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Amanda Kovattana

Middle-aged musings in interesting times

Updated: 2018-03-29T07:00:36.723-07:00


The Man From Kuwait


p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; line-height: 16.0px; font: 14.0px Arial; color: #1d2129; background-color: #ffffff} p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; line-height: 16.0px; font: 14.0px Arial; color: #1d2129} p.p3 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; line-height: 17.0px; font: 14.0px Helvetica; color: #1d2129; background-color: #ffffff; min-height: 17.0px} p.p4 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; line-height: 17.0px; font: 14.0px Helvetica; color: #1d2129; background-color: #ffffff} p.p5 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; line-height: 17.0px; font: 14.0px Helvetica; color: #1d2129} p.p6 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; line-height: 17.0px; font: 14.0px Helvetica; color: #1d2129; min-height: 17.0px} span.s1 {font-kerning: none} span.s2 {font-kerning: none; background-color: #ffffff} span.s3 {font-kerning: none; color: #20b3d2} The day before yesterday I returned from my final trip to Bangkok in this triptych of family land transfer events—first the funeral, then the court appearance (where I made my request to become my grandmother's executor) and now the stepping into ownership.I was personally moved forward so profoundly by the role I was able to play that it felt as if I was being propelled by a global energy shift. I am not given to sharing new age analysis, but a youtube astrologer’s forecast was sent my way by a pivotal friend I made on the trip. You can watch it yourself here if you are so inclined and would welcome a positive spin on things (plus tips on how to navigate the potential shadow side).It so captured my take on how I was experiencing the shift from 2017 to 2018 on an emotional level that it inspired me to write the story below about talking to strangers as I moved through the world on my international travels. I posted it to FaceBook where it was warmly received so I thought I would share it here as a sample of my experience.Love,AmandaThe Man From KuwaitI have a story to share from my travels yesterday that expresses the serendipitous experiences I’m enjoying as a solo traveler. So am taking advantage of my awake jet lagged state to write it up.I was standing in line at passport control in the departures terminal of Bangkok’s international airport. It was going to be a long wait and I was looking around for a possible conversation to pass the time before opening my book. The hall was filled with Asian people and a few sunburned Europeans. Next to me I spy a man in a t-shirt printed with rows of tiny flags of the world. At the top I can see half the wording —CAL Fullerton. I check out the wearer — a black man likely an American around my age staring into the middle distance. His energy is calm and neutral so I decide to risk speaking to him in English. “Did you go to CAL Fullerton?” I ask him pointing to his shirt. It takes him a second to tune me in.“What’s that?” he asks and I repeat the question.“Oh no my daughter went there,” he said smiling understanding now that I am making conversation (so rare these days). So we soon find out that we’re both going back home to California and he introduces me to his Thai wife who speaks little English so remains focused on the line ahead. He asks me enough questions to find out where I went to college, calculates how old I am (same age as his wife who is from Northern Thailand so I get that she’s from a poor farming family). They’ve had a long journey he says. He asks me if I have children and I tell him about the dogs I share with my ex. “A man I assume,” he says meaning he wouldn’t assume that at all, but he’s given me an opening. I take it. Then he is telling me that he sees a lot of lesbian couples traveling the world these days and was wondering what was up in my community. Not that I had a clue, but I am amused by his curiosity. So we speculate about the travel habits of “my community” before going onto what I do for a living and how he could definitely use a professional organizer. I laugh and give him my business card though he lives in LA.By this time we have exchanged names. He is named a[...]

Year In Review


A huge part of my year was taken up in correspondence while I evaluated my life and my future through the eyes of a potential new partner. I buried this personal story within the context of my tiny house on my tiny house blog. The lessons learned would turn out to be pivotal for my life going forward so I am leaving this signpost to it here back dated to correspond to the timeline. Tiny House Living One Year Later

My Day In Court


p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; line-height: 14.0px; font: 11.0px Helvetica; color: #000000; min-height: 13.0px} p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; line-height: 14.0px; font: 12.0px Arial; color: #000000} p.p3 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; line-height: 14.0px; font: 11.0px Arial; color: #000000; min-height: 12.0px} span.s1 {font-kerning: none} span.s2 {font: 12.0px Helvetica; font-kerning: none} With the passing of my aunt and my appearance at her cremation in July I found that I had a new status in my Thai family. It actually surprised me that I had any status in this family at all given that I had been an outsider for so long and had written a book that had revealed a few too many family secrets (which I then felt I had to keep secret from the family).Only months before her death my Aunty Ah Pahdt had contacted me via her son writing to me on Facebook messenger. Now that she was 76 she was worried about the matter of property being properly transferred to the heirs — the heirs of my father's will which included my stepmother, the two children of my aunt and me. Ah Pahdt and my stepmother who was also Thai had met with a lawyer who advised them to ask me to act as executor for my grandmother's will. My father having not quite finished all the details pertaining to his mother’s will in particular the transfer to his name of the land upon which my Ah Pahdt's house was built. That parcel needed to be transferred before my father’s will could be implemented and the new owners instated.My father had specified in his will that the land not be sold and that my grandmother's house was to be left standing. I was beginning to understand why he had specified the no selling part. So many people lived on this land, most of them not related by blood—12 by my count. He too must have wanted them to continue to have a home. And by putting 4 people as the owners he had pretty much insured that we would never agree on anything let alone on selling it. Now that I was being asked to be my grandmother’s executor I felt this was a role I had been waiting all my life to step into. She had been proud of me as her only granddaughter and had groomed me to follow in her footsteps. There was no denying that I was her only blood relative which made me the rightful heir to the entire estate in the eyes of the staff for they respected my grandmother deeply for her many kindnesses and charitable work.My grandmother had told me how she had intended to divide up the land so my Ah Padt would have the parcel her house was built upon, my father the adjoining parcel and me the final third. But my father thought he knew better how to manage the succession and he had persuaded her to leave all the land to him. Why he hadn’t transferred the one property that had now come to me to transfer was unclear. A Court DateTo accept my role as executor I had to show up in court 3 months later in November to get the proper legal document.First I had to answer questions the lawyer would pose to me to explain my story. This had to be done in Thai for a translator was not permitted. The script was so filled with unfamiliar formal words I began to panic and told my boy cousin I didn't understand 80% of it. He put in a call to his sister and she came to coach me herself. I carefully wrote down the answers in words I could understand. At the end of our session she said I should also wear a dress to pay proper respect to the court. "A dress," I exclaimed, "no one told me about that part. You'll have to provide one." Luckily she was the same size as me so on our court day she brought me two outfits, both in stylish black and white from the recent year of mourning for the death of the King. I chose the dress over the jacket and skirt and she borrowed some shoes from her sister-in-law for me to wear. Thus transformed we met with the lawyer, a young man who sat with me in the atrium of the court house to rehearse our script. I was interested to note that adorning the wall of [...]

Lessons Gleaned From The Dead


On a recent trip to the family homestead in Bangkok for my aunt’s cremation I scramble to find my Thai persona and my role if there was one as the family structure is reconfigured around the loss of her considerable leadership.Evening Prayers“How many people are expected for the funeral?” I asked Pong the daughter of my dear departed Aunty Ah Pahdt.“At least 400”, she said. Yes, I had expected a large crowd too, but 400 was impressive. My aunt had been a leader in her women’s business community and much loved socially with a light hearted laugh that made everything seem easy and fun. She had died shockingly quickly everyone said. No one even suspected she was sick. Once diagnosed with liver cancer the disease took her in two months. She was only 76 so was survived by a large number of her peers. Three buildings  at the temple had been rented for all the guests.The night before the cremation we gathered for the pre-cremation evening prayers. I went to the temple to help transport the coffin from one Sala (a small open sided building) to another. Seeing her coffin on a pedestal at the end of the room stopped me. Nothing so final as being in such a box. Or so lonely. She had been lying in it since February. Pong had chosen the 100 day mourning period for her as befitting her status. It had also allowed me time to plan my schedule so I could fly all the way to Bangkok for the event. The temple compound commanded a considerable piece of real estate in this high end area of Bangkok. Looming just beyond the orange tiled temple roofs was the cement structure of the Sky Train cutting through the visual space much as you would expect of the monorail at Disneyland. Several glassed in office buildings filled the rest of the sky. The temple compound was every bit as busy as the bustle outside for the dead still needed to be honored as befitted tradition. We wouldn’t have it any other way.The family was required to accompany the deceased whenever she was moved. Thus we walked in a procession followed by her white and gold coffin on an ornate gold and red cart pushed by male attendants who did all the heavy lifting as well. Pong gave me Ah Pahdt’s framed photo to carry and I followed her brother Thop who carried the lamp that had been kept lit at the side of the coffin. An elder monk led the procession walking briskly through the temple compound between dozens of other funereal buildings. Once the coffin was carried into the larger Sala the attendants set about bringing in the numerous flower bouquets and laying out the religious paraphernalia for the monks who would chant the evening service. Guests were arriving and performing the prayers of greetings so I took my turn, first kneeling at the foot of the Buddha statue to the left  and then kneeling in front of the coffin. I returned to my seat filled with a sense of emptiness and peripheral grief. I sat cross legged in meditation until this existential void wore off. Only a pair of nuns at the end of the row seemed to notice—Buddhist nuns in white robes. I opened my eyes to see before me my Ah Neung, the niece of my grandmother older than me by two years. She and her sister and I had played together as children. “Were you meditating?” she asked as she sat down next to me..“Yes,” I said not wishing to say more. Ah Neung looked around the now crowded room and noted that there were no relatives of my Ah Padt. None were expected. Her mother had died a year ago with a mourning period of the briefest 7 days. (Three was the minimum to allow the spirit to leave the body.)Pong, Ah Neung noted, had married into a very wealthy family. Yes I was eager to meet them. Her mother-in-law was noble born and had also started a packaged cookie business that had blossomed into a packaged food company and included the box fruit drinks being served that evening. It was this connection with the rich and high born that prompted me to review my outfit—a black v-neck t-shirt and[...]

Tiny House Living: The Rubber Meets The Road


It has been six months since I became a proud home owner of a tiny house. After spending the summer steadily building and outfitting the interior it was time to move in. Time to put to the test my design decisions in this experiment of extreme living.First ImpressionsThe first night I spent at my tiny house in the backyard where I had come to live, I noticed a cat sitting on the garden path lit by the security light as though by moonlight. She sat looking at me in my tiny fairy tale size cottage. What a magical sight I thought, a welcoming omen. I opened the door to say hello, but the noise of the door scared her away. Indeed it was so quiet in that garden I climbed into my loft up under the eaves and fell into a deep sleep I hadn't enjoyed in some time.In the morning standing by my dresser I was startled by the morning light streaming in. With the two windows on each side of the house being only 6 feet apart the contents of my house were sharply lit with daylight. I could see every dust speck. I immediately got out a cloth and started polishing all the chrome—on my Berkey water filter, my electric kettle and my vintage insulated carafe. Once everything was free of fingerprints and water droplets it sparkled as though in a showcase. I was reminded of the work of Joseph Cornell with his arrangements of objects in shadow boxes providing a tiny view into a tiny surreal world. Thus the tiny house magnified the experience of living. The confined space, the strangeness of my kitchen layout plus the added dimension of being so tightly connected to other activities further down the road, emptying a waste water tank, pee tank and poop bucket for instance, all created an intense feedback loop that added a pressing dimension to every mundane activity having to do with cooking, eating, washing up and putting things away. It forced me into a state of hyper mindfulness. But this was the way I had wanted it. I wanted to be involved in the entire cycle of my water, energy use and waste stream in order to mitigate my impact on the planet. I just didn't know yet what kind of impact that would have on my routine and this unknown made me feel a little uneasy once I moved in. Add to that the stress of being in a new place, working out new routes to all my clients and figuring out what to feed myself now that I was single. This was why moving was stressful I reminded myself. My body reacted by being hungry all the time and I wished my outdoor freezer was full of frozen dinners.Adjustments To Life In The TinyI had been congratulating myself for having finessed my move into the tiny house moving two or three boxes at a time while carrying on with my full schedule of clients. It did take longer, but I convinced myself it would be less painful that way, like pulling the bandaid off a little bit at a time. I wrote a post on downsizing and getting a taste of my own medicine as an organizer as I got rid of things while trying to squeeze as much of my old life as I could into the tiny house.I had done numerous moves unpacking clients with crews of organizers. But those houses were so much alike there was hardly any difference between one kitchen and another. The challenge of my tiny house was that it was unlike anywhere I or anyone I knew had ever lived before. Nothing could be taken for granted to function normally from the fridge to the sink to the toilet. I had purposefully deconstructed and reorganized basic systems and I had no experience using such systems on a daily basis.Would the cooler keep my food cold enough? What would it be like to boil water for all my washing up?  Would I be able to cook breakfast successfully given my regime of fried eggs, sausages and refried beans? How long would my butane cartridge hold out in my stove? Where could I buy more? What would I use for heat? I had joked that the house was so tiny it could be heated with a candle and besides I was menopausal, why would I need heat at all this be[...]

It Takes A Village To Live Tiny


In early May after my return from Canada, Catherine told me that she felt our domestic arrangement had come to an end and it was now time for her to live alone. She asked that I move out by September. She said the same to her brother Steve. I was stunned and devastated. "Where shall I go? What shall I do?" I wanted to say in Scarlett O'Hara fashion."Frankly my dear I don't give a damn," said the the Bay Area housing crisis. I gave myself a month to wring my hands and absorb this shock. I had known my living situation was without a future in the sense that we were no longer in a committed relationship, but I had put my money on the mutually beneficial arrangement of my staying which had been going so well these last two years. That with all the care the two dogs demanded and the shared meals I made, the gardening and household chores I helped with she would want me to stay especially once she returned to working full-time. It was the only option I was willing to entertain because I had been enjoying a $700 rent for so long I would be hard put to afford a room in a house in the Bay Area. Most were double that. Perhaps I should have taken a different path I lamented.I had been told by our therapist and others that legally I did have the right even in a domestic partnership to sue for half the value of the pooled assets accrued during our 20 years together. I hadn't wanted to do it. I feared that it could get ugly and destroy our friendship. I had opted to see what would unfold if I stayed. Barring her meeting someone else she wanted to live with this seemed like a reasonable expectation. But now Catherine felt this transition period was over. It was time for her to move on, she said. I made another plea on my behalf.I mentioned that she had, at the time of our break-up, promised to buy me a tiny house on wheels. But when she researched online and saw figures close to $90,000, she said she didn't have the money and she did not foresee selling her house anytime soon (to free up cash). I didn't pursue it since she was allowing me to stay. Maybe something else would unfold I thought.  "I'll buy you a tiny house," she said just like that as I recalled this discussion. This stopped me mid-argument. It had indeed been my dream to live in a tiny house one day even if I had to build it myself. A very big dream that I knew I would have to do alone for Catherine did not share this vision. The tiny house concept of self sufficient living embodied all the off-grid living ideas that I had been experimenting with for the last fifteen years. To actually live in one would allow me to fully realize my passion for this life. With Catherine's offer of the tiny house my grief and shock were arrested as I remembered the full potential of this vision. And they were not, after all, as expensive as she had anticipated given what I had in mind. A shell that was unfinished inside could be had for $25,000. I accepted her offer gratefully and immediately went to Craigslist to look for such a tiny house on wheels.My Tiny Life EducationA year ago almost to the day, I had attended a two-day workshop where I had listened to a young woman teach a roomful of would be builders how to build and live in a tiny house on wheels. The workshop was given by the Tumbleweed company formed by the original creator of tiny houses to sell plans to would be builders. The tiny house that our workshop leader lived on was parked on a property out by the coast next to a horse paddock. That she was a cello player with a degree from a university in Europe fit right into my scenario of wealthy patronage hosting such a high end tiny house. The scenario evoked all my experience of negotiating class and racial boundaries in the Bay Area. This was an elitist solution I felt, a diminutive version of a high end house with all the material wants of a Western lifestyle. It changed very little about how one lived apart from having les[...]

My Canadian Girlfriend


When I told my chiropractor that I was going to Vancouver to meet my Canadian girlfriend for the first time, he chuckled and said that in his guy world, men talked about having a Canadian girlfriend because it was better than saying they didn't have one at all and this way no one would expect them to bring her over for dinner. "She must give good e-mail," commented my friend Tian when I announced that I had bought my plane ticket on Facebook. "Do you know this woman?" asked my housemate Steve when he saw my trip to Vancouver marked out on the kitchen calendar."We've been writing each other for a year and three months," I said."Is she in prison?" he asked slyly."Good one," I said laughing. The idea of cultivating a romance through letter writing is somewhat antiquated these days. It harks back to a more genteel time of carefully penned missives, days of waiting for the mail, scented paper perhaps with a pressed flower enclosed. But in today's e-mail world, letter writing is taken to a day by day, even hour by hour sharing of each other's lives while at the same time creating a world of our own in words with references back and forth to our word history, our shared narrative.She found me on OkCupid a cozier, more off-beat dating site than Match dot com. She was reading profiles for a bedtime story and came across mine. When she saw that I had listed one of her favorite films in my list of favorites she wrote to tell me how rare it was to see that title mentioned. Bagdad Cafe was a quirky independent film about two disparate female characters thrown across each other's paths at a remote truck stop in the Mojave dessert. It holds a place in my heart for it's cross-cultural, cross racial lines, art based collaborative story of an unlikely friendship. I felt compelled to answer her passing comment. And of course I checked out her picture. She had a cute round face with brown collar length hair and big glasses. She was mostly dressed to be outdoors in cargo, shorts and hiking footwear. She was amply curvy, a body type that I enjoyed; given my skinny frame I wanted the luxury of padding. It was her no nonsense take-it or leave it presentation that charmed me for she bore no trace of body image issues. Plus she was three years younger than me and this slight seniority appealed to me. So feeling in a playful mood for story collaboration I asked if she would indulge me in a game to get acquainted."Let's pretend I fly in for the weekend. You meet me at the airport as you would a friend from college you haven't seen in 35 years. We were close friends then, but there was an unresolved attraction that was alluded to, but we didn't stay in touch. The first thing you would likely say to me might be "You haven't changed a bit." What would be the first five things you would tell me about your life?"From her answer I was delighted to learn that she had been in a writing program and had had two short stories published. The detail of having once lived on a nude beach in the Kootenays intrigued me. Her parents were dead and so was her sister from cancer so I knew she had gone through some hard stuff too. She worked odd industrial jobs to keep a roof over her head and her cat's. She currently worked in an herbal vitamin plant. All of these details indicated an unusual person with a taste for the off beat experience. I replied in kind beginning with "I never did run away to the circus…" and we were off and running writing regularly every few days. She ordered a copy of my book and discovered my many essays on my blog. So she was way ahead of me in getting to know my opinions on life while I kept a little distance in order to better get to know her. From the start she was solicitous of positive vibes for difficult events of her life so I gave of my support on this astral plane. Her enthusiasm for nick names and references to favorite children's books reminded me of a g[...]

Of Mind And Mud


In which I find everything I need in the mud pit — an international sisterhood, a shifting paradigm and a cure for cancer. Here I offer my report from a ten day adobe building workshop with 30 women in northern Thailand.Stories From The Mud PitThe earth that would build our house was so red with iron it stained our feet like red betel juice and could not be washed out of our clothes. Behind us the mountain of Chiang Dao earlier masked by the morning mist was now revealed in massive peaks. And just to the right the golden spire of a pagoda high up in the hillside reminding me that we were in Thailand. In this orchard of mango trees watched over by dragon flies hovering overhead, a space had been cleared at the rear of the property for us to build the first of many tiny houses. Houses that would provide a retreat space to rejuvenate the activists of IWP (the International Women's Partnership for Peace & Justice).My first clue that this was going to be a unique experience was the revelation that one of our American members was an amputee. Her boyishly short haircut having already set off my Gaydar. Nattily attired in backward baseball cap of local fabric and a tie died t-shirt over jeans she looked all of 19 and struck me as slightly cocky and sure of herself having been to Thailand before. But her radiant smile as she showed up at our morning yoga class in day glow green shorts won me over. Actually it was her leg that did it for that was the first glimpse I had of it in all it's steel and fiberglass novelty. Anyone going through life explaining that detail over and over had to have an interesting take on life I figured. The prosthetic leg made a rubbery farting noise as she popped it off for one of the yoga poses. The noise startled the woman to my left who said "oh" audibly as she looked over. I partnered up with Val for one of the exercises. In studying the leg I could see that it was a birth defect being shorter in the thigh bone than the other so not a result of an accident."I like your leg," I told her."Thanks," she said. "It's different," I said which was all I could manage in the way of scintillating observations."Yes it is," she confirmed. Val was 24 the youngest of us save for our mighty girl builder Ailsa (pronounced Elsa) the daughter of one of our instructors.Later when I asked her if she was out about her leg she said yes, why would she not be and told me her story which she began with a question."Have you heard of Chernobyl?" she asked me."How could I forget," I said suddenly aware that I had over half a century of history embedded in my memory and at 57 was likely the oldest woman present. She continued with her story.She was born in Russia along with a number of other babies born with deformities soon after the meltdown of the Chernobyl nuke plant though the authorities never admitted a correlation. Her Russian parents immediately put her up for adoption. An American woman with a birth deformity herself (an undeveloped hand) had adopted her and with her husband had brought her to the states. Decisions were made that led to Val having her foot amputated and several operations later a prosthesis fitted. This gave her the most options for mobility. Val had a maturity and cheerfulness beyond her years possibly in part because of this journey. I found myself wondering what missing pieces, what traumas we had all sustained that were not visible to the eye. Photo by Melissa Mulder-WrightThe missing pieces of my life were soon soothed by the mud. Making cob gave me time to process while doing something useful. Cob, a mixture of mud and straw, would be in much demand for the build. The doors and windows as well as the wood beams upon which the roof would be built were all attached to the adobe walls with mud. Plus two of the bathroom walls were wattle and daub, a similar idea to lathe a[...]

Report From The Writing Front


You may have noted, dear reader, that my postings have become more infrequent, disappearing entirely over the last 6 months. Partly I felt that the terrain of blogging had changed and the 16 hours or more I put into an essay were reaping diminishing returns. Or I had changed and people weren't reading my essays as much now that they were more personal. Or they had migrated to FaceBook where snippets of personal news are easier to digest. FaceBook had also become my go-to platform for it offered more interaction, more discussion about issues that were germane to my contacts without me having to create the whole discussion through my essays. I have also been wondering what I had to show for all my efforts as a writer. Archiving the essays online didn't have quite the same sense of accomplishment as a book. My essays I feared might not have shelf life given that they were compelling because they were happening to me in real time and had the freshness of letters. Things might look less relevant over the long haul. I had also in the past loved to report on new adventures I was undertaking, sometimes going to an event just to write about it, but this last year I have repeated events so no longer had something new to report. There had also been physical adventures like falling off my Xootr (push scooter) and having to get 7 stitches on my chin. After which I realized I was exhausting myself. I had become strong and overconfident doing too much too fast having joined an outrigger canoe club (hoping to meet women) which required weekly practice in the bay just beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. Spectacular, but very windy that week. I enjoyed it thoroughly, but I've never been the competitive type and this team were hard driving champions. The practice boosted my muscle strength then proceeded to wear me out, plus it was an hours drive each way to get to the boat yard.In falling off my Xootr, the hard rubber of the wheels slipped out from under me in the light misty rain just as I was leaving home for a networking meeting. Luckily I fall well and didn't break any bones by sticking out my hand and insisting that the earth stop coming at me. I gave credit to my weekly karate class where I have trained non-competitively for over 20 years (for the rigors of old age I see now). But the road was hard and rough when I slammed against it not like the mat in our dojo. I picked myself up and (without getting any blood on my clothes) drove myself to the emergency room, proud to have done so. A huge bruise welled up on my thigh and weeks of sessions with my chiropractor ensued to put my hip joint at ease again. I cut down on excessive self-propelled mobile jaunts. I quit the canoe club and dating. I had made friends dating, but serious dating was a slow business. Nobody had time to just hang out anymore; women were holding up a list of wants and don't wants, searching for the right person to mesh with their complicated lives and mine was no different.And finally the things that were happening of interest in my life involved family members so were not my stories to tell. Suffice to say that my mother had become a snow bird living half the year with her new boyfriend in a gated community on a golf course near Palm Springs. My good friend Dave had moved to Oregon with his mother depriving me of regular lunch dates. Others had retired becoming busier. My own household with Catherine and her brother remained stable. Catherine and I get along better now that we are not "together" together. We go to movies, share meals and keep house like old pros, but we don't plan the future or talk about it in more than general terms. This makes life spacious with time.Current news of my life had been my bread and butter as a blogger, but now I was drawn to other subjects. The parts of my life th[...]

Twenty Years In Business: Some Observations


After spending two months earnestly dating all of the locally available women who would have me I realized I wasn't really interested in finding another long term partner. What I was really doing was networking, meeting new people in new circles of interest I would otherwise not discover. And if I could put this much energy into just talking to people I might as well look for work for clients. I had not worked for an entire month. The situation was dire. I looked up from my desk and said it out loud "I need clients". As if in approval of my change of direction two e-mails came a few hours later asking for my organizing services. Wow, that must have been a lot of energy I put out into the universe I thought to myself. Both were referrals from colleagues.From Organizer to Human CatalystAt which point I realized I had been fortunate enough to be in business for 20 years since my anniversary was this month. It was an impressive milestone and perhaps I would allow myself to say something about the profession. I did, after all this time, finally feel that I knew something about people and how they lived their lives.When I started out as a professional organizer I was filled with my own cleverness for being able to organize anything anywhere. I would put rooms in order in a flash, find boxes in the recycle bin to make into drawer organizers, install a hook in just the exact spot it was needed, arrange appliances and kitchen tools for optimum time motion efficiency and clear a path through a cluttered four car garage in short order. As this was long before cable home improvement programs and hoarding reality TV, clients were not quite sure what professional organizers did. I spent my first three years learning to describe what I could do and how it would help them. I talked more than necessary trying hard to impress clients with how smart I was. It didn't take long to realize that they didn't care how smart I was if I could just solve the problem at hand. And so I learned to listen and ask questions to help me find out what it was they were hoping for. I had many skills from carpentry to spacial design so had many opportunities to talk to clients about different household problems. My colleagues also referred me to their clients for situations that called for my handyman-da skills. I happily installed closets and shelving, cat doors and curtain rods.Over time I realized I had an affinity for the chronically disorganized, red flag clients who tried the patience of other organizers with their ambivalence. "They're not ready," some would say because organizers are results oriented and clients who are process oriented need more handholding. But as long as the client was asking me into their home I was willing to work with them and help them. Often the reason they couldn't achieve their goals I realized was because they were stuck at some bottleneck point. "My desks needs help" they would say and I would follow the trail of backed up clutter to the source of the block, which might not be in the office at all, but in the hall landing where a little shifting of furniture would move the clutter along and the client would be surprised at how much that helped.During all this processing with clients I had a lot of time to study client motivation and how I could help them in that regard which led me to see my client situations as stuck energy not just in the Fung Shui sense, but on a psychological level. And the more I could engage the client in seeing where they were stuck the more I could help them by doing something that would increase their momentum and thus their energy for going further. Given my combination of skills I was able to use my design talents to pin point what small improvement would bring about the most reward. I could then implement the moderate household fix or shi[...]

Mirror, Mirror On The Wall: Is This Me?


The Road to RomanceMy ex, having now declared she was single, had also discovered she had a libido. She began to play music in the house and dance. This was something to celebrate since only a year ago she seemed barely alive after the ravages of chemotherapy. She signed herself up on and started showing me profiles of women. My curiosity was piqued so I signed up too and was immediately shown her profile as my perfect match. We had a good laugh on that and I was forewarned that the algorithms controlling these sites were devoid of intelligence. This was a brave new world. I felt like Rip Van Winkle waking up to find that all the bars had been closed and replaced with cyber vending machines where you could look into a window and see women on display tagged with interests they might share with you alongside their profile pictures. You paged through these pictures and clicked on the "quick view" button to view their specs—height, sexual orientation, body type, age, income, religious affiliation and geographical location. I can recall dating in only the vaguest of ways. It largely consisted of walking out of my college dorm room and into what was then the most popular hall where my fellow co-eds would roost and make trouble by taunting anyone who dared pass by. It was in this fashion that I learned that one Cindy Sunshine (yes that was her real name) had the hots for me. She was a dancer, short, blond with an enigmatic face. She happened to be my type particularly the enigmatic face part. A face that is not considered beautiful and might verge on homely except that the owner had a beguiling way of presenting it. And present it she did at my door late that same night. "I've come for you," she said. At which point I took her in my arms and kissed her, so bold I was already at 18. This being the arts college at UC Santa Cruz in the '70s, I already knew that an alternative universe existed here where all mannerof sexual preference might express itself. My relationship with Cindy was soon complicated by the appearance of an on campus boyfriend, followed by an off campus one from home so I had to move on (albeit amidst megadoses of drama). Lots of women were bi-curious. I hooked up with them at our decadent dress-up parties, at impromptu hall gatherings or once in the shower with a man in one of our co-ed bathrooms. An unending supply responding to the rumors of my taste for women and my soft butch appearance. The lesbian community of that time did not embrace me nor I them. I didn't wear the requisite uniform of plaid flannel shirts and overalls and refused to cut my hair. I did have one dyke buddy in the dorms who told me her story of first love; it was so filled with internalized homophobia it was painful to dwell on. Being a lesbian was a sort of death defying identity at the time. When I returned to the more conservative Bay Area all was quiet on the still closeted home front. Women were not crossing my path quite as often as they used to. I did briefly date a man because he asked and we both loved movies, but he soon guessed that I wasn't really interested. It wasn't long before I learned about the LGBT center on the second floor of the old firehouse on Stanford campus. A local lesbian coffee group was held there open to anyone. I met my now best friend Stacy there. We didn't date each other, but we did date the same woman. A woman who worked at the movie theatre where I was a projectionist. I discovered she was gay because of her habit of drawing two women symbols linked together next to her name on the sign-in sheet. We both rode motorcycles so it was a natural that we would ride together to bars to meet women and meeting none who would have us we would go home together, but we weren't really together together. I took her to a[...]

Dead Like Me


I wrote my obituary recently and it was strangely empowering to take by the horns my own death. It was part of an assignment for the Death Cafe I had joined, a salon where people meet to discuss death. This emerging social franchise was an idea that a Swiss sociologist started as a way to normalize discussion of death by talking about it. It was then adopted in Paris followed by London before making its way to Columbus, Ohio in 2012. Tea and cake is served and the conversation begins usually with a question. Such as how did you first come to understand death? Or what questions would you ask a dead person? Our chaplain friend Don in Portland told us about it. And in October of 2013 Catherine and I went to one at the Zen Center. That was where I met Barbara, a New York transplant who would invite me to join the cafe she would host with her husband at their lovely home in San Francisco. I invited my friend Stacy to come along too. You can find a death cafe at was drawn to the topic of death because I had come to realize that in America people see death differently from how I was raised. Since the topic doesn't come up very often it took me twenty years or so to see this. In my 30's I had a job videotaping a group of women with metastatic breast cancer and that was when I first noticed that Americans did not take death lying down as it were. They took death on as though it was an enormous responsibility they personally had to fight to keep from happening. And when I remarked upon it someone asked me why I found this odd. Was it because life was considered cheap in Asia? How that comment infuriated me. Didn't they get the memo? That we will all die? So why be so distraught about it I was asking. But it just made me sound callous. Once I got talking at Barbara's house I was surprised at how much I had to say on the subject, surprised at what was coming out of my mouth in terms of beliefs and attitudes. The premise allowed me to have a different kind of conversation. Life from the point of view of death was made interesting in ways I had not thought of before. I felt curious, joyful even. So when we gave ourselves the assignment of writing our own eulogy or obituary I saw it as an opportunity to foresee my life by working backward from its end.And to get to the heart of the matter I visualized the actual death itself:"Having decided she was too feeble to continue teaching her geriatric exercise classes and cultivating her permaculture backyard farm, Amanda Kovattana 87 went home to embark on her final journey and demise through starvation assisted by her young wife Anastasia 67. During her final hours a gathering of shamanic friends came to assist in drumming to induce the theta state necessary for shamanic journeying. Thus she passed peacefully and happily before becoming a burden to her community as was her wish."No one in my Death Salon objected to me taking my death into my own hands. They thought it gutsy that I actually gave myself an age at which I would go. (On the other hand no one commented on what a young wife I'd picked for myself. This was after all my first attempt at fiction.) But my mother did object to the idea of this end of life suicide which led to quite a lively conversation. All the spiritual works we had been reading counseled that suicide was a wrong choice and would badly mess up your karma. I argued that it was not suicide. On the contrary what medical intervention could dish out was every bit as unnatural and prolonged the inability to let go. And letting go was the natural cycle of life (as I am constantly reminding my hoarding clients).Having control of my own death handed me back the reigns of my life. I needed to get a grip on at least some part of it. This year my life wa[...]

The Boot Making Cure


In which shoe making and Chinese medicine come together to reveal to me a new perspective on health and resiliency.On the train to Portland I made shoes. "Are trains a way for you to access your subconscious," asked my friend Stacy. I had persuaded her to come along and get a hit of Portland while I was taking a boot making workshop. She was also eager to experience the famous Coast Starlight route. I did love train travel. It was a way to slow life down, feel the full affect of distance and be in motion outside of one's life and those chores which telegraphed me every time I sat down for three minutes. On a twenty hour train ride I had plenty of time to contemplate things. I did think it was possible that the rhythm of the train could put you into a theta state, much as a drumbeat allows the visions in a shamanic journey. I liked to think that JK Rowling had accessed this state when she was on the train where she had dreamed up Harry Potter.And as I worked on my shoe project (a slip on shoe using bicycle inner tube pieces for trim) I kept seeing myself traveling to make shoes and living on the train, possibly having a shoe workshop on the train. It was such a strong vision I wondered what I was meant to take from it. I felt it so clearly that it seemed a part of my identity, much like making shoes seemed somehow so right, so innate to me. The shoe in my hand made me feel masterful and working with hand tools seemed so familiar. I felt compelled to make things with my hands to fulfill some innate need as primal as eating. Perhaps it was cellular memory passed down from another generation. I asked my mother what profession her grandfather had had for I had heard it mentioned that he was a harness maker. "Well it's funny you should ask," said my mother "because my family didn't want me to know. And I was scolded for playing with his tools. I was told not to tell anybody what he did so I thought there was something wrong with him." I reflected on her childhood spent in the north of England in Yorkshire.Turns out my great grandfather was a horse shoer. And his children were so eager to better themselves that they didn't want to admit that their father did the work of a laborer. I thought it was cool though—an important part of history. I had seen a horse shoer at work. It was such a specialty profession now; they were part of the rich horsey crowd, paid well and in much demand. I knew how to pick up a horses foot and use a pick; like shoe making it was a similar feeling of getting to the bottom of things. I spent time wondering if those who loved to be crafty were expressing similar cellular memories of their ancestors making things by hand.Healing CosmologyRecently in the usual serendipitous way of my life I met an acupuncturist who saw me at Walgreen's getting into Catherine's electric car (the new Nissan Leaf) and he walked over to ask me questions about it. I didn't have all the answers so he gave me his card to e-mail him later. The card said that he specialized in ADHD, anxiety and depression. I was very intrigued. Weeks later I found his card still on my desk and contacted him hoping that he might refer some of his ADD clients to me. As it turned out I would be the one doing the referring because my mind was so much clearer after one session I immediately wanted everyone who had any chronic condition to see him, My mother went for her arthritis and so did a client to cut back on pharmaceuticals and her son for his allergies. I ran into the client in his office and she thanked me and told me how much he had done for her migraines. My mother too became so much calmer with the micro current technology he was using. And he told me how the micro currents enhanced serotonin levels.&nbs[...]

The Mud Hut Building Cure


Details of my trip to Thailand, the political angst therein, my own life path at a crossroads and the all women mud hut building workshop I attended.To The NorthThe only people who take the sleeper train to Chiang Mai are tourists, monks and government officials. This Victorian mode of transportation now ranking higher in charm and nostalgia than the faster deluxe motor coaches that ply the new highways or plane for those really in a hurry. I could think of no better way to travel than to be lulled to sleep in my own bunk with panorama window overlooking the rice paddies after enjoying a meal brought to me from the restaurant car. On this leg of my journey to Northern Thailand I shared my compartment with a young Czech woman traveling alone. We had so much in common regarding off grid living that I was soon showing her pictures of my homemade composting toilet I kept on my iPod. These days I seemed to have more in common with young people than my own peers. It is the young who realize that our modern Western way of life is no longer tenable.The women's adobe building workshop I was headed for would draw similar seekers of sustainable living solutions both Thai and foreign. I heard of the workshop through Pun Pun Farms a sustainable outfit I had discovered through the international earthen building network Kleiwerks six years ago. I had already taken an adobe workshop from Peggy and Jo her Thai farmer husband who had brought adobe building techniques to Thailand after viewing the pueblos of Arizona. This cross pollination of interracial couples fit right in with my own world view. Together with the International Women's Partnership for Peace and Justice we would build a house for another non-profit that served to support ethnic minorities students. What I used to know as hill tribe people. Still marginalized by not being granted full Thai citizenship they were also teased by fellow students for their accents and tribal background. And, being far away from home, lacked a supportive living arrangement. It was the aim of this organization to offer such support and thus the house we would build.In Chieng Mai under the clock tower I was to meet my ride. Beneath the clock two woman sitting at a coffee shop table looked at me expectantly and that was how I met Jeab whose house we would be building. The other woman Nuch, also Thai, was a workshop participant too. Soon we were joined by Tanya, a Russian living in Bangkok and Susanna who arrived by tuk tuk dressed in the traditional clothing of  her home in Malaysia—a tunic over pantaloons—which she would also wear while building topped with a wide brimmed army hat. We jumped into the back of one of the ubiquitous red pick-up truck taxis of Chieng Mai and were on our way. Along the way we picked up more Thai women—Noi who had a compassionate face and was retired and Pom a young woman accompanied by her mother who sported a natty pork pie hat. Mother only stayed with us for a day or two, but Pom would throw herself into this workshop with a notable work ethic. Building a mud house was on her "bucket list" she told me later. I soon learned that Susanna was an avid bird watcher as well as a writer. While our Russian companion merely laughed at every question I asked her before finally offering that she was an architect. She would also sleep a great deal. She had not been able to sleep in Bangkok, she said during a meeting at the halfway point of our workshop. Indeed she would soon move to Chieng Mai.Amidst the Rice PaddiesAn hour outside of the city we arrived at a small farm of rice paddies with a humble wooden house on stilts such as my grandmother had lived in, but not quite as big. On the edge of the first rice [...]

The Anarchist's Shoes


In which I learn why manufactured shoes are bad for you and how to make your own.At Thanksgiving dinner the Anarchist was admiring the black ankle boot moccasins I was wearing with my sarong pants and I announced that I was going to make my own shoes. "I'd be very interested in how that goes", said the Anarchist who was a self designated non-conformist who had, during a discussion at one of our parties, announced that she was an anarchist. A term that fits well for this story. Her desire to join me in my shoe odyssey further intrigued me and she told me of her feet woes. How the combination of bunions and toes now curling up over her feet made it increasingly difficult to find footwear to fit. She didn't have good feet to begin with, she explained, but years of forcing them into heels and of being on her feet all day while working at a Hallmark store did them in. Only then did I realize that she always wore Ugg boots even in summer and now she could only wear the right boot of two pairs of Uggs. I showed her the work of a shoemaker who had blogged about making a pair of shoes for a woman with severely swollen feet. This gave us the confidence that we too could solve our shoe problems in the same manner.I had my own reasons for wanting to make my own shoes. My daily dog walking was wearing out my shoes faster than at any time in my life. The soles of walking shoes did not seem to wear as well as they once did. I was shoe goo-ing them repeatedly (glue used to fix holes in tennis shoes). Then I read an article brought to my attention by a newsfeed I subscribe to called the Village Green Network which usually concerned itself with food and recipes for making something simple like laundry soap. The article was by a woman who had decided to make her own shoes because most shoes caused her pain on the long hikes she liked to take. She referenced another article that described how shoes compromise the natural gait of the foot. I was shocked and then not at all surprised. So often did a single assumption lead to misinformation never investigated. Shoes were still built on the same too narrow lasts as they had been for centuries under the belief that feet had to be supported. They were also too heavy, inflexible, reduced surface area of the foot and since they were drawn with a curve rather than on a straight axis forced the foot to an incorrect orientation.The referenced article described how the footbed of shoes have an indentation under the ball of the foot designed into the shoe to make the foot look smaller. Sure enough I checked all my shoes and every one of them had that indentation built into the footbed. This slight dip compromised the natural arch of the foot especially when other areas of the footbed were compressed with wear. This combination put three important bones out of alignment. The reason arch support was needed turned out to be to raise these bones back into place. The turned up toes of shoes, the lack of flexibility in the sole, the stiffness of the uppers all interfered with the natural ability of the foot to grasp surface area, expand and move the body. The article also pointed out that you can tell by the wear pattern of your shoes that the natural gait was being compromised. I looked on the bottom of my shoes and sure enough all of them were worn down on the outside edge of the heels and on a spot in the middle of the ball of the foot as described. I thought it was because of my bowed legs causing my shoes not to land properly. I read the article several times before I could believe that shoes were not helping at all (apart from protecting the foot from pointed rocks) and were more likely reduci[...]

Amanda Dances Christmas


As inspired by a year of much transition, healing and recovery I have danced for you in this riveting and unpredictable, masterpiece of spontaneous video shot live today at my home. It could be said that you cannot truly know me until you have seem me at my goofiest.

With much gratitude for the readership, comments and ongoing support found here. I wish you a Happy Christmas and holiday season.


And Now For Something Completely Different


Sometimes you have no idea you can do something well until someone gives you a prize. The first time I won a Zoomie for my student movie The Artful Bodger I saw that I clearly had an advantage over my fellow classmates because so few people actually finished their class project. With only ten days to do so you really had to hustle to not only shoot your movie, but edit it as well. The Zoom-In course sponsored by the Media Center is taught by Doug Kreitz and covers basic equipment operation, how to set up Hollywood lighting, how to handle sound. The lighting did indeed make an ordinary person look like a star and when he taught us how to interview a subject I understood the power of television. I had volunteered to be the interviewer."What was the first film you remember seeing in a movie theater?" I asked him and he was off and running telling me the story of seeing Boris Karloff in Frankenstein I think it was. And how he was so frightened he had to call his mother half way through to come and pick him up. The formality of filming a person for posterity, I realized, gave this process a ceremonial quality; people presented themselves in a different way with more attention to what they were saying. And there was historical information embodied in their answer too. On the receiving end it gave me an authority I was unused to receiving. I was entranced. I asked my mother if I could interview her about what it was like to be in a mixed marriage in the '50s. She agreed to the interview and dressed up for the occasion. I set up the lighting kit and a lavaliere mike I had checked out from the Media Center equipment library. But the lights were so large that they overwhelmed the tiny space in her sitting room. I threw something over one light to dim it somewhat. My mother sat in the chair and I rolled camera and started asking my questions, but when I listened through my headphones the sound was full of static and I couldn't figure out why. It was alright in playback mode, so I was good to go, but between figuring out if the camera was on or off, I had already lost quite a lot of my mother's story. Then the gel I had thrown over the light started to smoke and the situation was fast becoming a comedy of errors. And not all that interesting as a movie I realized since you can't just have a talking head for the whole film and my idea to cut away to photographs from the family album wasn't all that dynamic.Luckily I had a fall back subject—myself making something. And I was using power tools, always an exciting visual given the chance of cutting off a finger or two. All I had to do was film all the steps of making the project and a little bit of context to show how I picked materials then tie it all together with a voiceover.  Doing a voiceover was not all that easy. You had to get the timing right while you read the script live into a microphone as the video was running. I didn't have it as perfect as I would've liked, but I did want to finish my project since Doug was as excited as I was that my movie was coming together. By this time class had run overtime by an hour or so with just me and another filmmaker. No wonder so few students finished their film. The ZoomiesAt the 6th biannual Zoomes The Artful Bodger won the audience award against 5 other contestants. During the Zoomies awards night Becky, the Media Center coordinator interviewed the filmmakers under the bright lights in the broadcasting studio. The setting made it feel just like a television show and Becky asked questions about the making of my film as if it was a significant contribution to the world. Naturally, I loved[...]

Climbing To New Heights


In which I fulfill the role of conference chair for the Institute for Challenging Disorganization, pulling off an event more successful than my wildest expectations.The conference chair's job is assumed to be over once the speakers are booked and all the arrangements made with the hotel to facilitate the smooth running of the program, but to me arriving in Denver two days before I was to appear at the podium for this annual conference of the Institute For Challenging Disorganization, I felt my job was only just beginning.At the networking mixer the night before the program was to start, a handful of long time subscribers and board members thanked me for the quality of speakers that I had put together for the conference. They had come to this conclusion based on the write-ups and the bios of the speakers in the program. Our theme Climbing To New Heights inspired by our Denver location, had also helped. Their acknowledgement allowed me a measure of breathing space and I could relax a little. Later I would wonder what combination of luck or skill had helped me put together such a program.  What for instance had allowed me to pick the speakers for programming with such confidence? "Beginner's luck," I had said to the board president when she first saw the line-up several months ago. It helped that I had no reputation to uphold so I did not feel I had something to prove. The board had already placed their confidence in me by asking me to take on this role. I could proceed with some calm based on my experience as program chair for my chapter meetings. I had made so many mistakes in my two year stint, I at least knew what didn't work. My predecessor Marci Katz had taught me how to approach and negotiate with potential speakers during my two years on the ICD conference committee. She left me a few leads and a sample of a letter to write to prospective speakers. Then she retired from the committee leaving me to it. It's lucky that I like to read, I thought. In the last decade I had read enough to answer most of my questions about how the world works in the political, sociological, psychological and spiritual arenas as well as in the practical realm of carpentry, plumbing and gardening. I liked ideas prompted by bio-mimicry and ecological systems. I liked how social science could be reframed with new theories and discoveries. I enjoyed new studies about how the brain worked and theories about how it could be retrained. I had also read enough inspirational material and entrepreneurial fluff to distinguish between an original thought and one borrowed and dumbed down to fit a particular marketing approach. For the conference I had gone in search of authors who had the educational background or personal experience to develop enough original thinking to fill a a book on a subject that might interest my colleagues. Which meant that I had to know my colleagues in the context of ICD. And having attended every conference since it's inception I felt that I did. It was the brain trust of the organizing profession as one colleague put it. Given all our past conferences and our monthly tele classes, we were well versed in the basics of hoarding research, ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder, brain damage and the practical impact of a slew of other diagnosis on people's ability to function. At our conferences we moved as one hearing all the same speakers and discussing them at the breaks together. We also did not live on theory alone; we wanted practical applications for the knowledge being given.The SpeakersSpeaker suggestions had come in from subscribers and commi[...]

Have Braids Will Travel


In my travels around the Bay Area I add new cultural sensibilities to my inner terrain and learn some profound leadership skills at a Director's Lab."I like your hair," said my colleague, Deb, when I met her for lunch at a local Thai restaurant. She was referring to two small braids on either side of my face framing my long hair. "I was afraid I wasn't ethnic enough," I said. She laughed a delightful laugh of appreciation for this comment on the fluidity of identity. "You'll never not be ethnic," she said. She herself was sporting her usual head of salt and pepper ringlets falling past her shoulders that complemented her Jewish identity."Oh phew, I was beginning to wonder if I was becoming too white." I joked. She laughed again. "I was actually going for the look of the Faeries in Lord of the Rings," I added, "but it didn't turn out that way". More delighted laughter. Yes those Faeries are definitely ethnically white in the palest European sense, but they did have long hair decorated with beautiful silver jewelry. I was happy with the Native American look I ended up with. I became visible to people who never noticed me before. Latina women smiled and wanted to talk to me in the wealthy houses where we worked. I had somehow transcended my race. (Thai women never braided their hair.) Interior designers in those same houses wanted to know my name. The New York closet designer I sometimes worked for loved my new look and because she was such an arbiter of taste that pretty much clinched it. I was confident that I had achieved a definitive style worth cultivating.My hair redo was prompted by a shift in the demographics of my environment as the streets of Oakland became a part of my geography. Oakland is a black city, famously so, and the historical home of the Black Panthers. It is across the bay an hour's drive away, but it might as well be another country. Not too many Asian people visible there if at all. Further south, but still in the east bay, the suburban town of Fremont was the home of Asian immigrants with entire school districts full of college bound, 4.0 Asian students. On my side of the bay Silicon Valley offered a diversity of brown immigrants drawn to the tech industry, but very few African Americans.The economy on the east bay side is different from Silicon Valley's upwardly mobile, moneyed tidiness; it is possible to drive through miles of shabbiness in Oakland that look third world in comparison. The run down houses on small lots marked off with cyclone fencing. Junked cars up on blocks, household furniture left outside in the yard. Seldom did people on my side of the bay speak of going to Oakland. There is a resistance to crossing bridges in earthquake country; you can get stranded. Plus downtown Oakland is so cut up by freeway exits that you can't get out the same way you got in. When I started going to Oakland for sessions with Lenore, my shamanic counselor, I would take BART in, arriving at the Ashby station. It being Saturday, the station parking lot was given over to a flea market with chiefly black vendors. Some stalls sporting reggae flags and dashikis. The open air display of used items and new household goods reminding me of open markets in other parts of the world. A sensibility not without a certain cultural pride fleshed out by street musicians. No street musicians on my side of the bay. Not allowed without a permit. Barbara Ehrenrich wrote a book about the suppression of communal celebration called Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy. She noted that when the rich[...]

Race Matters In America: What I've Learned So Far


Here in this post Zimmerman world it has suddenly become okay, if not in fact, necessary to address racism. I venture a perspective from my own particular niche of racial privilege. Race Matters In America: What I've Learned So FarWhen I came to the US in 1968 (on Labor Day) America appeared to be enjoying a state of progressiveness that infected the whole culture with a vibrancy and newness. And in this context of progressiveness I thought this country of mixed races had this whole race thing solved.In fifth grade, which was where I entered this conversation, I noted and appreciated the respect being shown by my white teacher during the lessons on black culture. And as I read the story put before me about George Washington Carver learning to read, I also learned something of the plight of black people in America. For in this story black children born into slavery were denied an education, but George Washington Carver had figured out how to get the white boys to teach him the alphabet, by boasting to them that he already knew it. And when they demanded that he recite it, he was counting on them to correct him and that was how he got it right in the end. He did not mind being humiliated in the meantime. This was a lesson I would carry with me for it was quite often that I would find myself in the same position of not knowing something everyone else took for granted. And if you didn't mind being totally clueless and possibly humiliated by those who were in the know, you could learn what you needed to know. This was a big help. Could be of help now.I don't recall learning to be afraid of black men. My white mother was a fan of Sidney Poitier and the movie Guess Who's Coming To Dinner was used as a teaching point for me since she too had had to introduce her parents to a fiancé who was a man of color. In contrast my Thai father learned to speak in what I would come to recognize as racist terms. He chiefly complained about Mexicans and how inferior they were as fellow immigrants. I disliked his rants because I did not have a Ph.D. like him and my mother implied that I was lazy about just as often. (To insure that I would I live up to my potential, I was sent to private schools where the attention of teachers in small classes would keep me forever anxious about making something of myself.)At my private high school I was required to read The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. I did not understand this book at all. The sense of irony was beyond me possibly because I did not realize how being invisible was problematic and I was taking for granted my own invisibility. I better understood Black Like Me which my mother owned. (I also did not understand Crime and Punishment because basically Western thought was still foreign to me, but I didn't know it at the time.) I did, however, speak with a British accent identical to my mother's and this was encouraged in my anglophile prep school. (She had actually upgraded her accent from her provincial Yorkshire one when she moved closer to London as a teen.) Post high school the accent gave me another layer of privilege because people listened to me when I talked and assumed I was unusually intelligent or highly educated. I am neither nor am I good at math. I've tried to make up for it with reading. It also helped that I had three different cultural perspectives to choose from, one of which was openly based on class privilege. It gave me more room to observe and understand biases.Confessions of a Model MinorityAnd so I came to hold that odd position complicit with white Amer[...]

Occupy Marriage


My partner Catherine asked me to marry her the day of gay pride, three days after the ruling came down allowing the quest for marriage equality to proceed. I said yes, but after so many years of being against marriage as an institution I have to write myself a 3,000 word attitude adjustment.What Cost Marriage Equality?The gay and lesbian community won a huge victory this week. With no help from me. (Unless you count being publicly open about being in a long term relationship with the woman I love.) When it became clear a decade or more ago that the gay community was going to run with the marriage equality issue I looked upon it much as I did the issue of gays in the military. That this was a niche issue relevant to the few rather than the many and I decamped. I no longer called myself a gay activist. (I became a climate change activist.)In the late '80s I chose the political identity of lesbian over bisexual because I realized that the straight people I worked with and came out to needed an unambiguous identity in order to address their questions to me about being gay. (The idea that everyone had a fluid sexuality, I quickly realized was too difficult to explain.) As a gay activist I lived the phrase made popular by the feminists of the '70s that the personal was political. And  in the '90s I wrote about my lesbian household as a columnist in the relatively conservative arena of a weekly newspaper in Palo Alto. My last point of contact as an activist for the gay community was as a panelist going into high schools (including my own) to talk about the trials of being a lonely, frightened gay kid whose future seemed severely curtailed. The reactions of parents to my appearance began with "I get it about the gay kids, but why does my kid have to be exposed to that lifestyle". Umm, no not getting it at all. Who, after all, was likely to do the bullying?I often spoke alongside speakers from PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbian and Gays). This group was of immense emotional support to the gay community in the days when parents were just as likely to disown their gay children. The emotional outpouring as PFLAG marched in the Gay Liberation parades of the '70s onward did much to heal this wound. The support offered to parents was equally important. When kids came out to parents, parents typically went into the closet tearfully grieving what was essentially the death of a heterosexual child.With the fight for gay marriage, the issue polarized the nation much like the abortion issue continues to do so. We made the Christian Right stronger by giving them a unifying enemy. Christian leaders admitted that homophobia and the fear of homosexuals brought more money into their fundraising campaigns than any other issue and they continued to write those letters perpetuating the hatred. And the hate trickled down and was made personal in the dialogues of families of the Christian right and into the schools where they already had a foothold on school boards. The fear of gay marriage was translated directly into the fear that children as young as six would be forced to learn about homosexuality in school. (This was a gross misinterpretation. In actuality it would only be in the sex ed classes that homosexuality would be mentioned at all and only in passing as an acceptable condition.)At the height of this power of the Christian Right it became popular among the teens of those families to be a "hater". It was something to be proud of. I saw in their ranks, t-shirts that said "I (heart) haters". A[...]

Enter Dreaming


The mystery of my missing memory on the eve of the 2012 Solstice clung to me for months as I searched for words and some sort of framework to hang it on. While working on the play at the gallery in Oakland, I met Lisa, a friend of Lenore's, who had also been at the Solstice ceremony. I pressed her for details when we went to fetch dinner. She found my story to be rather incredulous for she was not there after the ceremony to hear me ask the same question over and over—"Did I come with someone?" She was, however, able to tell me how many people had been there (a whole roomful backed up to the walls) and that the lighting had indeed been low at floor level."You must have been so scared," said my mother when I related the story to her."I wasn't actually there to be scared", I reminded her. I more felt like I had been through the looking glass like Alice. The experience was so dreamlike. Catherine was also worried when I told her that I had no memory of where I had gone the night before (by myself with complete strangers except for Lenore and two others I only met once). But when I told her that every time I tried to grip my mind around the experience, I felt a reassuring sense that everything had been alright, she was willing to trust that nothing serious had happened.I did ask myself, as soon as I could hold a coherent thought in my head the next day, if I should abandon all things shamanic. My answer was immediate. No, I was not going to let this incidence take that away from me. That much I was certain of. Besides if a shamanic ceremony had been powerful enough to dislodge my mind, then it was worth further investigation. Our science minded culture wanted to put it in a medical context, a malfunction described as a black out, but I was looking for something else, a metaphorical meaning, a narrative explanation. "It could be viewed as an initiation," Dave agreed when we discussed it weeks later after he had taken me for my soul retrieval ceremony. "Especially for someone who put such significance on the date," he added.Ah yes, I had forgotten about the significance of the 2012 Solstice date. Once it had passed and all the hullabaloo about the end of the world being for naught, only the seriously out-there New Agers wanted to mention it again. But I had indeed spent over a year focused on the Mayan prediction, not as an end date, but a gateway to a shift. I just hadn't thought of it as my own personal shift. I decided to ask my Grandmother spirit about it. On a journey to the upper world, I sat at her kitchen table and asked why the Solstice ceremony had unfolded as it did."Well it got your attention didn't it?" she asked. "The ceremony connected you with Lenore who could help you. And the soul retrieval was necessary to help you move along on your spiritual journey," she explained. It sounded quite logical and efficient especially given my disinclination to ask for help of any sort. And it was a soul retrieval I had asked for though I knew nothing about it and I don't know how I knew to ask for such a thing. My spirit Grandmother's answer still didn't explain the incredible feeling of lightness that it left me with.At the close of 2012 Catherine was nearing the end of her cancer treatment. When I asked how she was doing her most frequent answer was that she was anxious about "impermanence" the Buddhist term for the temporal nature of the universe. At which point I would say "Oh, is that all?", extend my condolences and go [...]

The Play's The Thing


Story telling meets audience resulting in a rich discussion of race and gender, visceral reactions to segregation and the need for seeing our mixed race experiences reflected on the screen. The backstory performance of American Ubuntu, presented in Oakland. A Play Is BornThe kernel of the idea, when Lenore took on the gig at Joyce Gordon Gallery, was to offer the audience an experience of racial segregation. And we didn't warn them ahead of time. That was the surprise audience participation part of it. What they did know was that this was a story of a high school romance set in the '70s with an interracial component—a bold confident black girl pursues a shy sensitive white boy that she has noticed watching her for some time. And because no tickets were being sold it was hard to know if anyone would even come, save for friends and family. But all who signed up to help produce this show were committed to see it through.When I came to the project, six weeks ago there was neither a script nor actors, just a conversation with Eric the gallery curator to present a live performance in a segregated environment. On top of it Lenore was going to be away for two weeks. I was not accustomed to this approach, this diving into the deep end to sink or swim. But I was intrigued by it. And as Lenore posted to her Facebook page "you can only create fantastically when you're willing to fail spectacularly".Labor of LoveA community derived grassroots production has a lot of room for participation and for some reason I needed to prove myself to an artist with a big vision. Possibly because all of my visions had gotten so small they were hardly worth doing. But also because working with someone on a project with high stakes and a deadline is a very good way to get to know who they are. When I arrived at the gallery the week before the performance I had my eighteen tables ready to go. And two helpers to put them together with me. Eighteen tables have 72 legs. Seventy two legs that I wrapped with rubber bands and masking tape to make them friction fit into the pre-drilled holes. It worked without too much difficulty especially once I figured out to wax them so they would slide into the holes better. Seventy-two pieces multiplied by all these procedures takes a while. Nearly thirty hours went into these tables with their many legs. It kept me connected to the project and made me feel like a genius when I had worked through all the design problems.I loved seeing them in the space, a bit quirky and cartoonish with their legs slightly askew. All of them different and you could still tell they were doors since I had left them unpainted. (I liked for people to be able to see things transformed into new things; it breaks the consumer mindset.) And though not robust they were light and easy to move. The holes where the doorknobs had been we used for cup holders. As we put them around the room, it became clear that the tables were the set; they delineated the space into an environment that would hold all the action and the audience too. I was proud to have made such a significant contribution. And rewarded by the look of appreciation in Lenore's eyes for all I was doing.Down To The WireI built them while Lenore was away at Hedgebrook working on the script. (Hedgebrook is a women's writer's retreat on Whidbey Island.) When she returned two weeks later she still had no actors; the actors she originally had in mind were booked that[...]

Eighteen Tables For Two


In which I relive my past as a movie theaters projectionist, renew my interest in filmmaking and vie to become a part of my shamanic counselor's movie project.I Am A CameraWe can see now, that having lost the confidence and wherewithal of my ten year old self only to then loose the passion and faith in life that my 19 year old had achieved, there was little left of me to fend through my twenties. Just a nihilistic, romanticized posing, shored up by a suit of black leather standing in black steel toe motorcycle boots (with the requisite motorcycle to go with it). Shortly after I dropped out of College V, I worked as a projectionist at several movie theaters in Palo Alto. It was more than a job, it was how I was saving my hollow, soul-less, sorry ass self. "At least I'm not a heroin addict," I told myself. I had successfully failed all the expectations of my fancy prep school (funded by two frugal working parents and a partial scholarship the school had offered me). The high academic standards (three and four hours a night of homework plus weekend essays) had trained me to meet the goals of teachers who took a personal interest in me. College had been without such structure and my nihilistic peers, having taught me to scoff at passion in anything, had helped in my unraveling. All my equity in advanced placement credit was used up in unfinished classes. I needed a reboot.I went home and lived with my dad. If I avoided asking my parents for money I felt I could start from scratch to shape my own life, find for myself what interested me. I did not trust my writing to the ethnocentric (and homophobic) literary culture I had encountered so I turned to art. Working nights at the movie theater funded my art supplies and tuition. Movies had informed me how life could be lived. I was still in high school when I saw Bob Fosse's Cabaret with its hint of easy bisexuality and tawdry, ominous picture of pre-war Berlin. "Divine decadence," said Sally Bowles waving her green fingernails and giving me my mantra for my youth. While Fosse's Lenny Bruce movie offered me my first scene of women touching each other, naked torsos beautifully shot in black and white. (The disgusted reaction of the audience informing me how such acts would be received.) Thus it was to the movies I returned to feel whole, to feel anything at all. At the movies I could live somebody else's life, house the characters in my body and feel their emotional unfolding. That high lasting for about a week before the effect wore off. The first theatre manager who hired me (and dated me) was a screenwriter. He taught me how to look at film from the writer's point of view, how to pick out why the filmmaker had made certain choices. As projectionists, we could watch our favorite scenes over and over. Midnight Express played then at our second run theater. I learned how suspense was created. How much the music and sound mattered so that only a closed door could be shown. What made a love scene unfold. The script said no to the homoerotic love scene, but the filmmaker said yes with the lighting and  the beauty of the two men together thus revealing the truth of the book. This was my film school. My dreams had tracking shots in them. I caught myself one day deep into my movie addiction. Walking down University Avenue, my eye tracking down the sidewalk like an establishing shot, I felt a momentary wonder at the 3 D ness of it all. "Real[...]

Where The Wild Child Lives


In which I learn from my ten year old self, how to stay focused. How I made my first youtube video and how Catherine's illness changed my perspective.To improve my Shamanic practice I was advised by my Grandmother Spirit to journey every day and write down questions. I was not a very questioning sort of person it turns out. There is an art to asking questions. Most big questions I didn't want to know the answers to; it required a different kind of mind. One that is concerned with shaping the future and I had been raised to allow things to unfold and to pounce when the opportunity presented itself. I wanted to learn to master the art of the question, but meanwhile I could just hang out.My power animals were very affectionate when I came just to hang out. We moved languidly as if on vacation. On my first hanging out visit, Mongoose and I rode on Bear who made himself as big as an elephant and thus we sat on his back in an elephant chair much like the ones used on Thai elephants. We decided to visit Leopard. I told Mongoose I loved Leopard. "She is your heart", he said. We found Leopard sunning herself on her usual rock. She licked my face in greeting and I asked her what to do about Lenore. This was not actually a question on my list, but hey as long as we were hanging out I asked it as one would a friend.After I wrote about my crush on Lenore I had sent her the link to the story along with all the other stories during those prolific few weeks when I was being reacquainted with my returning soul parts. I wanted to know if she minded being a part of my story. People do not always take kindly to being written about and I was prepared for this. Prepared to walk away. I had an entire flow chart in my head about how many ways I was prepared to walk away, but she gave me a big hug when I saw her next and told me how well I wrote. I did not expect her to follow the writing at all. I was so prepared to be rejected, I had to reorient myself to this warm reception and was not sure how to proceed; how to trust it. "Lenore will be there for you as long as you need her," Leopard said. "Stay open for what is offered," she added wisely. And so I let go of my second guessing mind. I asked Leopard if we could visit my 10 year old. We all walked down to the River and got in a small dinghy. The River drifted us downstream a little ways and stopped at the opposite bank beaching on a little spit of land bordered by some reeds. We jumped out and the 10 year old emerged from the reeds. She was eager to show us her house, a little round adobe house, whitewashed, with a single window and a thatched roof. I could build one myself from what I learned at a workshop in Northern Thailand. There was nothing inside.  "It's round," she explained, "because it is more productive; it is the corners that are distracting and catch hold of extraneous stuff." I had to agree with that. Then she ran very fast around and around inside the house to demonstrate. We walked outside again and in the clearing next to the house was a little writing desk. She said she was the one who recorded everything and did the accounting. I had also been a very diligent diarist from the age of eight. I asked her what else kept her focused. She took from her pocket a sling shot with a carved wood handle and gum colored band. It was much like the ones I remembered from childhood. I had not dared own one for my mother w[...]