gracias, Mexico

7 09 2010

Good-bye, beautiful Mexico.

Thank you for giving me such delight and such beauty. Thank you for helping ease the jetlag and offering well-crafted rest. Thank you for ancient, harmonious ruins and layers of centuries that occasionally sort of slough off to show another depth of history, for the soft white sand and shades of Caribbean blue, the electric blue doctor fish, the various kinds of parrotfish, the cobalt and taupe striped fish, the mini sardines, the four-foot-long barracuda, the “hopping” conch shell, the flying manta ray, the bright yellow and the yellow-and-black fish, for the skinny spider starfish and the fat bright yellow one. Thank you for life jackets and snorkeling tubes and underground rivers and caverns, for salty sea kisses, water confidence and piña coladas, for exquisite tacos (yes, something as simple as a taco really can be exquisite) and enchiladas rojas, for bright and showy flowers, for birds roaming inside restaurants and theaters, and thank you for sunny, green quiet.

Chichen Itza

standing on ancient ground

more at Chichen Itza

history sloughing off

refreshing coconut ice cream

heavenly white sand & the Caribbean Sea

the beach

on the beach

electric blue doctor fish

yellow & cobalt fish

tail end of a very large barracuda-like fish

manta ray

bright yellow fish

stripes

coral

sea urchin

exquisite tacos (slurp!)

red birds

caught in the sun

green birds

we're both drawn to it

some of my faves

no idea

purples

yellows

happy heart

grateful for the equipment and having a blast

green quiet

luscious

shhh....

more green quiet

even more

rested

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snorkeling

31 08 2010

28 August 2010

after snorkeling in Xcaret, Cancun, Mexico

I just did two things I never thought I’d do. One, I signed up for one of those touristy tours to a sort of theme park. I’m a bit of an independent traveler and I always thought those kinds of tours were just for senior citizen travelers or those who were afraid to get out and really meet the peeps of a place. Well, I AM a tourist here so I decided this tour was a good way to go, and it’s more of an ecological park, which (in my mind) justifies me going. So I took the tour, food included (delicious). And two, I went snorkeling (twice even—once in a river, once in the ocean) for the first time and loved it. I mean, really LOVED it. For someone who has always suffered from aquaphobia, especially deep water, this was big.

Yes, I was the six-year-old kid who was so excited for her first swimming lessons she had her long hair done special (in pigtails), but who upon arriving at the pool watched another class jump off the diving board into the deep end (12 whole feet!) and suddenly froze—so much so that she was eventually and humiliatingly placed in the swim class for babies and handicapped children (1½ feet deep) and never really made it past much deeper, especially without clinging to the edge. I freaked out, without realizing why.

Determined for years to beat this fear and finally learn how to swim, in high school gym class I flopped my way through swimming lessons without much success (having a screwed up spine meant I just ended up getting all twisted up in the water without going anywhere but into humiliationland), and in college I would go early in the morning to an empty pool, grab a beach ball, and kick my way from one side of the pool to the other, meditating and breathing as calmly as possible to control my anxiety as I passed over the deep end that absolutely terrified me because if I put my feet down I’d have to go down very far to touch the bottom. Finally, somehow, at the age of 28 when I was living in Asia, I figured out how to coordinate my movement, breath, arms and legs, and fear into swimming…swimming like a frog, but nonetheless swimming.

I felt liberated in a way.

Today, however, was even bigger than that.

I went snorkeling at Xcaret park just south of Playa del Carmen, Mexico, in a long series of underground rivers. Suited up with a life jacket on and snorkeling gear in hand, I was excited and simply kept going to prevent myself from thinking about things too long. I entered the crystalline water, put on the gear, and practiced putting my head in and out of the water making sure I wasn’t going to drown. Everything about this, after all, was foreign to me. I didn’t want to think too much about it and get freaked out, but I also wanted to be prepared enough to not die while doing it.

Done. Then I headed into the darkness (eek!) of the first tunnel. The gentle flow of the river nudged me along as I kicked and thought, “This ain’t so bad.” Then I put my head into the water.

It was like someone pulled open the curtains to two things. The first thing you notice is that the water shuts out all other sound so that all you hear is you and your own breath. In…out…in…out…. Like a heartbeat. Like waves. Mesmerizing. And the second thing you notice is that it’s like putting your head through a liquid mirror and peering into a whole other world.

If I hadn’t been clenching a rubber bite on the end of a plastic tube between my teeth, you would have seen my grinning from ear to ear like a goofy kid, snapping photo after photo with my new waterproof camera.

Well, except for one section. There, you would have seen me panic.

What lies beneath the surface of the earth is fascinating and strange and beautiful. I just usually don’t want to go down into it. Call it mild claustrophobia, but I would much rather climb up or be in the light of day or come as close to flying as I can. So the fact that I was swimming alone through dark watery tunnels (that occasionally opened up into gorgeous green light-filled oases, which were the MOST beautiful and welcome sights) meant that two of the things that scare me most—deep water in the moist dark—were the two things I was facing at every tunnel entrance. I admit I hesitated sometimes until I could see, or at least hear, other people behind me before I kept going. I didn’t want to be alone in the dark. But I pushed on, keeping calm, “squealing” with joy at streams of light dancing on the rock formations below and the miniature cave fish swimming around me. Just me, my breath, and the underground wonderland. Until…

I turned a corner at an open oasis only to find the entrance of a very dark tunnel and just enough light to see a giant and very, very deep crevice below me. I panicked and swam over to the shallow edge to pause.

The term “life jacket” is a good one, but for me it doesn’t have the same impact as the term in Spanish: chaleco salvavida, literally “jacket to save your life.” I’d never been happier to be wearing a fluorescent orange contraption (that was painfully cutting into my crotch and that I later discovered had bruised my tailbone). But this is the self-talk that followed:

“Holy CRAP, that’s really deep and dark!!!” (Panting)

“Kiri, you can do this. Just keep going.”

“But, did you see that crevice that’s sucked in all the light?!”

“Yep, saw it.”

“AND?!?! WELL?!?!?”

“I saw it. But how is this part any different than any other section you’ve swum through until now?”

“It’s so freakin’ deep, that’s how!! I could swim over it, get sucked in or fall in and never be found or heard of again! I can’t see or hear anyone ahead of me or behind me. No one would ever know or find me and I would have spent my last moments with my last few breaths being sucked out of me as I drop into oblivion!!!”

(Silence)

“What are you wearing, Kiri? ¿Qué estás llevando, Kiri?”

“Un chaleco salvavid…ahh.” Tienes razón. You’re right. Okay.”

“Yep, keep it on and keep swimming just like you’ve been doing. Go toward the dark, even if it’s counterintuitive, stay with the flow of the river, and it will bring you into the light. Now go.”

So I went. I swam over that giant fissure (without looking much again, I have to say) that could have swallowed me up (I was sure of it), I kept breathing, and I made it into the light again. The salvavida saved my life. Maybe one day I can snorkel without it and maybe even dive, but for now I’m content. Like training wheels on a bicycle, maybe it’ll come off one day…but it still means I’m riding.

Near the end of my wonder-filled hour-long journey through this network of underground rivers, I again muffle-squealed in delight at the yellow-and-black striped fish that greeted me and at the bigger electric blue fish that darted between the others. Squealing in joy at the beauty that thrives beneath the surface. I didn’t want to get out, but when I did, I removed my mask and fins, unsnapped my life jacket, and broke into a giant smile, honoring myself and offering gratitude to God for many things: for the sound of my own breath and for being aware of it, for this planet and all its grandeur and mysteries, and for this awkward and bulky vest that had made possible that journey through the wonder and terror of facing fear and emerging stronger and even more in love with life.

ready to start my day at Xcaret

in the river

jungle oasis

so pleased and happy by the sea





dear Turkish men

31 08 2010

19 August 2010

Istanbul, Turkey

When I was in Italy, I didn’t think anybody could be more charming than Italian men. That was before I came to Turkey.

I’ve had the same conversation so many times that I’ll just sum it up here:

“Hello, Lady. Where are you from? Russia? America? I like you. What is your name? Wow, you have beautiful eyes!”

“Thank you. Are you trying to sell me something? Where do you think I’m from?”

“I like you. Where are you staying?”

“I’m staying around here.”

“Which hotel? What’s your hotel room?”

“Why do you need to know that?

“Only interested in making people happy and making new friends.”

Riiight. Oh, but why don’t I trust it? Just like the Doors song, “Hello, I love you. Won’t you tell me your name?” Over and over and over again. And much more pushy.

My non-committal replies usually get some over-the-top comebacks the next time around.

“I wait half hour for you, you never come.” Or, “I made dinner for you, you never come,” neither of which I trust all that much.

However, my favorite was just the other day. After expressing a bit of mistrust as yet another man sidled up to me on the road and stuck to me like a fly on flypaper, he said, “Don’t worry, I’m vegetarian, I don’t eat people.”

Turkish men are very charming. Self-proclaimed clever bastards. Case in point, the most interesting character had to be Mehmet, the leather and carpet dealer.

As I was walking toward the Blue Mosque yesterday, an older man approached me.

“Excuse me? Excuse me?”

I kept walking.

“Excuse me? You want enter mosque?”

“Yes,” as I kept walking.

“You must hurry before prayers. Only a few minutes. Here, I show you the entrance. Where are you from?”

“Oh, thank you, I’m from the States.”

“Which part?”

“I’m from Utah.”

“Are you Mormon?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Ah, my Mormon sister!! So many things similar your religion and mine!” as he grabbed my hand. “Here, I’m not a guide, but I show you.”

He took me to the front of the line and explained different parts of the mosque, and how the sultan in 1609 wanted to build some sort of monument but the woman he loved, Ayse (sounds like I-sheh), didn’t want to lose the huge flower garden that was already on the piece of land. He promised her if she consented, the monument would be full of flowers. She consented and now flowers are everywhere—on the tiles, doors, carpet, and outside.

Then my new “guide” took me around the back to the faucets and explained how Muslims wash themselves in preparation for prayer: three times each hand, three times the face, each ear, top of head then neck, then each foot. It was so interesting and I loved the more hands-on lesson. But then I asked to take a picture with him and he started calling me “Sweetie” and “Honey,” both with a cackle and a REALLY tight squeeze. It got weirder and the squeezes got tighter and tighter.

“We spend one or two hours together, okay? Happy time.”

I should have backed out, thanked him for the impromptu tour, and high-tailed it out of there, but he invited me to see his leather and carpet shops nearby with the lie of a condition (“You don’t have to buy, just see.”). He was getting squirrelly, but he had also been very kind, so I decided to take a gander at his shops.

Both shops were beautiful (exquisite carpets!), nevertheless he seemed genuinely pissed when I did nothing but admire and ooh and ahh at things while sipping the apple tea offered to me. He gently kicked me out with his business card in hand and a bad taste in my mouth and the first real rancor in my heart at having to deal with this again and again.

The only trouble with being raised by really kind and generous parents is that you sort of just see other demonstrations of kindness and generosity as just that: kindness and generosity given from the goodness of someone’s heart. Nothing more, nothing less, with nothing attached, and you have the same willingness inside to do the same should an opportunity arise. Here, in Istanbul, the clever friendliness is appreciated and surprisingly familiar (somehow echoes of it distilled over generations, which in part explains my dad’s amazing example of not just, for example, giving directions but going 100% beyond and walking them there and handing them a freshly-made apple pie with a container of some homemade ice cream to enjoy once they arrive). There is something so beautiful and familiar about it, even when it feels a bit forced upon you. However, the attached strings and demand for money in return are so not appreciated.

Dear Turkish men (especially you businessmen), why must you give your great city a bad name and leave me with a bad taste (sometimes literally) in my mouth?

in front of the Blue Mosque

Istanbul in the background

Istanbul

inside the Blue Mosque

top of the chandelier holding three ostrich eggs meant to repel spiders and spiderwebs, with flowers on the tiles

flowers on carpet

tight squeeze from my impromptu guide. me starting to look uncomfortable.

sundial, visible as you enter the courtyard

tighter (see how uncomfortable I'm looking?)

even tighter (bleh!)

outside of Blue Mosque

a man in devil "horns" selling angel "halos" outside the Blue Mosque during Ramadan--a fitting example of my experience with devilishly-clever-but-appearing-angelic Turkish men





Italy: A country that cracked open the sky

25 08 2010

Italy is magical for me. And I don’t use that word lightly. But it is magical. I love the vibe, the food, the basic aesthetic sense (which at its lowest is nothing short of excellence even to the point of extravagance at times), and the devotion to and delight taken in pleasurable goodness in life. Milano, Venezia, Bellagio, Ascone, Sirmione…they’re all a bit magical. However, no city—non citta’—is quite as magical for me as Firenze, or Florence, is.

For being as small of a country as it is and as disjointed its history as a country has been, Italy has produced more than its fair share of geniuses. And not just plain old geniuses, if there is such a thing. These are geniuses that have changed the direction and consciousness and awareness of the entire world, geniuses that helped crack open the sky to let in more light.

Why, then, should it be any surprise that here in the navel and birthplace of the Italian Renaissance—where the level of consciousness was elevated and enlightened, where the beauty and precision of the human body was understood and accepted and venerated—why should it be any surprise that I would feel so inspired and so much more comfortable in my own skin?

me on bridge

on the Ponte Vecchio bridge

against the Florentine skyline

Arno river





Il David

25 08 2010

Saturday, August 7th, 2010

Il David, L’Academia, Firenze, Italia

After a few minutes of looking at the exquisitely gorgeous sculpture of David by Michelangelo, it’s hard not to sense a sort of anima existing in the stone, only stealthily covered by creamy marble (like a thick layer of theater makeup), and to see him almost breathing. It’s also not hard to think of some benighted angel peeling herself off a nearby canvas, hovering above David’s head and gently kissing his cheek, like Pinocchio, with a spark that ignites a deep change, turning him, finally, into a real boy who then—unassuming and subtle—takes one of the stones in his hand, places it in his slingshot, and then with his brow still furrowed and intense, aims and lets it fly with an unearthly hurl of power.

________________________________

photos were restricted, but i couldn't help but sneak a couple shots

________________________________

breathtaking

________________________________





epiphany

25 08 2010

17 July – 1 August 2010

Let me just preface this. What follows is not the most beautiful essay or entry I’ve ever written or the most clear piece of work. Traveling and practicing being in the moment sort of preclude me from delving much deeper into this to really flesh it out right now, but what matters most to me is the internal impact this has on me. And it is immense.

___________________________

I bought some gold bangles today while on a school trip in Lucerne, Switzerland.

They’re such a small thing, really. Thin, shiny, gold circles that clink and leave bits of gold specks on my arms and clothes, making me look like I’ve just been visited by Tinkerbell.

But it marked a bit of a turning point for me and here’s why.

My favorite color was never pink. Never. Actually, I have always had trouble choosing just one favorite color because (as I’ve always said) I simply love color. Period. Except, usually, for pink. It’s only in the last few years that I have developed an affinity for the color. I don’t mind it now; in fact, it can be really lovely, especially when paired with gold or purple or orange. I like it. But I’ve always loved red.

Red always spoke to me, even as a child, of strength and of all sorts of other things I couldn’t name. But I felt guilty liking a color so much that was always associated with sin and murder and passion. So I quit it. I quit my love affair with red many years ago.

Or so I thought. Recently, the spark has returned and I am drawn to it. (And it looks better than ever on me!) I bought a red dress for the first time and there are weeks when it’s all I want to wear, but I must go slowly. The honeymoon phase will inevitably end, but I don’t want the affair to end again, so a bit of restraint is in order.

A few months ago, I was at lunch with a friend eating some delicious Indian food and I was telling her about two international job opportunities that interested me—one in Taiwan and the other in Istanbul. Both seemed like great opportunities. She had also worked in Asia before, and after telling her my difficulty in deciding where to go, she firmly suggested Istanbul because “Asia is like a cool color. Istanbul seems like a warm-colored place, like you.”

Which reminds me of the time I was out with a friend and colleague. He and I have a lot in common and during this lunch date, he was (I think) tossing around the idea of dating me, but at the end of out great time together, he said, “You need someone who is passionate. I’m not.” Whether or not he really was considering going out with me, he was right, and (although I hadn’t really thought about it before) I knew it the moment he said it.

So let’s talk colors. There are warm colors (browns, reds, oranges, yellows, certain shades of green) and cool colors (most greens, blues, purples, grays, blacks). You can have different shades and undertones in these colors that make them warmer or cooler, but generally speaking half the color wheel is warm while the other half is cool.

I have worn too many cool colors in my lifetime. I confess that I love black because it’s classic, chic, easy to match, and (let’s be honest) it doesn’t easily show sweat marks. But recently, I just can’t wear it. I try some mornings and I put it on while getting ready, but inevitably I take it off. It just doesn’t feel right.

But my friends are right: I AM a warm-toned person and I have been hiding in cool-tones for too long.

So you see, buying the gold bangles (I always chose silver before) was a big step and a turning point for me. I like the bangles. I like the gold next to my skin. No, I love the bangles and I LOVE the gold bangles with my red dress.

A couple of weeks before I came to work in Europe this summer, a healer said to me, “As you improve your relationship with yourself, your relationships with others will improve.”

I believe she’s right.

It’s like the sea and my hair. My hair has never been straight or easy to manage, especially in a dry climate, and I’ve always felt at war, in a way, with the nature of my hair. Generations back in my family, people were ashamed of their curls. Didn’t know what to do with them. Were always self-conscious about them. Tried to get rid of them. For me, my “nature” was just wrong and something to be ashamed about. I didn’t know, however, just how curly my hair could be until I lived by the sea. Here, on the edge of the Caribbean Sea, there is no use fighting it. It’s completely futile…and quite liberating.

How could I completely be happy with someone unless I’m not at war with myself?

And so, my happy gold bangle purchase was small, but it has taken me around (just as one may follow their perfect curves) to a new but key epiphany.

I know what happened to me now.

MIA: Emotional safety—enough to be and show when I was happy; vulnerability—a safe space and a safe person to tell how I was really feeling and thinking. These are what I was missing while growing up and they are what have shaped me more than almost anything else.

I knew at age seven there were certain people I couldn’t trust or rely on for help. Actually, there were really only one or two people I felt I could trust, but even then it wasn’t all the time. I grew up very comfortable in melancholy and criticism and for years have wondered why being happy and smiley and showing that I was happy gave me anxiety and made me sweat.

I fought against everything and everyone that was really meant to protect and secure and create safety for me. I didn’t feel it and when it seemed offered I didn’t trust it. Couldn’t trust it. I always wanted to, and well, I did run away from it whenever and however I could.

This body has known such terror and fear, such self-consciousness, such terrible comparisons, such discomfort, such fight, such battle and war and criticism and despising of my own nature. This body has felt such insecurity and unease—more than most people in my life know—and this body and mind have felt such entrapment in the condition of distrust.

A colleague and I were recently discussing whether it was easier for us to give or to receive. For her, receiving is easier, and her graciousness and class and calm are evidence of that gift. For me, I said, giving is much easier because deep down I am so clearly aware that I have heaps and heaps to give and I enjoy it (sort of like the way a sea needs a river outlet to keep it alive), but also because deep down I also just don’t really trust that anyone else truly understands or is capable enough or sees clearly enough to really give what I truly need. And disappointment and betrayal are not new things to this body. (It’s not the best way of thinking, I know. Sort of prideful and problematic at times, but it’s protective.) So I was briefly explaining my trouble with receiving and strength in giving and my colleague then clearly remarked, “Is that why you take such good care of yourself?”

Hmmm. I have taken on a kind of parental role over myself. And even in the worst of time, I was fiercely devoted to myself and whatever divinity was inside, no matter how hidden it was.

I don’t lay blame on anyone, not anymore. There is a clarity now in my life about what happened and a love I feel is the best and only thing I need to give, even though I’m sometimes unsure how to give it. I sort of wish things had been better for me, and there are things I wish I knew better how to do and things I wish I were more comfortable in, but I so appreciate the strength and wisdom, like internal steel, it led me to develop.

I LOVE my parents and appreciate so many of the values they taught me, for the reverence and generosity they demonstrate, for their good hearts, for their willingness to learn and grow, and for all sorts of individual traits they have respectively.

I feel lucky, really. I was released from several things in life: from an extremely awkward growing up, from emotional non-safety, mistreatment, physical deformity, and from severe self-consciousness. I’m still not exactly in the position I want to be entirely, but my gut still tells me I’m capable of so much more. So many others never find release or relief, and I feel intensely grateful I did.

In the end, I’m grateful that it taught me to be a fighter and taught me how to create some of those things I lacked and that it pushed me to find a safe place in things like music and writing, and that it pushed me to develop a kind of internal strength and tenacity and wisdom that I continually rely on. Simply put, I’m grateful for who I am.

Even though I’m aware of those emotions and those memories and that distrust still stuck in some places in my mind and body, I’m intensely grateful for my brain, my mind, my heart, and my spirit that somehow, collectively, allowed me to realize things and grow, especially when there are so many others who never do escape. More than that, however, I offer gratitude that somehow and somewhere in this universe, my heart was heard, even when it didn’t know the words.

I’m grateful to know—just know—that God loves me. I appreciate how it pushed me to rely on Him—as a God, as my parent, and as my friend—and how that laid the foundation for me to know and rely on myself. I now have such appreciation for the internal strength it pushed me to develop and for the authenticity of what I know and feel.

I’m so grateful for my internal eye that sees what’s beyond in myself and other people and that understands this continuing blood poetry and to—somehow, without obvious reasons—just know things.

I love my brain and I love my heart. Fiercely.

Most of all, I’m grateful for the realization that I don’t have to live the same way anymore. Actually, even more than that, I am grateful for the opportunity now to learn how to feel safe and open and to live safely and openly, especially with another person.

gratitude

the bangles

warmer

warmer

aha!

i LOVE the sea





i love my boys!

17 07 2010

Four of my students (troubled and/or argumentative or actually great) are gone on a weekend trip to Nice and Monaco in France, which left me with three delightful 15-year-old boys in class today. And class was, for one of the only times this session, amazingly peaceful and lovely today! We had so much fun together, and I just think it’s one of the greatest things to watch my students get more comfortable in class: singing and actually enjoying it, joking around, demonstrating more respect for each other and for me, and breaking into genuine grins that then breaking into belly laughs. They would never want to hear this, but I think they are positively adorable!

Now if only they could be like this when everyone comes back on Monday!