Saturday, January 24, 2009


A number of people have asked me why I cried for almost two hours during Obama's inauguration. I had a lot of trouble explaining my tears until I got an email from my friend Liz in which she included an article written by Emily Yoffe that was posted in Slate Magazine on December 3, 2008. Here is a quote from the article that explains my tears from a kind of scientific perspective:

In his forthcoming book, Born To Be Good (which is not a biography of Obama), Dacher Keltner [a professor of psychology at the University of California-Berkeley] writes that he believes when we experience transcendence, it stimulates our vagus nerve, causing "a feeling of spreading, liquid warmth in the chest and a lump in the throat." For the 66 million Americans who voted for Obama, that experience was shared on Election Day, producing a collective case of an emotion that has only recently gotten research attention. It's called "elevation."

Elevation has always existed but has just moved out of the realm of philosophy and religion and been recognized as a distinct emotional state and a subject for psychological study.

Bush was not my president. His policies and choices were antithetical to mine. By the time he started his second term of office, I had stopped listening to NPR completely, and when I subscribed to the New York Times, I often skipped reading the first section if there were articles about Bush's government. I could not stand the sound of his voice. It grated on my nerves like chalk on a board. As my mother would have said, I hid my head in the sand like an ostrich for 8 years because I couldn't abide with the President.

About 4 years ago, I listened to a book by Barack Obama, Dreams of My Father. That was the first time that I experienced what I now understand to be "elevation." At the end of the book, there was a recording of his speech at the Democratic Convention in 2004. I was outside working in the yard and listening to the speech on my iPod. I remember that I was so taken by the speech that I sat down in the dirt, trowel in hand, to give it my full attention. When he finished speaking, I pressed rewind and listened again simply to sustain the "feeling of spreading liquid warmth" in my chest. A few days later, I bought The Audacity of Hope by Obama. I simply wanted to drown myself in this man's words.

Now he is MY President.

And I'm constantly seeking news of him-- on NPR, on the Internet, and on the TV. I simply can't get enough of those "Obama-lofted heights."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Oh Happy Blessed Day

I turned on the TV at 7:10 this morning as I sat in the recliner with my laptop, emailing a friend about the inauguration. The phone rang and it was another friend who was singing OOOBAAAMAA! While I was talking to her, another friend popped in on chat saying, "I'm so excited! I'm tuned into the Internet and the TV, and I can hardly sit still." My part of the world was alive with the thrill of Obama's inauguration as the 44th President.

By 7:55, I started shedding tears and knew I couldn't watch alone. Cindy didn't plan to get up until 9am, but I woke her and she immediately joined me. We sat and held hands while I cried for the next 2 hours. Then she had to go to work, but by that time he was sworn in, and I was only crying now and then. I continued to watch until 2pm when I decided I needed to get dressed and get some fresh air, but by 5 pm, I was back in front of the TV watching wonderful photographic montages set to Aretha Franklin singing her unbeatable, unstoppable, fantastic gospel rendition of "My Country Tis of Thee." And I was crying again.

Every morning as part of my Buddhist practice I say the Daily Recitation which is a collection of verses taught at Vichara Bodhiyana Monastery reiterating the Buddhist principles by which I try to live my life. Shortly after 5 today, my teacher Nancy Spence sent an email with this subject line: "An Auspicious Day" and five lines from near the end of the Daily Recitation.

O, Happy Blessed Day!
O, Happy Blessed Place!
O, Happy Blessed Time!
O, Happy Blessed Path!
O, Happy Blessed Opportunity!


Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Sentence

Since Christmas, we have watched a slew of movies which I'm going to list. I challenged myself to write a single sentence about each movie, so here goes.

In reverse chronological order we have seen:

Gran Torino: 78 year old Clint Eastwood's bad cop Dirty Hairy has evolved into a bad-mouthed, surly old man living in an urban ghetto to good effect--gritty, violent, and bittersweet.

Wall-E: Disney has created a strange yet beguiling love story in the context of a trashed earth and a fat outer space that I enjoyed immensely.

I'm a sucker for romantic comedies that center around not knowing what you want even when it's staring you in the face, and I particularly like it when one of the characters is a writer.

Sicko: This movie made me sick with envy as I peered through its window into countries who have managed to provide superb health care for EVERYONE: Canada, England, France, and Cuba.

Leaving Las Vegas: The twisted view of unconditional love offered by this movie has hooked my heart repeatedly for reasons I dare not explore.

Mr. Wrong: This is a terrible movie that we watched completely only because the screenwriter was trying to spoof a bunch of classics and it was fun to try to recognize pieces of those other much more worthy films.

Dr Zhivago: It took all of a long winter afternoon to watch this video, a truly worthy use of our time for they simply don't make movies as exquisitely as this one anymore.

The Bucket List: Jack Nicholson & Morgan Freeman made it easy to think about what I want to put on the list of things I want to do before I die, and the list I wrote after seeing this movie a second time was not all that different from the first, so I better get busy.

I Am Legend: WHEW; I like Will Smith enough to finally watch this thriller (covering my eyes frequently).

Somersby: Though a bit slow-moving, I enjoyed the twists of this Civil War who-done-it.

Marley & Me: I already said that I'm a sucker for a love story with a writer--albeit in this case it's a family in love with a dog--so not surprisingly this movie grabbed my heart and made me laugh and cry.

Tea With Mussolini--We got this movie because Cindy loves Cher who is aptly cast in this World War II comedy/drama that turned out to be wonderfully character-acted by several favorites including Judi Dench and Joan Plowright.

7 Pounds: WHEW; Will Smith again so what can I say other than this was the movie we watched with two rows of Dixons, a movie that it hits on some pretty tender topics like car accidents and organ transplant.

We are near the end of our "vacation" time, so will be watching fewer movies though maybe more TV. We'll see how our 2009 plans to play more pan out.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

More TV

"Why would you want to watch more TV?" said Sandie.

Cindy's sister was asking a very good question and one to which we had given considerable thought. We are not TV watchers. A few years back we got the smallest DISH package possible, so we would have TV in the case of largely publicized emergencies, things like the wildland fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, etc. It was also nice to be able to get Cindy's favorite show ER which she has watched for 15 years and we were collecting from her mom in videotape. Once we got DISH, we taped that show and watched it in bunches of 2 or 3 but otherwise rarely turned on the TV. Cindy's mom called us if there was something newsworthy (like 9/11) that we should tune into.

Recently, however, we had decided that TV might be a good way to escape for a few hours a week. We are both terrible about going back to work after dinner in the evening instead of taking time to relax. In the summer, we often spend time after dinner in the yard puttering but in the winter we go to our desks in the evening. We knew we needed a way to get away from the piles of work that are always waiting, so we decided to gift ourselves with an upgraded DISH package and a DVR.

I bought a TV Guide to try to learn about programming because we didn't even know what was available to watch. We are recording a bunch of programs and watching them to find a few regulars we like. Sadly Cindy's show--ER-- is going off the air at the end of this season, so we are looking for replacements. We used to watch West Wing and Six Feet Under years ago before they were discontinued so we have a sense of what we like.

So far we've watched these shows: 24, House, Bones, The Story of India, and several movies on HBO. There are some shows getting ready to premier new seasons, and we have them set to record: The United States of Tara, Damages, and L-Word. We are having ball rewinding and pausing with the DVR both during regular and recorded programs What a marvelous invention!

So far, more TV has been a cool ticket to fun.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Alpaca Connection

When our scheduled winter vacation when awry, we decided that we would do a vacation from home, making sure we left the house each day to do something fun. A trip to the alpaca ranch was one of our outings.

Last fall, when our friend Becky applied for a job as an alpaca ranch hand, she gave my name as a reference, including my work number at the college. When the ranch owner, Gretchen, called I was out of the office, so that's how she heard my job title. I called her back and after I had answered all of her questions about Becky, she made some inquires about Learning Disabilities services at the college because she knew someone who might want to use them. We ended up having a chummy conversation in which she described moving out here from midwest with her husband who is a doctor. The alpaca venture was a distraction from the difficult experience of moving far from family and friends. As it turns out, Gretchen's husband is the doctor who surgically repaired my daughter's wrist which she broke when her exercise ball popped underneath her. When you live in a small community, connections like this are not uncommon. Anyway, Becky got the job at the alpaca ranch.

While I was reading Barn at the End of the World, I got intrigued with the notion of hanging out with farm animals, so I asked Becky if I could assist her at the ranch sometime. That's how Cindy and I ended up spending a gorgeous winter afternoon with alpacas at a lovely ranch that overlooks the Tuolumne River canyon.

Well, in truth we didn't spend all that much time with the alpacas as Becky put us right to work at the real job which is shoveling poop out of the paddock areas where the alpacas spend the night. There are girl areas and boy areas to be cleaned up and LOTS of piles to rake and shovel into the wheelbarrel, and then haul away. After the shoveling chore, it's time to fill troughs and other containers for feeding. The alpacas recognize the sound of this chore and start lining up near the gates braying a sweet, soft mewl of anticipation. Once the food is weighed and measured and all the water basins are filled, it's time to let them in.

The minute Becky opened a gate, a herd of alpacas raced through to the feed bins. Their graceful yet determined lope was pure delight to witness. We stood on the other side of the fence and watched the girls eat. A little one would barely get a bite before a mama shoved the baby's head aside and out of the trough. Undaunted, the youngster slipped her head beneath the neck of the big girl to secure another nibble. The alpacas lifted their heads to chew and gazed at us from the biggest black eyes imaginable.

This may not be everyone's idea of a vacation activity, but to me it was close to heaven. Or as Mary Rose O'Reilley writes: "Restless, I go down to the barn and attempt to dissect the concept of peace."

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Vagina Monologues

The Mountain Women's Resource Center once again brought the Vagina Monologues to our small rural area. This was the third time Cindy and I had seen the production, and I was no less affected this time. In fact, I'd have to say that I'm even more astounded by Eve Ensler's message each time I see it.

Traditionally performed on Valentines Day--VDAY- The Vagina Monologues is intended to promote a global movement to end violence against women and girls. Ensler's award winning production juxtaposes hilarious scenes about "down there" with disturbing facts and portraits about violence against women. The result is emotional to say the least.

Director Janis Stevens, who was a company actor with SRT in the '80s and '90s, returned to lead the 10-women cast. (To this day, I can't envision Hedda Gabler or Lady McBeth as anyone other than Stevens.) In the program notes, Stevens writes:

Contrary to what many think, this play is not a feminist diatribe. This play is a chance for everyone, women and men alike, to gather and rejoice in our humanity and to remind ourselves that we have the individual and collective power to "Stop the Violence" from happening in our lives and in our world.

To that end, the local production benefits not only the Mountain Women's Resource Center but also the women of the Democratic Republic of Congo where systematic sexual violence and femicide (the killing of females) not only destroys women and young girls but entire families and communities. The play reveals this truth in vivid yet sensitive portrayals.

But Ensler doesn't leave us floundering in tearful dismay. She also makes us laugh, and the full house last night was alive with good will. I wanted to go Saturday night rather than to the matinee because I knew "everyone" would be there then and I was right. The lobby before and after was a crush of bodies and ringing with conversation. We lingered long after the show visiting with a network of friends--work colleagues, health care profesionals, yoga classmates, meditation buddies and even family, for just as the lights dropped Cindy spotted Andrea a few rows ahead of us.

At the start of the show, Janis Stevens did a brief introduction during which she entreated us to tell friends about the show. There is a matinee today(Sunday 1/11) at 2pm. If you attend, I guarantee that you won't be disappointed and the cause is clearly important.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Slow Start to 2009

My last blog post was shortly after Christmas. Immediately after that I was laid low by a respiratory infection that kept me home for 6 days and off the computer for 3 days. Like so many humans, I turned to my spiritual practice when the going got rough. Of course, the loudest message I heard was the admonition that if I kept a more constant practice, I might not be thrown so far off balance when challenges arose, but I've been wrestling with that message for most of my life, and I didn't let it guilt trip me too much.

Instead, I kept meditating and reading and when I came across a line in a book called The Barn at the End of the Worldby Mary Rose O'Reilly I knew I had hit pay dirt. O'Reilley wrote, "The universe is such an efficient school." Indeed her whole book is a collection of spiritual insights that she gathered working in a barn as well as in other mundane situations that were ripe with teaching.

Cindy and I have a practice of writing in our journals on New Years Day, and one of the things we do is make a list of all the things we did during the previous year. My list was long and rich and full of lessons about living as well as spiritual guidance if I cared to examine it from that perspective.

The most compelling information was the sheer volume of what I'd done during the year. I won't rewrite the entire list but a little sampling is illustrative of the fullness of 2008:
  • participating in home school all spring, including going to Little Red School house writing classes and weekly field trips around the county as history lessons;
  • celebrating my 60th birthday party with a family work party;
  • taking a trip to Oregon & Washington with my friend Kathy;
  • participating in the arrival of Clare Olivia Tippett, my 14th grandchild;
  • being the shag truck for August's half-iron man;
  • planning and enjoying the launch of my book;
  • going back to work part-time at the college;
  • more home school in the fall;
  • taking a spontaneous trip to the Ashland Shakespeare Festival;
  • taking a trip to visit my Aunt Jean in Yuma with Anna Mae;
  • seeing the Nutcracker in SF with Taylor, Candice & Jenny;
  • planning and executing a family Christmas party with Cindy, Bonnie, & Raymond;
  • taking numerous trips to Mariposa to join in Dixon family happenings, culminating with a 5 day Christmas trip.

Then I got sick and felt my energy evaporate in sneezing and coughing. Sitting and reading and reflecting, I realized that I want the richness of all these experiences but with less emphasis on the go, go, go. I need space to relish the wonder. I was blessed with innumerable wonders in 2008. Sickness taught me that less might be better.

I've been practicing: I refused a tempting offer to travel with August to racing camp, a trip that would have given me a chance to see my sister too; I postponed the start of home school until mid January. I'll return to the college in February doing considerably fewer hours; I've asked for help in my yard; We have 3 vacations planned and almost paid for, including a 10 day cruise to Alaska. I'm gong to spend more full days at home.

This is a most difficult lesson for someone who hates to miss out on any opportunity; who signs up impulsively for exciting experiences and most of all loves every single chance to be with family.

Mary Rose O'Reilley suggests that I remember that I'm not my past. She also reminds me to breathe in the deep roots of the fear that I will miss something and breathe out peace.

Happy New Year!