Wednesday, 11 February 2009


These are my postcards. My snapshots. Like the faces that flow across my eyelids’ movie screen when I’m supposed to be meditating. These are the word versions of the people I’ve met, seen, stayed with, the people who’ve opened themselves to me, and the ones who have used. All of them are here. The places I’ve stayed, the neighborhoods, the streets I’ve walked alone, or with friends and laughter, pockets empty or pockets full, content in the moment or wishing for a bicycle or an oyster top up or food or a shiny penny on the ground waiting for me, pointing the way.

The moon is growing to full outside the bus window as it rolls back to Edinburgh, then on to NY from there so that the journey is a circle.

If I were Bob Dylan, I could write one very complicated f**king song from these last six months. One song so dense with personal metaphor that no one would have any idea who anybody was and what I was talking about. But if I were Bob Dylan, they would know anyway, despite all the not knowing. It would be a song about betrayal and trusts built and squandered; trusts built and tended. It would be a song about exuberance tempered with pragmatism, about the universal heart that beats in all living things, about wanting arms that can hug all the way from Kabul to London to Los Angeles. About the way technology lets me send missives instead of hugs, how it connects and how it disconnects. How it makes me more individual and turns me into a data bundle. About the night sky and Mars who rules me whether I want to be a warrior or not. About chasing the one that makes you crazy until you find that the one that keeps you warm and sane was right there all the time. About trading ignorance for understanding; about trading the illusion of wealth for the wealth of human companionships.

But I am not Bob Dylan. I’m a late bloomer, spirit has not entered me the way it did him. It has entered me hard and rough and over time. It has worn my defenses thin and repeatedly asked me to give up everything for one true thing. Spirit doesn’t really take no for an answer. It doesn’t take maybe, either, or “I’m busy-- how about later?” When spirit leads, you follow, or risk losing the path.

I will risk everything not to lose that path. I have. So what is the one true thing?

Off the bus, the morning sun raises the dew in a city so beautiful you don't mind the cold, the damp, the always uphill walks. I call it beautiful, awe-inspiring. "Majesterial" is offered up as a new description. Whatever it is gets the blood going and the lungs pumping and makes Sunday morning invigorating.

I think the one true thing might be simple. It’s all ok. Or even another step: it’s all good. Because the one true thing is that we are interconnected in a world where horror and joy live side-by-side every minute and where we can be forced out by one or swept up by another. We live in a world where people can be the most precious commodity or they can be just a number to a corrupt system. In every minute of this world we live in, the living breathe. Each breath is a life affirmation and an acknowledgement of a continuum.

It’s true – I don’t feel as bad for the millionaires who lost money with Madoff as I do for the people I have seen struggling to maintain dignity while they do not have enough money to eat every day or to even get to their jobs if they have them. It’s also true that the facts I just related will give you no idea whatsoever about the happiness of any of those people. I couldn’t live with myself if I were Madoff. But there are things I’ve done which I apparently can live with that are not so honourable as I would like to be. We don’t always all behave as our best selves 100% of the time. Is it a question of degrees, of learning, of just trying?

I don’t know. I know survival has cost me more lately than it used to. I know self-belief has cost me, as well. I know it has cost the people who support me. I also know those costs are attached to the idea of higher purpose -- of all of our needs and wants to transcend the daily and get on with human evolution in all its forms. Somebody’s got to go out on the limb. Somebody has to tend the fire, somebody has to figure out how to build a support for the limb or prop up the tree from the weight of it. That’s community. And community has become global. We are able to form communities of like-minded and –hearted people with only small regard for where we fall on the GPS. This is one of the things that make me feel blessed to live when I do. To have even the small reach that I do to encounter humanity on a scale larger than my own little village.

Having landed back in that village, briefly, I can say – I would have died if I stayed. I’ve had my knish from Kensington and walked through town, but there is nothing here I need to encounter. In three blocks of walking I heard more horns honk than in all the months I was in London, and almost got run over by more drivers – none of them with the right of way – than in all my time as a pedestrian there. In one shop I saw more impatient and irate customers than I can recall in the last 6 months anywhere else. I remember this place as home to many aggressive spirits and apparently, it has not changed. I expected neutral at least, but have not found it. It was not wanting to be like them that drove me out of here, that occupied my thoughts daily from the time I was 12 years old, counting the days to 18 and high school graduation.

It is probably those same thoughts that have propelled me further and further from what is tested. But I would have never found what was true, not even one true thing, had I not strayed from that path. So it costs what it will, what it has, as it shapes me into who I am.

Monday, 2 February 2009

home of the brave

I missed the opening of the Super Bowl last night.  I was on a bus, then walking back in high-heeled smooth-bottomed boots I wouldn't have worn had I known it was going to snow like that.  The snow was beautiful, joyous, and its special gift:  quiet.  I knew enough to stay away from places it looked like it had melted -- that's a sure sign of an insidious ice patch.   I walked slowly and deliberately thinking I wasn't missing anything important and I didn't want to end up splayed on the ground.

The Super Bowl was unexpectedly entertaining -- an interception with a 100-yard run followed by a touchdown? -- a breakaway touchdown by Fitzgerald putting the Cardinals in the lead with 2+minutes to go?  -- a maybe-yes/maybe-no touchdown that would decide the game for the Steelers?  No - I hadn't seen a Super Bowl like this.  Pretty entertaining.  Plus we had pizza.  Not an easy accomplishment here in snowy London.  And by pizza I mean Pizza.  Mmm...

Springsteen was a 12-minute bucket of fun.  Before the half, the Brit commentators were speculating  on what he might play.  I thought, "No, no, no -- you're all wrong -- 10th Avenue Freeze Out -- what else would  he come out with?"  Of course, I neglected to say that out loud, thus losing out on bragging rights later.  But when the opening riffs came, it seemed like exactly the only choice to rock millions of people around the world simultaneously.  He knew where he was and what he had to do.  Like it or not, the Super Bowl Half-Time Show is the biggest audience you are ever going to get at one time -- unless you are getting sworn in for the U.S. Presidency.

The set was far too short and they looked like they were having so much fun, it seemed pointless to me to continue the game -- let the E Street Band play! Besides the music, and the power of it, you can see how much they enjoy what they are doing.  It's a good lesson in performance -- have fun.  Bring your A game -- even when that means you have to sing a song you wrote over 30 years ago with the same conviction you had when you wrote it.  Don't make it look like work.  Go on ahead and make it seem fun and easy.  Because all the people in front of you, they want to be entertained.  They want a break from their every day.  So give it to them:  they pay your bills.

The second half proved more interesting than expected, and mercilessly, ended before 3am here.  It was a good end to a fine day in sports with a great Aussie Open final starting the day.

In between, I got to go out and do my own 12-minutes, in a loud pub, with people not at all sure they wanted to listen.  I usually ignore that, but it was kind of a tough room.  Still, you never know.  Afterward, people came up and seemed to have really identified and enjoyed what I was doing.  One group pulled me in to sit with them, share wine, and talk.  A woman repeatedly called me brave, telling me she could not do what I did.

I find it uncomfortable being called brave.  And more and more in these latest months, people have called me that.  I think they don't really know.  I think, perhaps, they are being polite and what they want to say is "crazy."  I think circumstances create bravery, but more often create its opposite:  cowardice.  I think they don't see those moments.

After the Super Bowl, I remembered I had missed something -- Jennifer Hudson.  I went on YouTube to find a clip.  

At the best of times, the Star-Spangled Banner is a b***h to sing.  To sing it well, almost impossible.  To make it your own, spectacular.  To do all this in front of millions, months after a family tragedy the proportions of which almost none of us will ever experience? Heroic.

Immediately clear is that this is not the Jennifer Hudson who had entertainment mags following her on her shopping trips for Oscar dresses.  She is dressed, sure, but she is not styled or outfitted.  She is there.

If you look at her face in the moments before the she begins to sing, I think you can see her wondering just what exactly she is doing there.  She looks a bit sad, not scared -- in fact, does not seem daunted by the crowd at all.  She is in her own world.  

As the music starts and her voice begins its work, she is strong and assured like no other singer I've heard doing the National Anthem.  Then, something takes over.  "And the rockets red glare" a vocal leap that is dangerous, suddenly brings out her gift, her talent, the ability to soar on notes to feel music underneath her like currents of air; she is singing.  She is not Jennifer Hudson, she is Jennifer Hudson's gift.  She is singing in spite of, because of, in honour of her loss.  She is doing what she is born to do.  She seems so fully present, so blissfully unaware of the audience at the same time she is fully serving them.  And the singing -- I have never heard that song a song.  Not like some torturous vocal exercise or something we all have to get through, hands on hearts.  A song you might listen to by choice, because it's beautiful, and possibly, because after everything she's been through -- we've been through -- it means something.

As she finishes, even she seems a bit surprised.  She didn't just sing; what she did was transcend -- circumstances, song, identity, situation -- to create something new and, yes, inspiring.  After all, what is bravery but transcending circumstance, situation, and identity, momentarily to achieve something you heretofore thought impossible?  What did the Steelers' quarterback Roethlisberger say after the Super Bowl?  That now he knew anything was possible.  

As I watched, I thought of my friend Sean, who is a big Jennifer Hudson fan.  I hoped he'd had the opportunity to see it.  Two years from this month, he is going to need exactly what Jennifer Hudson brought with her -- the ability to transcend.

I wish the clip I saw stayed on her a bit longer.  I've watched it over and over.  I admit it.  And each time she ends with "the home of the brave" I think - and that is you, girl.  For getting up here and doing what you do in spite of everything that's been done or happened to you.  

Each time what I come away with is a lesson.  She is brave.  And she is smart.  She has transcended yet another bad, and possibly the worst, circumstance she will face.  She has kept her faith and her power and her energy posited firmly in her gift, ignored the haters, followed it where it has taken her, trusted that it will lead her where she needs to be, and never insulted it by not sharing it with others.

We all know the stories of what comes from not honouring our gifts fully, or from perverting them, or fighting them.  Gifts and talents don't lead to joy unless you follow them there with firm commitment.  They can lead to dead in a hotel room at 27, gunshot wound, choking on your own vomit, speedballing your way to history; we know those stories.  

Springsteen, Fitzgerald, Federer, Nadal, Hudson were all out there yesterday giving free lessons, putting it all on the line and I have taken notes -- this is the excellence and the shared exuberance and experience that comes of fully embodying your gift.  Living in it, enjoying it, and making it available to others.

There are those times in life that you are offered a choice -- to fight in futility, to cave in and ignore your strengths, or to continue boldly --  even, bravely.  There are times in life when you can't accomplish anything by fighting back.  You need to learn how to fight forward.