Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Catalina 3

Isthmus Cove and Bird Rock

I just returned from my third trip chaperoning some students to Catalina Island. The trip itself is a wonderful opportunity for the students offering them experiences they might never have living in an inner city barrio. Some of these experiences; snorkeling, kayaking, swimming in the ocean, can help children overcome their fears. For example, one child confided in me he loves to swim.

"Really?" I ask.

"Yes, but in the neighborhood pool where I have the side to hang on to."

It was he, his face beaming with pride, who pointed out the ocean doesn't have a side to hold on to. And that now he can venture into the deep end of the pool.

I overcame some of my fears the first trip, but not on the second, nor this one. I was not looking forward to this trip as I had a hard time bonding with this group this year, even with some of the good kids. I'd hoped to bond with some of them while chaperoning this time. I did with some, but not to the extent I'd wanted, or hoped.

Perhaps it was the small group of difficult students that forced me to focus on them, rather than the great students in the overall group, or that wouldn't let me just relax and enjoy myself. Perhaps it was the overall negative space where I am right now that pushed me to see the negative rather than the positive this year. Perhaps there was something else. Or a bit of all of the above.

I was there on the ship just helping supervise the more difficult ones, and trying to interact with the well behaved ones. I didn't kayak, I didn't snorkel, I didn't jump off the ship again. And I was fine with that.

We actually spend most of our time on the ship; all but two meals are eaten there, and we sleep in bunks built into the hull of the ship. On the first day, once we cross the Channel and anchor, there is a small activity in an isolated cove where the students get some lessons in handling a kayak, before they go kayaking in the open channel the next day. Our last full day is the only time we spend a good deal of time on the island itself. In between these days, everything else is done aboard ship. During this entire trip, the students are supervised by the naturalists, and we are invited to participate in the activities; either on ship, a kayak, on land or in the ocean. Or, we can get some private time away from the group.

Catalina wild buffalo
On Island Day there is a hike before lunch across the isthmus and the naturalists discuss the political, natural and geologic history of the island, and after lunch there is shallow water snorkeling or tide pooling. Or we can take a break from the kids. After all, it has been about three days at this point, including travel time to the ship and sailing across the channel. And we do sleep in the cabins with the little darlings. Talk about taking work home with you.

That's why I chose to take a hike.

I had been looking forward to the morning hike, because I wanted to revisit my rock. My first time there, after lunch, my colleague and I hiked back across the isthmus, about 0.5 miles (770 m), from the Channel side to the Pacific side and ventured down the cliff and explored the rocky shore. While there I was mesmerized by this rock, entranced by the layers and realizing each layer meant thousands of years of earth's history. If only those layers could talk! I later blogged about it.

I am a Rock, June 2011

I really felt the need to connect with my rock again, hoping it would help me get a handle on this negative space I'm in. We hiked over the isthmus to the Pacific side and when it was time to return, I stayed behind and went down to the shore and tried to find my rock. It was difficult as I was relying on memory to find it. I believe I did, though it did not speak to me as I had hoped. I think my energy wasn't in tune to it, or it had told me what it needed to and was silent.
My Rock, 2013

Yet, I did get a message.

In a way.

In the silence.

It had told me its stories, and now it's time for me to tell mine.

Maybe that will break the spell.

Monday, April 22, 2013


I needed to get out of the house last week. Desperately.

I'd been wanting to check out a local gay bar as a potential setting for a few scenes in a novel bubbling around in my head. I'd been trying to get there for a while, but it seemed things always got in my way. Appointments, nerves, dinners with friends, fears, fatigue, second thoughts, the end of the month, anxiety.

Finally, I decided to bite the bullet and just go.

This particular bar caters to a young, Latino, hip hop/pop crowd, at least according to its Facebook and web pages, and a few reviews on Yelp. This is the scene that I am feeling my character is attracted to at one point in his story. Plus, I am usually attracted to dark-haired men, and as most Latinos fit that bill, I thought it might be interesting to see what came of it for me. And to be honest, I did visit this place once on my birthday with some friends, and the description seemed mostly accurate. Mostly. There were a lot of young Latino guys, but there were older men as well; white, Latino and Black. Now, I wanted to go back for research. And I wanted to go alone, for courage. For myself.

So, I did.

Now, I'm not much of a bar person, as most of the men I've met there are after one thing and one thing only. Or, maybe they're after a couple. The music is very loud, and I'm not much of a drinker.

I walked in just after 6:30 PM and meandered around to see where a good spot to watch the crowd might be, and to get a feel for the place.

Now, I had been to this particular location many times before when it was a country/western bar, as my ex and I were in a gay square dance club which used this facility when the recreation center had to use the club's regular room for some other reason. Coming back now that it was a Latino/hip-hop bar was a culture shock, though not much had changed physically, save the addition of a stage in the corner for the drag shows.

I decided to sit at a corner of the bar, where at least I'd have the bartender to talk to as it was still early in the evening and the crowd was still milling in.

"Are you going to sit there?" he asked pointing to the general area of the bar where I was already sitting.

"Yes," I replied, thinking it was saved. "Is this okay?" I practically yelled to be heard above the music.

"Sure. Wanna play?" he asked, pointing to a Jenga tower perched precariously on the bar in front of me. It's twin was balancing itself on the other end of the U-shaped bar.


He explained the rules, which were 1) keep one hand off the bar while playing, and 2) you had to remove one rod from the fourth level from the top or lower, and then place that rod on the top level, all without causing the the whole thing to fall over.

"What'll you have?"

I ordered my usual, "A bottled water," and he quickly returned with it.

I will say the bartender was cute, had a real 'nice guy' vibe to him and appeared to be under 30. As he attended his other customers, I scanned the crowd for interesting people to make notes about, I tried to get a note of the layout, as well as a general feel for the Sunday crowd and plotted my next Jenga move. It was an nice mix of ethnicities and ages, though the younger guys (21-maybe 30 years old and mostly Latino) seemed to be inside the bar and the older (above 35, mostly mixed) crowd was outside on the patio.

The evening proceeded, Bartender and I played Jenga, he fixed drinks, and in between turns he explained the bar was trying something new; the second Sunday of the month was now 80s-90s night and the DJ would be playing a mix of both English and Spanish music from those years. Among the artists I recognized (and remember) were A-ha, Madonna, and Cyndi Lauper. I don't remember hearing any by Cher, so I just may have to go back and suggest a few! Bartender, I never did find out his name, asked if I'd been there before, as he didn't recognize me. I told him about my birthday trip and he inquired if we'd seen the drag show that night, which we hadn't. Our chit chat continued like this in-between his getting other people their drinks and his rounds of Jenga with both me and the guy at the other end of the bar.

I felt myself relaxing, it felt great to be out of the house; yet I was still apprehensive about chatting with guys, in case they were looking for something I wasn't. This is all so new to me. I did notice an interesting character, Mr. Social Butterfly. He appeared to be a regular, as he knew the bartenders and many of the regulars by name and seemed to have access to different parts of the club. While he never went behind the bar itself, he disappeared behind a curtain being used as a divider, where the beefy bouncer went once or twice. Butterfly would position himself in various spots around the bar, stand for a while, then walk around, chat with customers, and then return to order another drink at a different spot at the bar.

I also noticed a white man, about mid-40s with a beard and beret who appeared to be the manager/owner as he would ask the bartenders to do specific jobs like set up the jello shots or put out the dishes of stale popcorn. Well, that's what I thought he'd said, for that's what got done. He came by me once, commented on my Jenga skills, and how it involved way too much geometry for him. I felt it involved more engineering than specific math skills which, I realized in retrospect, go hand in hand. He asked if I was an engineer, I told him I was a teacher, and we talked about the general state of the kids today, and after a bit more friendly chit chat, he excused himself to take care of some business with the bar, and visit with some friends.

Somewhere in all this, Social Butterfly flitted in, placed his hand on my shoulder saying. "Aw, you're sitting here all by yourself. I'm going to play too." He made a move, on the Jenga tower, left to get his beer, and never returned. I later ran into him in the restroom where he was using his phone to try and take a picture of himself  in the mirror, but I guess all that alcohol had taken its effect and the picture wasn't coming out clear enough for his liking. After the two tries I witnessed, he asked me if I would take his picture. I agreed and after washing my hands, we discovered there were no paper towels, so we left to find a napkin, and Social Butterfly flitted off somewhere else. I don't know if he ever did get that picture taken.

While I tell myself I am not looking for love, and I'm actively not looking, I still found myself checking out the guys and sort of classifying them as to what possible potential I felt they might have; friend, date, boyfriend, casual encounter, none of the above. And what I wanted in return. Maybe I'm just tuning into my gut instinct again. Maybe I'm just human.

But, I think I might need to go back for some more research.

Or to just get out of the house.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Black Hole

Sometimes I'm too much in my head. And I mean the one on my shoulders, not that other one. 

The other day I popped out to the store for some odds and ends. On my way out, I saw a young couple, about twentysomething, if even that old. They weren't being obnoxious with their displays of affection, yet I felt nauseated. Not because they were holding hands, not because he kissed her good-bye, not because they were straight.

But because I didn't want someone hanging all over me. I felt overwhelmed because of what they were doing.

Also, I recently went out to a gay bar to do some research for a setting in another novel brewing in my head. Plus, I wanted needed to get out of the house, I'll kill two birds, I thought. And maybe, deep down, I was hoping to make some new gay friends. All in all, I did have a pleasant evening out taking some notes for this new novel, getting out of the house, chatting with a couple of guys and beginning to climb out of the black hole of despair I'd been falling in.

I'd mentioned in other recent posts that I'd run into some old, dear friends who asked me if I was seeing anyone. I immediately responded, "No, and I don't want to, either." 

And it has been driving me crazy trying to figure out why. Why did I not want some nice handsome man kissing me goodbye? Why did I not want his arms around me, holding me, telling me he wanted to be with me? Why did I want to be alone?

In trying to understand myself, I've talked about my compartments; being newly single, being middle aged, being a man, being gay, being a teacher, being a new author, being a homeowner and pet-parent. I've talked about how I try to de-compartmentalize myself and about when and where my compartments merge.

I've tried focusing individually on my various compartments, particularly the gay part of me, by venturing back into the community only to find I may not belong to it anymore. I've tried to overcome being a poor lonely homeowner by trying to find a roommate to help with expenses, but with no success. I've shared the frustrations and commitment of being a pet parent to two sweet and loving but aging pets (and I've recently learned that a certain someone is planning on moving out of state, leaving the full responsibility of their care completely on me). I've tried taking on other jobs at school for additional income only to drive myself insane by losing what free personal time I can make, which then limits the time I can write new stories and promote my current one. I've discussed my frustrations with my current teaching assignment and what a challenging class I have, perhaps the most difficult one I've had in my entire thirty year career. So difficult in fact, I would walk out tomorrow. But, that would mean the little ones had won! I've vented about the current politics surrounding public education and how teaching is no longer fun and creative, but sheer drudgery. So much so, I've thought about retiring at the end of this school year, but I would only receive half of my base pay and I'm barely making ends meet now. (There is the theory of "leap and the net will appear" but that is another post for another day.)

And I've discussed my fears around dating; fears of being hurt again, being rejected, of not being good enough. Plus, the idea of getting to know someone else while I'm getting reacquainted with myself is very daunting.

I often sit and ask myself, "Which of the different factors affect me the most?" Immediately, without thinking I answer with, "My job."

How do my difficult class and the politics around education affect my feelings about my household responsibilities, my dog and cat and my desire not to date? 

Actually, it turns out, it has quite a lot to do with it all.

Sometimes when you ask questions, you get answers; sometimes from yourself, and sometimes from outside sources. And as I found out, the answer made a lot of sense. The Los Angeles Times recently ran an article on job stress and levels of happiness in the personal lives of several workers.

The article pointed out the obvious, that as jobs become more demanding and less stable, people have less time to devote to their friends, their families and to finding leisure time which then increases stress. The reporter focused on one person who commutes to work from his home in Missouri to his new assignment in Texas, albeit with the same company. He barely sees his family and has no time to maintain his house. So, his house was literally falling apart, and his family scarcely knew him anymore.

The article went on to point out that people with a lot of job stress have less time for civic involvement, or any other leisure activity, all of which can reduce stress.

So, how does this relate to me? I'm single, have no family to support save my dog and cat, I should be living a carefree, happy-go-lucky life. But, I'm not.

I've detailed my day-to-day schedule, so we know time is a problem with all the other activities that come along with teaching. I can either stay at work for another 2 hours to grade papers and plan lessons, or come home and do it more comfortably after feeding my kids and giving them some love, and then get to work after having a small glass of wine and getting in looser clothes and playing soothing music. Either way, I still have a 45 minute commute home to add to the day.

Perhaps it's the continuous attacks on public education and how teachers are to blame for the profession's ills. After all, we have tenure, we can't be fired, we only work from 8-3, we have summers off, we play with kids all day and the general attitude of the public is, those who can, do; those who can't, teach. And public education has NEVER been an historical priority in this country. After all, it is not formally addressed in the US Constitution, nor in the founding documents of the states. It was the proverbial buck that got passed along until it fell into the hands of the individual counties or cities. Compensatory education didn't come into being until the last century

Los Angeles recently had a municipal election for mayor and two school board seats. What was very interesting and, in my humble opinion, quite distressing, was that several out-of-state interests funded some of the candidates for the school board who spouted reform. These 'reform driven interests' aren't even based in Los Angeles, let alone California! The Florida reformer the district hired lasted only a year, before she packed it in.  These were candidates who wanted to fire bad teachers solely based on the students' test scores. These were candidates with no educational psychology or educational sociology training who wanted to tell us how to teach, candidates who had never set foot in a classroom after graduation (if they even graduated)! 

The Federal programs "No Child Left Behind" (or it's your own behind) and the "Race to the Top" (after the dangling carrot) have added more pressure to produce children who can simply fill in bubbles on tests, but do they understand what they have been taught at an all too frenetic pace just to meet testing schedules? Can they even think for themselves?

So, this general negative mood I'm in is all related to my work. The Los Angeles Times said so. At least I know where it's coming from.

And that I'm not alone.

And that I'm normal.

And that I have less than forty days to the end of the year.
And that, somehow, I will be stronger in the end.

Whenever that will be.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Gift of the Stag

They say Religion is for those who are afraid of going to hell and that Spirituality is for those who've been there and come back.

I consider myself a spiritual person. 
Many years ago after my first partner died and before I'd met my ex-husband I came home and drew a bath to relax after a particularly difficult day. As soon as I lay back in the warm water and took a deep breath and let go, I was no longer in the tub.
                I am walking across a meadow.  It is a pleasant day; a gentle breeze is blowing, the flowers dancing; light, fluffy clouds drift lazily in the soft blue sky. A forest stands in the distance, it is inviting; there are mountains behind it and to my left. I walk towards the forest. I am calm, I am meant to be there. As I approach the forest, a brown she-bear comes out of the forest; she spies me. I keep walking, without fear. We acknowledge each other, she is meant to meet me. I know this, how I know this, I do not know, yet I do. She shows no menace, no fear, no aggression; she has been waiting for me. She stands on her hind legs, opens her front arms, as if to embrace, or welcome me.  Mentally, I thank her, we are too far apart in the meadow, but I receive her embrace. She is not alone.
                A young ferret accompanies her. He is quick, alert, and watchful.  He also is here to greet me. I acknowledge him as he acknowledges me. I continue my walking. I have not stopped. As I enter the forest, the she-bear takes a position along my left side, the ferret on my right. We walk together the three of us into the forest. 
                We stop for a rest in the coolness of the forest, a stream babbles nearby, unseen yet heard. The she-bear is lying on all fours, I recline against her side. Her maternal warmth and strength flow through her into me, I know she is my friend, my companion. The ever attentive ferret scampers about, pauses to sit up, looks around, always our sentinel. He is also my friend, my companion.

It was then I returned to the tub.
I wondered what this meant, and why I had experienced it. I began some research and came to realize I'd had what many Native American tribes referred to as a vision that many of their young adults would have to mark their entry into adulthood. I even conferred with a Native Elder, who believed the Old Medicine had come to me, a white person.

I began to research what Bear and Ferret mean as spirit guides:
Bear is the gift of introspection, that in hibernation I will find the answers I seek. They are inside me. Hibernation can also be thought of as meditation, looking inward, learning to trust myself. Bear people are fearless defenders of their beliefs and often independent in nature.
Ferret is the message of observing silently, as they have keen eyesight and are ever alert. And with observing, and trusting my own instincts, I will achieve my goals. Ferret people are often loners, and often underestimated. And Ferret people are often keen witted and very playful.

As I shared this with a friend, she kept saying, "This is so you!" over and over. 

And it all felt so right. It felt like me.

I now take a look at any animal that appears in my life, either via a dream, a meditation, a vision, or along a hike and see what it may mean. I don't look up everything, I mean, I have two bird feeders in my yard, and there are always sparrows, finches and some doves around; and just today I saw my first jay. Hummingbirds often visit their feeder or the Cape Honeysuckle I have planted. Crows and pigeons roost nearby, as I live across from a school and since crows and pigeons are opportunistic feeders, they take advantage of the trash around the school. I look up the animals that appear only sporadically, like the occasional red-tailed or Cooper's hawk looking for a pigeon for lunch. And sometimes I do find one whose message just doesn't seem to fit.
Some traditions believe there are five spirit guides; one for each of the four directions (North/forward, East/right, South/behind, and West/left) and one for Inside, your internal guide.  Others believe in seven, the same as five but one for connecting you to Above (the heavens) and another for Below (the earth). These five, or seven, are with you for life, appearing as you need or call on them. Other guides may appear temporarily, as their message may be for the moment, as an answer to the question(s) you may have right then.
I now believe I have met five totems, either as a permanent spirit guide or a seemingly random, yet appropriate message for the place where I am on this journey.
While I met the Bear and Ferret on my own through the vision, I met the following three in guided meditation sessions. Sparrow appeared with Bear and Ferret, flitting between them so I believe he is one of my permanent guides. The others appeared singly, and therefore may only be bringing me a message for this moment in time.

The Sparrow is a small common bird, yet has flourished all over the planet. His message is even the small can triumph, and Sparrow knows his own self-worth as he sings his song proudly. And that is the message for me, I can triumph for I am worthy.

The Dolphin has a complex message, yet also a simple one; Balance. The Dolphin balances himself between two worlds, air and water. Psychologically, and often Spiritually, air and water have come to represent Intellect and Emotion, respectively. As the Dolphin balances life between these worlds, I must learn to balance myself between my head and my heart. Dolphins also work well as a group but also take time to play. Again, I must learn to balance Work and Play. And Dolphins are known to have sex just for fun without the need to procreate. No comment.

The latest animal to enter my life is a stag. I met the Stag during a meditation where I was guided to meet my spirit guide, and as I thought I would be meeting Bear, it was actually a Stag who appeared. I kept wanting to meet Bear, and the Stag kept forcing himself, so I relaxed and followed the Stag along with the rest of the meditation. The message from a Deer is one of gentleness and unconditional love. Does are very loving of their fawns, and very gentle creatures as a whole. And this message of gentleness in life, also applies to oneself; I am to be more gentle with myself! I don't need to be a perfectionist. Does also love their fawns unconditionally, as do many animal mothers; and while some of us may not have been born to an unconditionally loving mother, we must learn to love ourselves unconditionally, and honor that child within. A deer also signifies a new innocence is about to awaken. The Stag, in addition to the above, also brings a message of masculine energy and as his antlers regenerate themselves, he also brings the message of regeneration. His antlers also signify a connection to a higher energy, antennae if you will, to connect to the Universe.

So, in short, I have all the answers to my questions within, I just need to look inside myself. I must trust my instincts to fulfill my goals and dreams. I am worthy. I must balance my head and heart, work and play, and learn to enjoy sex. I must be gentle with myself and learn to love myself and others unconditionally. I must also honor my child within, as well as my masculine energy. And I need to remain connected to the Universe for I am worthy of the Gifts being given to me.

Sounds like good advice; like just living and being.

So, what's stopping me?

(For the record, my mother is very unconditionally loving!) 

Sunday, April 7, 2013


When the idea for this post hit me, I wanted to wax poetic and title it “Lotus Blossom.”

But, I decided against it.

I have been finding inspiration through quotes and sayings, inspirational teachings and philosophies to try and maintain a positive attitude. And many of them hit home.
 “The mind is everything. What you think you become.” -Buddha
"You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think." -Christopher Robin
“If you live with depression, you live in the past. If you live with anxiety, you live in the future. If you live in peace, you live in the now.” -Unknown
Sometimes it's just hard to stay there.

And sometimes, motivation comes from the strangest sources.  Strange as in unexpected, not as in unusual, different, weird.

I decided to buy myself a piece of art from Hector Silva, an artist I follow on Facebook. After all, it’s my house and I can decorate how I want to. (Plus, I got a very nice tax refund!) Twice before this, I went to a showing he had but ended up either missing him or not realizing he was there, and leaving.

"Cinco de Mayo," Hector Silva
His art speaks to me because I find it simply moving and movingly simple. This is not to undermine his talent, for he is very talented. It is simple to me, in that he focuses directly on his message, there is not a lot of clutter, in his drawings; if there is something in the picture, it has a meaning, a reason for being there. He uses pencil, so most of his work is in black and white, or rather, shades of gray and white and I find more meaning in black and white film and photography. There is a very little color which serves as an accent and not as a distraction. From his website, I learned he is self-taught, and immigrated to the United States from Mexico when he was young. His art showcases Mexican and immigrant culture, and being gay, he also brings homoeroticism to some pieces and often combines both themes.
"Rudy and Frank," Hector Silva

Having decided on a piece, I contacted Hector, he suggested a matte and frame and when it was ready we made arrangements to meet so he could deliver the piece. We met in a Latino cultural center and bookstore near my house as he was delivering some artwork to the center. He handed me the piece, and it was even more moving in person. I had seen it in person before, in a showing in East L.A., but I think knowing this one was mine made it even more special.

We chatted a bit, mostly about his history, and some elements in other pieces I’d wondered about. He was very forthcoming, though prefaced his explanation with the fact that he prefers to let the viewer explain how he/she may interpret that particular piece. He did open up on a couple of pieces, sharing some personal history and how he got started drawing and his fascination with Lucille Ball! 

"First Communion", Hector Silva
During our chat, I realized we had some things in common. Neither of us set out in life to be artists. He never took an art class, that I know of, and discovered his talent late in life as an adult. I took a few writing classes, mostly for my college degrees, and have discovered, or better said, accepted, my talent for creative writing also as an adult. 

And that is where I began my awakening. There is a time and a place for everything. My time for writing is now, and I need to make more time to work on projects, promote my current one, and accept this talent I have. But, what has been holding me back? Hector puts some very personal elements from his life in his work as a catharsis.

If he can do it, so can I.

Like Hector, I have also been through some very difficult moments in life. Though none were as difficult as what he willingly shared, yet mine were still difficult for me. I thank him for sharing with me. I have been sharing my moments with my counselors, yet I seemingly can’t move beyond them. 

Maybe I just need to use them instead.

My piece by Hector (I tried to avoid the flash)