A Journey of 23 Years

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November 16th – a day of significance – this one marking the 23rd anniversary of my spinal fusion surgery. For at least the first decade, I referred to this day as my re-birthday. Though I may not always outwardly express it now, in some, peripheral sense, I'll always think of it that way. A version of my self ceased to be that day – a new iteration took her place. 

In some ways, my acknowledgement of this day's significance has been inaccurate. While it represents the day that my physical body was modified in 'permanent' ways that have affected me greatly, assigning such importance to that fact alone fails to recognize how much work came before and after. However obvious the pivot of undergoing such a major procedure, when considered alongside the much harder to define inner parallels, the physical shift seems glaringly simple – devoid of the same depth of meaning inherent in its spiritual counterparts. 

In truth, the surgery was a sort of disruption – an earnest yet misguided attempt to correct a deeply rooted issue by external means. Which isn't to say that my decision to undergo surgical 'correction' was an act of cowardice or defeat. On the contrary – the journey I had to take to arrive at that place of resigned acceptance was decidedly arduous. For years, I had been so stubbornly opposed, so willfully certain of its futility, so doggedly determined to 'fix it myself.' And maybe all those doctors were wrong, anyway – maybe I was just supposed to be uniquely shaped.

It took a tremendous presence to listen through that stubborn voice, to hear beyond the thinking of my smallest, most proud self, to acknowledge how much worse my curvature was getting and quietly come to understand that – I am not my body – that, not so unlike a vehicle in need of extra attention, I simply traveled in a body that possessed challenges beyond my ability to fix on my own – that, allowing others to help me address those challenges – surgically or otherwise – did not make me 'spiritually inept'. Quite the opposite – cultivating a healthy, necessary detachment was the most 'evolved' choice then available to me. 

In that way, today will always be significant. It will always represent the first moment that I let go of my own ideas of 'rightness' and – from a place of sincere humility – chose to trust in something greater than I – in that intangible, universal wisdom I felt I'd tapped in to – that revolutionary epiphany that led me to calmly lay down beneath the surgeon's scalpel, without the slightest hint of resistance.

I could not have known then, the scope of the sacrifice I was making. Nor could I have predicted just how much I'd come to mourn the self I let go of that day. I had no way of seeing that far ahead. So, instead of tending to that invisible wound and allowing space for necessary grieving, I threw my attention in the opposite direction, skillfully convincing myself that the story of my twisted spine/self was a thing of the past – a moment to mark and remember rather than an ongoing narrative requiring careful attention. 

4 years post-op

In many ways, the metaphor of a rebirth is accurate. Post-surgery, I discovered a physical beauty in my shape that I'd previously been incapable of perceiving. I traded the baggy, skater girl clothes for garments that accentuated my unique curves rather than concealing them and I dared to say yes when a dear friend asked to photograph my undressed form. Through her images, something in my awareness of self was healed. If only that perception had truly penetrated beyond the physical. 

Still, this delicate, newfound notion that, perhaps...a body as damaged as mine could be lovely rather than shameful or grotesque – that, just maybe, I might even be considered sexy – this unfamiliar perspective allowed me to embrace my sensuality – to play with it, and even to flaunt it. After hiding for so long, the liberation of being seen and appreciated was intoxicating. So much so, that I became even more inclined to ignore those unacknowledged wounds. 

I'll say that I had a good run of it – those years of willful avoidance. It was, in a very real sense, like a second adolescence. I experienced a life that, finally, did not revolve around the central story of 'wrongness' that my scoliosis had come to represent. I had a blissful few years of NOT focusing on my troublesome physicality – of inhabiting my vehicle proudly, exploring its softer edges, being occasionally reckless in the exploration of my own boundaries as I toyed with promiscuity...silently relishing a kind of visibility that I'd never imagined I'd enjoy. 

I have evidence of those years – some fragments beautiful in their portrayal – some, awfully embarrassing – a broad spectrum that affords a retrospective clarity, allowing me to easily recall and marvel at my own, youthful fortitude. Through the eyes of others – at least superficially – my self-acceptance grew less tenuous. 

I bared my scar-etched skin to countless photographers, painters, artists. I allowed innumerable eyes to study and sketch the lines that define the shape of me – a shape that I had so sadly regretted for most of my life. As much as my present self recoils at the idea of being so vulnerable – to be, not only naked, but a willing object of artistic scrutiny and interpretation – I applaud the courage I embodied back then. I can see a genuine joy in my younger face – a comfortable grace. For a brief time, I enjoyed being in this body.

As such, today's anniversary still has meaning – it still marks the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. I still awake on this day and fall into a sort of melancholic reverie, tracing the paths I've taken since then – gingerly passing over each clumsy misstep – compassionately remembering each, seemingly miraculous recovery – quietly patting myself on the back for making it this far. 

It hasn't been easy. I've come to understand that those critical, post-surgical years were a missed opportunity. I should have had some kind of structured physical therapy. I should have done everything I could to support my remaining, unfused vertebrae. Perhaps then I might've avoided the extensive degeneration that now ails me. I can shake an angry fist at the sky, crying...'NO ONE TOLD ME!!' I can lament the lack of external care, the marked absence of experienced guidance or even the tiniest bit of advice as to how best to care for my changed body. And yet, I can rightfully blame no one but myself. 

More accurately....it is a blameless truth – simply the way it is/was. I cannot truly fault myself for not knowing – cannot fault the timing of my storylines nor the differences between then and now. I had no immediate access at my fingertips – no google nor facebook nor pinterest by which to search for others with similar stories – no easy way to research best practices – no warnings from others about what not to do. I was painfully alone in my journey and I did the best I could.

I'm not proud of how quiet I've been for most of the past 23 years, so hellbent on not appearing weak – so determined to prove (to whom, really?) that this story did not define me – wanting so much to believe that I could 'go it alone', that I might simply continue to bear the increasingly debilitating chronic pain in agonizing silence. I suppose the dam was bound to eventually break, which it did...four years ago, on my 19th re-birthday, when I publicly shared the image on the left (a composite self-portrait), including a candid confession about how much I hurt. 

Since then, I've let the difficulty of my struggle be known by more than just those closest to me. Allowing that outward shell to crumble, daring to expose the naked truth of my suffering, has been not so unlike those years of baring my flesh. No longer upholding a false 'okayness' has allowed me the space to relax into the depths of my pain – to breathe into all those aching parts of me – to sit with them long enough to hear past their incessant complaints and begin to understand the emotional wounds they represent. Little by little, I'm learning how to repair my deeply skewed sense of self – an endeavor I expect to be engaged in for the remainder of this life. 

So – in solidarity with my 19 year-old self and the unknowable sacrifices she made, I intentionally choose this day for other, meaningful occasions. Perhaps to magnify its importance – to ensure I continue this annual ritual of deep reflection – to encourage the increasingly exhausted parts of myself to keep going, no matter the pain and heaviness – despite the tired voice that begs me to just lay down and give up – to keep showing up and CHOOSING life...every...single...day. 

Two years ago, today, I received a tattoo – the inspired work of an artist named Kris Davidson – the purpose of which was not simply to adorn my skin, but to heal one of my deepest wounds through the act of receiving those inked lines – to repair the invisible damage done to my not-quite-3-year-old psyche, in the same moment my physical body was breaking. 

As he expertly pressed ink into beautiful lines, over sensitive scar and excruciating metal, I re-imagined my fall, visually repairing the ladder that broke beneath my tiny self all those years ago – repeatedly retelling the story with an alternate outcome – over and over and over again, feeling my tiny hands gripping that rung, now fortified by my willful imagination – letting go the rung and reaching for the edge of the roof – sensing the strength of that rung as my weight rested upon it, as I fearlessly pulled myself up and over, safely moving towards my siblings on the other end, rather than falling fatefully towards my brother on the ground. 

That story – the tale of how my body came to be so unfortunately twisted – is one for another day. Today....THIS DAY, belongs to its subsequent lines – to the girl who found an unlikely courage, daring to undergo an irreversible operation – trading a severely twisted yet flexible spine for a painfully fused one – choosing immobility and space for my lungs over continued shrinkage in height and the inability to breathe deeply. 

Today, I honor her strength – I recognize how far she's traveled – I breathe deep and thank her for returning my lungs to their full capacity. I forgive her years of pretense – her brief departure from feeling 'broken' – her understandable need to focus elsewhere for a while. I acknowledge the fierceness of her enduring spirit.

On this day...I do my best to remember that SHE...is ME. Her tenacity, which I find so admirable, still resides within me. However far away she may so often feel – for today, at least, I can hear her whispering at my center...gently cheering me on...

'...Keep breathing, Zippy. You've got this...'

I Stand With Standing Rock

Yesterday: A viral video from the day before repeatedly appears in my news feed. After scrolling past it for about the 30th time...I click play.

The scene unfolds and sounds of discord fill my ears. As I watch the ugly clash between uniformed men in riot gear and non-violent protestors, some clad in feathers, still singing prayers as ear-splitting sound cannons blare in the background – something in me breaks and I find myself sobbing uncontrollably, shaking as though I'm right there with them.

From a place of sincere humility, I'll admit that I've cultivated a kind of requisite numbness. It has been my only defense in the face of what feels like a swift global spiral towards chaos. I am painfully sensitive. I feel it all too deeply and it's paralyzing – the issues are too many, each one as significant as the next. I have a hard enough time making decisions about menial things in my daily life – choosing which blatant inequity to throw my wholehearted support behind feels impossible. Where does one even start?

It seems the chasm between those who give a shit about humanity – who care about this planet and all the lives it supports – and those who are motivated by rampant greed and narcissistic self-interest – has grown impossibly wide. For anyone with half a heart who is actually paying attention rather than being drawn into the well-crafted distractions presented by mainstream media, it is a whole lot of heartbreak to bear – day after day after day – with no apparent end in sight.

So – though I'm not the least bit proud of it, I've unknowingly built an inner barrier – an 'i-don't-wanna-hear-it' pressing of fingers to ears as I hum to myself – a selective, 'focus-only-on-what's-good' blurring of vision – attempting to drown out the cacophonous sound of it all.

But thisthis cannot be ignored

As I watch the surreal imbalance of response – gun-toting, self-important (white) extremists who occupied a wildlife refuge for a month are acquitted while peaceful (native) protestors in North Dakota are met with beatings, arrests, the killing of their horses and forceable ejection from land they rightfully own – my heart aches and my blood boils.

The story at Standing Rock has evolved far beyond a protest. No longer is this just about the right to clean water and an environmental disaster waiting to happen (which a pipeline surely is.) It has become a battle reminiscent of historical abuses – a dire human rights issue that deserves our attention. More accurately, it highlights a human rights issue that is so embedded in our national history, we fail to clearly recognize it.

It makes a certain kind of sense – considering the grave injustice upon which this country was originally founded – that our political climate would devolve into what it currently is. Strangely apropos that this bizarre clown show of an election would coincide with the largest gathering of indigenous people in more than 100 years – a banding together of 280 tribes, unified by their shared concern for the Earth they hold sacred – merging voices to protect the waters – speaking for future generations who cannot advocate for themselves. 

What a beautifully powerful occurrence that should give every one of us pause. 

If only we could humbly admit, as a nation, how horribly the indigenous people of this land have been treated for centuries, perhaps we'd eventually find some way towards internal harmony – however tenuous that journey might be – however unlikely it presently seems – no matter how disheartened and sick I feel as I watch from a helpless distance.

Yes – I AM ANGRY – and more than a bit terrified about where we are headed as a global family.

Rather than respectfully acknowledging what these tribes are trying to accomplish – FOR ALL OF US – we watch substanceless debates and discuss the absurdity of one orange-faced buffoon ad nauseam. How is it possible that the most important issue in our country today is routinely ignored by the media while they give generous airtime to a repugnant egomaniac EVERY.SINGLE.DAY?! I can't comprehend how our priorities have become so incredibly skewed.

Yet...I have to choose Hope over Fear.

I have to believe we are capable of more than this...that, somehow, we'll collectively WAKE UP and remember that we're all related – that we all face the same environmental collapse – towards which we are rapidly hurtling.

Instead of joining forces and sharing technology that might divert imminent disaster, we bicker like petty siblings over who gets the bigger slice of cake – who gets to be 'the boss' – who gets to step foot in 'our room'drawing imaginary lines, as though we can divide this planet into 'mine' and 'yours' – too damn self-involved to recognize the genuine threats we face as a species – too proud to admit that we've done this to ourselves, and only we can mitigate the damage we've caused.

Do I still feel paralyzed? Yes. Does stubborn pessimism creep in, suggesting that I'm incapable of effecting any kind of measurable change? Usually – it's a whole lot of bullshit to witness in a seemingly endless overlap of awful and bizarre and heartbreaking. 

Every now and then, however, I remember that every single one of us makes an impact. Whether we press the pillow against our ears, pretending it's not happening or doesn't affect us, or we step boldly into informed action, doing all we can to raise awareness and support our cause – we are either complicit in the wrong-doing or actively engaged in making it right. 

We are all responsible. • We are all affected. • WATER IS LIFE.

I don't claim to know how to fix this, nor do I understand how best to support those on the front lines at Standing Rock. I only know that I'm no longer numbing myself against the abrasive reality of what's happening RIGHT NOW. I'm letting it pierce me to my core – letting it settle deeply in me, however uncomfortable. 

I may not yet know how to meaningfully proceed, but I suspect this – pressing 'publish' – is, at the very least, a good place to begin.

 • #NoDAPL • #WaterIsLife • #StandWithStandingRock •

Update - Inspired to take action? Click here: How To Be An Effective Ally for Standing Rock - great resource for anyone considering heading to Standing Rock. Also clearly outlines best ways to offer support from afar. 

While there has been a considerable media blackout regarding this story, Lawrence O'Donnell has been paying attention. His thoughts are worth hearing. 

A moving piece by Lawrence that aired at the very beginning of the Standing Rock NoDAPL Protest – August 25th 2016 • click above image to view video •

A moving piece by Lawrence that aired at the very beginning of the Standing Rock NoDAPL Protest – August 25th 2016 • click above image to view video •

A second piece by Lawrence on The Last Word, after visiting Standing Rock – September 6th 2016 • click above image to view video • 

A second piece by Lawrence on The Last Word, after visiting Standing Rock – September 6th 2016
• click above image to view video • 

The present state of things, as conveyed by Mark Ruffalo on October 27th 2016 • click above image to view video •

The present state of things, as conveyed by Mark Ruffalo on October 27th 2016 • click above image to view video •

On Thursday October 27 military and militarized police attacked the Oceti Sakowin treaty camp. Weapons used by police included pepper spray, less-lethal rounds used at close range, batons, LRAD, and tazers. Unicorn Riot journalists were on the scene documenting the attack. For more information: www.unicornriot.ninja/?p=10476 To support independent media coverage of #NoDAPL events, please consider donating to Unicorn Riot via the link below: www.unicornriot.ninja/?page_id=211 Visit www.UnicornRiot.Ninja

What's In A Name?

That's a pretty big question for a gal with a decidedly big epithet.

ZIP•PO•RAH – three, whole syllables forming a combination of sounds not often strung together.

Add my first to middle and last, and you get the bounciest pattern that might've been penned by Dr. Seuss himself. I joke that my parents wanted your mouth to make every shape when you say it – I imagine one of those 'follow along' bouncing balls dancing over the letters – a little visual indicator of its rhythmic character. 

ZIP•PO•RAH•NA•OMI•LO•MAX

That's just the sound of it, never-mind the meaning and origin. It's a lot of name to live up to – a lot of information to repeat – each and every time I meet someone new.

As a child, and well into my teens, I was known simply as ZIP. Kids had a field day with it – how could you not? In classrooms full of names they'd all heard a dozen times before, mine was ripe for the pickin'. Weary of the teasing, at age 11, I tried on a different 'self', using my middle name instead. I thought it'd be safer, somehow, but it didn't last more than a year as I discovered that kids were just as creative with that one. So – ZIP LOMAX it was – for another few years, at least. 

At about 16, I began to understand and appreciate the gift of my name's individuality. At that age, as I grappled with youthful self-discovery, claiming my uniqueness felt important – and brave. 

ZIPPORAH sounded so mature. It felt significant and intriguing and full of promise – as though it belonged on a marquee – while ZIP had a strange finality. It sounded diminutive and flat and oddly empty – zip, zilch, zero. For a kid with her whole, unimaginable life ahead of her, the latter seemed an ill-choice of moniker, so I began insisting people call me by my full name. 

Somehow, I imagined 'growing up' would mean becoming a woman whose countenance and persona embodied the mystique of my given name – someone befitting such a unique mouthful of letters. I believed I had to 'grow into' it – to make myself so big in my accomplishments that I would feel worthy of the weight of it – that I had to be truly extraordinary to rightfully dress myself in the charming sound of it. 

Such a grandiose, adolescent idea, that – such an impossible standard to live up to. Not to say that I've failed, by any means, only that I recognize how hard I've been on myself – how unfairly I've admonished myself for not quite living up to my own inflated sense of who I might've become. 

The truth is – no one calls me ZIPPORAH. No matter how many times I introduce myself, people always seem to shorten it anyway. Ignoring that obvious fact, I've continued presenting myself as that person, hoping fake-it-til-you-make-it would find me eventually believing I was her. I've been traipsing around with this over-sized name, expecting myself to embody its remarkable fullness, wondering why I'm always tripping over myself, instead. 

Now – 5 days shy of 41, I finally get it – 'growing up' means letting go of all those outdated notions of who I'm supposed to be – softening into who I am – relaxing into what IS by daring to acknowledge that my most youthful, light-hearted self is, in fact, my most authentic.

All those years ago, when I was ZIP, the only one who called me ZIPPY was my big brother, Zed. It was an endearing exchange between us. We were the two z's – zippy and zeddy – or, zippyzoo and zeddyzoo, respectively. I'm not sure when everyone else began to call me that, too. I only know that, at some point, that sound became the one most commonly associated with me

It took me a while to see it, as often happens when you set your sights too high – you miss the thing that is right under your nose. I'm quite amused by my lengthy oversight – it's been there the whole time, cozily nestled halfway between ZIP and ZIPPORAH – just waiting for me to stop looking so far afield – knowing I'd eventually remember who I am. 

ZIPPY – sounds so whimsically alive – so playful and light – so alert and present.

Feels appropriate and effortless...an absolute perfect fit. 

Not so unlike Goldilocks and her third-time-charms – after a few ill-fitting tries – I've finally found my 'just right'.

 
 

postscript – I didn't intend to write such a revealing, personal essay – only to give a brief overview of why I've made the switch from zipporahlomax.com to the new, much more fitting zippylomax.com. Such is the way with writing – it often simply spills out, surprising me with its cadence and content. I suppose I had need of expressing these things. In fact, it is through the writing of these words that I truly came to understand my own journey with the subject matter.

Thank you for reading.  

The Sound of Me

It is perhaps a lesser known fact that I am a singer/songwriter. People recognize me as the one with the camera rather than the one with the voice. The truth is that music was and will always be my first love...specifically, music that comes from my own body...the sound of ME.

I'm fairly certain I was singing before I could talk...climbing trees and jungle gyms and letting my little girl stories spill out. It was my solace...a thing that was always accessible and, as the 5th of 6 children, also something that was uniquely my own. This piece of me was mine alone...not a hand-me-down (as sweet as those things were!) I suspect my siblings grew weary of my voice...and I know I exercised my tiny lungs in ways that were not so beautiful...but this lifelong relationship with my vocal chords has produced a voice that is relaxed, comfortable and familiar with itself.

It has picked up so many textures along the way...through classical training and the dynamic projection of performing arts and drama in my early teens...to several amateur band attempts in my late teens...to picking up guitar at 20 and fumbling my way through countless, nerve-wracking open mics while studying with renowned vocal coach, Raz Kennedy through my early 20s...this substantial piece of myself was a central focus for most of my life.

Then, caught up in life's unexpected turns, my voice fell silent for many years. I recall painfully realizing that most of those whom I then called close friends didn't even know that I had a voice, much less that I had once written songs...albeit overly profound and so very green.

I can't explain the why nor even really understand how it could be so, but nearly 9 years passed without a song coming through me. I quietly played other people's compositions, mostly just for myself, hidden away behind closed doors. That was my lifeline...and, I believe, in some very real ways, kept my spirit alive through the darkest part of my life thus far.

I began writing again just after Burning Man 2008, in response to the gentle coaxing of several dusty friends. Amazingly, I discovered that, all those years of relative silence had changed my voice for the better...as though it had been marinating, quietly gathering its strength, preparing to emerge again with a previously unknown vibrancy...more alive than ever...rich with authentic, human experience.

During my year in India and Nepal, the songs continued to spill forth, growing ever more light-hearted and lullaby-ish, picking up color and subtleties of movement learned through the study of classical Hindustani music.

Since my return in late 2010, only a handful of songs have birthed themselves through me and only a few of those remember themselves! I cannot simply decide to write a song...I can only show up, get out of the way and let them reveal themselves through the filter of my personal experience. They come on their own terms and, I am discovering, truly have their own personalities. I am realizing that they want to be heard, just as surely as the rest of us do.

They are not solely for me anymore, no longer simply the expression of my heart's truths, as they have been for most of my life. On the contrary, I am beginning to believe they are meant to be shared...to speak to those parts of others in empathetic ways that make them feel less alone. I have been selfish with them...releasing rough bits into the ethers at turns...playing hushed lullaby sessions for a trusted few....but hoarding them, really...keeping them safely hidden just beneath the surface...like tiny treasures I feared losing.

I have lent my voice as an instrument in support of other's beautiful music (Noelle HamptonAyla Nereo & Wildlight) and have occasionally collaborated with electronic producers (ill-esha: 'Wanderlust'), but generally, the music in me has remained a bit of a not-so-closely-guarded secret. Even those who have heard me sing harmonies don't always know that I write my own songs.

I think I'm ready for that to change.

Of late, I am feeling compelled to bring my music into clearer focus. I have this subtle feeling that it's time...my photography has held center stage for long enough now. Though it feels a little scary...my heart fluttering ever so slightly in its vulnerability...the time has come for me to share this significant part of myself more generously.

To that end, I made a (not so) small commitment to myself last night...to share my songs whenever the opportunity presents itself...to trust that, if I am feeing inspired or invited, it must mean there is someone nearby who has need of the sentiments these lullabies give voice to.

And that is what I believe my songs are...

...lullabies for waking...

Here then, humbly offered, is my newest 'baby'...recorded by me in my sweet basement room in Portland:

 'Hummingbird'

In gratitude, Zipporah

Snapshots in Ink: India (2010)

I spent autumn and winter of 2009 as well as almost all of 2010 traveling through India and Nepal. It changed me in ways I will never have words for. Most notably – as the months passed, my preference slowly shifted from camera to pen – my natural inclination more often choosing to archive what I observed using ballpoint pen rather than light.

Occasionally, I felt compelled to illustrate my thoughts – to attempt to convey esoteric concepts through the deliberate movement of my pen. In other moments, the organization of a mandala on the page was the most grounding meditation I could ask for. 

Here are some pages from the sketchbook I carried... 

'Common Ground'

The world is stirring...history unfolding beneath our feet, before our eyes. Inspired by the OWS movement, I started writing a song. It quickly became more of a poem...a poetic commentary...my take on the issues we face.

So...here it is...my small contribution on this day of solidarity...

'Common Ground'

everything has gone awry a great divide has grown between the hands that hoard the pie and the measly crumbs we're thrown

they enjoy their privileged lives while our homes are foreclosed their keeping us in line with all the wealth that they withhold

they profit off our ignorance expecting us to play the part of obedient indifference robots, with shopping carts

well-designed to distract and keep us misinformed the media's been hijacked by those who bank offshore

they've poisoned our sea and sky through oil-driven greed they contaminate our food supply with their modified seeds

they've stolen our autonomy and our right to choose they perpetuate inequality through narrow-minded rules

they've made health a business selling pills to those in need they benefit from illness growing rich off our disease

we know it won't be long before they try to buy our souls before our lives have been withdrawn exchanged, for fool's gold

they've kept us on our knees believing change would never come but down on wall street the revolution's just begun

we're waking from our slumber it's time to stand up strong take back what they have plundered we've held our tongues too long

we'll shout until our cause is heard the whole world 'round... they may tie our hands, but our voices cannot be bound... something's gotta give...the wall has gotta come down... ...we all deserve to live on common ground...

 

Spinning Yarns...

The muffled flapping of wings…something caged…bound and held…jailed in fearful waiting. Deep things…they simmer…rippling ever nearer the surface…threatening to break the deceptive placidity. Cold things that shiver and quake…subtle chills that aren’t eased by layers of cloth and feathers. Grim things…they skulk in the shadows…whispering of past blunders…luring me towards their perilous edge…like witch's apple and gingerbread house.

Clumsily navigating the landscape of this soul...lilting…side-winding like sloppy drunkard sway. Clutter edging closer…encroaching upon center like frost on window. Haphazard piles, like garage sale refuse, reveal the inner disarray that slowly undoes me. The questions this heart avoids lay strewn ‘round my room…collecting themselves in corners…draping themselves over chairs and doorknobs…lurking behind curtains…aligning themselves with the wrinkles in my sheets. Unspoken anxiety laughs aloud from the inside of drawers full of crumpled, half-heartedly folded clothing…from beneath the many piles of laundry that flank my laundry bin…from betwixt the boxes and bags of two-year-old discord, closed over, zipped up, ignored in a flurry of pre-travel mayhem.

What unruly imp has taken over? What irresponsible lout oversees the care of such details? At some point, I relinquished control…or lost it. Somewhere between ‘I Do’ and ‘I Don’t’ I unraveled…and, like balls of yarn left unchecked in attic boxes, the strands of me wound themselves into hopelessly tangled masses...hard enough to unwind…trickier still to REwind. The years have acted as spinsters at their looms, adding lengths to each thread that binds…they’ll not stop simply because my ability to weave has yet to match their proliferation.

This jumbled chaos of longing and resignation…calm sorrow…delicate hope ensnared upon the wreckage of yesterday’s dreams. The strands bleed into one another…weaving under and over through heaps of sentiments, becoming so knotted and tightly wrapped that recognizing differences becomes increasingly onerous. Identifying emotions overwhelms…such vague distinctions between…such subtle variance. Hope and despair tug the same lines, squeezing heart space with the same force...rendering it even more difficult to untwine.

All this tangled ‘self’ness…it must be addressed. This heart is edging ever nearer that confrontation. Yet I feel my avoidance like an unwelcome glare, staring me down from behind my computer…from inside its illusory depths…from the underside of my borrowed bed. I have these blissful moments of forgetfulness…brilliant specs of distraction that soften the impact of that piercing, accusatory stare…delicious delays that keep me from sitting with all this mental clutter and finding, once and for all, a definable point from which to begin the tricky business of untangling ‘me'...unwinding the silence...unclothing the emptiness to let it breathe in all its glaring nakedness.

What might it be that frightens me into such unhealthy paralysis? What might I find within all these tangled clusters? Something ancient is woven there…something wicked and dark and unsettling. Something older than me that rode into this life on the currents of my umbilical cord…that stowed itself away in the newly forming cells of my mother…that braided itself into the newborn hairs of my grandmother. This darkness precedes me…surely…for one life is too small to cast shadows so dense and tall. The demons that plague me still…the dreary inside that absorbs light like heat-hungry metal…the unseen cracks that betray, breaking the rungs of ladders and shattering glass…these unspeakable things pull against me with each unfolding of a thread. With each freeing of a knot, the rascals pull tighter the other end of my ropes. So determined are they, it would seem, that each minor victory is summarily surpassed by the tightening of old constraints. Cackles mock me from darkened folds…as though the gloom has won.

Yet……and yet……something lighter…some subtle twinkle, like distant sun shimmer…glows still at my core. Also ancient…piggybacking the shadows, it rode in on the same, ancestral stream. Though it may feel dim and weak, its brilliance persists at the very center of all that is…all that I am. The shadows creep in corners…encircling and bleeding in…but they will never overtake that central glimmer. Its primal light cannot be extinguished. They may threaten like thieves in blackened alleyways…they may intimidate with their constrictive squeeze and snare…but they will only ever occupy my periphery. Persistent though they may be…their victories are shallow and short-lived...their jeers only heard when I allow them to be.

Therein lies my conundrum. For…I know that the rampant, vacuous shadows can only draw me into their depths if I let them. They compromise my hard won levity, only if I permit them to do so. And that is what makes it all the more unnerving. I can no longer point fingers of blame at anyone outside these human walls…knowing, without question, that these ancient knots were tied by some part of me…that the shadows and light fill rooms in a house built by previous ‘selves’…the tenuous foundations laid through lifetimes of victories and mistakes. The hauntings I am plagued by are simply the ghosts of those former selves that cling still to their unsettled affairs…remnants of which dwell in my very bones. I may recognize them as simultaneously ‘me’ and ‘not me’, but still their lamentations echo in my voice. The dust of their disappointment still lingers on my skin.

Right then...time to bring out the broom and scissors. I've got some spring cleaning to do...

Upon a fence...

Perched – feathers stowed – silently watching. Returning to this reality......how does one even begin to describe this experience? Quite frankly, I've been so 'in it' that attempting to give voice 'to it' seemed futile. However, in this moment, I find myself drenched with words and can hardly believe its been so long since I've written. I'm like a waterlogged sparrow, having just flown through a torrential downpour – sitting upon a fence – quietly observing as I wait for these feathers to dry. As the drops roll slowly downwards, I suppose now is as good a time as any to offer my impressions.

When last I wrote I sat under fluorescent light and whirring ceiling fan – bags packed – heart steady – pre-flight.

Following a lengthy but uneventful journey home, my feet touched ground in Vancouver for the briefest of moments. I teetered, feeling alien and strange, wondering at the silence – at the wide, empty streets – at the overly manicured lawns and faces and lives and the sparkling, shiny brilliance of the city. I shot some photos for clients, both old and new, marveling at the strangeness of 'working' again, suddenly busier than I'd ever been prior to leaving for India. With the exception of a beautiful Thanksgiving meal and a few brief reunions with sorely missed friends, I didn't visit many people while in Van. Still, I made a few new connections, sharing wine and inspiration with a beautiful soul who became the link that would carry me the last 1000 miles home.

I enjoyed some much needed time alone at a close friend's house in Strathcona, receding a touch into retrospection and contemplation. I considered my heart's ventures, measuring my changed self as reflected in the eyes of the one who knows me best – the man I left behind but whom I will always love. I curiously reminisced about all those I'd come across along the way – about the men who intrigued and challenged me and the women who became fast, sisterly companions. I wrote a fateful email to a boy I still held fascination for, knowing I'd hear no reply – a Canadian boy I'd met on a roadside in Nepal – a boy that somehow managed to make it past my ruthless sentries to unwittingly claim a tiny piece of my heart in less than a day. The releasing of those truths became the catalyst for the letting go of much that my heart still clung to, forcing me to leave my trip behind and begin turning my focus forward. I briefly lamented the sending of that email, but transformed that regret into a sweetly melancholy song called 'Heartquakes', reminding myself of the inherent transience of this life.

I was truly in between worlds for those three weeks – unsure how to 'be' – uncertain of my footing – not knowing yet how to reintegrate in the smoothest way possible. The oddly 'out-of-place' feeling didn't abate upon arrival in San Francisco. In fact, I felt even more overwhelmed, but quietly so. I must admit, negotiating my re-entry has been considerably more difficult than I might've imagined. Though I'd been warned to brace myself, the subtle trickiness of my return caught me slightly off-guard.

Of course...how could it not be strange? For a year I lived a blessed existence of complete self-investment that is hard to imagine from this perspective. I spent those months exploring and nurturing every facet of my creative expression – feeling thoroughly inspired – encouraged – supported. Comparatively, this culture feels oppressive – abrasive – difficult to navigate with the same strength I felt while in India. Only adding to my challenge is the hard to believe fact that I have not lived in the Bay Area for nearly 7 years. So I've struggled a bit with this gravitational pull that feels so familiar and could so easily be surrendered to – right back into habitually negative ways of thinking – about myself – about my self-worth – about my creativity and the validity of my contributions to this world. Tricky, indeed.

My first month back in the Bay found me regenerating at my brother's house in Forest Knolls. I was necessarily buried in post-production – suddenly reminded of the part of working for myself that I find the most unsettling. But it also provided an excuse to lay low a while, allowing me the space to process a bit – to incubate and incorporate the learnings of the past year – to better understand how to re-enter this world with the least amount of sway in my step. I showed my face a few times, but spent most hours working on photos, delaying the inevitable – postponing a necessary commitment to creating a healthy space for myself here. The concept brought up anxiety that surprised me. But as I looked back, I realized that nearly two years had passed since last I had a space to really call my own – since last my bags were truly unpacked – clothes unfolded and draped on hangers – walls and shelves adorned with tid-bits of 'me'. Naturally, some part of me feared the stability. Though the better part of me longed for a door to close myself in and the world out, I felt undeniably torn.

The layers are many – too numerous to even begin examining here, but suffice it to say that, finding a room and acquiring the necessary elements with which to fill it, namely; bed, desk, chair, linens...was a disturbingly daunting task. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't tempted to run right back to India – away from all these binding details – back to the easy non-attachment of the gypsy life. But thanks to the generosity of good friends and some deeper determination to push past unfamiliar fears, I found myself in the sweetest of places – in a house in Oakland full of warmth and music and nurturing souls – in a neighborhood that has surpassed the expectations I didn't even know I had. These two weeks in my new room have afforded me the spaciousness within to share these words...

Here are some highlights from my journal for a more intimate glimpse of my return...


22 September: Overhead bins closing...seat belts buckling...babies crying...shifting...shuffling...muffled adjusting...recycled air pumping. Soon we will be airborne...my 2nd flight today after a layover in London. Nearly missed my flight this morning. Unbelievably stressful...but I made it just under the wire...the last to check in. So tired now...already feeling the strange effects of traveling backwards, so to speak, losing hours. I'll arrive on the same day I left, though I will have been traveling for nearly 24 hours. Bizarre...always tricky to relabel hours passed...to reassign them as 'relivable'...to pause and redress moments, however mundane. *Engines revving...the shake, rumble and jostle of takeoff...the whine of machinery...the audible retraction of wheels as pavement gives way to thin air. This mind observes...these ears take note...we're on our way. I....am going 'home'. [*HOME*] A word that evokes an odd mix of curiosity and comfort...confusion and clarity...certitude and uncertainty. *This body is transported...shifted between perceived spaces...but this mind is surprisingly still...looking out over ripples...soft creases where folds once were...stretching ever outwards...expanding in all directions...always and only from this spot. *Reaching altitude...heralded by that familiar 'ding'...unclicking...seats relaxing...bodies easing. Refreshments wheeling past..."Bloody Mary?" Don't mind if I do....been ages since I tasted such a thing...forgetting that, up here, it won't take much to make a still mind wobble. *Soft smile rests gently...reasonless. Old mind whispers...taunting...half-heartedly cohersing...toying...suggesting...as though ancient, worn out patterns have anything to offer me now. Moments...impressions...dull memories...they beckon, as always, but I shall not be swayed. This infinite moment...this creaseless, pristine interval between then and when...this is all there is. Contemplating the last year serves no real purpose. I can assign meaning...but, after all, however much I review and re-live...I'll only ever arrive...here...NOW. *Last name, first name, initials...block lettered declaration of identity and belonging...from whence and where do I come? Value of goods? Pause...answers unsure. Address.....have I one? Quiet decision made......'I'm just a visitor here'...... *A box demands numbers...a mind unaccustomed, too long removed from such formalities, wavers, penning incorrect lines...a numerical palindrome where 'today' should've been (011110)...showing me the ordinary, simple magic that propels my pen. *And so it goes....this steady swaying between minor, minute details and silent wisdom...the pendulum swing...brass in an ancient clock, measuring...lulling...marking moments. Somewhere...in that brief changing of direction...the middle mark...you'll find me there...on hold...neither here nor there...between 'was and 'might be'...perfectly unconcerned...ready for every subsequent 'now'. I am ALIVE....

24 September: Vancouver...squeaky clean...crisp...so very 'shiny'. Everything is sparkling...eerily perfect...orderly. And the smells...decidedly...clear. Aware, suddenly, of a subtle undertone... ...an 'iambeautifulandsuccessfulandeverythingisperfect' smell... ...a silent suggestion of affluence...the scent of a culture...quietly reassuring those who dwell within it...'all is well here'. But...is it? Somehow, recognizing this invisible thread highlights a feeling of 'not belonging'...like I'm sniffing my way home...knowing by nose...'this is not my tribe'.

26 September: ...tip-toe fine-line stepping...pulling a hush over my heart...slow watching...barely moving...touching soft. Tracing life's face...quietly questioning...'do I know you?'...fingers pausing mid-stroke...inhaling recognition. Nothing stirs...like lovers warmth gone cold...we are strangers now...

3 October: Holding...waiting...moving through gently...delicate being...tricky wobble...rippled words flooding truths...letting go...releasing all that haunts me still. Vulnerable as it goes...honestly sent...

5 October: Sweet little song dancing through my fingers with all its delicate newness...the taste of sunshine on my tongue. Spent the day alone, soaking up warmth through windows, watching the world pass with guitar in hand...happy for the relatively easy birth of a new tune. It's been too long. *Feeling good...strong....quiet. Learning to accept choices made...to trust my own reasoning and let go of 'should'nt haves' and regret. What's done is done...can't cry over spilled truth. Just own up and move on...exhale and let go. It was just another little 'heartquake'...the shudders have passed...all is quiet now...

21 October: ...shaky, heavy hand reveals hidden stress...lines unsure...pen wavering...spots, dotting my skin...little eruptions as some part of me stumbles. Only a touch...just...an ever so slight falter as my soul re-enters this 'other' way of being. Holding myself steady...pausing...doing my best to hold ground...to be aware of the backwards tug without giving in to it. Walking these familiar, well worn paths I must step gingerly, lest my soles fall comfortably into old footprints. I'm hiding out a while. I need to incubate...to settle deeper into this newer 'self' before the world can muddy me again....

25 October: A steady rumble...engines humming below...loose panels buzzing overhead...the Bay waves by, lapping the sides of the ferry...reflecting the sun in undulating sparkles...smoothing itself into softer swells as we reach deeper waters. The Golden Gate, pale and faded in the distance...softly gray with mist and atmosphere...linking the ghost-like silhouettes of North Bay and San Francisco...the ordered skyline of the city, its own soft shade of gray...each building bleeding into the next in one, continuous line...a shape these eyes know so well. Some soft flutter echos...a gentle cognizance...a piece of a word...perhaps only a fraction of a letter...small, yet there...a drop of .H.O.M.E.

1 November: ...on this day, I always pose the question...Have I evolved? Have I progressed at all on my path? On this day I wonder...I quietly review...how far have I come? What distance have I traveled between who I was and who I am? Have I changed significantly? At all? Do I know my 'self' any better? do the events of the previous year warrant celebration? On THIS day...THIS year...I smile with a resounding 'YES'. This has been, without question, my most transformative yet. I've covered miles, inside and out. I've uncovered and unfolded the person my soul has always longed for...the 'me' I was too afraid to believe in. Sure...this year was wrought with heartache...I stretched myself beyond the breaking point and explored my darkest shadows. I traced my patterns with observing fingertips, accepting the roughness I found there. I winced as the worst of me boiled at the surface, lashing out in its death throes, thoroughly scaring a few people enough that they'll likely never speak to me again. But I wouldn't trade one moment of it. Everything is perfect. I am right where I should be...perched in silent waiting...readying myself for a solid flight through what will surely be a mind-blowing 36th year...


It's taken me a moment or two, and the air around me felt dark for a spell – the tricky wobble knocking me a bit off center. But I feel I'm gaining ground – gathering strength – slowly remembering why these wings brought me back to this place. The tiny droplets of creativity that began seeping through me while away are beginning to pool themselves into deeper puddles, establishing themselves as wells from which I can drink my fill without fear of them ever running dry. As I steady myself, I'm listening to the gentle wisdom of a brotherly friend who travels a step or two ahead of me in many ways. He offers reminders, softly encouraging me to PLAY. Otherwise, the world I find myself in could so easily darken my heart.

I'm weary of darkness. I covet joy – lightness of heart – and laughter...lots of it. So – little by little – through late nights creating music with a dear friend – through moments of solitary silence in a sun-drenched room that feels increasingly cozy – through the giggles of my smallest roommate and new best friend – I am finding my place...welcoming the light.

It's good to be home. Think I'll stay a while...

Unfolded...

A gecko fruitlessly chases a large black ant across the floor...under the chair...up the wall...back to the floor. The gecko is tireless, but the ant moves too fast, eluding the gecko with surprising agility. The fan whirls above me, confusing the persistent mosquitoes and keeping me at a comfortable temperature. Pigeons coo just outside the window, keeping time with the echos of their flapping wings. My bags are packed...each item sorted and stowed...memories folded away...alongside gifts and daydreams and faded clothes. Tucked in all those in between spaces, the smells and sounds of the subcontinent are hiding...waiting to rise up and greet me in unexpected moments.

Nearly one year ago, I sat in this very spot, under this same ceiling fan, hot and jet lagged and so very green. I had landed in India...but could not possibly have known how she would transform me. I was curious...and a bit fearful...unsure of my ability to carry myself through such a venture. But I muscled through...fumbling at turns...feeling thoroughly spent and lonely and exhausted some moments...but inextricably determined to stay the course. Strangely...it was the notion of coming home that eventually scared me the most. The decision to return wasn't easily made. For weeks I checked flights...with the cursor forever hovering over that glaring 'purchase' button...never following through.

Now...as I ready myself for my journey homeward, I know the timing couldn't be more perfect. I feel strong...finally so clear about things I've never understood about myself....so much more compassionate towards the person I truly am. I might even go so far as to say that...I like her. She's not so bad, after all. Now that I'm allowing myself to simply BE...my creativity is exploding...flowing so abundantly and effortlessly that I scarcely believe these things are coming through me. In so many ways, I feel like I've spent most of this life living at about 5% of my potential. India has bumped that percentage up a bit...more than a bit...and it continues to rise.

It's such an amazing, intoxicating feeling...waking up to the brilliance within...learning how to navigate a new, stronger dream without fear...unfolding a life that has been so long waiting to be opened up and LIVED...to be given air and space to breathe rather than pushed into that safe corner of the heart where old dreams are kept...the place where nostalgia weaves its sorrowful stories with words like 'could've' and 'should've' and 'if only'...where memories of youthful fancies elicit regret over all that is left undone... unseen...unfinished and forgotten...traded in for more acceptable story-lines...dreams downsized and pushed aside.

Not for me, that dim shadow of a life. Nope. No more pointless self-deprecation...no more tangling myself up with misguided ideas of worthlessness...no longer shall I stifle my own vibrance, nor control the direction or intensity of its shine. It's time to let myself fly...

My wings are unfolded...I'm ready to come home....

Bhagsu Glue...

Two months....so full and engaged that updating this space never really occurred to me. I've been in Bhagsu...just a couple kilometers from Mcleod Ganj. The more well known Dharamshala is just down the way. As seems to have been my pattern this trip, I have a tendency to get stuck places. As it turned out, this charming little mountain town is the place in which I've remained for the longest, uninterrupted stint.

I've watched so many people come and go...lived many chapters within this one. And now...finally...I'm the one leaving. With just 3 weeks left before I fly back to North America, I'm heading to Rhajasthan to marvel at Gypsies and buy semi-precious stones. Tonight I'll board a train bound for Ajmer, where I'll then catch a taxi to Pushkar. Excited for a change of pace...

In typical Zippy fashion, I haven't the time nor attention to properly summarize my life here before I set off. But I'll make more of an effort to give it the time it deserves upon arrival in the desert.

For now...I'm off to buy my last tastes of Bhagsu cake and share a cup of chai with my beautiful voice teacher, Anita.

Return to Mama...

This is really difficult for some reason that I don't come close to understanding. I have sat with keyboard under fingers many times over the last few weeks, trying to write an entry and repeatedly failing to do so. I had typed most of a lengthy one about my experience in the Himalayas... including my journal entries from that time. But I simply couldn't bring myself to finish it.

I can say that, like all my creative facets, this one is prone to the same alternating drought and monsoon that all the others cycle through. I suppose it just must be its turn to hunker down and wait a while...until the rains return and overflow through these now dry fingertips. For now...I just feel rather disconnected from my poetry. Everything I write sounds or feels formulaic and lacking depth, somehow.

Qualifiers aside, I suppose at the very least a quick update is in order.

In about an hour, I'll be nestled in my seat aboard a bus bound for Mcleod Ganj, just north of Dharamsala. I've been back in India since the 27th, hiding out in a comfortable, air-conditioned room on B block in Kalkaji. Delhi...back to the precise spot from which I began this journey 9 months ago. I, once again, stayed with my friend Kaushal, making use of his fast WiFi and feeling so very spoiled to be staying in his well-appointed apartment. It gave me a good opportunity to catch up on every last bit of uploading. :)

Preceding my return, I spent another week in Pokhara, followed by an equivalent turn in Kathmandu, reflecting on the indescribable beauty of the Himalayas I had so recently trekked through. The experience was beyond amazing...life-changing...challenging in unexpected ways and affirming in others. If you're interested in reading my journal entries from those two weeks, let me know and I'll send 'em to ya. Guess I just figured it was too much to post...that such candor was perhaps crossing the line...even for me!

So...in an uncannily similar fashion to my departure from Delhi 9 months ago, I'm headed North...just in time to exchange a hug with Oliver before he heads to Sweden to see his beautiful new wife. From there, I'll continue on...towards Ladak.

I've downsized...cramming all of my heavy essentials into my fake Deuter 40L pack and leaving my surprisingly full 60L pack in Delhi.

Starting anew...

Silenci Bonica...

Time...illusory and unreliable...barreling or crawling unbearably forward...forever tricking me out of being present. These last weeks have fallen into the former category...days spilling into each other like streams into rivers...becoming a soft blur of moments passed. Observing the rivulets of inspiration that weave themselves through my various creative facets has been sort of entertaining. I'm doing my best to just hold on, as some unexpected momentum propels me...as songs spill forth with the greatest of ease, while my previous impulse to write has calmed to a nearly imperceptible trickle and my pens lay unused, half-finished sketches teasing me. This dance between outlets has caused me much grief historically, but now I watch with bemused curiosity. What next?

I feel like I'm on the grandest ride...rising over breath-taking crests and plunging into and through tunnels and valleys...easing gently back over smooth terrain before lurching skyward again. I imagine those sweet little swallows that so cautiously spread their delicate wings into the crisp Nepal skies for the first time must have felt something like this. My muse is a bit like those thermals...carrying me to unknown heights. I'm letting it take me...learning how to trust it.

•  ...droplets... •

30 April: F2, Bed 2...Middle...2.5'x6' of pseudo personal space. Yep...this is going to challenge me. I arrived a couple hours ago, reporting for Dhamma Service one day early to discover that this centre is a bit ill-appointed... incomplete. 3 Female dorm rooms housing 6 beds each...3 to a side...with about 6 inches between them...the only conceivable place to stow belongings is under the bed. I was asked to take one of the middles as the corners are preferable for meditators and also to serve as a bit of a barrier between them. Yes...the learning begins immediately. I'm here for selfless service. My comfort is of little concern. Thankfully, I'm here before anyone else, so I have a little time to adjust to these truths...time to gently accept and embrace so that all the students observe in me is quiet equanimity. *My last few days in Pokhara proved interesting, running the gamut from losing a full memory card and somehow being okay with it to writing a really sweet song in just 6 hours to finally drawing a proper Nepal-inspired mandala...I'd say my time has been well spent. Today, the world looks bright...feels light...and I'm smiling. All day...sitting...riding... walking...the smile has remained...directed at no one...at everyone...out and in...toward myself. I entered room #105 for the last time at 10:30am and by the time I emerged at noon, another song had come into being, just shy of complete. In my sweaty head the lyrics bounced playfully during each of the three local bus rides it took to reach Dhamma Pokhara. They walked with me the remainder of the way, anchoring that smile that so newly adorns these lips. Now 'Traveler', so new itself, has a sweet little sister...'In My Pocket'. *Yes...I'm ready for the challenge that lays before me....ready to put down pen and strings and be present ...ready to dive headfirst back into relative silence. Excited to learn how serving influences my own practice. Quite honestly, I am in a far better space than I was for any of my previous Vipassanas. Entering Happiness...

12 May: Lakeside once again...exhausted on myriad levels...hot. Midday sun escorted me and my heavy house disguised as a backpack on my reverse trip to Pokhara...leaving me sticky and spent...taking the last bit out of me. Dhamma Service proved challenging in ways I could not have anticipated...teaching me much...pushing me finally over my limit this morning, after all the students had gone. As the only female server, I was stretched quite thin. I did my best to spread myself over 10.5 hours of meditation and the need to be present in the Dhamma hall while making it to the dining hall in time to help with meals. Between making the rounds at 4:30am to rouse sleepy ladies without touching or speaking to them to dealing with ant and termite infestations to pulling leeches and stopping blood...mopping excess water into ill-positioned drains no less than 4 times a day to avoid mosquito population explosions...locating maxi pads and tampons for unexpected menses...rushing through torrential, monsoon downpours to close windows and pull laundry from lines...sweeping and mopping the Dhamma hall entry daily...admonishing and policing students found with books and peanuts and cameras...and any number of other little, unexpected tasks.....I had little time or space for myself. For the most part, I found it to be incredibly rewarding...watching the girls settle deeper into their separate, silent spaces...feeling so proud of them as they obviously progressed...as they sat in determined stillness through their sittings of Adhitthana or 'strong determination'...getting to know each of them, somehow...all 14 of them...who takes her tea black, who prefers sugar...what portions to serve...who takes chapati, who prefers rice...who forgoes evening tea but is happy for two slices of lemon...all their little quirks...their human personalities. Yesterday, many of them were calling me 'mama'...so sweet! And the centre itself.....WOW....I can say with confidence that I believe no more beautiful location exists. It rests upon the crest of a hill above Bengas Lake, flanked by lush, green, terraced slopes, looked after and over by the Annapurnas...those mountains that defy description. On day three, I saw them for the first time as the clouds drifted. I was so moved by what my eyes beheld that I dropped to my knees and cried. Just one tear actually fell, but I have never felt something so intense. Even now...I can't even try to explain the majesty of the Himalayas. I'll never forget that moment...the instant I recognized them...so impossibly massive I might've mistaken their snow-covered peaks for clouds...the catching of my breath as we met from afar... and the clear thought that I have to get closer...someway ...somehow. 'Beautiful' does not come even remotely close to encompassing them. There is no word...so seeing them for the first time while in silence was absolutely perfect. :)

***********************************************************

Tomorrow, I'm heading for those mountains, going to meet those beautiful peaks up close. I'll be out of touch for about a month. If ya miss me, hop on over to my youtube channel and sing along to one of my new songs.

*hearts*

Inward Trekking...

Still in Pokhara...easing into a rather solitary routine here. It's rather unlike me...but I've realized over the last few days that wandering out and making new friends is really not what interests me right now. Nor am I inclined to make the lengthy trip out to visit the few friends that stay in the next valley over. Though nearly every other foreigner in this sleepy little town is either preparing for or returning from treks...The Annapurna Circuit...Machhapuchhre...ABC...I'm in a bit of a world of my own. Having no suitable shoes (perhaps I'll explain that laughable reality later) venturing out into the Himalayas hasn't been on the top of my list. Instead, I find myself increasingly introspective...trekking inwardly over equally formidable terrain.

I've uploaded every last shot from India, relieving myself of what felt like a considerable weight. And, though I would've expected myself to then stow this laptop and wander out into the nearby hills, something else has sprung forth to keep the screen in front of me and the keyboard beneath my fingertips.

For most of my adult life, I have half-heartedly joked about writing a book. One of my closest friends has joined me in that jest, pestering me from time to time...'so...when can I read that book of yours?' Well ...dear Elizabeth, perhaps sooner than you might think, one day you may actually find yourself turning those long awaited pages.

Simply put...it occurred to me the other day, clear and unmistakable...'Time to start writing.' Something told me to just begin...without context or implied meaning. So I did...and I have been...and it has been amazing. The words have been spilling out of me, bleeding through fingers that type furiously...laden with typos... meandering through subjects and sentiments like water making its way through valleys, over rocks, flowing from some elevated source. It feels good...like some tremendous release of torrents that have been pressurizing behind some self-imposed dam for years.

The name of the file that houses these ramblings is 'Cultivating Loneliness'...a working title, of sorts. Here's an excerpt...a teaser, if you will...the first few paragraphs that emerged with such ferocity in those first moments of vibrant inspiration.... 


'...sometimes the burden of loneliness weighs so heavily upon you that the way out of it seems impossibly far...like traversing the slippery, algae covered walls of a deep, deep well...scraping at the sides and finding nothing to hold onto...no perceivable way of pulling yourself up and out.....

But then something unexpected happens....some tiny glimmer reaches your eye and you suddenly know to extend your hand in a certain direction...and BHAM!!...just like that...in a universe-altering instant, you realize that the distance between you and your liberation is no wider than the space between two palms as they meet in a spontaneous high-five.

There I was....peddling along the main road in Pokhara, feeling rather shell-shocked...disappointed that this familiar old, worn out loneliness had returned, once again, to drape itself wearily upon my shoulders ...lamenting my habitual return to this place, by my own doing. As a means of dispelling such counterproductive energy, I was just pointlessly cycling until it felt necessary to turn around and cycle back towards....that most inescapable of places...my own bruised heart and the strange humiliation of once again being misinterpreted...misunderstood...misread.

I'd circled round and was headed back, unenthusiastically aiming myself towards the centre of town. I was coasting along at a decent clip...feathers blowing...head cocked slightly to the left...when I took necessary notice of a bus ahead of me, overflowing with smiling school children.

I slightly corrected my aim to veer around the right side and was just rounding the back of the bus when a tiny hand shot out the last window of that side. Without a moment to even consider, my left hand raised itself to meet that tiny palm. As it did, the sound of our joyful clap combined with the jubilant giggles of the children, instantaneously lifting me out of that deeply agitated space.

I passed the bus, smiling wider than I have in weeks...suddenly, inextricably happy. Moments later, the bus passed me again, putting the gleeful, waving children right in front of my own broadening smile. As the bus accelerated, so did I...peddling faster and faster to keep up...causing the children to laugh and wave me on...'Come, Come! You can do it!' they gestured...their bright eyes egging me on like perfect little life coaches.

I matched their speed as the bus slowed, once again rounding the back right side. Out shot that same, expectant little paw....SLAP!! as my own hand happily lifted to meet it once again in the most perfectly executed, thunderous sounding high-five.

I rode on...sweaty and grinning...out of breath...unable and unwilling to stop smiling. It's still there...this deep stretching of my mouth's corners...like a jump-rope held firmly...swung expertly between playful hands.

And just like that...the frown in lonely's middle flipped itself upside down...or finally right side up...the well of 'lonely' filling up with 'lovely'...echoing with the innocent laughter of carefree children...'

Peddling Poetry in Pokhara...

Pokhara...perhaps a bit less noisy than Kathmandu, but not necessarily more enjoyable. I've hired a bicycle for the next two weeks...loving the feeling of being self propelled. Peddling through town during the nightly torrential downpours makes me oddly happy...like a child in muddy puddles. I'm also working on a new song...sweet and lighthearted. Sitting at the lake's edge and tinkering with lyrics is a lovely way to pass the time.

Other than that, I can't say that I'm terribly impressed with Pokhara. So many people told me I'd love it...but, in actuality, unless you are preparing for or returning from a trek, it's not the most exciting of places. So...I'm continuing what I started in Kathmandu...slowly catching up on my endless stream of photo uploads. Amazingly, I am just a few days away from being to able upload current images. If I really give it a good push, I might finish even sooner. Hard to imagine! Such a prospect excites me more than I can say and might help to renew my inspiration...re-open my eyes to the magic around me...help me to enjoy the next two weeks a bit more.

The learning continues:

16 April: Here again...though what I feel is hard to name, I've been here before...this quietude is familiar. It returns upon arrival in each new city...a tentative sort of watching...curious observation. How does this place feel? How does it sound? Each place has its own rhythm...subtle patterning. So I watch...as though studying the rise and fall of a skipping rope to better time my jumping in...matching my step to its beat to ensure the smoothest integration...finding the spot where I'll most easily fit. I've never really given it much thought, but I realize now that I've been doing this for most of my life. It most definitely predates this trip...most likely arising out of necessity...a child's need to belong in a world that was forever changing around her. The constant moving between parents...between cities and states...between schools...friends....forever starting anew...forever saying goodbye. It was a survival instinct, really, that made me so good at making friends... learning the subtle art of NOT standing out as the new kid...becoming adept at seamlessly fitting in quickly ...without betraying the inherent vulnerability of such a groundless existence. Along the way, I've accumulated many 'friends', but the vast majority of those don't run so deep. While I may be skilled at charming people into liking me when first we meet, I don't let many people in...not past a certain safety zone of easy acquaintance. Now it's simply habitual, but I'm sure it was just too difficult to continuously leave people behind. Easier to do so if their influence on me was shallow...no more difficult to remove and discard than a garment I'd outgrown. In light of such tendencies...those few amazing souls who have dug themselves deeper into me are clearly incredible blessings. They've battled it out with my relentless sentries and found the softest of places that is 'me'...unguarded...imperfect...human. They keep me company there, regardless of physical location. No distance will ever weaken that...nor the passage of time diminish it. They are never left behind...therefore, I am never alone...

17 April: Candlelight...when all else feels transitory and inconstant, the warm familiarity of candlelight offers a comforting steadiness, making any space livable, even if only for a moment or two. I've taken a room temporarily...an in between space to close me in until a more suitable, slightly less temporary place opens up. I spent the last two nights sharing a room with an Israeli girl whom I did not know, simply because it was all that was available. Each day I've made the rounds, hoping for a change of answer to my repeated inquiry. No rooms...or..yes, expensive rooms...or, the occasional, affordable but dark and damp room. I suppose I'm picky, but securing a room that feels like it could be 'home' for a spell is of utmost importance. Finding such a space is ever more difficult when each guesthouse is already full to the brim. 'Tomorrow' they say...'ask again tomorrow....or, no...day after tomorrow'. Yes...tomorrow will likely find me making the rounds yet again. But, for now...the candles are keeping me company...making me feel ever so slightly 'at home'....

18 April: Yet another new room...christened again in candlelight. Perhaps it isn't perfect, but it'll do for now. The name of the guesthouse...'Be Happy'...and the nest full of baby birds in the entryway seemed like good omens, so I grabbed it while I could. The fruitless search was making me weary. So, it's a bit closer to town than I'd hoped for...a touch noisier than ideal...a hair pricier than it should be...but it's quaint...sort of charming...bright during the day and cozy at night. I've got my own bathroom and a massive, comfy bed with white sheets and good pillows...these things are not so easily come by, making the price semi-reasonable. I'm sure, in retrospect, I'll find such frugality silly and amusing...but, for now, $4 a night is still on the steep side. Despite that, I feel good here. And NOT rising early tomorrow to ask again and again will be its own reward. *Found two friends today. One that I met in India...another from Kathmandu. It was nice to spend time with them, though both are leaving early tomorrow. For one afternoon, at least, it took the edge off the subtle loneliness that hovers forever in the background... 

Headed out again...guitar strapped to my back...peddling through Pokhara with poetry on my breath...