A Piece of Memory

Since you’ve no doubt seen me write about my memoir in process, I decided to post this piece I just read, and remembered, learning to trust the journey I seem to always be on, in one way or another. Marion a yoga teacher, and a few months pregnant at this writing. We are at Kalani Honua, a retreat center near Kilauea on Hawaii Island. We both were off work and resting.

Marion and I lay in our beds Saturday morning. Time, that most precious gift of the protogenos gods, given and stretched, wrapped us in glorious freedom. Rain, pocking through the jungle, woke me briefly during the night, but morning wore a sapphire gown ruffled with bird song. The garden below our window glittered green, the wet lava chunks varnished to a high black gloss. Breakfast smells rose from the kitchen: coffee, pancakes, eggs. I pulled a muumuu over my nightshirt and walked downstairs to fill a tray. We ate in the room. If there’s one thing a nomadic life teaches, it’s how to make a comfortable home wherever the stopping happens to be. We sat cross-legged on the bed, my writing table, emptied of notes and Smith Corona, our dining table.

“I wish I could see where all this was heading, this whatever-we’re-doing-here thing,” I said. “You’ll go home to a family and a new baby. I don’t even know a direction.”

“Where do you want to go?” She popped the stem of a banana.

“That’s just it. If I knew where I wanted to go, I’d be there. It doesn’t appear I’m staying in Hawaii. I want to. It feels like home. But I don’t think it is. My dreams were showing me… maybe places. Maybe people. But I haven’t dreamed lately.”

She peeled the banana skin and tossed it onto the tray; a soft ripe smell hung in the air.  “What kind of dreams?”

I picked up the discarded peel, stalling for time, unsure how much to reveal. “Did you know banana trees talk? I lived above a banana plantation once, up on a mountain-side. Well, visited. On St. Lucia. We lived there one winter between semesters, one of those happy times. I’d sit on the patio to watch the sun come over the mountains and listen to the banana trees talk. I told you about Bill.” Marion nodded.

“Is that what you’re dreaming about?”

“No. I’m not dreaming about Bill. Or St. Lucia.” Marion looked at me. I looked down, tossed the banana peel onto the plate. “Things I’m running from like scary men and monsters; things I’m walking toward, a home in various stages of construction, lots of those; churches. Mom was in some of them—the dreams, not the churches. I’m entering the churches. I was dreaming of a man, brownish-hair, sorta my size, for several months.” I shrugged. “He’s usually in the house dreams. Sometimes there’s white all around him. He’s rescued me a few times. Not lately, but I’m not having monster or chase dreams anymore, so maybe I don’t need rescuing. Now I’m just a crazy lady in the jungle minus a spirit lover.” Marion smiled at my half-hearted attempt at humor but didn’t shift her gaze. Her eyes pinned me like a moth in a display case. “The other night, I woke and my arms were above my head, like this.” I lifted my arms, head back. “I was praying. That’s what I mean when I said I wish I could see where this was heading. What am I supposed to be doing? Or going, as the case may be.”

My own voice surprised me. It wasn’t tough or strong or questioning. Only quiet.

Marion smiled that slow, wise smile she wore during yoga. “Maybe we have to give up measuring by any yardstick or any road or any doing. Maybe we have to accept. The greatest power lies in accepting. Accept the gifts and the challenges. Give up judging our lives in order to stop judging others.” She broke off a piece of banana and handed it to me. “Not knowing is probably the biggest gift of all. If you were sure what was coming, maybe you’d think too hard and decide not to do it.” She laughed. “Look around you—friends, smiling faces, peace. People who love you. What’s so wrong with that?”

I blinked. “Bhante Kamalasiri said that. He was my teacher in D.C.—a Buddhist teacher. I loved his name. Bhante Kamalasiri.” The syllables’ sweetness rolled off my tongue. “From Sri Lanka. He barely came up to my shoulder. About twenty minutes into sitting meditation when our arms and legs were aching, he’d say, ‘Lift the corners of your mouth.’ And we all did…at least I did, I expect everyone did…and we’d smile.

“One day, I asked to talk to him…a bunch of stuff happening in my life; I was worried about my son. Bhante fixed tea and we sat in the library. He listened patiently to my litany of worries. When I ran down, he said, ‘But Janet. You are with a friend. You have a warm cup of tea in your hands. What is so very wrong right now?’”

Marion laughed suddenly and rocked, arms wrapped below her stomach. “That… is…so… monk-like….” She stopped, inhaling as deep a breath as she could. “They say the best things. He’s right, you know.”

Yeah. I knew.


Time and Memory

WritingAlthough showing up on these pages has been rather hit or miss, mostly miss, I am writing, and that writing, a full-length memoir, is keeping me from here.

I admire that so many of you show up often. Thank you. Even when I don’t get around to commenting, I do read your posts. They give me a break from the words in my head. I have to get it done. You see, this is the fourth or fifth go round, if you count a half-completed novel, of this same story: Living in Hawaii or how I met my husband. Well, not really. Right now it’s titled Written on the Reverse, a title culled from my many years of reaching crossroads and never knowing what they said because the writing, usually on the reverse and destined to remain invisible for an unknown number of years, was impossible to decipher.

I’m circled, here in this writing corner, by old journals, old letters, a workshop schedule from Kalani Honua, the jungle retreat where I lived for many months, a map of Hawaii, books, papers, old manuscripts.

Here’s a piece I’m not using from an old manuscript, but I liked what it said and so pertinent to what I’m doing with all these old memories, I wanted to share it. I hope you enjoy it.


Time: time warped and woven into layers of mesh so invisibly dense we lose our way, not realizing, perhaps, not understanding that all our realities are engaged, all our lives a dimensional experience in forgetting and remembering, all the time, with each person who walks though our life.

We keep old photos, scrapbooks, journals, yellowed newspaper clippings, grandmother’s dishes, as if the past were somehow more real when tangible—as if the photo or dish or paper somehow held who we were or where we came from. Perhaps they do—memories’ bones and blood. We are the experiences and the people whose memories we hold, and they remain, experiences or people, for good or ill, in our bones and blood, in the very cells of our being. Where did all these come from? These saved moments—the journals, copies of letters, books and words and photographs—all concretized time, a journey into excavation to reshape experience.

While working on this memoir, primarily set in Hawaii, I’ve remembered and reread books that once guided me through a maze of learning and growing. Catherine Kalama Becker writes, “In Hawai’i, many people believe that iwi (bones) are an extension of a person’s mana (power) and are therefore very sacred.” The bones of royalty, Kamehameha’s for example, were hidden and treated with respect.

Bones endure for centuries, millennium even, turning personal power into communal power. Our bones, in other words, carry our memory. When someone is overburdened in life, her rachitic back responds: his disks rupture from the strain, a back bends or sways, hips go out. The people who are part of her life, or his life, also suffer the consequences of those memories. If we would remember to treat our bodies with care, the mana we send them might just keep us upright. My many years of working memory through my body with yoga, massage, acupuncture, chiropractic, and spiritual exercises have sent a new message into my bones. And slowly, I have patiently (and often impatiently!) restructured my body.

As a kid in church, I got tired of hearing, “Your body is a temple,” always followed by Don’t. Don’t smoke; don’t drink; don’t dance; don’t have sex. No one ever said Do.

Do be kind to your body; do treat it with respect; do allow your body the rest it needs; do clear your mind of negative talk so your body feels comfort; do enjoy this body you’ve been given. Do play! Or as another friend from Hawaii, Monique Pasternak, said, “Your body is a temple. Pray in it every day.”


Entering the Crossroad #1

I’ve made precipitous turns at so many crossroads you might think I trained for an international cross-country race. But no. Only for life. The problem with a crossroad comes in figuring out which way to go. Sounds like something the Cheshire Cat would say. I, however, dithered in the choosing. Unsure.

The second problem with crossroads is that they’re painted on the reverse in ink destined to remain invisible for an unspecified length of time. Sometimes years. That is, until you remember to look back and say, “Oh. That’s what happened.”

My most recent crossroad showed up three months ago. I knew something was up for me when my spring semester courses were cancelled, and while I’m an adjunct professor and subject to the vagaries of enrollment, this was the first time in twenty years of college teaching my courses didn’t make. I was bummed. But I also saw the downtime as a blessing. Time to write? Time to figure out the next step? I had no idea what the proverbial invisible ink said, only what it felt like: Stop. Not this way. I stopped.

I worked on some poetry, began a plot line for the memoir. And then my sister Jeanne called. We don’t talk often — she’s the captive of two computers and an ecco-retreat spa and lodge she and Robert build on Hawaii Island. We began visiting. I told her my classes had cancelled.

“Oh,” she said. “Then you can come to the wedding.” The previous November, and before items of cancelled classes, Cliff and I had regrettably declined an invitation to my nephew’s wedding at the lodge because it was the last week of spring classes.

The Lodge from the lily pond in front.
The Lodge from the lily pond in front.

“Well…” The dithering began. “I don’t know. Cliff can’t come. I don’t know….” (Yes, I know, you think me a fool.)

“I just found out they don’t have a minister. And Aimee asked if you could come.” Aimee is my nephew Daemion’s bride.

“Oh. Well. I’ll talk to Cliff…” More dithering. The last time I’d gone to Hawaii, two years previously with the other sisters and without Cliff, I’d turned into a minor — well, major — cranky bear missing her hibernation after the first week of spring. The sisters had agreed. Inviting me anywhere without Cliff would not be wise.

I talked to Cliff. “It’s family,” he said. “You have to go.”

I slept on it. The tug to go and the danger of crankiness woke me in the night. Several times. You’d think a wise and generous person who loves her family would simply say, well, I won’t be cranky this time. You’d think.

When Jeanne called the next day, I told her what Cliff said. “But if I get cranky, just do what Cliff and Stephen do. Tell me to go to my room.” She laughed. And immediately made flight reservations to lock me in. And there I was, scheduled for Hawaii Island the third week of April.

I still didn’t know I was at a Crossroad. All I knew was that I was going to Hawaii three days before the wedding to help get ready and then to preside at the vows.

The minute I stepped out of the plane and smelled the honeyed moist flowers, even over  airplane-breathing tarmac, I began smiling. Home. I collected my suitcase, opened and pulled out a muumuu, and in my niece Lia’s front seat of the van, stripped off the city clothes and slid into the soft fullness of muumuu. I wouldn’t wear city clothes again until I dressed to return two and a half weeks later. And I called Cliff twice a day; and I remained un-cranky; and I retreated for naps when I needed to.

Hawaii is home in an odd, perhaps unspecified way. I’d lived there, with my sister and her family, for a year in 1993-94. A transformative year. Part of that time, I’d also lived at Kalani Honua, a jungle retreat near Volcano and participated in a program with other healers who came from all over the world. At the time, I didn’t know I was a healer. All I knew was that I’d been initiated by a Mexican curendera several years previously when I was in Mexico working on a movie. That initiation led to giving up a New York acting career and living in Mexico for three years. Even after I returned to the States, to Washington D.C., and even after I’d decided to start a business, specifically a restaurant called Kansas Bar and Grill, I knew energy would pour through my body and out of my hands whenever I meditated or gathered a group of women to do visioning collages or when young people came to me for advice. But I didn’t know what to do with it. So I’d tried to start a restaurant.That didn’t work. But it did lead to me moving to Hawaii.

While living at Kalani Honua, one of the visions that came to me, one of the many dreams and visions, was me as an old Polynesian woman in a full, green-flowered muumuu, the wise-woman of a village, with children trailing behind her. However and wherever ancient memories come, it felt honest. I wanted to stay in Hawaii. I felt welcomed, at home. But I couldn’t stay and in the end, family responsibilities called me back Stateside. My son and daughter-in-law needed help with putting their son, my grandson, into kindergarten. With two businesses, they felt swamped. And so, from Hawaii, I moved to Georgia. To be a room mother for a kindergarten child. What a crossroad.

But if I hadn’t gone to Georgia, I wouldn’t have found a part-time job in a small community college teaching remedial English; and if I hadn’t begun teaching, I wouldn’t have looked for a Master’s Program so I could qualify for a better teaching job; I wouldn’t have moved to Santa Fe to attend St. John’s College. And I wouldn’t have met Cliff.

You see. Sometimes it takes a long time to understand invisible writing on the back of a signpost.

This time, however, when I visited Kalani Honua and spent the night, I re-anchored in the healing energies I’d experienced when I lived there. The Kalani director offered a watsu (water) massage and I accepted. The masseuse, Sylvie, a woman near my age and immersed in both water and healing, swirled me through the pool loosening joints and turning me into a willowy mermaid.

“Your heart,” I heard her say as she pressed an always sore spot where my ribs join.

“My father died when I was eight,” I whispered. “It’s the last piece of forgiveness I have to do.”

She lifted and swirled me in boneless emotion; lifted and swirled. And my whole body opened. I laughed. And I heard, “I couldn’t stay but I sent you Cliff.” Sylvie and I held each other and we laughed and we laughed.









Daily Prompt: Rolling Stone

I have so many travel photos, trying to choose one is like trying to choose a grain of sand on the beach. And many of them had stones of one sort or another including: the Painted Desert; Sacred Stones in Hawaii; stones on a Kansas road. The list goes on and on.

But then I came across this travel photo of Lisa Donnelly from the “Sisters Trip” to Hawaii last September. I’d met Lisa on our FamLand Tour, as we called it, a couple years ago, when we arrived in Los Angles at niece Lia’s place. In Hawaii, along with niece Lia, Lisa became an integral piece of our women-in-Hawaii trip. And talk about a Rolling Stone!

In just the time I’ve known her, a Kansas girl raised and educated in Lawrence, Kansas, she’s lived in Los Angeles, San Francisco, back to LA, to Hawaii, LA, and Ecuador in South America.

We Kansans do love to travel. At least the Kansans I know although I’m aware all don’t.

This is Lisa, under the banyan tree, during our all woman trek through the rain forest above Waimea Valley. She’s also a fabulous singer and songwriter. So look her up! She has a new album coming out: http://lisadonnelly.com/site/

Lisa Singing

Weekly Photo Challenge: Nostalgic

When I look at the many photos I’ve taken in Hawaii, nostalgic is a mild word for what I feel. Longing is more like it. It’s not that Hawaii is “paradise” as so many people say; it’s not paradise. Every morning when I got out of bed, I shook out my slippers to make sure no centipedes were lurking. And if I got up in the night for the bathroom, wariness was always in order for the same reason. And I’m talking about loooooong centipedes, as much as six to eight inches long. My sister Jeanne taught me to pick them up with long tongs, cut them in half (over the toilet) with scissors, and flush them down. That’s not exactly paradise.

But I felt at home there in a way I feel at home in few places. The land, the wind, the wide stretches where I could see far felt like mine.

There were wild pigs in the brush and their tusks were enough to cause serious damage. Or more. My brother-in-law Robert’s friend, another Robert, would come down to the land from time to time and go hunting just to clear them out some. There were cattle loose on the land. Driving back to the house at night was always a challenge as the cattle slept on the road – a warmer spot than rocks.

Ah, but the mornings. The photo is the view out my window where I sat each morning, writing. Rainbows didn’t always greet me in the morning, they were more an afternoon or evening thing, but when I see this photo, I remember ocean sounds and gargley myna bird conversations. The birds woke early, before dawn. And after I moved down near Volcano, I’d hear the jungle wake every morning, a cacophony of birds warming up for the day’s concert.

But this view is from my sister’s house, looking west to the ocean. And when I see it, I am home.