Posts Tagged ‘wounded daughter’

Unrelenting message from the Universe: You have the right to write

July 27, 2014
“There is nothing so degrading as the constant anxiety about one’s means of livelihood. I have nothing but contempt for people who despise money. Money is like a sixth sense without which you cannot make a complete use of the other five. Without adequate income half the possibilities of life are shut off . . . You will hear people say that poverty is the best spur to the artist. They have never felt the iron of it in their flesh . . . ” 

—Of Human Bondage

Snippets from my writing yoga journal, January, 2013 to August 9, 2014


August 9, 2014, Full Moon
Just for a moment, as I drove around the bend and caught my first glimpse of the fullness of the white moon, I felt that familiar, involuntary pang of loneliness in my solar plexus. I’ve come to realize that as much as one may revel in solitude, there will always be these moments when one longs for romantic companionship. But now is the time to explore the whole psychological and spiritual state of being alone—unexplored territory that I ran from in my younger years. It’s time for me to give being alone a chance.

* * *
August 3, 2014
Sunday, a day of rest. Walked the dogs this morning in the warm, drizzly rain. Now feeling lazy; just want to read, eat, sleep, dream, escape . . . Feeling the pleasure, this evening, of letting the world shrink . . . of cocooning with the canines in our cozy den. This pleasant feeling of hibernating must be how my old parents feel every day.

No sooner had I written the above words than I heard the creaky back gate unlatch.There stood an old friend who lives around the corner, in summer shorts and sandals, peering in the window through his glasses and asking, “Do you want to go for a walk?”

Of course I do! My inner sloth just needed a little nudge. The sleeping dogs were already jumping up and down, yapping and raring to go, their earlier walk long forgotten.

We walked at top speed up North Canada, toward the basin, with spectacular views of the purple sunset sky and gold-pink light reflected on the mountains.

On Sunday evenings here in Ojai, the residential streets close to the downtown core are virtually car-free. We can enjoy the urban forest–our majestic old oaks, growing dark at twilight, with their branches spreading outward, the pine and eucalyptus trees, reaching for the sky, and the pepper trees carrying the warm scent of summer. We can delight in the park-like, friendly village atmosphere, and count our blessings.
* * *

July 26, 2014
I woke up in time to catch the first glimmer of dawn and hear the pure song of the neighborhood birds heralding the new day. Every morning the blessed coolness that descends on this valley during the night belies the heat to come.It’s the perfect temperature to practice yoga outdoors. Since moving to this new house a few months ago, I’ve started a ritual where I lie on my back on the large, unusual, eight-by-four-foot, three-inch-thick cement table that someone built on the patio behind this 1948 house.One wonders what this slab of concrete was originally used for . . . one friend wants to turn it into a ping pong table! There’s a brick barbeque pit nearby. This table easily seats ten people, with ample space in the center for food, flowers, drinks, and baskets of fruit—or a roasted pig.

I’m sure that whoever built it never imagined that, some day in the future, some vegan woman would unfurl her purple yoga mat in the center of this cement slab and lie on her back, grasp her big toe, and move her leg in all directions while looking up at the brightening morning sky.

It took me a while to trust that this table wouldn’t break—at first I stored unpacked boxes of books and papers underneath, just in case it crashed. Now the space in between the two brick pillars that hold up the heavy slab serves as a cool cave for Honey, my loyal Aussie.

The table itself makes a fabulous yoga prop—holding on to the edge of the table when lying on the back and opening ones leg out to the side, helps anchor the whole body and keep the pelvis level . . . it’s the perfect height for support in the Standing Poses . . . and there’s ample space on top of the table for all the Seated Poses . . . I even practice the Goddess Pose–Supported Lying Down Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana) on the table at night, looking up at the starry sky . . .

Ojai being the small town it is, after I moved here I found out that the elderly lady who originally owned the house went to my dad’s church. In fact, they were close friends—she knew my whole family, and I met her when I was a young girl going to Sunday School . . .

* * *
July 14, 2014
My writer self can’t bear the unfinished business of my Life. The outraged child, the unfazed, undaunted woman is bursting to come forth. I must write the things I can never say to my father as the hours of his life wind down. His dark brown skeletal figure lies sprawled on the bed—he grow weaker and sleeps more and more—but as I putter in my childhood kitchen, fixing my mom a grilled cheese that we end up feeding to the dogs, I feel all the old fears. As so many other memoir writers reveal as they lay their soul bare, we can never get our parent’s approval . . . but the child within hungers for it and when my father suddenly rises from his almost death bed (one never knows) and tells me I still don’t know which pan and which burner to use (and asks me if I washed my hands—I’m the dirty daughter with the dogs) it cuts me even as I laugh at the ludicrousness and unfairness of it all.

I think what burns me up the most about my own father is his lifelong insistence that “I treat all my daughters equally,” when nothing could be further from the truth!

It’s all so ironic!
* * *
* * *
Facebook is the new Akashic Record
June 14, 2014
Woke up at 4 a.m. —stepped outside into the cool night air to sit under the still full moon. The urge to write is stronger than my need for sleep–to have even a three-hour block of time to write has been a luxury these past few months with teaching six group yoga classes a week plus private lessons, a house-sitting gig, helping a friend with his new four-legged . . . trying to sell my car, doing bare minimum book promotion, and on and on . . .

Now it’s 5:30 a.m., the sky grows light . . . a little while ago, while it was still dark, I heard the first bird herald the dawn . . . the most beautiful, pure sound . . . until just now it sounded like a solo song . . . so loud and strong. . . except for the occasional roar of an early morning car, all is quiet here on this friendly little side street in downtown Ojai . . .
* * *

May 29, 2014
Unrelenting message from the Universe: You have the right to write.
A long time ago when I lived out in the boonies on Thacher Road and pecked away on a manual typewriter to write my first newspaper columns, in between raising my three-year-old son, doing daycare for a handful of kids barely out of diapers, plus working as a night janitor cleaning offices, and doing other housecleaning gigs, an older neighbor woman, hearing of my aspirations to write, gave me the sage advice to “Write about what you know.”

At the time she told me this, I thought “Write about what you know” meant that I should write about what I knew about cooking with tofu instead of turkey, growing squash and tomatos with mulch and no pesticides, raising kids naturally without sugar or meds, and all the other stuff I was into as a young, idealistic, hippy mom.

Only in recent years have I come to realize that “Write about what you know” also means all the other life stuff that I mainly relegated to the pages of my journal . . .

* * *
May 23, 2014
Scan_Pic0018Being a Gemini (May 24), I changed my mind a dozen times picking out the birthday photo that most reflects the inner me. It’s not the baby pictures, the public persona/political campaign/author head shots, nor the hundreds of yoga photos . . . it’s this one. The writer self, sitting on the floor in Upavistha Konasana, Seated Wide Angle Pose, proofreading.

This photo was taken during a happy moment where I felt confident about the direction of my life—a nice change from the many moments when I wonder how much longer I can keep the wolf at bay. I had just landed another yoga book contract, and felt like I was swimming in money—which reality quickly snatched out of my hands. Truth be told, not a day goes by that I don’t question the sanity of juggling two careers with sporadic spurts of income: writing and teaching yoga. Even now, at age 65, I think about dropping one of them. But, for my dual Gemini nature, that would be like asking me to choose between my two children.

* * *
May 4, 2014
I finally finished reading Of Human Bondage. I confess that as I arrived at page 605 I could not hold back the tears of relief, and I wanted to kiss the author’s feet when I realized that after all the misery there was going to be a satisfying happy ending.

There were so many parts I connected with: the heavy religious indoctrination, the realization of the absolute futility of life, the obsessive love affair, his awakening to the beauty of nature, his awareness of the great gift of being amused at one’s own absurdity, and his constant struggles with poverty.

“There is nothing so degrading as the constant anxiety about one’s means of livelihood. I have nothing but contempt for people who despise money. Money is like a sixth sense without which you cannot make a complete use of the other five. Without adequate income half the possibilities of life are shut off . . . You will hear people say that poverty is the best spur to the artist. They have never felt the iron of it in their flesh . . . “
* * *
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
1 a.m.
The hour is late, but the cool night air, the stillness that descends on the valley, is irresistible. The cricket that lives in the cement wall outside my window is wide awake, chirping its heart out. A few hours ago I jumped off the treadmill and started reading “Of Human Bondage” by W. Somerset Maugham. My education on Planet Earth wouldn’t be complete without my absorbing this autobiographical masterpiece. I’m in the habit of writing on a book’s opening page the date that I start to read it, and this one says “December, 1990.” Evidently it was too much for me back then, but now I’m ready.
* * *
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
The overcast sky, with layers of light-blue fog hanging over the mountains, adds to the mystique of the intensely green valley below. As I drink in the panoramic view of meadows and still-open spaces, the orange groves and the oak, pepper, pine, and eucalyptus trees—our dense urban forest, the lungs of the earth—my imagination can easily take flight and transport me to Shangri-La. From the top of North Signal, one sees only a scattering of lights . . . most of the inhabitants are hidden under a canopy of trees.

* * *
Monday, March 24, 2014
All is quiet here in the tiny cabin at the top of North Signal Street. Chico wrapped up in a yoga blanket, Priscilla cozy on the small bed, Honey stretched out on the floor so that I have to be careful not to step on her. A cold, dark, foggy night—not a star in sight . . .
* * *
Sunday, March 2, 2014
Still no internet–but after days of feeling lost at sea, I totally see the irony and humor of the situation!
* * *
February 28, 2014
Still no internet. Am on friend’s computer for half hour about once or twice a day. Please leave time sensitive messages on my cell: 805-603-8635.
* * *
February 27, 2014
It finally rained and rained —real rain drops, all night long. Everywhere I look, I can feel the earth’s delight! Walked the dogs to my favorite yoga-in-nature spot at the top of the basin, near Pratt trail, where you can drink in the beauty of the ever-changing clouds moving above the mountains . . . already the early morning sun shone with intensity but you can see signs of more rain headed our way.

Still no internet–trying to keep my perspective and sense of humor as the property owner works on running a 170 foot long DSL line in this Wi-Fi Free Zone. Every era has it’s health hazards (predator animals, war, plague, starvation, forced labor, etc.) and, while I’m all for minimizing ones exposure to modern era wireless frequencies, I’m at the point where I feel like throwing in the towel and seeing all the things that could do me in long before all these unknown exposures take their toll . . . but, for now, I’m stuck. My friend who owns the property doesn’t see it that way, and I must respect that.
* * *
February 11, 2014
If I don’t start writing about this latest move to my new hippie writing pad on the hill, I might lose it. Last few days had several near meltdowns where I buried my head on the steering wheel and felt like crying and giving up. But then I looked up into the always optimistic, eager-for-the-next- adventure faces of Honey and Chico, and, you know what, I just gotta keep it together, somehow.

Plus, there’s my wonderful, loyal, loving, appreciative yoga students to consider. When I walk into Sacred Space Studio they catapult me into the present moment and the 90-minute class goes by in the twinkling of an eye. As I remind them to anchor the soles of their feet to the earth, and to “stand on your own two feet,” I do the same. I feel strength and steadiness return.

I don’t ask much of Life but where I draw the line is that I refuse to get rid of my animals. The biggest stress of this entire move has been leaving my three cats behind in the river bottom, in the care of my daughter. Two of the cats immediately adjusted–Ginger, the oldest one, is happy to sleep all day on the special cat cold-weather heating pad that one of my students gave me last year. Leo the Lion likes hanging out with the other cats on this property. But Priscilla did not adjust to being left behind. She taught me the best lesson of this entire moving saga, which I’ll describe on my next break, later today.
(To be continued)
NOTE: Posted the rest of the story about Priscilla under a new poste.
* * *
January 9, 2014
Time to let go of the never ending earthly concerns and rest my weary mortal body on the yoga mat.
* * *
December 31, 2013
New Year’s Resolution
Memo to self (again!):
Make a writing schedule and stick to it!
Let the unexpected, spontaneous windows of writing time be a bonus in addition to your regular schedule!
December 11, 2013
Memo to self (again!):
Make a writing schedule and stick to it!
* * *
November 16, 2013
5:30 a.m. Stepped outside to see the full moon that shone overhead earlier, but she seems to have disappeared. And it’s still too dark to try to find her. Hoping the black sky and cold wind means it will rain.
* * *
November 6, 2013
Time to put my writing hat back on! All the other hats can wait . . .
* * *
October 17, 2013
The full moon rises–no matter what, she stays on track. She’s my lifeline as my own boat drifts at a low ebb, lost at sea here in the Valley of the Moon . . .
* * *
September 1, 2013
I have only four months left to get the first draft of my next Writing Yoga Memoir done. If I could lock myself up in my writing hut and do nothing but write, and if someone delivered fresh vegan meals to my doorstep and a mysterious benefactor channelled a river of funds into my bank account—if all I had to do was walk my dogs at sunrise and sunset—that would give me ample time. For nothing has gone as planned. Real life hits me in the face the moment I wake up. I’m always scrambling to be somewhere on time and running out of cat food and clean towels. So I tell myself that these thousand excuses for why this book almost didn’t get written will only make the story more exciting. Imagine what a disappointment Cheryl Strayed’s memoir WILD would have been if her solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail had been just a fun walk in the park!
* * *
August 9, 2013
The wheel of life keeps turning. There’s nothing I can do to stop it, but I’d like to jump off, disappear, take a nature writing break, and then jump back on . . . without dying.

I don’t feel right unless I write. How many more days will it take before I fully admit this?
* * *
July 18, 2013
As life gets more expensive, it gets harder and harder to find time to write. Old cats cost more than young ones. Houses with yards for dogs cost more . . . everything costs more. But once I find a free morning, the writing gets easier and easier. . .
* * *
July 4, 2013
Writing is the road to independence–a long, strange, and bumpy road. I see myself still going ’round in circles and taking side trips. I’m tired. I want to lie down by the side of the road and rest. But then I pick myself up to clear away all the obstacles, all the road blocks — and set my writing spirit free!
* * *
May 14, 2013
Ten days till my 64th birthday. All I want for my birthday are free days to finish the first draft of my second Writing Yoga Memoir. So right now I’m setting the intention that May 20th is my last teaching day, and May 21, 22, 23, 24 (the full moon), 25 and 26 are all mine. . . .
* * *
January, 2013: The Year of Writing Yoga Memoir

On this cold tenth day of January, 2013, I am setting my intention to make this the year of Writing Yoga Memoirs.

I woke up at 3 a.m. and started writing about how sweet my life is now, and how in January, 1967, I was living in the Haight Ashbury. It was the winter before the Summer of Love, I was totally naive, and I had my whole life ahead of me. I had no idea there would be only four short seasons with only myself to take care of. I could not foresee the lessons Life had in store for me.

It’s a curious thing to sit very still, to meditate and watch how the mind works. The brain and all the cells of the body are like a computer that stores everything. You can try to delete and let it all go, but you cannot will yourself to have a clean slate, as it was on the day you were born. (Some people speculate it is not a clean slate even at birth.) Our memories travel with us until the physical body dissolves — and possibly beyond.

At 7 a.m. it is barely light out here in the river bottom. The sky is foggy white. The tall pine trees outside my window look black. It is a stark, cold winter landscape.

I don’t feel right unless I write. How many more years will it take before I fully admit this? The more I try to focus on work that pays and push aside the urge to write, the more the muse pesters me and pulls me by the hair out of bed. If I don’t grab an hour during the day, I lie awake at 2 a.m. and wonder if I should risk the lack of sleep to write. If I try to deny it and bury myself under the covers, sleep eludes me. I have no choice. I must surrender to my fate.

My favorite Writing Yoga Pose: Seated Wide Angle Pose (Upavistha Konasana).Scan_Pic0018

Photo Credit: Sholom Joshua


The irony and absurdity of life never ends, does it?

May 15, 2014

s3The irony and absurdity of life never ends, does it? On Tuesday mornings its my turn to help my mom clean her teeth, eat breakfast (fresh fruit like cut-up papaya or sliced oranges, and later something more substantial like an egg on toast prepared the Dutch way, slathered in organic raw butter; my vegan sensibilities are foreign to her), rinse her mouth after breakfast, and get her out of her comfy pajamas into some fresh underwear, including mandatory undershirt, and also blouse and pants or a favorite dress.
When I question the need for an undershirt on a hot day, she always says, “Ik voel me naakt als ik niets onder me jurk draag,” meaning, “I feel naked without an undershirt or slip under my dress.”
The whole shebang takes about two hours and includes a pleasant interlude of our listening to her favorite classical music station while I sit on the floor stretching in various seated forward bends and hip openers.
s6I noticed this morning that my mother has finally given up on telling me that “sitting like that is not lady like.” While I’m attending to my mom, my old dad is usually outside basking in the early morning sun. I can spy on him through the kitchen window, which gives me ample time to cover my tracks should he rise from his lounge chair and come inside to monitor if I’m using the right cup or the right spoon.
sMost of the time, when my daughterly duties are done I slip away unnoticed. But this morning my dad was sitting inside in my mom’s easy chair by the window, looking out at the mountains. I could feel he was ready to give me some parting words of wisdom before I flew out the door.”Suzan, you are at an age where you should be taking it easy. You should be sitting around with your legs up on a stool and not have all kinds of worries. Isn’t there some man who would like to be your husband? You shouldn’t give up on men . . .”When I laughingly reply that “I’ve chosen the lesser of two evils,” my mom gets it right away, and starts chuckling.”Dad,” I say, “don’t you know by now there’s no such thing as a free lunch? If I was married I might still have to work plus then I’d have to make dinner . . . ”

“Ah, no,” he shrugs and waves his arms to emphasize his point, “you’ve got to choose the right one. You just never picked the right one. I know you, Suzan, you picked the wrong ones . . . don’t give up on men, Suzan, don’t give up . . . ”

We’ve had this absurd conversation a hundred times, but I take the bait, mainly to make my mom laugh.

“If I married the right one I’d have to go with him on cruises, or travel to foreign countries, or dress up and accompany him to dinner parties . . . and later I might have to take care of him.”

My mom finds the turn of the conversation hilarious and gets increasingly animated as my dad and I banter back and forth.

I kiss them both good bye but before I leave I check their mailbox. Inside is a single envelope with a red line above the address box proclaiming:

“Your Guide to a 2014 Medical Product Benefit.”

Being that my parents are both so old now, I take the liberty of screening their mail.

The letter says: With confirmed eligibility, dispatch cutting-edge ED treatment
PRIORITY ID: 62056-01890
ATTENTION: We are trying to reach you regarding a safe-highly effective erectile dysfunction therapy covered by Medicare and private insurance. If you suffer from ED, then you may be entitled to a proven product . . . It is the ONLY proven therapy therapy to bring back natural functioning . . . However, your reply is needed within 14 days to ensure availability.
Dr. D. Marshall Levy
CEOFounder, CarePoint Medical.

What kind of shameless charlatan world is this?

Is this all we have to look forward to?

Maybe I wouldn’t mind being married to another writer who doesn’t mind if I ignore him when I walk in the door and run to my writing room . . .

Yesterday one of my students left two presents on the seat of my car: a sampler of four cans of Zhena‘s Gypsy Tea– Chocolate Chai, Coconut Chai, Caramel Chai, and Hazelnut Chai. And a book aptly titled, The Merry Recluse, by Caroline Knapp.

I’m thinking to myself, “I wouldn’t mind marrying a very merry recluse!”


Photo Credit: Cathy Snyder

  — in Ojai, CA.s4

Casting out demons

May 14, 2014
May 12, 2014
During my yoga practice this morning, my mind kept flitting back to the film I saw last night, Philomena. It hit close to home on so many levels. The deep sense of shame and guilt when, at age eighteen, I had to break the terrible news to my Pentecostal Christian father that I was pregnant. At least I didn’t get sent to a convent to work in the laundry and have my child snatched away. But I felt the blow of my father’s rage, and, like untold women before me, tried to escape his wrath by getting married.
Some years ago he apologized to me, his firstborn, for his extreme strictness and failures as a father. I’ve long since forgiven him. Yet the feelings we experience growing up seem to be embedded in our psyche, in our cells.
As I write this, I remember the first time I ever felt deeply ashamed. It was in Holland, and I was probably around age five or six because the memory is very clear. I had been playing with one of my neighborhood friends, and we had either gotten into her mother’s makeup or maybe she had one of those play makeup kits; in any case, I had smeared red lipstick on my lips. And, as luck would have it, I was told that I had to come home. The pastor of our church was visiting, and my dad wanted to show off his beautiful daughters. Back then wearing makeup was against church rules—a serious sin. I still remember my dad furiously scrubbing my mouth with a hot washcloth until my lips burned, trying to get that red lipstick off before the minister saw me. No wonder that, when I’m opening the front of the body in backbends, sometimes it feels like I’m casting out demons!

“Who would you be without your story?”

April 7, 2014

April 6, 2014

Spiritual teachers of our era often ask the question, “Who would you be without your story?” I’m not sure what they have in mind when they pose this question, often to someone in the midst of a painful event like a death, divorce, or betrayal who is seeking a way to relieve their suffering. All I know is that life seems to be one never-ending story–each episode leading into the next. And, from a cosmic perspective, we human beings must seem like a broken record–the needle stuck in the same groove, playing the same part of the song over and over again.

The trick seems to be to get to a level where you no longer identify with these stories–easier to do with the passage of time than in the heat of the moment. The stories of our life are embedded in our consciousness. And by “consciousness” I mean the whole gamut–body/mind–everything we’ve absorbed in this lifetime, from the womb (including ancestral memories and possibly past lives) to the present moment.

The picture below was taken in Soule Park, with the Topa Topas in the background. I’m 19 years old, a single hippie mom who’s never been to a beauty salon for a haircut, wearing a shapeless, green homemade sundress (basically a sack dress with straps) and no makeup, holding my young son, Bo, born April 8, 1968. My head is filled with stories and myths of how life is supposed to be; already I’ve gone through many shocks and disillusionments and cried many tears, but the stories (beliefs) have so firmly shaped my reality that I will spend the next 45 years (my life so far) trying to break free.

(A related story: Forty Five Years Ago in the Small Town of Ojai)

Picture (1)

Fishing on Facebook: A Writing Yoga Memoir, Yoga Teacher Magazine

January 28, 2014

 Book Review by Ivan Nahem,  founder/editor, Yoga Teacher Magazine


Fishing on Facebook: A Writing Yoga Memoir is a well-told, well-paced and timeless tale. It’s really not all that much about yoga per se, although one might say it’s about the wisdom that comes from both yoga and suffering. Suza is a renowned yoga teacher with several wonderful instruction books to her credit, but this is more about her personal life, a disappointed-in-love story. As in most memoirs, the author is a good part of the story, and here she’s quite a character in and of herself. And the portraits of the supporting cast are vivid (especially the villain), and we even get fine ambience in the description of the Ojai environment, including the yoga scene there.

What threw me a few times while immersing myself in this story is that I kept hurting for the author, cringing for her unfortunate decisions, sharing her distress over the jerk with whom she was falling in love, and with whom she kept thinking, despite mounting evidence, she could make it work. Maybe it’s because I live with the handicap of being a guy and so I know guys – as in the principle that you can’t bullshit a bullshitter (not that I’m anything of the sort, of course!) ― he just seemed transparent, such a scammer, the kind of guy you run for the hills from. He proves to be a pathological liar, the kind of person who lies to themselves at such a deep level that lying is a way of life. AND he’s terrified of sex and does everything he can to avoid any such real situations; love is just power play. As a reader I sensed early on where the pattern was headed, so I knew that this paramour was a lost cause and that sometimes made the narrator’s choices appear inexplicable. In any case there were times when her hurt was so raw — and then she would see him AGAIN! — and I was quite tempted to hurl the book against the wall, but the book is actually in my Kindle, so that would have been counterproductive.

470591_10150741641279703_266408929_oAnd if I reflect in all honesty, I’ve been deceived myself a few times, so my discomfort with her naiveté is ultimately unwarranted. It’s apparent that Suza’s story strikes a chord, especially among other women (shocking surprise!). Recently I had a dialog with another yoga teacher about her lying ex-husband (or “wasband” as she put it) and how deceived she felt in that relationship . . . Well obviously this is not a unique theme, but Suza makes the story work with all the very verisimilitude detail. If you’re in the mood for a cautionary tale like this, definitely give it a read. Suza’s a deft writer and her voice is very welcome.

Ivan Nahem is the founder/editor of Yoga Teacher Magazine.

Recovering my joie de vivre

September 18, 2013

1255472_10151940464299703_1848862452_nLast night when I went to check on my parents, my old dad was sitting barefoot and cross-legged on the seat of his Lazy Boy chair, like a yogi. I don’t think his dark Indonesian frame can get any thinner. My mom was sitting in her usual spot near the front door, reading a new large print edition of Reader’s Digest. The house was completely silent, like a temple.

Lately, when I arrive at around dinner time, my dad greets me with, “Why don’t you come earlier?” He seems not to realize that I’m coming at the same time as always but the days are getting shorter and it’s dark sooner. About the only time he looks at the clock is when he has a doctor appointment.

I had to take a few days off from talking to my dad. On the last visit we got into the taboo subject of the family property located close to town—a property where I could have a huge fenced yard for my dogs, if my dad would allow it. About once a year I remind him that it was my years of elder care for the former property owner that was instrumental in his buying that property—and that he has helped both of my younger sisters build several houses. Every time he proclaims, “I treat all three of my daughters equally,” I keep hoping that he will do the charitable Christian thing and pave the way for me to have a little hut close to town with a big fenced yard. Instead, he now suggests that I solve my housing problems by renting a room in the Santa Paula mansion he and my youngest sister built before the market crashed. This harebrained idea so angered me that I had to take a break to recover my joie de vivre.

Like many people, my dad dismisses the drain on my finances from the never-ending responsibility of feeding, walking, grooming, and cleaning up after five animals with three words: “That’s your choice.” The implication being that there are other viable choices. Surely I can find another home for at least one of the dogs. Or return my oldest cat, Ginger, to the Humane Society. I score no points for keeping my animals floating along with me on my precarious raft. Deep inside, my dad thinks I’m too attached, sentimental, soft-hearted, and stubborn. He speculates that I’m lonely and neurotic, that I love animals more than humans, and that maybe I’m too far gone to make the more practical, logical choice.

I love my dad, but if I want to outlive him I have to get these things off my chest. And of course, the whole time I’m thinking about all this I’m surrounded by books, articles, and spiritual teachers insisting that we create our own reality and that our thoughts can change everything.

“The universe always mirrors back to us the conditions of our dreaming. So if we’re fearful that money won’t come to us, it won’t. However, if we experience abundance with what we have today, even if we don’t actually have money right now, we will have abundance and we can be sure that further riches are on their way to us. So when our life isn’t working for us, the most effective solution isn’t to change our career, spouse, exercise routine, or community, but to work on the purity of our dreaming.”

I want to tell the popular teacher who wrote this, Alberto Villoldo, PhD, that this line of magical thinking only works under favorable conditions. I’m sure many a prisoner of war, many a child slave laborer dreams of a new life . . . but their dreams are extinguished by circumstances, not for lack of mental powers.

How can any thinking person look at the state of the whole world, the millions of people living in extreme poverty, and believe this: “The universe always mirrors back to us the conditions of our dreaming. So if we’re fearful that money won’t come to us, it won’t.” Does that mean that all the people starving to death were fearful that their next meal wasn’t coming?

I question the implication that the homeless woman I saw early Sunday morning in Ventura, riding her bicycle down Main Street with two large black garbage bags dangling from the handlebars and two leashed dogs running alongside the bike, somehow brought her life situation solely on herself.  Yes, we have to take responsibility and do our best, but we don’t know the chain of events that brought her to this point in time. Maybe her son was murdered and she lost heart. Maybe she had a relative who took what was rightfully hers. I think we all have to face the fact that, no matter how pure our dreams, life can still come crashing down on us.

“We all know, deep down, that most of what we have is good fortune. No matter how hard we work, we did not earn our functioning brains or the families into which we were born. We live in cities others created for us, organized by a government and protected by a military shaped by our predecessors. Yet we still point to our accomplishments and proudly proclaim, ‘I did this!’ The well-off salve their consciences by assuring themselves that it is hard work and merit that brought them success, which also leads them to conclude that it is lack of merit that keeps others from succeeding.” —Rabbi David Wolpe

“Everything else was a piece of cake”

September 10, 2013

Whenever my dad takes to his bed for several days, hardly eating, mostly sleeping, I think the end is near. “Naked we come, and naked we go, Suzanne,” he always likes to remind me during these deathbed talks, where I sit on the edge of his bed, one hand resting on the top of his skull, the other hand gently massaging his bony spine. “You have healing hands, Suzanne. The Lord gave you magnetic hands . . .”

While my mom sits in the living room, reading over and over again in the large print Reader’s Digest the same article about the assassination of JFK (last night she asked me, “Was this man shot in Ojai?”), my dad launches into another life review, often repeating things I’ve heard before, but almost always adding another precious detail, giving me new insight on how his life, and thus my life, was formed.

My father always reminds me that he survived the worst of the worst life has to offer. “After what I saw, Suzanne . . . can you imagine, a civilized country like America dropping two atomic bombs, which are like firecrackers compared to what we have now? After what I saw, Suzanne, I compare the rest of my life to those horrible days and everything else was a piece of cake.”

My dad believes in God and the devil, that there will be a day of judgment, that we will have a great reunion with all our loved ones in heaven, and that God will intervene at the last minute, before the devil blows the Earth to smithereens.

As he reviews the course of his life, he says, “It really is like looking at a movie, Suzanne, a long movie that flashes by in the twinkling of an eye.”

He agrees with me that the Earth is a loony bin and that it doesn’t make sense.

For me, it’s revealing to hear my dad describe the ways he’s failed me. His exact words: “I’ve failed you, Suzanne. I was not there when you needed me. I was working. I was preoccupied.” He confesses again to the times he intervened behind my back, like the time my son’s biological father came to visit us and he took him aside and ordered him to leave town. Last night he told me, “He was dressed so neatly, Suzanne; maybe he had good intentions coming to see you. Maybe I shouldn’t have said what I said . . .”

Part of me is a detached writer, a witness anthropologist, when my dad reveals how he sees the past. Part of me is the rejected, fed-up, wounded oldest daughter who wishes that for once he would be fair and straighten things out, and do right by me while he still has a chance. But, alas, he won’t even let my dogs into the house, although that act alone would make my life so much easier.


“You’ll get your reward in heaven, Suzanne”

July 3, 2013

Saturday, June 29, 2013
Today, as the atmosphere grew hotter, I totally forgot that everything is temporary. That nothing is permanent. I became irrational. In fact, I freaked out. Instead of hosing myself down with cold water and plopping on a yoga bolster, I fought to function. It’s the end of the month. Time for accounting, making statements. If I were rational I would do that job at 2 a.m., when the heat breaks, like in Indonesia. Even tonight my writing hovel is like an oven. But the temperature is dropping, whereas before I feared it would never stop rising.

So in the late afternoon, feeling desperate to escape the inferno, the dogs and I jumped in the tank my middle sister got me two weeks ago to better care for my old parents. We wasted gas and drove to Ventura. There the air was cold, and it felt like a foreign country. I did enjoy it. I could actually leave the dogs in the car for a few minutes and shop! So I went to Vons, got water for the dogs, cat food and cleaning supplies,  champagne and bubbly water, and stood in line with humanity. Stood behind a young couple buying a frozen banana creme pie, just like I once did. Read the headlines of People magazine. (Who cares about these people? We have our own troubles, our own escapades. Who decided to make these plain folk celebrities? And isn’t it fun when they fall?)

There was no parking at the beach, but I’m starting to get the hang of driving again. Honey was so excited to smell the ocean she hung out the window as far as she could without falling out. I promised her we’d be back during the week. So then we cruised home, turning on Creek Road. A lucky break—not a single car behind me, so we went slowly and enjoyed the green view. Stopped at Camp Comfort. I’d forgotten: No Dogs Allowed. One time we disobeyed the sign and got caught, so now we obey and leave.

Our little excursion out of hot Ojai is over. Time to check on my parents. My mom is wearing her bright pink-purple-red sundress from the 1950s and reading a book about Albert Einstein.

“Do you know Albert Einstein?” she asks when I walk in the door.

“Yes, I’ve heard of him,” I reply.

“His hair was messy –like mine.” Sure enough, she then tells me how messy my own hair is. “You must part it in the middle. You are still beautiful but you must do something about your hair.”

My old Indonesian dad sleeps in his easy chair. They’ve lived their whole life without air conditioning—just one slow overhead fan. I ask him if he’d like some cold water. After awhile he says, “You’ll get your reward in heaven, Suzanne. Don’t you worry . . . You’ll get your reward in heaven . . . not here on Earth.”

“That’s for sure,” I mumble to myself.HONEY HUG

Life is always changing —and yet some things never change!


Can you build a bridge and burn it at the same time?

February 7, 2013

Scan_Pic0018Last night I finally opened the boxes of journals that I’ve been schlepping around for three years, and OMG, it’s like opening Pandora’s box!

My cats are so excited, hopping into and around the boxes; they can feel the erratic energy flying around. It’s all there—except for the early journals from the 60s that, in an attempt to free me from the past, a boyfriend had me burn. (So these journals go back to the 70s and 80s)

It remains to be seen why I feel compelled to turn my kitchen into an office so that I can arrange all these crazy life stories into the form of a book; it may just be for my own integration. I only know that, unless I do this, I cannot sleep. I have this idea that, if I spread everything out in the open, then when I wake up at 2 a.m. I can go right to my writing table and in nine months birth my next book.

I’ve already laughed in the face of all the obstacles. It is so blatantly obvious that money is not always a true measure of success. Nor is lack of money always a true measure of failure. (I have a stack of books by authors who died in poverty and were buried in unmarked graves. I hope that doesn’t happen to me.)

When I see rock star yoga teachers teaching mega classes with hundreds of students, I remind myself that this phenomenon occurs in every belief system. In the religious world there are wildly successful charismatic ministers with mega services that, in their size, leave mega yoga classes in the dust.

When I visit my parents, I’m reminded that there is no end to the belief systems in this world and no lack of evidence to substantiate just about any belief, from far left to far right to heaven above and hell below. My dad is so looking forward to seeing his mother, who died decades ago, in heaven—he mentions her every time I visit. He is surrounded by books on the afterlife—a far different afterlife than the one described in metaphysical books, but equally compelling.

My journals reflect the mind of a mad woman who has possibly thrown out the baby with the bathwater. But at least I’m aware that I’m insane. I recall some years ago challenging the reality of a longtime friend with dementia. She looked me square in the eye and told me in no uncertain terms, “Don’t you think that if I’d lost my mind I’d be the first to know it?” (Found this gem in my journals, too.)

I don’t mind if the whole world subscribes to the Law of Attraction that says like attracts like, you attract what you need, and you create your own reality. It doesn’t matter to me what people believe, so long as they don’t mind if I don’t believe it!

Yes, there is karma and there are laws of nature, but I cannot in good conscience pretend that I know how it all works. That North Korean sociopath dictator who sits in his palace while his starving people reportedly turn to cannibalism is not rich because of good karma. The young woman killed yesterday by the Taliban was caught up in circumstances beyond her control. I don’t believe she attracted being tortured and shot.

My own life has not been a life-and-death drama, but my journals reveal the heavy religious conditioning, the brainwashing from birth, the deeply embedded patriarchal belief system I was born into.

On March 3, 1996, I wrote these words on the road to freedom: “Over and over I see that, for me, my relationship with the man in my life is the core of my life . . . it is either cultural conditioning or my female nature. Maybe when I’m 50, after men-o-pause, I won’t be like this, but today [and all the years prior] I am in this [incomplete] state . . . ”

Underneath this telling entry I wrote down my horoscope for the week of March 7-14, which asked: “Can you build a bridge and burn it at the same time?”

Fifteen years later I can unequivocally say, “Yes!”

As if life itself isn’t strange enough, then there’s the dream world. . .

February 5, 2013

As if life itself isn’t strange enough, then there’s the dream world. Last night I was in a hotel room with a man from my past. In real life he was a healer—a successful, movie-star-handsome doctor. But he was also a wounded child, addicted to sex and drugs, with posttraumatic stress syndrome from his years in Vietnam. Our ten years together eventually woke me up to the shadow side of relationships.

In the dream, many years had passed since I’d seen him. He was claiming that he was now rehabilitated, and I was supposed to trust him. He was still young, lying nearly naked on the bed, smiling with need and beckoning me to come to him with that same “I want you” look on his face as when we were together. But I felt nothing, no sexual pull . . . just a sense of obligation.

I said, “It’s been a long time since I’ve had sex. It’s going to take time for me to trust you.” And just as I said that I noticed an insect crawling on his pillow—a scorpion. I looked again and saw another one, and another one, and then I realized that they were everywhere, all over the floor, and that I had already been stung on the leg but hadn’t noticed it. I shouted, “We’ve got to get out of here!” and ran out and closed the door.

When I woke up, I scribbled all this down in my journal. And, as I wrote, I saw how each man in my life was like a symbol, representing a world I thought I couldn’t touch on my own.


[My editor says, “Develop/expand on this last thought, Suza!” And I say, “I will!”]

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