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My Life Right Now

Why I wish I had been born in West Africa

I’ve been thinking about purpose lately. As in, “What is my purpose in this lifetime?” I’m pretty big on existential questions, so even if I weren’t reading Of Water and The Spirit by Malidoma Somé, I’d be mulling them over. But I have been reading it. And it’s knocked my existential socks off.

Somé writes about his experience growing up through the rites and rituals of his people, the Dagara, in Burkina Faso, West Africa.

Check this out:

A few months before birth…a ritual called a ‘hearing’ is held. The pregnant mother, her brothers, the grandfather and the officiating priest are the participants. During the ritual, the incoming soul takes the voice of the mother (some say the soul takes the whole body of the mother, which is why the mother falls into trance and does not remember anything afterward) and answers every question the priest asks.

The living must know who is being reborn, where the soul is from, why it chose to come here, and what gender it has chosen. Some souls ask that specific things be made ready before their arrival–talismanic power objects, medicine bags, metal objects in the form of rings for the ankle or wrist. They do not want to forget who they are and what they have come here to do. It is hard not to forget, because life in this world is filled with many alluring distractions. The name of the newborn is based upon the results of these communications. A name is the life program of its bearer.

My initial thoughts after reading this? Crap. No one ever asked me about my purpose in utero. I’m so screwed.

My name means “A crown or garland,” which hasn’t given me much of a life program. Malidoma, on the other hand, means “friend of the enemy.” And at just about every turn, this man’s life has landed him there–his kidnapping at age 4 by Jesuits and subsequent rearing in a seminary until he was 20, his return and initiation back into his tribe, his extensive education in the West (3 master’s degrees and a PhD) and then writing books like this one, that introduce open-minded WASP-y chicks like me to whole other ways of understanding existence.

I’m just so jealous of the societal focus on purpose that Somé talks about:

For the Dagara, every person is an incarnation, that is a spirit who has taken on a body. So our true nature is spiritual. This world is where one comes to carry out specific projects.

I wish that just as a function of being part of my community, that I was encouraged to find my purpose, that there was some over-arching social fabric that kept us all knit together in that common pursuit. Instead, I feel pretty untethered and on my own, collecting little tidbits along the way.

Not so for Somé, who describes one of his tribal elders explaining the purpose of initiation into adulthood.

What he said was this…Each one of us possessed a center that he had grown away from after birth. To be born was to lose contact with our center, and to grow from childhood to adulthood was to walk away from it.

The center is both within and without. It is everywhere. But we must realize it exists, find it, and be with it, for without the center we cannot tell who we are, where we come from, and where we are going.

Once again, all I’m cripplingly jealous. I desperately want to know those things. And I have to believe that I don’t have to go to Burkina Faso to try and figure it out. I do feel like I have some clues. Creativity, connection and women are all themes that rise to the surface in things that I love, and that draw me in again and again.  But where do I go from those hazy concepts? If I just keep on living as I have, will my purpose become more apparent? Or do I need to go all Malidoma Somé to figure it out?

What do you think your purpose is? And what has helped you feel closer to it?

Asking for help is the best: why my friends should be motivational speakers

Well, I’ve been having a serious inertia problem over here, folks. I even looked up inertia to make sure that’s what I meant, and it is—the resistance of any physical object to a change in its state of motion or rest.

When I sit down, I want to sit forever. If I’m in bed, that’s where I’d like to spend the rest of my days. When I’m at dance class, it’s all I want to do.

But let me not give you the wrong impression: most of the time, I experience the inertia issue when I am in a state of rest. And most of the time, I’m not resting luxuriously or particularly well. I’m on the couch, looking at Facebook. Or I’m sleeping while Jonah watches Dora. Or I’m staring off into space while J squishes green playdough through our garlic press and hums Puff the Magic Dragon.

I’ve been avoiding things. Namely:

  • Looking earnestly for the part-time freelance video editing gig of my dreams.
  • Cleaning that last pile of random crap off the dining room table/desk.
  • This blog.

I tell myself that tomorrow it’ll feel better, more do-able, and then the next day, I’m weighed down by the same feeling of meh-ness when faced with these various tasks.

For the last few days, I’ve been admitting to myself that my whole depression thing probably has something to do with it. And admitting that has me scared. Because it’s summer time. Because I’m no longer the exhausted parent of a completely erratic infant. Things are pretty good right now. And if I’m still depressed, then that means I’m a depressed person, rather than a person in a particular situation which has brought on depression.

Luckily, I had a stroke of genius today. After A took J to daycare and I had my 3 hours of sweet, sweet freedom, I decided to make some phone calls. Rather than sinking into the whole resting inertia thing, I actually voluntarily changed my state of motion. I washed dishes and did laundry and called my friends.

FRIENDS. What a revelation.

Arm In Arm by Gail Dedrick

The first one I talked to was S. Calm, earnest, pregnant S whose husband was on a walk with her 2-year-old daughter, which meant that we had nearly 40 minutes of uninterrupted talking time. When I gushed all my worries out to her–in particular, my fear about being depressed even in the midst of very little stress–she burst the situation wide open with this: “Well, actually sounds like you’ve got a lot of stressful stuff going on right now.”

Touché.

We *are* facing a huge rent increase in the next several months. And we *do* have a lot of uncertainty right now in terms of our incomes. So our home and money situations are both totally up in the air. That does sound stressful.

And in terms of the little work tasks I’ve been avoiding, S offered this pearl of wisdom: “Sounds like you just need to do it.”

Sigh.

So I did.

After this whole exchange and hearing about S’s latest travails with her toddler and impending move, I just felt one thing.

Better.

Then, up stepped L, friend #2 in this delightful turnaround of a day. She called, asking if I wanted her to stop by in a few hours. Yes, I did. Even though her timing was going to be smack in the middle of J’s nap when I could get some work done, I thought that hanging with her might actually enable me to feel more whole and productive. I was right.

When I got home from picking J up at daycare, L was already here, waiting. I love it that she just lets herself into our back door if no one is home. She reminded me, just by hanging out on the couch and talking and eating chips, of the lightness and ease that still exists in my life, even amidst all the uncertainty.

This photographic delight from an old college friend: Lindsay Brooke Photography.
(did you know that if grass is wet that bubbles will stick to it like this? it’s a small miracle)

Enter: friend #3. I met up with R for a walk after our kiddos woke up from their naps. I filled her in on the day’s discoveries while we pounded the pavement and pushed our strollers.

By this time, I was starting to feel almost normal.

And then R said, “I love it that you called me and asked for what you needed.” This thrilled me because: a) I actually had the presence of mind to ask a good friend for what I needed, and b) she liked it–nay, loved it–that I asked her.

Isn’t it ludicrous that I have to learn these things over and over and over again? Like that I have a lot of amazing friends and that it’s actually a good idea to call them instead of building an isolated tower of guilt and shame? Or that instead of feeling put upon, my friends actually like it when I call them to talk about my problems?

With results like these, why do I have this deep, dark, moldy fear of reaching out for the people that care about me when I feel crappy? Well, for one, I’m afraid of being rejected. And I’m also ashamed that I have wholly slovenly, unproductive, depressing days. Yet when someone I love (or any person, really) confides in me about their darker, messier parts, my whole self heaves a huge sigh of relief.

We all have parts of our lives that feel shameful. We all get isolated in our own little mental horror stories.

So let us all now take an enormous, collective sigh.

Why we should give an eff about the protests in Sudan

As I’ve mentioned before, my sister recently got married–once in Sudan and once in San Francisco. She likes to really go for the gusto. A and I went to Sudan for wedding number one and met our new brother-in-law’s family and their 2,000 closest friends. I must say, after over a week of Sudanese wedding festivities, (these people reeeeeealllly like their weddings) I was walking on air. The singing, the dancing, the hugging and kissing. I could not say more than 3 words to the vast majority of the people I met and yet the outpouring of love and acceptance and humor and ease that I felt left me feeling like this was my family too.

Recently, as I was perusing El Face, (how my new Sudanese family refers to Facebook) I saw this from S, my new sister-in-law-in-law (what do you call the sister of your brother-in-law??!):

Hey, Facebook. Did you know that Sudan is still fighting for its freedom?

Well, I don’t know about you, El Face, but I sure didn’t. You see, I’m not really a international news person. Or a person who really knows much about the news in general. I figure that if it’s important enough to know, it will trickle down.

And then a couple days later, S posted this:

And so it seemed that this news was officially “trickling down.”

Thanks to a good old fashioned online chat with S tonight, I’ve got the lowdown.

Protesters of the totalitarian Sudanese government have been active since the beginning of the Arab Spring–you know, the whole wave of mass protests in late 2010/early 2011 forcing rulers from power in places like Egypt and Libya. The Sudanese government has been brutal in its crackdown–mass arrests, beatings and torture. After demonstrations on January 30, 2011, they arrested a bunch of people, including some close friends and family of my new Sudanese family, and they were kept in detention with no charges for around 20 days. Detainees were beaten, and tortured with “humiliation tactics” and electrocution.

Despite all that, protests have continued, and most recently, student protests that just started on June 16 have been gaining momentum. You can read this article if you want a good overview of what’s going on right now. And if you just want the essentials:

Locals have now joined the revolt, spurred by the student uprising, fueled by economic hardship, and provoked by the government’s ‘fiscal austerity’ program. The program, which was announced on Monday June 18, 2012 by President Omar al Bashir, includes a 60 percent and 40 percent increase in the respective prices of fuel and sugar and yet another tax hike.

So sounds to me like the 99% are trying to organize in opposition to a totalitarian government. And to be honest, if my wicked-smart sister-in-law-in-law and brother-in-law in solidarity with the protesters, then so am I.

This whole thing is reminding me of my student activism days. And how I learned that non-violent protest doesn’t effectively create social change unless a whole bunch of powerful people witness it. Well, turns out that this is not happening for #SudanRevolts yet:

It is uplifting to note that the momentum gained so far has continued despite the media blackout on Sudan’s revolt. The government has censored local coverage of protests and has detained all journalists attempting to report on the demonstrations, including AFP’s resident correspondent, Simon Martelli, who was arrested outside the University of Khartoum on Tuesday. The international media has also been slow to cover the recent wave of protests.

If there had been a media blackout during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, methinks civil rights might have gone down quite differently.

And while I may not be international media, BOOM, I’m covering it.

Wanna let the protesters in Sudan know that there are actually some folks in the outside world paying attention and supporting their struggle? Join these fine people:

Take a picture of yourself with the phrase “I live in ____ and I support #SudanRevolts.” Then post it to FB, Twitter, your blog, instagram, and the like. And if you want more news about what’s going on, check #SudanRevolts on Twitter.

In the mean time, I’m gonna get some sleep before J wakes up with the sun.

Until tomorrow, Sudan. I’m thinking about you.

How the mere idea of a root beer float can keep me going for weeks

I’ve wanted a root beer float for the past…oh…couple months. I do this thing where I come up with some sort of treat in my head and dangle the idea of it in front of myself like a motivational carrot–an edible happy hunting ground of sorts.  Sometimes I’ll actually buy the treat, a fizzy juice drink or some ice cream. But I won’t eat it. I just like knowing that it’s in the fridge if I need it. And it stays there for weeks. Months maybe. This is not due to healthy eating habits. I buy other sugary delights in the mean time and eat those. But there’s often a end-all-be-all treat that I compulsively keep in the untouchable category.

Why do I do this?

I guess part of it is that I like knowing that there’s a reserve supply of goodness that I can tap into when I REALLY need it. Oy vey. Are rootbeer floats (or is goodness) really in such short supply that I have to hoard the idea for months on end?

Today I chose to end the cycle. I treated myself. And it was fabulous.

What form of goodness have you been hoarding that you could easily give to yourself today?

Homesteading update: the status of my chicken and kale dreams

I’ve been craving more space for our little family. Daydreaming of 3 bedroom apartments with chickens in the backyard and a garage for our bikes. And then the universe promptly declared, “Put your money where  your mouth is, lady!” in the form of an unexpected and radical rent increase at our little cottage.

After recovering from my initial shock and terror, I realized that this was just the kick in the pants I needed to get moving. Nothing like the prospect of paying $700 more per month to motivate a hunt for new housing. So we’ve had to put the backyard chicken plan on hold for the time being. That is not to say that our coop isn’t getting plenty of use.

JoToddlerCoop

Please note the cool combo ladder/door that my naked child is playing with. I came up with the design and A hammered it out–this way, we don’t have to put out and then take away a separate ladder every time we open and close the door. What efficiency! That is, won’t that be efficient once we actually get chickens?

JoToddCoop

While our chicken aspirations are on hold, my kale dreams are coming true.

Perhaps I’ll go make myself a kale salad and go obsess over housing ads on Craigslist…

My faceless photo tribute to wedding season

I’ve been AWOL for the last few weeks because my sister got married. Again. She’s the one who went and had a wedding in Sudan back in November.

Photo by Terri Jirousek

So this was wedding #2. The California version. It was a super-glam, international peace fest.

This was in stark contrast to A’s and my wedding, nearly 7 years ago–a high mountain desert, home-grown affair, made even more complete by some serious weather drama.

My dear sister and I are both married off. Check and check. And now that I’m on the other side of all of the wedding dress fittings and family drama, I’ve been feeling relieved and a bit empty. Why do weddings engulf so completely and then wash away without a trace? It’s too much and then not enough. I miss having long-lost friends in town and events to dress up for at night. I miss thinking and talking about love too much and laughing over greasy pub food when I’m tipsy. But it’s also nice to be sitting on the couch in my goats t-shirt (I’m really into goats) and watching crappy tv. I needed a break from having heart-to-heart conversations with people I love every 5 minutes.

Happy wedding season, everyone.  They can lift us up, let us down, push us around, and then they are simply over.

p.s. Isn’t it kind of awesome how when you crop the faces out of photos they become more universal? Wanna add yours to the mix? Find a favorite wedding photo, crop the heads out and share it on my facebook page!

On discipline


If sleep was our million dollar question when we had an infant, discipline is the biggie now that we have a toddler. Since my initial love affair with time-outs in this post, I’ve decided that I want more options in my toolbox, and I’ve been trying other things I’ve been learning from reading the discipline chapter in Hold On to Your Kids. After a particularly despairing day, I’m casting out to see how you all think about discipline. How do you see the discipline strategies you use as fitting into your ongoing relationship with your kids?

p.s. There’s an awesome comment thread for this post at Get Born, a blog I write/video for.

On zen and the domestic arts


I spend most of my days doing housework. For the last 2 years, I’ve wrestled with what that means about my identity and value in the world. After my recent reality tv bender, I found that doing the dishes isn’t the worst thing on earth after all.

On priorities, the internet, and my jumpy, all-over-the-place brain


My latest challenge? Beginning and finishing a task. Between my toddler and the internet, I seem to be more distract-able than ever. How do you keep your focus with kids and the interweb and a million and one things seeking your attention?