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In my quest to 1) become a better person and 2) survive 2016 intact, several weeks ago I signed up for a mindfulness meditation class.
The instructor is lovely and the class is, well, relaxing. It makes me calmer and a better person in so many ways.
This whole meditation thing doesn’t really jibe with my New Mexico upbringing. Stress reduction is a bit different ’round here than it was there.
For example, where I live now, it’s awful hard to take a three-hour ride upon my favorite horse in order to relax. And driving out to Chopes for enchiladas and a beer is a longer drive than I can make in a day.
Meditation it is, then.
Last week, we had a long class discussion about the use of one’s car horn. How it’s not mindful or necessary to lay on the horn while traveling this world. How it can make things worse by scaring the other driver or making the other driver mad (and bad things come from that).
This is also in line with The Good Man and his rules for better living. Since we live in a more urban city than I’ve ever lived in before, he has asked me nicely give my horn honking a rest. These are tense times and occasionally I travel through tough neighborhoods. Who knows how the ol’ toot-toot will be received?
Really, this is all sage advice, both from the Vispassana teacher and the man I married.
Until yesterday, when I found myself in Oakland’s Chinatown neighborhood. Where the Chinatown in San Francisco is something of a tourist delight, the Oakland Chinatown is a serious ethnic neighborhood. It sits near Oakland’s downtown, so it’s busy, jam packed with traffic, and not to be taken lightly.
I’ve spent many an hour in Oakland’s Chinatown over my years and I love it. It had been a while, and was nice to be there again. I had a couple things on my shopping list that can only be found in that neighborhood.
As I rolled into the area, I made my way past city buses and double-parked cars, and was filled with glee to find a nice wide parking spot on the street just around the corner from where I needed to be. Score!
I carefully maneuvered over, waited while the car ahead loaded her kid in the car, had my blinker on the whole time and as I pulled forward to align and began to back into the spot, some $%^& started to pull head first into my spot.
Yay, verily, there was much laying on of horns. Oh yes. My beloved Jeep is equipped with not one but two bassy air horns that make it clear to whomever is on the receiving end that they have been properly honked. One firm flat-palm press lights up the hearing cavities of all nearby.
I held that Jeep horn with a solid hand, owing my destiny to all of the fabulous people throughout my years here in the Bay Area who taught me how to survive in a city. Indeed. I followed the playbook and hoped to hell this wouldn’t escalate into that driver getting out of their car.
Thus, as the interloper assessed the situation, she surely noticed my sixteen-year-old Jeep was far less shiny than her almost new SUV nosing into my spot. I held steady, knowing even then that the person backing in is at a disadvantage to the person trying to head in.
Finally the fancy car threw it in reverse and left, giving me an exaggerated shrug on the way by.
Here is the true confession: Damn did honking the hell out of my horn feel good. Like, real good. Like cold beer after a hard day of yard work. Like that first bite of a Chopes enchilada (egg and sour cream on top). Like finally getting out the splinter that is starting to fester.
I know it goes against everything my spouse and my learned teacher have asked of me. It wasn’t peaceful, nor kind. But damn did it feel good.
Almost too good.
Okay, okay. The horn honking is over. The satisfaction was quick and delicious. The endorphins rose and quickly dissipated.
Today I’ll rededicate myself to the peaceful life. To being more kind. To being more centered. To let traffic solve itself without the help of two weighty and meaningful Jeep air horns.
They don’t call meditation a practice for nothing. It takes work. Perfection is not expected. (I’ll add this note, I refrained from both cursing and arm waving in addition to the horn. It’s something to build on.)
Given the same situation, would I honk it up again? Hee, hee…probably.
Okay, okay. I’ll try harder.
Recycling one of my favorite photos. Image found here.
Image found here.
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If we make it through December
Everything’s gonna be all right I know
— Merle Haggard
Every year “If We Make It Through December,” a classic Merle Haggard song that was released for the first time all the way back in 1973 becomes the theme for my holiday season. I have been playing it on repeat in my car as I drive back and forth to my job.
I also play it when it’s dark in the morning and when it’s dark in the evening. As the rain comes down. As protestors shut down access to my home and helicopters hover in the sky. As my feet ache and my head hurts and I wonder why, for another year, I’m anxious, depressed and overwrought during the happiest time of year.
Every year I look forward to December and the holiday season, hoping to capture some small bit of that childhood joy and anticipation and magic. I watch movies like “White Christmas” that are filled with optimism and dancing and songs about snow.
Every year I feel crushed by an avalanche of end of year business activities. It’s the nature of the profession I have chosen that December is just always going to be craptastic.
And then current political events put a little exponential anxiety to this year’s festivities.
Now I don’t mean to hate December
It’s meant to be the happy time of year
Happy, yeah. Full of cheer. Ho, ho, ho. Yesterday should have been a really good day. My boss held a breakfast holiday celebration for all of her team. Then one of my main client teams had a holiday luncheon for us too. A day of eating? Hell YES!
But in between those two events, I had a bunch of other meetings. I was late to most of them and got chewed out. I was running hither and thither to get to these “fun” events where my attendance was fully expected.
At the end of the day I had an inbox full of emails and angry voicemails from people expecting me to get my other work done.
So I stayed late at work (again!) and tried to get somewhat caught up. I worked off most of the code red items and left the code orange for another day.
Then I went home exhausted and emotionally shut down. I was not a good spouse to The Good Man or a good human to my Feline.
Hell, I didn’t even plug in our Christmas tree yesterday. Yes, last weekend I managed to get our fake tree put together, but it is not decorated. I usually love to make cookies for the holidays, but not this year.
Instead I made toast for dinner and then went to bed. Feliz Navidad.
If we make it through December we’ll be fine
But as I whine on and complain loudly, I suppose all is not lost. This year I introduced The Good Man to December’s theme song. This happened while we were taking a drive to go see Merle Haggard play a live show at my favorite concert venue in Napa.
How bad can my month be if I get to see one of my all time favorite musicians play live? A musician who has written songs that make up a lot of the soundtrack of my life.
The Good Man is going through his own turmoil this December and so the lyric we most often repeated to each other on our hour long drive was this one, “If we make it through December we’ll be fine.”
And we will. We’ll be fine. This hell and highwater (literally, one of the highway exits in our town was flooded out so we had to seek an alternate route) will recede and we’ll find our way back to level ground.
I don’t mean to hate December. It’s just sometimes it feels like December hates me.
Photo copyright ©Karen Fayeth, 2014
Photo copyright ©Karen Fayeth, 2014. Taken with an iPhone 6 and run through Instagram. Photo subject to the Creative Commons license found in the far right column of this page.
Filed under: anxiety, automobiles, awkward, backyard, Bay Area, Be Better!, big weather, blue sky, California, disappointed, doooooom!, driving, environment, fail, fall, fire, life, make it work, Mother Nature, Opinions, play through, rain, show and tell, sigh, water, worried, yucky
Oh Mother Nature, how you vex me. I mean, you and me are usually good. Real good. I mean, you do you in your own way, and that’s fine. Of course it’s fine.
Musically riffing, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain. I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end.
I’ve also seen tornadoes, lightning I thought would crack the sky in two and 120 degrees with nary a cloud.
You gotta do what you gotta do, sister, and usually I’m okay with that.
This morning I stepped out of my house and felt a little rain dripping down. Yes! Rain! Good.
Only, Mom Nature, you are a real fickle beast. Was it a good deep soaking rain? A nice drink of water for the poor parched state of California?
It was like this:
Just enough to knock dust and schmutz from a nearby tree onto my car. You just created a rolling mud bog.
Just enough to moisten the roads so people could slide real good into each other.
Just enough rain to REALLY piss me off and not enough to make a difference.
Look lady, do more than spit at us, all right?
Be better, Mother Nature!
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Dateline: April 23, 2014, 8:52am Pacific Daylight Savings Time
Location: An undisclosed intersection in what is known as the East Bay
It’s morning and I’m waking up rough after some really painful dental work yesterday. I’m running late for work but I’m trying to stay calm and just get there.
I’m traversing a road that is something of an unofficial border. On one side is a series of slightly rough neighborhoods where gentrification is coming hard and fast. And painfully.
The other side is the “good” side of the road. Gentrification has already arrived, for both better and for worse.
I stop at a red light at a major intersection. I am first in line and there is a long line of cars behind me.
“Who Can It Be Now,” plays from the oldies station on my radio. A popular song from my high school years is now an oldie. Don’t get me started.
I tap my thumb on the steering wheel and hum along when to my left, a gentleman enters the crosswalk taking something of a slant route over the white lines.
In his hand he’s carrying an open tall boy and holding it close to his chest. He’s smiling, though his face and his skin looks like he’s seen some things.
I am alternately like “right on!” because why not beer at almost nine in in the morning? Then “oooh, damn” because beer at nine in the morning maybe means a few demons in the mind somewhere around nine at night.
But I don’t know this guy’s story, so I don’t judge.
As he ambles amiably in front of the grill of The Jeep, to my right an oblivious driver in a black Mercedes whips right into the crosswalk, intent on turning right and doing it right now, and damn near hits the guy.
Our beer drinking friend pulls up short, steps back and slightly bows, waving the Mercedes along. It pulls out in a huff, if I can attribute huffiness to a car.
Then the guy turns to me and smiles a lopsided smile and waves. I do what any decent member of the human race should do, I wave back. I briefly entertain a “I should not have done that” thought because I have learned through enough years living near and in big cities that sometimes it’s just better not to engage.
But I was wrong for thinking that. As I wave, he smiles a little wider, peers around The Jeep to be sure the coast is clear, then makes his way to the other side of the road.
The light turns green and I drive on, thinking about the guy, this city where I now live, the ever growing division between rich and poor and the implications of gentrification. I also think about how delicious the lemon scone sitting in the passenger seat is going to be when I get to work and gobble it up.
I get to the place of my employment, find a parking spot, quick yank the parking break and start my day. Something about the man with the tall boy sticks with me and I can’t quite figure out why.
One thing I know for sure is that I have to write about it, to capture the fleeting moment and memorialize it for myself as much as for anyone else.
And so I have.
Image found here.
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Part V, and the conclusion of a five part series.
It was a short plane ride, take off, cruising altitude for something like a minute, then get ready for final descent into Las Vegas.
Las Vegas. My kind of town. Vegas and I go way back. Now you know my not so secret secret, I wasn’t actually born in New Mexico, I was born in Las Vegas, Nevada.
My dad was working out at the Nevada Test Site and one thing led to another and…
Growing up some of my friends liked to tease me that my parents took a gamble and lost. Oh! Hey! Good looking crowd. We’re here all night. Tip your waitress.
My folks loved living in Las Vegas, but for various reasons moved back to Albuquerque when I was very small. Really too small to remember much of life in Las Vegas. All I’ve ever known is New Mexico, so I still rightfully call myself a native.
I scrambled off that Southwest Airlines jet, through the jetway, and hit the carpet in McCarran Airport. I walked without hesitation to a bank of slot machines that were unoccupied and pulled up a seat.
My family likes to gamble. A trip to Vegas was my present for my twenty-first birthday. My folks used to get out there at least once, maybe twice a year and we kids often went along. I didn’t grow up in Vegas but I grew up an awful lot on the many casino floors through the course of my life.
The Vegas I know is an old school Vegas, from the 1970’s, and it always feels a little right to be there.
With twenty dollars in the slot machine, I managed to make it play for a little over a half hour. I’d get down to the last dollar then the machine would pay off again. I was on a nice hot streak. Not hot enough to cash out, but hot enough to have some fun.
When that was gone, I picked another machine and chased another twenty dollars around for about fifteen minutes.
When that was gone, I got up from the seat with a sigh. I felt hungry and went in search of something not airport-awful to eat. Over a really disappointing slice of Sbarro’s pizza, I stopped chewing for a minute and smiled.
A thought occurred to me. In that same day, I had been in New Mexico, I was in Las Vegas, and I’d soon be in California. Those are all of the places I have ever lived. Those are all of the places I know.
Those are all of the places I belong.
Kind of cool, really. Kind of a nice way to end my journey. A full circle kind of a thing.
My trip to New Mexico was, all in, pretty good. I was so glad I made the trip, so glad to see my best friend and my goddaughters, so glad to go home and immerse myself in memories (and make new ones too).
My trip to New Mexico was also a little difficult. You see, my dad died in 2005 and he’s buried in the National Cemetery in Santa Fe. There was no way I could live with myself if I was in Santa Fe and didn’t go to the cemetery. And yet I really, really didn’t want to go to the cemetery. It’s not a joyful thing.
The last time I had visited was in 2009 and I was without a job and had lost my mind a little bit. I was scrambling to find a way to get back on my feet. That year I took a trip home to New Mexico to see if going back to my roots could help me find my compass needle.
I had cried a bit when my dad had died, but I was also a little stoic. My mom had asked me to be strong so that she didn’t have to be, and I agreed. I was as strong as I knew how to be back then, and a few years later there may have been some pent up stuff that needed to come out.
In 2009 when I found the stone that marks the place where my dad’s ashes are stored, it was a surreal experience. Gray skies opened up with rain and I stood there with my hand tracing the letters in stone and I cried, I keened, I howled. I scared the grounds crew. I honestly did, I freaked out this nice man taking care of the row of headstones nearby.
I guess back then I had some things I had to work out. On that recent spring day in March 2014, I was afraid that monster was still inside of me. I was terrified I’d find myself keening again at my father’s graveside. When considering going to the cemetery, I balked, I stalled, and finally I borrowed the keys to my friend’s new Suburban and set up Apple maps on my phone and took off on the highway, dreading it all the way.
Apple maps led me on quite a merry chase through the streets of downtown Santa Fe. That is a very old city, built by the Spanish Conquistadors so the roads are narrow and the sidewalks are high to accommodate horse drawn carriages.
With a little bit of axel grease and a shoehorn, I was able to navigate a huge Suburban through the streets, getting more lost by the moment.
Eventually, Siri found her head and I found my way, and there I was again, at the Santa Fe National Cemetery, both ready and not quite ready for what lay ahead.
That cemetery is always a difficult place for me. Rows upon rows of headstones mark all of my fellow New Mexicans who served in the military and who passed on, either in service of their country or later, as my dad had done. It is quite a humbling place for me, and that is even before I get to the place where I have to face my personal sorrow.
I had a bit of a false start, stopping at the wrong row of stones and realizing I was off by a bit. It didn’t take me a long time to find the right row and my father’s stone.
His ashes are in what is called a columbarium and it’s covered with a lovely piece of what I think is marble and secured to the wall with these connectors that look, to me anyway, like conchos.
They are so beautiful and so New Mexico appropriate.
Copyright © 2014 Karen Fayeth
For personal reasons, I will decline to post the entire stone, but I wanted to share a nice photo of that fastener. It stands on its own as a useful reminder.
On this visit I didn’t keen and I didn’t wail, but I sure did cry an awful lot. I put my hands on the now weathered stone and I traced his name and the word “Korea,” the war in which he participated. I felt the cold marble and I noted the sand blasted wear and tear and laughed at the unyielding New Mexico elements that caused the letters to already become faded. It’s only been nine years.
“Well, dad, I guess I’m doing a lot better than I was the last time I was here,” I said aloud. And I was.
Seeing my father’s name carved into stone never fails to break me on some level. After pacing a bit and having a pretty hard cry, I walked up the row and sat on one of the benches. It looks out over the valley and has a gorgeous view.
Copyright © 2014 Karen Fayeth
The mountains at my back and the dried grass and valley in front of me. The New Mexico unrelenting wind dried my tears the moment they slipped from my eyes. I laughed as the wind whipped at my hair. “Goddamn springtime wind,” I said to no one as I sat there alone.
Tumbleweeds of thoughts bounced in my mind. Through tears of sorrow, I smiled, because of that view, that place, that moment.
I had spent the past three days wondering I was even a New Mexican anymore. Sitting there, letting the climate steal my moisture and feeling grounded, I remembered that I always was and will always be.
I can never not be a New Mexican. Just as I can never not be born in Las Vegas. And I can never not be a damn near twenty-year veteran of California.
I am all of that. I am none of that. I am more than that.
I am greater than the sum of all my parts.
My version of New Mexico may not exist anymore but it’s mine. My particular brand of Las Vegas may not exist anymore, but I own it. My California is still telling me its story.
There is a lot left to learn about all of those places and as I gaze forward to the celebration of another revolution around the sun, I humbly admit there is an awful lot yet to learn about me.
What started as a fun trip to see my best friend in the entire world and my gorgeous godkids turned out to be something of a journey. A grounding moment in time that changed me, humbled me, reminded me and helped me grow.
I had no idea that was going to happen. I’m kind of glad I didn’t know. To paraphrase one of my oldest goddaughter’s favorite songs (that dates back to my college years), I might have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss that dance.
And there is no way I’d ever miss out on a good dance with some of my most favorite people in the world, back home where I belong.
Both photos Copyright © 2014, Karen Fayeth, and subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page. Taken with an iPhone5 and the Camera+ app. The fastener photo was further edited in Instagram.