Category Archives: Magic

When Things Fall Apart: Everyday Magic, Day 795

One of my favorite books, Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart, names this week. Two of our three young adult children lost their jobs, my uncle died after a difficult (but thankfully short) hard ending, another friend is close to leaving us, and yet another is in the hospital in critical condition. Several nights of thunderstorms translated into my very big dog trying to climb on my head while the cats danced and pounced across our blankets. Yet the universe has added some comic relief: yesterday, Shay the dog strategically unzipped my purse and proceeded to eat a large bag of cough drops, making his breath methol-fresh.

In between buying a plane ticket after several hours of scouring the Internet (beginning at 5:38 a.m.), packing, and finishing getting a book of poetry ready for publication, I turn to Pema Chodron’s writings, and find this:

We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy…..To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.

As I sit in my living room, watching the haze of the softly-lit clouds blow through the tops of the cedars, I breathe slowly, trying to appreciate life out of the nest, the place where I can no longer pretend life isn’t so unpredictable or dangerous. I open my heart to the sadness I feel about my uncle, a man who often made us laugh very hard and was the first person I knew who adored sushi. I replay the refrain Kim Stafford told me about being a parent,”Difficult to watch, impossible to fix.” I listen to the dog, snoring beside me on the couch as he catches up on sleep after so many restless nights.

Some weeks things fall apart. Plans drastically change on a dime. Life lessons, as my mother reminded me yesterday, come at us, no matter our age or circumstance. “Let me remember to let there be room enough for healing,” I tell myself just as a large crow landed on the top of the cedar, balanced on the swaying branches.

So I’m Not Really In Cyprus (and Other Realities of Being Spammed): Everyday Magic, Day 790

Very early this morning at dark’o’thirty, I was rudely awakened with the news: my email sent everyone in my address book a message that I was in Cyprus, my bag was stolen, and I needed money right now. Half-asleep, I shook my eyes awake by staring at my computer screen. This is what I discovered:

  • Email hijackers regularly break into someone’s email, set up a bogus email account (mine was my name but at yahoo instead of gmail), and then have a person’s legitimate email diverted to the bogus account.
  • First thing: change your password for your legitimate email account, which I did (and for just about everything else too).
  • Second thing: go to email settings, and delete the order to forward your real email to a fake account (done in a minute).
  • Third thing: get bogus email account reported and deleted.

This third thing has been a minor bane of my existence today. Yahoo doesn’t have adequate people to answer the phone (I waited for 40 minutes, then the call was dropped), and the email forum to report abuse only garners very slow response (just one small contact so far without action). The worst part is discovering that two people sent money, one who was able to retrieve her money, and one who is in process for what I’m hoping is successful retrieval.

Meanwhile, there is a Fellini-esque up side: I’ve heard from many people, some of whom I hadn’t been in touch with for a long time. By the end of the day, I have two lunch dates set up for next week with old friends, another friend gave me a delicious piece of Christopher Elbow chocolate, and I’ve received offers of help, if this plea was legitimate, from my financial advisor, one of my doctors, and, to my great surprise, the UAW (Goddard faculty are unionized with the United Auto Workers). 18 phone calls, well over 100 emails, a dozen facebook messages, and four texts later, I’m here to say that I am blessed with very caring friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances.

Meanwhile, my scam-shadow, lounges on a beach in Cyprus, a little distributed that it will take her a week to get a new passport to return home, but happy with the view, the dolmas, and the lovely notes from friends back home.

About Dylan Farrow, and Why She Matters: Everyday Magic, Day 784

The internet is abuzz with indignation, outrage and the subsequent shrugs over Dylan Farrow’s open letter, published in the New York Times, telling her story of being sexually abused by Woody Allen. As a long-time fan of Woody Allen movies (as well as Mia Farrow as an activist and actress), and a fellow New York Jew who loves the ways he communicates the not-so-existential angst of my people, it’s was not easy for me to read her letter. Yet whatever twinges I experienced were a walk in the park compared to all those who have been sexually abused (betrayal #1), then silenced about it (betrayal #2).

In addition to sharing what she experienced, including the details of the abuse, Farrow calls us on lauding the abuser and marginalized the abused. She asks her to imagine the reality of what she experienced then and since then:

So imagine your seven-year-old daughter being led into an attic by Woody Allen. Imagine she spends a lifetime stricken with nausea at the mention of his name. Imagine a world that celebrates her tormenter.

I know many people who have been sexually abused, some close friends, and some students who were brave enough to shatter the glass casing around them by family and culture, and tell their truths. I listened to stories of how much damage such violation does to a person’s sense of self, sense of safety, sense of trust for self and others, sense of body and soul. The dissociation often lasts for years, decades, a lifetime. I know beautiful men and women who were raped regularly by a close family member while everyone around them pretended nothing was amiss. I know people who, as small children, couldn’t speak up for fear of having their tormentors kill them.

For Dylan Farrow to speak up took enormous courage because she wasn’t just speaking up to her family (although that also takes outlandish bravery) but to our culture. “Woody Allen is a living testament to the way our society fails the survivors of sexual assault and abuse,” she wrote. If you doubt her, check out this 1992 extensive article in Vanity Fair that begins, “There was an unwritten rule in Mia Farrow’s house that Woody Allen was never supposed to be left alone with their seven-year-old adopted daughter, Dylan.”

The response to her letter proved exactly what she just said. Stephen King said, “There’s an element of palpable bitchery there” about Farrow’s letter. A long article by Robert B. Weide, who put together the film montage for Allen’s Golden Globe honor tells us how Mia Farrow took Andre Previn away from his wife, may have fooled around with Frank Sinatra while dating Allen, plus questions about 7-year-old Dylan Farrow’s consistency in her statements. Whatever truth there may be in this article, I point out that the writer was friendly with Allen and certainly not an expert on sexually-abused 7-year-olds. I find all these responses outrageous reinforcements of the patriarchy: good old boys pulling for good old boys by calling the girls crazy, bitchy, flawed, and invoking the who-are-we-to-judge-when-we-weren’t-there defense. There’s also the more common response of “Why is this even a news story?”

That’s the thing about abuse: it’s intimate in the worst kind of way, and we aren’t and can’t be there. It almost always comes down to an abuser saying, “Nothing happened. She’s crazy,” and the abused saying, “No, something terrible happened.” I’m not saying that some accusations aren’t false, but I believe most survivors who speak out are telling the truth. Why else put themselves in such a vulnerable place where they’re almost certain to be attacked, demeaned and betrayed all over again?

In an strong article I just read, “Woody Allen’s Good Name” by Aaron Bady, which very intelligently deconstructs many of the arguments against Farrow. He writes, “In a rape culture, there is no burden on us to presume that she is not a liar, no necessary imperative to treat her like a person whose account of herself can be taken seriously.”

When a survivor like Farrow speaks out, it is and should be news because she’s challenging all of us to change our cultural habit of blaming the victim and sweeping abuse under the rug. That’s why, Robert B. Weide, in answer to your question about whether it helps the abused to speak out publicly, it matters in this case. Also, shouldn’t the decision to speak out or not be the survivor’s decision to make?

To end racism, it shouldn’t just be people of color who name it when it’s happening. To end sexual assault and abuse, it shouldn’t just be the survivors. So I’m writing this now, and I encourage all of us to do whatever we can to change this story so that this story doesn’t need to keep repeating itself.

On the Other Side of Surgery: Everyday Magic, Day 760

Sunset with a tunnel of red light the first night home

Sunset with a tunnel of red light the first night home

Time is a strange substance that envelopes us. A day ago, a week ago, a year ago…..and voila! Here we are now. It’s almost 72 hours since I went under the knife for repair/re-wiring of my digestive track — a nissen fundoplication (no Japanese cars involved, and not a lot of fun in fundoplication either) — and I sit in the sun, still healing, but remarkably healed so much already that it’s hard to fathom this tunnel of time I’ve just flown, crawled, hiccuped, and puttered through.

Thanks to good and great help from Ursula Gilkeson, an energy healer I work with for all my surgeries (this is #4, so we’ve got a groove by now), I had lots of guidance is preparing myself, from breathing exercises to calm my jumpy nerves, to guided imagery work with various colors of light. Ursula also did several treatments on me, placing her hands on or above my shoulders or feet, stomach or knees, and helping alignment my body, spirit and intentions so that easy and abundance healing could flow through. Ursula writes about her process, “As much as the body stores information about the cause of a problem or an illness,

Make-your-own-beach kit (thanks, friend!)

Make-your-own-beach kit (thanks, friend!)

the body also reveals what is needed in order to heal.”

I also had the immense benefits of a great surgeon, Dr. Chad Tate (here’s a video of him talking about his practice for any of you considering this kind of surgery in Lawrence), who’s superb at this kind of surgery and won my confidence easily with his clear and informed approach. Supporting my family and me during the procedure were a great team who spent hours at the hospital holding us in spirit or person, and many friends and family close and near who sent prayers, wishes,  good thoughts, and some wonderful little gifts (from canvasses for painting to a make-your-own-beach kit to luscious snacks when I get beyond this liquid-ish diet).

Support team at home is sometimes asleep on the job

Support team at home is sometimes asleep on the job

No surprise that with such support, and such excellence and compassion in healers and healing professionals, I’ve come through surgery easily, that is, once I got past the nightmarish stretch out anesthesia and through the long night in the hospitals, where many manner of beeps and a very dry throat punctuated sleep. I needed no pain medications except a little Tylenol, something that’s been the case for me every time I work with Ursula, and the wounds are healing so quickly I can see change from morning to afternoon each day.

On one hand, the other side of surgery is fast with so much progress so quickly (this morning: a half cup of oatmeal, something unthinkable to eat yesterday). On the other hand, it’s slow going if I consider going back to life as I know it at its usual pace. My thinking is expanded out and slower to gather momentum. I wake up and go back to sleep often, spending a lot of hours unconscious, which makes me well-attuned to the lives of my cats. We stretch out on the bed, do or don’t do something, then get up to sip a little water before lying down again. This time has a timeless quality to it: watching the chickadees land on the branch, staring at the quilt on the bed, stepping into time to do various small tasks and back to now, where the sky is brilliantly clear and open, and this human being is happy and grateful.

Prayer for the New Year (Poem): Everyday Magic, Day 757

IMG_1077Let the blankets hold the shapes of our sleeping

all the dreams long. Let the cat on the dog’s bed

move over enough for the dog. Let the snow,

gathered tight to the afternoon sky, relax its grip

and show us the white contours of the new world.

Let the last one to leave the room close the lights

and the first one to rise make the coffee.

Let the sorrow we carry unfurl enough to reveal

its story’s ending, whether that ending is upon us

or still to come. Let the windows hold the pink gold

of the just-rising sun and the infinite blue darkening

of the rising night. Let the flowers and stones

make their ways to the gravestones of those we love

who left but never left, no matter how tender

the pain of their imprint. Let the flowers and stones

we collect to carry in our pockets and books

remind us of all that cycles its beauty through

the gift of this life. Let the quietest clearing

in prairie or woods, party of one or crowd of crows

land us exactly where we are. Let the rain come

and our unexpected shimmeying and leaping

alone in the living room. As well, let come

the storm warnings with time enough to find

a basement, the silver light of the winter horizon,

the blue light of everyday, whether we can see it

or not. Let us remember that we are not

who we think we are but only and at last

canoes on the river of light and cooling water.

Let us paddle hard when the current switches,

and put down the paddle when the moon’s face

shines before us, below as above. Let us trust

that we will always be led where we need to go.

The Achilles Heel That Lets the Light In: Everyday Magic, Day 745

Where have I been lately? Lying in bed, half asleep, trying to bat away the mild hallucinations of trees turning into armies of pale orange ladybugs. Or diving into my computer for hours, doing simple-minded tasks (like filing my sent emails) to keep my mind off my body. Or watching anything stupid, funny and made for those of limited attention span. Mostly, I’ve been waiting: at doctor’s offices or pharmacies, for the antibiotic to start working, for the steroids to stop working me up, and generally to just get well.

We all have our Achilles heel. Mine just happens to be chronic sinus infections (yes, I do neti pots, eucalyptus oil capsules, hot baths with peppermint flavoring, over-the-counter decongestants and whatnot, herbal supplements, spicy food, and the forgoing of dairy or wheat on occasion). On one hand, it’s not the worst Achilles heel to be rocking in the last decade or so. My previous Achilles heel of chronic migraines for 30 years were harder to herd into a quiet, dark place so I could function. At least, with a sinus infection, I can still be largely functional, punctuated by bouts of sitting in my bed watching Wayne’s World and kitten videos.

While this last sinus journey was long (close to four weeks, flared into being from too much work, air travel, and probably hugging too many people with colds), I had many moments of gratitude for all my non-Achilles-heel parts (of my body and my life), and bursts of admiration for the courage of so many dealing with much harder things. You’ve probably heard this old phrase, attributed to both T. H. Thompson and John Watson:

Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.


Some people are living with aggressive and unpredictable illnesses, such as Parkinson’s, M.S., cancer, head trauma, or depression. Some face the daily encounter of deep loss and grief, or overwhelming anxiety, or debilitating self-doubt. Some struggle constantly with not having enough: money for healthy food and reliable shelter, time for homecoming, peace for joy, rest for renewal. Some yearn with all their being for a companion, a child, a parent, or friend. Some feel lost and alone when trying to find their true work or community or purpose.

Whoever we are, whatever we luck into or choose or create or fight for with all our might, we each have our vulnerabilities, some part of our bodies or psyches, work or home life, that goes out of whack easily and makes us want to yell out, “On, no! Not this again!” Yet it’s precisely because our Achilles heel that we learn (and often re-learn, a million times in a lifetime) how to crack our hearts open, which is also exactly the way — to paraphrase Leonard Cohen — the light gets in.

“I Have My Home in Two Worlds”: Coleman Barks, John Willison, Rumi, Magic Musicians and Wild Wonder: Everyday Magic, Day 744

With Coleman and John (and a very bright lamp)

With Coleman and John (and a very bright lamp)

Last night was one of the shining evenings of my life. Surrounded by lightning and thunder lighting up the stained glass windows at Unity on the Plaza, and immersed in Rumi’s poetry and all the improvisation in word and music it inspired, I was bedazzled. I’ve long felt a kinship with Coleman Barks and a deep appreciation for what he’s done to bring Rumi to the world, and I love Rumi’s poetry with a vengeance.DSCN2021

It was enough to land here with  Rumi performed by Coleman Barks and a trio of musicians who had never played together before on a stormy, perfect October night (while also reunited with old friends), but there was more glory. I was there with Kelley, one of my closest friends, in great part to hear John Willison, one of my Turning Point writing workshop participants. Through a phone call (thanks to John’s wife Pauline, and Coleman’s open heart), it was arranged that John would read one of his poems that evening while the musicians chimed in.

John started his reading by telling the audience that he had metastatic cancer — cancer traveled from its sight to other points in the body with little chance of turning back. His poem, written on Sunday in the workshop “Writing for Life, Love and Legacy,” speaks to what it means to live so vibrantly while knowing in each breath how mortal he is. John read the poem first without music, and then with the astonishing merging of Allaudin Ottinger on percussion, Nathaniel Caetanya Bottorff on strings, and a marvelous clarinetist. Here is his poem:

I have my home in two worlds


This one:

With all its wild running,

Stuffing my pockets full of pleasure.

A smile the size of a candy shop!


I open my closet,

My whole life pours out

In excessive sweetness.


Even my suffering has taken a shine.

Running my fingers over my scars,

What were once indignities

Are now a flutter in the heart…


I bashfully flirt with every beauty.


The blushing maple, there

That brushstroke of moon.

Her hand on my chest,

Light as air,DSCN2011

And just as needed.


It’s all an enchantment.


I am aware of the windows being shut at the back of the house,

The doors, propped open, closing.

But this is not to be a constraint, a prison for beggars.


Not a house of sorrows.


Yes, everything will tremble.

All will fall.

This container will topple off the shelf and shatter,

Spilling into an infinite field,


Where this greeting awaits:


Hello, darling. Welcome home.

~ John Willison


Take the Long Way Home: Everyday Magic, Day 743

Sid Vicious memorial party because it's simply another reason to have a party

Sid Vicious memorial party because it’s simply another reason to have a party

Supertramp’s “Take the Long Way Home” was at its height in the early months of my new life in the Midwest, just on the cusp of winter flipping to spring in 1979. It seemed an anthem for me those two and half years that I lived in Columbia, Missouri, first in an unfortunate dorm room, then in a house with six other women, and finally in a small bungalow with three other roommates.

The album Breakfast in America inevitably played in the background of every party in those days while we sloshed generic vodka in paper cups to mix with powdered milk, talked trash about sexist journalism professors who told us

Halloween in 1979 or 1980

Halloween in 1979 or 1980

women weren’t capable of hard news reporting, and played musical beds, hoping true love would prevail and take us out to Ernie’s for breakfast the next morning.

Those were the days when I lived the lyrics, “So you think your life has become a catastrophe?/ Oh, it has to be for you to grow, boy.” No matter that I wasn’t a boy, I had plenty of catastrophe to go around. I changed jobs almost more times than I changed clothes, working at a Dairy Queen, movie theater run by a philandering middle-ager who kept hitting on us, running the register at a mom and pop shop, and even did the graveyard shift at student newspaper print shop. Learning to live on my own financially after my father cut off all aid from home was messy at best and humiliating at worst as I navigated feeding myself on a dime (who knew that one can of beer would make a filling lunch!), many bounced check charges, and too many nights of only four hours of sleep. I also changed classes, boyfriends, outlooks, and ideas about my identity at lightning speed. I can’t remember putting hardly any time into homework.

Underneath all the clanging and clutching, I only had the vaguest sense about how to live my life, but certain things were emerging: I loved the Midwest and felt more at home here than anywhere I had lived, friendship and community trumped all else, I wasn’t really cut out for journalism (and not because I wasn’t a boy), and I loved the serendipitous surprises that overtook me sometimes when my plans were stood up or kicked out the door. At no time in my life did I walk alone or with a friend so much in the middle of the night, sometimes through downtown alleys with spray pain in my purse, and often toward parties blasting Supertramp, reinforcing that if my life was a mess, then maybe I really wasn’t.

Kathy and me with someone laughing

Kathy and me with someone laughing

Decades past, I don’t believe that catastrophe is the prerequisite for growth. I know how much we can be led by love, illuminated by joy and dazzled awake by the beauty of the shimmering cottonwood leaves before they detach. Yet as I watch the early 20′s lives of some of my children, in the middle of moving four times in two months, or scraping together enough income from a bundle of part-time jobs to pay the rent, I’m reminded of the wildness of this time of life, what David Brooks calls the Odyssey years between adolescence and adulthood. An odyssey it is and was, and if I could tell my 20-year-old self anything, I wouldn’t tell her where she would land or even to enjoy the ride, just to listen to the song and relax a little.

Hard Frost: Everyday Magic, Day 742

There’s something magical about the first dip into cold weather. Part of it is the ritual of seasonal change: the throwing wide the quilt to land on the bed after its long sojourn in a closet, the clang or click of the heat coming on with a touch of the thermoset, the winding of an old or new scarf around my neck before I slip on the jacket that’s spent months useless in a basement box.

There’s the refreshing and even jarring step outside, the air bright as cool water before the comfort of the heat in the car returning to us after months abroad.

Now it’s late October, and the balance point between seasons – those days of sitting on the porch in shorts and sleeveless top, and nights of sleeping with a blanket and no a.c. on — has tipped over. A month from now, the novelty will have worn off. A season from now, I’ll be craving a bout of spring. But for the moment, I’m so grateful for the exquisitely well-lit blue of the sky, the maple trees on Tennessee St. that are half green and half orange-rose, and the hard frost turning the mornings to silver.

Astonishingly Good Inventions In Our Lifetime: Everyday Magic, Day 738

What a digital camera gives us in a flash

What a digital camera gives us in a flash

Driving through town the other day, it occurred to me how many good inventions have come about in my lifetime, from superb television shows like Call the Midwife to the awesome Philadelphia roll, the sushi equivalent of bagels and lox. Here is my list — please feel free to add your own:

  • The Caesar Salad (okay, so it was invented in my mom’s childhood, not mine): I’m not talking about a fast food version with croutons manufactured in China, but a made-from-scratch or made-at-your-table authentic Caesar salad (anchovies and all). Throughout my second pregnancy, I craved Caesar salads so much that I ate one almost daily (and no surprise, the daughter that resulted likes them too).
  • Cars that don’t break down and run for seemingly ever: Consider how the cars of the 1950s and 60s were prone to sudden and frequent problems, and were considered over the hill (so to speak) after 50,000 miles. Today I have a Toyota Sienna minivan in
    So many years, so many miles, so much life left in it

    So many years, so many miles, so much life left in it

    my drive with close to 250,000 miles on it that just keeps going. Friends report cars nearing 300,000 miles. Not only that, aside from some expensive repairs every year or two, many of these vehicles only have a fraction of the maintenance issues my first car, a 1969 Dodge Dart, had. Repairs may be more costly when they are needed, but I’m guessing we all spend a lot less time and money overall (with adjustments for inflation) on auto maintenance than we did in 1955 or so.

  • The Wood Pellet Stove: We have one, and it’s a thing of warm and abiding beauty. Burning about a million times more efficiently than a wood stove, and cool enough to sit on while going full-tilt, it’s a marvel of a way to heat a house. We got ours on….
  • Ebay, Etsy and Other Sites Making It Easy To Sell Our Stuff: Who knew we’d be able to get rid of our old stuff via a laptop, 10 minutes of time, remembering a password, and….
  • Digital Cameras: I do love me a darkroom and the process of developing black and white film my hand, but I don’t miss taking film cannisters into town or mailing them somewhere to be developed, and then getting disappointed at how my photo didn’t capture the sparking hot pink glory of the sunset. Now I can get disappointed instantly by snapping a photo, and putting in on my….
  • Laptop Computer: I remember begging my parents for a typewriter, the non-electric kind. I remember swooning over an electric typewriter and falling into long-term ecstasy when I had my first selectic, complete with those fabulous little metal balls of fonts. I still love typewriters, but as a writer, I sure don’t miss trying to carefully paint on and not over-cake white correcting fluid.
  • The Widespread Availability of Hummus, Gyoza, Fajitas, Black Bean Sauce, Rice Noodles, Curry, Chicken Tikka Masala and Many Other Dishes: These foods were here for decades if not centuries, but not so abundantly available at airports, small-town grocery stores or as recipes on the internet. Now I take the burrito for granted, but as a little kid (actually, until I was 19), I didn’t know from a burrito. How did we survive for so long without such limited flavors and textures?
  • Eye Pillows: I don’t know who invented these, but they’re
    Behold the eye pillow!

    Behold the eye pillow!

    wonderful for sleeping in when the sun is out or just relaxing after a hectic day. I especially like mine filled with some lavender and covered in silk, but even a cotton, rice-filled eye pillow is a godsend some days.

  • itunes: Where else can you listen to Caryn-FM (or whoever you are-FM) for hours, each song making you want to stand up and yell, “My favorite!”
  • Movies at Home: With DVDs, VCRs (yeah, we still have some a player), Blu-Ray, Netflix and other streaming formats, we can sit in our living rooms and watch everything from Charlie Chaplin to Sarah Silverman flicks
  • Great Inventions With Serious Downsides: The internet and cell phones have revolutionized how we spend our time. On one hand, it’s so much easier to reach out to others, access wild and varied information, share such information, transmit photos, instructions for organizing a sit-in, recipes, songs and videos (also easier to shoot). On the other hand, all this instant access taps into our brain, and surely converts our brains into wanting more stimulus at faster speeds.