A Preacher. A Poet. A Manta Revolutionary.

Okay, I may be a little obsessed with Lianne. But to be fair, so is Prince (yes, Prince), who called her to say congratulations.

Women and the genius things they make and do. Here are just a few.

I am not a Christian, so to my ears this recorded sermon by my friend Nichola sounded more like an arahant (enlightened one) elucidating the teachings of the Buddha. On this very night your life will be taken — by endless, cavernous craving. Tanha. I knew Nichola was brilliant, a student of Jesus, James Baldwin, and other pretty okay characters, but damn, I don’t think I had ever heard her preach before. At the time I was at a friend’s place in San Francisco, and once I started listening I was so captivated that I stayed huddled on the living room couch, rudely ignored my friend-hosts  while they tested the day’s crock-pot soup in the kitchen. (That craving, that need, even for wisdom — like she says at the pulpit, it’ll make you ignore your loved ones if you’re not careful.)

I am not a poet, nor a scholar, really, but I know what I like.  What makes me pause from internet “snacking” (a term I learned from web marketing experts studying cyber-habit-patterns) to recollect my breath.  My friend Kim, on the other hand, is a scholar and poet and artist, and thank goodness.  That piece will stay with me — and don’t miss the video she links to, minutes 3:45 to 7:54.

I am trying to become a revolutionary, but it’s less simple than it sounds, though thankfully also less cult-y (so far).  In this arena, mother and self-identified manta-militant Berta will remain unlinked, as she is best experienced off the Internet, but she has been no less crucial to my week and my spirit.  Berta torpedoes through this fearsome world with a cheerful pragmatism, a humble, no-bullshit incandescence.  She makes being a revolutionary seem like the only sensible thing one could do with one’s life — and vows, smiling, to keep at it til the day she dies.  I believe her.

And then there’s Lianne, who I mentioned earlier, and cannot stop listening to.



The Buddha On Flowers

Death sweeps away

The person obsessed

With gathering flowers,

As a great flood sweeps away a sleeping village.

The person obsessed

With gathering flowers,

Insatiable sense pleasures,

Is under the sway of Death.

As a bee gathers nectar

And moves on without harming

The flower, its color, or its fragrance,

Just so should a sage walk through a village.

—The Dhammapada, translation by Gil Fronsdale


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Flowers, mom and dad at a dog park in Napa.

Obsession with sense pleasures be darned, getting outdoors today was such a relief.

Birthday Cake from the Comrades

birthday cake
Ginger-chocolate cake made by Becca, Eliana, and Roxy

I won’t talk about my birthday, but I will talk about James Baldwin.  Or, really, listen to him.

It is a pity that [Eldridge Cleaver and I] won’t, probably, ever have the time to attempt to define once more the relationship of the odd and disreputable artist to the odd and disreputable revolutionary; for the revolutionary, however odd, is rarely disreputable in the same way that the artist can be.  These two seem doomed to stand forever at an odd and rather uncomfortable angle to each other, and they both stand at a sharp and not always comfortable angle to the people they both, in their different fashions, hope to serve.  But I think it is just as well to remember that the people are one mystery and that the person is another.  Though I know what a very bitter and delicate and dangerous conundrum this is, it seems to me that a failure to respect the person so dangerously limits one’s perception of the people that one risks betraying them and oneself, either by sinking to the apathy of cynical disappointment, or rising to the rage of knowing, better than the people do, what the people want.

Because it’s my birthday week and I do what I want, I’d like to argue for a broad definition of “artist” that includes those of us interested in wisdom. (Baldwin, as an artist, certainly was.)  Which helps explain, maybe, some of the awkwardness and contradictions in the Buddhist-Marxist combo.  One operates at the level of the person (or the non-self, existence, but framed in an individualistic fashion that was revolutionary at the time of the Buddha’s teaching), while the other concerns itself with the people.

Perhaps a similar tension also underlies the queasy slipperiness of identity politics — or identity, period.  “Identity” (gender, race, ability, sexuality, etc.) is at once intensely personal, emotional, and subjective (our stories), and simultaneously collective, socially and historically determined (our position).  I’ve written about this paradox before; maybe an unsurprising fixation for a mixed girl. ;)

My bad, friends: this was supposed to be a birthday post!  I lead an extremely fortunate life amidst a blessed contagion of creativity and caring from those around me.  No idea how we’re going to reconcile the person and the people, but I’m lucky to find myself in community that wants to try.

Thanks to everyone for the bornday love.  And deliciousness!

Bodhidharma Breakups

Bodhidharma, who cut off his eyelids to stay awake and keep meditating

I heard a Buddhist sermon once, a dharma talk, in which the teacher described the night he came to know sleepiness.

He was at a residential meditation retreat, and though the students had been released back to their dormitories for the night, he decided to stay in the main hall, sitting.

This was no lark because, as you know, at meditation retreat centers they do not mess around when it comes to mornings. 4am, your ass is up. No caffeine, either, or hardly none. Accordingly, come 9 or 10pm, you are tired. Eleven, sleep-heavy chin sinks to your chest, bounces back up like a car on hydraulics. And this is Theravada tradition, eyes closed. By midnight even the insomniac practitioners are bobble-headed with drowsiness.

But this teacher, on this night, was fighting the nods, battling the bobble-head, determined not to succumb to sleepiness, but rather to observe it. To remain awake, taking note of experience.

Finally, dizzy with darkness but stubborn and still curious, he decided to open his eyes. Not just open, but saucer and bulge them, two peeled grapes in his sockets, letting the light steep them and the cold air gently bite.


Like this, he stayed awake, sitting.

Ten minutes.




Until eventually he felt the first wave. An enormous wave, engulfing him from the bottom up, his folded legs, his butt, hips, flowing warm and heavy and sweet up his torso, shivering his shoulders and face, and wicking up and off the crown of his head, into the air above him.

He withstood it, but minutes later, another wave came. Again he fought, saucered his eyes wider, prying the lids open with his fingers. Again it traveled up his body and through the crown of his head.

A first wave; a second; a third.

And then it stopped. He was awake. Three waves, that was it. Over. For another couple hours, he stayed and sat peacefully, gently electrified, without effort.  From then on, he recognized sleepiness in a totally new way.

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To Be Truly Radical

Jacob Lawrence, “Play” (1999); silkscreen


To be truly radical is to make hope possible, rather than despair convincing.

—Raymond Williams

I like to think that many others have expressed this same sentiment in places I’ll never see, in times before mine, in languages I can’t read or understand.


To_Preserve_Their_Freedom1 jacob lawrence
Jacob Lawrence, “To Preserve Their Freedom” (1988); silkscreen