I Still Can’t Believe It

In my lifetime…

…a black man became President-Elect of the United States of America.

…same-sex couples are now legally married.

That is all I have to say. I want to just revel in the success for a while.

And both of them gifts. Requiring just the most minor amount of effort on my own part.

Both of them worthy of crying tears of joy.

Neither of them did I expect to see in my lifetime.

All I Want for Christmas Is a Robot Friend

My downstairs neighbor and I hit it off almost as soon as he moved in. Turns out we’re both huge geeks with just enough of an overlap in interests to loan each other books we don’t actually own. Yesterday, he loaned me something way better, though:

Widdershins, the singing, vaccuum-cleaning robot.

I know Roombas aren’t new, but it’s the first time I’ve had one in my own house, merrily chugging away. When you push the little button, it sings a happy little I’m-going-to-clean-your-floors song. When it chokes on an item of clothing you forgot to pick up off the floor, it sings a little HALP! song. When it’s all done making your floors shiny and clean, it sings a happy little I’m-done-cleaning-now song. And when it runs out of juice, it sings a sad little I’m-all-run-down song.

A few months ago, when they installed the new super-duper security gates in the downstairs lobby of my office building, I had an epiphany. We have little robot friends everywhere! The robots in the lobby read my RFID card, think a little while, and then beep and let me in. They’re posh robots, all stainless steel with some wood detailing and frosted-glass gates.

More and more people have little robot friends in their houses, chugging away sucking up dirt, mopping floors, or reading them their email. And the designers have wisely made them as cute as the DRDs from Farscape.

I can has robot frienz?

Ten Moments in Northern California

  1. All alone in San Francisco. In the early morning, the line for the cable cars is much shorter. A family from Ohio sits next to me on the wooden step. I don’t take pictures. I look. At each intersection, the cable car stops for a moment, hovering there on the side of a hill, and you see down a long avenue, past buildings and cars and streets and people. At the end of the street, there’s the bay, and the bridge arcing gracefully between buildings, and little puffy clouds scooting across the sky.
  2. After wandering through Chinatown I return to my hotel room for a nap and wake up at midnight. The cool moist air of the city surrounds me. I roll over and go back to sleep.
  3. In Petaluma we stay at a Sheraton at the edge of a marsh. I walk the path that skirts the dense, low vegetation and the mudflats. Highway 101 roars nearby and the marsh is ringed with litter and office buildings. It’s a long, long walk, and my muscles, complaining after three days of San Francisco hills, soften and then tighten again. At the farthest point, I see three egrets and two herons. This is one of the last wetlands on the California coast.
  4. The Cathedral Grove at Muir Woods has been designated a “quiet zone.” The redwoods stretch up forever, a thousand, two thousand years old. Determined to make it to the grove, I push on ahead of the rest of my family. My six-year-old niece walks with me, and she is so very good about remaining silent in this silent, sacred place. Other tourists blather on, take photos. She shushes them. In spite of the chatter here and there, I can hear and feel the silence, the weight of these old, old beings, here long before the cars and chips and subdivisions.
  5. On the way to Petaluma, we stopped and took in the perfect view of the bay, the city, Oakland, the hills, and the graceful orange curves of the Golden Gate. On the way back, fog envelops the bridge, the thick suspension cables fading into the mist.
  6. The eucalyptus trees, heavy and shaggy and fragrant. Lining the highway, brought here by missionaries one hundred and fifty years ago.
  7. My brother’s house is an Eickler. The facade is a blank wall, softened by native plants artfully placed. Inside, glass walls and the high, sloped ceiling, draw in the greenery of the atrium and the back garden. It’s like being inside a work of art.
  8. At night in Santa Cruz I cross the boardwalk with my family, then leave them behind and greet the ocean. In the dark, seals bark to each other and the sea practices her endless rush. On the boardwalk, roller coasters and ferris wheels sparkle in the darkness, and people scream on the rides. I walk the strand between the two worlds.
  9. The next afternoon I hike from the boardwalk to West Cliff. Signs remind me to keep right. From time to time I stop and listen to the pounding of the surf, a whump I’ve never heard from the Atlantic. Surfers lay atop their boards, and from time to time one pops up and rides the curving white head of a wave to the edge of the rocks.
  10. At the beach below the Surfer’s Museum, I sit on the sand and watch four teenagers talk about their summer jobs. From the cadence of their speech I can tell they are from Northern California. The sun, the blue oceans, the waves, lull me. I roll over on my side. My niece calls to me across the sand. I sit up and she runs to me. I pick her up and swing her around. Her father and my mother trail behind. Her father, my brother, has lived on this coast for 20 years. He’s a different man now than the boy I grew up with on the opposite side of the continent. And still my brother. Still family.

San Francisco, Open Your Golden Gates

Arrived after 1:00 am on Friday night (Saturday morning, I suppose) and stayed at the Mosser Hotel in downtown San Francisco. It’s located in SoMa (South of Market), an area where a lot of multimedia companies set up shop during the heady days of the 1990s dot-com boom.

I’ve come to realize something about Northern California. It’s a very unsettled place. It’s like the hills of San Francisco: sudden upturns and downturns. Nothing seems quite solid here. The excesses of the 1848 Gold Rush still echo in this place. Fortunes made and lost overnight, glittering towers built and then ruined when the earth turns over in her sleep.

It is my homeland; at some deep level, I will always be a California girl. Not the easygoing, bubble-headed beach bunny that most people think of when you say “California girl.” But a California girl nevertheless. The dry, brown hills that bloom emerald in the winter, the live oaks that dot the crevices of those hills, the eucalyptus that towers and sheds its minty bark, the fog that rolls in and out. My heart swells to think of these things. It feels right to me.

But I’ve come to realize I cannot live here. The sun is too hot. The asphalt stretches on for miles. All the evils of the big box sprawl seem that much more apparent to me. The pockets of old California, the marshes and the forested hills, they call to me, but in the same way that the Cape calls to me. I love the fantasy of living in these places, but if I moved to either place, I’d probably go mad.

I am an Easterner, a Yankee, with Yankee sensibilities. I love the crisp air of September, the golden light that fades against the tops of trees in October. I love the smell of apples and the calmer waters of the Atlantic. The sea belongs in the east, not the west.

Besides, I wasn’t born in San Francisco. I was born in the South Bay, in a valley ringed by mountains and filled with asphalt. Back when I was 12 years old, I came to stay with my grandparents for a month. And I hated it, the flatness of the land and the one-story houses, the claustrophobic privacy fences that portioned off one tiny yard from another. The miles and miles of streets and cars. The valley is one big suburb that stretches on for miles and miles, a wasteland of cars and strip malls. Not that we don’t have these things in the East, but they’re tucked away among hills and rivers and trees. I long for the wide vistas of California, but once I’m here I tire of them quickly.

This land is lovely but it is not, in the long run, home. It is the homeland. I visit the homeland. And then I return to my home, in the East.

Love, Logic, Fear, and Investment

“Do you love me?” I asked him. In the dark. Fearful.

“Yes, I love you,” he said, surprised. “Why would you think I didn’t love you?”

I rose up and kissed him. “I just like to hear it,” I said.

If you spend your whole life dealing with mysterious man-disappearances, with a sudden slippage when you least expect it, perhaps it’s logical to expect it to keep happening.

In finance, past performance is no guarantee of future results.

In psychology, past behavior is the most reliable indicator of future response.

Of course, I’ve never invested in Army Guy before. Nor was he one of those other men who mysteriously disappeared.

Sadness Comes Apart in the Water

I met up with some of my circle sisters last Thursday night at the Forest Hills Lantern Festival. There are actually about three different events of this type in Jamaica Plain every year. It’s inspired by a Japanese Buddhist tradition that honors the spirits of the ancestors and is very well-attended. The image of hundreds of hand-decorated lanterns floating across the waters of the pond as the light leaves the sky is really magical. Lots of people bring cameras on tripods to capture the event. My friend Butterfly took a photo on her camera phone and emailed it to me, but I refrained from taking any myself, partly because I knew I wouldn’t be able to get a good shot with my camera phone, and partly because I wanted to experience the event myself without the intervention of technology. There are tons of photos of the lantern festival on the web. I found Innusa‘s and ReallyStrangeGirl‘s flickr sets to be particularly beautiful. Still, nothing captures the experience like being in the middle of it.

I took the Orange Line from Green Street to Forest Hills and followed the stream of people heading toward the festival. It was one of those hot, heavy, dreamlike evenings we get in July, and the grounds around the pond were filled with people on blankets. My circle sisters had camped out right in front of the performance space, and it was such a wonderful feeling to arrive to see a group of women holding a space for me. By the time I arrived, the festival had been going on for about an hour and a half. I attempted to get a lantern for myself, but by the time I got to the tent where you could purchase a lantern and have a calligrapher paint a word on the rice paper, there was a huge crowd. I didn’t feel like waiting in line, so I returned to the blanket to watch the tail end of the Taiko Drummers’ performance. I wish I’d gotten there earlier so I could have watched the entire thing; Japanese culture fascinates me, especially the traditional forms.

My circle sisters made beautiful drawings on their lanterns. Although this tradition is meant to honor the ancestors, people at this festival seem to use it as a way of sending out all kinds of energy and prayers. Each of my sisters has something fairly major to release right now: one of them is going through a divorce, the other just split up with her long-term fiance, one is embarking on a new romance, and the last has been recovering from cancer surgery. But for the first time in a couple of years, I have really nothing to release. I have good news. I am in love, my job is going well, and I am overall very happy. I was nice to have some good news to share with the circle and to be able to listen and give my support about my sisters’ own tragedies. The Wheel keeps turning.

When everyone walked down to the water’s edge to place their lanterns in the water, I stayed on the blanket. I watched the many kinds of people milling around and soaked in the atmosphere of Jamaica Plain. Each neighborhood and community in the Boston Metro Area has its own unique flavor. The prevailing wisdom among people who do not live in Jamaica Plain is that it’s geographically isolated and difficult to get to. There is definitely a truth to that, but in the past few months I’ve found that getting there is not nearly as difficult as people make it out to be. And the neighborhood itself is quite wonderful. I’ve been considering moving there at some point. Of course, I’d hate to give up my lovely and affordable apartment in Cambervilleton (Cambridge/Somerville/Arlington), but I find the atmosphere of the neighborhood much more appealing.

I lay back and looked up at the sky as people milled around me. It was a blue-green, tinged at the edges with the burnt orange of approaching sunset. Trees ringed the edges of my vision.

Once the sun was down completely, the crowds dissipated. The five of us made a circuit of the pond, watching the slowly changing spectacle of the lanterns on the water. They followed the invisible lines of current and wind, and as the daylight faded away they looked like a line of souls marching into the other world.

It would have been nice to paint “forgiveness” on a lantern and send that message off to my father’s spirit beyond the veil. But there will be other opportunities to do so. That night was meant for other people’s releases.

Sadness comes apart in the water. Over the course of the last two years, though, my sadness has come apart on dry land. I have no grieving left to do, and nothing to share but joy.

At This Moment

“I care a lot about you,” he said. “And I have a deep affection for you.”

Later, he said, “I like what we have. And maybe it will develop into something stronger. Or maybe it won’t.”

He also said, “It seems that we have different long-term goals.”

I hate this, even though it’s probably true.

Maybe there’s a way to reconcile that, or maybe there isn’t. But even if we had exactly the same long-term goals, I’d still be scared. Skeared.

Because even if he’d said, “I love you madly and want to take care of you for the rest of your life,” I wouldn’t really have been happy.

I just don’t like not knowing what’s going to happen next. Especially with this stuff. The more of them I have, the more the painful ends of relationships haunt me. And it’s trust, trust. It’s stepping out onto ice and hoping it doesn’t break. What happens when I stop noticing it’s ice I’m walking on?

Faithful America, Religious Liberal Traditions, and Why I Belong to a UU Church

I came across the activist group Faithful America a while ago and really appreciate the message they stand for. Political discourse in this country around religion has been very much shaped by the religious right. Faithful America aims to reshape the discourse to include members of more liberal religious traditions. Their latest campaign is to shape some of the debate happening during this year’s presidential campaign. There’s a “compassion forum” live on CNN this Sunday at 8pm. You should vote on which issue to have the candidates address: click here to do that.

Whenever I talk to someone new, I feel self-conscious saying things like “I know her from church” or “I do lay ministry,” because as soon as people hear the word “church” slip from my lips I know they’re making all kinds of assumptions about my religion, my politics, and my beliefs. For the record (are the new viewers gone yet?), I have been a practicing witch for more than a decade. Most of that time I spent as a solitary practitioner, although I did study with a coven in Connecticut and also ran a website for About.com on the subject that included virtual ritual in chat rooms (not to mention mountains and mountains of emails, and the time-sink-hole morass of bitchy pagans forum). I belong to First Parish Cambridge, a Unitarian Universalist church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Years before I attended a Sunday service at the church, some friends of mine introduced me to the CUUPs rituals that take place on Fridays near the Sabbats of Yule, Imbolc, Ostara, and sometimes Samhain. I appreciated CUUPs’s eclectic approach to pagan practice and was also impressed with the depth and breadth of knowledge possessed by the facilitators.

While the notion of a liberal religious tradition is not entirely new to me, my experience at First Parish Cambridge really was life-changing. To steal the words of my ex-girlfriend, it was an important part of my re-churching. It wasn’t until Sunday services at First Parish that I actually heard the man up in the pulpit saying the exact same things I believed. The words in the hymnals weren’t full of things about Jesus, only-begotten Son of the Father saving us from eternal damnation. They were about a hard-working Mother God, a loving Father God, a Spirit of Life that imbues us all. Instead of the “thou shalt nots” of the 10 Commandments, the seven principles talked about things like the inherent worth and dignity of all human beings, the importance of social justice, and the free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

People like to make fun of the UUs for having wishy-washy beliefs. At the beginning, I used to laugh along with those jokes. But I don’t anymore, because I see the Unitarian Universalist movement as a group of people with very deeply held beliefs. They’re beliefs not based in shame however, but in the irrepressible presence of the Divine in all aspects of existence: in human beings, in society, in the earth itself. People need deeply held beliefs to fight the genocide of the Jews in Nazi Germany, or speak out against the excesses of the McCarthy era, or take practical steps to fight racism, or get arrested protesting the genocide in the Sudan, or support the rights of gay families to equal treatment under the law.

The UU tradition allows for a heterogeneity of beliefs that includes secular humanists, deists, Buddhists, “Jew-U’s”, pagans, Christians, and others. It also has something sadly missing in the Catholic church of my youth: democratic governance. All members of a congregation have a say in how the congregation is run, and all matters of theology and the like come up before the General Assembly each year. Ministers don’t get any more say in the running of the church than lay people.

I never expected to find a congregation that so completely shared the same views as me, and certainly not one as active, welcoming, and thriving as First Parish Cambridge. As a result, I give back a great deal to the church, both with an annual pledge and with a fair amount of lay ministry. I’m co-leading a Sunday service for Beltane this year on May 4. If you’re in the neighborhood and would like to hear me preach, please come by. It’s the second lay-led service the Women’s Sacred Circle has done in the past 12 months, and I hope there will be more to follow.

Thank You, Locally Owned Fitness Center Near Me

Dear Locally Owned Fitness Center Near Me:

Thank you for being such an awesome place to work out. Thank you for always having plenty of cardio machines available without my having to sign up. Thank you, kind, fatherly owner of the gym, who always takes the time to explain things slowly and in the same tone of voice as my old Outdoor Living teacher in high school. Thank you for being so close to my house that I can walk or run there and thus begin my workout before I even arrive. Thank you for having ample parking and being on the way to my job so that I include a visit with you in my morning commute. Thank you for having hangers for me to hang my corporate whore clothes on in the locker room.

Thank you for your comfortable locker room with the wooden doors. Thank you for the carpets in the changing area and the linoleum tile in the shower area. Thank you for having a detachable shower head in one of the stalls, and for having stalls with curtains that are actually wide enough to close. Thank you, ancient scale for reminding me that it’s okay not to know my weight down to two significant digits. Thanks an extra bunch for showing that I lost four pounds this morning, and thanks for reminding that it’s okay to gain those four pounds back. Thank you, sauna, for being so hot and dry and dark like the Womb of Mother Earth. Thank you for being on a timer so I know you’re not singlehandedly causing the melting of the ice caps, although I wish I remembered to turn you on more BEFORE my workout.

Thank you, hardworking, down-to-earth women of my town who conduct your workouts without applying foundation, mascara, blush, and eyeliner. Thank you for wearing normal, baggy workout clothes on your normal, imperfect and yet beautiful bodies and not flaunting your perfectly toned abs, cellulite-free bottoms, and gravity-defying breasts in the latest fashions from the “activewear” racks at Neiman Marcus. Thank you for smiling at me when I smile at you — and I forgive you when you don’t, because this is New England, after all. Thank you for talking to me in the locker room, even when I am naked. I am sorry that I sometimes talk to you when I am naked or when we have not been formally introduced. I know this may make you uncomfortable, but it’s just because I am friendly, not a native New Englander, and jazzed up on endorphins. I’m also sorry if I take up space on the bench with my massive gym bag. I try to be mindful of your needs, but I just tend to take up a lot of space. Thank you for being so respectful of personal property that I never need to use a lock on my locker.

Thank you, little self-locking cubbyholes where I can leave my iPod while I’m changing, since my trust for strangers only goes so far.

Thank you, older gentlemen who use the free weights along with me and scowl when I use them too and smile at you. You are so much better than the alt-rock listening, baseball-cap-wearing, tattoo-sporting fuckheads who so intimidated me when I first started lifting weights back in the 90s. Thank you, nice transplanted divorced guy from Brooklyn who actually talks to me in the weight area and on the mats. Your Brooklyn accent makes me feel all warm and homey and I love that you used to live in Santa Cruz and know my favorite beach in the whole world, the one with the surfer museum. I would totally date you, except that it might make things awkward at the gym.

Oh men of the free weight area, oh women of the gym, I apologize if I have ever offended with you with my tight workout pants and my big-city attitude. I’m a big girl and it’s hard to find workout pants that AREN’T tight, it’s not really because I am trying to show off my hugamundo gluteii maximii, which are becoming more appealing by the day as I continue to do my clock lunges. You should be pleased to know that I have never worn my “Every time you see a rainbow, God is having gay sex” T-shirt specifically because I did not want to offend you. You are my workout compatriots and I treasure and love your unpretentious creamy goodness.

Thank you, housewives who bring your kids to the gym with you and leave them in that windowless child care room under the stairs. I am annoyed by you and your noisy kids, and also jealous of you because you “don’t have to work” (riiiiight, you just don’t get paid for your work) and because your husbands (or wives, but you all look so very, very heterosexual) must be bringing in mad bank for you to raise your kids in this affluent little suburb of Boston. Thank you anyway for being there, for exercising your right to choose as women, for raising the next generation of the human race, and for taking care of yourselves.

Thank you, nice, spacious group exercise room I have never used. Thank you, full roster of exercise classes none of which are at a convenient time for me. If I ever get bored of my familiar and lovely cardio/strength/flex fitness routine, I know you will be there for me.

Thank you, well-organized strength training chart filing area. Thank you for always having a clipboard for me to use and for all those lovely pencils with the pencil sharpener right nearby and the new supply of pencils with erasers that haven’t been worn down to the metal holder. I love you and the way you let me keep track of how often and well I do my lifting.

Thank you, lovely, colorful, but clearly painted by an amateur mural of people running and biking and climbing mountains and doing other sports, with the Boston skyline in the background. You make the walls so very much more fun to look at when I am standing in the dancer pose trying not to fall over or sprain my ankle.

Thank you, EFT transfer of funds that lets me go to the gym day in and day out without ever writing a check. Sure, you sometimes take me by surprise and overdraw my checking account, but you charge me exactly the amount of money I am willing to pay for a gym. And the gym is so very much worth the extra funds.

I love you, Locally Owned Fitness Center Near Me, and I want the whole world to know it.

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