Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Expanding my Territory South of the Border

There is a supernatural warmth about Mexico. Sure the temperature is in the mid-80s and the sun is strong all day. The people just look warm. There are brand new babies everywhere and two out of three women between the ages of 15-45 is pregnant or nursing. People seem to eat ice cream cones all day long. No one has acne. Everyone seems to like their body. Parents genuinely like their kids.

On Sunday in a Oaxcan tourist market, I met an eight-year-old girl named Estrella (that translates to Star) who, in collaboration with her grandma makes little cell phone bags. When I met Estrella, I had been in Mexico less than 12 hours, most of it sleeping, so an eight-year-old felt like a safe place to start using my rusty Spanish. Estrella´s business is to draw pictures of whatever she wants on a piece of cotton (cowgirl, tree, flower, farmer). She then embroiders what she can and her grandma finishes them up. Estrella makes 5 pesos (about 35 cents) on each bag. After interviewing Estrella on her business model and art skills, I shot a photo of her with the bag I bought for my daugter Lucia.

At the Abastos Market, the market of the people (where we saw not one gringo), I ate divine tamales oaxaños-- they come wrapped in a giant banana leaf and inside are the traditional tamale incredients plus mole negro. Even with the random chicken parts I found in my tamale they were still divine. Luz, the proprietor and I had a nice long platica (chat). She told me that her little restaurant has been there 22 years. At the Abastos market I also bought pillow cases to embroider from Maria who turned 8 that day! Feliz cumpleaños Maria. My pillow cases have love birds with the words ¨Tu eres me amor¨ in an arch above.

Not all of my contacts have been as charmed as my interlude with Estrella and at the Abastos market. One afternoon, while having a solitary moment in the plaza, a short blood-shot-eyed fellow sidled up next to me on the stairs where I was sitting watching a campesino speaking about something political I couldn't quite understand. Juan was so complimentary of my accent (and my boobs). Where had I studied? Had I been to Belgium? He'd recently been deported from Cincinnati after a 12 year stay. After enough eye-boob contact, I made a quick, not very polite exit.

Jorge, the dueño of our bed and breakfast grew up very poor and never knew his father. But he is from one of the original Oaxacan families. His grandfather was 100% Zapotec. Jorge wrote a book for his children to explain his life. It was really easy, he said. In a short time Jorge churned out 186 pages that his daughter (who is a professor in Spain) is working on getting published. Today when I visited Monte Alban, the ruins of the Zapotec people, I thought of Jorge´s grandfather.

Making contact takes effort, especially in another language. Initially it was scary to use my Spanish to all of those people, but I'm so glad I did.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Alphabet Grace

My daughter Lucia loves the alphabet. She loves to sing it, sign it, write it. She loves to discuss it, ¨Mom, did you know that the ABC song is the exact same tune as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star?¨ On a recent trip to the airport Lucia was stuck in the back seat with her howling four-month-old cousin Sam. Lucia´s attempt to placate Sam was to sing the ABCs in a lullaby voice. It didn´t work, but great idea.

Last night I finished reading Lit, Mary Karr´s third memoir which, among other things is about getting sober. At one point in the book when Karr is cynically dismissing the idea of a higher power , her sponsor tells her to get over herself and start being grateful for what she has. Her sponor´s perscription-- write down from A-Z things for which she is grateful. Only when pushed to the point close to relapse does Karr engage in this activity, still reluctant, but desperate. It turns out to be deeply satisfying and comforting.

On a recent mother-daughter trip to the amazingly rich, historic town of Oaxaca, Mexico, I found myself in an insomniac state fueled by many of my regular worries: would I be perpetually single? Would my daughter be okay? Would my business survive this economy? While struggling to find sleep in the pitch blackness of an unfamiliar single bed in a hostel inches from my snoring mother, I decided that I would try the alphabet idea.

Initially, I felt, as Mary Karr had in her first attempt at the assignment, silly. But, like her, I was desperate. With my eyes opento the blackness around me, I silently recited 26 things for which I am grateful from A for amor (love) to X for being on the other side of an 'ex'. I wasn´t close to being asleep, so I tried it again. I don´t remember what I was thankful for after S for swimming, so it must have worked.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Expand your territory

Whenever my sisters and I get together we make brain stew. We dump our thoughts into a common vessel and swim around in it, collectively chewing for a minute or two on a piece of thought and then, still starving, dive back in for another nibblet.

On a recent trip to visit my parents in the concrete jungle of Phoenix, my sister Amy and I took a coveted kid-free walk. A few miles in, baking under the high sun as we walked towards the McDowell mountain range, we started the inevitable sister stew. We ended (as I often directed conversations at that time) to my recent single state. I was stuck in too many months of post heart-break, betrayal and divorce.Amy's contribution was this: "expand your territory." I remember the moment. I locked in. "Remember these words," I told myself.

"Expand your territory" for me reads: open up, get dirty, wallow around in the muck, take risks, MAKE CONTACT. What is most profound for me about this idea is the inherent potential. Anybody can expand their territory. There are billions of people in the world. There are infinite moments of contact between each of us and those billions. The hand gestures with the woman in the Lexus SUV who insists on letting me cross the four-lane busy street with my snail-paced 5-year-old in tow- contact. Negotiating which lane to swim laps in with the profoundly weird man in the purple speedo- contact. Making eyes with the exhausted pony-tailed single dad on the plane who is sitting two rows in front of his nine-year-old daughter because no one will switch seats with him- contact. Cyber-stalking a cute guy from a cafe and emailing him- contact.

The possibilities for expanding your territory are endless. Thanks for the inspiration sis.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Delicious Sam

My nephew Sam is four-months old. He is delicious. How is it possible that I use the exact words my grandmother used on me? I used to think "delicious" was the most ridiculous, slightly creepy descriptor for a human being ever uttered. When my own daughter was four-months old, I was too tired to see her like I do my delicious nephew Sam. While we had our own intense, symbiotic relationship, I was just surviving, processing my own hormonal earthquakes through a fog of massive sleep deprivation. I don't think I ever called her delicious.

The thing about Sam, and I don't say this lightly, is that I can see his soul. His gigantic eyes invite me to come closer and in the same moment let me know exactly how close (not very). He is at once profoundly accessible and completely ethereal. He needs nor wants anything from me, yet here I am. "I can see your soul little guy", I want to whisper in his tiny sea-shell shaped ear, "can't you feel that?"

Sam nurses ALL THE TIME. When I watch my sister sitting, lying, standing, nursing in every possible position, I remember that feeling of being simultaneously thrilled by that role of being "the one" and wanting to hurl the 8-pound leech from my body. When I was a human utter, I felt taxed, beyond exhaustion, unable to do much more than finish one feeding and take a quick pee before the next.

Now I watch Sam, this little creature who I truly feel I have soul-access to and, while he is really just a seventeen-pound blob of developing cells, I can see that this baby is intensely connected. Sometimes Sam nurses with his big eyes open, sucking fast, his body a little bit tense, one hand gripping his mother's blouse, toes curled under, clearly letting her know that the nursing game is on, no exceptions. Other times, when he is relaxed, Sam nurses with his lips slightly loose, his big eyes closed. One hand laying limply over his mother's arm, the other tucked in close to her belly. He is okay, he might even sleep and let his mouth fall off the nipple, give his mom a break. He is in complete control and only 120 days into this world. That's delicious.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Nobody gives a F$%! about your blog

"Nobody gives a F$%! about your blog" used to be my favorite t-shirt slogan. Then my psychic told me that I should be writing about yoga. "But who the hell am I to be writing about yoga?" I thought to myself as soon as the words left her mouth. Though I remain unsure of this process and this medium for expression, I am pushing through my ambivalence because maybe, in the process of writing about what I don't know, I will learn something about what I do know.

I have two favorite expressions--- "All feelings pass" and "Yoga makes you you."
The first one was used on me by a therapist when I was in the depths of my darkest hour. Deep deep depths. She was a batty, boundary-less cuckoo, and exactly what I needed at that time in my life. She'd call me dear heart and drape big afghans over my whole body and offer me diet Pepsi. AND, she said to me at a moment when every fiber of my being was in crisis, "All feelings pass." And she was right. They do. They pass when we let them pass. They pass because we give them the space to pass.

This brings me to my next favorite expression--- "Yoga makes you you."It took me many years to fully understand that yoga has opened a pathway to seeing my true self. If you have an over-active brain like I do, yoga is not a luxury. It is a necessity. Yoga, while it is the union of mind and body, is also a place to rest the mind and live through the body. For me, getting into postures helps me get out of my head. For me, the experience is almost visceral. As soon as I lie down on my mat, I breathe a sigh of relief because I know what is coming. I know that I am going to get a break. Ironic that I will be working my ass off, sweating myself silly, but it is a break. I get to be still in my head while my body moves. In all of the physical movement, feelings are passing and I am getting clear. In these moments, I am me.

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