Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Home in the World

Earlier this year, Brian and I were planning a move. We'd been in the same one-bedroom apartment for seven years. Where we'd once been two, we now were four. It was more than a bit of a squeeze.  With the freedom to move wherever we wanted, I daydreamed about moving to the beach.  But Brian, who hates unnecessary driving, vetoed moving anywhere that would make his daily commute too inconvenient. Marina del Rey was out of the question. So, rather than moving to the beach, we moved around the corner from where we'd been living all along - not a bad commute at all. For him.

Not long after the move, I was walking along the sand and it occurred to me. Whether or not we actually live here as a family, I thought, this can still be my home. And so I declared silently to myself - with no one to hear but invisible ears - I'm  home.

I never felt at home in the world. I never felt at home with either of my extended families. Too Jewish. Too suburban. Too Puerto Rican. Too ghetto. Not at home with my peers, my school, my work.

But I was always at home by the water, in the water. I just didn't know it. Like Dorothy after a whirlwind and a concussion - there's no place like home. Knowing where home is makes it much easier to be everywhere else.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Letting Go

I don't think of myself as a fearful person. I've done many things I consider courageous. If I can dare myself to so something, even if it takes a while, eventually I'll do it.  But then there are those things I'm afraid of, that I'm SO afraid of, I don't even let myself know I'm afraid.

I had a really illuminating lesson on Sunday morning with Amanda from the 310 Surf Chics of L.A. At 8 a.m., the beach was completely socked in by fog. Yards away from the Santa Monica Pier, I could see only a faintly colored blur where the Ferris Wheel would normally be. But while the amusement park rides were barely visible, I was there because I wanted to be seen. I hadn't been improving on my own in the water and I needed a skilled observer to show me what I couldn't see. 

So what did she see?

Comfortable in the water. Check. Comfortable on my board. Check. Able to follow directions? Catch a wave? Pop up on land to a squat from a prone position? Check. Able to let go of the board in the water? Unfortunately not.

Visualize a surfer. Grace and speed combine in one smooth movement from prone to standing as a wave gains power beneath her. Arms outstretched, she's balanced and powerful. Unless she's still holding on to her board for dear life.

I knew there was something "wrong" with my arms. I'd just thought maybe they were too short. Why else couldn't I get my legs through them when I tried to stand up? They're not too short. They were just rigidly gripping the sides of Big Mama Wave.

As Trinity said, "If a surfer doesn't let go of her board, she's gonna fall over." Actually, what she said was a lot more complicated than that, but that was the main idea. Trinity's watched "Barbie and a Mermaid's Tale" a lot lately - featuring Barbie as a surfer who also happens to be a Mermaid  - and she's considering herself something of an expert on girl-surfing these days.

But I digress.

Amanda could tell me again and again to let go. And I could tell myself.  I'm falling into the water every time I take off anyway, so what am I afraid of?  It doesn't really make sense. But there it is.

The biggest flaw in my technique?  Sub-conscious. Pre-verbal. Lizard-brained. Paralyzing. Terror.

I know I'll get over it. What I can't get over is how oblivious I've been to my own arms.

And so I conclude, it really pays to ask someone trustworthy, now and then, to point out that thing everyone else can  see but is totally invisible to you. Especially if it's something that's really important to you.

Like surfing is to me :)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Looking for a Reason

It was wintry cold when I got to the beach yesterday morning. So cold, my feet cramped up when I stepped into the water. Colder than usual for September - generally one of the hotter months of the year. But hot never came to Southern California this year...so I got cold instead. It was enough to make me reconsider - more deeply than ever before - that I may not have what it takes for this surfing thing.

Surfing in the summer, no problem. Even in the fog, it's still pretty warm. But surfing in the winter - I've heard the waves are better, but the weather? Not so much.

I have no need, like I once did, to prove myself macho and capable of "taking it like a man". Though I'm not always completely sure what it "means" to be a woman,  it definitely doesn't mean I have to prove to all the men that I'm as "tough" as they are. I kept standing there. Looking for a reason. To go in. Or to stay out.

I stood on the brink for a long time. If I can stay in for thirty minutes, I told myself, that'll be enough. I went in. Not to impress anyone. It just would have felt wrong to turn around and go home. 

In the water, I remembered a dream I'd had the night before. I stood in front of a mirror in a dance studio, practicing in pointe shoes. A master dancer stood outside the studio door. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't control a wobble in my ankle. I didn't want her to see my imperfect technique. I wanted to figure it out on my own.

I've figured out quite a bit during the last few weeks and months of surfing alone. I'm much more comfortable in the water. I understand waves and currents and tides with a new acuity. But there are vast imperfections I still can't figure out. The master stands outside the door. Let her in. Using the seventy-five dollars I'd squirreled away for "something special," I've scheduled a lesson for tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Saturday afternoon, I left a party mid-swing, picked up my surf gear at home and went to the beach. The conditions were terrible. I arrived at the lowest point of low tide. The water was barely a foot deep for yards, and the waves were but tiny little rippling mounds on the surface.

Feeling philosophical, I channeled my disappointment into a blog entry - which disappeared into the virtual ethers when seemingly both Blogger and my computer crashed. Then I was a little less philosophical. I got less philosophical when I didn't make it to the beach at all on Sunday.

I am becoming a "surfer." When I'm not in the waves, I'm either imagining that I am or planning when I next will be. This is not bad. Happiness is only four miles away on any given morning. That, in itself, is cause for happiness. Because I have so much more genuine happiness occurring, as well as more happiness to look forward to, I am, in general, happier.

And I know for a fact, I would not be homeschooling if I didn't have "Big Mama Wave" in my garage. Life would be too much "them" and not enough "me."

Which brings me to some more observations and questions about balance and other things. In the Surf movie "Sprout," the filmmakers visit board maker Tom Wegener and his family in Australia. Master craftsman Tom met his wife Margie when she was a morning radio DJ. She interviewed him for her station. It was love at first sight. Ten years and two kids later, they're still in love; we see a sweet and affectionate kiss. And then we see Margie - hanging up the laundry. Yes, we do.

Here's the observation: someone has to do the laundry, right?

Here's the question: what if a woman's life is shaped not only by her individual drive to be self-expressed, but by an inevitable, inescapable duty and responsibility towards the continuation of human life on planet earth and this includes - maybe - sometimes - in some situations - a lot of cooking, cleaning and doing laundry?

And there's nothing wrong with that.

Might be self-evident to some people. To me, this comes as a shocking possibility.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Balancing Acts

As of last week, I am officially a home-schooler. Or, as of the moment I returned the call from La Ballona Elementary School and told the secretary that my daughter wouldn't be attending second grade. "Good luck" she said, when I shared my plan. Then I was officially a home-schooler.

Two weeks into being entirely responsible for the education for another human being, I am conscious that the discussion around education in contemporary society is based in anxiety. Anxiety about the future. Anxiety about the fact that the United States/the American Dream is not what it once was. Anxiety about how to survive. About how to live. About what a person needs to thrive. Anxiety about the absences or flaws in one's own life that one doesn't want to pass on to the next generation.

I am guilty of all of this.

I surf many mind-waves in the course of the average day. I take a deep breath and visualize a wave rolling up beneath my board, catching that wave and speeding towards shore with the force of the tide beneath me. During the good moments of teaching, my children are the wave and I can catch their force and ride it, too, in the right direction. Being with children, like being with water, is about being present.

But as a surfing instructor laid it out for me one day; surfing is a balance between surrender and the aggressive attack of something larger and more powerful than one's self. And such it is with children as well.

The unending question then, for both water and little humans, is when to be present and go with the flow and when to bring certainty, force and intention? When do I discipline my daughter to sit up straight, brush her teeth and do the things she doesn't want to do but are important, i.e. math? When do I nurture her inclination to dawdle around tree roots and speak in a quiet voice to insects and fish?

Which will help her more to thrive in an increasingly uncertain world? How do I get this thing to balance?

Friday, September 3, 2010

I Take Requests

A friend recently asked me to recommend some books that had an influence on my spiritual development over the years.

Nothing immediately came to mind, other than the book that is most blowing my mind right now: "Raising your Spirited Child" by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. If you've got a child, or know a child, who seems unusually difficult but is really just extra sensitive, persistent, intense and slow to adapt, this book is for you. It may very well set your spirit at ease, as it has mine, and so, though it is technically a parenting book, it is also certainly a spiritual text.

Otherwise, these items came to mind as having had an early and profound influence on my journey:

"The Seven Story Mountain" by Thomas Merton
A Columbia University student, and carousing literary star in the making, finds the Catholic church and becomes a monk. He even gets a girl pregnant, though he leaves that part out. A compelling story of redemption, I first read this when I a senior in college, kept breaking up with my boyfriend and was longing for a more spiritually authentic life.

"Journey of Awakening: A Meditator's Guidebook" by Ram Dass
There was a time when I didn't know how to meditate, when I didn't even know what meditation was. Amazing! This book was my introduction and a very useful one at that. I gave away my original copy to a friend, but I still remember it fondly. Anything by Ram Dass is entertaining, instructive and profound, whether you're reading his books or listening to him on audiotape. As he would say, he's not a guru, just a very human teacher.

“New Seeds of Contemplation” by Thomas Merton
My copy of this book lacks a front and a back cover. It is underlined and notated like crazy. Each chapter is around ten pages long and gives the reader something to think, pray and wonder about. Chapter headings include "What is contemplation?", "What contemplation is not", "Integrity" and "Faith." This stuff never gets old.

"The Perennial Philosophy" by Aldous Huxley
Huxley compares the words of mystics from the world over, finding commonalities in faith and insight. I read and reread it through college and graduate school and its pages, too, are covered with notations. It’s not an easy read and it surprises me today that I got so much out of it when I was so young. I may have been smarter then than I am now.

"Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said" by Philip K. Dick
For those not familiar with Philip K. Dick's novels, but familiar with the movies inspired by them, these are not action stories. (This is a major pet peeve of mine about which I will say no more right now.) That said, this is a novel about lost identities, lost love, and the mysteries of our shared and un/shared realities.

These five books laid a foundation for the spiritual development of my early-adult years, and I will share many more in the future.  What books/works of art have inspired you over the years, and how did they relate to your circumstances at at the time?