FOUND Magazine #8

I love the photo of the girl who is representing me on the staff page. Get your new issue.

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My writing coffee mugs

Writing Mug #1
Tracey Emin’s “It’s What I’d Like To Be,” gift from my friend

Writing Mug #2
Bortero Mug from Colombia, gift from my Tia Gloria

*incense burner, gift from a yoga student. burning lavender oil.

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Van Gogh Birthday Envelopes

Cheryl Strayed recently celebrated her birthday, and I decided to make her birthday envelopes. I wanted to make her a gift because her Dear Sugar columns and her two books light up my life. To view the envelopes, go here.

I chose van Gogh for the birthday envelopes because of one of her Dear Sugar columns. In Tiny Beautiful Things, “I Chose van Gogh” appears as its own column. On The Rumpus, it appears with other letters and responses. Read the column here.

Excerpt below:

She said, “I could allow myself to be influenced by three men who screwed me against my will or I could allow myself to be influenced by van Gogh. I chose van Gogh.”I never forgot that. I think of that phrase I chose van Gogh whenever I’m having trouble lifting my own head up.

I have a van Gogh art book because my father bought it for me. Actually, I started making envelopes to process my complicated relationship with my father.  Read my artist statement here.

Excerpt:

After the day that I could not finish packing my father’s books, those bargain books that he bought took on a new meaning. I began to view each one of those bargain books as a reminder that he was ill. He was ill and he was not getting better and he would never get better. In fact, he would only get worse. These were the facts and I did not much like to think about them, so I put the bargain books that he had given me in places where I would not see them.

When I opened the van Gogh book, I saw an inscription he wrote me.  I guess he gave the book to me as a Valentine’s Day gift, which is strange because I just wrote an essay about a Valentine’s Day. Synchronicity, I guess.

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Writing I Like: Melissa Chadburn

Melissa Chadburn grew up and currently lives in Los Angeles. I really like her writing and I really like her. She’s a hardworking, talented, kind, big hearted person. I’m grateful LA is lucky enough to have such a beautiful writer in the city.

She’ll be reading at READINGS on Wednesday September 26 at 7:30 p.m at The Pop-Hop. In case you have not yet read her writing, I wanted to share some links below.

Salon recently published her essay “I prayed my mom would leave.”    

One of my favorite of her Rumpus essays is “The Throwaways”  and “Here We Are Becoming Champs”                    

Excerpt from “The Throwaways”

 

When I pay my taxes I am telling my community I value you. What about hard work paying off? It’s true. I think we should be rewarded for hard work. I know that I would not have gotten where I am today were it not for my hard work. But even that is not a solitary effort. I was able to get where I am today because of the people who were here before me. I’m not just talking about the vast civil rights movement, or the woman’s suffragist movement, I’m talking about the guy who works for Caltrans who helped me get to and from school and thousands of job interviews. I’m talking about the teachers, Ms. Smith who was my High School English teacher and saw something in me. Ms. Marshall, the round sweet journalism instructor who as a licensed reporter did her job and got me into foster care, which was a long, achy road, but one that perhaps has saved my life. The nurses who tended to me when I was exposed to tuberculosis as a young child. The military that helped so many members of my family escape poverty and discover a nation they believed in so much they’d risk they’re lives for it. The firefighters who do the unthinkable, who run into burning buildings for perfect strangers. Firefighters who often had to come out to emergency cold weather shelters, where I worked, in the middle of the night to tend to a homeless person who was scared they were losing their mind. Sometimes all they needed was some attention. I’ll never forget one Christmas working in the shelter. A firefighter bent down in front of a homeless woman smiling placing a band-aid on her unwounded flesh just to give her a secret joy. Today the average pay of one S&P 500 index CEO could pay the salary of 252 firefighters.

 

If we are saying I value you when we pay our taxes, what is a corporation saying when they don’t pay taxes? Are they saying the opposite? Are they saying they don’t care about whether or not other people have healthcare? I think it’s not too much to ask for people to have healthcare.

 

When I pay my taxes I am telling my community I value you. What about hard work paying off? It’s true. I think we should be rewarded for hard work. I know that I would not have gotten where I am today were it not for my hard work. But even that is not a solitary effort. I was able to get where I am today because of the people who were here before me. I’m not just talking about the vast civil rights movement, or the woman’s suffragist movement, I’m talking about the guy who works for Caltrans who helped me get to and from school and thousands of job interviews. I’m talking about the teachers, Ms. Smith who was my High School English teacher and saw something in me. Ms. Marshall, the round sweet journalism instructor who as a licensed reporter did her job and got me into foster care, which was a long, achy road, but one that perhaps has saved my life. The nurses who tended to me when I was exposed to tuberculosis as a young child. The military that helped so many members of my family escape poverty and discover a nation they believed in so much they’d risk they’re lives for it. The firefighters who do the unthinkable, who run into burning buildings for perfect strangers. Firefighters who often had to come out to emergency cold weather shelters, where I worked, in the middle of the night to tend to a homeless person who was scared they were losing their mind. Sometimes all they needed was some attention. I’ll never forget one Christmas working in the shelter. A firefighter bent down in front of a homeless woman smiling placing a band-aid on her unwounded flesh just to give her a secret joy. Today the average pay of one S&P 500 index CEO could pay the salary of 252 firefighters.

 

If we are saying I value you when we pay our taxes, what is a corporation saying when they don’t pay taxes? Are they saying the opposite? Are they saying they don’t care about whether or not other people have healthcare? I think it’s not too much to ask for people to have healthcare.

 

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Links to Writing and LA Events

Sometimes I get pretty excited about all the good writing that’s on the internet and Los Angeles literary happenings and want to share them with you.

WRITING I LIKE

Here Are Some Stories Seth Likes. Seth has a space on The Rumpus dedicated to lead you elsewhere, to stories he likes and you will probably like, too.

Lauren Spohrer has a short prose piece published recently here.

A new Smoke In Your Eyes

Roxane Gay’s How to Be Friends With Another Woman

Jory John’s interview with Jon Carroll and Jeffrey Brown. He’s got another Rumpus interview in the works.

Adrienne Skye-Roberts writer, teacher and agitator talks about California Coalition for Women Prisoners.

Maria Bamford’s Pet Diaries

Interview with Lidia Yuknavitch

LOS ANGELES LINKS

Recently I discovered Eating Our Words reading series.

Check out indie bookshop Pop-Hop Shop located in Highland Park.

If you know of a good venue for the February 2013 LA Zine Fest let the organizers know.

Apply to Slake school. Three days left.

LA EVENTS

If you’re looking for some upcoming literary events to attend, check out:

August 9: Literary Death Match. You get a free book.

August 12: Griffith Park Storytelling Series

August 15: McSweeney’s Quarterly Issue 41 Release Party at 826LA West in Venice.

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Against the Stream: a little about the book and center

For four years, I’ve meditated on and off at Noah Levine’s Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society and just this week finished Levine’s book Against the Stream: A Buddhist Manual for Spiritual Revolutionaries.

Noah Levine’s punk background and personal experience influences the way he approaches Buddhism. He writes about the history, teaching, and principles of Buddhism with humor and a tough attitude. It is his precisely his punk/tough attitude and humor that draws a particular crowd into his centers and audience to his books. A kind of crowd that may refer to some spiritual practices as “new age hippie bullshit” but still are interested in matters of the soul and the heart.

Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society is one of my favorite places to meditate in Los Angeles. I admire how many of the teachers engage in activism and service and also appreciate that the center offers a variety of groups for people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, and people in recovery. When individuals take what they learn in a spiritual practice and make a commitment to address oppression and transform society, my heart/mind open up just a little bit more.

Excerpts:

Restlessness, with its siblings anxiousness, impatience, and intolerence, is also going to occur. Many people like to say that they can’t meditate because it is too hard to sit still. But it is not the stillness that is the problem; it is the energetic impatience and an intolerance for inner movement. During meditation it is common to experience the desire to be doing anything but sitting still. We want to be distracted and entertained; we find facing the mental and physical experiences of the body boring or difficult. As our attention runs after thoughts, ideas, concepts, plans, or memories, every cell in our body seems to be screaming for release from the torture of nonaction and nondistraction.

* * *

Part of the forgiveness and healing process is to create healthy boundaries. We may forgive someone but choose never to interact with that person again. We must not confuse letting go of past injuries with feeling an obligation to let the injurers back into our life. The freedom of forgiveness often includes a firm boundary and loving distance from those who have harmed us. We may likewise need to keep a loving distance from those we have harmed, to keep them from further harm. To that extent, this practice of letting go of the past and making amends for our behavior is more internal work than relational. As my father likes to say, “We can let them back into our heart without ever letting them back into our house.”

* * *

What “sexual misconduct” is is fairly vague in Buddhist scriptures. It comes down to the general rule of not committing adultery and not intentionally causing harm through our sexual energy. The general language says, in effect, Go for it, consenting adults–but be willing to accept the consequences. Enjoy all the pleasure and intimacy that sex brings, but be awake. Remember the truth of impermanence: that you are going to change and your partner is going to change and you are probably not going to like it. Be willing and go into it with your eyes open.

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My Difficultly with Cope’s Yoga Memoir

It took me awhile but I finished Stephen Cope’s Yoga and The Quest For the True Self. Then it took me awhile to write about the book because I didn’t like it as much as I had hoped.

Stephen Cope was a psychotherapist who in his midlife faced “a serious crisis of meaning…triggered by devastating disappointment in love” and found himself practicing yoga three or four times a week. He then felt compelled to stay for a four month retreat at an ashram, Kripalu Center. Four months turned into a year and a year turned into a decade. This book narrates his “quest for the true self.”

Stephen Cope’s strength in the book is his knowledge of yoga philosophy and psychology and his ability to draw the parallels between the two and make what is abstract, both accessible and compelling to the reader. If you’re just interested in a concise, introduction to yoga history and philosophy, I highly recommend reading the Appendix. Since he draws links to psychology and yoga, I felt inspired to read Jung and Marion Woodman.

I think a challenge for him was writing believable scenes with students and friends. The scenes seemed contrived, the dialogue felt constructed. It was too transparent that these scenes were a means to an end, a build up, an introduction to his abstract point which would take up the rest of the chapter. Stephen Cope is not alone in this challenge. I see it constantly in self-help books and books on spiritual matters. While reading this scenes, I wanted to rush out and read some short stories, personal essays, anything where well-crafted scenes and dialogue are my favorite parts and aren’t leading to a point, they are the point.

The ending was another difficult thing for me. Cope spends a long time exploring and explaining the conscious and unconscious reasons why he came to Kripalu and why he stayed. He also spends a long time describing people’s visits and their underlying motivations and personal journeys. In the beginning, he carefully outlines what makes an “effective transformational space.” Apparently for him and for many, Kripalu was a safe space that allowed personal transformation to occur. Throughout the book, he speaks highly of the space and details his own transformation and various other people’s transformation in the ashram.

Then the reader gets to part 5, chapter 16 titled “The Rose in the Fire” and we learn that the main yoga teacher who founded the ashram, who was an idealized and admired guru, one of the most influential and powerful figures in this community, was having many affairs with female students. Everything falls apart. “We’re in meltdown,” community member tells Stephen in room where senior members are basically hiding.

I took issue with the fact that so close to the end of the book, the reader discovers there was much turbulence happening in the community. Apparently had been “several turbulent years in Kripalu’s history.” Because he did not make this apparent in the bulk of the book, I found myself losing my trust in him as a reliable narrator, especially when he writes, “Even in the midst of the ‘path of the reality,’ the faint odor of unreality and inaunthenticity was unmistakable.” Why not make the stench unmistakable to the reader before shit hits the fan?

What is more is that there isn’t much analysis about the fact that everything fell apart. The analysis is not in depth, which is disappointing because that is clearly his strength as a writer. Compared to most other parts of the book,  his analysis is much more general. He briefly talks about orphan archetypes and gurus and  disillunsionment. He mentions that some people leave, some are very wounded, and some stay but doesn’t really give concrete examples of any of this people. Instead he insists, “Everyone was interested in integrity. We were standing in the best traditions of yoga. We had learned something. This was good.”

Maybe. I believes he believes what he’s writing and I keep in mind that he never left Kripalu and continues to teach there. Maybe it’s hard to write so critically about a place that he is clearly invested in. Maybe not.

What is certain is that I wanted a more critical analyis about the fact that Kripalu, which was supposed to be a safe transformational space, wasn’t for many people, people who invested their time and trust within the community. I wanted more analysis about the idealized, influential and powerful spiritual leader (also a father figure) who is unable to adhere to his own moral code. It’s the shadow side of the spiritual life, especially in a culture rooted in patriarchy.

I’ll tell you what line I love, that keeps popping up for me. Marion Goodman sips a glass of wine and says, “You know, Stephen, trying to be a god or goddess all week long can flip us into wanting to be an animal on the weekend.” Of course I love the line. Of course I agree.

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