Happy Soul Night

For a going-away present (even though I’m the one leaving…fuck it — I’ll take any excuse to give a dorky gift), I’m making a friend of mine a mixtape.  He always kids me about my cheerfulness, asks me what’s my secret, so the theme of the mix is “happiness.”

  1. Ain’t No Sunshine ——————————- Bill Withers
  2. Everybody’s Free (To Feel Good) ————- Quindon Tarver
  3. Be (Intro) —————————————- Common
  4. The Happy Song (Dum Dum) —————– Otis Redding
  5. Joyful, Joyful ———————————— The St. Francis Choir
  6. Uptight (Everything’s Alright) —————- Stevie Wonder
  7. Joy ———————————————— Talib Kweli
  8. Much More ————————————– De La Soul
  9. Walkin’ My Baby Back Home —————– Nat King Cole
  10. Nothing Even Matters ————————– Lauryn Hill
  11. The Sweetest Gift ——————————– Sade
  12. Alfie ———————————————– Dionne Warwick
  13. Oh Happy Day ———————————- The St. Francis Choir
  14. Ain’t Got No — I Got Life ———————- Nina Simone

Music.  Not just for emo’s anymore!  Speaking of which (music; wresting it from hipsters), a couple friends and I are heading out to “Soul-le-lu-jah,” soul music night at a tiny dance club in my neighborhood.  Best night of the week. We’re all drenched with sweat by the end.

Happy weekend, y’all!  See you soon.

I’m Back! To the Beginning…

Hey everybody!  Sorry to disappear like that.  Between the beautiful visit with family and friends in Cali, returning to an almost palpable sense of community in Cambridge, adventuring in DC/Maryland for the inauguration, working for one final 40-hour week, and now packing up to move to Spain in four days, it’s been…busy.

And while the experiences have been amazing (a few even historic), amidst the travel I somehow slipped deep into my own mind.  There’s been a shortage of direct, calm, open experiencing and an overabundance of thinking.  It’s a common problem for me, one that manifests in cycles of anxiety so subtle and slow-building that one day, without warning, I break down crying over dry cleaning or a rotten lemon.

This morning, when I sat down to meditate for half an hour, I only made it for three minutes.

But here’s what I wanted to share about these brooding cycles of mine: they come and go.  Typically peaking twice a year: once in the summer, and once in the winter, after the new year.  And while the faithful regressions may frustrate the logic of linear progression (experience yields greater efficiency; age yields greater wisdom), they also offer something very valuable, which is a chance to practice starting at the beginning.  For the past few years, every major breakdown, once it passed, left me feeling radiant — almost newly born.  Ready to start again.

The beginner’s mind is a concept I’ve been wanting to write to y’all about for weeks.  One of the most helpful essays I read last year (and possibly ever) was Shunryu Suzuki’s “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.”  Indulge me for a minute while I quote it extensively.  Then there will be some pretty pictures!

In Japan we have the phrase shoshin, which means “beginner’s mind.”  The goal of practice is always to keep our beginner’s mind.  Suppose you recite the Prajna Paramita Sutra only once.  It might be a very good recitation.  But what would happen if you recited it twice, three times, four times, or more?  You might easily lose your original attitude towards it.  The same thing will happen in your other Zen practices.  For a while you will keep your beginner’s mind, but if you continue to practice one, two, three years or more, although you may improve some, you are liable to lose the limitless meaning of original mind.

Now, I know that for some of us, bouncing around from new thing to new thing is our modus oh-lordy: a mind captivated by distractions and, therefore, beginnings.  Ooh this! — Now that! — Hey, how ’bout this thing over here?!  But the beginner’s mind is different in a couple of ways.  One, it implies intention.  We are deliberately setting out as beginners in an undertaking that we consider worthwhile.  We might be real novices at it; we might have been working at it for most of our lives.  Whatever it is, we choose it — it doesn’t choose us.  It doesn’t seduce us.  Secondly, whereas a lot of folks I know judge themselves harshly for being distractable (I can’t focus; I’m unreliable; I’m irresponsible), the beginner’s mind is free of judgment.  After all, you’re just a beginner!  We give it our best shot, and then we move on to what comes next.  We feel excited, engaged, buoyant — not worried about who’s watching, or whether we’ll mess up.  We’re beginning, and it feels fresh and spacious.

When we let go of pride and perfectionism, then we are open to new information, new experiences, and new directions.  Suzuki writes,

In the beginner’s mind there is no thought, “I have attained something.” All self-centered thoughts limit our vast mind.  When we have no thought of achievement, no thought of self, we are true beginners.  Then we can really learn something.  The beginner’s mind is the mind of compassion.  When our mind is compassionate, it is boundless. . .Then we are always true to ourselves, in sympathy with all beings, and can actually practice.

Of course, the beginner’s mind doesn’t apply exclusively to Zen Buddhism, or spiritual practices in general.  We could just as easily say, “When our mind is compassionate, it is boundless. . .Then we are always true to ourselves, in sympathy with all beings, and can actually [live].”

Well, friends, now it’s back to packing, and stressing, and packing some more.  But just by sharing this idea, contemplating it, I’ve begun to relax.  And when I relax, I can marvel.  So here are some snapshots of a few of the marvelous things that have happened since California…




Update: photo tech’s not co-operating; see here for more marvels!

Happy Inaugo’naug!

Greetings from DC!

Today has been epic and wonderful.  Wonderful even though I sense that my own excitement comes from a different place than that of many others.  Doesn’t diminish it.  I will never forget the sight of the crowds — the first time I have been surrounded by that many people whose collective witness was a celebration, not an indictment.

I’ll post my thoughts (and photos!) soon, once I collect them.  But face-time trumps typing, so right now I’m going to go enjoy some fine company in Columbia Heights,  and then hopefully Silver Spring, MD.  (Henry!  Yayy!)

Be well, everyone.

Dog Days

Recently, my family got a rescue dog.  Boomer.  I never grew up with dogs (only cats, a guinea pig, and the occasional ill-fated fish or hermit crab), and I am very unskilled at relating to them.  Supervising is not my strong suit.  No siblings, never a camp counselor or teacher, no desire to parent in any way.  Ever nonplussed about how to speak to dogs or children, a fallback baby voice usually emerges and I make myself cringe.

But Boomer and I, we can hang.  Which is largely because he is an impeccable animal.  In the entire two weeks with my parents, I’ve never once heard him bark.

Chamomile tea, vanilla soymilk, honey, and nutmeg.
Chamomile tea, vanilla soymilk, honey, and nutmeg.

He is friendly and buoyant, yet obedient and polite: he sits on command, he picks up his leash, he does not sniff crotches.  Big enough to roughhouse, but incredibly gentle, even with our two cats.

So when I brought him along to my favorite Sacramento coffeehouse one morning, he was a perfect angel, while I was the one who felt the need to behave.

How does one enact the role of dog owner, exactly?

Do you tie him up outside, or bring him in?

If you bring him in and he lies nicely at your feet while you work, what happens when you have to use the bathroom?

The Naked Lounge.  Coffeehouse furniture at its finest.
The Naked Lounge. Coffeehouse furniture at its finest.

It was interesting to feel so self-conscious, even about something as simple as how to hold a leash.  (Confidently but casually.)

Along with the self-consciousness came a sort of Goffmanian sense of performativity.  Here was a whole new gender front to try: middle-class feminine girl with docile lab.



But fun.

Sight Unseen

Wow.  This piece filled my heart up.  And the Hafez he quotes is one of my favorite poems.

From Konch Magazine, where my boy Jose was recently published (¡!).

The End of Racism

By Siamak Vossoughi


The end of racism that I have seen has been a piece of paper and a group of white men in suits announcing that the end of racism is hereby decreed. The end of racism that I haven’t seen has been those same white men looking at each other with tears in their eyes.

The end of racism that I have seen has been let me tell you about the end of racism. The end of racism that I haven’t seen has been let me listen to the years and years of it.

Continue reading

Rules of Houseguesting

Dedicated to Chelsea and Patches.

Rule #1: Don’t hide your delight when your host offers you a morning brew using his homemade bike-art teapot warmer, fashioned out of gear chains, a hub thingy, and rubber tubes, with room for a little tealight candle in the center. Yes, it is as beautiful and amazing as it appears.

Rule #2: When no one expects it, do some spontaneous dishes.  A houseguest pulled this on me one time and it’s become a favorite ritual of mine ever since.   It (1) allows you to contribute to the home, (2) occupies your hands without interrupting a conversation, (3) lets you get cozy with the kitchen, and (4) guides the overall vibe toward generosity and warmth.  This is a particularly useful rule for households of people under the age of 25, in which case there will always be dishes in the sink, and your hosts will be extra floored that you are willing to touch their dirty shit.

Rule #3: Abet adventure.  When your hosts suggest setting out to find some branches for decorating their walls, make no attempt to disguise your goofy enthusiasm.  Express your excitement for all manner of romps, forays, jaunts, and missions.

Rule #4: Pick thoughtful, fun-loving, generous, and all-around brilliant hosts.  And you’re golden.

Beauty In The ‘Burbs

My friend Jeremiah recently reminded me of something important.  It’s very easy, he said, to be cynical about the places we come from.  It often takes real effort to view our home environments with appreciation.

This week I’m back in the suburbs of Sacramento, California, where I was raised.  For a variety of environmental, social, and economic reasons, I’m not a fan of suburbs in general.  But as Jem pointed out, no matter how ignominious our origins, they almost always include something of value.  So this morning, while making breakfast and walking the dog, I took my camera along.  Insta- fresh perspective.

Empathetic Nervous System

First thing this morning, I learned about the murder of Oscar Grant.  The following is from an email I got over a listserv — I hope it might be helpful to some of y’all.  Please know that I am not here to nag you into action, only to pass along resources in case any of them resonate.

5 Things You Can Do Right Now

About the Oscar Grant Shooting

Share w/ your peeps

by Makani Themba-Nixon

1. Digg the story so that the national media can pick up on it (Thanks, Jabari For this link): http://digg. com/world_news/Oakland_Police_Officer_Shoots_Unarmed_Man_Handcuffed_Man


2. Contact BART Director Carole Ward Allen and demand that 1) the officers involved be taken off duty without pay and charged and fully prosecuted; 2) there be an independent investigation of the shooting that includes a review of training and hiring practices; and 3) BART establish an independent residents’ review board for the police Call her at 510-464-6095 or email the BART Directors at BoardofDirectors@bart.gov

3. Call the BART police to complain about the officers’ conduct and demand immediate action:

Internal Affairs: Sergeant David Chlebowski 510.464.7029,dchlebo@bart.gov

Chief of Police: Gary Gee 510.464.7022, ggee@bart.gov

Call them toll free at 877.679.7000 and press the last four digits of the phone number you wish to reach.

4. Talk it up on your blogs, networks and talk radio shows (call Michael Baisden 877-6BADBOY or Rev. Al, etc. to get this on the national radar)

5. Stay tuned for other actions, protests, etc., especially if you are in the Bay.


For those who haven;’t seen the horrific video take a look and note that this our tax dollars at work

Watch the video —

After watching a dozen versions of video footage, I cracked open, and my mother held me as I cried.

It’s impossible to separate my sadness for Oscar Grant from my pain over the Gaza massacres.  I can’t even separate it from my love for my father, or my own personal fears and occasional despair. It’s like one giant, continuous upwelling.

That’s part of what makes empathy magical, I guess.