Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sourpus Gets Down

I feel like I'm sucking on lemons tonight.  I'm sour.   I've been going and going and.... Mars is in the blah house, apparently.  I've been told that my funny bone is broken.  Its Saturday night and I was thrilled that there was only one other person at the laundromat.   Actually, I resented his existence.

All day I've thought about JD Salinger's death, about how it makes me sad even though he hasn't wanted anyone to even think about him for the last 40 years.  I have lots of estrangement in my family.  I'm used to mourning people I haven't seen or talked to in ages.  When they die it means that the reunion that probably wasn't going to happen is definitely not happening now.  

I could take an herbal bath, or read some poetry, or go out dancing, or stay in and dance.  Any of those things might get me out of my funk.  Funk.  That's what I need.  That's the prescription for the night.  Who can listen to Freak of the Week and stay sour?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Part of the Human Heart: Celebrating Haiti's Strength

Last night I went to a memorial service/ benefit for Haiti.  It was held at the Integral Yoga Center in Manhattan in a tightly packed meditation room where people sat on pillows on the floor.  It was organized by my dear friend, yoga and Dancemeditation teacher Anita Teresa. 

Anita led the group through a heart opening, expanding meditation and visualization.  It felt like a way to honor the depth of loss, to wrap my mind around a tragedy so huge.

What came up for me is that fully experiencing grief takes some safety, some space.  People in Haiti don't have that right now. What they do have is strength, and its incredible. 

Another friend, dancer and Dancemeditation practitioner Nisaa Christie, has had questions come up in meditation around what the earth has been going through with the earthquake and aftershocks.

Anita invited her to dance.  She let her body lead her through an experience of the earth, prompting me to ask 'Who will pay attention to what the earth needs, too?'

Her dance gave us a way to feel into the earth, to honor the process of shifting and change, beyond all human concerns, without denying the great tragedy to people and animals.

Later we were led in Kirtan by a group of beautiful singers and musicians.  I felt we were not singing only to/with the Divine, but also directly to/with the people of Haiti, lending them our voices, our strength alongside their own.

I thought of children I'd read about in the New York Times the night before showing both resilience and extreme vulnerability after experiencing enormous loss, and I remembered being little, sitting on the floor in my preschool singing 'this little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine'. When we were led in a version of that very song I imagined those kids finding their way to safety, finding the strength and comfort they need, inside and out.

There was some discussion about our collective experiences with the tragedy.  People asked, 'why does it take this sort of crisis to come together? To give? To feel as one?'

A Viet Nam vet said that he had once seen a child shot, and witnessed the mother's grief, and in that moment he felt that he became that mother.  His grief was that strong.  He said that crisis has the power to shift us into a place of total empathy.

People talked about how issues of racism play into the U.S.A.'s relationship with Haiti.  There were expressions of hope that this tragedy might raise consciousness about the cultural, religious, and historical gifts that Haiti has to share with the world, despite news coverage which seems to be focusing almost entirely on the negative aspects of Haiti's situation and history, without context or any sense of the U.S.'s historical role in Haiti's troubles.

For those of us outside of the Haitian community, there are lots of ways to feel more connected, not just to the tragedy, but to the people.   Read Edwidge Danticat's Crick? Crack! and experience the Haitian people's perseverance through difficulty.  See a production of Once on the Island (or produce it) and learn how Haitians are world leaders by being the first nation to be founded by people who were once enslaved and overthrew their oppressors. Read The Magic Orange Tree out loud to kids and be transported by Haitian folktales while being enveloped in their rich storytelling tradition.  Ignore or actively refute news stories suggesting that Haiti can never overcome its difficulties.  Watch some dance.  Read some history.

I hope to learn some of Haiti's sacred dances.  Dance is the way that I feel closest to people.  I want to celebrate the people of Haiti.  I'm awed by them for letting their light shine, even in the face of terrible tragedy.  I want to hold space for that light.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Month of Moondays

I officially started the Moonday Experiment a month ago.  The idea is to take a little time out every Monday to celebrate the moon, as the day was originally dedicated to this heavenly body.  Our culture currently has an implied ban on merry making and wildness on Monday.  'Good T.V.' after a grueling day of work and commerce is the dominant trend.

The Moon has long been associated with creativity, intuition, and wildness.  It makes me sad thinking of how disappointed the moon would be if it could look down and see how we spend our Mondays.  I've wanted to see what would happen if some of us do something creative and/or wild on Mondays to celebrate the moon.  I decided that on Moondays I would do something creative just for fun. Meeting my writing goals doesn't count.

So far I've seen a subtle shift in my attitude towards Monday.  I've noticed that the busy list-making part of my mind that wants to get the work week started with a 'bang', isn't in complete control.  Sunday I found myself actually looking forward to that art time on Monday, despite also needing to get some nagging tasks accomplished.  Thus far celebrating Moonday hasn't stopped me from going to the bank and the post office, but it has made me care a little bit less if I get everything on my list accomplished.

On Moonday I will reflect on wildness,' I thought to myself on Sunday.  'Maybe I'll even find a way to be a little wild.... Hmm.  And I'll take time out to read poetry and do some art-making, just for fun....'  Yay Moonday! You are so much more fun than Monday.

I've asked everyone who thinks it sounds like fun to join me in this experiment and celebrate Moonday in your own ways, as well as to post stories of wildness, links to art of all kinds including dance, theater, visual art, poems, etc.  To write about your dreams, your thoughts on wildness...  If you haven't been spelunking in the comments you've missed some inspiring stuff, so here, here, and here, are the links to the previous three weeks posts.  Just go straight to the comments. 

I'd love it if you would share something, anything that you like, but here are some questions if you want a prompt:  The moon is often associated with insanity. In an effort to take back that lunar intuitive wisdom, the question is, what is one of the most crazy/brilliant ideas you or someone else has ever had?  Or an idea that seemed at first to make no sense, but somehow was just the thing....  For me, it was deciding to take up dancing when I was very stuck in my writing.  If I hadn't, I truly doubt I'd be writing this sentence now.

Happy Waxing Gibbous (nearing full ) Moonday!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

How to Kick Fear's Ass...Lovingly

Things are intense right now.  I've been experiencing grief and joy, excitement and fear.  Life is always like this, its just that the intensity has been cranked up a few more notches lately. I have a long list of recent and ongoing personal crises, along with exciting but overstimulating triumphs.   I could write at least a five pages of the things I want/need to do yesterday and next week, and the laundry is rising like a prehistoric monster out of the bin.  More house guests pile in arrive tomorrow, and.... breathing in.... and out.

Last night I got out my big guns.

After a Dancemeditation practice, I took an herbal bath.  Oh happy day.  Of everything I've tried, this was the most fabulously successful method of making me relax.  I went in with a feeling of contraction.  Life is a razor's edge we have to navigate.  I came out feeling expanded.  Laughingly I thought to myself, 'Love kicks fear's ass.'

As an herbalist, I often tell clients about the healing power of herbal baths.  They work because our skin easily absorbs the water soluble properties in the plants, and they work because they're a conscious way for us to take care of ourselves.  Its hard to be very distracted in the bath.   This time I chose two plants that are excellent for both the skin and the nervous system: oatstraw and linden flower. 

I eased myself into the experience.  First I simply sat in the bath, sans herbal infusion, reading a bit of Pema Chodron's extremely comforting When Things Fall Apart:  Heart Advice for Difficult Times

When I felt calm enough--- meaning, ready to be with myself without any distraction--, I put down the book, poured in the herbal infusion, lit a candle, and turned out the light.  I soaked in the water for over half an hour.

I felt an almost instant surge of happiness as the linden and oatstraw infused water slid like velvet over my body.  Linden's bright yellow, honey bee attracting flowers help us to get in touch with our laughing, childhood selves.  Really.  Its amazing stuff.  Oatstraw is like a gorgeous, Meryl Streap type older woman who knows exactly what to say to make us feel better.

I let my thoughts wander for some time, while gently reminding myself to stay in the present, and found that the longer I soaked the easier this became.  Eventually I was able to focus on my breath entirely.

Now of course you may think that my mood shift happened by simply being in the bath with a candle, and having some meditation experience.  Just plain old water may have done the trick.  But plain old, wonderful water and conscious breathing, combined with the heart strengthening delight and sense of well being that linden engenders, and the cooling, soothing calm that oatstraw evokes felt nothing short of miraculous.

How I do it:  About 4-8 hours before I want to take the bath, I get out a half gallon mason jar. (If I only had 1 hour, I'd do it the same way.  It will still be goodIt would also work in a pot with a tight fitting lid, or a large french press, though a mason jar works best.)

I put about 3/4ths cup of each herb in the bottom of the jar.

Then I fill the jar with boiling water, letting the water absorb into the herbs for a minute or two.  

I top the full jar off with more boiling water so that there is no air between the jar and lid.

Then I seal the jar, and let it stand on the counter ideally for 4-8 hours, and at least 1 hour.

Just before the bath I carefully strain and squeeze the herbs by hand over a pot with a strainer.

Then I rinse out the jar, and pour the strained liquid back in.  This is your herbal infusion,  (If you are going to leave it for any length of time, put the lid back on, too.  The strained herbal material can't be used again, but it makes great compost. )  The 'work' to make an infusion from start to finish is about 10 minutes.  5 minutes on each end.

I get the bath to the exact perfect temperature, and then I pour the herbal infusion into it.  As last night I wanted to take a hot, detoxifying bath, I brought a pitcher of water and a glass with me, and because I love linden and oatstraw tea so much, I also reserved a cup of it to drink.

Linden and oatstraw are both moisturizing and incredibly nourishing to the skin.  Today my previously dry winter skin and hair feel soft and supple, and my heart is once again open to all of the beauty and terror that life has to offer.  I feel strengthened, nourished, and blessed. 

You may be able to find linden and oatstraw in your friendly neighborhood herb shop.  In Manhattan they can always be found at  Flower Power Herbs and Roots on East 9th St., or you can find them at a large selection of online resources.  You can find sources I recommend here.

*YouTwitFace is a Conan O'Brien invention

Friday, January 22, 2010

Better Git It In Your Soul

If I had to choose just one favorite song, the answer would probably depend on how I'm feeling.  Today (and many days for many years) I'd say its Better Git It In Your Soul by Charles Mingus.  It gets me out of a foul mood faster than chocolate ice cream.  The title itself is a gorgeous poem.  Listening to it makes me want to dance, write poetry, hug someone, and turn up my inner flame when its getting too low. 

Do you have a favorite song-- of all time or this moment?  What is it?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Who Inspires You?

I just finished a phase of a big creative project.  I directed a staged reading of a play that took several years to complete.  Today I've been itching to write, but also feeling listless, creatively drained, and antsy, so I scanned my shelf of poetry books, and found myself reaching for Edna St. Vincent Millay.  Don't you wish you knew Edna St. Vincent Millay?  If you've read any of her work this is a rhetorical question.  I love my little Dover Thrift addition of First Fig and Other Poems.  This is how it starts:

First Fig

My candle burns at both ends;
   It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends---
   It gives a lovely light!

Second Fig

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

**image of Edna St. V. Millay by Lawrence Ferlinghetti.  It is actually for sale here. (clearly she uh..inspires him too.)

Years ago I found myself at an outdoor flea market on Canal St. in Manhattan.  There was a big pile of old books that looked slightly moldy and partially burned.  Of course I had to check them out.  I found this amazing old pocket dictionary.  I don't know the year it was published because the cover was missing, but in the back, written in pencil in a beautiful hand was this:  'Collop Monday, Pancake Tuesday, Fritter Wednesday, Maunday Thursday, Good Friday Hot cross buns. ' There are so many great words in this dictionary-- depauperate v. : to make poor.  Mayling s.: a gathering flowers on May Day.

Then I came across this charred blue book.  I opened it up and on the first page was this inscription in a small, tight hand:  From your two friends with loads of love, Mina and Edna-- July 26th, 1937.  And below it in a much broader, more florid hand:  Hope you like it-- I worked hard on it-- Edna St.--
It is a first addition of Edna St. Vincent Millay's play, Conversation at Midnight.  I love that inscription, 'I worked hard on it.'  I found the book when I was deep inside a blocked writing phase, but the sentence rang in my ears.  It was like Edna St. was shouting through time at me, 'work hard! work hard!'

I imagine she did work very hard on it.  Conversation at Midnight is written in gorgeous verse.  Its funny, philosophical, both deep and silly.

Here are a few lines that make me think:  Carl: "...the English primrose pressed in your copy of Wordsworth means nothing to me, And it is nothing more.  God, I'm so sick of the smell of faded personal tokens fluttering out from between the leaves of second hand books! Oh, let the dead past cremate its dead, I say!  We have no room here even for its bones in these city blocks that must house the living world!"  I totally get it, Carl.  But all the same, I'd never part with my copy of Edna St.--- I like to imagine that she's my mentor, and right now, in my tired, antsy, keyed up mind I hear her shouting, 'Work hard! work hard! as I watch her dance down a West Village side street, drinking wine and laughing with her poet friends.

Is there a person from the past who inspires you creatively?  I'd love to know...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Happy Moonday! The Moonday Experiment Continues on MLK Day

Happy Moonday!   This marks week 3 of the Moonday Experiment, designed to help me, and whoever wants to play with me, to take a little time out on Mondays to celebrate the moon by doing something creative and/or wild despite the dominant culture's referendum on Monday wildness.

Today is the U.S.A.'s observation of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, and a holiday from work for many.  What Dr. King has in common with celebrating the moon is simple.  He had a dream.   Dreams are by their very nature wild, uninhibited, from the place of the intuition and the heart. 

In his great book, The 3 'only' Things: Tapping the Power of Dreams, Coincidence, and Imagination, Robert Moss writes, "We dismiss dreams, yet the word dream has magic.  We use it to describe experiences that are hugely important, things that stir the soul and can change the world.  I have a dream.  Martin Luther King may or may not have been inspired by a night dream; by his earliest account, the numinous moment came when he was leaning over a kitchen sink in the middle of the night, close to despair, and felt the presence of a greater power blessing him and propelling him forward.  But we all know what he meant.  The phrase still sends shivers of recognition through us."

I love all dreams, be they silly, strange, terrifying, or illuminating.  Daydreams and night dreams compel me equally.  Dreams are doorways.

            Dream door collage I made this summer.

In the comments, I'd love it if you want to share your own poem, links to your poetry, someone else's poetry that you adore, art, photography, links to videos, to stories of wildness, or just answer this question: What is one of your wildest dreams?  This could be a night dream, or a day dream.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Mint and Mangoes


It looked like a clump of small dusty nettles
Growing wild at the gable of the house
Beyond where we dumped our refuse and old bottles:
Unverdant ever, almost beneath notice.

But, to be fair, it also spelled promise
And newness in the backyard of our life
As if something callow yet tenacious
Sauntered in the green valleys and grew rife.

The snip of scissor blades, the light of Sunday 
Mornings when the mint was cut and loved:
My last things will be first things slipping from me.
Yet let all things go free that have survived.

Let the smells of mint go heady and defenseless
Like inmates liberated in that yard.
Like the disregarded ones we turned against
Because we'd failed them by our disregard.
                                                --Seamus Heany,
from The Spirit Level

That line-- my last things will be first things slipping from me-- always gets me.  I thought of this poem tonight sitting in my tiny Manhattan kitchen eating a mango that I've watched ripen for a week.  I cut it carefully, and as I ate it I closed my eyes and savored it, trying not to be greedy for the next bite and the next, which was almost impossible.

When I was very young I lived in Florida.  We had a mango tree in the back yard.  I was the only one in my family who was not allergic to the skins and so from a very early age it was my job to pick and peel the mango for everyone. I treated it as a sacred ritual.  I remember that my mother would hold me up to the tree because I was too little to reach the ripe fruit, and then I'd pull as hard as I could with both hands to get the fruit off its stalk and into her basket.

I almost never eat them now.  We moved to Virginia when I was five.  Seeing them all green and uniform under florescent supermarket lights still seems like sacrilege. But when I'm sick I crave them.  There's good medicine in mango.

Eating that mango tonight, peeling it carefully, sucking on the juice from the pulp around its core, put me in touch with my grief.  There's my small, personal grief, honoring my losses, remembering my first things, thinking about my last, and then there's grief over the earthquake in Haiti.  Mango trees represent the largest tree population in Haiti.  Its a country full of mangoes.  Environmentalists have been using mangos and other tree crops as a way to both repair the damage done to the earth and at the same time improve the nutrition and earning potential of the people.  In my mind I see a tree on its side, uprooted, its fruit smashed and scattered.  I think of a child.  Those small hands.  I think of my last things, slipping away from me.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Don't tell anyone, but I'm having a staged reading of a play I've been working on for awhile.  I decided that I wanted to write this play five years ago.  I scaled back on my directing gigs in order to write, because I knew that in my 'heart of hearts' I had to do it, even though I had no idea how to sit down at the desk with enough regularity.

Somehow I kept the story alive, but at a snail's pace, writing in fits and starts.  It  took a good three years to figure out how to get my butt in a chair often enough-- actually that isn't quite true-- I adopted the Truman Capote method and do first drafts by hand in bed.  In the meantime I was busy becoming a fierce herbalist, which is the only work I love to do that is not writing, and then it took two more years to actually get the thing written.

Anyone who says they don't believe in writers block should add the words 'for me' after making that statement.   I'll work hard to never ever ever have that kind of a block again.  Its why I write every day, even if I have a fever of 103.  Even if I'm just making lists of words I like, and words I don't like.  (As it turns out, this is a very fun game.  Besides being revealing, when I'm feeling stuck at some time in the future, I can turn to the lists and try to write something incorporating all of the words.)

I have a kick ass cast but I can't tell you about them, or advertise the reading due to union rules, but if you  email me it means that we are friends and I can invite you for free to the reading at a famous Greenwich Village theater. 

I think its kosher for me to share this much:

All the Devils are Here
Hallucinations, jazz cats, dancing demons, and the Mad Bomber set the backdrop for a journey through the Beat Scene of Greenwich Village circa 1958. Welcome to the dark roots of the soul.

Written and Directed by Kate Temple-West

Monday, January 18th, 8 PM

  RSVP katetemplewest at gee

Monday, January 11, 2010

Happy Moonday! The Moonday Experiment Continues...

One of my favorite wise, wild women, JK Lilith Canepa, said 'Let the Wildness begin!' when I told her about my Moonday Experiment.  The idea is to take some time on Mondays to honor the moon on her day by making art, poetry, or dance, and/or to indulge in some wildness, even though its Monday, which the modern world has dubbed manic, busy, full of work, chores, and generally not fun.

I've been thinking all week about wildness.  In the warmer months its easy for me to be wild. I go into nature.  But right now with the winter wind blowing full blast I've been enjoying coming home to my warm apartment, making soup and curling up with a good book.

My wildness is mostly inside of my dream life now.  I've been obsessed with dreams and dreaming for as long as I can remember.  Real healing has come from my dreams.  I also once dreamed up the plot of a novel.  I'm writing it now, so its too soon to know if its actually any good or not, but its definitely true that cultivating my dreams-- actively trying to remember them, writing them down, and then working with the images and ideas that come out of them has been incredibly creatively fruitful for me.

Here's a poem I wrote recently after dreaming about a long ended relationship.  We didn't end it with any sort of closure, and even though I've been in a very happy relationship since then, thoughts of this early train-wreck-complete-with-a-fireworks-car romance have haunted me.  After this dream I woke up with the phrase 'my cup runneth over' in my head.  I felt full of love, gratitude, and forgiveness which lasted all day, and it seems that something has permanently shifted in me, as I feel at peace about that old relationship now.  Sharing this feels scary, which counts as wildness too, I suppose.

Unsent Letter

In the dream I meet you outside of time.

There is no past or future, no open wounds or expectations.

In this place we are not lovers, but Love.

You breathe and I listen to your breath.

The rise and fall of my chest slows your heartbeat.

Our love is the same as ever, light like cotton down,

that abundant and ephemeral.

Our fingers touch and turn to quicksilver,

fleet-footed Hermes broadcasting

reparations to our trapped, troubled hearts

in the cold ragged waking world.

In the comments, I'd be thrilled if you want to share your own poem, links to your poetry, someone else's poetry that you adore, art, photography, links to videos, to stories of wildness, or just answer this question: What makes you feel truly wild?
Happy Moonday! Awoooooooo!

Sunday, January 10, 2010


"Too lazy to be ambitious,
I let the world take care of itself.
Ten days worth of rice in my bag;
a bundle of twigs by the fireplace.
Why chatter about delusion and enlightenment?
Listening to the night rain on my roof,
I sit comfortably, with both legs stretched out."
                                 ---Ryokan, trans. Stephen Mitchell

My life is the opposite of this poem at the moment, but reading it is like a mental hot bath.  Aaah.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Happy Moonday!

0 Lady Moon, your horns point toward the east;
     Shine, be increased:
0 Lady Moon, your horns point toward the west;
     Wane, be at rest.

From Sing-Song by Christina Rossetti

Here's an interesting bit of info in case you didn't know:
"The Helinistic seven-day week was essentially astrological, linked to the stars, an amalgam of astronomy, astrology, and math of the great scientific cultures of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Greece.  The days of the week were associated with those (seven) heavenly bodies that could be seen with the naked eye: the sun, the moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn.... the English weekdays come from the Anglo-Saxon translations of the planets as well as the god/goddess in whose honor they were dedicated." ~from Celestially Auspicious Occasions: Seasons, Cycles, and Celebrations by Donna Henes. (A fantastic book)

So what day does the moon, that most feminine of heavenly bodies, associated with Isis, Artemis, Oshun, with art, women, wildness, and mystery get?  The moon gets Monday, a day known in the modern world for its drudgery after the fun of the weekend.  Even though I work for myself, and could theoretically make Monday mean anything I want, I often get pulled along by the 'get to work!' vibe, doing my banking, going to the post office, and don't find myself honoring the moon much on manic Monday. 

I want this to change.  I wonder what a little conscious, weekly honoring of the moon will do for me.  I think it may do great things.  I'm excited to experiment.  So to help me in this venture, for the foreseeable future I'll be posting bits of art, poetry, and stories of wildness here on Mondays, and invite everyone to share any art/craft/ or bit of wildness here in the comments-- post a whole poem,  or link to your site with artwork of any and all kinds.  I vow to make art for art's sake on Monday-- write a poem, make a collage, dance, sing, and/or to get out in nature and howl at the moon a bit.  Hope you'll join me.