Where are you now?

In the past year as I’ve traveled, I have often gotten that text: where are you now?  It’s the first point of contact.  My old friends nestled into family and mortgage, my new friends traipsing through different parts of the world, they all send out their greeting by locating me in space.  Or rather, on the earth.  It’s how we know where to send our love.

I am in 29 Palms, California; I am in Little Petra, Jordan; I am in Delphi, Greece, I am in Crossroads, Kansas City.  I am right here, right now. 

One of the pivotal books of my youth was “Be Here Now” by Baba Ram Dass.  I remember the way that idea both harnessed and rebuked my imagination.  After all, reading the book, wasn’t I connecting with Dass, who sat in a room with his pen on the page years before I even read his book?  What is here?  What is now?  What counts? 

The intention of that book is to recognize that everything you want in the world is right where you are in the very moment you inhabit.  You can’t access the good in this moment unless you are present for it.  I remember reading the square pages of that book in Spring Lake, Sonoma County.  It was the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of high school.  I would walk by the lifeguard stand in my white one piece and jean shorts and plop on the blanket to read how everything I wanted was available in the moment.  And then I would gaze with longing at the handsome lifeguard, who clearly wasn’t reading the same book. 

But to me, that book did make sense.  At the end of the day, I only have so much control over my life.  I can’t make anyone love me.  I can’t change the weather.  I can’t change the body I was born into.  But I can change how I look at things.  I can change how I react.  And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned, I can change the ground I plop onto and the books I read. 

And the funny thing is, the reason I felt so called to the road in the first place is that same question.  Where are you now? 

 photo by John Baker  @jlondonbaker

photo by John Baker @jlondonbaker

When my friends text me, it’s snaps me into the archetype of explorer or nomad.  And it’s apropos.  The question is about place and distance.  Our connection is not part of the question. 

For me, the question was as much about the You in it.  On one hand, I’m curious about whether I’ll ever settle into a long term partnership again.  After decades of romance like seasonal celebration, I wonder if there is a you I will see through frolic to family.  And on the other hand, in a more important way, I wonder about the you that is neither man nor woman, but divine. 

At the core of this question, there is longing.  At the core of longing there is a sense that something is missing.  There is a disconnect.  Brene Brown’s latest book, Braving the Wilderness tells us that that true connection begins within.  Isn’t it strange how you can know a thing, but not know a thing?  For me to be here now, I have to acknowledge that this longing isn’t going anywhere.  I have more questions than I have answers.  No partner is going to snap up my restlessness like a Tupperware lid.  No religion or philosophy is going to plug all the holes in the night sky. 

I don’t know where you are now.  But we are alive and frail and amazing.  Now might be jubilant.  Where might be a below deck berth at dusk.  But that question begins the chain of actions that leads to answers.  Who are you?  What are you feeling?  How far away are you?  Where will you go next?  Can I come? 

Right now I am housesitting in Ballard, Seattle.  My dog is barking at the 28X bus barreling down the street, and I’m going fusion dancing in a few hours.  Come if you’d like, I’ll save you a dance.

When I close my eyes..

It was near midnight, I’d danced with every lead in the room, some I’d danced with two or three times. The number of dancers on the floor had dimmed like the lights had over time. And as I scanned the room, I found there were no leads not taken. But I wanted to dance, and fuck it if I wouldn’t be just as happy doing it alone. “A dancer loves to dance” right?  So says the Chorus Line song I love from long ago.

This was a new venue, a new country. I was in Vancouver visiting a friend I’d met a few weeks prior, and I had that traveler’s high of wide eyes and embodied light. When my friend and I arrived at the daytime fencing studio turned nighttime fusion venue, I was taken aback. Swords, shields and helmets hung like knick-knacks plastering the walls. From the double tall ceilings medieval flags and banners hung high. But one wall doubled it all up in giant dance mirror. The soft threat of danger sat in the background like the intro soundtrack to Game of Thrones. I felt like I’d walked into a Renaissance Fair – which was fine with me.

In the past weeks I’ve been sifting through the tension of wanting to settle into a city and grow roots, and wanting to keep traveling. Travel opens you up to divine intervention, magic, and connection. But consuming so much experience without digesting it can feel hollow. The true goal is a stable home and community, and a shit-ton of travel built in. Maybe that’s why I love dance – on one floor, I take a good twenty trips per night in the arms of different leads.

But the musings are a bit academic. To stay put, to move?  At the end of the day, money rules. And I’m almost out. I’m going to have to find a way to dig in somewhere and get paid for doing the things I do well. Which of those things I’ll get paid for is still a mystery. Can I get paid to dance?  To prattle on about god, myth, embodiment, rapture, philosophy and mindfulness?  To read the books I love to read?  To be silly?  To hand out permission slips for people to be broken, and heal on their own terms?  Who knows.

Anyhow, I took this trip to explore a connection, and to get out of my mom’s house in Seattle. I’ll save this connection for later, as it’s doing just fine thankyouverymuch. But I’m growing weary of being a long-term-temporary resident and succubus at my mother’s home. It’s not who I am— lazy and distracted— but who I am in her house. We’ve been navigating our space, well, her space, and enjoyed seeing each other as adults in new ways. But also, I’m a grown ass woman. I want to act like it, it’s hard to do when I set none of the rules.

When I came back from a week at Breitenbush Hot Springs, where my 6 month Yoga Teacher Training had ended a few weeks before this, I told her I felt amazing, and I did. But she asked me what that meant: What was the plan? Where was I moving? What kind of work was I going to do?  And all that juicy faith and hope plummeted into malaise. I had no clear plan. Despite two interviews I had lined up, I had no clear income stream. One interview was to teach yoga in New Orleans, another to teach grades 9-12 English in Seattle. Neither was exactly what I wanted. And my confusion wasn’t just mine. It was affecting her. It is.

And that’s the question, how do you keep the faith when there’s no sign of delivery?  How do you carry a question mark of hope, when it looks to others like the metal appendage on Captain Hook’s arm?

A few weeks before this I went into Center for Spiritual Living, my new hippie church in Sand Point Seattle, and I stayed after for an affirmative prayer session. If you don’t know what that is, you’re not alone. I still don’t understand what it is, but I loved it. I said what I’ve said a thousand times. The swarm of questions landed with it’s million stingers: How do I do this thing?  How do I choose a job when I feel a calling?  How do I answer a calling if it doesn’t pay?  How do I use my knack for creativity to manifest the vibrant life I dream of?  How do I build relationships when they distract me from my work?  How do I do my work if it’s about relationships?  How do I sing the song that’s unique to me?  How do I stop trying to figure it all out?

My prayer practitioner, a woman in her early 60s with a hearing aid seemed to have heard me better than most. She said, “Take a deep breath. Close your eyes. All you have to do is wait.” 

Wait? I can’t wait! I thought. It didn’t occur to me immediately that I was, in fact, waiting, that I am still now waiting. I’m doing the thing I need to – it’s just a question of how. I’ve made these choices difficult for myself, and forgotten the faith that lies within. In my entire life, in all my geographic moves and career changes, I’ve clipped my courage to align with what’s outside. I talked to her about going back to secondary education, taking jobs in real estate, sales or marketing. She didn’t say yes or no, she said, “ Slow down. Wait. You have all the answers within.”

“It’s selfish!” I said. “Selfish. I am relying on the generosity of people I love, and it’s not fair. It’s time to make some choices.” 

She smiled at my verbal jabs, and asked if I have ever been generous to anyone I love. Yes. Fo course. It’s sometimes easier to give than to receive.

But the bottom line of all this, the same thing I tell my friends and students is simply, trust yourself. Discovery is a creative process, and perfectionism is a pause button I know all too well. Dorothy didn’t know Oz existed, and couldn’t set it as a goal. But it was her travels through Oz that set her free.

So there I was in this medieval dance hall swaying in my backless jumper, dancing for myself in the company of others. I was in my body, in my flow. And the strangest thing happened. Suddenly, I had an invisible partner, I was no longer dancing alone. I’m not speaking metaphorically, spiritually, but in the world of flesh and bone.

As I stretched my arms horizontal, away from my body, I felt a set of hands reach around my ribcage from behind. Startled, I said, “Ok, wow… Hello!”  The hands glided up my sidelines, pulling my arms up above my head. And then, as my hips pulsed left and right, these hands held my wrists together above my head. This was some bondage scene from an art film. But I was in the moment, in my body, and I went with it. I had no idea who this was. I knew it wasn’t the friend I’d come to visit. But like him, this lead had hands clear with directives, and a familiar scent.

I have never, in my four years of fusion dancing, began a dance with someone whose face I hadn’t seen first. Usually both partners shuttle out, “Hi, what’s your name?”  This follows with, “Do you like to lead, follow or switch?”  Sometimes I get a verbal request for close embrace. Not this time. And I want to make it clear, this wouldn’t work for every follow, nor would it have been okay if it was a different lead. But for me, at this juncture, it was a gift. I never doubted this lead, or myself as his follow. After a minute he lowered my hands, and I leaned back. I told him I’d never done this, danced with someone so blind. The only response I heard was his breath. It sounds sexy. It was sexy. But it was something else, something that relates to why I love dance so much. It’s not a power play; it’s a magical improvised conversation done without words. It’s an arena where I stop trying to figure things out.

 This is the only picture of myself dancing I've been able to snag, back from 2015, with the lovely and talented Elisa. 

This is the only picture of myself dancing I've been able to snag, back from 2015, with the lovely and talented Elisa. 

We continued the dance, and I followed his hands, arms, feet and hips. I learned early that a skilled lead makes his (or her) follow look good. Lately I’ve garnered that a skilled follow does the same. This lead, standing behind me for most of the dance, knew every possible extension, torque and pull to keep me dancing, faced away from him. He made me look good, and feel good. I was led into slides, Zouk fashioned spins with a downward neck roll, micro isolations, standard dips, and even a full floor drag. He could have dropped me. He could have expected me in his bed that night. But not for one minute was I afraid. I was so utterly trusting, I felt like a living incantation.

When I began fusion dancing four years ago, I made a commitment to myself that I would only do it for fun. I didn’t want to get academic, get competitive, or pursue it with the volcanic passion that sometimes squelches my loves. Case it point, all these questions about how to live my life. It was a hobby, I thought, just a hobby. What I didn’t foresee was how much my body would crave it when I was away from the dance floor. And while I haven’t clocked in a 6 class training in West Coast Swing, Salsa, or Kizomba, I’ve picked up a few moves in each from leads I’ve danced with over the years. As a dancer, I am intuitive, spontaneous and free. Who doesn’t want to be that?  Fusion allows, and in fact, invites that. I don’t care if I look good, I’m just present, in my body.

And in that strange medieval dance hall, for this song, I was more than present. I let go. As the tempo changed, l leaned my head back into the support of my lead’s shoulder, slowing with the song. Our breaths rose and fell together. We transferred weight from right to left foot in unison. I closed my eyes because I didn’t even want to see him. And then the song stretched out for a long low note, and stopped.

My lead circled around and stood in front of me, smiling. He had never done this either, danced with a follow keeping her (or him) blind. Earlier in the night I had both followed and led this man, and it made sense that he felt familiar. I learned later that he’s won various dance competitions. But at this point, both of us stood there grinning, in awe of what we’d done. Maybe I’m just speaking for myself. I’m not sure.

What I am sure of is that this was more than a dance to me. This was a reminder from the universe of the kind of flow and trust I need to cultivate in the rest of my life. It was an echo of what my prayer practitioner told me a few months back – Wait, the answers are all within. It was a direct link to the feeling I had leaving Breitenbush weeks before, a knowing, a balancing act in life’s uncertainty. This dance felt like a threshold, something to pass in my heroic quest. Let go, leap big. Joseph Campbell said “we must let go of the life we have planned so as to accept the one that’s waiting for us.”  I got it. With nothing for my mind or eyes to grab onto, I had followed inklings and cues to step into grace. I knew that I’d move as far as my body allowed, and my body knew better than me anyway. Knows.

I’ve been digging through my mind for months trying to figure out where I’m going, as if I was glued to the ground without a clear destination in mind. With so much in the air, I have felt like a whirling dervish turned Tasmanian devil.

I may be destined for a life of asking more questions than I answer, but that’s my truth right now – albeit an unusual one for a woman over 30 (home-free, jobless, single, no kids). But I tell you what, right now I’m good with it: Uncertainty. None of it is permanent, that’s part of the point.

I walk out onto the dance floor and move because I like to, because the music asks it of me. I may have a partner, I may not. I may see where things are going, or I may not. I give no fucks. When I question my future so aggressively, I never inhabit the moment I live in. In dancing blind, I saw more than what the world shows me every day. And the things that matter most are always invisible.

I can’t remember where I picked it up, but I love that spiritual metaphor that you can drive from Los Angeles to New York City at night with nothing more than your headlights. You don’t need to see more than 20 feet in front of you. That’s about as far as I can see right now, but I am happy to drive. Happy to see what I do.

Sure, I’ll have to make some important life choices soon. Sure, many of these choices will test my values. I will go off course, more than once. I’m not the only imperfect one here.

I don’t know if I’ll go back to Vancouver, if I’ll dance with this lead ever again. But I trust that it will all work out fine. I can see it when I close my eyes.

Make today Saturday. A poem, an essay and a practice.

You Are Not Your Eyes


Those who have reached their arms

into emptiness are no longer concerned

with lies and truth with mind and soul,


or which side of the bed they rose from.

If you are still struggling to understand,

you are not there.  You offer your soul


to one who says, “take it to the other

side.” You’re on either side, yet

those who love you see you on one side


or the other.  You say Illa, “only God,”

then your hungry eyes see you’re in

“nothing,” La.  You’re an artist


who paints both with existence and non.

Shams could help you see who you are,

but remember, You are not your eyes.



I – La

Yesterday as we drove out of Joshua Tree, my brother asked me, does every day feel like Saturday?  When I sighed and said no, he was baffled.  Last spring when I quit my job, I had budgeted six months out.  I’ve been job free and home free now for ten months.  I feel the squish of something besides a weekend afternoon.  Saturday by nature requires a Friday, a Wednesday, and even a Monday.  Saturday means the week is done, you get to relax.  Besides, even when I was a teacher, I spent plenty of my Saturdays hunched over a stack of essay rubrics.  Granted, I also spent many weeknights lounging with friends in local parks and dive bars. 

When I first hopped in my Mazda 3 to leave SF, I thought it would feel like all Saturdays, but that’s not who I am. I like to work. For each adventure there has been planning and processing woven in.  I wrote as I traveled, I sat with strangers asking questions about their gods, I lined up budgets for money and time.  These things balanced the carefree and wild times I’ve collected alongside.  But still, I was witness and participant.  It’s the work I want to do, but it’s work.  Writing about this I remember that aphorism by Confucius to “choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”  But he didn’t say anything about getting paid, and he didn’t say that you will never be done.  And now as I aim to make this work more official, I see time differently. 

Time unstructured pulls back benchmarks that show growth.  In these plains, you can gaze at one Joshua Tree, or the miles and miles of dry earth leading up to the hills.  Growth isn’t always visible.  In the desert it’s not Saturday.  It’s today.  For me I see my growth in a blog post, a booking for a class or workshop, an insight hour here and there.  The work I do as a teacher and a writer is consistent, but off grid. I have to set my own boundaries around time and transformation.  It’s hard.

From my brother’s passenger seat, I gazed out at the patterns of desert scrub, and still felt the world outside that moment calling me to attention.  How can I make money with what I love?  How can I be more useful?  How can I take these seeds of light and plant them where darkness reins, both within me and outside?  I remember at age eight, sitting on the backyard fence in Citrus Heights California, making a deal with god that if s/he offered me insight, I would spend my life opening doors, sharing that wisdom, granting wishes.  I want to take the impact of each mammoth rock formation and make it a metaphor that I can hand out like a bookmark.  Share.

The perfect present tense of Joshua Tree was humbling.  But much like in meditation, at the gate of bliss, my mind still spun off path. I thought of all the work I have to do, all the work I’m doing, and wondered if it’s making any impact. My work right now is still uncertain, there is doubt twisted in with the trust.  But this is how things begin.  For me.  It’s tricky to be a process based person in a results based society.

At junctures like this, when things are unclear, what I know is that I have to believe harder, trust more.  I have to see with my heart, not my eyes. The faith I’ve grown over this year has exploded in me like the desert will explode with flowers next month.  And as we wound back towards 29 Palms, I told myself all would be well.  I believed it, even though I didn’t, and don’t know how it will come to be.  I watched the shadows grow long on the Russian Thistle and Sagebrush, and I looked at the dirt between.  There is so much life in a climate so dry, so drastic.  So much invisible. 

II - Illa

With my head leaning against the seatbelt, I did what I often do in vast and stealthy landscapes: I sighed.  It amazes me that in the ever expanding universe I somehow came to exist, and still do.  In my small life, I have lived through climates much harsher and more drastic.  This is not to say that I am a desert plant, but that I am part of something bigger than myself.  To remember this took one thing: a deep breath.  On the most basic level, this breath keeps me alive.  We all need water, warmth, food, and I’d argue human company, but the thing we can’t go more than a few minutes without is breath.  But more importantly, this breath is a presencing tool when my mind wanders into the internal tundra of chaos.

Without fail, my breath has been a causeway to the divine. In the past few years I have nurtured a regular yoga practice, and taken myself to social dances and hiking trails whenever I can.  This has been fun in its own right.  But more importantly, as I have moved more, I have grown in my capacity to breathe more, and breathe more deeply.  I’m no athlete, but I know that when I breathe better, the world feels abundant.  My boundaries around time and transformation have been in my breath.  The retentions between inhale, exhale and inhale again are small ones I can control.  And in paying attention to this, I have grown exponentially in ways that bely the eye.  I have been able to tap into the oneness that I sometimes do glimpse with my actual eyes.  In ten minutes of pranayama, a practice like Samavrtti or Nadi Shodhana, I know I have gotten closer to myself, to my growth, to my Saturday.

III - Samavritti Breath Practice:

The Sanskrit here translates to equal (Sama) breath.  I have found it to be calming and centering of the fluctuations in thoughts (vritti). 

Sit in a relaxed position where you won’t be disturbed.  Close your eyes.  Take a few natural breaths at your own pace.  I recommend you move through part A for 2 minutes, part B for anywhere from 2-8 minutes, and return to A again to close out. 


Inhale for a count of 4

Hold for 2

Exhale for 4

Hold for 2




Inhale to the count of 4

Hold for 4

Exhale for 4

Hold for 4


Invocation from Aswan. Be Loud Ladies!

So, I last wrote of the sleeper train where for once in my life, I slept through the clanging momentum of the night.  I left you at the lip of a tiny miracle, but I’m going to lead you towards a much bigger one.  On day three of my group adventure, after our train arrived in Aswan, I followed “Momo’s family,” wheeling luggage through the station to our new Taftaf van.  Without so much as a breakfast break, we engined down to the Lake Nasser to transfer to a 20 foot motorboat. The expanse of blue water, and the breeze that came with it felt unearthly.  Peddlers shoved knick-knacks in my sightline, a despair as tangible as the printed pants and maps they wanted to sell.  The port was designed as a thruway, it was no luxury stop-off.  But to my eyes, now atuned to the dry expanse of the Giza desert, the small port town gleamed like the best in Cinqua Terra. 

In the 1960s, the High Dam was built to stabilize the Egyptian economy.  For centuries the Nile has climbed and receded through cycles of flood and drought.  However, the new dam led to a number of important sites flooding permanently.  The buildings dedicated to the worship of Isis were among them.  As part of the UNESCO Nubia Campaign, the Temple of Philae, the sacred home of Isis, was dismantled and rebuilt in the nearby Agilikia Island.  But there’s a kismet to this – Isis is the ruler of the underworld.  I’m sure she’s happy to know her first home is now literally underwater, even if the stones now stand nearby on dry land.

But here I am writing about history, a shifting understanding of the past, when my aim is something present – something that began long ago, that lies dormant now.  I’ve only been able to talk about the Temple of Philae in shards, broken pieces of an experience that blur in my understanding.  On route to see Suzanne, my good friend from Egypt, I knew it was time to get out my metaphorical glue.

I’ve put off writing about Egypt for a number of reasons.  I’ve gotten distracted.  In the last few months, I’ve been reading Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, writing papers, learning Sanskrit, and teaching yoga classes as part of my training through 8 Limbs Yoga.  I’ve cushioned my psyche from the near guaranteed winter blues that arrive for Seattleites.  For me that’s been fusion dancing, sizzling under sun-lamps, letting love in, exploring spiritual communities, learning Tarot, and participating in my Project 40.  Mostly, though, I’ve been brainstorming like bubble-charts are my actual career, when my goal is to create a career that helps others navigate their own brainstorming better.  Our deepest wounds lie parallel to our greatest strengths.  So I’m trying to be patient. You could say I’m in the chrysalis phase of this current growth spurt.  This is a sidetrack. 

The other reason I’ve steered clear of writing about Egypt is because what happened was so powerful, and so hard to describe.  I don’t want to make the magic mundane.  In Aswan I felt the hands of Isis, and Mary, and the pantheon of goddesses who all share the same truth, and different names.  All my life, I have felt, seen, and heard things that other people don’t.  It is hard to tell people this, because it discredits my logic for a host of people.  It is one thing to say you’re gay or have a severe case of anxiety, and an entirely different one to say you just spoke with a ghost or a goddess.  I have tried to quiet the imprints of surreal, because it’s a power I don’t know how to control, how to integrate.  And for my more logical friends, the question swarms up – where’s the proof anyhow?  I don’t know.  I just know.  It’s the exact voice that pulled me to Egypt in the first place.  In answering the call, I have dismantled my life like the temple of Philae, without a clear new place to build.  It was the best thing I’ve done, and yet I’m still not sure where I’m headed.

What I know for sure is that the old gods are real, and each shows a different face of the One.  For me this journey was not just a cultural tour of Egypt, but a pilgrimage to power sites of the first gods. Time and time again, I’ve run into this wall about whether to speak honestly or not.  I don’t want to come off as crazier than I already am. But I’m not just a travel writer. I’m not just a hopeless romantic. I am a priestess. I am, and have always been, a servant to a power beyond naming, and a world invisible to most. I fess up. I’m not sure what that means exactly, to be a priestess, but I know it’s true. My trip to Aswan exploded that reality in my face. My world is rich with teachers and guides infinitely farther along than me, but as I step one foot in front of the other, this path shows the same landmarks. I am listening, finally.

This became so clear at Philae.  When I stepped off our motorboat at Lake Nassar, onto Agilikia Island, I continued to hover and float, not over water, but land.  I wore a long lightweight dress, and as it blew in the wind, I felt my skin as pliant and loose.  The world seemed to drop away from me; I felt both in my body, and out of it.  I was embraced in a peach pink cloud of light.  I stomped my feet to get back to earth, and stay grounded in the body I was given.  I saw my groupmates from above and from the earth where I walked.  Momo brought us through the first Pylon, past the reliefs and granite lions, into the Forecord lined with colonnades. I had been there, I had known it, I was certain.  He began to tell the origin story of Isis, Osiris, Horus, Hathor, Nephthys and Seth.  I had come from Katy’s gardentop school where I’d learned the mysteries of the goddesses at the pyramids, and knew the story already. 

The breakdown is complex, but here’s the cliff notes.  The old gods Geb and Nut gave birth to four children, Osiris, Horus the Elder, Seth, Isis, and Nepthys.  When Osiris was born, plenty of amazing omens occurred, and he grew up to marry his sister Isis, and become ruler of Egypt.  Seth, his evil brother, married Nepthys, as it was custom for siblings to marry at that time.  But Seth grew jealous.  Osiris, in many ways, represents the establishment, culture, institutions.  Seth, you may see, over time, could morph into the story of Satan.  But he is also the force that pushes for change, a catalyst for some kind of necessary transformation. 

But the story goes that Seth found Osiris’ exact measurements, and had a golden coffin made for him.  At a royal feast for the occasio, Seth presented the coffin to anyone who would fit into it – and what do you know?  When Osiris climbed in, Seth quickly nailed it shut and kidnapped him.  They threw the coffin in the Nile, and Osiris, suffocated in the chest, floated down to the island Byblos in the Great Green Sea.  Isis loved him so tremendously, and wandered Egypt forever looking for him.  After years of looking, she finally found the coffin, and brought it home.  Isis knew Seth would want to keep them apart, but she was wise, and cursed him.  Still, she was unable to keep him away.  One day, he glanced the hidden coffin, and lurched at it in anger, chopping up Osiris’ body into fourteen parts.  He hid these parts in what have now become the different kingdoms in Egypt.  Enraged, and fueled by love, Isis tore off trying to find the parts of her good God husband Osiris.  Nepthys left her evil husband to come help Isis, and together, they searched for the Osiris’ body parts.  Piece by piece, they gathered his dead divine flesh. In a move of ancient comedy or perhaps despair, they never found his penis.  But Isis is the goddess of magic, and that was no obstacle for her.  She unified what she found, and recreated what she needed.  She transformed into a bird, and with the breath of wind created by her wings, she put life back into him for long enough to imbibe his seed.  She was able to get pregnant by merely hovering over his body.  And with that, the god Horus was conceived.  A divine birth without a true sex act?  Sounds familiar to me.  

Momo told us the goddesses killed Seth, and Katy told me they cut off his member.  It reaffirmed the roving nature of myth, and I sat in the schism of that for a while.  That was the story.  What happened before.  I was in the present, which felt a lot like the everlasting. 

As Momo told the story, I stood there, clenching my toes into the cork of my Birkenstocks, buoyant in the knowledge that I had known this story.  I had served the Goddesses for centuries.  I was home.  I felt the wings rise up behind me again, the same ones I’d felt in a meditation in Minneapolis months ago. I had thought I’d been visited by archangel Michael, but these were the wings of Isis.  Of Hathor.  Of Mary.  Of Arhianrod.  Of Venus.  Of Kali.  Of the lady in the moon.  I was sure of it. 

After Momo finished his lecture, I clambered behind the group towards the back of the temple as if drugged.  He led us into a small vestibule at the center with a waist high flat stone in the center.  My insides swelled up as we got closer, and then entered the sanctuary.  The walls were darkened with the sweat of fingers moving over them for eons.  The electric lights installed along the baseline corners had been candles and torches in years prior.  But the lightest thing in the room was elsewhere.  The center stone, the altar, it was different, radiant.  Even in the cool room, it was so hot I could feel it from the doorway.  I listened to Momo explain the pantheon carved on the walls in hieroglyphics.  He plotted the timeline.  The temple once held captive the beloved of the hero of Arabian Nights.  Supposedly.  It once served as a Christian Temple under Coptic Bishop Theodore.  There are records of this.  But before that, it was a place to worship Isis. 

He talked about the hieroglyphics, the history, and I listened to the voice of the hieroglyphics themselves. I literally heard whispering in my ear.  Next to the altar, the face of Isis was defiled on the wall, and when I saw it, my core clenched. I felt shook from the inside out, wrung tight like a wet washcloth. I couldn’t breathe right. I had to back out if I didn’t want to wail in public.  In a flash, I saw the faces of all the women, all the creators, the midwives, the mothers, the sex magicians, the supporters and leaders, the hermitesses, queens and priestesses snap into focus.  The ferocious strength of these women felt volcanic.  I remembered what so many of us have forgotten – how powerful we are.  But in the same moment, the fear of our beholders cut so damn deep.  I felt the heart of Mary Magdalen standing at the cross, hands raised supplicant to her true love, erased.  I felt the women confined from the world, too curious, too smart to avoid being a threat.  I felt the girls I teach now, denied a voice, told to keep quiet, keep tiny and thin.  I felt the dreams I’d sacrificed like mudslides, feeling undeserving.  The cut felt direct, and my skin throbbed at it. I felt I might suffocate right then and there from the way that we’ve been silenced and quarantined and shrunk in our love. 

And how do you stop loving? How do we forget the goddess that has held us and given us life?  How? 

I ducked around a corner to an antechamber where hieroglyphics depicted offerings and sacrifices.  I had to check my breath, to dial back the crazy.  What was all this?  A guard came by to tell me to get my back off the wall.  I squatted to dip my head between my legs, breathing in air close to the ground.  It felt so clear. I had been here.  I was here for a reason.  It was time, is time, to let the divine feminine out.  To honor the source.  I felt heartbroken, and so very held. 

I had to go back in.  I had a vow to make.  To renew.  To do all I could to elevate the force that had always held me up.  To use my voice to uncover the voices who’d been buried.  To reach into the truths of my ancestors, my children, the breath and life force of love. I caught my breath, and waited.  When I heard the group leave the sanctuary, I went back in, and stood at the altar like I’d been plugged into it.  My hands were led to hover above.  I linked up skyward, laterally to all four directions, and deep deep into the earth.  This was 2017AD and 217BC, no matter.  I remembered. 

Another guard came in, and said I couldn’t stand there like that.  I looked at him through glazed eyes.  “Why?” I asked. “You can’t pray here” he said.  The fury began to clutch me, but I laughed.  I could move, but that wouldn’t change what I was doing.  He led me to a nearby smaller room, and he said I could pray there, he wouldn’t tell anyone.  “Shh” he said.  When he left, I began to invoke the pentagram, the cross, the symbols meant to transform and commit us to our truths. 

But five minutes later, he came back into the dark room where I stood alone.  I felt him come up from behind, and turned around in time for him to grab my shoulders and push me against a wall.  I don’t know if he meant to tell me to leave, or to make me leave my body for a while as he defiled it.  But I wasn’t having it. I laughed a rolling laugh that was mine and not mine.  Who did he think he was?  I shoved him away, and walked with the confidence of all the voices who had told me it was time to speak up.  I had the power of the divine, the love of all the light in the world, and all the dark matter between.  What did he have?  I left the room, the guard, the altar, the regard for my normalcy.  I found my way through the elaborate chambers and alcoves of the temple down to the water, and I kneeled down to touch it.  

I was whole, so very whole.  I noticed the present: the sweat on my body that belied how clean I felt, the cool of the October breeze, the dozen new friends there with me, the hunger in my belly for real food.  I stood and walked back to the temple, camera in hand.  I played tourist, but it was play, and I knew I was changed.  Am changed.

I will not stay silent. I have rejected the very love I’ve sought for years.  I will not hide my truth, or allow anyone else to do it.  But I am awake, I am alive, and I am capable.  I know I’m not alone.  In the past year I’ve racked up powerhouses of women, mystics, priestesses, businesswomen, writers, artists, healers, teachers, and mothers.  And I feel like Odysseus on his journey after Athena came to him to say, you have to go.  You must, but I’ll be here for you.  And ladies, women, I am here for you, with you.  What a joyous time to be alive, to roar, to howl, to let ourselves be louder than ever.



Sleep & No Sleep - Cairo to Aswan with "On the Go Tours"
 The oldest pyramids in Egypt - Saqquara - an hour outside Giza. 

The oldest pyramids in Egypt - Saqquara - an hour outside Giza. 

I have always been a sensitive person.  Persnickety if you will.  But I learned young that it was up to me to take care of myself.  Latchkey kids live responsibly.  Charm strangers.  Look for exits.  I don’t sleep on airplanes.  In classrooms and cafes, I point my back against the wall.  I want to make sure I’m safe.  In case I need to take care of something, in case I need to make a loud noise, I stay alert.  Sometimes to my detriment. 

The second week I was in Egypt, I joined a tour group with a company called On the Go.  The tour was called “Road to Jordan,” because after it’s sojourn through the Nile Valley it took a jaunt through Jordan for the last few days.  After staying with Katy Butler for a week, doing a deep dive into the Egyptian Myths, and Mysteries of the Goddesses, I wanted to see the origin places for these myths.  With On the Go, I knew we’d move at a breakneck pace, and imagined falling square onto the set of If it’s Tuesday this must be Belgium.  

The day before I met my group, Katy’s husband Hisham dropped me off at the Oasis Hotel in Cairo.  Everyone else had been met at the airport, and I envied the loose connection that could have provided.  I wasn’t in the mood to go exploring that night, and couldn’t quite fess up to the fact that I felt lonely.  The hotel lobby was clean, but a bit run down.  Years of robust tourism, followed by lighter traffic after the Arab Spring, showed in the upkeep.  After checking in, I asked about my tour group—where and when I should meet the agents.  God forbid I miss the departure.  I was met by Mohamed, a thirtysomething man brusk in his dark suit.  He gave me an itinerary and told me to meet at 7am the next morning in the conference room.  After this exchange, a bellboy pulled my wheely bag past the pools and fountains, through the labyrinthine outdoor corridors of two hundred first floor rooms.  I spent that night writing and streaming Netflix.  Anxiety and excitement flushing my system, I certainly didn’t sleep more than a few hours.

The next morning, I navigated my way back through that labyrinth to the lobby.  Before even leaving my room, I downed my instant via coffee.  I knew I’d need to find a place to pee shortly after.  I didn’t expect it to kick in right at the start of the tour introduction.  In the lobby conference room, from my seat, I watched thirteen strangers arrive at the rectangle of tables lined with standard white velcroed fabric.  There I sat in the right room, at the right time, with a low-key stomach ache.  I knew we had a busy day, packed with the Giza Plateau (again for me), the temple at Saqquara, and a sleeper train that night to Aswan.  

Our tour leader stood in the center of the room and introduced himself as Momo.  He told us his name was Mohamed, which we’d soon discover was every man’s name in Egypt.  An Egyptologist, he had the energy of an elementary school teacher, and the sass of a college student.  He told us that for the duration of our tour, he’d be, essentially, our daddy.  Our daddy?  Yep.  He led us in an icebreaker, and we went around the room introducing ourselves.  My name was listed on his itinerary as Alexandra, a moniker I reserve for writing checks and voting.  So at my turn, after hearing my legal name, I said I went by Xan.  Two people before me had already mentioned their unusual nicknames, Tawny and Lou.  At my name, Momo kicked back into laugher and looked at me beffudled.  “Really?” he said smiling, “Well, I think I’ll just call you Alex.”  Uh ugh.  “No,” I said, “no, you won’t.”  “Rawr” he replied.  In a country where my language is foreign and my presence imperialist, I know to go with the flow.  But my name is not, nor has it ever been Alex.  I took a deep breath as I thought, this could go one of two ways. 

After introductions, Momo clarified the basics of safety to us.  He explained that we would be together the whole time.  For a country whose historic myths are potent and wonderful, there are far too many current myths about life there.  We would not be killed by terrorists.  The Arab Spring was a media manipulation in the first place.  Different, he reminded us was not worse. Just different.  I learned I could wear shorts or t-shirts.  As a foreigner, especially with a group, I’d get a pass with my clothing.  I wouldn’t be grabbed, or seen as disrespectful.  I didn’t need to wear a veil unless I went in a mosque.  The worst thing to do on the entire trip was to leave your passport in the lockbox at the hotel.  We wouldn’t go back.  The vendors would be persistent, but I should wait for Momo’s direction to buy quality gifts and souvenirs.  The water was potable.  The food was phenomenal, and if we thought about getting sick, we would.  At this my stomach churned.  God I had to pee.  I stepped out to find a toilet, and said a prayer that they would be around today when I needed them.   

When I came back, I scanned the tables at these people who would become, I guessed, my siblings?  I felt grateful that I’d arrived earlier and didn’t have to contest with jetlag.  I sat next to Pat, a fit Canadian woman in her mid fifties, wearing chacos and hiking shorts.  When we first sat down, we had taken bets on the countries of origin for the other travelers.  Her competitive edge rose up as I lost each time.  I hoped I’d like these people.  I eyed a pair of girls at the other end of the room who looked like they came as friends.  I later learned they didn’t know each other at all.  Dressed in all black, Sari was a young travel agent who came from Australia to see how she’d recommend this trip to her customers.  Suzanne’s accent sounded American, but in our icebreaker, I learned she came from Toronto.  With straight blonde hair, and perfect makeup, she could have passed for a sorority girl.  I was blown away to learn later that she was within a year of my own age.  Our group consisted of four couples, and five single women besides me.  We had tapped out fingers and sipped our coffee through the presentation, unaware of how close we’d get in the next couple weeks.  On this English speaking tour, I was the only American.

But, I was not the only in any other way.  People don’t go to Egypt the way they go to the Hawaiian Islands.  As I’d soon discover, I wasn’t the only pilgrim here.  

This day was going to be herculean.  I hadn’t slept the night before, and likely wouldn’t sleep on the sleeper train.  Momo huddled us into the small passenger Taftaf bus to navigate the busy streets of Cairo and Giza.  “Family” Momo said as we arrived at the Giza Plateau, “Welcome to the Amazing, the Phenemenal, the Great Pyramids!”  And they were still great.  Even though I’d been staying across the street for a week, I still felt a lump in my throat when I came close.  I listened to some travelers complain about the heat, and buy Keffiyehs to protect their heads.  Dino held a umbrella up above his wife Angie to keep her cool.  Wow.  I couldn’t have scripted that kind of thing.  But there we were, in the land of the old gods, again.  I’d already found myself there in a horse-drawn carriage, and on horseback with Katy and Hisham.  But this time, I joined the rest of my “family” on a pokey lumbering camel.  Lou, in her black and white elephant print pants, panicked as her camel came up, and asked to get down immediately.  But the young men guiding the camels didn’t give a hoot.  Fortunately, she laughed through her fear, and made it the entire journey.  By the end, the laughter had grown more authentic. 

The rest of the day took us to Saqqara, a Papyrus Museum and the train station.  We learned that Saqqara, the step pyramid in Memphis, is the oldest of Egypt’s pyramids.  Underground, the ancients build 11 spaghetti-like pathways tangled in a fake-out to would-be tomb raiders.  I was warned by Katy that the Papyrus Museum would be overpriced and have limited choices.  But we were on a tour, and like a teacher chooses books to teach, a guide chooses places to take the guests.  In the museum, our tour group gathered around a demo table to learn how papyrus was soaked, smashed and pressed into the paper-like substance which was then painted with intricate designs of the myths, the landscapes, or the common Arabic phrases.  Before heading to the train station, Momo took us to a restaurant where we’d eat family style, share chicken shwarma, falafel, salad and coke or hibiscus juice. 


And this was just day one.  When I finally sat down alone on the bed of my sleeper train, I was exhausted.  The attendant lowered my bed, and the old train rattled like walls in a low grade earthquake.  Like with airplanes, I have yet to fall asleep on a public train, sleeper or not.  But there was a door, and the whole car was my new “family.”  I was invited down to the end, where a six pack of Egyptian beer and a bottle of Rum had appeared.  But I couldn’t.  I laid down and listened to the MRI volume of clanking.  My limbs felt useless, and settled in for another sleepless night of horizontal audiobook haze.  We had eleven hours until we got to Aswan.  I took out my sleeper headphones, and flipped on my copy of Trials of the Earth: The True Story of a Pioneerwoman.  And despite the persistent loud rattling in the room, the unfamiliarity, the strangers I had collected a mere eleven hours prior, for the first time ever, I slept. 




Unusual Advice on Love

I remember about five years ago, sitting down in the Mission District of San Francisco to a first date with a man whose online profile showed he was romantic, smart, and spiritual.  What his profile didn’t say was that he had published a few bestselling books on dating.  A few books. And yet, here he was, sitting next to me, single as any of his readers.  I couldn’t have crafted a better example of irony.  Our first date was our last.  It just felt strange.  In seeking out advice on how to manifest love, we should ask those in happy relationships.  Right?  Maybe.  Maybe not. 

Today I listened to two friends tell me tales of romantic woe.  One of my friends, let’s call him John, is heartbroken because the woman he just divorced is digging her feet into a new relationship – a new relationship with the man who he caught her cheating with, a man who’s shown visible aggression towards John.  The other friend, we’ll call him Michael, is baffled after a woman in his life broke off their romance one month in, via text.  There were no signs she was unhappy with him, so it surprised him, and left him rattled like an earthquake.

My friends always want to talk to me about romance.  If they are single, they know I’ll have a good ear, and a few different perspectives.  They know I’ll be able to empathize.  If they are coupled, they get excited to listen to stories of my own romantic (mis)adventures.  Right now in my life, I’m three dates into a new romance, and my hope outranks my fear.  As my two friends above will attest, I’m as often as not rolling in the high of a new crush.  Last month I went on dates with five different men; a teacher, a doctor, a cook, a business manager, and a law student.  When I met the last man, I tried to slow down the game.  This man is kind, affectionate, funny and curious.  Slow down, I keep telling myself.  On my second date, he laughed at me as I kept saying “stay present self!”  Where else would I be?  Ha! 

I don’t do slow well.  How do you not constantly touch or talk to someone who feels like twinkle lights in the middle of a dark arboretum?  And even as this man has given me what I’ve asked for, a slow pace, my mind spins into tales of panic.  What if he rejects me?  What if one of us gets bored?  What if I am broken in a way he can’t witness?  What if we’re not right?  And at times more frightening, what if we are right?  After years of education, including two graduate degrees, analysis has become my Olympic sport.  But what I’m learning is that I have to ditch this when it comes to the most important things in life. 

I always go crazy trying to predict what will happen, trying to do things “right.”  When something feels good, I get attached.  Even when it’s only in my mind, I hold on tighter so as not to lose it.  I sometimes strangle the very love I’m making.  But at this point in my life I feel different.  I made a commitment this year to love myself best.  I didn’t know what that would mean, but I knew I hadn’t been doing it.  And I knew I must.  Honestly, since that decision, everything has changed for the better.  Last winter I felt so broken and alone.  I’d run up against some heartbreak or other every fall for ten years.  I didn’t know anyone in the world who’d dated the way I had, or who to ask for help.  Finding a date was always easy, creating love was nigh impossible.  I sought advice from friends, books, support groups, and therapy.  I tried everything.  None of those plans, gimmicks, or strategies worked.  I couldn’t ask anyone else to love me if I didn’t love myself.  I know, bring on the Velvetta.  But it’s true.  At the end of my wits, I made my proclamation.  I might destroy my life, but I would save it in the process.  Last year on New Year’s Day, at my friend Aaron’s house in Portola, I said it aloud to a group of maybe ten people.  It wasn’t a New Year’s resolution.  It was a new life resolution.  To imagine I was worth the dreams I had dreamt for so many years was uncomfortable.  To trust that I would become the person I wanted to be felt insane.  

In the year since, I have traveled the world, made amazing new friends, and ditched a career that felt like a B+ next to the all-star A I wanted to earn in life.  Right now I’m taking a yoga teacher training in Seattle, and it’s one of those unexpected gifts.  It feels like more than that.  Since I’m not towing my heart behind in a radio-flyer wagon, what I’m learning sinks in.  I didn’t know that I could pinpoint emotions as physical things in the body.  In reading the Yoga Sutras, I’ve learned to aim for non-attachment.  Non-attachment means being present to what’s going on, and recognizing it’s not under your control.  It’s called practice for a reason.  It’s hard.  Letting go of outcomes can feel like buying a glass of expensive pinot noir and leaving it unattended at the bar for an hour.  Let’s just see what happens.  WTF?  Yep.  Chances are, it’ll still be there when you come back. 

I don’t want to go into ownership or destiny or any of that.  I don’t understand it.  I don’t even get intimacy in a monogamous relationship.  Yet.  But I do get that this shit is hard.  And I do get that it is work worth doing.  I have been exploring my romantic shenanigans for as long as I remember.  I am obsessive about love.  I am romantic to a fault, and terrified of heartache.  I know all the reasons love doesn’t work.  What I didn’t know was how it did.  I didn’t know that love could one day be for me, and that, in a way, it already is. 

So thinking about that man who authored the books I never read on love, I have had to see a new layer of truth.  Being single doesn’t invalidate him.  His input is just as valid as anyone else’s, and maybe more so than most.  I’ve taught English to teenagers for near ten years.  Next to my friends who teach at Stanford and Columbia, I am small potatoes.  I know how to explain the juicy concepts, and nurture growth in the young people I teach.  But I can’t name twenty writers who lead the charge of deconstructivist thought.  I can’t cross reference themes of imperialism in multinational writers beyond what I’ve read for fun.  It doesn’t make me any less qualified to teach.  Being successful at a thing has no bearing on whether you can explain how to be successful at that thing.  The ability to communicate well is its own gift, no matter the content.  Maybe I am just as good, if not better, at love and romance than some of my married friends.  Maybe being single has no bearing on whether I understand how to listen, grow, and share mutual support with someone. 

Any of us who failed time and again know the defeated sigh that comes with not achieving the thing we want.  But love is not something to be achieved.  It is ours from the get go.  Some of us forget that.  When my friends feel broken, they know I have been there, and call me to vent or to get a new perspective.  The dating expert I met on my date had ideas just as valid and maybe even more useful than those of my happily coupled friends.  I am the same way.  You are too.  We all deserve love.  For those of us who have felt it to be absent, love will be that much more enriching when we step into it.  And that’s where I am right now, stepping into it.  It may work with my new crush.  It may not.  But I’m in love with me, and listening to myself.  That matters more than what anyone else says. 

Rising Towards the Sun - The Pyramids of Giza

There is no just way to capture the awe of Giza’s Great Pyramids.  I will fall short.  Forgive the hyperbolic language, the experience itself leaned into hyperbole.  Hyper awake.  When I first stood in front of the oldest wonder of the world I felt like my cells all remembered how to breathe.  I felt a collective exhale as if I’d been trying to control or understand something I couldn’t, for far too long.  I felt small, and I felt integral.  I felt like it had been centuries since I’d been here. 

Before I showed up in Giza, I didn’t know that there are actually a ton of pyramids in the Great Plateau.  Okay, nine.  The largest was commissioned by pharaoh Khufu, or Cheops, and built between 2580-2560 BC.  We were about negative 4500 years old, give or take.  Yet there it stood, robust and majestic.  A real thing, created by human hands, or pulleys and levers made with hands, has lasted that long.  Can memory carry that long, lifetime after lifetime?  No matter what you believe, this place imprints like a ripple through time. 

Inside each pyramid is a suite of caverns and specific rooms like the King and Queen’s Chambers.  In Cheops’ pyramid archaeologists have also uncovered deep pits where Solar Boats lay in wait to deliver his soul to Ra, the sun god, and a life in eternity.  Cheops’ son Kahfre, or Chephren, commissioned the second pyramid, built between 2558 and 2542 BC.  Chephren told his father he would respect his memory, and make his own pyramid smaller.  But Chephren was a trickster.  After has father Cheops’ death, Chephren erected his own, smaller pyramid, but did so on a hill.  From a distance, it actually looks larger.  The third largest pyramid was build by Menkaure, after 2510 BC.  It sits furthest south alongside what historians call the “Pyramids of the Queens.” 

But how on earth did the Egyptians do this?  The largest pyramid alone is made up of over two million stones, weighing an average of two tons each.  Over eight thousand tons of granite were hauled up from Aswan for just this one.  Scientists theorize a series of ramps and pulleys helped craftsmen hoist the stones from the Nile up the pyramid, but conspiracy theories abound.  Aliens?  Giants?  Divine Intervention?  Slaves?  It’s easy to get lost.  The layout on a map grid perfectly aligns the three largest pyramids with the constellation Orion.  Why?  And what technical miracle occurred so long ago that we would be hard pressed to repeat it today?  In an age of smartphones and online dating, to create these now still seems impossible.  The mystery around a challenge so great is only part of what inspires us.


When the pyramids were created, they were meant to intimidate.  The stories we now call myths were truths in that day.  Back in the BC 2500s, the sides of these monsters weren’t crumbled steps, they were sleek, 45 degree polished granite, perfect mirrors to reflect the light of the sun god Ra.  On your approach, you knew the people behind these masterpieces were mighty, god-like beings.  Don’t fuck with this king, they said.  I want to be like that king. 

But this doesn’t at all encapsulate the wonder of the site.  It still intimidates.  To stand in front of something so old, so massive, so riddled with unknowns is uncanny.  I was simultaneously humbled in my small, frail human form, and expanded into the dry desert air that pulsed its heat into my skin.  I was part of it.  I was dangerous, desperate, bruised.  I was mighty and reflective.  

Before I even left to go to Egypt, I knew one thing; it was essential to go.  A voice called me there with a directive clear and demanding.  It was, and still is, important to listen to that voice, to discern this call from the myriad others that hijack my thoughts. The voice that called me to Egypt was undeniable and frightening like the king from eons ago, and each day I basked in the vision of the great pyramids, I felt right.  From Katy Butler’s terrace, where I stayed the week before my tour, I looked out at the Giza Plateau each day.  Before I left, I felt like everything and everyone was fucking with me, and here they couldn’t. 

What if that voice meant to tell me I belonged here, I’d been here before?  Maybe the soul is elastic, and stretches for as long as these pyramids through time?  Each of us belongs to our history as much as to our present.  My individual history is unique, but it's shared.  Maybe the lessons learned here are still up for grabs, still important.  Envision the afterlife.  Listen to the wind.  Look closely.  Start at the bottom and ease your way up.  Work together.  All is possible with faith.  It is towards the sun, and the sun god Ra that each pyramid rises.  We still begin and end all our days by the light of the sun.  Look up, see it?  

Call to Prayer ~ the sounds of Egypt
 While these simply rooftop satellites for television, I imagined each to be its own megaphone.  The mosques were this numerous, the sounds this prevalent.  

While these simply rooftop satellites for television, I imagined each to be its own megaphone.  The mosques were this numerous, the sounds this prevalent.  

Leaving the airport, I had had three hours of sleep in 50, and I knew I’d have to bargain and hustle straightaway for a reasonable taxi.  I was told to sit the back seat as if I were in a Jane Austin novel.  I was told how much I should pay.  But I wasn’t told how the sky would blend into the horizon like a Rothko.  I couldn’t be told that against the post-soviet looking apartment buildings, the white sky would hang like a surrender to something so much bigger than me.  The apartments, I later learned, were all left unfinished to avoid the ridiculous taxes.  To live in that limbo, literally, must shape a unique sense of patience, comfort in discomfort. 

Along the Ring Road, what seemed like a highway to me, we navigated traffic I’d never imagine.  People stood on the roadside waiting for the white VW Vans used as local transportation.  Horse-drawn carriages piled high with boxes plodded along next to Tuk-tuks in the soft suggestion of four lanes.  Lanes don’t matter here anyhow.  

My driver offered me his own coffee.  Then he offered me gum.  Then after hearing me sniff a bit, Kleenex.  When we crossed the Nile, he told me what it was, and pronounced this word I’ve loved in a new way, “Neel!” 

In the dunes behind villages the sky looked like ghosts walking towards me holding hands, something potent will burn you and set you free.  Everything is so bright.  So apparent.  There is no place to hide, unless you build it.  As we drove, I thought about why I don’t like burning man, but do like the intention behind it.  A topography like this imprints on the soul.  This is a place where you can truly burn.

Naturally, the first thing I did upon arrival was find the bed and take a nap. The windows of buildings here are small, to keep out the harsh sun.  But they block nothing of sound.  And as I swung in and out of wakefulness, stoney and disoriented, the sounds of the village came to welcome me.  Here you are, this is Nazlet El Semman.  I fell asleep to the neighing of horses on the dirt alley below, the regular sound whips keeping them in line.  The windows and doors slammed outside.  I remember hearing over and over, someone shouting, “Assef!” and then the staccato rhythms of Arabic words I still don’t know. 

But after an hour and a half, I woke to the most haunting sound I’ve ever heard: the afternoon call to prayer.  Before arrival, I knew enough about Islam to know that one of the five pillars is to pray towards Mecca five times a day.  But I didn’t know what times of day they’d be, and I didn’t know how powerfully the sounds would resonate through the village.  I know the sound of "Our Father," chanted in church pews, and I have heard the "Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu."  In my days playing music more, I wrote my own prayer songs.  But what does prayer sound like anyhow?  From my fuzzy dreams, I sat up, and pushed back against my headboard to listen.

The human voice bellowing foreign prayers over old loudspeakers is almost eerie.  Even now, after spending three weeks in Islamic nations, listening to the prayers over and over, I feel awakened to wonder each time I hear the prayers.  The melody doesn’t follow the tonal rules of western music, there is no major or minor key, no A, D, E.  The path followed in the music of the prayer is as unfamiliar as the words of it.  But Nazlet El Semman is one village in a city of villages, and each mosque sounds it’s own prayer.  The suite of voices don’t harmonize, don’t fit perfectly into one another’s time, and to me, don’t make sense.  I know the words must hang like seed of devotion to Allah, naming his as the one true god.  I have since learned one line is that “prayer is better than sleep,” which fit with my waking to the first afternoon prayer.  Or, rather, prayers, plural.  Hundreds of speakers at the same time call out in imperfect unison, and it always sounds like wailing for salvation.  Sirens on the islands.  I want to go look, listen more closely.  Who doesn’t have something to say to god?  The tone is the only thing that comes across, and it is a prism of multicolored of worship.  To my ear, there is a sense of despair, a melancholy in the present moment, in the truth that it won’t last.  We are delicate beings full of want and gratitude, always aching to get closer to god, to love.  I hear that in the prayers, and maybe in my own way, make it my prayer. 

It is loud in Giza, louder still in Cairo, the city teems with roosters, pigeon flocks let out at dusk, neighing sheep and peddlers with megaphones carrying vegetables or collecting the wash.  I came to Egypt in search of something unknown, self discovery, an understanding of the old gods, connection to prophecy.  But the sound of prayer is evocative of all these things and more.  The tenuous relationship of the seen and unseen world rise in the sound of what I think is called the Salah.  Every time I was called, I prayed what I knew to pray.  Thank you, forgive me, I am yours. 

Ode to Rashida
 Photo pending better wifi.

Photo pending better wifi.

It’s sensory overload.  I can’t even take it all in, let alone write it all down.  There’s the baroque furniture in my Giza suite, painted gold woodwork, purple, yellow and red patterned fabric.  There’s the twenty foot high wall across the street from this home, built after the revolution, what we call the Arab Spring, to keep the inhabitants safe.  There’s the regal ginger priestess Katy who is housing me in my first week here.  There’s the plumbing that allows no toilet paper, ever.  There’s the normalcy of Islam, multiple wives living on different flats for one husband who occupies the entire building.  There’s the attention I’ve gotten on the streets, part flirt, mostly sales pitch.  There’s the wash of joy that comes across my body each time I look out from the patio, and see the Great Pyramids, late age wonders from a world 10,000 years ago. 

The Ancient Mysteries of Egypt have pulled countless people here, and I’m one of them.  But the esoteric, the magic, is in everything.  It’s far more apparent than just in the old world. 

This first week I’m staying with Katy Noura Butler, a priestess of these ancient mysteries, among others.  It’s too early to get into the teachings, but her home, where I’m staying, has offered me far more than this esoteric insight already.  I have been learning about Islam, about culture, about what it’s like to live here now.  I could have just hopped from one hotel to the next, and I will soon, but I’m so happy to be her guest, to be her student. 

In this place, sun, sand, and the monuments between, I can’t avoid my shadow.  I also, however, am allowing it to be.  Some of the very things that enthrall me here at first repelled me.  

One of those things is the animals.  I chose my little poodle Hoopla because she is hypoallergenic.  In my life, I’ve often had to load up on Benadryl to visit friends whose homes have cats or dogs.  I grew up with them, but I also grew up attaching myself to an albuterol nebulizer three times a day until adolescence.  I like animals, but I’ve felt that my body might not.  Here in Egypt, they are everywhere.  The highway, a laneless roadway as wide as four cars, includes cars, motorcycles, people walking or waiting for busses, horse carriages filled high with boxes or vegetables.  Trash heaps on the quieter roadsides serve as gathering places for hungry dogs, rams, and a few cats.

Before I came, Katy asked if I could bring cat biscuits.  I thought I’d walk into a home with a cat or maybe two.  But when I arrived in her house, the theme continued. I found more animals than I could count.  The thought did arrive that this could be an issue, I could spend the next week sneezing and wheezing through my stay.  But in my excitement and openness, it floated by like a solitary cloud in this clear sky.  I am beginning to wonder if my allergies are all just farce.

Katy lives with her husband in a four apartment building, with two flats for visitors and students, and a flat on the bottom for servants and shared family.  The rooftop terrace boasts a view of the Pyramids that stops time.  Every time I climb the outdoor stairs, I feel something elemental expand in me.  The terrace is covered, and lined with mature potted greenery, the setup includes a dinner table, colorful night lights, and velour covered furniture.  So far, it’s where we’ve gathered most often. 

But in addition to the human family who live here, there is a robust animal family.  The first to greet me was Nina, the german shephard, and then Hati, the rescued desert dog.  And then, the tiny cats started to appear.  I don’t know how many there are, and I haven’t learned their names.  Staring from the terrace out to the Sphynx, it’s easy to see how important cats are here.  The species originated in Egypt, and hold a more sacred role than any dogs.  Katy’s house cats are half the size of the house cats I’ve seen.  I made sure to hand her my bag of Target cat treats, a sad offering for such a rich feline community.  But as with much travel, I didn’t know what I was walking into. 

For example, the crown jewel of this domestic zoo is Rashida, the middle eastern long tailed sheep.  Yes, a sheep.  As usual, my first concern was that I might be allergic.  And as the pattern continues, I have found myself to be fine around her.  I was flabbergasted when I first saw her inside, and I was worried that she was deformed.  A long tailed sheep, it turns out, is not just long tailed, but more like long-bottomed.  The brown and white hair covers her coat, but there is a soft underside to her protruding rump.  Katy informed me shortly that this was a common breed here, the long “tail” is similar to camel’s humps, and helps them stay hydrated in the heat.  In addition, this breed is smarter than most.  I don’t know what other sheep are like, but I saw her kindness and curiosity.  With as little exposure as I’ve had to sheep, a few petting zoos in youth, and the roadsides along my many drives, I had little to compare her to. But this turned out to be the best thing.  Now, I’m enamored of her.  Rashida follows Katy everywhere, and when I’m in her company, she comes up to my face stares at me, and rests her head on my lap.  She loves to sit cuddled up on couches with the other animals.  After the german shepherd Nina injured her paw in a fight yesterday, Rashida wouldn’t leave her side.  When we’re on the terrace, she often tries to munch on the jasmine or basil, and Katy rushes after her shouting Naughty!  It just makes me laugh.  She is amazing.

As I write now from the rooftop terrace, behind the sound of wind and car horns, roosters crow, dogs yelp, and sheep baa from roof decks nearby.  It’s nothing I predicted, so I couldn’t forsee how I’d respond.  I panicked, as I normally would, to be so close to these animals.  Allergies are no joke, and I have hated it when people say “it’s all in your mind.”  But, somehow here, I haven’t had any issues.  This is one of the gifts of being here, that something dark in me has had light shed on it.  If I had known the domestic animal count, I may not have come.  But because I didn’t know, I didn’t have time to build up a resistance.  And in fact, I have cherished these animals.  And every time I see Rashida, with the ribbon tied around her head, I feel giddy.

It is so different here, the sounds, the smells, the tastes.  In my life I’ve seen myself recoil against the unfamiliar, to protect myself from the very growth I need.  But that’s not why I’m here.  This is the desert, and the wide high sky doesn’t allow much room to hide.  Why not let these animals love me?  That’s the best thing they have to offer.  If I avoid your shadow self, I’ll never see who I am.  Pedestrian as this concept is, it’s so much of why I’m here, staying in a home full of sweet animals and human kindness.  These are the gifts we don't predict, things like Rashida resting on the rug in the sun, keeping me company. 

Alexandra RobertiComment
Full Moon Virgo ~ Home Seeking from Walla Walla

The sound of rain on the windows of the Marcus Whitman Hotel in Walla Walla is subtle under the chatter of guests in the elevator next to my dog-friendly room.  But it’s there, soothing like fingertips on my anxious shoulder.  It is late September, and the pumpkins were piled high in barrels out front of the Idaho co-op where I last bought groceries.  I am almost done with this leg of my trip, and feel a strange sense of homecoming.  I have slept in twenty nine cities in two months.  I am looking forward to a night of Netflix without the coordinated guilt of not going out to explore a city I don’t know. 

The moon is now full in Virgo, and that means we must align our hearts with the details, discern the path which is not the easiest, but the most pure.  The work is sorting through what matters and what doesn’t, trashing knickknacks and polishing keepsakes, both physical and metaphorical.  I don’t need all these maps or tickets from places I’ve visited.  But I do need to remember the names, the stories.  I do need to wear the atlas bone earrings I bought in a Kansas City.  The counter clerk told me the atlas bone connects the skull to the spinal cord.  What better talisman for a woman who’s been moving over the land as if she were an eagle?  A full moon is a good time to revisit rituals, to keep in mind the perfection we seek, and still be kind with ourselves when we don’t reach it at the pace we want. 

I have been writing here because it is writing that keeps me grounded, this, my meditation, my yoga, the road, the friends I’ve seen, the dream I have that one day I can actually stay put and feel like I belong.  I write because I have to.  But haven’t been telling the whole story.  The whole story is longer than this journey, and I have to sort through which parts matter and which parts don’t.  

Last fall, before I had all my students’ names memorized, I took my seventh period to Holy Name of Jesus Church for our back to school liturgy.  I looked up at the tiny panels of stained glass above the clean white panels of wall and thought about escape.   The church was built in 1941, and unlike other Cathedrals, it harkens the midcentury modernist tendencies.  Clean lines, hints at gold.  Father Reese stood at the pulpit, delivering a homily about how much we are all loved.  I sat next to my students, unallowed to have any personal reaction besides supervising them.  I thought about the months before that, the writing guide project I had spent all summer supervising and generating, yanked because of one word; I thought about the home I loved so much, where I had hosted literary and music salons, turned toxic from threatening roommates; the collection of poems I’d sent out to contests twenty times, and received back with twenty rejection letters; the last man I’d begun to fall for, who’d spent twice as much time texting away from me as he had moving towards me.  How different I was from the adults monitoring pews next to me, wildly unattached, eccentric florescent in my attempts to find the thing they all so effortlessly had.  How easy it is to use passive voice around the word love. 

“Jesus’ work,” Father Reese had said, “is loving us.  In return, we are asked to love one another.”  My cheeks flushed red, and my chest grew tight.  How dare someone ask me to give something I felt so dreadfully withheld from me?  Who is it that is going to love me through this?  When you give all you know how to give, and you can’t manifest a relationship, a home or a book, to then have that halfway-to-goal life fall apart, what kind of failure are you?  It makes sense to belong for a while, and then break.  That’s divorce.  That’s my parents, many of my friends’ parents, and now a number of my friends. But to never belong to anyone, or anyplace, what is that?  How can you be loved if you aren’t seen, if you don’t belong?  Father Reese continued, “His benevolence is never ending, and he invites us to give the same generosity and care.  Love one another like your life depends on it.”  I sat there in the schism between teacher self and true self, holding space for my young students.  Okay, I thought, can we do this like an assigned partner activity?  Who is supposed to love me?  Who am I supposed to love?  I remember thinking, yes, my life does depend on it – and I’m afraid that under the surface, I’m about to lose it. 

In the year my father died, I read an essay by Augusten Burroughs titled, “How to End Your Life.”  The essay was in his book This is How, and like all his other writing, thick with dark humor and brilliant insights.  After I read it, I wanted to assign the essay to anyone who dealt with real depression.  Later the month of this homily, after making my way through my short list of good friends, I would call the 800 numbers to make sure I didn’t melt into the abyss.  How can you live without love, unknown and invisible, or so visible that no one sees the truth?  But Burroughs essay was my first set of instructions.  He wrote that, “If you believe suicide will bring you peace, or at the very least just an end to everything you hate- you are displaying self-caring behavior. You are still able to actively seek solutions to your problems. You are willing to go to great lengths to provide what you believe will be soothing to yourself.  This strikes me as optimistic.”  He goes on to say that “You are allowed to be alive. You are allowed to be somebody different. You are allowed to not say goodbye to anybody or explain a single thing to anyone, ever.”  The solution is to leave, to walk out your front door, keep walking, and never turn around.  If you need an exit sign so badly, choose a different one.  If your day to day feels like swinging a hopeful butterfly net around swarming gnats, it’s time to go. 

That was how I felt.  In a community where most people my age were Catholic, married with two or three kids, I didn’t belong.  In a house where I tried to be both manager and tenant, I didn’t belong.  In the world of poets, where I’d been splicing together metaphors and rhymes, I didn’t belong.  In the city where I was born, but didn’t work in tech, or make a gobstopping amount of money, I didn’t belong.  In a group of friends all partnered and unavailable or twelve years younger and partying, I didn’t belong.  Shit, at most restaurants when I looked at the menu, I felt pretty clearly that I didn’t belong. 

How had I made it this far?  I sat in the pew next to my students, listening to a priest talk about love.  And I felt ill.  In the rows around me, I imagined all these young people whose lives would be rich, who would know successes I wouldn’t, who would figure out how to be alive, to be together in the mess of life.  I felt like home was anywhere but where I was.  I didn’t know it then, but the seed of this journey was already in me then. 

As I’ve pulled the black zipper around my cobalt rolly hardcase every few days, placed my  bags into the trunk like a game of Tetris, I’ve felt a smattering of comfort.  I don’t have to stay here, or anywhere.  I don’t have to try to belong.  I don’t have to burden anyone with my truth. 

But I do.  And I will.  Just not quite yet.  The comedy of this is not lost on me.  If I keep running, no one will ever see more than my ass as I leave.  I am running towards a solution to this problem of running away. 


I am after the Exit sign.  I see the way I’m loved.  There have been butterflies everywhere on my journey.  But I am about to drive over the rain or snow at Snoqualmie Pass to get back to Seattle.  I will leave for a New Orleans wedding two days after I arrive in Seattle.  Five days after I return from that trip, I will board a flight to Egypt.  And then Jordan.  And then Athens.  And then who knows.  But I am craving a place to be my own mess, to stop being a mess.  Homecoming.  I have sat in church pews, tree branches, ergonomic office chairs, the laps of men who wanted me to stay, and the drivers’ seat of my car.  I know the salvation I seek is worth seeking, but I don’t know yet where it is. 

I know many names for the Old and New Testament god, for the man who I was told died for my sins, for animal gods of shamanic tribes, for Roman and Celtic deities, for the forces we don’t want to admit we worship in my country.  But I just have to believe under all these names, these faces and stories, there is one.  And that is the one who heals, who takes me as I am, why says stay here and makes me feel like that’s a good idea.  That is the one I seek.  It is to this god I belong, and for this god I live. 


Get Ready for Kansas

Before I left Kansas City everyone told me to be ready.  At Jiffy Lube, when I took my car in, the clerk said the drive would be long and boring.  Outside Starbucks, a group of kids canvasing for the ACLU to protect LGBT youth told me the drive between KC and Denver would be dull.  I made a new friend named Jimmy who showed me around Kansas City, and as I left he alerted me via text:

“Get ready.  It IS a boring drive.”


“It’s just flat.”

“I’ve driven through South Dakota, it’s nothing but corn for hours and hours.”

“Corn is vertical, and aren’t there hills up there?”

“Oh.  Yeah.”

“But pay attention to the toll booths an hour out, I helped build the irrigation canal there.” 

I had something to watch for.  Something small, but still. 

So as I pulled out onto Highway 70, the four lane highway that used to be the Kansas Pacific Railroad, I psyched myself up.  The highway signs in Kansas are strange, less circles or shield-shapes, and more like golden suns with their rays swirling around the number – 70!  I had a new playlist including The Band Camino, Andrew Ripp, Billie Holiday and The Steeldrivers.  My audible que was full of interesting new books: From Sand and Ash, a romance between a Catholic priest and a jewish woman in WWII written by Amy Harmon; Trials of the Earth, the essays of a true pioneerwoman named Mary Mann Hamilton; and Would Everybody Please Stop, a book of comedic essays by Jenny Allen.  But mostly I got ready to prove them wrong.  Isn’t boredom about perspective?

I’ve never been particularly drawn to Kansas.  Or not drawn to it.  It just didn’t register in my mind.  Perhaps that’s why I was surprised to enjoy Kansas City so much.  But that’s for another post.  And besides, the city’s name is a misnomer, as most of it is on the Missouri side.  It seems, according to the people near this state, that Kansas is just a state people find bland.  In a world of high couture, this state is the Target.  Kansas was the first state to ban alcohol, with a prohibition starting in 1881, near forty years before the 1920 passing of the 19th Amendment.  That could be part of it.  Or, with a population of just under 3 million people, it might just be hard for Kansas residents to defend themselves against the rest of the country.  If you think about it, the state hovers in the background of our collective psyches as the place Dorothy escapes from, and returns to, in The Wizard of Oz.  Which would you choose: Oz or Kansas? 

As I drove along highway 70, I paid more attention to the terrain.  It didn’t start out flat.  In Wichita swaths of green trees lined the highways, and the corn alongside was alternately half dried, or golden and ready to.  Only a few weeks prior in Iowa the corn was young and rich. There were a few patches of Kansas sunflowers, heads heavy in prayer for harvest.  Roadkill, a common part of any trip like this, varied, as I passed a dead coyote, armadillo, and sadly, tabby cat.  The billboards hinted at local values shared and hidden:  Super 8 Motel, Boots for sale, Truck-Henge, Historic battle sites, Lion’s Den Adult Store, and something you don’t see in big cities, biblical quotes sharing Jesus’ salvation, and god’s damnation.  As I drove west, I noticed how the low crops hugged the earth.  It was wheat, more than anything.  Some of the fields had been tilled already.  And here and there I noticed a gorgeous red-tipped crop, which I later discovered was Sorghum.  Heavy at the crown, the fields undulated in the wind like ocean currents.  But it was, without a doubt, flat.  That song from the Dixie Chix rang out in my head, no, let’s be real, in my voice, “I need wide open spaces, room to make big mistakes.”  I wondered if a land this flat would feel like it’s own mistake if I stayed, if it would set me free, or trigger some odd kind of agoraphobia. 

My new friend from Kansas City told me the day before to watch for the majestic windmills.  I thought first of the traditional windmills, steel frame towers and wooden vanes that rose near outbuildings, windmills famed from the photos of Dorthea Lange.  No, he’d attested, saying those are beautiful too.  He then described the same turbines I fell in love with when I was sixteen, driving down 101 with my mom to visit colleges.  The clean white towers rise from the prairie like religious icons or church spires.  In a landscape like this, it is natural to look skyward.


That’s where everything changes.  That’s where we point when we talk about heaven.  Where we sit at dawn and dusk with romance in our eyes.  But in the great plains, like in the south, it’s also the origin point for so much danger.  No American gets out of high school without reading some excerpt of Grapes of Wrath.  The unit I taught included background on Black Sunday, the April 15th Storm in 1935 that carried winds upwards of 60MPH, and air so thick in dirt you’d suffocate if you weren’t wearing a mask.  People didn’t know how crop rotation could help, how irrigation could be run differently.  Shoot, I don’t know how I’d do it, just that it was a perfect storm that led to years and years of migration, poverty, and early humanitarian activism.  This journey I’m on, I don’t take for granted, is one I’ve chosen, not one I’ve been forced into.  Something always got under my skin teaching that unit – it felt eerie that a land could seem so peaceful, and be so dangerous. 

A couple hours into the drive I pulled into a rest stop and noticed a strange hiss in the car.  All the windows were up, and I’d just had the car checked in Kansas City.  With the next rest stop 90 miles away, on a 100 degree day, it would be a grave misadventure to have something go wrong.  I have gone overboard in taking care of this car, in part because I read about the jalopies in Grapes of Wrath.  Or perhaps it was that in my college years my Subaru XT blew heating cords, tires, and all kinds of other things I can’t name.  I once heard a pop and saw smoke in the Caldecott Tunnel between Oakland and Orinda, coasting to the side of the highway twenty feet west of the tunnel.  I grew up in used cars, unable to fix them, always needing help.  I cross myself and say a prayer each time I pass someone stopped on the road side.  I pay close attention to my car.  Right now, it’s my most consistent home.  At the rest stop, I tried to forget the hiss as I took Hoopla on her walk and made myself a turkey sandwich.  But it hadn’t been hissing until I got out of the towns.  What was it? 

It may be a unique skill of mine to catastrophize.  In a state known for being boring, I think it would almost be my duty to generate drama.  But I am a reader, a listener, and I live boldly.  Not only have I driven cars that felt like monsters, I have seen monsters written in novels and film scripts.  As I sat at the picnic table in the middle of nowhere, I mused about how we adopt each monster as our own.  I have a Scylla and Charybus swirling in my imagination because of Homer.  I have poison ivy in my panic box because of my friend Raven.  I have the destitution of “living in a van down by the river” in my one-liner of fears because Matt Foley said it on SNL.  I have counted clowns as demons forever because of Stephen King, or maybe because that shit is archetypal, and goes far beyond it.  Anyhow, a hiss is a million things.  And nothing.

Before I pulled over, I had been musing that this trip has been so fast.  I have slept in near 40 beds in the last few months.  I want to write about each place I’ve been.  But the place I’ve seen the most is the road.  The USA has over 4 million miles of paved roads, and in the recent months I’ve seen near 20,000 of them.  

It has taken me a long time to get here, but I have wanted to be a nomad from before I knew what the word meant.  When I was in fourth grade, my class performed a song and dance to the tune “Love Potion Number 9.”  I was voted, hands down, to be the gypsy woman.  Since then, I’ve dreamed of this.  When I traveled to Seattle in high school, I met a young hippie couple traveling with their mut cross country in a VW bus.  I dreamed that for myself.  As my musician friends booked tours with bands, I imagined myself a witness to a moving landscape and a servant to recording it.  This is not the same road Kerouac wrote about.  It is not the same path charted by Voltaire’s Candide or Cohelo’s Santiago.  But that’s why I’m here. 

This is the asphalt and the reality of my imagination and attitude.  My windshield is a veritable graveyard for bugs.  Under the front seat tote bags of dog supplies and my non-fridge food, crumbs of BBQ flavored potato chips are stuck to the mat.  The trash bag is stuffed.  The truck in stuffed.  Since my old phone, stolen in New York’s West Village, had the only magnet I kept with me, my magnetic cell phone stand is useless until I return to Seattle.  At any given time, Hoops is either napping, or barking at some livestock or busted tires on the roadside.  I have an address plugged into the GPS, but it’s not always where I’m truly going.

There’s something that opens in my chest when I turn the ignition and pull onto a long road.  Back in SF, I would dream some mornings of just overshooting my destination, and driving until I ran out of gas.  To be that free. The aphorism rings true that it’s the journey that shapes us, not the destination.  William Butler Yeats made a living on the theme of impermanence.  It’s bravery and cowardice alike.  But the road feels like the right kind of inbetween.  It’s where I can leave behind all the failed relationships, the random Airbnb that smells like cat litter, the constant pulse of a bar under an old apartment, the music venue where they know my name, and I have amassed a suite of joys and disasters, the job where my voice was heard but not heeded, the slope of disagreement between income and outcome.  I don’t want to let go of everything, my life is rich and blessed, but I know there’s something I’m still trying to shake.

When I finish my lunch at the rest stop, I get back into the car and listen for that hiss again.  As the speedometer nears 60, 70, and then 80, the whistle resumes, and the volume lowers.  I look at the Sorghum waving on the roadside, and take my place in the community of drivers en route to their own somewheres.  It dawns on me that this hiss is the wind.  The last time I drove over a country so flat was South Dakota, and I was attacked by rain and lightning.  I looked at the clouds dotting the blue sky, and felt grateful. 

Dorothy’s famous line from the Wizard of Oz is “There’s no place like home.”  We all understand that, but at times forget that she had to leave, to face her demons, to discover her gifts before she knew what home meant to her.  In 2017 most people I know have called upwards of three cities home.  Which one will be mine?  Five days out from a hiatus to my cross country trip, I am aware of the home I’ll have to choose when I finish this journey.  It is still uncertain.  I am alive in this moment, here and now, in an unfamiliar land.  As the land keeps changing around me, I feel myself change along with it.  I feel right on the road, lucky, gifted.  But I’m a nester, I love setting up my space, hosting my friends and loved ones.  When the time is right, I have to trust, I will feel as at home as Dorothy.  What I have to get ready for is not the boredom of this road, but the building of my own home.  Ironically, right now, Kansas is still Oz.

Grasshoppers, Work, Music ~ Nashville, TN

I found a giant grasshopper in the tub this morning before I washed myself.  I thought, immediately, of the fable the grasshopper and the ant.  My first impulse was to save it.  And my second impulse was to question whether I’m playing too much, and need to get to work.  The universe communicates in odd ways. 

I jetted into Nashville a couple days ago, and I have one more day left.  This has been, by far, the most fun I’ve had in any city.  Ridiculous fun.  I found out recently that it is second only to Las Vegas as a destination for bachelorette parties.   The city touts over 150 live music venues, and most of the gigs are free.   For a city of around 55,000 these are good odds.  The median age is 33.   It's comfy too, I was pleased to find a few great coffee shops, including Portland Brew in the Five Points area of East Nashville, and Barista Parlor over in Germantown.  

The nights here are seem a bit more dramatic.  My first night here I hit the Oddyseo, an acrobatic Cirque-de-Soleil run by Cavalia.  The show runs under a big top with horses, trapeze artists in swinging hoops and gypsy musicians.  It was an expensive ticket, but I relished the way that horses could walk in pinwheels, and girls could stand on the backs of two horses walking side by side.  After so little time with horses in Lexington - and so much time at bourbon distilleries - I thought it was a requirement to see some trick riders.  

Before arriving, I booked a ticket to see Tanya Tucker and the SteelDrivers at the Grand Ole Oprey House ~ again, no cheap date.  But the story of Nashville is the story of the Grand Ole Oprey House, a venue that began in the 1890s as the Union Gospel Tabernacle.  The venue was part of what saved the town from pioneertown standoffs and alcoholism.  On Sunday services, the venue's pews held near 2000 people.  But after the great space was built, the construction debt had to be paid, and the directors began to host evening shows.  For over 50 years, Lula C Naff managed the venue, for budget, publicity, and more.  She helped set up the radio show and choose musicians like Johnny Cash and Elvis who then became famous.  It makes sense that Country Music overlaps with religion and church values, in large part due to this venue.  The venue downtown closed for a few years in the 70s, and then relocated up the Cumberland river as the new Grand Ole Oprey.   The same space still runs shows, inside the stained glass windows, but now it's called the Ryman Auditorium.  From what I hear, the spirit of the Grand Ole Oprey is the same in the new venue.  I hope so, I loved the feel of seats like pews, and as a past musician, I can still be so moved by good people on stage. 

But probably the most raucus fun was last night, the unplanned adventures of a single girl in Nashville.  I went downtown and wandered Broadway, a street lit up like the Vegas strip, until the live music pulled me into Honkey-Tonk Central.  A Sam Hunt song pulled me in, and it drifted easily into George Strait.  I was surprised to know almost all the songs the cover band played.  The musicians on stage hustled the crowd more than any street hustler I’ve seen, demanding $20 for any request – and getting it!  At the bar, I met my travel buddies for the night: Kelsey, from Chicago, and Jody from Australia.  My new friends invited me to go to Coyote Ugly, and true to form, we all ended up dancing on the bar with the bartenders.  It has felt so indulgent.  And so delightful. 



So when I saw that grasshopper, it made sense that I felt a tinge of guilt.  I didn’t come here to spend a fortune, but I have.  I don’t know anyone who lives here - yet.  Nashville was a late addition to my itinerary.  Yet, it’s had that pulse of potential that I’ve only felt in cities like NYC or Los Angeles.  This is a city where dreamers come to let loose.  There is a layer of fantasy and prayer here that pulls in people who’s real worlds aren’t quite in line with their imagined worlds.  Here people put their talent to the test.  This is music city.

So here I was, standing next to the tub in my Airbnb in East Nashville, trying to catch the grasshopper to take it outside.  It’s not an easy task.  I followed it with the plastic tub stopper, hoping to encircle it for rescue.  It jumped and jumped, the restless critter.  Little Hoopla wanted to get involved in the rescue, but it wouldn’t have been rescue if she did.  After a few minutes, I finally snagged it and took it outside.  When I came back to the bathroom, I remembered that there had been ants in the tub the morning before, and in fact there was still a lone ant this morning.  So the cosmic metaphor isn’t entirely clear.  My take was that it’s time to re-envision what work means to me. 

This morning I woke from a dream wherein I’d been hired by a new principal, and stood at a table for back to school night, clueless about what grade I was teaching, how many sections, or even the location of my classroom.  Right now my teacher friends are all memorizing names and setting up classroom protocols.  I am dancing on bars and catching grasshoppers.  This is the third autumn in my thirty-some-odd years when I wasn’t settling myself into a classroom environment.  It’s peculiar.  Learning has been my occupation for all but three years of my life.  Learning in cubed rooms.  

But so much learning happens outside of those rooms.  Still, I’m feeling a quiet sense of guilt that I’m not doing the work I’ve always done.  The work of researching, reading, and planning arcs of experience.  The work of finding and sharing the pith and nuance.  The work of charming my pupils.  The work of listening to new people who seek guidance.  It’s not that different from what I’m doing now.  I am committed to the act of discovering and sharing new ideas, but I have to hammer it into my head that it’s as valuable here as it is in a classroom of sleepy seventeen year olds.  Artists, writers, philosophers and musicians have all had to hustle from the beginning.   

What gets to be called work anyhow?  What can we be paid for?  Isn’t it up to me to determine this?  My good friend Alexis Sottile just published an article about the women who may run for office in the next presidential election, and I’m reminded how for centuries, the work of women was home-work: child rearing, housekeeping, etc.  It was, and is, just as valuable as the work of any Fortune 500 business.  It’s just smaller scale.  It’s just what kept, and keeps, us alive as a culture.  It’s strange how, even in 2017, the occupations that relate to caretaking, to youth, to the home, usually pay far less than those that don’t.  Women still get paid less than men.  I am writing this not as a political rant, but as an observation of society and social casting structures. 

But the point here is that I feel a subconscious pull to work, and I have to redefine what that is.  The gnawing sense that I should be elsewhere, doing something different is ever present.  But that’s exactly why I’m on the road.  I am elsewhere, learning.  And the work I’m doing now is writing.  It’s putting faith in something that’s been in the subcurrent of my soul forever.   It's going entrepenurialista.  It’s believing that if I do what I love, the funds will come after.   Isn’t that what they say?  That’s what I say.  The first work of all is inhabiting the moment, paying attention.  And since I’m a writer, in the next step is in writing it down.  Then, well, you'll have to wait to see what comes next.  

The downside of falling in love every day

In Lexington Kentucky, as I sat down to begin a waterfall of light meditation, the deep roll of thunder exploded in consent.  The porch of my Airbnb began to tap out the drumbeat of a gutter filled with rain, and then the sky opened up in downpour.  It was time, is time, to let go. 

I haven’t written in so long, and the guilt of this is one of many weights I’m wading through.  I haven’t pulled off a grave sin like robbing a bank or seducing another gal’s man.  But I feel off.  My friend Nick used to say he never felt angry, just irritated.  I make mistakes left, right and center, and I can get so caught up in fixing them that I forget what’s working, or what I have done right in the first place.  Why do I stash my suffering in a to-go bag from every place I enjoy?  I feel guilt for anything falling short of my goals, for anything that causes pain in others, even when it’s unintentional, or at times required as a way to teach boundaries.  Every bag of chips I’ve eaten, every second beer I’ve had, every friend who wanted to visit, but for whom I didn’t make time.  Every time I packed up before dawn to hit the road as if I could leave my troubles behind.  

But it’s not that movement, it’s something else that lets it all go.  In the Catholic church sacrament of confession has been part of the Catechism from the early days of the New Testament.  I’ve never entered a dark booth to speak to a priest like this, but I’ve bowed my head over beads, spinning them between fingers in prayers of my own making.  I wonder if the need to let go has existed before the sins were named and categorized.  I think therapy is the way we’ve shuttled confession into the secular realm.  What is the path to absolution for polytheists?  For Muslims?  For atheists?  For me, to release the negativity that holds me back, I meditate, I write, I yoga, and I play.  I have missed this, the time when I get to tell my stories in a quiet miles from anyone I know.  But I’ve been collecting stories to tell ~ I could sit here for three days straight.  Who knows, I may opt out of the bourbon tastings and artwalks I had envisioned, simply to sit here and fess up.  For me, this feels like forgiveness. 

Outside the rain falls light on the teal umbrella.  Hoopla is growling at the sirens that keep blaring in and out of earshot.  The thunder is back, rumbling the walls of this 200 year old house.  And my heart. 

The tag line for my home page is fall in love every day.  And I do.  Legit.  But I’ve spent the entirety of my life defining what that means.  I fall into wonder, into joy, into excitement.  In yoga, the term Namaste means I bow to the light in you.  That’s how I live; most of the people I have met glow in their own ways, but seeing the light doesn’t mean I want to parallel their paths.  I fall into the divinity I see in each person.  But I don’t always fall into relationships.  I haven’t figured out how to avoid getting hurt, or hurting other people in the process. I don’t think it’s even possible.  Fascination and infatuation are easy.  And maybe because I’m on the road, I feel gratitude, joy and love in so many people. 

Even a couple days ago, as I filled up my tank at a station in West Virgina, a trucker joking about our different feul bills, said that I came from the Nazi state out west where they hate truckers and the second amendment.  I had driven nine hours the day before and four that morning.  I was tired of driving.  As my eyes followed the yellow lines, the foggy hillsides and forests, I had thought about how hard it would be to pilot a semi for a job.  Would I be lonely sleeping the truckbed alone?  Bored with the same tasks?  Grateful for the scenery?  Who knows.  But because of these thoughts, I just smiled at the man and said, I think you’re using the term Nazi wrong; I’m a Californian who doesn’t hate truckers. 

But that’s not what has me twisted up.  It’s the way people’s desires can be in disharmony, and the role I play in it.  I have a business card with the address for this website, and my email, and I give it out often enough.  I’d like to share my writing, my voice.  I count my lucky stars that I can travel like this, but the point is to unify the journey through storytelling.  Though I try, I can’t share my voice without attachments.  It’s not possible.  People who message me want to stay in touch.  I have wanted to stay in touch with people who have felt otherwise.  I’ve definitely garnered some friends in this journey.  But I’ve also garnered some suitors.

A couple weeks ago my friends said they wanted to set me up with someone.  I thought it was bad timing, but I just forgot about it.  A few days later, I got a text and then a phone call from a man who also quit a teaching job to travel, let’s call him Postdoc.  We spoke for a long time, and I found his story fascinating.  He was well-read, and had a keen sense of analysis and storytelling.  Unlike me, teaching was his third career, after two highly prestigious jobs before.  He was planning his journey to begin in Asia, but hadn’t left the USA yet.  We agreed we’d try to meet up.  A couple days later, when Postdoc and I spoke on the phone, he reneged, saying it was a bad idea, given that we were each on our own journeys.  In the same conversation, it became clear that we had very different ideas about religion, I having chosen travel because of faith and a calling, he an atheist retiring early from a workplace that didn’t fit.  But still, when he changed his mind and asked if I’d meet him, I did.  In the Greek myth, Hope was the last thing left in Pandora’s box.  You can’t shake it.  Seeing him was romantic and awkward.  We had an amazing time walking around his coastal town in Southern Boston, and discovered that we disagreed on politics, money and even, to an extent, family.  We argued and made out and generally confused each other into distraction.  There was fire.  I am a double leo; he is a scorpio.  To me, our disagreements felt like an intellectual challenge.  Here was a man I didn’t understand.  But when I de-emphasized my spiritual beliefs because I knew he would see me as naïve, I didn’t bat an eye.  That’s not who I am, and I don’t want to have that fight.  I am on this journey because of my faith.  I left feeling that this trip was good for the sake of the adventure.  Here was someone who I might be able to count as a friend.  But despite the chemistry, this was not a man with whom I could grow into the person I want to be.  And here I am, on my own, still somehow longing for a man who’s all wrong.  It’s embarrassing to be over thirty and still feel pulled towards someone who’s values are so oppositional to your own.   

But tandem to this jaunt, I feel guilty for walking away from a kind man who wasn’t glaringly opposed to my values.  Between Detroit and NYC, I stayed in Pittsburg for one night.  This man, let’s call him Banks, drove in to show me around town.  I had met him in a bar a few weeks earlier.  I’m sure that after a few drinks, I sauntered from friendly into flirty.  But this happens all the time, even when I’m not drinking.  I’m a people person, a people pleaser.  I love improv theater because it feels so easy to say “yes, and..” over and over.  But he was, and is, a salesman, and conversation is one of his talents.  Before he drove in, I made sure to say that I wasn’t sharing my room.  I wanted to see him, but I didn’t want to give the wrong impression.  I was nervous because he was kind, and had driven a long way to meet up.  But seeing him was easy as pie.  We wandered around town, ordering fancy drinks at the Ace Hotel, laughing through the abandoned Station Square, hiking through the rain at the top of one incline, to the fancy restaurant at the top of the other one.  He teased me about my sense of direction, but we didn’t argue at all.  After the night was over, I gave him a hug and said thank you.  And while I was glad to see my friend, I felt a tug in another direction.

I felt like a schmuck.  I don’t know if I misread the situation.  I don’t know if I led him on.  Or if I entertained the idea of dating this good man.  As much as I liked him, I just didn’t feel that fire.  If I game him more time, maybe I would have.  But mostly, I felt cared for.  Every time I talk to my girlfriend Christina, every time I open the pages of a book about love, this is what it’s about.  Caring.  What am I looking for then?  I genuinely like this guy, but something in me, or in him, is blocking any romantic cohesion.  I have to trust that feeling in my gut, right?  

The life I’ve led, mostly single, or navigating a newish relationship that might last up to a year, is atypical in my community.  But in relationships, I have always had a hard time trusting myself.  Have you heard the Beastie Boy’s song “Sabotage?”  It’s not so much my style of music, but it’s my style of romance.  I’m working on it.  I am not twenty two, so I’m not looking for my first love.  I believe we have multiple soul mates.  I have grown into a self sufficient woman with opinions and drives.  And of course, issues.  Any relationship I settle into will not be one in which I grow up, but one in which I simply grow.  I am on this journey, in part, to learn to trust myself better.  And while I want, ultimately, to love one person, I think I still have some growing to do on my own. 

The sky here is still grey, but the rain has stopped.  It’s time to hit the dog park, and I may have time to roll through Frankfort this afternoon.  I never set out to toy with anyone’s heart.  I am tired of denying good people, inviting in those who won’t last.  My unavailability is so transparent.  But so, I hope, is my genuine warmth for the people on my path.  Love is a tricky word: a feeling, an act, a name for god ~ I don’t know.  But it’s why I write.  It’s where I finger the prayer beads of keys on my macbook over and over.  Please forgive me.  I have screwed up again.  And again.  But I’m still grateful, still hopeful, still willing to grow. 

 The overturned flower rack is meant as a gate to keep Hoopla inside. 

The overturned flower rack is meant as a gate to keep Hoopla inside. 





A Man Who Rides ~ a Flashback to Sturgis, SD

A couple days ago, as I payed the reasonable $3 toll to enter West Virgina, I had a flashback of something from my travels that I’ve yet to scribe into being.  I was inspired by a group of motorcycles parked together like a group of military horses, two by two.  The bikes were Harleys, every last one, and the riders popped saddlebags and situated themselves in their sexy leather pants.  I couldn’t help but think of Sturgis. 

Sturgis was founded in the 1870s in the Western Expansion, but it didn’t become the Sturgis people now recognize until the late 1930s.  A motorcycle racer and businessman named J.C. “Pappy” Hoel decided to stir up fun with a dirt track race.  From there grew the biggest motorcycle rally in the world.  I’ve never heard anyone name the town who wasn’t a rider.

So, how did I end up in Sturgis?  By chance.  By fate.  By audacity.  My stay at the Gold Dust Hotel in Deadwood, a town thirty miles away, has still been the most expensive night on my journey.  I didn’t plan on arriving during the motorcycle rally, I wanted to see a simulated pioneer town.  I’ve taught American Literature for years, and I’ve long imagined the landscape of Bret Harte’s “Luck of Roaring Camp,” or Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose.  At the age of eight, I panned for gold in the American River on a school trip to Old Coloma.  The legends of the Old West, a society still in the midst of making itself, fascinate me.  That was my plan: see the streets where standoffs were customary.  Sit on benches where ladies sat a hundred years prior holding new-bought bolts of fabric to make dresses, with knives hidden in their corsets.   But that was not the Deadwood I landed in.  Every sidewalk was lined with bikes.  I had walked into Easy Rider on steroids. 

In the second week of August the entire Black Hills region of South Dakota turns into an extension of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.  I didn’t know what that meant, I still kindof don’t.  When I asked the hotel concierge, she said the same thing I guessed – it’s a giant party.  I figured it was like the gay pride march, but for motorcyclists.  I wonder how many bikers would want to slap me for saying that.  Every countercultural group needs to party, right?  I envisioned concerts, shows, and food trucks, and I found that.  But it was the first place I felt alarmingly out of place. 

I grew up riding motorcycles.  Or rather, on the back of motorcycles.  On weekends I spent at my dad’s house, I’d coerce him into taking me on rides to the coast, where we’d get coffee and lemon cake at the Tomales Bakery.  At one point, he handed me his beat up copy of Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which I never finished, but still loved.  If you haven’t read it, the book covers a journey two men take on motorcycle and poses some philosophical theories.  I didn’t agree with the fact that “classical” bikers who can repair their own bikes are of greater value than “romantics” who cannot.  I wonder if today it would be applicable to the macbook I type on, which I certainly can’t repair, but have used well to write poems essays and curriculum.  Anyhow, my father loved his motorcycles, and he liked fixing them as much as riding them.  I remember one year he and his friend David Traversi rode out to the Sturgis Rally from Petaluma, cruising the blue highways of Nevada, Utah and Wyoming on their Honda Goldwings.  They came home sore from the ride with wonder in their eyes.

With my dad’s encouragement, when I turned eighteen I took the discounted motorcycle training course at the old coast guard station by Stinson beach.  I passed the course, but I didn’t get the license.  I wasn’t ready.  Drop a bike five times, and you’d think twice too.  At that time I was smoking weed daily, and drifting through hallucinogens on weekends.  I could barely drive a car, let alone a bike.  I was, and still am, a romantic.  So I settled for riding shotgun when the opportunity came my way.  It just didn’t come my way all that often. 

And at Sturgis, it wasn’t just the bikes on parade, but the romance of life on that edge.  It’s wonderful to splay out our weirdness in the company of those who share it.  It blew me away to see riders cruising long winding roads without helmets.  I stood out terribly.  First of all I was driving a small blue commuter car.  I don’t wear or even own, any logo clothing.  My single tattoo is business-safe: a giant compass rose on my upper back.  I walked in like I was wearing a shark costume to a fancy dress party.  All of this I saw on my way to reception.  So, at the hotel I whipped off my yellow sundress, stepped into skinny jeans and a tight black tank top, and viola!  Time to pretend.

After a windy cab ride from Deadwood to Sturgis – where would I park a car!?- I took it all in.  I strolled up Main Street and looked towards the Sturgis sign on a hillside in the distance.  I was still in mountainous terrain.  The air was clean and temperate.  There were more bikes parked on the street than I’d seen in the past ten years.  Most bikes were standard cruisers, Harleys, Hondas, etc..  But I saw one tricked out with comics painted on the sides of the saddlebags.  There were bikes with flames, bikes with bodies shaped like taxidermic animals, bikes with three wheels, and even a few bikes with flashing night lights like Vegas or Burning Man.  And then there were the bike clubs.  I couldn’t help but notice the vests with hand sewn patches with codes like the lingo under senior portraits: belonging as easy as a strip of fabric.  But it’s not, never is.  I was pitched tattoos, bandanas, stripper heels, corndogs and even a cell phone charger.  But I just wanted to walk around and talk to people.  Who is a biker today?  Who is a Sturgis biker I wondered? 


It's strange, because though I am not a biker, I am a traveler.  I know, and love, the pull of the road.  At hour two or three, when your body gets uncomfortable, and you weary of your music or book on tape, you have to fold back into yourself.  I understand how the new scenery invites us to see more of ourselves.  I have a hard time staying in one place, conforming to one set of rules.  I like rules, I just don't know which ones are the right ones.   Here at Sturgis, it seemed that there weren't many rules at all.  Park your bike close to the one next to it.  Eat, drink, play.  

Anyhow, after a slice of pizza, I found myself front and center at the Loud American Bar.  I scored a prime location in the front porch, perfect for people watching.  I looked at the groups of people—lots of couples, and groups of men.  I was surprised that most of the people were over forty, and wondered if biking is something people begin now later in life.  Millenials and Gen-Xers seem happy to live in big cities, which is a terrible place to ride any kind of cruiser.  But the average age could have also been due to the early hour of 8pm.  I sat down on a bar stool holding my silver bottle-can of Budweiser, and eyed the group of rowdy men in front of me.  They all clinked their glasses together and shouted “Oy oy oy!”  I though, holy hell, I don’t want to talk to these guys. 

And of course, twenty minutes later, I had been subsumed by the group. It’s been a few weeks now, and I don’t remember all of them.  But the person who brought me into the group was a goateed man in his mid forties, six foot five, from Australia. 

“You came from Australia?  For this?” I asked. 

“Yes!  Of course,” he’d said.  “Look around, it’s the biggest rally in the world.  So we saw you from over there, and we agreed.  You can’t come to Sturgis and sit alone at the bar.”  Shortly he’d introduced me to a few friends, and his wife, who’d been sitting further down.  It became clear that this wasn’t one group of men, but a few who’d piled together.  A party is a party, and this was a good one.  Most of the men there were married, and left their wives at home.  With each man, I asked about why he came to Sturgis, whether he’d come before, and what kind of bike he rode.  I was embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t riden into town on my own bike.  But I wasn’t ashamed - I was there in homage to my father.  And in dumb luck. 

In this cluster, there was a group of guys from Ohio, one of whom visited the SF Bay Area often.  It was pleasant to talk to someone who knew my old world.  This man worked in sales, and like many who do, could coax a conversation out of anyone.  There is a gift I wonder if I possess that sales people have – just putting their conversational partner at ease.  He gave me the most hassle about coming to Sturgis in a car, and it cracked me up.  He also lifted his eyebrows at me when I said I wouldn’t do shots when fifteen tequila shots arrived at the tiny bar table.  Was I going to shout “Oy oy oy?”  Sure, but no tequila. 

“Wild child, huh?” he asked.

“Adventurer, yes.  Tequila drinker, no” I said.

“It’s Sturgis.  Really?  Come on.”

“I have to find my way back to my hotel solo.  You have a posse of travel mates if you get wasted.” 

“Okay, fine” he replied.  

At that I felt both respected and seen.  Here I was in the middle of the rough-and-tumble community of motorcycle riders, and they were some of the kindest men I’d met.  I felt I with someone who could be a real friend.  I left shortly after, and made sure to say goodbye.  I had in front of me a six hour trip across South Dakota, and hopefully a visit to Mt. Rushmore National Monument and the Badlands National Park.  

I’m still traveling, and every time I see a cruiser on the highway, I smile.  I roll down my windows and imagine what it would be like to be part of that world, to be that vulnerable on the road.  It still feels like rebellion, like James Hurley, Laura Palmer’s secret boyfriend in Twin Peaks.  I carry so much comfort in my car.  The restlessness that invokes speed on a bike is one I can relate to.  I’m just not skilled enough to pilot that adventure.  I’ve always thought of my dad when I see bikes on the Sonoma highways.  But lately, as I pass these big groups of motorcycles on the highway, I think of the good men I met at Sturgis.  There’s something damn cool about a man who rides motorcycles. 

Yes, Everything is Okay ~ O'Fallon

“Is everything okay?” Jack asked as I paused three steps past the front door.  It was dusk.  I had bounded up the steps from the parking lot of his Bed and Breakfast in O’Fallon, Missouri.  The nightly news buzzed in the background from the three big screen TVs in the living room and bar.  The scent of grilled meat hung in the air.  Three dogs sat hopeful at ends of the dining table.  On the honeywood walls upwards of thirty geese, ducks, deer and fish hung in their permanent poses.  When I arrived a few hour prior, I had wondered what it would be like to be a taxidermist.  What an artful way to handle death, I’d thought.

With clutched toes at the entryway, I stared at Jack.  On the other side of the long counter, he held a dish in his hand from the hamburgers and sausages he’d made for us not long before.  Four of the guests, visitors like me for the Great American Eclipse, put down their utensils at the ten foot dining table. 

I clenched my car keys tighter and said, “Yes, I just need some help.”  It has been my habit for me to say yes, always yes, everything is okay.  I hate asking for help.  I hate admitting when things aren’t okay. 

But I’ve found it can be easier to tell a stranger you need help than ask someone you care about, over and over again.  Even though I know better, I feel in any given relationship you only get so many “help” cards to play.  I always feel like I have more cards I need to play than I actually do.  I try not to pull them out unless it’s urgent.  But this was urgent.

The night before I had woken in Chicago from a nightmare about arriving at the end of my journey, only to find my little dog Hoopla near death.  I have had anxiety dreams like this all my life, but you can’t control what happens in the dreamtime.  I have also had psychic dreams about major events in life: I dreamt about 9/11, about a car crash I had in college, and my father’s death.  But I’m not always clear which dreams are prophetic, and which are just anxiety.

So there I was, looking down the long table at my dinner-mates, patiently frantic.  All eyes were on me; it was embarrassing. 

“Can I just get a few people to help me push my car?” I asked. 

Maybe twenty minutes before I was sitting around the same table.  Another guest, Carrie leaned over and told me there was a rainbow outside.  Her husband Brian was across the gravel path at the lake with their Boxer.  He texted her to come outside and see it.  Carrie and I had been chatting about our journeys and where we were going to watch the solar eclipse.  But after that comment, I decided it was time to step outside for Hoopla’s evening walk.  A rainbow was surely promising. 

I snapped Hoopla into her leash, and walked down to the Lake with Carrie.  Her dog Chelsea was diving in and out of the water, swimming like a champ.  His short legs and thick torso were perfect for water.  Hoopla took an interest, and when I walked to the edge, I thought I might just take off her leash.  The drive from Chicago had taken seven hours, and she had sat in the backseat bed like a trooper.  She needed to play, and here was a playmate.  Where was she going to go?  We were two miles from the highway, and the property was a huge hunting site of forest, prairie, and lake.  Why not? 

When I unclicked her leash, she was ecstatic.  She pranced down to the shoreline and barked at Chelsea.  I took a deep breath into this pastoral wonderland.  In all these amazing places, I’ve kept Hoopla six feet from me on her leash.  She gets the recall commands, turns her head, and often runs when I shout “come!”  But her little huntress desires are hard to beast.  If there’s a bird, a squirrel, or a rat, she’s off.  She always comes back, but she doesn’t listen when there’s something to catch.  She’s can’t handle the freedom she wants, but she’s still a happier dog when she can run at her own pace.  And here she was, doing exactly that. 

As Hoopla rolled her nose along the shore like a dust-buster, I stood on the shoreline relishing the company.  Brian and I walked up to the ferry-like motorboat and mused about a life where this was your front yard.  He told me he and his family planned to stay the next night too.  I wondered about changing my plans and swimming here post-eclipse.  After spending the few days in Minneapolis uncomfortably lonely in the company of others, and my birthday solo in a quiet Iowa city, and I appreciated this.  I feel too old to stay in Hostels, I’m cranky and private.  But when you travel solo, it’s not always easy to find kindred spirits.  This was the first time since Georgia I found myself in a group of open minded travelers.  We were all here to witness an astronomical miracle. 

When a group of guests pulled out of the parking lot to drive back to town, I was caught off guard by Hoopla’s redirection.  She bolted away from Chelsea, the lake, and me.  I’ve seen her do this once before when we stayed in a gated complex in Los Vegas.  That time, the car slowed, and I got her to come back to me with a loud shout and a dog treat.  The women on the gravel road noticed Hoopla, and slowed down.  Again, when the car stopped, I got her to come my way with a visible dog treat.  But as she chewed it from my hand, the guests gassed their car to drive to the highway.  I didn’t even have time to grab Hoopla before she was off again.  The car sped from 15 to 20mph, and so did my little dog.  She moved like a tiny cheetah, and kept pace like tin cans jangling behind the painted car of newlyweds.  

My nightmare came to mind.  I had a flash of dog carcass, an embalmed poodle head on the side of a wall.  I envisioned ending my trip the next day.  And I moved. 

With my sorry-ass bad-knees pace I ran after, shouting “Come Hoopla, come!”  I waved my treats in the air, and even threw some after her.  She was impervious.  As the car turned from the property’s gravel driveway onto the public road towards the highway, she followed.  “Hoopla!” I shouted.  At nothing but dust.  She was gone, and I my panic escalated.  Brian asked if my keys were handy, and I said yes.  I always say yes.  He told me he’d go down the street on foot, and so I went back to get my keys and drive after her. 

Back in my room, I couldn’t find my keys.  I couldn’t focus on anything.  My mind was hurtling worst case scenarios at me.  It was only two lanes, but a mile or so up from the property was a main artery.  Were they in my purse?  If my dog ran after one car, what would she do with many cars?  Maybe I threw them on the bed?  How many dogs die getting run over by cars?  Were they in the bathroom?  What would be the point of this spiritual journey if I lost my K-9 copilot?  Why did I have a dream about her getting hurt last night?  Jacket pocket, the last place I checked. 

I walked past Jack, past the guests still eating dinner, and down to my car.  In the driver’s seat, I backed up for my three point turn, and heard a loud thud.  Then I couldn’t pull forward.  I gunned the gas, and smoke rose up behind me.  Fuck.  Seriously? 

The lot was on a hill, and around the outside were breaker bumps, what my family calls “road tits.”  I was stuck.  I bounded back into the B&B, and that was when Jack asked if I needed help.  Yes.  I explained the situation, and Jack leaned in intently. 

“You’re going to need more than a few people pushing your car to get out of that pickle, “ he said.   “I’ll help you drive after your dog, but let’s wait to take care of your car.”  Jack has two dogs, Lexie and Snowbell.  As a hunter, he prizes himself on hosting hunters, families and travelers with dogs.  

I walked back outside, and everyone else followed to see what I had done.  Who does this?  Me.  Another guest, Homa, came out a second later, and told me to get into her car.  Jack, she informed me was getting his truck to tow me over the curb.  I didn’t give a rat’s ass about my car right then, so I climbed into her 4runner and we headed down the long driveway towards highway 79. 

And then, before we even reached the end of the driveway, Hoopla turned the corner, and hurtling towards us.  Homa stopped the car, and I got out to catch her.  Now I had to deal with the giant ordeal of my car.  But I didn’t care, my dirty misbehaving anxiety-provoking anxiety dog was tight in my grip.  She was wet, happy, covered in mud from the lake.  It took everything in me not to cry.  I clicked her into her leash, and began walking towards the B&B.  Homa asked if I was okay, and yes, I said, yes.  And I was. 

She went to go get Brian, and I walked back.  At the parking lot, I found Devin, Carrie & Brian’s fifteen-year-old son, hunched next to Jack by the hood of my car.  I stood for a second at the bottom of the hill with Carrie, and Homa’s sister Nida.  Carrie said the men wanted to be men.  If that means they want to help, I thought, great.  But at the bottom of the hill, we agreed it would be best to just push the car.  I had backed over a curb like you’d find in any grocery store parking lot between two opposite spots.  I stood with the women watching the boys prod at the front of my car.  I asked Carrie to hold Hoopla’s leash so I could go investigate.  Jack and Devon couldn’t find a great place to attach the tow line to my Mazda 3.  Jack said he found one spot, but it might be plastic under the engine.  He asked if I was okay with it.  I just didn’t know. 

About then Brian and Homa arrived, and Brian hopped into the mix.  He told us he is as a firefighter, and I felt like this would be over in no time.  He is used to this kind of thing.  Great.  With the tow-line attached, we all agreed on neutral, if it didn’t work, Brian said, we could push it.  Yep.  He asked if I wanted to drive, or if I wanted him to.  I gave him the keys.  He hopped in the driver’s seat, and I watched.  With the door open, Brian shouted, “I’m in neutral.”  The next second, Jack pulled slowly, and the line snapped off my car. 

At that, Brian and I agreed, manpower – or as it turned out – womanpower.  Jack moved his truck out of the way, and Brian stayed in the driver’s seat.  Devin took Hoopla’s leash.  Homa, Nida, Carrie and I all stood at the back of the car, ready to lift.  Brian shouted “I’m in 1st” and we all heaved.  With a giant harrumph, the car was clear.  Brian pulled into the spot I had backed out of twenty minutes prior.  And we all clapped. 


I came down to St. Louis to watch the solar eclipse.  I chose this place to stay because it was gorgeous.  I had no idea I would be surrounded by so many helpful people.  In envisioning my copilot’s end, I confronted my paranoia about being too much work, too frantic.  After a shower and a shot of bourbon, I sat around the fire later with the same guests.  Homa offered my a pair of eclipse glasses as she’d heard I had none.  Carrie invited me to join her family at the Chesterfield Amphitheater the next day.  I don’t know where I picked it up, but I have always felt like I should be able to handle everything on my own.  I simply can’t.  I don’t want to anymore.  Asking for help is not admitting insufficiency, but admitting you are part of a collaborative human organism.  A clear gift of this eclipse, and this journey altogether, is learning how to be frail and brave at once.  People want to help, I’m learning to let them.  



A New Bohemia Birthday ~ Cedar Rapids, IA

It’s been a week since I drove through Yellowstone, and I have felt a lurching my heart to write.  With each new experience, I’ve had to catalog and wait for later.  Or let it go. 

I remember early on, when I was headed from Seattle to Hayden, seeing a sign for Historic Wallace.  I looked at the oddly smokeless sky, and had an itch to go visit.  What’s in Wallace?  I’d never even heard of Wallace.  But I felt the twin desire to arrive at my destination and rest.  That was a day filled with smoky skies and sneezing, and I knew more than anything, I needed to be horizontal.  I wanted to see this town, this place nowhere near my to-visit list.  It could have been, probably was, remarkable.  But I kept driving.  That’s how it goes sometimes. 

I am sitting in a metal stool at the breakfast bar of the best Airbnb I’ve stayed in stateside (the heart house),  The sloped roof is covered in shiplap.  The bathroom is decked out with a clawfoot tub, and textured flamingo wallpaper.  The living room shelves sport roller skates, a typewriter, and a record player.  It’s no wonder I’m warming to Cedar Rapids. But I’m sitting here with a long list of things I’d like to write.  My fingers feel like sentences I’ve yet to tap into existence.

I didn’t write about these things yet because I been moving; making the events occur that I want to write.  There has been a tug of war between the drive to experience, and the drive to write.  Right now I want to slow down.  I want to stay in this apartment in New Bohemia all day.  I’m satisfied to know there are brewhouses and clothing shops all within walking distance.   I’m grateful as can be that the sun is shining, there is no lightning, no low hanging ominous cloud cover. 

Sometimes I think like every experience has multiple layers ~ the prediction/planning, the actual experience, and the aftereffect.  I guess that’s more or less past present and future.  Bear with me for a second here.  Take going to the gym.  Before you go, you think about it, then you go, sweat it up, and then you go home, shower, and bask in the endorphin rush.  The Zen masters may tell you the only thing that matters is the present, but I can’t entirely agree.  I am still planning parts of this journey, and I’m excited, for example, about seeing my friend Steven from Tbilisi when I stay in Madison.  Hasn’t happened yet.  And I’m still mulling over the impact of the drive between Sturgis and Sioux Falls, when I drove for four hours through the worst lightning storm I’ve ever seen. 

In the podcast “A Way With Words,” one caller last week asked about the phrase “this is academic” which seems more or less like a dis.  The idea of the phrase is that something is over, it’s a moot point.  There is no solution.  That just makes me think of the Collatz Conjecture, and other mathematic equations.  Really, how do you know if it’s academic, until you fall upon a solution?  The intention behind the statement “it’s all academic” is that after a certain point, discussion is merely for the sake of discussion.  Isn’t that analysis?  Isn’t that philosophy?  Isn’t the unexamined life not worth living?  I personally like a good discussion, academic or not.

As I’ve driven the highways to a near midpoint of the US, my mind has wandered plenty.  We could call it internal discussion.  It’s a great time to generate what I want to write.  At this point, I’ve spent more time on the road than in any one town.  As I’ve driven, my little dog Hoopla has learned a new word: cows.  Whenever we pass a herd of cattle, she runs back and forth across the backseat, as if it’s on fire.  She barks and barks and whines and generally tries to communicate that it’s time to stop so she can go chase the animals.  She doesn’t know that they are about a hundred times her size.  But she does know, because I keep saying it, that they are cows. 

I bring up cows because I think they are symbolic.  In The Odyssey it’s the murder of the cows belonging to Cyclops, Poseidon’s son, that earn Odysseus his major curse.  Cows are sacred in many religions.  In my own life, I connect the animals to the astrological sign of Taurus, a stable, persistent, caring earth sign.  Even if you don’t dig astrology, you can attest to the fact that cows are indeed, stable, persistent, and earth-bound. 

But lately I’ve been thinking about the fact that cows are always chewing.  Because of their multi-caverned stomach, and the difficulty of digesting, they spend over eight hours a day chewing cud.  It’s kindof gross.  Cud is the food that’s been partially digested, gone through round one of the stomach, and is sent back up to the mouth to be reworked. 

I feel like that’s how my mind works.  Maybe that’s how all our minds work.  I experience something, think about it, think I’m done thinking about it, and then it pops back up.  Here, analyze me, examine, solve.  But you can’t always solve.  There isn’t even always a solve for x.  Solve for happiness?  Solve for love?

None of life’s real problems work like math.  Everything that matters IS academic.  When you experience resistance, how do you know the difference between intuition for bad mo-jo, and simple knee-jerk fear?  You chew that cud for a while.  Or you figure a way to bypass it or let it go. 

I suppose a lot of this is just about decision making, and trusting yourself.  And I keep coming back to the same forms.  I have meditated every day of my journey in some way or another.  I have found my way to a yoga mat every few days in the US, and even landed in a class in Tbilisi.  I don’t always trust my mind.  My overactive imagination makes the present moment myth.  It can blur my vision.  And isn’t the world you see in front of you really just a projection of what you feel inside?

Today is my birthday.  I’m alone here in Cedar Rapids.  I’ve been alone in an airbnb every major holiday this year so far.  I don’t want to be alone always, but right now, this is good.  On a journey like this, I can’t get to every destination, despite how easy it is to imagine this.  I love how people misgauge the reality of a long journey to be inclusive of every destination imaginable.  Brazil?  Sure.  Alaska, why not?  It’s not like that.  The same thing happens as I write.  Some writers like to wait until after a journey is over to jot it all down.  They can’t write “hot.”  I don’t know yet when this journey will end.  And showing up here is one of my favorite parts.  I can’t always determine what I’m writing about.  I can’t visit every destination.  I can’t love every person I meet.  But I can love myself, I can show up regularly to write, academic or not.  I can let go, and trust who I’m becoming right now.   


Faith in Old Faithful ~ Two stories about one place

It wasn’t until adulthood that I found my way into a national park.  I have still never been to Yosemite, despite living close to it most of my life.  I don’t think either of my parents owned tents, or hiking shoes.  When I was young, we summered in cabins around Tahoe and Lake County.  But more than any wilderness trails, I remember hiking up and down the hills of San Francisco, and stealing away to the paved footpaths along the American River by my Gold River home.  Destination activities for us involved swimming, biking, or skiing.  But more so, we’d visit historic sites and museums, find places to shop, or hit an occasional state fair.  We weren’t what you’d call an outdoorsy family.  

So the year our family reunion wound up at Flagg Ranch Wyoming, smack dab between Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, it’s no wonder that there were some hiccups. 

I should clarify too that this was the year my father was diagnosed with Cancer.  It was the summer I quit my job in New York to move to San Jose and work at my first Catholic school.  I knew no one in San Jose, but it was the only job I found within a two hour drive of my father.  Every night I spent in Wyoming, I called his house to check on him.  Sometimes he was too tired to talk, so I spoke with his wife Linda.  My body was in Wyoming, but my heart was in Sonoma.  Behind every choice I made, every activity I joined, against the backdrop of supreme beauty, the terror of his frailty hummed like the waiting song on Jeopardy.  But I was on vacation, a family reunion in Yellowstone with the other side of my family.

Family reunion is one of those nebulous words that could mean joining your ten brothers and sisters, twelve cousins and oddly named Uncle or Aunt who’s lived in general hermitude until old age.  Ours are not like that.  I have one brother, and three first cousins.  Perhaps that’s why these events matter so much. Our immediate family has dwindled more than it grows.  For my mother, and my Nana before she passed, genealogy is not just a hobby, but a near profession.  My mom is a member of the mayflower society, a number of genealogical societies, and of course, the DAR.  She has traced our ancestors back to princess Eleanor of Aquitaine, and King Edward III Plantagenet.  I can claim witches as ancestors, and the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  But far more important to this family research is the way we have come together over the past thirty years.  These reunions have happened every four, and then every three years, for the past thirty years.  A family reunion for us includes second, third, and even fifth cousins.  We have family tree diagrams that spread over thirty feet, color coded.  For my little branch of the family, it’s a chance to be included in the swell of more people, more crazy, more fun.  It feels like the right thing to do.  

The planning for these has rotated over the years between different subclans of the Swedish patriarch Louis Linder.  This year, the Flagg Ranch year, the planning was up to the Frost clan, far more outdoorsy than us.  Some cousins camped in tents, found their way to long hikes in the park, and swam in the lakes nearby.  Some people spent time down in Jackson Hole.  My mother helped organize a shuttle tour of the Great Loop of Yellowstone.  Originally near twenty people signed up for the tour.  On the day of, the number had dwindled to seven.  Hiker or not, I felt happy to have a guided tour of the geothermal areas of the park.  True to form, I had done no research on the park, and the steaming multicolored goop we walked over felt otherworldly.  I never imagined dangers in a park beyond Grizzlies and steep cliffs.  Our bus stopped at six or seven viewpoints, and each one was more exciting than the next. 

The last stop on the trip was the one I remembered from Yogi Bear cartoons: Old Faithful.  When we pulled up to the Lodge, we saw the next time for eruption was in fifteen minutes.  I was torn between staying outside and watching, or going inside with my mom to shop.  The drive to stay with my close people won, and I went inside to explore the Lodge.  I picked out a few trinkets including pencils for student prizes, and a handcrafted mug for myself. 

When we went outside, throngs of people walked towards us, and I discovered I had missed the Geyser.  Because we were on a shuttle tour, there was no way I could wait to see the next eruption.  I was so disappointed.  Here I was in arguably the most famous national park, on a tour to see this one mighty thing, and I missed it.  I had seen amazing Bison and coyote, walked over footpaths of quicksand and green gooey mud.  But the fact that I was shopping when the geyser went off felt like a smack in the face.  Where were my priorities?  How could I miss the thing I wanted most to see?  What happened to the Faithful nature of Old Faithful? 

It wasn’t just that I missed the geyser, but that I missed what mattered the most, following the conveyer belt of activity.  I wanted to be near my ailing father.  I didn’t want him to be ailing.  I was too busy buying memories to make them.  My mom laughed, because, as she told me, it actually wasn’t that big of a deal.  When she saw how disappointed I truly was, she said I should come back.  Right, when?  It wasn’t about that anyhow, and I knew it.  Everything inside was mixed up.  Great natural beauty and family belonging, and the weight of my father’s imminent death.  I ached to unravel.  To parce out emotions so I could handle them, one at a time.  I wanted to wash my psyche in the rapture of something bigger than myself, something constant.  I felt selfish to be enjoying myself in this wonderous place, when the man who made me was in horrible pain.  

After we got back to the lodge I saw my second cousin Paul, a nomadic man who’s never in the same place longer than a few months.  The geyser felt like a talisman towards clarity, release.  I vowed that I would come back to see the geyser erupt. But I never thought I would. 


In planning my northern route across the US, I penciled Yellowstone in with a question mark.  I didn’t even recognize the weight of it as I did. 

My friend Christina was so generous in offering me a place to stay with her parents, who live in Bozeman.  The home was gorgeous, Jim and Lynda were incredible.  The day I left I got a personalized tour of the city, including a giant dog park, a few yoga studios, the library, and of course, the co-op. 

But my original intention, as noted, had been a trip down to Yellowstone.  An easy trip down to Yellowstone— hop skip and jump.

Only when Christina’s parents offered a day-long tour did I realize how attached I was to getting back to Old Faithful.  When I missed the eruption the first time, I honestly never thought I’d be back.  But here was my chance.  It’s been six years since my father passed, and the grief of that is something I have learned how to navigate, how to acknowledge, feel and release.  But in this journey I feel his drive for wild and reckless things, and in my uncertainty, I sometimes feel his presence.  I wanted to get back to Old Faithful because even though I’m living nomadic, I’m in my body fully, something I couldn’t declare to be true when I was there the first time. 

True to form, if I was going to be in my body, the universe was going to test me.  I spent some time writing in Bozeman that morning, and hit the road to Yellowstone around 11am.  The journey to the Western Entrance is about two hours.  The 191 winds through Big Sky down to the border through plains and mountains.  I knew it would be a rushed trip, but I felt it would be worth it.  Over oatmeal and french pressed coffee, I told Jim & Lynda that I would show up, and see the signpost declaring I had only five minutes to wait before it went off.  It would be easier this time.  I believed it. 

What actually happened was a bit different.  As I drove south, patches of blue sky dwindled.  The cloud cover thickened and sauntered from white to grey to indigo.  You’d think having family in Seattle would give me a sense of badass courage on wet roads.  You’d think.  I have a tempered respect for rain on asphalt.  On the weekend I graduated college, I totaled my car while hydroplaning on 580.  I was young & distracted.  But I have been careful ever since.  So when I pulled into the parking lot for Old Faithful, I was stoked about the fact that I’d made it past the ominous clouds, more or less dry.  Finding parking still took near twenty minutes.  It was surprising that on a Wednesday, under a grey like TV fuzz, it was still packed. 

When I parked I couldn’t decide if I should take Hoopla down to the geyser or not.  As a certified service animal, she’s allowed to come along, even though pets aren’t typically allowed in parks.  It’s such a mess how this is all determined.  But in parks especially, workers often interrogate me as to the training she has to “serve me.”  The irony is that they exacerbate the anxiety she’s meant to alleviate.  But what if she lept in the geothermal mess of wet goo?   Finally, I rolled down the windows and decided to leave her in the car.  I walked twenty paces out, and turned around to get her.  I will always take the maximum amount of time possible to make a decision. 

Decision made, Hoopla and I walked haphazard, and I began to notice all the visitors walked towards instead of away from the myriad parking lots.  When we reached the visitor center opposite the geyser, I found the signpost declaring the next spout-off time: 4:05.  It was then 2:40.  So much for my positive thinking.  We set about exploring the village that has grown around the underground steam machine.  I sought some coffee, maybe a trinket.  It seems so many of the spots for rest in the parks have turned into shopping spots.  I didn’t want to shop, I wanted to see the earth do things I’d never seen it do.  I wanted to watch hot water pour upwards instead of down. 

Nature is funny like that.  As I held Hoopla in the visitor’s center, faux-shopping, I looked out the window to see, not just rain, but torrential rain.  I stepped out under the awning to see rivers channeled through the gutters.  It had held out for our drive down, but not for no reason.  At closer inspection, I noticed white spots of hail bouncing off the sidewalks.  This was no set of karaoke sing-along balls, but a full blown summer storm.  Californians don’t get visited with summer storms.  Rain comes on slow, and leaves slow.  It’s cold when it rains.  It will be cold after it rains.  This wasn’t a warm rain, but I knew I could navigate it in my Birkenstocks if I had to.  It would be better to go back to my car and grab my Chaco’s.  But I had time.  So, along with families and packs of adult pairs, I hid under the eves until the storm lightened.  At a good hiatus, I ran back to my car to get my waterproof sandals, and, you guessed it.  Water everywhere. 

The car was soaked.  Every window had been open at least four inches; I had planned to leave Hoops in the car.  I looked around as if anyone would be interested, and just started to laugh.  I popped the trunk and grabbed my towel to dry the seats.  I did my best, threw Hoops in her backseat dogbed, and rolled the windows up to a centimeter or less.  I wanted an eruption, and I got it.  

By this time, it was near 3:30, and I knew from experience that the announced spout-off time was less than faithful.  It had stopped raining, so I headed back to the plastic benches set up along the boardwalk near the geyser.  I found a spot to stand, behind a family from Arizona, next to a group of French people.  And waited.  The earth steamed from all over, as if the whole surface were pourous.  The mouth of Old Faithful exhaled a long white cloud.  I looked around the boardwalk circle, and I’d say we were near a thousand people.  We held up our cameras til our hands grew tired.  A cone geyser in the distance went off far before Old Faithful.  Old Faithful sputtered prematurely a few times before it went off, and I giggled with the crowd.  We waited more. 

And then, after standing there for near half an hour, the geyser erupted.  It was as if a firefighter had unscrewed a cosmic velocity hydrant.  The white water rose upwards of 100 feet, and under the grey-white of the sky, it popped forward with urgency.  I found out afterwards that the average water temperature of that water is near 204 degrees Fahrenheit.  It is not the most regular of all geysers, but it is the most regular large eruption.  And even though I thought I’d never be able to see it again, I did.  I felt so immensely gratified. 

As I travel, it’s easy to say I want to go back to places.  But there are so many new places I’ve never been, and it takes something important, or someone important to pull me back.  I didn’t plan this journey to get back to Yellowstone, but by going, I realized how much I’ve healed and grown since I visited the first time.  Not only did I have to wait ninety minutes to watch the eruption, I had to wipe down a deluge from the fabric of my Mazda’s seats, and drive home with a wet ass.  But I did, because I could.  And I still loved every minute of it. 



Alexandra RobertiComment
No true cowgirl or ski-bunny, but good enough nonetheless ~ Hamilton MT

Main street in Hamilton Montana is clean and wide, there is little traffic at 9am.  The shops are brick-face, two floor, and remind me of pioneer towns like Nevada City or old Sacramento.  Across the street is the Chapter One Book Store, and I write this morning from Big Creek Coffee. This is big sky country.  I have been looking forward to my time in Montana because it is the opposite of what I’ve had for the past, well, long time.  It’s spread out, but not like the sprawl of valley cities along the I-5.  Breweries in Hamilton close at 8pm.  Yards have paddocks, fields, horses, hay.  Restaurants don’t have wait times longer than the meal you’d like to eat.  People are largely white, and largely conservative.  It’s a place where mountains clamp in the low valleys with mythical presence.  I am reminded of the Rock Man in The Neverending Story who claims in sadness that he has “such big hands” but he couldn’t hold back the “Nothing” that destroys imagination.  Maybe these mountains can. 

The thing that called me here was nature, space, quiet.  The work I’m doing to better myself involves a lot of that.  Meditation, hiking, writing, reading, laughing, and to an extent, driving. 

But I forget how easy it is to get off course.  This town isn’t just a landscape, but a hamlet, populated by individual people.  This is a common problem traveling, generalizing ad-hoc.  My cousin, who’s yard I’ve pitched my tent in, told me a funny story about this.  He said during the cold war, Russia sent a spy to Hamilton Montana.  The spy stayed for a few years, and finally went home with a report that no one should ever engage Americans in combat.  Each house, he reported, boasts upwards of six guns or crossbows.  The thought of this terrifies me.  I have never, and will never own a gun.  And that’s not something I want to get into right now.  But it shows how faulty our ideas can be when we have limited access. 

In imagining the beauty of Montana, I didn’t have clear predictions about the people.  And because I lean discernment, and sometimes criticism, yesterday I just began measuring myself against the residents of Hamilton.  Troy moved here six years ago to be a Sous Chef in a big hotel.  He’s insanely talented with food, but working kitchens is a hard job, and it just wore him down.  He told me another great story about working in Martha’s Vineyard, and swimming across the channel to get to work in the mornings.  He is brave and crazy in ways I sometimes aspire to.  In the past couple years he’s quit working in kitchens, lived in his car for a while, and generally redirected his life.  It’s what I’m trying to do.  He’s now eating a near paleo diet, he’s quit drinking, lost a ton of weight, mountain bikes and skis regularly.  He said life doesn’t make sense to him if he can’t shovel snow in winter.  Now he spends his days as a fly fishing river guide, and lives in a fifth wheel, off the grid.  He has inhabited a life I never even knew to exist.  What I mean is he’s happy, and in unpredictable ways.  

It made me wonder.  How do we create the lives we never knew existed?  How do we take the risks to make a home in the world that’s right for us?  I am no mountain biker, no fly fisherwoman, no true cowgirl or ski-bunny.  I love to dance, to perform, to read and write.  Could I live in Montana?  Could I be happy in a small town?  I am full of imagination, and sometimes inspiration strikes me like dusk headlights in my rearview. 

And it hit yesterday.  Troy told me where he’d take me if he wasn’t working, and I followed his suggestion to a double-lake day.  The morning took me to Painted Rock State Park, the most deserted lake I’ve visited after the putrid smelling Salton Sea.  I expected all rock, and had no idea there was a lake.  Forested mountains fell sharply towards the lake, and the rockface at the lake’s edge sang a flambouyant range of warm hues.  Hoopla and I paraded down to the one walkable area, a muddy grass covered beach with picnic tables behind.  There wasn’t much to do besides a tiny walk, so we took off up the 93.  The second lake, which I drove past twice before I found it, was Lake Como.  Apparently, it was named after Lake Cuomo in Italy by the first Ravelli family members in town.  This was the kind of lake I could go back to time and again.  Because of the smoke, and the inlets on the shore, I couldn’t see all sides of the lake.  But the mountains against it rose up like icebergs, so steep and majestic.  In the afternoon sun, they rimmed the lake in purples, indigos and greys.  It’s possible to walk all the way around the lake, and better yet, swim in it.  Hoopla and I clambered over pebbles and rocks into marshes and soft wooded areas.  She got wet and dirty, which healthy dogs (and people) should do from time to time.  There’s a campsite there, and I ran into a few other people, but that was far less relevant than the fact that I could have sat there for hours.  Not since I visited the eastern shore of Lake Michigan did I feel so awestruck by a body of water. 


I love it here.  But I’m working on loving myself better.  I think these things go together.  I don’t know how to stop putting myself in a lineup and asking who’s guilty, who’s innocent.  I don’t know if I belong, if this could be a home for me.  I do know that making choices in life is about values, about evaluating.  Right now, at this exact time, I’m glad I’m here, I’m happy to be who I am.



Where there's smoke... ~Pacific Northwest
 Looking back on the Columbia River from the Wild Horse Monument.  Smoke for days...

Looking back on the Columbia River from the Wild Horse Monument.  Smoke for days...

The day I arrived in Seattle, my mother kept saying there was a fire somewhere.  When I arrived, I was easily swept up into the house activities – she and her friend Terry were installing lights on the deck.  I passed along plastic clips that Terry nailed down.  I watered her throngs of potted plants.  The giant metallic containers are big enough to be bathtubs, and house Japanese maples, hibiscus, sweet peas and hydrangeas.  Hoopla and Tala, my mom’s German Shepherd, chased each other on the fake grass.  As we worked, every now and again, my mother would look out at the Puget Sound, and say, look at that smoke.  I saw nothing. 

We see what we want to see, and we see what our five senses take in.  I had just arrived, and I was happy to be spending time with people I love in a city I know well.  At six o’clock, with a glass of chardonnay in hand, and a suite of veggies in front of me to chop for our dinner, I saw comfort and ease.  I just didn’t see it.  That day.

My mom moved from Madison Park to West Seattle about five years ago.  She wanted a water view, and absolutely found it.  Her house sits high on a hill, and the backyard looks East over the Puget Sound.  On clear days it’s easy to see the ferries scooting along between Fountleroy, Blake Island, or Whidbey.  The Olympics cut the sky with a jagged edge behind the water, and sunsets are always magical. 

The next morning, before I’d even poured my via coffee into hot water, my mother told me it was going to be a tough day – her eyes were burning.  I walked out on the deck to discover a swath of white where there should have been water, island forests and sky.  It was as if someone dripped water over a wet watercolor painting, and washed the image away.  We saw the houses below, and bits of the forest north and south, but the water blended into the sky, and everything between them was gone.  I saw the smoke before it affected me.  I was still fine. 

A bit of googling led us to discover that the smoke was caused by wildfires burning across British Columbia, Canada.  A wind had pulled the air south into our range, and the smoke would last a few days.  I only planned to stay in Seattle for a few days.

 Along the side of the I-90.

Along the side of the I-90.

For the bulk of my day yesterday I had a Kleenex glued to my upper lip.  If I could have timed my sneezing, I would have had an all day beatbox sneeze-snare.  It was only a couple weeks ago that I oozed through a horrible stomach flu in Los Angeles.  Last night when I checked into my Airbnb I was quick to bed.  My head hurt, I was wheezing, and I felt too stymied to explore.  When I woke up in my friend Amanda’s bed yesterday morning, my eyes felt raw and itchy.  I thought maybe it was her cat Olivia.  If not the cat, the smoke.  But by the time I arrived here in Hayden Idaho, I wondered if I wasn’t actually getting a cold. 

In the past couple days I’ve finally had enough time to work on some of the logistics of my journey.  Some of the places where I planned to stay are no longer feasible.  While it bums me out, I can’t get upset.  Friends and family have put me up for free, and it’s not easy for everyone to take in a guest traveling with a small dog.  So I’ve spent a lot of time hunting for campsites, hotels and perusing Airbnb.  It’s Sunday, and I don’t know where I’m sleeping this Friday.

The restlessness that felt like the seed of this adventure is still so strong here.  I have felt like there is something amazing just around the corner.  I’ve been blessed enough to find that to be true – whether it’s a lake I didn’t know to expect, a snow capped mountain, a field of sunflowers stretching as far as the horizon.  But I’ve also felt uncertain about what I’m doing.  Today I’ve felt a clinginess like codependency – but to nothing in particular.  As the summer weans into fall, I am thinking about school, about endings.  I am maybe halfway through my journey, if even that, but I keep looking forward.  What am I going to do when this is all over? What will last?  What is it I’m looking for that I didn’t have before? 

At Teachers College Columbia, I learned a pedagogical theory called Backwards Design.  It’s more or less goal setting – before planning the activities, texts, and assessments for a school unit, you decide what you want your students to take away from the experience.  In teacher jargon, we often write, “Students will be able to” do this that or the other.  And then, when you know where you want the kids to learn, you plan the trip.  Or, I guess the unit. 

I know I plan to arrive in New York City in a few weeks.  I know I plan to arrive in Hamilton Montana tonight.  But I don’t know where I plan to arrive in winter.  I left in June knowing only that I had to hit the road.  I had a general plan of places I wanted to go, people I wanted to see.  I had faith in the process of discovery.  I felt, and feel, called.  But it’s not consistent.  And to trust a voice in my gut with such unspecific direction is hard.  Am I just insane? 

No.  I’m not.  But doubt works on me like this smoke in the air.  It appears at first from somewhere you can’t identify.  Sometimes you find it, sometimes you don’t.  It’s insidious, and before you know it, you’re breathing shallow, scratching your skin, trying to push something out that you never owned to begin with. 

Through my travels, I’ve also been participating in an online course run by Gabby Bernstein called Spirit Junkies.  The course is about spiritual growth, and becoming a teacher in your own right.  Lately, I have been crafting my higher power statement.  But in the course, it became clear that some of us just don’t know how to name or identify what a higher power is.  We grow up in churches that damage us, or ping-ponging between our parents’ faith systems and get lost.  Is god within us?  Outside of us?  Both? 

To change my life this much, quit a secure job, move out of a beautiful house, leave the people I love, I had to trust so hard in myself.  Or my higher power.  It doesn’t mean I don’t doubt it often.  Falling out of faith or health makes us appreciate it more. 

I do believe there is an infinite power within and around everything in our world.  Maybe it’s a desert goddess, a biblical god, Jesus, Buddha, or Amma.  Maybe the stars guide us more than we know, maybe it’s just quantum entanglement, and there is a parallel soul in the world so attached to us that we can’t even identify the force of our movements.  But when I fall into smoke, into doubt, I have to remember that this force is so powerful that any name or concept I offer is less than succinct.  It is creative and life giving.  It is trustworthy, generous, and gentle.  It is available.  We are each called in different ways to grow and love through this amazing force, and once we say yes we will be pummeled with miracles. 

I wanted to write about smoke and doubt, and I suppose I ended up writing about divine fire.  Not a bad diversion. 

Where Faith Begins: Love ~ A wedding in the woods of San Mateo
 Sameba, or Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbililsi.  It's immensity is hard to guage in the shot, but this Georgan Orthadox Church is visible from everywhere in the city.  Also, in case it's confusing, it is NOT where my friends were married.  

Sameba, or Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbililsi.  It's immensity is hard to guage in the shot, but this Georgan Orthadox Church is visible from everywhere in the city.  Also, in case it's confusing, it is NOT where my friends were married.  

I wonder if god needs our love as much as we need god’s love.  I know it matters greatly who we call god, what we name god, how we understand god.  For me that’s part of why I’m on the road.  I want to know better, who, what, how is god?  How can I do right by the greatest thing in the universe, the universe itself?  I could spend some time asking about the name(s) of god—but that’s for another time. 

What I do know is that there is a wave of love that comes over me sometimes, a sweep of relief that arrives when I feel like a waterballoon about to burst.  That knowing and trust is for me, what I call god.  It is more than me, but still me.  I need that love. 

Yesterday I went to a post-wedding BBQ in San Mateo for my friends Aaron and Jenny.  They married a few weeks prior in a small gathering, and this was the big celebration to share their love and commitment with friends.  The forest area where they shared vows, again, with a few fun changes, was a warm little alcove of the park.  I thought I was in the wrong spot at first, since there were horses tied up near the long tables filled with food.  But I was mistaken, and it turned out to be apropos, as the icon of a double headed rainbow unicorn was all over their schwag.  I had planned my trip back through the Bay Area in part to get here.  But as I drove up, I had a seed of fear in my gut that I’d feel uncomfortable or want to leave early. 

It was about five years ago when I met Aaron at Wild Side West.  We met through Kitta, my old roommate turned friend.  Early in our friendship he left me a fake voicemail, pretending to be an insurance agent with important news for me.  Once I figured out the joke, I knew we’d be friends for a long time.  Since then, he has cracked me up, listened to my sob stories, and overall served as a great inspiration.  He quit his teaching job two years ago to be a full time artist.  As an illustrator, painter and designer in San Francisco, he sells work out of Goforaloop gallery, and on his own, he teaches young artists how to hone their craft.  His girlfriend-now-wife Jenny was living out of town when we first met.  But Jenny, I soon discovered, was just as quirky and fun as him.  This was my dream.  Art & Love. 

Over the years, I have loved teaching, but not in the capacity I was working, not through grammar quizzes and thousands of lit analysis essays on Catcher in the Rye.  When I was a little girl, I didn’t dream about wedding dresses, about being a teacher.  I dreamt about being an artist, about belonging to a community of people changing the world with beauty with magic.  And more so than ever, after coming back from Georgia and that writing workshop, I know that when I write poems, and to an extent, these blog posts, there is a discovery inherent that feels like prayer.  Curriculum was fun, but it couldn’t uncork the ambrosia I knew lived inside me.  At my Airbnb in Georgia, I sat over one poem for hours, and I felt like I was just at the verge of figuring out what I wanted to say.  I felt like every other line had a soft promise of revision; it was like the computer game I played in the ‘80s, Chronos Quest.  I love words, sometimes too much.  But I wanted to be an artist to funnel and share the insights I felt so lucky to catch.  I wanted art to be the record of the growth and love in my life.  I’m still aiming for that. 

But it’s a mess.  No one person grows in a single direction.  At one time a guilty pleasure of mine was watching the show Millionnaire Matchmaker.  I loved how Patti Stanger had a short clear assessment for the issues of each client.  She diagnosed people as Mr/s. Cuffington—a control freak who “cuffs” everything about their partner; Plumpty dumpty women who refused to work on health and body, and of course, Party boys who cared more about their male friends than any woman they could try to “buy.”  But growth is multi-faceted, and no one has only one issue. 

I have had more of a whack-a-mole experience with my problems; one goes away, and another crops up just as fast.  I open up too quickly, I decide I don’t need a partner, I focus on one, I focus on three, I build communication and trust with the unavailable, I get intimidated with men who actually line up with my goals, I run circles around the powerful who are more concerned with work, and I get judgy of the unemployed dreamers who make me laugh.  We are not cartoons, and our hearts don’t work in cartoon ways.  This is why I’m so happy that Aaron an Jenny found one another. 

Love is the hardest word in the English language to define.  But it’s also the main thing that keeps us alive.  I know I have been traveling for six weeks, and I’ve fallen a little in love with six men and at least one woman.  That’s for another post.  The point is that I have always dreamed making art would unify the disparate.  I have put faith in the fact that sitting down and working through words would deliver me to someplace clear.  I still believe it, and I thank you, dear reader, for bearing with me while I figure out what that clear thing is. 

So, back to the original point, does god need our love as much as we need hers?  At Aaron & Jenny’s wedding, I ambled through casual acquaintances, and spent a ton of time catching up with Kitta.  But a couple hours into it I ended up talking to Teddy and Susana.  Teddy is a writer and artist who told me early on that he was born into the Unification Church, or what he called the Moonies.  This led us down a path weighing the actual search for faith against the mumbo-jumbo cults some people sell. 

I hadn’t seen Susanna since New Year’s, when we sat in a circle at Aaron’s house and shared our resolutions & intentions.  I already knew at the year’s dawn that I wanted to go to the desert, I just didn’t know how I’d make it happen.  A week after we met, Susana texted me a photo of Sunset Magazine’s Joshua Tree issue, and the plan rolled into action.

But in the time since, I’ve changed so much.  I sit now in a cheap-o dog-friendly hotel near Eugene.  I dropped off my passport at the Egyptian Consulate last week to get my visa.  I have begun blogging in this digital corner of the world.  When I named my desire to share my story more, Teddy asked about the niche factor of my blog.  I’m not in marketing, so I valued the question.  And what tumbled out of my mouth was easy, and not exactly what I’ve been writing about: faith. 

Already by last May, I had planned a trip to Egypt to study with an Egyptian Goddess priestess, and a trip to Istanbul to investigate how Islam and Christianity could continue swapping arms of power from the beginning.  I had dreams of getting to India (and terror about the foods there), and Ancient Greece to visit their temples and learn about their faith and approaches to god.  It wasn’t entirely clear, and still isn’t, but I seem to be called to the places where the first faiths were born.  Maybe if I learn the ways to love the god, just maybe, something will unify.  Maybe I will find a way to love myself better, or let myself be loved by one human being the way Aaron and Jenny have. 

Alexandra RobertiComment