About Me

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I am a 60 something Californian, former world traveler of the back packing variety, a Buddhist, a writer, photographer, and teacher.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Remembering Georgia

Remembering today. Not sure why, but the memory of a woman I met in my traveling days has settled in my mind today, a friend of a few days only, but a person with enough mystery and originality in her chosen way of life to occupy any writer for many pages indeed. Her name is lost to me – it has been 36 years – but I will name her Georgia, since the name would suit her. I don’t doubt she is gone from this world by now, or about to leave it. She was in her late fifties or early sixties when I met her, wrinkled from eyes to knees, with fine lines everywhere as if her body had shrunk and left her skin to do what it wished to make up the difference, draped over a well made structure of bird-like bones. Indeed that is one of the things that HAD happened to her that I know of. She showed me pictures of herself as she had been 10 years or so before I met her – in Texas, married to a businessman, dressed robustly in the wifely uniform of the middle class fifties, dotted blouse, long skirt fortified with petticoats, her hair in a teased blond buffont. And she was plump, even alarmingly so. Her blue eyes looked out from under a stiff thatch of mascara. Her lips were ruby bright, smiling falsely in the glare of the camera flash. She had just won a contest held by the Ladies Orchid Society of Houston or some such organization dedicated to virtue and flowers and middle class behavior control. She was surrounded by a coterie of similar women, sealed into a life different in every way imaginable from the one she lived now.

There was irony in her smile as she gazed down on the photo, self-bemusement that she clearly wanted to share. We sat in her small house some 12 feet off the ground in a tree, among a village of such casually constructed dwellings at the base the cliff that fronts the Arafura Sea in front of Darwin Australia. Lameroo village, it was called then, a hippie rest stop for traveling backpackers bound to Asia just to the north, or returning from it. One could live for almost nothing there in the early 1970’s – just get off the bus and settle into any recently vacated treehouse, or create one of your own. Join communal dinners at a nightly fire where a pot of rice and beans simmered and everyone was welcomed in to help chop vegetables and make music, to smoke hashish and linger in the slow Australian twilight, telling stories of where they had been or where they were going.

Georgia had one of the nicest houses in Lameroo, high enough to require a ladder. It had been cleverly constructed by a series of previous occupants, bright and sunny with an ocean view and with a real double bed mattress well shielded by tarps from the daily afternoon thunderstorms we all endured, replete with menacing black walls of rain and driving winds. A basin tied into the roots of her aerial kitchen held her plates and cups. A water container and foodstuffs were neatly stacked on shelves, and the pictures, of that other life in an utterly different place, were tacked to branches above us.

In the year she had been there, Georgia had shared this dwelling with a series of lovers, mostly merchant marine sailors who came and went as their vessels allowed them. Currently the man in question was a burly black haired Frenchman she favored with real affection, though I glimpsed him only once. When he was gone, she even sent him letters, dressing for the occasion of going up the cliff to the Darwin post office in a long hand embroidered dress of brilliant saffire blue and then carefully cinching it at the waist with a bright yellow and orange Nepalese sash she had been given. On days when she did not leave the village in the trees, she wore nothing at all, as we were all free to do (though I was shy enough to wear at least a sarong). Her greying yellow hair danced in curls about her always smiling face, and she moved as gracefully as a dancer. I met her one morning as we both went for water at a spigot on the side of a giant city cistern some half mile down the beach. When the long slow tide pulled out, the way was opened, though rocky, and we made our way carefully, laughing and telling our stories, water jugs carried on shoulder or head, feeling graceful and connected to the place. Natives out of time, warmed by sun and freedom, eager for the gifts of each novel day.

I was 26 that year, a natural time in life for adventures, for trying things out with all the daring one can muster. But Georgia? In years she was closing on elderly. In spirit, she seemed to have gone beyond all time. In my memory she lived at the edge of the world, wide open to joy, accepting the changes of each day, and never calling them loss.
Looking back now, less sanguine in my own early sixties, I wonder what extraordinary earthquake of the soul could have taken her so far. Was she mentally ill? She did not seem so. She bubbled, but she did not babble. It was a spiritual sea change that had moved her. And a fearlessness I had not ever seen before.

I remember her now perhaps because I have at last arrived at her time of life – in a far different place and state of mind. It seems to me sometimes that all my daring was spent in those years of traveling. Now I sit like a barnacle, locked into routine that has staled my mind almost into unconsciousness, too timid - so far - to let go of prudence even a little. In a year I face a decision, to retire with a meager monthly check and dare to try new things again - or stay on, cautious and fading, to a healthier income. The world calls to me again. Georgia laughs at me out of her bright eyed, wrinkled, ageless face. Love, she whispers. Live. Don’t be afraid.
I’m trying.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Ah Jarvenpa, and you non-commital millions following my (nearly non-existent) blog, you are quite right that i need to bestir myself. What a lazy blogger i turned out to be. First overwhelmed by the events in Palestine. Then lost again in the vast, yet compelling trivia of daily life. Yet writing should be nearly as easy as thinking shouldn't it? And I surely do that. So here goes. I shall try a new mode. More often, but short. And perhaps someday aspire to the the essays and profound observations Jarvenpa herself regularly creates with such easy grace.

The white pit bull - Zeus is his name - now lives downstairs, his owner and I having had a falling out. But he has left behind his sidekick, Gigantor, a minute female cat, barely out of kittenhood, who was raised with this Chenghiz Khan of a dog and lies there lazily as a mouth bigger than her entire body looms over her and a tongue longer than her length swashes over her. Gigantor is befuddled. She had only just gotten used to living in my apartment and is quite astonished that all "her people" have now vacated to the apartment below. Or maybe its mostly that i serve up Fancy Feast to any one who might like some about 9am every morning. And she has discovered, after a short life of nibbling Zeus's kibble remnants, that she does indeed like Fancy Feast. And several quiet hidden sleeping spots not subject to the sound of video game machine guns.
in fact I am quite appreciative of all the new found silence of my apartment myself - though i do miss Zeus. It all started one night when his owner - my former housemate's boyfriend, who had come with her when she returned to live in my spare room as the solution to a temporary housing crisis, returned from outside and encountered a skunk on my deck. The cornered skunk let loose, as cornered skunks do, and the boyfriend, after roaring by me to the shower with reeking dog in tow, was so put out that he couldn't stop roaring for hours - and would accept no apologies or explanations at all for the kibble i had left out that had drawn the skunks.
It was not violent in the end. But it was a glimpse of violence - of living with a man who is capable of such out of control emotion and it taught me a lot - mostly profound sympathy for the SO many who are trapped in such situations. We made up eventually. Mutual apologies passed by letter, and then grudging courtesies. But i asked him to leave and he gladly went. Fortunately the room below me opened up and made it easy for him to take girlfriend and dog and simply move out of my sight with no great hardship (he is unemployed and making him - and Zeus and Gigantor - homeless - was not a burden of conscience i wanted). The rent below is even less - since they are renting out the living room as well. The world's belt tightening all around me - but that is a topic for another blog.
Til soon, or sooner at least, i promise,
Ocean Lady

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Its spring and I'm trying out a new blog post with my class.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

More then 500 Gazans killed now. 111 children. Ambulances targeted. Families taking refuge in UN school wiped out. The Israelis' indignantly accuse Hamas of taking refuge among civilians and say they must attack these buildings in order to root them out. Where else are they supposed to go in this tiny state? And who are they "rooting out" - sons and fathers and brothers of the families inside? Whoever could imagine that bombing a whole apartment building to punish a single man is a justifiable, reasonable moral idea? And where is it even remotely safe for anyone in Gaza right now? Two images stay with me, a 10 year old girl, her beautiful dark eyes wide with utter terror, looking from side to side at the horrors surrounding her in a hospital waiting room, her lips shaking so much she cannot speak. And another, the face of a very young unconscious boy, tender as a flower, the curve of a tiny ear, the long lashes resting on his cheek. A neighbor had brought him into hospital when his family was blown up, left him there without a friend, or even a name to wake to, or any memory but fire and pain when those soft brown eyes, too soon, open again.

"We had to give an answer," Israeli's say. "We had to stop the shelling." And surely they have given an answer. And surely the result will be more of what they have experienced in the past decades of hellish interactions: a bitter, despairing, wounded, captive people living among them. "We are doing everything we can to avoid civilian casualties." one Israeli official says stonefaced. "Israel knows nothing about any civilian casualties." says another. "I would like to kill them all," a man in the street is quoted as saying. "Well, actually, most Israelis don't think much about the welfare of Palestinians," an experienced observer remarks. "Its deeply regrettable, but we simply have to do it," say many more. And their plan? To take out all the rocket launchers and the "militants" firing them and, one gathers, and then leave behind the smoking bloody ruins of Gaza with again little or no thought at all for the welfare of those who remain. Let the UN fix it.

And Hamas? What level of insanity lead them to believe that firing hundreds of rockets would lead to the end of Israel's blockade? What rage-induced blindness leads them to continue firing in the face of the invasion?

A sign of insanity, if I paraphrase correctly, is continuining to expect a different result from something that has repeatedly not worked in the past. Surely both Hamas and Israelis are suffering from the same grinding painful obsession - that by hurting the other so much, the other will stop hurting them.

Imagine, just imagine, an hour when everyone that quivering country stopped hating or fearing. When leaders on both side opened themselves to concern for the well-being not just of their own population, but of the others, their close neighbors and distant cousins, who live so near, who truly, share so much. When plans were made to enhance the lives of both. When Palestinians were given something to live for, and encountered Israelis as friends and co-workers on government sponsored projects together. When those who continued to fire rockets, or make insulting statements, or harrass others were treated simply as criminals and arrested by the combined efforts of both governments. Hard to get there from here no doubt. But surely a direction worth trying with as much energy as the insanity now unfolding?