Monday, November 28, 2011

Monsters Under My Bed

Monday, Boss and I went to the Smithsonian in the morning, and she left to catch an early flight and I had the rest of the day to myself before catching the last flight home. I picked up a bicycle, and set off toward the river with the intent of crossing over and visiting Arlington National & those sights. Somehow I ended up on the freeway on said rented bicycle, being honked at by cabbies while I frantically pedaled uphill... A series of wrong turns later, I was able to jump off near the Jefferson memorial, unscathed - but a little rattled. I made it across to Lady Bird Johnson park just as it began to rain, and was about a mile into the park when it dawned on me that I was nowhere near a warm, dry place. I panicked, the park was eerily empty and hauntingly beautiful... the maples were all clinging to the last golden leaves, a stark contrast to the bright green grass and emerald fingers of weeping willows. I stood under one of them and parked the bike for a few minutes and got the distinct feeling I was being watched from the overcast hill beyond. I haven't been uneasy like this for a long time, in the city, I'm normally unafraid to be alone because even walking down the street, you aren't isolated. It was just me and whomever lurked in the shadows for a good ways in either direction, and I was already pooped from the freeway fiasco, so I couldn't outrun someone if I needed to...

It's a funny thing, fear... twisting reality into your enemy by transforming what you know to be true into a distorted reflection. You might 'know' the odds of a stranger hiding in the woods of a park in the nation's capital are small, much smaller than the chances you would have been mugged walking through the downtown park you were in the night before, but you aren't able to believe there is no danger. Around every bend of the bike trail, I braced myself for an attacker, acutely aware of noises and listening through the rain for any sign that I was not alone. When I experience this kind of fear, I feel like I'm seeing just past the point that my human body should see... like there is a parallel universe somewhere in which another 'me' rides through lady bird park and gets brutally assaulted, and just never returns home. No one even knows I'm here. This fear is the same reason I don't like heights, because when I'm on top of a building and look over the edge, some barely resistible force tells me to jump. I don't want to die, I just feel very close to death sometimes. That's scary. The difference between the trick my brain plays on a tall building and the trick it was playing in the park is that I'm not in control, I can't just back down off the ledge... I'm way the hell out in this park.

A lady on roller blades went whizzing past me just before I got up to the bridge from the park to Rosslyn. I was close to civilization again, and the freeway buzzed beneath me. On the bridge, there are a couple switchbacks and a sharp turn... I walked the heavy rental bike up (at this point my little detour had increased my ride to about 20 miles for the day!) As I turned the last corner, a homeless man stood in the middle of the path. He stood a foot taller than me, with a fierce gaze fixed right on my exhausted face. He had a vacant expression, and seemed incoherent except for his eyes, locked on mine. I choked back a scream with all the power I could find in my throat, but I'm pretty sure a little of it slipped past to my lips because the rest of his body awakened and started moving toward me. I'm not afraid of bums, I speak 'schizophrenic' pretty fluently and we usually chat. This guy was different, he was the embodiment of the fear I had just worked up in the park, and I was the object of his predation whether he intended harm or not.

He took a few steps toward me, and I tried not to run the other way... miraculously I found my feet heading towards him instead, with every fiber of my being screaming at them, FEET!!! Stop right this instant! You're going to get us kidnapped by a hobo! We were already close enough that I couldn't get away. I was going to have to fight if this guy was hostile. He was humming some tune, off-key. I stepped right, and he countered by stepping left to stay right in my path. I wanted to throw up. I'ts bad enough to know your fear is irrational, but it's much worse when that fear is proved to be rational, alive and headed toward you. By stepping back in front of me, this guy had just told me I wasn't in his way, I was his destination. Several options went through my mind in the few seconds that followed. I could try to run and likely make it 20 yards before he caught me. I could jump over the railing and chance surviving the 15 foot fall next to a busy freeway. I could try to hurt him enough to make a break for it on the bike. He got closer and closer, and he cracked the zombie expression to say something. Here it is, I thought. He's going to tell me to keep my mouth shut and come with him.

"Begging your pardon, miss..." said a lilting Irish accent. "I don't suppose you have a light?" I stopped and stood still, trying to make sense of the voice that I swear had just come from the bum's mouth. I stammered out a "What?" and he repeated what he'd just said. "Got a light?" Here I am, ready to destroy this guy's testicles if necessary, and he's just a poorly-prepared smoker. What a freak show I am... lathering myself up into a frenzy because I feel like I'm being watched, and then nearly assaulting an innocent person myself. I'm still not sure he's innocent, so I told him I didn't have a light but that I saw someone smoking just down the hill, if he'd hurry he might catch them... and I pedaled off as fast as I could muster.

I suppose fear is another one of those things that you manufacture, if I visualize a creeper watching me in the woods, inevitably, I'll come across a creeper in those woods.

After that, my nerves were toast. I spent the next few hours looking over my shoulder - in the metro station, at the coffee shop, in the airport. Not even a glass of wine at Northside Social could shake the feeling. In retrospect, I needed some alone time after a week full of human interaction, and the park was a great place to be lost. Even if you need to be lost for a little while though, while you can escape humans and responsibilities for a little while, you can't get away from yourself. Without other people around, my mind was free to conjure up something really evil.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Capital Bikeshare

I have to say, Washington DC is not on my list of travel destinations when I'm planning my downtime... But this weekend, it did not disappoint.

I've been trying to heal up blisters from my October Vegas trip for way too long, nonetheless Saturday we walked from our hotel to the memorials and literally all day long. On the way home, I saw a Capital Bikeshare station and looked them up. What a brilliant idea, to put bicycles everywhere for people to use, even better - people actually use them!

The premise is that you pick up a bicycle at a station, pay a fee for a period of use, and then depending on how long you use the bicycle, a usage fee... most of the time its free. (More on the usage of the word 'its' to come, it's my new pet peeve) The bikes are 3-speed hybrids with a shelf on the front that you can bungee a bag to, and all of the ones I rented were in excellent shape, clean and surprisingly comfortable. The first day, we rode from our hotel down to the memorials and out to eat. I was really impressed with how easy the stations are to use, how many there are - plus there is an app called 'Spotcycle' that shows you the stations where you can pick up or dock your bike, and how many are available there. If you create an account, you can even get turn by turn directions to your destination. The app shows you stations located in DC, Boston and Minneapolis (and elsewhere around the world) and will be expanding to include other pedal-friendly cities soon.

On my Monday cycle trip of DC, I went from city center to the museums... then went across the river and found Lady Bird Johnson park. I took a few unintentional detours, one of the freeway, another taking me several miles out of the way - and all culminating in a 20-mile ride around the DC metro area. Lady Bird park was beautiful, the weeping willows and waning maples were beautiful enough to slow my ride way down. The path was well maintained, trailing along the Potomac up to Arlington and I passed the time by enjoying the scenery. Checking the spotcycle app, I realized the nearest return station was a good ways away, so I headed there to hang up my tired legs instead of visiting Arlington National Cemetery. I'll have to visit another time. Once in Arlington, I rested on the Metro and rode over to Clarendon for a glass of wine.

By the time I was done, I had ridden or walked all day, had a plane to catch and was out of gas... also, it had turned cold and rainy and my whole being echoed with the pavement I'd knocked myself against for days. As tired as I was, if I go back to DC, I'll sooner rent a bicycle and ride around than ride the Metro, because the Metro doesn't go to Lady Bird Johnson park, there are no weeping willows in the station, and you'd miss a whole lot of the city besides those things if you didn't take the ride I did on Monday.

I never mean to get lost - in fact I pride myself on being an excellent navigator, but sometimes your soul just reaches up out of your shoulders and pushes you the 'wrong' direction, and next thing you know, you're lost. 'Lost' isn't always a bad thing... sometimes all you need is to get lost enough that you look up from your map, see beautiful scenery, and stop worrying about where you're going... and believe in what you see. I know I needed to get lost on Monday so that I could enjoy the breathtaking view of DC properly. Remind yourself, 'Self - it's not about I'm you're going, it's about where I am.'

Tolkien was so utterly right when he said 'Not all who wander are lost.' Wander with me:

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Genocide Smells A Little Too Familiar

I've been in Washington D.C. for a few days, but if I don't get today out on a piece of paper, I'm going to erupt into flames... burned from the inside out by a day so intense it threatens me even after it's over. I've always felt compelled to visit the holocaust memorial museum, but was also afraid to witness what I knew would be a really hard sight to behold.

I know we've talked about my relationship with my sense of smell. If we haven't, I have a super-sniffer. I smell things with my entire being, and that sometimes is a wonderful thing, sometimes, it's dismal and oppressive. There are a few smells at the holocaust museum that I need to tell you about, because they angled themselves between my soul and my spine all afternoon, working bony fingers inbetween what's comfortable and what is real.

The first smell I noticed happened on the initial floor of the museum, the top floor. There is a three-story tower of photos that encompasses the life's work of a photographer in Poland, who spent 60 years photographing the residents of this small Jewish community. The photos are incredibly warm and striking, he had a keen eye for beauty and captured subjects in an almost supernatural way. This collection from their shtetl represents human extinction, on a scale I can't even comprehend... I posted a sad diatribe on facebook once about the loss of the african white rhino, but how can I possibly make sense of an entire community of humans that no longer exist, except in this 200 square foot column of space - on display for public strangers. Extinction!! This tower of photos smells like metallic photo chemicals and time, distinctly sterile and industrial, the opposite of my grandmother's photo drawer, which contained familiar faces and a comforting dusty air.

The next surprise in the museum was in the railcar they have suspended above some tracks in the second section. The museum's hallway snakes through this railcar after a display of the concentration camp barracks, and I was suddenly faced with the kind of fear the displaced must have felt. The car is a small wooden structure, with no windows and no lights, an empty dark hole on wheels that carried frightened animals to their last stop. The smell is the hardest of the day to describe... simultaneously expected and unexpected. I knew it would smell like death, but thought it would be more of a 'rotting flesh' death smell than the 'lost hope' death smell that actually exists here. It's a suffocating mix of musty wood and despair, combined with the choking feeling that only confined darkness can pull over you. I forced myself out of this blind with a start, because if I stood there and breathed that place in any longer, one of the poor souls who rode that train would certainly occupy my spirit while it was consumed in darkness.

After some sobering images of life in a death camp, we came across a room full of confiscated shoes. Until this point, most of the museum had been photos and reproductions of actual holocaust artifacts, but when we turned a corner, we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by the cast-off footwear of the innocent dead. The scale of the event was large enough that the size of the exhibit didn't shock me, it was the smell as I entered the room that consumed me. Shoes smell the same, regardless of race, money or circumstances. Feet just generally smell bad, especially if they're shoved in leather shoes for too long. It's obvious to me that these humans were the same as me, they had similar struggles with themselves and others, and their feet struck the ground in awkward bipedal locomotion. How could the Nazis regard these people as inferior when the fuhrer's boots smelled the same? Feet always smell like a slow death, damp leather, gravity and time. 65 years later, I may never again smell dirty old shoes without thinking about this room full of dead people's shoes. I don't know how many pairs are in there, but I can tell you from personal experience that it takes a whole lot more of something to fill a volume like a room than you think... once I filled my mom's tiny office to about 4 feet high with balloons and it took me an entire weekend of blowing them up. The number of shoes it must have taken to fill the first 3 feet of this gigantic room is staggeringly large. I had to get going when suddenly I imagined the same number of faces watching me behold the last things to touch their feet.

After a posthumous effort by the museum to end the collection on a hopeful thought, we were expelled into the Hall of Rememberance, a comforting, however vacuous, vestibule at the end. The room felt warm and cozy, as hundreds of votive candles flickered around the perimeter. One large flame burns in the center. This light is accompanied by a particular smell, but what flooded my lungs was a palpable feeling of love. It was as if the combination of the many flames, ambient light, and cool marble, combined with the solemn reverance felt by the museumgoers paying respect was more prominent than oxygen and I was left breathless and spinning in this room. It wasn't until I exhaled after each breath that I smelled spent natural gas and the sulphur of matches. You never consider what started a fire when you come across its ashes, just the smell of consequences. Today I didn't inhale the spark that began a fire and burned up 6 million people, I was smelling the countless millions who they have reached toward from the grave, pleading for us to avoid the mistakes of the past.

Fortunately the sunset is as intense as the emotions of this place. This lasted about 45 minutes last night as we walked the monuments. Magic.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Losing Things.

If you spend any time around me, you've probably seen my jade necklace, I wear it pretty often. It belonged to my grandmother (Betty) and is the only piece of her that I still have. I'm not a 'things' person, so when she passed and I helped my mom go through her things and put them away, I didn't take anything home - except this necklace. It's a red panda, and the color of the stone is a beautiful milky opacity. I find myself touching it during the day when I wear it, rubbing the smooth stone under my fingernail and feeling grounded in the earth, like a little calmness mascot around my neck.
I remember putting it on yesterday morning in my hurry, and yesterday's afternoon was pretty physical, tearing down the classroom and preparing for a practical round today that required me to move a lot of equipment... I know that the necklace was not around my neck last night because Reese and I took a photo. Well, I woke up a little late, and had packed some last night... but I realized the necklace was gone and spent the entire hour I had to get ready for work, frantically searching for the necklace. I racked my brain to retrace my steps yesterday. I probably covered the entire lab when I was prepping the room, so the places it could have fallen off are vast. The chain has one little sharp bit in the clasp, and I've always worried that it would break and I'd lose the irreplaceable pendant forever.

I like to think I live in the moment... enjoying this second is a special freedom that I allow myself. But this morning, when the necklace was gone, I chastised myself for wearing something I love so much and subjecting myself to the constant risk of losing it. I've told you before that my mom has this serigraph, done by Erte, that she won't hang in her house because it's so precious to her she doesn't want anything to happen to it (fire, theft, damage, etc)... I don't want to be that person, so I wear my little firefox often and enjoy it, and just hope that my subtle body can warn me if I'm endangering the last piece of Betty that I have - except for my cheekbones. I have dropped it before and physically felt it leave my energy space as a wave of panic washed over me. I was being overwhelmed by this panic now.

At this point, I've got to brush my teeth and pack up my suitcase so I won't hold everyone up, so I made one more sweep through the room and went downstairs heartbroken.

The last day of this program is pretty intensive, I do face-to-face evaluations all day. And now all I can think of is that my worst fears are realized, by living so 'in-the-moment', I've carelessly misplaced a necklace that I'll never find again. Crushing. The girls have been very supportive, helping me look around the lab, and thinking positive thoughts, Boss is really big on the power of positivity for helping you find/save/survive things. I dismantled my purse and work bag, and still no necklace.

A few hours into the day, hope started to creep back in. I called the hotel and left the housekeeper my number. I started letting myself off the hook a little and trying not to be so sick about it. I resolved that if I never see it again, it has made me very happy for the 7 years I've worn it. Countless compliments and polite conversations with folks in the supermarket line began because of the little panda. I used it as an amulet to beauty and finery, and used it as a touchstone for the grace Betty was known for.

I had spilled a bottle of water on my work bag this morning, and finally had enough strength to clean it up, so I took out the contents of the front pocket, all of which were soaked. My index cards were all ruined, my epipen was full of water and my jewerly bag was dripping. I emptied the contents on my desk, and among a tangle of necklaces and earrings, the little jade panda swam out of the mess. I have to learn to trust my process. I shouldn't have second-guessed my decision to wear it, I should have acknowledged its absence and been grateful for my time spent wearing it. And I should have looked in the damn jewelry bag first. It wasn't until I was reminded that it's a good thing to live in the moment that I was able to return to reality.
Doing a ton of yoga requires an adjustment period, where you bring up restlessness and 'junk' hanging out in your body. Until I can align myself properly to deal with stress, I'm kind of a mess. Opening your hips and lower back brings up relationship problems, opening your knees - the ego, opening toes and feet - problems with details. I just have to acknowledge this shit as it comes up, and let it go. I can't spend a beautiful Friday morning mourning the loss of something that isn't even lost. There's always hope.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My Ears are Beautiful

I worry about the silliest things.

My father has always been self-conscious about his ears. They're perfectly reasonable ears, and don't stick out too far when he has his usual haircut, and I never would have given them a second thought until he told me that he didn't like them. He felt like Dumbo growing up.

I have what I feel to be abnormally small ears. Some might regard them as dainty or cute, but I feel like they are oddly small compared to my skull, and that they should be constantly covered in hair. Exposing them is uncomfortable because I feel like they make me look too elvish and pointy.

In the grand scheme of things, however, I'm sure they are very regular and 'normal'.

We can be so silly about our bodies.

Surviving the Self.

Some days I am fueled by sheer passion, and scrape enough energy off the soles of my shoes to bounce past life. Some days it is hard only to exist, nevertheless enjoy my existence. I've written every day now for a little while, and some things end up on the blog, some things end up in the trash... victims of my low-energy reality of late. Compelling myself to write and do yoga each day for a prescribed period has reminded me of some important life lessons that laziness allows me to forget. True discipline is the best teacher. I learn slowly, obey utterly and depend entirely on it for certain revelations. Stillness, patience, endurance, tolerance, grace, and wisdom are a few that if I possess any characteristic similar, it's because of discipline.

Ask yourself what you've done for 'you' lately. You might answer that you've painted your toenails, or bought yourself a gift, or even allowed yourself some downtime. I am the kind of person who must punish themselves to feel worthy of enjoying life. If I can feel that I've survived something, it's the most satisfying feeling. I wanted to become a vegetarian, and instead of phasing the meat out slowly, I went cold turkey to attach a little suffering to my choice. I learn better and BELIEVE more if I suffer.

How is it, then, that I enjoy suffering so much when it is so unpleasant? I like to conquer. I want to feel like my task was a feat and that I survived some kind of adversity to get to the finish line. I like to beat 'me'. I'm ultra-competitive with only myself, no one else.

Self-flagellation isn't for everyone. Victims upset me. When you battle an adversary as evil as yourself, you must have a certain character to fight honorably. Constant level-setting and admittance of weakness is a must. Humility is more valuable than winning... so I admire people who can irreverently admit self-defeat. I got too drunk last night and that's why I was late. I forgot to do something, and it's terrible, and I'm really sorry... but I'm not going to overpunish myself. I fell short. I didn't. I can't. and all of those things are just fine, given the appropriate situation. If you endeavor to regulate your own pain, you must be a keen divinator of appropriate punishment. I think this is the pearl you glean from suffering, actually, how to appropriate the suffering of life.

The older I get, the quicker and more accurately I judge right and wrong. It's a thankful consequence of living through plenty of decisions, making some bad ones, punishing myself more than anyone else, and eventually learning how to aim from the hip.

I made a personal commitment to make at least 1 hour a day for myself. It's such a staggering amount of time, I haven't mentioned it here because I don't want to disappoint you when I ultimately fail to have the self-respect and self-discipline that it takes. But the fact of the matter is I hold myself accountable, you don't get to decide what's appropriate punishment for me. I've done well thus far, 6 days in and I've given myself at least 40 minutes of yoga or meditation and at least 20 minutes writing - FOR ME, each day. It may not be productive in terms of blog posts or catching up on sleep, but I'm growing a little discipline out of it... I'm enjoying the suffering.
It would be unthinkable if I got 'sunk' now and became a victim myself, no matter how bad my day can be, being a victim of it is worse. Thanks for enduring the homily.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

It's that time again. Pumpkin.


Besides being my favorite diminutive term, it's a tasty plant food. And it comes around only once a year, making it a rare, unicorn-like food, akin to cotton candy and stadium hot dogs. (yes, at one time I ate meat and enjoyed the occasional stadium hot dog). Do yourself a favor this year, and cook your own pumpkin instead of buying that weird orange canned variety for your pie.

The problem with canned pumpkin is that it usually tastes like some kind of squash, covered in nutmeg and ginger. That's perfectly okay, except when your squashes start to blend together, pumpkin tasting like butternut... or worse - pumpkin tasting like sweet potato. Mushy vegetables have the tendency to blend together. This ambivalent flavor and texture can be cured with a little old-fashioned hard work. Cook your pumpkins yourself, then you can get the start-to-finish experience of pumpkin cookery.

How? well, you've never cooked your own pumpkin? Where to start? in the famous words of Lewis Carroll:
The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. "Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?" he asked.

"Begin at the beginning," the King said gravely, "and go on till you come to the end: then stop."

(Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 12)
I'll do exactly that. To begin cooking your pumpkin, choose a couple of pie pumpkins. They're the small ones that look especially cute and small, but not ornamentally small. Usually these fruits (yes, they're a fruit) are not small enough that they would fit in your hand, but are about a 2-pound object. To make any pumpkin recipe, you'll need pumpkin puree, which is what we'll make today. It can be frozen and used in plenty of recipes... I've made pies, rolls, muffins, ice cream, even pancakes with the pumpkin puree I harvest from these guys... just do it quick. You can freeze enough for a year, but the little cuties will only be in your supermarket for about a month. Whatever you do, don't try to make this recipe with a carving pumpkin. The rule is, if it's big enough to carve a face in, it's too big to bake a pie from. Nothing with a face tastes good (for me this is a universal rule, but you can still eat meat if you have mercy on pumpkins).

Okay, lets start by cleaning the pumpkins. Cut them in half.

After you have divided the fruits, scoop out the insides. If you're a fan of pepitas (pumpkin seeds), save the innards in a bowl of water. The water will allow the pumpkin flesh to drop away from the seeds and give you an easier time separating them.

Cut off the stems and discard. If you leave these on for baking, they'll smoke and just be in the way.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and wrap the cleaned halves in foil. You don't need to remove all of the stringy bits, but you do have to take out all the seeds.

Face down, lay the halves on a baking sheet. Be sure the foil covers the fruit completely so they don't burn. Pumpkins have a high sugar content, so any scorching will taste bad later.

Bake for an hour, then test the pumpkins. If you stab them with a fork, they should feel like a soft baked potato. Allow extra time if they are still firm.

After removing your little pumpkin halves from the oven, let them cool enough to handle. This should be at least 10 minutes. Then, grab a spoon and get to work... you'll want to scrape each half of it's flesh, taking care to get everything but the outer skin. Clean them like a baked potato, then discard the skins. The insides will yield enough flesh to make at least 3 cups pumpkin puree per fruit. Three cups is usually enough for one pie.

It helps to make crazy faces and noises during the cleaning process so others are not tempted to eat your pumpkin bounty. Growl if necessary to protect the hoard.

Finally, before using in your recipe - or freezing (pumpkin freezes extremely well and keeps for up to 6 months) puree your pumpkin in a blender or food processor. Most recipes call for a pureed pumpkin consistency, so I would measure it out in Ziploc bags before freezing so you have the right portions. There, all your family and friends will think you're a genius for using fresh pumpkin, plus it will taste better than any canned substitute ever. win-win.

If you like the seeds and want to toast them, turn up your oven to 425 degrees, and start with clean, dry pumpkin seeds. Spread them on a piece of foil and toss with a little olive oil and a generous amount of salt. Add chili powder if you're feeling saucy. Toast for 8 minutes, tossing once, and serve immediately or store in an airtight container.

Best therapy ever. Step 1 - chop up resistant large fruit. Step 2 - bake into oblivion. Step 3 - beat to a pulp in a blender and then freeze and forget it. Perfect stress reliever.

Pie recipe to follow. Namaste.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Veteran's Day

In honor of all veterans of U.S. armed service this week, a history lesson. The poppy has been the flower of Veteran's Day in the west because of a popular poem written in 1919, amid the poppy-covered battlefields and cemeteries of Flanders, Belgium. While the poppy is a symbol of those lost in the battles which created our honorable vet population, this poem speaks of their duty in a unique way. When I think of Veteran's day, I think of thanking the living for their service, but if you're a veteran of war, you probably thank those who passed the torch to you as well. Today, I am grateful for courageous men and women.
To all who have served:

In Flanders Fields by John McRae
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Monday, November 7, 2011

What Does OBL Have To Do With Grandma?

I wrote the following post six months ago, and left it in my drafts to allow some of the press to die down around the death of Osama Bin Laden. Since then, many dictators have been usurped by rebel forces. In a rare display of self-restraint, I have looked at it several times, asking myself if I had this viewpoint in a passionate reaction or if it truly was the way I feel. I rue the day when world politics are no longer this personal for me.


Ok, I'll admit it. I'm feeling guilty. The last two days have been strange, a kind of strange I haven't felt for nearly 10 years.

The US finally found Osama Bin Laden and killed him. That's the simple version. The more complicated version is that there are different truths to be found in that statement. OBL was executed. Assassinated. Neutralized. Depending on what symbols an American associates to OBL, their opinion of what happened Sunday changes. Most of the people I have personally talked to are more than just a little torn over the situation, as am I.

A few folks I know rejoiced when hearing the news. They heard that we have achieved a goal as a country and finally eradicated a terrorist mastermind. They have celebrated victory over OBL. That's the overwhelming response on Facebook this week. Go America! We did it! God bless America!

I'm not sure this is such a good thing. It's difficult for a young impressionable person to disagree with the cries of victory. Just like my generation had institutions like TV media to tell us what is socially acceptable, the millenial generation has institutions like Facebook to tell them how to react to shocking news. I've been told in the last two days that I would celebrate if I lost a loved one on 9/11, that OBL's death is worth celebrating and that I'm one of very few who feel otherwise. If I were an impressionable teen, that might be damaging to my confidence that what I think is right - for me.

All of us lost something on 9/11. We felt the loss as a people, not individuals. We lost security, freedom, and thousands of lives. We banded together and gave blood, made friends, grieved. What we felt then was compassion.

I learned about compassion from my grandmother. She had plenty of reasons to be angry in her life, and even a few opportunities to seek vengeance. She used these experiences to teach us compassion and respect for life, but even more important - integrity.

I have little doubt that OBL deserved to be brought to justice. Now, he'll have to answer for his crimes to his maker, not a judge. I'm ok with that. I'm also ok that our troops sent him there. There are casualties in war and he was not innocent. What I have a problem with is the celebration of vengeance. We cared deeply about the wounds of 9/11 because they were felt so far away, but for me - justice has to be equal. Why do we spend 10 years chasing after the death of a terrorist leader when we let Pol Pot get away with the genocide of 1.5 million Cambodians? Does one OBL equal 3000 souls lost to 9/11?

I'm uncomfortable with intolerance. Grandma also taught me to be tolerant, especially of those who hurt me, because they needed more from humanity. In her eyes, God was the ultimate judge of human behavior, and God would rather have a sinner turn toward the light and live than turn away and die (or be killed). If indeed we are shepherds, shouldn't we tend to this need?

I'm sad in any case, that death would be celebrated as if it were the best news on Earth. And saddened more so that Facebook is the morality barometer for the people making decisions around here. Sounds like groupthink to me. Vengeance should always be grieved, because it is a waste. The person who causes you pain will never feel it the way you do. Vengeance isn't the opposite of compassion, just the embodiment of hate.

Mind Taken by Coup

I talked at length with a good friend this weekend about being the commanding officer of my life. I'm what you might call a reluctant leader, one who in times of tension or unexpected circumstances, throws her foot down and decides what's best for the stakeholders. When the last minute details need to be attended, I'm the person who divides and conquers right up to the deadline - unless someone else is willing, in which case, I'm content to do my part and follow along.

Well what happens when the CO is on vacation? Or deathly ill? In business, there are checks and balances for this kind of occurrence. Advisers are briefed on any situation that might come up and need the CO's input or execution, and the authority to do is granted to those people. Well, when you're the de facto commander, let me tell you... this briefing is less than thorough.

I've been pretty sick before. Sick enough. But few things have successfully shut me down, and most of them have strangely happened during periods of already scheduled vacation time. I can't help but wonder what control the mind has over the immune system. It sometimes seems as if - in my life - my body has taken little breaks of its own when I had some time off in the works. I plan a week's staycation to reorganize: I get a bad cold... I take some time off to help a friend move: I get a kidney stone. It just seems like a pattern over the years that very rarely have I called in sick to work.

One of the unfortunate realities of the reluctant leader is a responsibility for others. It's ultimately why I make the executive decision, out of responsibility... I'm responsible. I have responsibility coming out of my eyeballs. I'm so responsible, I even dream about worrying. It's this responsibility that has me up late tonight, taking care of Bart while he endures the stomach virus I had all last week. I know the course of this bug all too well. The hardest thing for the reluctant leader to do is watch people suffer because of their decisions - or lack thereof. At some point, I will have the opportunity to alter the course of this disease by taking him to the ER for fluids, or I will choose to feed him pedialyte and hope he keeps them down. Seem like a rash choice? I was critically dehydrated by the same bug less than a week ago. Another hallmark of the reluctant leader - being able to spot signs early and act fast to prevent crisis. I wouldn't be rolling an ER visit at 2am around as an option if his symptoms didn't portend severe dehydration, and if we don't go soon, he might need a whole week to feel better.

Since he's sleeping, and needs the rest, let's talk more about this sick reluctant leader situation. I said that a real commanding officer would have minions to take care of duties in their stead, but there is no assigned person to help out with the reluctant leader's job... spouses who can't decide where to eat for dinner are left to either decide or not eat. You think I'm kidding, but this is someone's role in every relationship - to make sure the other eats. If the reluctant leader is missing from a family function, important details get missed, like photos with the great-grandparents. This week, while I was sick, nothing got done without someone else doing it. Thankfully, Bart is a patient human. He took care of me while I was mute for 36 hours in a fever-induced haze. Thanks, man... that's a real stand-up thing to do.

While I was unable to speak, I think my body was performing one of its shutdowns. I had no vacation time planned, but it seems I haven't taken very much lately, and it couldn't wait forever. The body took control, and shut my mind down - which was at once, paralyzing and freeing. There are few parts of the brain as powerful as the hypothalamus, which controls the body's most basic needs like hunger and thirst, but also body temperature, and consequently - fever. To imagine what effects this portion of the brain might have on your mind, the hypothalamus sits in the center of your skull, nestled at the center of your grey matter - command central. When command central is overwhelmed, plenty of executive decisions get 'overlooked'. This is why you have vivid dreams and hallucinations sometimes with a fever. In yoga, a similar experience is called a kundalini awakening, one where your energy (soul) tears away from your physical being and the participant is allowed to experience enlightenment. Throughout the centuries, natives of North America and other continents have taken hallucinogens to enhance consciousness or expand their minds. You probably don't consider that when you get sick, do you? Well neither do I, unless I'm sick enough to hallucinate meeting Jimmy Carter and Diane Ross at the same party... then all bets are off. I talked to grandma, blew things up with atomic bombs, at one point I think I even visited space. A nice vacation, despite the dehydrative consequences. All the while, I couldn't help but ponder from my astral view, "Am I experiencing this more in my mind than in my body? Body, how dare you shut the operation down with no warning! Who will run the show?" I asked a few questions of the universe while I was up there, and got some lovely answers, so much so that I almost didn't want to return to normal. My fever broke on Thursday night, and though still very sick, I was in a delightful mood, having spent the last few days on vacation from myself.

What I can tell you from this week's mandatory body evacuation is that when I woke up from my crazy dreams, the reluctant leader responsibilities were still there. But I'm looking at those people that I decide for in a little better perspective. Sometimes you have to take a few steps back from your life, whether you know it or not, and even if you're the leader, every once in a while your body vetoes your mind. Control is relative, and in some instances, optional.