Thursday, July 5, 2012

Yay, Life!

This blog post has a soundtrack.  I highly recommend you listen to some Yma Sumac while you read it.  If you don't have any, just open this playlist in another tab and let it play while you read: Yma Sumac playlist on youtube.  More about Yma Sumac in a minute.

Sunday I had a deliciously creatively inspiring evening.  Which is important for me, because I've realized I don't get those anywhere near often enough, and it's a big part of me feeling like ME, an individual, a real person.  As opposed to somebody's mom or wife or friend or whatever.

I love movies.  A lot.  It's taken me a long time as an adult to really understand and embrace how much I love movies, but I really do love them.  Movies have the ability to really transport me and affect me, more so than books, I think largely because I'm such a visual person.

When I got my drivers license at 16, the first place I drove myself was to a movie (Casablanca at River Oaks Theatre in Houston).  At a couple different points in my life, I would weekly go to the movies by myself.  It still feels like such a ME activity.

So Sunday evening the Husband gave me a few hours to myself, and I decided to go to the movies, which I hadn't done alone in a really long time.  Being a big Wes Anderson fan, I decided to go see Moonrise Kingdom.

While not my favorite of his, I really loved it.  It just felt so delightful and precious, and it really did that big affecting thing movies can do to me.  I felt like it showed a certain side of childhood I haven't often seen portrayed.

It's hard for me to find the words, but it's kind of the horror and wonder of being 12 years old.  I think most of us feel kind isolated and alien at 12, and as this film shows, making a real connection with another person is so very important and life-changing.  These are things I've been thinking about a lot lately already, so it felt like good timing for me.

I walked out of the theatre, feeling so full of life and mystery, and there was the almost full moon with a bright halo around it, and I just had to talk to someone.  So I called my dear friend Marie, in large part because she's such a big Wes Anderson fan, I knew she'd seen the movie already.

We chatted about the movie a little, and then she started telling about moving her Nonnie to Austin that weekend.  Marie had found a cassette tape that turned out to have a recording of her grandparents and parents singing a hymn.  Marie remembered how they'd have dinners where they'd just spontaneously start singing and making music.

This made me think of John Philip Sousa. A few months ago, my 6-year-old son had to research a composer for school, and he chose Sousa (because he did the Monty Python theme song).  Something interesting I learned about Sousa is that he had a strong dislike of recorded music and the phonograph.  To quote:

These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country. When I was a front of every house in the summer evenings, you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or old songs. Today you hear these infernal machines going night and day.

Of course even today people still make music in their homes, like Marie's family, but now it seems like magic.  I imagined that other world where making music in your living room with your family was the norm.  Something has definitely been lost.  

Then Marie told me about taking Nonnie to what will be her new church that morning, a delightful neighborhood Methodist church.  The people were so welcoming to her, and between the church and Marie, I imagined Nonnie being enveloped with love and delicately placed into her new life.  And it made me tear up.

After I got off the phone with Marie, I put on the Yma Sumac CD I'd recently acquired from Half Price books.  The song that came on was Chuncho, and it pretty much made everything perfect.  I have been wondering, how have I gone this long in my life without being exposed to Yma Sumac?  It just seems like a big oversight on the Universe's part.

Listening to her wonderful crazy voice (the CD calls her "The Peruvian Bird"), driving along with the moon following me as my companion, everything felt so good in the world.

I love that about this life, the way so many small details come together to make a moment.  I love all the connections happening, like connections between old friends, new people connecting for the first time, connecting new information to my own experience, and the odd connections my brain makes when it remembers things like John Philip Sousa.

I drove to Walgreen's and bought a spiral notebook with leaves on it and a fancy pen.  In the store I had a heightened sense of awareness and compassion, and everyone and everything around me seemed so special and interesting.

I took my new notebook and pen to Quack's 43rd Street Bakery, and I sat down among beautiful paintings of flowers with the most delicious chai (made with almond milk, no less), and I spewed all these words out on paper so that I wouldn't forget it.

Which seems like such a writerly thing to do, I think this was the first time I truly ever felt like a writer.  And now I share it with you.  Thanks for reading.

And I hope you've enjoyed the Yma Sumac.  If you haven't heard it yet, I encourage you to listen to what is probably her most famous song, Gopher Mambo.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Our First Cave: Day One of First Family Road Trip

The first destination of our family road trip was Longhorn Caverns. This would be the kids' first cave, and our son was really excited. I'm not sure if our not-yet-3-year-old daughter even knew what a cave was.

My husband was pretty excited. He used to do a lot of spelunking when he lived in Nashville, but that was a while ago. I have only a little experience with caves. I've been to Carlsbad once, and my family had visited Longhorn when I was a kid, though I barely remembered it. The best caves I've ever been in were in Israel in these tiny tunnels carved into the limestone that you have to practically slither through, but that's a story for another time.

Longhorn is in a lovely spot in the Hill Country. The kids loved the hilly road leading up to it, shouting "Wheee!" as we went up and down. While we waited for our tour to start, the kids had fun playing on some rocks, and there are hiking trails and picnic areas as well.

Longhorn Caverns were formed by quick-moving water, and it has a lot of smooth surfaces and large rooms. It was used by different groups of people for different things over the last 400 years.

But my favorite fact is that it was a speakeasy during Prohibition. It's 68 degrees down there all the time, so it's like it's air-conditioned. And it's a cave, it's pretty concealed. They had a bar and a dance floor and tables and chairs and everything down there. Today you can rent it out for weddings and events. I've since heard of DJ dance parties being down there.

As far as I was concerned, the caverns were just plain awesome. I pretty much wanted to stay in there. If I were planning a wedding right now, I'd want it down in Longhorn Cavern. (None of our pictures inside the cave came out that great, but you can see lots on their website.)

Both of our kids had a fun time inside the cave, especially Jago, who is 6. Miela did get tired and had to be carried, but it was still worth it for us and she still had fun. Especially with the nice grounds to explore and picnic at, Longhorn Cavern is a great family outing.

I was even able to get an obligatory bluebonnet shot of the kids! (Explanation for non-Texans: Our state flower is the bluebonnet, and they grow all over, especially in Central Texas, often in big clumps. It's common to take portraits surrounded by the flowers.)
After we finished at Longhorn, we headed to South Llano River State Park, which is outside of Junction, to camp for the night. There was a beautiful sea of purple wildflowers.
This was a really nice spot that I hope we visit again in the future. We got there a bit late to explore that evening, and in the morning we were kind of ready to keep driving, but it was a great first night camping!

It was a great start to a great trip!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

My Daughter Reminds Me That Women Are People, Too

My daughter, Miela, being not quite three years old, does not always get her words right. One place this shows up a lot is in her use of pronouns, in particular with regards to gender.

Most of the time, Miela chooses to use "she" instead of "he," even in places where that's clearly incorrect, like in reference to her brother (who will quickly let her know she is wrong).

That doesn't seem that unusual, given her age, and since she is a girl, she probably has heard she more than he.

But where it gets interesting for me, is when I notice my own unconscious tendencies to correct her.

Certain people or animals or characters are clearly supposed to be he and him, not she and her. Her brother, her dad, my mother's dog, the prince in Cinderella, Kai-lan's wise Grandpa YeYe. I think it's pretty safe to assume all of these are appropriately referred to as "he." So Miela may refer to one of them as her, but I will refer to them as him.

But a plastic elephant? A fuzzy orange monster? An unfamiliar dog across the street? Why the hell do I find myself wanting to refer to these as him? Even after she's just said she about the elephant, sometimes it still feels hard to go along with her choice and stick with she.

This little thing says so much about my ingrained view of the world, and I know I'm not alone in it.

For something to be female, it has to be "special" somehow. It has to be pink, or have a bow or eyelashes. Look at the generic symbols on public restrooms. The men's room shows a person. The women's room shows a person wearing a skirt.

(And let me just put an aside in here that I'm not even going to attempt to make a specific comment about the whole two gender view of the world. I know this doesn't work for a lot of people, and I support that view, and it's related to what I'm talking about, but I don't have clear enough thoughts on that to really say anything, nor do I really feel qualified.)

As has often been noted, it's built into language. It's hard to escape.

I have a very clear memory of being in 4th grade Spanish class and learning the word for boys is "niños" and girls is "niñas" but children, or rather boys and girls together, is "niños." The girls in the class argued about this with the teacher at length. She was sympathetic, but emphasized it was just the way it was. The boys mostly smirked and chuckled.

I remember thinking that there was an entire language where if boys are around, suddenly I don't count.

I'm not trying to pick on Spanish, there are lots of examples in lots of languages. My point is just that we're pretty surrounded by this worldview: males are the norm, females are different.

So here's a genuinely radical idea: stop assuming everything and everyone is male. Male is not normal. Neither is female. We're all basically just people. Or animals. Or cartoon characters or whatever. And actually, none of us are "normal."

And I am completely serious in calling this radical. I believe all big change starts small. And shifting cultural views is freaking ginormous. Be a part of it.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Our First Family Road Trip!

We just got back home yesterday from our first road trip as a family. In other words, this was the first time my husband and I, as well as our two kids, took an extended trip together, that involved a fair amount of driving. My husband and I finally decided it was time to try it.

See, he and I love road trips and driving. LOVE THEM. We once put most of our stuff in storage and lived mostly out of our van for about 5 months. We drove all over about half the country. It was awesome.

So this is something we've been dying to share with our kids, but, well, we weren't sure we were actually up for doing such a thing with our kids.

Our kids are awesome, but they can also be a bit much. Our son, Jago, age 6, is without a doubt a Spirited Child and has super high energy. His sister Miela, almost 3, is not as spirited as her brother but still pretty darn spunky.

But we finally felt like we were at a place with both kids where they could be ok in the car for longer distances. And they do well enough most of the time with following directions about behavior in public. And most of all, we felt like we could do these things and have more fun times than stressful times.

So we planned out a trip around Central and West Texas, which never took us terribly far from our home in Austin, but gave us a wide variety of stuff to see and do, as well as took us into the desert a little bit, something Jago had been expressing interest in.

We intended to do mostly camping with a couple nights at a hotel, but last minute circumstances caused us to change that slightly, as tends to happen on a road trip.

We planned to never drive more than about 4 hours in a day, and most days were less, and never more than about an hour and a half at a stretch. There are so many good places to stop and do things, even in spacious West Texas, and it's good to remember with young kids that even simple things can become fun and interesting.

Ahead of time I searched online for some music and stories I could download, and I'd like to share my two favorites I found. Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child is a great radio program I found. It bills itself as "indie music for indie kids" and "for kids and their grownups." Their theme song is by They Might Be Giants. You can download the show as podcasts on iTunes for free!

I found a great site for stories at StoryNory. They have a lovely assortment of stories, but we've mostly listened to fairy tales and myths from around the world. Jago positively loves these stories. He wanted to listen to them almost constantly! And they can all be downloaded for free from their website!

So we set out a week ago for a 6-night road trip, the four of us in our mini-van, to do some exploring and see some new stuff and get out of our regular space. And it was truly a wonderful trip. Completely successful, really. Certainly we learned a couple things, and there were plenty of times I thought the kids were going to drive me nuts (what's new, right?), but mostly it was just lots of fun.

The main thing we learned is that we want to do more! We'll probably do some weekend camping trips to local state parks, but we're also hoping to do more road trips, venturing out farther, perhaps. We did decide we think we'd like to get some kind of camper trailer, so that we don't have to set up and take down our whole deal every single day. That was a bit tiring.

I enjoyed the trip so much, got so much out of it, and took so many pictures (over 700!), I've decided I want to write up every day of our trip with the places we visited. Also I want to encourage other people to go visit and support those awesome places we went. And, I think the Grandmas will love it, too.

So more coming soon!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

100 Things That I Like

Long ago I came across a wonderful website: Learning To Love You More

Somewhere on there I found this wonderful prompt:

List 100 things that you like.

Make a list of 100 things you like in no particular order. Avoid the obvious (significant other, cake...) and be completely honest with yourself. If you try to think of things that you are curious about and inspired by, you'll end up discovering a lot about yourself and in doing so developing a sort of bank of your interests and ideas.

In March 2005, I came up with my own list, which I just found.

I totally love it. I'm going to work on another list. But for now, here's that old list.

1. the word "emerge"
2. crazy yarn
3. dystopic future science fiction
4. moonshadows
5. windchimes
6. the dark areas underneath freeways
7. glam rock
8. women wearing lots of jewelry
9. driving alongside trains
10. the words "liminal" and "threshold"
11. unaccompanied cello
12. men playing guitar and singing
13. driving at night through dark winding roads with the windows down
14. wind
15. stuffed animal bunnies
16. Fiji Natural Artesian Water
17. sending birthday cards in the mail
18. playa dust in my hair
19. moon calendars
20. cutting my own hair
21. brushing people's hair
22. white pitchers
23. anything silvery or glittery
24. crazy shower curtains
25. the sensation of tears running down my cheeks
26. fancy soap
27. singing with people
28. makeup color names
29. visionary art
30. insanity
31. dancing by myself in my living room
32. spirals and swirly lines
33. colored lights
34. touching people's faces
35. sitting on a porch swing during a thunderstorm
36. scissors
37. stabbing things with paring knives
38. red shoes
39. listening to stories
40. neat and organized address books
41. weddings, especially the ceremony
42. arranging music for voice only
43. books arranged by color
44. song covers
45. emails that make me cry
46. the internet
47. tv shows on dvd
48. girls dressed like boys
49. swing music
50. magical realism
51. snuggling
52. kissing
53. world religions
54. monastic life
55. books about regular people living regular lives
56. lists
57. etymology
58. made-up words
59. spooning
60. intuition
61. video/dvd stores
62. bathrooms that have art in them
63. mosaics
64. remembering dreams when I wake up
65. exploring grocery stores
66. kundalini yoga
67. two tone nail polish
68. late night phone conversations
69. random handmade gifts
70. analyzing and discussing movies
71. Pollyanna-type stories
72. hands
73. the window seat on airplanes
74. driving for hours at a time
75. unexpected and sincere compliments
76. spirals
77. turkey vultures
78. walking along busy gray urban streets
79. ferns
80. flower arranging
81. interpreting life like it's a dream
82. wisteria
83. books about crazy fantasy worlds
84. feeling inspired to write
85. monologues in plays
86. curtain calls
87. temporal art
88. photography
89. purses
90. the word "mystery"
91. metaphors involving butterflies
92. walking to the grocery store
93. naivete
94. sacred spaces
95. feeling understood
96. empathy
97. grammar
98. surprising people
99. loungey spaces
100. stars

Make your own list and share it with me!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

I'm Doing It My Way

The first time I ever heard "My Way" by Frank Sinatra was in Houston at the fantastic laundromat in the old brick building with the high ceilings.

The best thing about this laundromat was that instead of the usual Tejano and/or pop music that played too loudly at other laundromats, a radio station that featured easy listening and big band music was always on. Hence, I heard a lot of Sinatra while I did my laundry in my early 20's.

But back to "My Way." That first time I heard it, much like every subsequent time it's been my pleasure to listen to it, it made me pause and pay attention, it hit me somewhere deep in my chest and made me kind of misty.

If you are somehow unfamiliar with this song (or even if you're not), I insist you take a listen right now:

The performance is outstanding, but the lyrics alone are pretty powerful stuff.

In recent months I've been thinking a lot about the way I do things, the "how," as a good friend put it.

Right now, I don't feel like I can stand up and really say, "I did it my way." I think I've spent a lot of energy in my life focused on how others are perceiving me. I've spent a lot of time and effort trying to figure out the "right" way to do things. I've tried hard to make myself do things the "right" way. I feel mostly this has resulted in me not doing much.

And you know what? I'm done with that.

My way often feels really different from other people's ways. But I get it now, that it's mine. It's what's right for me. And focusing on it might be the most important thing I can do right now.

I've recently been inspired by The Happiness Project and in particular her personal First Commandment to "Be Gretchen." That's really doing it her way.

One of the places I've really gotten bogged down in doing something the "right"way is this blog that I haven't posted to in a year.

I had this notion that this blog needed to have a theme, and I started with the idea of posting about Big Things [tm]. But then I'd feel like I wanted to write about my kids or write a movie review or some other non-Big Thing topic. But that didn't fit in with my original idea, and isn't your blog supposed to have a theme or something?

Well, obviously that resulted in me just posting nothing, so forget it. Forget the supposed to. I'm doing it my way.

So in the future here, I might have more pondering of Big Things, but also look for those kid stories and movie reviews. And you're also likely to see book recommendations, feng shui observations, personal reflections, and ramblings about Jane Austen and Doctor Who. This is my own kind of playground here.

So I'm declaring that I am Emerald, and I'm going to BE Emerald.

And that's what you'll see in this blog.

And just to bring it all around, this whole thing flashed in my mind when "My Way" came up in my ipod recently.

Thanks for the reminder, Frankie.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Anything Is Possible

One time a friend of a friend asked me to sum up my beliefs. He had one very succinct sentence for the core of what he believed about the universe.  It was "Energy changes."  (He was into some kind of chaos magic.)  He was trying to understand my worldview and spiritual beliefs, and so he was wanting me to give him a similar kind of summary.

I was very reluctant to do so, because there's kind of nothing at the core of my beliefs.  What I finally came up with was this:

Anything is possible.

But of course, for this sentence to be true, it must contain the possibility that it's false.

So that's what I said, "I believe anything is possible, but that means it's also possible that I'm wrong."

I still like this statement as an attempt to summarize my beliefs about everything.

(Just as an aside, he did not like this statement, nor have most of the people I have shared it with.)

I do not believe in any kind of objective reality.

Everything humans know about the universe is filtered through our little bodies and minds, which have so much going on in them, it seems to me there is no possibility for objectivity.

If perhaps there is some kind of Divinity with a consciousness, then perhaps it could have an objective view of reality.  But that seems like such a narrow kind of Divinity to me.

I kind of believe that people's beliefs is what makes things true for them.  I don't believe in Truth.  (That is, Capitalized Truth.)  But then that can get pretty complicated.  It's hard to really break it down.

I believe that anything anyone believes has some kind of validity, simply because they believe it.  Now I also believe that we are in a vaguely shared reality on this planet that makes certain beliefs inappropriate, but I absolutely do not think that "reality" is certain or objective.  There's no way to truly say what is so.  I can not absolutely know anything.

I believe this shared reality we are in tends to value love a great deal, something I value as well.  I also value respect and tolerance a whole lot, too.

So whatever you believe, whether you believe in Jesus, Shiva, Diana, God, gods, goddesses, the Tao, Spirit, lifeforce, science, nothing at all, and/or something else entirely, it's all fine with me so long as you strive to be respectful, tolerant, and loving, as well.  

And sometimes I feel sorry for the people who are disrespectful, intolerant, and unloving, that they don't have a place to exist where those things are valued.  I certainly don't think there's anything objectively wrong with those things (because nothing is objectively wrong) but they are anti-social qualities, for the most part.

I think generally we look for objectivity as a way to explain and understand things.  I don't think the universe makes sense.  I don't think it needs to make sense. I take delight in it not making sense.

Now I don't go through my daily life questioning every single thing, in some kind of "Hey nothing is real!" fit.  That's just not really practical.

I do actually have some more specific personal spiritual beliefs, which perhaps I'll attempt to go into in another post, but I say "attempt" because they're not super clear and they can change a lot.

This is all rather difficult for me to write about, because it is slippery and strange.  But I embrace the contradictions and confusion of my own beliefs and of the whole world!  Anything is possible!