Monday, September 25, 2006
The Dalai Lama is Stalking MeI've been busy.
I've been busy changing decades, I've been busy selling books, I've been busy being in the thick of a very dense chunk of life.
Sometimes things transform. It seems like the transformations for the past year have been erratic, incomprehensible and (mostly) for the worse. This doesn't surprise me: all my '9' years seem to be years of huge psychic upheaval as my internal clock insists on doing a major inventory, some serious housecleaning, and an overhaul of life plans. I hate the 9 years. And I'm grateful that the transition is over; since I've turned the corner to a fresh new set of numbers, the transformations have been landing strongly on the positive side.
Things are shaking loose. Getting good again. Starting to make sense in the way the world used to make sense, a long long time ago. I'm almost remembering what it feels like to be me again. To have some lift. To feel my lips curling into a smile.
My dreams these nights have been deep and vivid. I am talking to people for hours on end. There seems to be a lot that needs to be said at the moment. I am compelled to go deep. I crave that hit.
Every morning I go into my office and look at the map of Tibet tacked to my cubical wall. Beneath it I have taped my friend Jill's itinerary. She sent an email last week from Lhasa with her travels outlined by day. Today she was in a place called Old Tingri. I couldn't find it anywhere on the map. I wondered how long something in Tibet needed to be in existence to get that nickname. New Tingri must be at least 5000 years old.
Jill is in Tibet. And with her is a chunk of my hair. All year I had a crazy notion in my head about wanting to go to Tibet for my birthday. It was a notion that came to me frequently in yoga class. I really have no knowledge whatsoever about what Tibet is. But I thought it'd be lovely to find myself utterly remote, breathing air saturated with reverence, hearing strange music on the wind.
In my mind, as I'd drift to this thought, it'd be a place where I could finally find peace inside my soul. Where I could get to a state of no-brain, no-mind. I'd be filled with the cool air of serenity, and I could sink down into myself in a way that would finally allow me to rest.
Of course I didn't take this Tibet thing terribly seriously. I threw that 32 hour party instead. I am a social creature, after all. And I don't really believe that a simple change in geographic location could actually produce the peace I'm looking for.
But then Jill said she was going. And she'll drop a chunk of my hair at the beginning of her three day trek around Mt. Kailash. And -- all in all -- it's a pretty cool deal. I get toilet paper. She gets enlightenment. I call it even.
A day or so before my birthday, the kids presented me with a package. A gift from their father and his girlfriend. Beautifully wrapped. And containing a type of enlightenment all its own: the 6th season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Nirvana. Watching Buffy with the kids is the closest I come to that mountaintop samadhi.
With the DVDs came a card. And when I opened it... I saw that it came from (where else?) Tibet. It had prayer flags attached inside, and lovely messages from all four of them.
I was touched beyond words.
And, I noticed, the Tibet thing was becoming a recurring theme.
The day of my birthday, I had an appointment after work in Pasadena near the Convention Center. Driving to the office, I saw a crowd of men and women in maroon and orange robes, shaved heads, milling about in front of the auditorium. Something was definitely up.
When I got to the office I asked around and found out what the deal was. Something WAS definitely up: the Dalai Lama, himself, was in Pasadena. On my 50th birthday. (And if I was too dense to get it by this time... his next stop was going to be Universal City, where I work. There was no avoiding this guy.)
After my appointment, I went to the Masonic Temple where they had opened up a couple of rooms to sell stuff from Tibet in honor of the occasion. Men in masks were dancing on the stage to drums. Incense was in the air, thick and sweet. The room was exactly what I'd expect to find wandering around the streets of Lhasa (except for the prices, which were very American.)
I bought a new string of prayer flags and incense for every good thing I could think of -- wisdom, health, protection, love, wealth. The guy who helped me threw in a little medicine wheel and some protective powders.
I was happy. And peaceful. And my soul was relaxed.
Tibet had come to me. And I was reminded that every moment is a place of infinite possibility and the occasional deep, delightful surprise.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 10:20 PM 2 comments
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
LiftOne of the highlights of the marathon party was a surprise visit from my martial arts teacher. She's an awesome woman -- a wildly talented rock 'n' roller, master martial artist, and an expert at an ancient Filipino percussion ensemble called Kulintang (which the boys and I studied with her, in addition to the JKD, for several years.) I was flattered and deeply touched when she came by; with all possible respect, it was like being visited and honored by Yoda.
She emerged from her SUV with a set of helium-inflated balloons -- three purple ones, one white one. They were all marked with the rhythms of the dabakan drum that we had been studying with her; it is a deep and basic pattern and it permeates how we knock on doors, honk the horn, and even beep the timer on the oven.
"The purple balloons represent your emotions, your mind and your body," she said "The white one represents your soul. Write on them what you want to release up into the universe, your dreams for yourself, where you want to go on this next passage of your life."
As you may have guessed, I was all over this idea. I'm the ritual queen and this was made to order. This whole thing was dripping with symbolic richness. I couldn't wait to have some time to think up the perfect words to send up into the sky.
Unfortunately, however, the balloons were on a different schedule. By the next morning, with the house filled with guests and another 20 hours of party to go... they were drooping and flopping on top of the piano. They were no more going up into the heavens to announce my intentions than I was. (Ah, hopefully.)
I put the idea on the back burner for awhile. And as I recovered from the party and finished peeling the top layer of barbeque sauce out of the cracks of my lighting fixtures and found the last beer bottles propped in the crevices of my backyard, I had another idea.
The night before my actual birthday, I would go out and get seven new balloons, one for every chakra, and send them up... carrying my deflated purples and white with them as payload. What would be even cooler, I thought, would be if I got the kids to write some neato words on them, relating to the nature of the specific chakra. And since this was a bigger idea than just sending up my little wishes for my humble existence, we would write words and thoughts for the entire planet. And our dreams for the world would carry with them my hopes for myself.
I loved this plan.
It was so neat.
And the kids humored me. Something about turning a big round number makes people humor you a bit more. (Hopefully it's not because they figure they're going to have to suffer your wacky ideas for that much less time in the future.) Maybe they secretly thought it was pretty cool. It's possible. Whatever it was, we sat around and talked about the images and energies for each chakra following the various definitions we looked up.
Red is the root chakra and associates with the earth, survival, base instincts. So on the red balloon we wrote words that we wished for the planet's environmental well-being.
For orange, the chakra associated with sexual organs, we wrote down what we wanted for the world's emotions and passions.
Yellow is the chakra located around the solar plexus. This is the power chakra, so we thought about how we as a country could better use our power.
The heart chakra is green. And it's also the middle chakra. So this is the place of balance and compassion.
The next chakra is blue. This is the place of communication, associated with the throat and speaking. We thought of how we as a society could better communicate with the world and what we could do better.
Violet is the color of the third eye chakra. This associates with vision, so we wrote down what we wanted the United States to see as we look around us.
The last and most elevated chakra is white. It lives in the crown of the head and represents the highest attainment of spirituality or refinement or enlightenment. This balloon is where we place our loftiest hopes and ambitions for our culture and country as it operates in the world.
It's obvious that we were doing something cool. It took about 20 minutes and then we put the balloons in the hall way to release the next morning at daybreak. Then, having saved the world, we grabbed ice cream and spoons and settled in to watch some good old fashioned vampire staking.
I woke up early on the day of my birthday. I was really relieved that the day itself has finally arrived. The bridge was crossed and I was safely on the other side with some adventures around the bend.
I get up and throw on some clothes for the launch of the balloons. I check on the internet and find out that sunrise for Pasadena is at 6:33. I rouse the kids and tell them we're about to send them up. I feed the dog and cat and grab the balloons, heading out the front door.
That's when I notice we have a slight, ah, problem.
The night before, when I let them go, they hit the ceiling with a deeply satifying latex smack. Bam! Bam bam bam! They just couldn't wait to hit the ceiling, they were so filled with the lightheartedness of helium.
But this morning, they were having a bit of a hangover. The lightheartedness was a bit more downtrodden. Yeah... they'd still go upwards... but lazily, sleepily, like all in all they'd rather sink down to their little balloon knees and give the flying thing up completely.
These were not balloons that were going to be able to carry with them my dreams (as written on four semi-flated balloons). No way. I tried tying my soul balloon on and the whole Chakra Seven posse couldn't withstand that one balloon's heft and just slammed down onto the floor like I'd tied on a small chunk of boat anchor.
So the idea of the big balloons carrying my smaller balloons was out.
Well, that's OK. I can still wish the world something big for my birthday, right? They are still inflated... they will still go up. It'll be fine. I'll figure out something for the purples and whites at a later date.
The kids shuffle out of their rooms and we go outside. I keep yanking gently down on the string hoping that the pull back up will get more, well, noticeable.
But they are still upright, damn it. And it's daybreak on my birthday. The kids are getting late for school and well, we have to release the things. I take a bunch of pictures with the film camera, and Chris takes some with the digital. I figure we've done as much commemorating as we can... so I just open my hand and let them go.
They DO go up. They really do.
But, well, they don't really go up very far. As we watch, we see them gently drift over the top of the roof ... and then up over the trees behind my house.
Where they, well, just barely clear.
And then I get the incredible, heartwrenching error of my ways. Behind my house, behind those tress that the balloons just barely cleared, is a major freeway. A MAJOR FREEWAY. With motorists driving blearily on their way to work. The Starbucks wore off 20 miles ago, it's just a hair after daybreak, they stayed up too late watching Survivor reruns... and they are SOOOOO not going to like a big wad of cheerfully chakra-colored balloons smacking them in the windshield.
Our quasi-elation rapidly turns to acute anxiety. The kids and I watch as the cluster wafts gently over the freeway. They actually look like they're going to dip all the way down and just fall. But they don't. Not quite. They continue over the freeway at basically overpass height, buffetted by the occasional car wind travelling beneath them.
I am going to kill someone with my good wishes.
I am going to get arrested for setting forth something that is going to cause a multi-car pileup on my beloved little freeway.
The cars are going to screech and careen and come flying over my back fence.
Bodies are going to be mangled.
Letters will be sent to all citizens of my little town, telling us in no uncertain terms that the release of unidentified objects into the air is a public hazard and anyone who is caught doing it will be punished to the fullest extent of the law.
The kids watch nervously. They are thinking about the tires screeching that we are sure will be forthcoming any moment.
They are no longer really on board with this idea.
Our stomachs somewhat clenched with fear, we go back into the house. I pace around, mumbling to myself, trying to remember certain laws of physics (NOT the one that says "what goes up must come down.") More along the lines of thinking that the helium will equalize at a certain altitude for awhile and then gradually they will come down. In a tree, maybe. Or maybe in front of someone's home. Far away from the freeway.
Maybe, I try to tell myself, someone will see them and get that they were aligned in the exact position of the various chakras. Maybe someone will read the words. After all... our hearts were TOTALLY in the right place for this little project. It really SHOULD not result in a sigalert and mangled metal. The good intentions should, actually, maybe... work.
As I go through the day I wonder what happened to our poor little balloons. And as I check the internet to see if I had caused a disaster, and found I hadn't, I begin to tentatively identify with them. Noble, brave, and not quite as enlightened as I would like to be, I go up every day and try to do my best. Maybe not shooting up to the stratosphere with the same mad trajectory as I did before, but still going up. Still having enough lift to clear the treetops.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 10:55 PM 0 comments
Monday, September 11, 2006
9/11 - Part IFive years ago today we lost our bearings as a society. We woke up on a lovely morning, thinking about back to school and getting ready to say goodbye to summer, and suddenly there was a cataclysmic shift in our history. A seismic upheaval so shocking and unthinkable that our country's consciousness and demeanor will be forever changed.
Before 9/11 we thought we knew where we were going and, in our bumbling way, were heading there. In one searing moment we then found ourselves in a completely different landscape, a landscape that other people have sadly lived through but that is new to us. The landscape of fear, oppression, paranoia. The landscape of mistrust and uncertainty. It's a place so complex and evil that most of us drew our knees into our chests and just caved in emotionally.
From our fetal position of abdication and fear, we became like children in our inability to make decisions, differentiate between right and wrong. In the five years since, we have lost our way and become dependent upon little minds.
We have not healed. We remain small and scared, wanting it simply to all go away.
In Buddhism there is the concept of "right action." You can tell what the right thing to do is when you're quiet enough to hear your soul speak, when you've eliminated enough of the noise to hear the directions being given.
We all know what that feels like, to made a decision that is simply the correct one, and feel the flowing ease that results. When engaged in right action our lives are smoother, healthier. We don't feel the bumps in the road as much. We don't snap at strangers. When people ask us how we're doing, we say "terrific," and generally mean it.
As a society, we are not there. As a society, we are having one hell of a bad day. Through our fear, woundedness and abdication of responsibility, we have collectively lost our sense of right action.
As a society, we are still in a place where we can't hear the soul of the world whispering to us what our direction should be. Our internal compass has been smashed to bits. Some of us are wandering around, looking for the path. Others just watch American Idol, trying not to think during the commercial breaks.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 5:56 AM 0 comments
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Passion is Anarchy.
The closest I can come to describing it is that it was like I was dying and seeing my life pass before my eyes.
Over the course of 30 hours I was visited by every aspect of my long strange trip thus far: my first boyfriend from college days (or, as he kept saying, not the first by the best), several cherished friends from high school, people who know me as a stage manager, as a writer. People from work. People whose kids have known my kids all their mutual lives. Women whom I do yoga with, women whom I cry with, women who teach me things. Men I've dated, men I'd like to date, men I couldn't date if I wanted to, men who are married and off limits for all of the above.
I started off hoarse, so it's impossible to say I talked until I could no longer speak. That was a given. I tried to trade emotional intercourse for verbal, but probably ended up just sounding like I'd drunk an extra margarita (which was also true but not the reason for my giddy babbling.)
The highlight was the burning. People asked me what she meant, this woman made of sticks. This woman we were going to torch.
At first I gave the only honest answer I could think of at the time: We're collectively bummed we're not at Burning Man so we're doing it ourselves. We can be hip AND have plumbing, I said repeatedly.
But then I came upon a better answer. This woman represents the death of the old life, the burning of the first fifty years, the opening up to a new period of rejuvenation. Like the field burners in Oregon, it's important to alchemize the soil periodically, destroy the chaff, make room for new growth. Not just by shoving it aside, or repacking the garage, but by actually destroying that which is no longer useful.
If you've been reading my blogs, this fire thing has been creeping up a lot recently. It seems to be THE metaphor as I'm moving through the last few days of my first fifty years. It's not just time to move on. It's time to be reborn. And birth always involves labor, and pain, and some amount of messiness.
So we gather around her, our talisman. Much discussion transpires about the proper type of accelerant to use to inflame our gal. Turns out a friend of mine from the opera company happens to have a tin of denatured alcohol in his car. He's been living on a boat and just bought it for his stove. Looks pass back and forth: no one has any better idea. So bring it on.
He brings in the can and I am starting to really get nervous. I mean, this house is pretty important to me after all. I would hate to start off the next ten years looking at a smoking crater, having nothing but my own bright ideas to blame. It's the end of summer. My grass is not, well, as green as it really should be. This may be one of those things that ends up in the Darwin Awards.
I turn to the Cub Scout Pack Master, Craig, who happens to be there. If anyone should know the safe handling of blowing things up, I reason, it should be him. He knows, I'm sure of it, what he's doing. But he insists on just saying things like "well, just pour it on and let's light it and see what happens."
But that's essentially what we end up doing. We pour the stuff on, dousing her head and shoulders and legs and base. Then we look at it some more. Then the guys decide that maybe she should have some more, so they douse some more on.
It crosses my mind that they really, deep down inside, couldn't care less if my house goes up in smoke. I know they love me, but it's just way too much fun to keep dousing.
So they douse.
My first, I mean best, boyfriend's daughter comes up. She's quiet and about 10. She says that maybe we should saturate the ground around the bbq with water so if it falls over the grass won't catch on fire.
I think that maybe she cares a bit more about me and my property (and probably her own well being) a bit more than blowing shit up. It restores my faith.
Finally, they hand me a cigarette lighter, which I (thank God) trade in for a longer lighter.
Not having the faintest idea what will happen, I reach out my hand towards the base and ever so slightly flick the switch.
The whole thing is up in flames. I am pushed back by the blast of heat and the whooshiness of it all. I'm in a scene from Backdraft, thrown backwards by the fire ball. Well, not really, but it is pretty dramatic and intense.
We used to have a saying, back in Santa Cruz: "Passion is anarchy. Anarchy is bliss." And in those days all three were fairly easy to come by. Passion was in the air: passion for words and passion for the ocean and passion for the air we breathed and passion for each other.
Anarchy was at once a terror and a release. We had no money. The future was unknown. The rules were maleable and the limits were still not fully tested.
Anything could happen.
Good or bad.
And the bliss was in living in the moment. The bliss was in Sunday brunches and easy sex and the limitless future stretching out before us.
The future no longer stretches out quite so indefinitely. The sex needs condoms and "the talk" and elaborate coordination between Day Timers.
Passion has been tamped down by 50 years of keeping it together. The act of moving forward, one day at a time, for fifty years straight is exhausting in itself. The temptation to just sink down and give up... out of sheer boredom at the length of the long haul... is occasionally very high.
And at the same time the finish line looms closer every day. If we're lucky we can see it far off, about 40 to 50 years down the line. If we're VERY lucky we're half way around the track. Some of us, tragically, can see it closer than others. But the fact of the matter is that we now see it; and in the passion is anarchy days, we didn't.
Sunday morning, after the first night of the party, Jill and I did our yoga practice in the back yard. (It's a new style we've developed: called Dog Poop Yoga). At a precise moment, doing Tree Pose, the sun came through the leaves of my eucalpytus tree in front of me. The morning was fresh. The sun was benevolent.
And I stood there, in perfect balance, and thought "This is the happiest I've ever been in my life." And I realized that was true. Not because this was a moment when nothing was going wrong, or because I was in love, or because I'd figured everything out. But just because it was a moment in which I could have that thought. And that thought made it so.
This is the place of infinite possibility. This moment. Sometimes it takes nothing more than a deep breath. And sometimes you have to torch something to shake things back into line.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 7:52 PM 0 comments
Sunday, September 03, 2006
8 1/2 Hours InIt is 1:35 a.m., PST, and we are 8 1/2 hours into the 30 hour blowout bash.
It has been quite a party so far.
My friend Jill flew in from New York yesterday, and Scott drove down today from Davis. I had people here tonight I've known for anywhere from 26 years to 26 seconds. Three people came from overseas -- Frankfurt, Barcelona and the Philipines. I had people here who are masters in martial arts, animation, computer development, music, visual arts, writing, film production, web production, psychology, physics, nutrition. And currently I have people sleeping on every soft surface on my property, including the futon in the treehouse.
I'm not sure why I do this to myself. Fact is, I've been sick for almost a week and could barely talk throughout most of the party (thus far). A beer made me fuzzy and one sip of my friend Glenn's mojito-on-steroids made me immediately think of the excedrin in my medicine cabinet. I wasn't able to ever sit still for more than a few minutes, always thinking of things that should be done or people I should talk to. So I roamed a circle of back patio, kitchen, living room, bed room and back again. Checking on things, throwing out trash, figuring out what needed to be done next, if anything.
I do this because I have such amazing friends. And I love to put them all in a blender, shake well, and see what happens. The chemistry is fantastic and I get such joy in seeing people cross pollinate, exchange stories, find out the treasures in each other that I have known about for so long.
The kids sitting on the swings talking about their time at their now-former elemetary school.
Cindy arriving carrying a magnificant wooden sculpture made of paint, popsical and chop sticks for our immolation tomorrow night. We are doing a Burning Woman ceremony in defiance of our hip friends who would rather be out on the playa with oily hair and no TP than celebrating with us. We can be hip, too. We'll just burn our own statue.
Craig, the tenor from Opera A La Carte, arriving in silk smoking jacket and brocade PJ trousers, bearing a patter of curried olives and peppers, ready to drink and spend the night.
My martial arts guro El, arriving bearing four balloons, inscribed with the pattern of our kulintang rhythms. Each balloon symbolizing a part of me -- mind, body, emotion and soul. I am to inscribe what I want the next part of my journey to be on each balloon and send it to the heavens tomorrow at either dawn or sunset. I think I will write some words and then have everyone sign it who is here at that time.
Scott taking care of the music, putting on playlists and running the sound system that Glenn put up. These two men being my friends from Santa Cruz and former theatre techs together at their college theatre.
Feeling so on edge physically. Depleted. On the verge of either complete breakdown or total breakthrough. Unsure which. The darkness before the dawn.
Craig walking up to the treehouse armed with flashlight, reading book, a bag of ruffles and a pillow. Going up there to find out why Sam is barking, only to find Sam curled devotedly at Craig's feet.
What a circle of friends. What kids we are raising. What conversations we have had, and what more to come.
Tomorrow we will do it again. With more people. Repeat people. More stuff.
Why do I do it? Because this is what it's all about.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 1:41 AM 0 comments