called “Stillness of August.”  Stillness is the greatest gift I give myself these days.  I allow extra time in bed if that is what my body asks for.  I spend time in my meditation room, candles lit, prayer shawl on, allowing time for my mind to become still. 

It’s a restless mind.  It likes to wander to the day’s activities or tomorrow’s concerns or yesterday’s fears but generally after a time, it will come to a point of brief rest.  In those brief moments of rest I am aware of an immense gratitude for all the small things that make up my life, a small but comfortable home, my tiny abundant garden, the welcome of friends, the health of my children, this cracked body laptop, the stack of unread books, the job about which I complain.  I can’t imagine my life without gratitude but I know there was a time when it eluded me.  I can’t imagine my life without birthdays either.

I’m a bit of a news junkie.  Yesterday as I tuned in to my favorite morning news show I was dismayed to see that Mitt Romney had selected Paul Ryan as his running mate.  It told me even more bad news about Mitt Romney and the Republican party.  I couldn’t watch the speeches and back slapping or endure the layers of propaganda.  I had to turn it all off and take myself to place of stillness and quiet.

A friend and former colleague of mine who is a member of the LDS church told me that they don’t celebrate birthdays.  So, there was no cake for her on her birthday.  It seemed a very sad omission from religious life.  Apparently, not all Mormons adhere to the omission of birthday celebrations; there are conflicting reports of how these celebrations happen if and when they occur.   Perhaps Mr. Romney does not celebrate.  Perhaps that’s why he seems such a “wasn’t,” a person who is not really here, present to his own life and the lives of others.  I feel as if I were to get close enough to him to tap on his arm or torso, there would be a sort of hollow echo instead of the pulse of a heart. 

For my part, cake is a must whether it is a reflection of the old Pagan ritual of honoring the moon or not.  I prefer chocolate cake.  In deference to my increasing cholesterol numbers, I bought a $3.25 “designer” chocolate raspberry cupcake.  I ate half on each of my birthdays.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Start the Revolution

Many times I have wondered what it would take to spark a revolution in America. I have lived in countries where a revolution has taken place and it has not been a positive movement. I’m talking about places like Iran where a relatively secular society turned almost overnight into a puritanical theocracy. It was most visible among the women. Overnight the women with whom I worked went from strong, well educated, and fashionably dressed to scared, barely visible beings in black chadors. Fortunately they were still strong and well educated. It was just a lot more difficult to discern these character traits under their black cloaks of oppression.

What is it I wonder about religious men that compels them to target people they perceive as easy victims for their thinly veiled hostility? Perhaps it is their equally thinly veiled insecurities. What is it that compels women to acquiesce to and embrace ideologies that commit such violence to mind, body and spirit? Perhaps it is fear? Perhaps it is ignorance? Perhaps it is an alignment with the perception of power?

Egos that perceive a need of defense will often point an accusatory finger at a nearby, often innocent, victim. We have all witnessed it happening among our children travelling in the back seat of a car on a long journey. And that is about where this level of ego defense belongs. It’s an immature attempt to deflect criticism for a real wrongdoing of which the accuser is usually guilty.

There seem to be a number of religious men with sensitive egos riding the campaign trail these days. In recent weeks we have seen an explosion of vitriol spill all over women in a way that has not been seen since the days of the suffragettes, and for Americans that is about a hundred years ago. Maybe there is a collective unconscious remembering among masculine archetypes of that particularly embarrassing wrong and its attendant violence on women that is rearing its head, looking for light and understanding once more. But then, that may be way too sophisticated a supposition for what appears to be profoundly petty, immature, puerile behavior among men with no less of a potential for violence toward women.

It is a stunning shock to women to see that there are still men, apparently quite a large number of men, religious men, and women, religious women, who cling to the belief that they have the right to tell women what can and cannot be done with or to their bodies. And not an embarrassed face was seen among the recently convened panel of men, religious men, to discuss the right of women to access birth control. They all looked suitably self-righteous.

Rick Santorum on the other hand, once he gets started on the issues that even hint at women’s rights, can wax forth with volumes of lies stoked with his righteous, histrionic, indignation. Not only is he an embarrassment to the system of education that produced his lack of serious critical thought, he has become an international embarrassment to the country he professes to love and is attempting to lead. His most recent long litany of lies about the Netherlands and policies he claims begin with women having the right to contraception and abortion should be an automatic disqualifier for the Presidency of the United States of America.

What these religious men and women do not disclose in their verbosity is that the religious institutions whose right to refuse women reproductive health care that conflicts with their beliefs are supported more by government funds than church funds. That is, we who pay taxes are subsidizing not only the care that is provided but the religious cloak over the care that is not. Perhaps it is is time to demand that we the people receive all the benefits from our subsidies to religiously affiliated health care providers. Or, we could just demand that those subsidies be removed then those institutions will truly have the right to proceed as they wish within the confines of current laws.

As a woman who lived through the revolution of 1978 and ’79 in Iran, I can attest to the fact that I did not believe for a second that America would let Iran fall into a puritanical theocracy. History proved me and thousands of other ex-patriots living in Iran completely wrong. In disbelief and shock we straggled to our various home countries with little more than could fit into two suitcases.

It is with the same level of disbelief that I listen to the current GOP candidates, to so called leaders such as Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia, to legislatures across the country and try to reassure myself that Americans would not let America slip into a puritanical theocracy. But the reality is that it is happening, America is returning to its roots; roots that have always been present in their religiosity and violence toward women.

Over the past decade laws have been passed in eight states that have restricted a woman’s right to access abortion services. At the same time these laws also restrict a woman’s ability to access the kind of health care that she needs in order to maintain her reproductive health and ultimately to care for herself and her family in a way that ensures personal, family, and community well-being.

From the back seat of the car we are hearing these puerile voices demanding attention in the name of a god, which if his followers bear witness, is getting more petty by the day. Perhaps we women drivers need to stop the car and start the revolution. Perhaps we are the ones who need to channel the spirit of those not so long ago suffragettes and take to the streets. I have a feeling that there are many men, men whose egos are not quite so sensitive or immature, who would join us.

For my part I am putting aside the yoghurt tops in the plastic container in my pantry. I won’t be signing up for any more Susan B. Komen walks. It’s not that I don’t want a cure for breast cancer. I do. But I will not compromise the health of women now or in the future by any longer supporting an organization that has the ideology of oppression in its closet. What I will do, as many have already done, is send a check to Planned Parenthood. It will be accompanied by a note requesting that my donation be specifically used to help a woman who cannot afford to do so, pay for an abortion.