Monday, March 30, 2009

Bay Area Trip, Spring 2009

When a good picture is taken of yourself, do you wonder if they'll ever be another good picture taken of you again? This picture is like that for me. It may very well be the last good one. Seriously, I dunno if all the elements will converge again like this. It was taken Friday. I had driven into San Francisco a couple hours before and Betsy and I were riding our bikes along the Embarcadero looking for a decent sports bar to watch college hoops. Betsy took the picture from her bike as we rolled along. The weather was perfect; the sky, the water, the Bay Bridge, my favorite color jacket; I'm glowing happy . . .

We had just come from the Rainbow Coop which is always my first stop when I go up there. Betsy took the BART over from the East Bay with her bike and met me there. We putzed around the aisles of the store. I bought vegan apple pie and a new cookbook called Vegan Soul Kitchen by Bryant Terry. Terry is originally from TN, but now lives in Oakland. He calls himself an eco chef and a food justice activist, which wildly inspires me. He also has written a recipe for Jamaican Patties with Sweet Coconut-Ginger Creamed Corn, so forget it, I love him. So, Betsy and I wove through Rainbow laughing loudly, muted only when we peeped out some new thing on the shelves -- oh and once we fell silent when an anorexic woman passed us sporting a full chin beard. Tattoos covered her bone-arms. I think it was a woman. But definitely anorexic. With a chin beard for sure. "I love this town," I said. Our cashier was a tall man with pig tails, wearing an ornate black-beaded choker and a green-khaki skirt. I hardly noticed until I was paying. Then I was set on picking up something in his voice, in his mannerisms to give me more of his personality. I listened to him talk as I slid my ATM card through. He gave me nothing but warm welcomes and casual conversation. He was just a regular dude dressed not so regular.

Oh look, here we are again on the Embarcadero.I feel like a bike model! Get outta here. I love myself. After Rainbow, we went to eat at Cafe Gratitude. The day was sparkling through windows so we sat in the bay seat to watch everyone coming in. A woman in a flowing skirt and purple velvet hat sat at the bar of the restaurant next to a hand-written sign that read "Free Tarot Readings." No one had joined her and it didn't really cross our minds either. The waiter came to take our order. At Gratitude, all the food and drink are listed as affirmations. The shake I ordered was named the I Am Grace, and the waiter will say, "Yes, you are grace," and on. The waiter rattled off the specials: "Cream" of mushroom soup and the entree was an enchilada stuffed with nuts, carrots and cranberries. Betsy closed her menu and said, "Oh yea, that's for me." I said, "Yup, I Am the Specials," which the waiter didn't get so we awkwardly had to tell him to hook us up with the soup and the enchiladas, dang. He said, "Here's the question of the day: What inspires you about Nature?" I blushed at such a personal question thrown at us so unexpectedly. Defensively, I only thought of smart-ass things, but I kept my mouth shut. Betsy said, "Blues and greens," which was a good answer. I declined partly because Blues & Greens shouldn't be topped, but mainly I thought, "I am Nature. I am Nature." The menu had gone to my head.

Later that night, we went over to Hotel Utah to catch Bhi Bhiman, who is a fantastic singer from Oakland. I consider him a lyrical activist too, but I'm surprised nothing of the sort is mentioned on his website. His lyrics are heavy on comedy, but poignant too. His voice though, that's the thing; his voice is divine and quirky and special though he looks like any dude on the street who wouldn't catch your eye. I stared at him most of show, set on getting something from his mannerisms to get more of his personality, but I only felt it when I closed my eyes and listened.

What I learned about myself the next morning as we climbed Mt. Diablo on our bikes is that I have a lot to learn still about cycling. We all know this about ourselves, about many things, don't we? But we kind of really don't know this about ourselves, do we - that we usually don't know much. The good news is that I was fit enough to make it up the hill in ok form and I was nowhere near discouraged. But I was just unfit enough to realize I have only chipped the tip of this sport. I feel inspired to forge on. I have a feeling I have no idea what I'm getting myself into, but on we go!

Here we are 54 minutes up the hill at the Ranger Station, Betsy, me and Betsy's husband Jim. The thing about learning something about yourself in one day is that you'll probably forget all of that the next day. On Sunday morning, Betsy and I went on a 17 mile ride from Layfayette to Oakland to the top of Skyline and back. The views were spectacular. Most of the ride was on a two-lane road sandwiched by messy and fragrant pines and clear creeks.But the last 12 minutes to Skyline was hill. A hill steeper than Mt. Diablo for sure, and while I felt fast and good and confident and inspired after Saturday's ride and for a lot of Sunday's ride, that last bit of hill made me think I had even more work to do than yesterday's epiphany. Gasping the last 200 yards to the summit, determined not to stop, I didn't appreciate that Sunday's realization had to trump Saturday's. Betsy waited for me at the top, said I did just fine and then she flew back down the hill, clocking in at over 30mph while I cautiously made may way down squeezing the brakes so hard I was afraid to set the tires on fire. But once down the gnarliest part of the hill, I locked into a type of fast coast that made me feel deeply for my bike. I blazed through pine-tree shadows, skimming needles and dirt. I fast-nodded my good mornings to the cyclists making their way up. The sun flickered like an old film reel and the smell of buttery tree sap laced the rushing gust I cut through easily. My fragility on a seventeen-pound wisp of a vehicle disappeared, and Whitey and I were gonna be all right.

Nearing the end of the ride, we cruised leisurely on the path towards Betsy's house. Some parts of the path were too beautiful not to dismount and admire and photograph. We balanced the camera on a post and hit the timer. .” I wanted to stuff the huge feelings I had during the ride into a hefty bag and lug it over to CafĂ© Gratitude. I would dump it on the table and the floor – some would spill into the kitchen -- and I’d shake out the last bits of it by gripping the tips of the bag. I’d tell the waiter, “Is this what you mean? Is this the easy answer you were looking for? Here it is."

Thanks Betsy for such a great weekend.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Trinity

Two nights ago, the girls and I watched The Secret Life of Bees. We cried our eyes out, even Mina, which I think is a developmental milestone. I think it's the first time she's cried during a movie. It's a mark of maturity. While the credits of the film rolled, an Alicia Keys song came on and Mina stood in front of the TV and started to dance. Inspired, I got up too and we danced. And after some coaxing Maya was up. After some freeform flowing about, we reverted to one of our favorite pastimes, the Can You Do This Dance game, which I have played with some of my closest friends at parties, at nightclubs, in a living room to the radio. The girls and I stood in a triangle dancing and laughing, like we do often, and it was a snapshot of our lives. I know not of a bound closer or stronger than between the three of us.

We love our Papi. We gush over him and get all excited when he comes home. We all, in our own way, yearn for his approval and affection. He gives it freely and he is protective and loving of his girls, but Papi knows the goddess triangle-bond in our house is an interlaced and powerful thing. The girls and I will huddle together instinctively; we gravitate towards each other. We are magnetised without thought.

Maya's middle name is Trinidad, spanish for trinity. She was named after a baby I used to babysit decades ago. When he was months old I would lay him on the bed and snuggle next to him. He'd stare at me. I didn't know babies did that. He once lifted his tiny hand and placed it on my cheek before he went to sleep. His name was Trinity, and he moved me, which I didn't know a baby could do either. When he was about one and a half or two, his parents found out he was fully deaf. He was the most special baby I'd ever known until my own trinity was formed.

The girls change daily now. They move beautifully in the dynamic of our world; so smart and responsible and fun. I love to hear all the daily stories and how they interact in the worlds outside of the house.

Maya likes a boy, at least today. Don't tell her I told you. She doesn't crush easily and it's fair to say she's extremely picky. Her last huge crush was on the singer Chris Brown, but the day she learned about the abuse allegations committed on Rhianna, she ripped his posters down off her walls in long shreds. Good for her, I thought. So, she kind of likes this boy M and he's not like the little jerks who troll around the school halls as they let everything and anything fly from their mouths. M is a devout Muslim. Maya and he have had conversations about being peaceful. M goes to the counselor's office when it's time to say his daily prayers, and most importantly, he's nice to her. Oh and he's tall. She said, "He's not allowed to date until he's 16." I said, "Neither are you." We laugh easily over this though she knows I'm not kidding.

Mina is having her best school year yet. 4th grade has been solid. It's not A+, but it's a far cry from dreaded 2nd grade. Since 2nd grade, I stay very close to her teachers telling them to email me on any slip up. It helps a lot. Mina still has big focus issues and I had to go in recently so the three of us, the teacher, Mina and I, could figure out how to rein in some focus. Mrs. H. asked Mina very sincerely if she felt she as unable to focus, like, her brain wouldn't let her. It was a fair and warranted question. Mrs. H. said that recently while she's lecturing or writing on the board she'll turn around and Mina's seat will be empty. Mina's at the back of the room, getting tissues, f'ing off with the pencil sharpener, helping someone with some unrelated thing. Mina told her earnestly that she could focus, and I know she can too. I know she doesn't have ADD or anything else. She's just really driven by the rules of her own brain. I love that about her. But -- and I've said this a hundred times -- I still gotta get her through school, y'know? Check out her latest tennis video below. This girl has laser focus -- and quite sick hand-eye coordination I might add.

Anyway, I just love them both so much. Just thought I'd share that, again.


I'm off to the Bay Area in the morning to visit Betsy. I made her raw macaroons and raw granola this week, and I packed Whitey Heidi up in the car so we can climb Mount Diablo on Sunday. In a few short hours, I'll be driving up the 5, over the Grapevine and through the California almond orchards. Night, y'all. Happy Weekend.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Lonely Great Wall

The Great Wall of Los Angeles sits almost out of sight off a suburban stretch of road in the valley. It is probable that its fading colors catch the peripheral vision of passerbyers, maybe less of those who pass it every day. When the girls and I visited the mural today, it looked in need of attention; not just a touch up -- though it was graffiti-free and not as corroded as I thought it would be -- but just of some appreciation. It seemed alone out there.

Looking down the half mile of the painted flood channel that threads a lush-green pedestrian park was anti-climactic for the girls, I could see. The way I had pumped up The Wall may have warranted this reaction. Maybe they were expecting flashing lights and piped-in music; possibly a digital screen spelling out the mural's significance. I started walking along the chain link fence, telling them to come on. I explained what I knew of the different panels. I didn't know every story, but I hoped some of it, any of it, would be interesting to them. For the first 50 yards their minds wandered. I told them to pay attention. I told Mina to stop hunting for walking sticks, for Maya to slow down and take it in. After about ten minutes, The Wall enveloped us. Some of the stories were familiar to the girls. Some not at all. They slowly became engaged and the details of the mural started to stand out. Like the little seen image of the California lynchings, mainly of Latinos, others of Chinese and blacks, a lot done in the Los Angeles area starting in the 1850's and continuing into the 1930's. They are very aware of the Rosie the Riveter image. They know this symbolizes that women are capable of all things including keeping the country running as men fought in war, but The Wall's panel named Farewell to Rosie the Riveter was a sobering one because it symbolizes post WW II and how women were expected to stuff themselves and their capabilities back into a "traditional" and limited role once men were back to "handle things". After new concepts, Maya would usually only ask, "Why?" I gave Mina the camera and let her take photos how she wanted. And Maya and I talked about why oppressive history isn't told enough. She told me that she had recently learned about Pol Pot of Cambodia, but she learned of him and his massacres in English class. They have been studying poetry and her teacher introduces a lot of underrepresented stories through literature, and Maya wants to know why she doesn't learn about these things in history. Why didn't she know that Thomas Edison was Mexican, born in Mexico, adopted by white American parents? Why would the United States refuse to take in Jewish refugees during World War II like when we turned away the thousand people on the SS St. Louis?Why would the Los Angeles government force Latina families out of their homes in the 1950's without compensation , confiscating 300 acres of Chavez Ravine for their own projects that eventually led to freeways and Dodger Stadium? The girls and I looped the park and spent over an hour looking at the mural and talking. The girls, and me too honestly, are now so used to immediate information at our fingertips -- a history of events as well as the interpretation -- that the slow-building thoughtfulness of the art and the history telling through images was impactful, and long-lasting. We left filled and contemplative. And we hope we kept The Wall company for a little while too.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Checking In, Stories A-Brewin'

Firstly, I miss you.

Do you ever feel like you're a complete bore to your significant other? Like you talk and the words hang, then melt with no spark to catch onto? You talk and the words sludge through the air of a tough audience never really reaching that audience? I think he's been too busy lately. I then check on the girls and listen to their stories, help them with their stuff, feeling unsatiated in conversation. I think I bore the girls sometimes too.

I've got trapped stories. I gotta let them out. Here's a good place, I think. I'm all excited about stuff but I fear, again, that I'm only talking about a few things as of late, possibly saying the same things repeatedly. Feh, I don't blame him, them. When the words come, they do lose a little fire. I have a good blog-story brewing about my Aunt Remie, my mother's little sister, who found me on Facebook. FB became it's weight's worth in gold when I got her friend-request out of the blue. I saw her name and nearly burst into tears. She has great stories. I'm polishing up the words now to them share soon.

This weekend, I'm taking the girls to see the The Great Wall of Los Angeles. Mina has a project due in the next couple weeks about a great Californian. I influenced her to pick Judy Baca who was on the list to my happy surprise! Judy Baca is a world-renown muralist and activist who is one of the founders of SPARC, the organization who created and painted the Great Wall. She recruited 35 artists and 400 kids of diverse economic and cultural backgrounds from LA communities to help paint the wall. The mural is a half mile painted history of California, but it represents the history of non-Anglos; always the most underrepresented of histories. The mural depicts the foundation of California, the very roots of which lie in ethnically diverse cultures, and continues the thread of cultural influence through the time-line of the mural. The piece is a triumph. I didn't just influence Mina to pick Judy Baca because of all these great reasons -- certainly reasons enough -- but also because in the late 1970's, after working on Judy Chicago's Dinner Party, my mother worked at SPARC with Judy Baca. The Great Wall was almost completed by then or just finished, and many other mural projects were in the works. I spent a lot time hanging around the SPARC halls too which is a converted jail in Venice. I remember Judy Baca had a similar, powerful energy to her, like Chicago, but it was more selfless and goddess-like. Not necessarily a kind goddess, but a powerful one. PCP was big back then and SPARC would organize theatrical anti-PCP outreach programs for the community. SPARC and Baca were a whirling force of influence. That's what I remember the most. Mina was thrilled to choose an artist and one we had known no less. I can't wait for her and Maya to see The Great Wall. I hear it's in need of serious restoration, but I'm sure it's still iconically mind-blowing none the less. I'll post a grip of photos from our adventure.

Lastly, I wanted to report that the studio where I take my spin classes has installed a prototype "Green Bike." The spin bike is hooked up to a generator that charges a battery. The alternating batteries are used to juice the stereo and microphone! Man, I love that. They'll hook up more bikes to generators as they figure out how to juice everything else.

Talk to you later.