And now the news…

Magic – now you see it and now you don’t….

credit:  Ghannon

So here is my big question:  When is “the news” not the news?

As a kid in the US, I grew up understanding that what I saw on the television news had some alliance with the truth and that journalists were attempting to share unbiased information with the public via television news.  I didn’t know why things were like that.  I took it for granted.   And I am sure there were failures in reporting and coverage, but overall, the quality of news was reasonably reliable.

Since then I have watched the news reported about places I have been and it has grown my understanding of the complexity of news.  It is under-reported and over-reported.  A coup in Thailand, a volcano erupting in Indonesia, a terrorist shoot out down the street, sectarian violence in India…  It is either more drama than is real or less.  But I choose to hope the reporters are trying.  I once asked a journalist friend in Bangkok why he did such a shabby job in a CNN clip about the Thai monarchy during a period of unrest.  He replied that CNN offered him 90 seconds to give the history of the monarchy (which is the rough equivalent of giving American history 90 seconds) and he took it.  If not him, it would have been another journalist anyway.

I have been wondering for a while now what has happened to “the news” of my childhood?  When did “the news” in the US stop being informative journalism and become so profoundly editorial?  How did the reportage of “the facts” become un-fashionable?   Continue reading “And now the news…”

Tackling Tolerance


My dear fellow travelers of the body, heart or mind,

Some people think tolerance is a character trait, but in my experience tolerance is a profoundly fickle and pliable habit that must be practiced and even then, mastery eludes me.  I think I am good at it until… well…  I am not.

The responsibility of tolerance lies with those who have the wider vision.  — George Eliot

Last week, I ventured into the Ladies Loo at the Bali airport.  It was an innocent pit stop before boarding a flight to Bangkok, but when I entered that bathroom I unwittingly entered a tiled, global microcosm—a kind of petri dish of humanity.

I did what we all do when we enter a public bathroom.  I silently lined up to wait for the next available toilet and discretely observed the other women in line with me.  We had different skins and hair and languages and were wearing everything from a spaghetti strap tank top and short shorts to a hijab and sparkly high heels.  That is pretty normal in Bali.

Then a group of Chinese women entered the bathroom.

Until that moment, all of the women in the bathroom understood—through some invisible social contract—that the standard bathroom protocol is to queue up in one line and the first person in line will use the next available toilet.  None of us had even noticed our community queue contract until the Chinese women entered and didn’t follow our unspoken protocol.

So here is what happened…. Continue reading “Tackling Tolerance”

Cancer to Capricorn

There is a part of the earth that exists between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. These are latitudes at 23.5 degrees north and south of the equator that mark the boundary of where the sun may be directly overhead at some part of the year. Everyone living beyond these latitudes may only feel the sun from an angle at any given time.

crazy kids 2004My babies have grown up “from Cancer to Capricorn”.  It has been a youth lived in the tropics, with beaches and sunshine and ghosts and giants.  Their friends are beautiful children of marriages made, or at least lived, across cultures and religions.  They knew the King’s Anthem in Thailand before they knew the US Pledge of Allegiance.  They understand deep duality and that faith is faith is faith – whether it is in the ghost in the garden or a god that controls everything. They understand that people starve to death and indulge themselves to death. They can see that sexuality is a continuum of internal truths and not two fixed possibilities. They do not get lost in the possibilities – they are simply not afraid of them.

Now sitting on the cusp of my youngest launching into his own life, I realize that my babies have become citizens of the world but in all honesty, as a mother, I was just going for happy.

When I became a mother, I wondered who my kids would become and what they would care about, but first I prayed (with the intensity that only fervent-non-believers can) that my children would be/could be happy.  I didn’t care about rich, or successful, or beautiful or smart.  I prayed they would be happy.

And I have to admit that I hadn’t the foggiest idea how to give them that. But something deep within my ancient-mother-knowing knew that their happiness had something inextricably to do with my own happiness.  It also had something to do with me cultivating their space to become themselves.

But enough of that mysticism-y stuff because we all know that on a day to day basis life is about the small stuff – buying toothpaste, and pushing grumpy teenagers to do their homework, and remembering to give them their allowance.  It is about trying to serve organic vegetables instead of frozen dinners and remember to buy milk (or should I buy soy or almond milk?) on the way home from work.  In all the years in between, I read articles about nutrition and where they should go to college and how to get them to talk to me.  You name it, I worried about it, and somewhere in there I forgot about the happiness and got focused on achievement and practicalities.

My children have felt controlled, judged, slighted and hurt by me. I have made so many mistakes, but the biggest one I made was letting myself get unhappy. When I was unhappy, I didn’t have the bandwidth to hold the space for my children to be happy. I didn’t have the energy to talk about real things, I didn’t have the space for them to make my mistakes and I didn’t have time to sit beside them while they slept and listen to their silent beating hearts. This is a big one. Those silent moments are the times when I would really reach to hear them in all the things they don’t say.

It is a longer story than I have time for here but I got myself happy. And my ex-husband got himself reasonably happy. And then we remembered how to create the space for our kids to be happy. I remembered to reach for understanding in the silences and to spend energy trying to hear them.

I believe this is the solid ground that my kids stand on. They know that I am listening and trying to breach that enormous gulf between any two individuals. Even if I don’t agree – I am listening and trying to understand. In my act of giving them that as often and as clearly as I can, I have held their space to be happy and to listen and try to understand their world.

And now back to the magic – the giants and ghosts. What is their value in this mother-prayer for their happiness? In our part of the world, giants and ghosts are neither fairy tale nor horror movie. Those magical creatures simply live in the unseen world. The Balinese call this unseen world, this half of the universe, the Niskala, and to deny that this exists is to walk through life with one eye closed. The giants and ghosts are the magic that is part of the landscape and that magic helps us to understand that there is much we don’t know and much we don’t understand. It is what requires us to sit quietly and listen to ourselves; our inner voice, our instincts, our disquiet, our peace and our own truth that tells us not who we should be and what is “normal”, but rather who we are and who we could be if we so choose.

I am proud of my son for working with coaches whom he doesn’t agree with. He can give them respect without agreeing. I am proud of him for being a 6’5” pro-feminist who uses his brains rather than his brawn to learn from history and challenge an entrenched status quo. I am proud of my daughter for holding her own princess revolution and challenging the world’s definition of what a marriage should be in her writing and for her enormous desire to create simple and better solutions by bringing her empathy (and empathy in general) to science.

I think they learned these things because they grew up with the sun directly overhead. Their lives, from Cancer to Capricorn, from Bangkok to Bali, have given them a kind of light that doesn’t come from growing up in the same town that I grew up in. And they will happily tell you all the things they have missed out on by having marginal internet, small schools and no great soccer teams to play on. But they will also tell you how much they have become who they are by living in places where modern meets ancient and where you can see things in a different light. I think maybe, just maybe, this mother’s fervent non-believer’s magical prayer has evolved into the tangible and the possible.

Forgetting to Change


“It is as if, at 40-something, we all remembered that we forgot to change.”

Sometimes life flows like a river, and other times it behaves like an iceberg that just won’t budge until it is ready…  and in that unbudgeable moment, one finds oneself thinking that Sisyphus had it easy when he was pushing the boulder up the hill for eternity.

At forty something, my friends and I are waking up.  Or hitting our “midlife crisis”.  Or finding spirituality.  Or finding new loves.  Or finding a new gym, a new car, a new house, a new hair color.  Or going back to school.  It depends on what is available within the boundaries of our belief systems, but everyone has hit a growth spurt after 15 years of grinding inertia. It is as if, at 40-something, we all remembered that we forgot to change.  We forgot that life up to 25 is a constant transformation.  Until 20, we are physically growing and our friends are physically growing too.  Then we are in school, learning new jobs, and growing into our adulthood.  Then we stop.  We settle into an adult size life, with an adult size job and an adult size relationship and we forget that everything we have learned to this point is through growth.

There was a smart girl in my college dormitory who took her makeup into the shower with her every day.  As she showered, she would remove yesterday’s make up and apply today’s makeup.  She entered the shower looking like a mannequin and emerged looking like a fractionally more perfect image.  With her waterproof bag of makeup, she created the appearance of the woman she wanted to be, or thought she should be – and there was never a moment when anyone she knew was allowed to see her for the woman she actually was.  We were not friends, possibly because of my generally anarchic personal habits and dress – I was lucky to get my hair and teeth brushed before my first class, but I felt grief for whatever drove a beautiful young woman to hide behind all of that spackling.

In my 30s, I had a friend whose older brother left his wife for his hairdresser.  His abandoned wife was devastated and my friend was incensed!  How could Bob do such a stupid and selfish thing?  She ranted about it for weeks and months.  She was angry at him beyond his actions.  She was angry that he had cracked her world as it “should” be.  But as the year passed, his teenage children forgave him.  His wife decided to take her dream job cooking for one of the Field Stations in Antarctica and embarked on the adventure of her life.  Bob smiled a lot.  My friend was furious.  How dare he smile!  He had hurt everyone….  He had hurt his family, but he had also set them free to grow and discover that the love of a family doesn’t only exist within the boundaries of a marriage.

More recently, a more or less happily married (but lonely) friend fell in love with another man.  A married man.  As she worked through her problem, sorting guilt from love, and disappointment from expectation, she tried to imagine what parts of her life to keep and what to throw away from the pieces that were left.  Over a glass of wine with girlfriends, my tormented friend confessed her deepest fear…”what if I make the wrong choice and end up alone?”  Another friend responded with a sly smile….  “If you end up alone, you will have set two very unhappy men free.”  We laughed so hard because it pointed to the reality that we all stare at our navels when facing life’s biggest fears. In those aching, stagnant years when we forget to grow and change, we learned to look only as far as our own belly buttons.  In our 40s, if we have the courage and strength to look up and outward at the world and begin to grow again, we find that the second half of life, is as full of expansion and possibilities as the first half.

Be open to authenticity, be open to not knowing what magic change can bring to our lives and the lives of those around us, and look beyond that belly button to get back on the path of becoming who you are.