Monday, August 26, 2013

Red Flags & Cockrings: Ruining Peter Cetera

We all have guilty pleasures, and when a friend recently asked me what mine was, I smiled the bittersweet smile of someone with a secret...
The answer rings out in heart- and yet, before now, I have only shared this with one other person: My super secret guilty pleasure is this:
my favorite song of all time, the one that always melts me in my gooey shmaltzy hopeless romantic center is Peter Cetera's "Glory of Love."

Yep. That's right.

I'm finally confident enough to not give a f*ck about it possibly being the cheesiest song ever written- It is the Theme from Karate Kid II and it captured my soul. I simply adore it- the melody is so sweet and the lyrics speak to my core, which is apparently made entirely out of kitten whiskers and marshmallow. I heard it for the first time growing up in Omaha, and when I heard a song about a man being a knight in shining armor (from a long time ago) I would've been running around in the woods wearing a cardboard suit of armor myself. As the music floated from construction site radios through the woods and into the ravine where I chased imaginary dragons, I began to wonder if someday I would meet another knight in shining armor who would keep the woods safe with me.

(I was a strange child.)

The following is the true story of how this innocent, romantic love song was absolutely ruined for me... It was some birthday or other in the 2000's, and I was feeling hopeful. I'd been with my boyfriend for a few years and had only recently been comfortable enough to open up to him about my love for this song during a conversation about how we didn't really have an "our song." Regretfully I knew it couldn't be "Glory of Love," because as much as I would've loved to attribute those lyrics to our relationship, he had already weaseled out of several opportunities to "be the man who fights for my honor." Non-confrontation was his method of choice, and he had yet to display any qualities I'd describe as "heroic."

He'd cheated on me twice at that point, and as much as I stubbornly tried to fit that square peg into the round hole, I could not apply the Greatest Love Song Evaaaaar to us. But, as now, I was then- super romantic. I wanted it to be our song. Because we never really let go of those fantasies. Unfortunately, as turned out he had a fantasy of his own...

I am actively trying not to throw up in my mouth as I recall what happened next...

The night of my birthday, I was going to spend at his place. I was in my early 20's, but I still lived at home and strict parents made this a rarity. He assured me he had a super romantic night planned, and I was all aflutter with the anticipation the evening. He lead me to his bedroom and set me down, sitting upright on the waterbed my parents had given him to use.

He then blindfolded me, kissing me sweetly and turning the lights down. I heard the familiar sounds of a CD being opened and his CD player opening and closing. The familiar electric whir of the disc spun, and even before I heard the first notes, I knew: he'd bought "Glory of Love," and was playing it for me on Romantic Birthday Night! "EEeeee!" I said, reaching for the blindfold. "Wait," he said. "Not yet..." I then heard some unfamiliar sounds. Something being taken out of a small cardboard container?

Then I heard another familiar sound. A zipper and jeans falling to the floor. Hrm. This didn't quite seem right... As Peter Cetera sang his hopeful lines about being strong when we're together, and true love, and my childhood memories of the knight in shining armor came shimmering back from my mind, he lifted the blindfold off.

He stood in front of me, with his dick inches from my face, wearing nothing but a cockring and an expectant smile.

"Well? What do you think?" he asked proudly, arms akimbo like a pornographic Peter Pan.

I didn't want to embarrass him or appear ungrateful, but while I searched for the right reaction, some part of that fantasy shattered and a few confused tears escaped my eyes, rolling down my cheeks. I had no words as the little girl in the woods in her cardboard armor stared up in horror. I mentally bid her to run and hide- I had no clue what to do with him.

I wasn't expecting to be presented with the expectation of a blow job... on MY BIRTHDAY. TO PETER CETERA.

"Nooooo..." I think I must've said, quietly. I remember turning my face away and apologizing- I couldn't understand why I was crying so much- I didn't realize I was grieving the murder of yet another expectation. He kissed me, hugged me, put his pants on and kissed me and hugged me more. He said he understood, he just thought since I liked the song and he liked blow jobs, it'd be fun for both of us.

"It was a sweet thought," I said. I think even I convinced myself I meant it, at the time.

He made a few more attempts at romantic gestures over the next several years. Although a bit of a showy spectacle, he did manage a very sweet proposal. He continued to ignore Valentines' Days, with the exception of filing for divorce on a February 14th. But we never spoke again about Peter Cetera, or "The Glory Of Love," or the infamous Cockring Incident. In fact, I hadn't listened to that song in ages, which is sad since it had been such a high benchmark throughout the years I'd lowered my standards.

I played the song today, after my friend reminded me about guilty pleasures, and as I watched the video on YouTube, I smiled. After all, after 14 years of Martial Arts, hadn't I become my own Karate Kid? Somewhere in a forest in my mind, a little blue-eyed knight pops cautiously from behind a tree. Come on out, Small One. Dust off your armor- we have some dragons to chase together, just us.

Monday, August 19, 2013

LA Stories: VeilFire

The best part of feeling a little heartbroken is that it's proof-positive that up until very recently, your heart wasn't 100% broken.
And if it wasn't TOTALLY broken before, and it was brave enough to reach out, then it's probably not irrevocably broken now.

So, like the Death Star, it will again be Fully Operational.

As artists, we tend to wear our hearts on our sleeves. This is a terrible idea, but Jesus I really think it's the only way I wanna be. Even though I'm strongerbetterfasterharder, I chose to maintain that character trait. I wear my heart on my sleeve. It keeps my other organs from getting sh*t all over it. Yesterday I was reminded that yeah, in terms of my ex, I got a little gut punch, but I also dodged a bullet. I love that quote from HIMYM: "I made the greatest Train Dodge since 'Stand By Me." ...Well, not that first kid, but the other kids."

And that's how it feels at this point. Of course it initially hurt to hear that my ex was engaged, but it was no surprise. He had to propose to her to justify what he did to me. ("See, it was worth it, right?!?") Someday I'll wish them well, but yesterday wasn't that day. I've been on an amazing adventure the last 2 years, but sure I'm still allowed to feel the feels I feel. That's because I'm not a f*cking monster. I'm allowed to miss the good parts. Then I remind myself that he definitely sucked a dude's dick. Keeps it really simple that way.

After a really good chat with a really good friend, watching the sun set through a thin sliver in the Universal Studios Employee Parking Garage, I cried out all my sad and felt much, much better. Getting past the raw emotion that honestly, I hope I always feel, because it is a spiritual rocket fuel, and listening to a rational voice asking me if I wanted him back after everything he did to me made it very easy: No. Aw FUCK NO. We made speculations about the success of an marriage between a homewrecker and a liar. And then I felt better.

I had a trio of besties meet me at my apartment, and, true to form, they came bearing vodka and incendiary devices. Aaron, Arica and Chelsea arrived and scooped me up. I'd been planning on driving my Celica to California myself, and as such had loaded it with everything I needed to Get Rid Of but couldn't simply throw away. Some of these items I'd already given to Chelsea for various art projects- I'd been on a big "let's do constructive things" kick, but this last item in particular was a Big Ticket Item and needed proper care and handling. And fire.

It was my wedding veil- which I'd found in a box at my mom's right before I moved.

It's been in the trunk of my car, waiting for something special. Fortunately, we had something very special in store. Aaron drives and spirits us away to Chelsea's Thotful Spot, in a recreational area hidden within the city of Los Angeles. We park at a distance and, already giddy from the night air, bound across the streets to an open gate. The heat of the day had dissipated, and the sleek coolness of the night breeze, smoothed even more by a brief skim over a green lake, greeted our flushed faces. I breathed. And it felt so good.

"Pair up," Chelsea said, and two by two we held hands and made our way down a somewhat steep hill covered in row after row of bright white rocks. Like layers of shark's teeth, they gleamed up in the moonlight. I smiled seeing Arica and Aaron work their way down, Aaron in his famous boots and Arica in a borrowed pair of my shoes. The shoes are a gift from my mother, who would have an instant coronary if she had seen what we were up to.

Chelsea holds my hand. "Sorry guys," she says, "I got dibs on the stilt walker." I laugh and we pick a path down, sure-footed as cats all nimbly pimbly and high off a moonlit adventure. We reach the bottom of the slope and a dusty dirt path awaits. I don the veil, which also luminesces in the magic night, and feeling the breeze blow the tulle behind me like a forgotten useless ghost, we walk down the aisle, staying hand in hand.

Eventually we arrive at the Tunnel- kindling is gathered and Chelsea lifts the veil from its position over my face and kisses me. This is the second time in my life this has happened. I was grinning like a fool on both occasions, but this time there were no tears. The filmy gauze is spread over the kindling, and I pour some extra flammable 3-in-1 glue over it as an insurance policy.

Sparklers are administered- the very same sparklers I'd entrusted to my friends the day I left California, promising to come back. They'd been kept, because my friends believed in me. Aaron takes my phone to document the event, and Arica, Chelsea and I each use our sparklers for a different sort of Independence Day.

The veil goes up beautifully, the flames glinting on the Swarovski crystals hand-placed by someone who also loves me.

I thought of the woman who made the veil as it burned. I thought of my wedding. I thought of my ex.
And I felt... love.
Giggling beneath the streets of Los Angeles with sparklers in my hands, I felt so much love.
The veil had to go. I had to let go of that last little piece to get past the emotional hurtle of the day, and I let it go in spectacular fashion.

The little pyre blazed, mirrored by the tiny fireworks on our hands, until not single scrap of tulle was left- even the bag I'd brought it in- everything burned, burned, burned until the hurt from the day was gone, replaced by the warm glow of love. Only the embers remained.

Hello Ember. I know you.

You are the same ones burning in my heart.

But the ones inside me aren't a brushfire threat, and eventually the embers became ashes. After a quick vodka shot, for the safety of the City of LA, and also because it was the right thing to do, we peed on the ashes. All four of us. So hard to do that while laughing so hard. It seems to match the same sentiment my ex ultimately had for our wedding, so perhaps that'll be my toast to them after all. Mazel.

By now I'm intoxicated by night and moon and breeze and fire and oh yes maybe a little vodka- we have a DD, but we also have the park to ourselves, so we plop down by an emerald green lake as the wild geese call out to one another. I can hear their sounds reverberate through our tunnel, reminding me that eventually every living thing, veil, goose, good intention or lie, eventually becomes ash.

All we have is the exact Now.

Someday I will be ash too- and I'm so fucking grateful for every moment I spent surrounded by the love I felt this night. We chat, we share, I am again blown away by the artistic talents of my friends as the most amazing pieces are shyly passed around on iPhones. A nosy turtle periodically pokes his head above water to listen in until our inevitable laughter frightens him off. No one looked at a watch, but suddenly we all collectively knew it was time to go.

Denny's to-go, a shared bottle of wine back at my place, and some sweet goodnights at my front door. It was a really good night, friends. If I am ash tomorrow, I will be thinking not about pain, or regret, but about how grateful I am to have been allowed this opportunity. And if someone pees me out, I hope they're having fun. It's only fair- and it feels AMAZING to have your giblets that warm.

Friday, August 9, 2013


A little sparrow died right before our eyes at work today.

It had dive-bombed out of the heights, inexplicably, and struck a passing car of the rollercoaster as it whipped its loop 30 feet above our heads. My friend stood in abject horror over the body while I found a pot of flowers and matter-of-factly placed them between the dead bird and park guests. I surprised myself with this "show must go on" mentality, but I realized distracting the guests would be better than allowing them to mill about and stumble upon the tiny feathered tragedy, so I began to approach the nearest family and engaged them in conversation.

But that... isn't ME... is it?

It doesn't SEEM like me- Id've bet cash money on Jaime to be traumatized by this hollow-boned corpse, unable to keep a theme park smile on her face. I'm certain I would've insisted on burying the bird or DOOOOOING SOMETHING, but this Me Now seemed uncharacteristically pragmatic. I asked if there was any chance any vets on property might be able to save it, and when the answer was a definite "no," I moved on. No hope for the dead? Focus on the living. Make sure it doesn't sadden anyone else.

Does this make me cold? Am I some sort of monster? I checked: no. And I have the last 3 years to thank for that- I had to toughen up, and get a little harder so I'd stop breaking, and today that was evident. I've come close enough to death, wallowing in some dark phase, and I am changed by it, but for the good.

After all- isn't cooling the blade part of the process of forging steel? The sword doesn't STAY cold- it stays sharp. Like ashy residual fingers of mold flavor a cheese, a perspective on darkness enhances the light. Death has touched me, but it did not claim me. This isn't colder- this is stronger. This is better.

I thought about this bird, this little palmfull of bright Being. To a sparrow, surely a roller coaster is a metal deity- dipping and diving, relentlessly charging, never hesitating, fearing no hawk. This sparrow died touching the face of God. It died doing what it loved, and hopefully passed too quickly to register fear. Its last action in this world was flitting out of the sky to tilt at the most epic of windmills.
It's sad and beautiful at the same time, and my prayer for it, and us all, is "we should all be so lucky.

Lost Boys

The very first day in my new Florida apartment was a long one- it'd been a short move down the street and most of it was done in tiny bursts of effort down three flights of stairs, into a Celica, over four speedbumps and in the door- but it was a hot summer day and I'd taken a moment to pant facedown on the couch with my front door open. Which, naturally, is when the screaming started...

Piercing the moist air of the afternoon like an icepick through an eardrum, a child's voice strangled out along with a muffled scraping and pounding noise. My door was open so I ran outside into the street which separates the two sides of our apartment complex buildings, trying to track the sound- it was the building directly across from mine. "MOOOOOMMMM!!! MOOOOOMMMMMMM!!! OH MY GOD MY MOM'S DEAD!!!"

A small cocoa-skinned boy came spilling down the stairs and into the light. He had a full-to bursting backpack on his back, and his red-rimmed eyes were full of tears. "What's wrong? What happened?!?" "MY MOM'S DEAD I CAN'T FIND MY MOM!!!" Other student-age kids were in the street at this point, laughing and pointing at the commotion. "Where do you live?" I asked the child, trying to get his attention as he literally raced in circles. It would've been comedic if it wasn't so soul-rending to hear him bawl.

He was too distraught to answer, and I couldn't discern which door he'd come from. "Who knows this boy?" I demand of the young passers-by. Two of them stop jeering long enough to acknowledge. I put on my Adult Voice and told them "You and you- show me where he lives." As they start to march up the stairs the terrorized child had come from, the boy suddenly charges ahead of us, still screaming. Upon reaching the top level, he begins pounding and clawing like an animal against a locked door. This explains the noises I'd heard earlier- the sound of his little body as he hurled it against the metal door and sank to the floor. "MOM!! MOOOOMMM!!!!" He's sobbing. "SHE'S DEAD!!!"

I try the latch, preparing myself to find a body, but I cannot get it to budge. Finally, FINALLY, other neighbors emerge cautiously, poking their heads into the hallway. "Who knows this boy?" I demand from them. They blink back at me like cattle. "Who knows this boy's mother?"I try, using my very best Adult Voice. Simple shrugs are all I receive- but there's no time to be angry- my little panic-attack poster child is practically hanging over the balcony, screaming for his dead/missing(?) mother. "Whoa whoa whoa" I say, grabbing the loop of his backpack before he spills over the edge.

I pull him off the railing, at which point he looks at me, inhales deeply, and screams with renewed terror "STRANGER DANGER!!!" Then he's off like a shot, down the stairs. I snap at the gawking children to follow me and we race after him in a parade of histrionics. He's in the street again- in traffic. I hem him to one side, arms spread wide like I'm herding a pigeon. "OK, dude, calm down- I'm sure your mom is fine. Do you have a key to your apartment?" "Hunh?" "Do. You. Have. A. Key?" "Noooooo!!! She's supposed to BE THERE- SHE'S NEVER NOT BEEN THERE!!!" "OK, I have a cell phone- let's call your mom, OK? What's your mom's number?" He doesn't know it.

He doesn't have a key and he doesn't know his mom's cell number.
None of his neighbors can identify him.
This child is at least 6.

I've decided by this point that if his mom IS alive, I want to punch her in the face for leaving her son in this dangerously vulnerable position. But I have to worry about that later, because he's now running down the street. "Hey hey hey! You see the office? See the office where the grown-ups work? We're going to go there AS A GROUP (I identify to the others) and get some police to help us find your mom. I'm sure she's fine, OK? The police will help us find her but we have to wait where it's safe."

"MOOOOOMMMM!" He's screaming again, but his voice is breaking as his spirit gives out- he is absolutely, unequivocally convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that his mom is dead. He whimpers to me, "I don't want to die..."

At this exact moment, a car comes flying around the corner. I position myself instinctively between the child and the car, but it slows and stops in front of us. "What's going on?" The woman driving asks. "MOM!!!" The little boy shoves by me and loses his shit into the car window, crying uncontrollably. "I thought you were deeeeead," he manages through wracking, ragged breaths. "I was running late," she shrugs at me.

She doesn't seem phased or particularly moved. I'm fuming.

"He was running into the street," I point out. What I want to say is, "You're a horrible mother! How could you DO THIS to your child?!? You let the TV teach him to yell 'Stranger Danger' but he doesn't know your cell number?!?" ...but then I see how tired she looks.
I see her older model body in her older model car and she looks so drained. She looks like she's consistently had the weight of the world on her shoulders and has simply checked out.
There is no wedding ring on the hand which half-assedly comforts her son, and I suspect this woman has not been given a lot of help, if any, raising him. There's nothing I can say or do, applying knuckles to her face will not make a difference.

I take my White Privilege and go home. So I let it go- I must pick my battles wisely, and this is one I cannot win. Today. But you better believe I made cookies and marched them over to my new neighbor's Los Angeles apartment the week I moved in. Just in case.

Adventures in Buddhism

At the Southeast Vipassana Center in Jesup, GA, there's not a lot of relaxation and rest to be had. They warn you right off the bat that it's not going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination. After I included a history of antidepressants, antianxiety medication and sleep aids in my medical history, they emailed me to insist that I have a Medical Professional certify my ability to survive the course in good mental heath. Then they called, and asked if I was REALLY SURE I was off all this medication.

Yes, yes I was.

Since I don't have health insurance I asked the good people of Planned Parenthood, "hey, while you're down there looking at my vagina, can we talk about zen?" The Vipassana Center called back after I sent in my A-1 mentally healthy forms, asking am I REALLY SURE I'm wanting to do this, and am I really aware of the dangers of intense, painful panic attacks and depression relapses?

Bring it. I ain't afraid of no ghost.

We arrive on the evening of Day Zero, and are fed the last dinner we'll be seeing in 11 days. It's good food- lots of rice, fresh salad, all organic vegetarian and a decent array of teas to choose from. We then find out bunks and have just enough time to meet our roommates before "Noble Silence" kicks in. That means no talking, eye contact, writing, communicating or gesturing to other students. There are to be no distractions for anyone's meditation. Basically, we're on our own. I bid a quick hello and goodbye to the woman bunking below me, who I named Miss EatPrayLove because of her slight resemblance to Julia Roberts. EatPrayLove had a friend, Patricia, who came to take the course with her. They had known each other for years and were both teachers at a school for kids with speech pathology. Very cool. Since pre-existing friends are distracting, they bunked Patricia elsewhere, and I would only be seeing the back of her head from that point on, as she was seated in the row ahead of me at the Dhamma Hall, where students meditate.

The gong rang early the next morning- ugly early, at 4AM. Ostensibly, students are supposed to go and meditate in the hall from 4 to 6:30, but we have the option of meditating in our rooms instead. Naturally, being fully awesomated, I dragged my ass out of bed and hit the hall. I was dedicated! I was motivated! I was...nauseous. Crap. Funny thing about acid reflux- I LOATHE early mornings, and the inevitable flooding of my stomach with acid makes them particularly rough. In the real world, I force a small breakfast down my gullet and tough it out- the food absorbs the acid, and the motion in my morning makes it bearable. However, here in Meditation Land, there is no food allowed in the dorms (as food attracts bugs) and the kitchen is only open during meal times.

Crap. Crapcrapcrap.

I weaved and lurched through about an hour f attempted zen, then tiptoed outside the hall, dry heaved, went back inside and could barely sit upright. "Focusing" was out of the question. I went back to meditate in my room so I wouldn't distract the 30 or so Morning People in the Hall, but lying horizontally basically put me right back to sleep. Fail. Zen fail. A silent breakfast of hot oatmeal and fruit at 6:30, then more solo meditation time. (read: nap.) Then we have our Morning Meditation in the Hall for an hour. We have the option of heading back to our rooms to meditate (read: nap) or we can stay in the hall. I chose to "meditate in my room," warm and snuggly under the covers.

Finally it was lunch time. Pretty decent fare, although I could already sense something was missing... I couldn't quite put my finger on it. We then have our afternoon Group Meditation, after which our Teacher, Brett, spoke to the new students. I explained the acid reflux and asked if he had any tips- he said, (in hushed, sotto tones,) to do what made me the most comfortable. Cool. Hey, it was nice to talk to someone- even just for a sentence or two. There are another couple hours of meditation, then it's Fruit O'Clock! Not dinner, but Fruit O'Clock! We don't get dinner at the Vipassana Center- only fruit and tea. The combination of citric acid and the acidity of the tea was pretty unsettling.

I gurgled all throughout evening meditation with the group. Then it's Movie Time! Each evening, the Vipassana Head Cheese S.N. Goenka, speaks to us for about an hour. But it's not live- it's a DVD made from a video shot in 1991. He spoke a little about the process of meditation, and chanted some prayers for us in his deep baritone voice. He sounds like a Burmese version of Vincent Price- I kept expecting him to tell me that a ghost would be following me home, or break out into a Thriller laugh. No such luck.

Goenka is a charismatic man in his 60's (well, in his 60's at the time of the taping, anyway) and he sits on a deus and addresses his students in a loving, paternal manner. He loves us. He wants all beings to be happy. We know this because he explains that that is what he is chanting: "May All Beings Be Happy." To which the students (both our class and the ghostly ones in 1991) all bow our heads to the ground and say "saaadu...saaadu...saaadu," which roughly translates into "well said. We agree." Then we meditate for another half hour and call it a night. In silence.

Ah, but the insomnia reared its ugly head that night. I tossed and turned as quietly as possible, but the squeaky bunk bed made the sound echo through the dorm area. I'm sure EatPrayLove was ready to kill me. I couldn't sleep for a number of reasons- first, I was restless because I'm a very physically active person and I'd been made to sit still all day. There are two walking trails in loops close to one another, but they take all of 4 minutes to complete and we are not allowed to run, walk fast, or do any sort of formal exercise. We can't even stretch, as it would be "distracting."

Even though men and women are completely separated from one another and physical contact is strictly forbidden, there is to be no visually or aurally distraction created. Bah. Not even yoga. Meh. It was hard. Also, not talking was hard, but I was looking forward to that challenge. So far, on Day 1, I'd had to talk to Aishah our Course Manager, because she told me to come see Brett, our Teacher Assistant for New Student interview. But it was no big deal- I could go silent. I was sure of it.

After a fitful night, the gongs rang at 4AM. I made an effort to rise, brush my teeth and get dressed, but I wound up climbing back into bed after the first wave of "bleh" came. I tried to meditate in bed, but after zero sleep it was a losing battle. I was asleep in minutes, and snuck in naps througout the day to try and balance out the wasted night. I wanted mental and emotional energy for the group sittings, so I slept whenever possible. This quickly proved not possible.

Aishah the Course Manager is a good person, and loves her job. (Which she volunteers for.) She took it upon herself to come check on me, waking me up the next morning to "see if I was OK, and to see if I was doing OK with my meditation." Um. Yes? I don't know, it's 5:30 in the morning? Plus, if you've read my blogs "The Ghost" and "And the Darkeness," you know that I HATE being woken up by people in my room, softly calling my name. Physical contact is forbidden, as well as loud sounds, so all Aisha could do was put her face near mine and quietly call my name until I woke up. This is how I used to wake up on the nights when Andrew, my psycho obsessive roommate, would sneak into my room and try to climb into my bed. Super disconcerting.

I struggled that day, but got the basic technique down. My mind would wander, but I could gently guide it by the nose back to focus. We were supposed to be concentrating on the touch of the breath on the small area just inside and below the nostrils. And I pretty much got it down. I think the furthest off-track I got was a bizarre fantasy in which I was a grandmother telling my grandkids, "Oh, in my day, we didn't HAVE hoity-toity SHOULDERBLADES. We had to carry our shit on our ribcages!"

Random stuff would pop up. I got a very intense, vivid memory of riding the escalator up from the parking garage towards the Target on Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood. Ah, pointlessness. Back to the breath. Occasionally, stuff would hurt or get sore, so I'd do a little self-check in: Hey there Head, how ya doin'? Cool, cool, good to know. Neck? Still sore? Ah, sorry to hear it. I love you. Feel better. Chest, back? Talk to me- how's it going? etc. etc. As each part would respond I would give it love and encouragement. Overall, I seemed to be doing OK. I was getting the technique down, and hanging in there. Aishah's constant micromanagement was driving me crazy, but I viewed it as a game.

One of our roommates talked in her sleep, which is bad enough on it's own, but she would sit up and speak in different voices to herself and it scared the shit out of me. No sleep. Some phlegmmy Korean lady down the hall would hack and cough all night, then snore. I felt bad for her, and tried to use it as an opportunity to get over my aversion to the sounds of sickness. Then when I got bored being charitable, I'd stuff a pillow over my head and feel miserable. I was exhausted. Every day. One lady didn't like the Course and left. This freed up a spot for me on the back wall, where I could pretty much see everything. Not that my eyes were open and I was daydreaming. Shit. Back to the breath.

On Day 4, we had another New Student check in. I watched people go up and ask Brett their questions. Poor Patricia went up and I could see her distress in the dim light of the hall- her raven black hair was held in an enamel clip, and I could see this clip bobbing up and down and left to right as she tried to communicate. I looked over at Patricia's friend, EatPrayLove. Still in perfect meditation pose, eyes closed. So balanced, so equanimous. (Goenka's favorite word.) I envied her Zen- surely she was on the path to Enlightenment.

When it was my turn to speak in hushed tones to Brett, I explained that I was NOT sleeping. He told me to just accept that I would not be getting much sleep while at the Center. Thanks? Hrm... We were also allowed to ask questions at the end of the night, and I asked Brett about Goenka's insistance that nothing was permant- everything was Anicha, Anicha, Anicha. (Change, change, change- which Goenka insisted on repeating in triplicate at every opportunity.) "So if everything changes, and goes away, how can we be happy about anything? How can we trust in anything? What if someone says 'I love you?' Should I just keep checking back with them every 5 minutes?" Brett smiled. "Just accept the impermance, and hope for continuity."


The following day was the BIG REVEAL- Vipassana day! During a very special 3-hour meditation block (mandatory of course) we would be taught the practice and technique of Vipassana Meditation! Ready? Ready for the big reveal? The secret to all life, eternal lives, nirvanic bliss and enlightenment? ...It's a body scan. The same damn thing I'd been doing since Day 1. Checking in with each body pary and feeling the sensations. Son of a...! (FACEPALM.) The purpose of the body scan is to detect the subtle vibrations and sensations throughout the body and identify them, then accept them with objectivity, don't lable them 'good' or 'bad,' and move on. Do this piece by piece, top to bottom. Then bottom to top. Then symettrically, feeling both arms at the same time and both legs at the same time. Then flowwww... There. I just saved you 10 days of your life.

You're welcome.

I was still fuming at Fruit O'Clock. Really? The same shit I'd been doing all along? Goenka says that in dismissing each sensation with objectivity and remaining equanimous, we will prevent the creation of New Sankaras. Sankaras, (just in case you don't know,) are feelings of Craving or Aversion. Like or Dislike. And according to Goenka, who is going directly from Buddha's teachings, Sankaras are the root of all misery. I was confused- how can a 'like' be bad? I 'like' a lot of stuff. I just 'liked' my friend's photo on facebook- how can this be negative? That Sankara of a plate of hotwings? Mmmm. So good.

But, Goenka explains, they are bad because due to the impermanence of everything in life, no hotwings last forever. Everything is change, change, change. So I like something. Then it goes away. Then I miss it, long for it, and crave it. I become miserable, he insists, and generate a Sankara of craving. In fact, Goenka says, every time I create a NEW Sankara, it MULTIPLIES my preexisting ones. As soon as I enjoy or dislike ANYTHING, my Sankaras multiply, and my misery multiplies. Only though the habit of objectively accepting then dismissing the subtle physical sensations of my own body can I eradicate my Sankaras- and once I get deeper within the body, OLD, preexisting Sankaras will emerge and dissipate as long as I am dilligent with this Vipassana meditation.

Hmm. Okayyyy.

Since Vipassana is touted as a highly scientific, nondenominational SCIENCE of meditation, I ask Brett the next day: "If energy can neither be created nor destroyed, how is it by "creating" one Sankara, I "multiply" the others?" He smiled and mumbled something about how "multiply" might not be the best translation. "Okay, well since there is no such physical thing as a Sankara- if you cut me open, you will find none, I assure you- let's just assume he's talking about salt and amino chemical patterns being reinforced throughout the brain? Is that it? Just reinforcing bad mental habits?" "Something like that."


At that point, I started to check out a little. Plus, over on the men's side of the room, there was a Burper, and it was super distracting. On top of the standard sniffles and sneezes, having someone deeply belch while you're trying to focus was challenging to say the least. If Goenka was right, and the man was simply deep in meditation and releasing his Sankaras, then maybe it's not so bad, but since the only way I could visualize a Sankara was to picture it as a cockroach with a colorful satchel filled with Emotional Baggage, the image of a man burping up cockroaches became very unsettling.

I tried hard to scan that night, but memories kept popping up- sudden, specific memories of times with Jay- the time I surprised him by waiting under a streetlight for him to drive by while wearing a frog costume. The time I jumped on him, wrapping my legs tightly around his hips while I dangled one arm and "groomed him" with the other. He let me climb on him and called me a Lemur. The time we splashed in the fountain together in Winter Park- one he'd re-propose to me at when he got the engagement ring resized. A few tears escaped. I approached Brett. "Um, so, maybe these are Sankaras coming up, but I'm having very intense memories and they're making me a Sad Panda- how should I deal with the emotion?" Brett smiles. "Just accept that that'll happen and move on. Be objective."

"Oh. Okay. Thanks..."

Hrrrm. But that night, I guess I finally managed SOME sleep, because I had either a vision or a dream.
Doesn't matter.
What matters is that in the vision, I was meditating outside in the sun when a beautiful dark-skinned woman in traditional African robes and a beautiful headwrap approached me. She was covered in a fine layer of dust, and I knew she was Of The Earth. God. Like when you see Morgan Freeman and you just know. She walked to where I was sitting and reached out to me, reaching into my chest, into my heart, and removing a long purple plume from within me. "I'll carry your sorrows for you," she said, and tucked it up, pinning it away in her massive headscarf, where I knew it would stay safely forever and I'd never have to deal with it again. She looked at me with love and I awoke.

I awoke feeling truly loved and peaceful. That night I dreamed about Jay, but it was just standard dreams. We weren't fighting. He wasn't coming back to me. I didn't wake up disoriented or confused as to why I was alone. I woke up feeling relieved.

The covert sleeping didn't stop- and the covert writing began- with the sadness gone, and my complete trust in Enlightenment Through Vipassana sullied, my brain had a full-on revolution. And it was televised! I invented the Vipassana Network in my head, and wrote about the myriad of silly things that made me laugh throughout the day's events. I wrote an audition piece for a friend. I wrote half a screenplay- and I wrote this on papertowels in the darkness, or in secret or in the few precious moments of privacy I'd have when EatPrayLove was meditating in the Hall and I was "meditating" in my room. I wrote, I wrote, I wrote. And I was happy.

I had a daily supply of Clif Bars, and I would eat one each day in the woods, (to keep the bugs from wanting to get the crumbs from my dorm) and to not arouse jealousy. Mmm Clif Bars. I noticed after each sitting, I would spring from the hall like a snake from a can of snakes. I would take lively steps towards the bathroom or the trails or the mealhall- wherever I could.

Gradually, the rest of the students would stumble out, squinting in the brightness like Mole People and milling about. The Shuffling Zombies shambling around tickled my heart. I love Zombies. On the 9th Day, during the time we are typically released to have private meditation (read: sleep) in our rooms, they flipped the script and instead played a tape recording of Goenka speaking.

It lasted for over an hour, and I grew antsier and antsier waiting for it to end. When you hear no loud sounds or voices for 9 days, and Goenka's baritone instructions, affirmations and dissertations are all you hear, every one of his words comes like a Thunderball. I heard his voice in the shower, in the few brief walks in the woods, in my sleep. I could even catch myself internally replaying the songs he'd always sing in Hindi- songs with words in a language I do not speak were echoing, echoing, refraining between my ears.

Goenka also has a very specific pattern of speech- repeating some words in triplicate, others in duplicate, always with a very deliberate, controled delivery... Today it was just unbearable. I could feel myself catch the first word, then crave for the second, then long for the third just to complete the pattern- and what's worse, Goenka was pausing longer and longer between the repetitions, causing us to hang on his every proclamation- This was the only way to get out of my ignorance, to get out of my misery, my misery, my misery.

Hey, wait a tick... What the fuck!
This is exactly how they brainwash people!
Holy shit!

At that moment, what I'd been missing every day at breakfast, lunch, and Fruit O'Clock kicked in: SALT. Ohhhhh fuck. Salt. Fucking SALT!

Quick history lesson: I had to do a lot of research on how to make a zombie, for a movie. Historically, like, for real, the descendants of Witch Doctors from Africa are living in Haiti. And they have old family recipies for a very specific type of poison which is used in the slave trade in Africa to pacify captives from rival tribes until the White Devils would come and pick them up. The poison is made into a powder and introduced into the system of a victim. The victim "dies," and is found dead by some innocent bystander.

Some shitty Hatian doctor checks for vitals but has a lousy medical education, lousy equipment and no financial incentive to save the victim, so he or she is pronounced "dead" and buried by a shitty undertaker in a shitty coffin in shitty Hatian soil. This makes it very easy to dig that person up. Since the poison has DRAMATICALLY slowed their vitals, the person has not consumed more air than the coffin held, so the Hatian Voo Doo Master revives them but deprives them of salt. Then gradually reintroduces salt into the victim's desalinated system, and trains them, based on the victim's brain CRAVING salt, to do their bidding.

The tasks are done mindlessly and oblivious to physical pain. If you deprive a person of sleep and salt, it makes them more receptive to suggestion. Methamphetamine salts are given to help ADD and ADHD people, and Bipolar Disorder people take salts because their brain isn't making enough. Holy shit. Someone was trying to turn me into a zombie.

By napping and sneaking Clif Bars, I'd warded off the attack. Hot Damn I'm awesome. Do I think these people had ANY malicious, insidious motivations? Absolutely not. Sleep Deprivation, Desalination, chanting, repetition, constant monitoring and control over our physical bodies is not GREAT, but really all they want are good Vipassana students.
Which I am not.

After I realized this, with a laugh I arose from my cushion in the Hall. I absolutely couldn't stand another minute of Goenka, Goenka, Goenka. I HAD to move my body. I had to physically express my liberation. And so I stepped outside... and I ran. There was no one around, no one to distract- they were all inside! So I ran, luxuriating in the sensation of the wind in my hair and rushing across my ears. I pounded the grass with my feet. It felt great. I didn't go far- just in a short loop, a few skips and leaps. Two cartwheels. I found a stick and threw it from the clearing into the woods, delighting in the crash it made as it hit some branches.

I had made something happen, with motion and light and sound and joy. It felt amazing. But, nothing is permanent, all things are temporary, and suddenly Aishah was behind me- she'd come after me. "To make sure I was OK." "Yes, I'm great," I pant. "Just stretching." She insists that I speak to Brett after the lesson. "Really? I was just stretching!" "It's insisted upon." Well, shit.

A half-hour later, I'm in a tiny cell, kneeling before Brett as he floats on a deus two feet above me. Aishah has crammed in behind me- the room is so small I can feel her breath on my neck. It's unnerving. "Is everything OK?" Brett asks. Should I tell them that I've discovered their evil plot? Should I reveal my dissention? My rebellion? They told us we would suffer Severe Mental Distress if we left the course early... a threat? The truth? I wanted to see how it ends- I made it so far! I THREW A STICK INTO THE WOODS, YOU ZOMBIE-MAKING BUDDHISTS! HOW YOU LIKE ME NOW?!?

"...Nah, I'm fine- just stretching, really. Just a stretch. That's all." Brett and Aisha exchange a glance, and I'm dismissed! Phew! We have a meditation break, during which we are supposed to meditate. I am too hyper. I just stew. After the break, we go back to the hall to mediate some more. Another hour passes, then, instead of releasing us, they start ANOTHER Goenka recording. Ah, well. To make matters worse, it's pretty much the exact same message as the first- the same speech, paragraph for paragraph, delivered in a slightly different way.

I had no choice but to distract myself with racy sexual fantasies to stay sane. It was the only way, really.

As soon as the last Saaadu was bowed out, I got a surprise when PATRICIA, the woman in front of me, bolts out the door- man, she's off like a rocket! I smile because I know exactly how she feels, and I smile more when I see Aisha bolt after her, like a shadow. Since I'm seated closest to the door, I'm the third one out and I see Patricia bee-lining it for the trail. Aisha is striding fast behind her. I still want to walk, so I head for the second trail nearby- but suddenly I hear something loud. Something unhappy. Patricia is yelling. At first, I'll admit, I got a pang of joy when I pictured her giving Aishah an earful for her Gestapo-policing habits- but then I listened more.

The yelling turned to screaming- I could not hear Aishah's whispered replies, but I could tell they were not making things any better. Patricia began screaming and ranting about "And what the hell is a SANKORA, anyway? I mean, what IS THAT? I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT YOU PEOPLE ARE TALKING ABOUT AND YOU WON'T LEAVE ME ALONE!" Her distress level was severely inporportionate to the situation- she'd become completely irrational, and I could tell she was having a psychic break. This was a fullblown meltdown, and Aisha, who is not a trained ANYTHING, was way out of her league. "I DON'T WANT TO GO SEE BRETT!!!" I could hear more screaming, crying. "GET AWAY FROM ME!" They'd taken our phones, our keys, everything. (Well, not MY keys- Mama didn't raise no fool.) I knew Patricia felt cornered and threatened and terrified.

I couldn't help her because I was a virtual stranger, and for all she believes in her delusional state right now, 'one of THEM.' The best thing to do was go find her friend- the one she'd come with. Someone she trusts.
I found EatPrayLove meditating dutifully in the Hall, like we were supposed to. Perfect lotus position. Man she's good. "Diane," I murmur, kneeling next to her then comically eyehooking the door so she'll leave with me. She does, and I tell her in the hall "I'm so sorry for breaking your silence on the 9th night- but Patrica is in the woods and she's having a really rough time, and Aishah is making things worse."
"Oh," she responds, dreamily. "Yeah, this is a really tough course- how are YOU doing?"
"No, you're not getting it," I say. "Your friend is having a meltdown in the woods- she's freaking out and she's scared and she needs you."

EatPrayLove nods.
"I'll speak to her tomorrow."

...wait. What?
She turns and goes back silently into the darkened hall to focus on Love and Compassion for all Beings. While her friend suffered 300 yards away. I was stunned. After everything we'd been learning- all these anecdotes Goenka was feeding us about the Buddha, and his infinite compassion for suffering, his sacrifice... NONE of that had taken with the "best student" among us.

Patricia's shoes remained outside the interrogation chamber/"interview room" for hours.
She did not appear at Fruit O'Clock.

EatPrayLove went to bed that night and I heard her sleeping peacefully. The next morning, Patricia was at the Group Sitting, but she looked like she'd been administered a heavy dose of Thorazine. She was completely out of it, and rocked slightly back and forth as Goenka chanted, as if mesmerized. She went into a private meditation cell later, and I heard her crying. Then she and her car vanished completely. Aishah scooped up her cushion, eradicating any evidence that Patricia had ever existed.

After the 10th Day's Afternoon Sitting, students could finally talk. The campus errupted in joyful exclamations and bursts of sounds and laughter. "Did you see the tortise laying eggs?"
"YESSS!!! Did you see the fireflies?"
"What?!? There were FIREFLIES?!?" "You gotta hit the woods right after Goenk O'Clock- they're in grassy space big enough to do cartwheels in!" "How do you- (gasp) you DIDN'T!"

I was a rebellious black sheep- between the sleeping, the secret writing, the clif bars, the cartwheels, my freedom run, and my dissentious thoughts, I am truly the worst Vipassana meditator on the planet. It's official. BUT- despite 9 Days of being told how to think, how to feel, how to act, I still, STILL knew what was best to do for Patricia. I STILL felt compassion and put her suffering at higher value than my own Noble Silence.

I may have compromised my Vipassana Salvation, but if EatPrayLove's path is the path of Enlightenment, damn it looks cold and lonely.

I'd rather suffer the slings and arrows, the highs and lows, the mosquito bites and the fireflies, and FEEL FEEL FEEL, even if it is "misery." It's human nature, and I think being human is so very precious and beautiful. Sure, my life is a rollercoaster. But no one ever got off a fun ride at a theme park and said, "wow, that was really equanimous and balanced- let's go again!" I am compassionate, I am loving, I am willing to get hurt for love, and I BELIEVE in passion and following a free-range wild heart.

Is that enlightened? No. Is it fun? You betcher ass it is!

According to Goenka and Buddha, we get several rounds at this. Maybe this isn't my time time to have peace.
After all, I asked Brett on the last night: "If everything is change, change, change, and nothing is permanent or forever, why strive for Enlightenment if it'll just go away?"

Brett smiled. "You'll know when you're Enlightened."
How very Zen.
Please pass the salt.


Everything starts off with strangers- sterile and sanitized. Suddenly, there's chemistry as grains and hopes come from out of nowhere. A sense of growing extractations begins to form, and things heat up dramatically only to be cooled, quickly, cruelly- a cauldron of magic snuffed at its prime. But did you know? I'm a Fermenter. Some craze-inducing bacteria breathes life where before there was none. Sugars have formed. Sweetness. Chemicals swirling trapped in my vessel. Intoxicated with my own chemical reaction, I'll convince myself it's fine because I like the taste. My glass carboy skin holds the bubbling, churning, working, combusting inside while you casually sweep through me. You and Me. Things will be OK. I'm now drunk off my own lies, so don't mind me- I'll just twist here and rot while you sleep. This is, after all, EXACTLY what I asked for. In the morning, I'll stagger off like a poisoned animal full of too many putrid apples. I blinded myself with this ignorant moon-shining. Still...

LA Stories: Bacon n' Noir

As I mix my morning cocktail of fake-maple-sugar and fake-regular oatmeal from the "Free Oatmeal" drawer at Warner Bros., my mind wanders, remembering breakfasts of days gone bye... Real Food. French toast. Muffins. Bacon. Eggs. Sausage. And on the matter of sausage... Every man I've ever dated has claimed that he can make the perfect omelet, yet, if memory serves, they've never served it to me. I'm not baby crazy, but a lady likes to know a man can handle eggs. Maybe I should freeze some, in case I never do get that breakfast in bed. The hot water seeps into the last of my refined super-processed mecha-oats and it's time to stop dreaming and start typing. Back to a cold cube, a cold chair and a colder blue-gray data entry screen- where dreams and pigs in blankets go to die. My legs lock, unwilling to lead me back to a gray world when they're longing to wrap themselves languidly around other legs in a sun-gold land of sheets, pillows, tousled hair and waffles. ...I stare at the disposable cup full of disposable breakfast and release the heavy sigh I've been holding in my slowly-emerging ribcage. The cup is half full, but I already know I'm still hungry.