First is last

Suffering from the peculiarly exhausting cocktail of jubilation, mileage, time change and things-to-do, I opened up the mail yesterday to find at long last the arrival of our his-and-her first edition Obama-Biden car magnets, the ones we anteed up for months ago in hopes of having the final word on the subject.

That’s OK. I think these two will stick around for awhile.

Now do you believe?

Happy days are here again.

And this is unbearably sweet: my girl, born in the dwindling days of 1999, insisted on staying up past storytime, past bedtime, to see the returns on TV. This is her president; this is her time; this is her change; this is her country; this is her faith; this is hers. Thank you, thank you, for giving it to her, and for allowing me to watch, tears welling, doubts receding, as she asked, “Where’s Joe?”

This is her vice president too.

This is all more than I can say, but everything we deserve.

America, my home.

In case you ever thought one person didn’t matter

Just hold up your hand.

Wear in love

I’m back from my very long trip to a very close destination – a meditation retreat at the Black Scorpion Temple near Tepotzlan, Mexico. A Zen retreat is the most thorough instruction in being present to the life of no distance, the life right in front of you. Thank you friends for watching this space over my silent week with no expectations.

Coming home after time away is startling in more ways than one. Parents on the school playground might say something like, “You look rested,” and I usually think, Who me?

A monastic retreat schedule can seem overwhelming. Doing it is completely undoing. It demands all of the effort you usually exert avoiding paying attention. It wrings all the worry and distraction out of you. It produces the most beneficial kind of fatigue. It uses you up and fills you with nothing at all. Who me?

So that’s how it was coming home to a dark house last night after a long travel day. I saw a small package in the stack of mail on the kitchen table. I knew what it was. I am brimming with the sweetness of it, and I have not even opened it yet. Inside is a name. Who me?

A dear new mother and artist Stacy de la Rosa, sent it to me as a gift. Inside the box is a hand-stamped pendant with a name. The pendant is like these, photographed more beautifully than I will be able to. The name is Maezen. It is what we Buddhists call a dharma name, the name given to me by my teacher when I took the formal precepts as a student. Some people see it and think it is my maiden name, and in a way it is. That’s okay. Nearly everyone sees it and wonders how to say it. That’s okay too. In my sangha, or practice community, it is the only name anyone calls me.

When we take a dharma name, it is a subtle and profound teaching in how attached we are to concepts. Our mind is so swiftly conditioned to an acquired understanding of names and labels. Like all forms of delusion, we attach and identify erroneously with names when they are just tools. Identifying yourself with a certain name is like mistaking the fork for the food.

And yet names are very powerful, as powerful as anything and everything if we completely embody it without a second thought. The name Maezen is one that I not so discreetly asked for in tribute to my first teacher Maezumi Roshi. His name was pronounced (by most of us) as My-zumi. The name I now carry is pronounced (by most of us) as May-zen. Bearing it helps me to remember him, and to forget as well.

Who me?

I see the words that Stacy wrote on the accompanying card, and having worn myself to a point of unhesitating attention, I will do exactly what it says.

Wear in love. Isn’t that beautiful? I so recommend that you wear it too. No matter what you call it, love is what answers to everything.

Bumpkin Palinator

Hey kids! This is really fun and educational too. Use the Pumpkin Simulator to carve up your own quickly disappearing electoral map. But remember, as scary as it might appear, this picture is being made out of a completely empty gourd. So make yours quick, because a face like this won’t last long after Halloween!

By any other name

Children’s books that forever changed my life.

Of course, you say, of course she’d like that book. She chose the name.

My daughter is named Georgia, but not for the artist O’Keeffe. My daughter is named for two great-grandfathers on both sides of her family. One an architect; one a farmer.

So this book, once again, is rather for me. Georgia O’Keeffe is my namesake, my mentor, as an artist and an independent being. As a heart and an eye and a hand that saw the big truth in small things.

My Name is Georgia
A Portrait by Jeanette Winter

Her entire life story is told in these 48 pages of spare text and evocative illustrations. Her own girl, with her own way and her own way of seeing. Drawn by the urge to meet the faraway up close, to render mysteries plain and true so people would see.

I went to the New Mexico desert.
So far away that no one ever comes.
I was satisfied to be all by myself.
I did things other people don’t do.

I painted my sky BIG,
so people would see the sky the way I did.

Find the fearless footprint, hear the song of truth and echo it back over the mountains. Paint your life BIG so people will see.

My earlier favorites are shelved here, here and here.

On little cat feet

Children’s books that forever changed my life.

It turns out I have an affinity for things French (besides fools and fries). Today I send you in the direction of a cat that travels, in the inscrutably self-actualized nature of a cat, across the entire country of France to find his original home.

This is the sweetest, shortest evocation of a spiritual sojourn that I have ever read.

The Cat Who Walked Across France
By Kate Banks
Pictures by Georg Hallensleben

Kitty lives in a stone house by the sea until the day he is shipped north, with all the other lifelong belongings of the old woman who once scratched his ears and stroked his back. Soon he is forgotten among the unclaimed and disused. Until one day he leaves.

Children playing ball would chase after him. And the cat would scurry up a tree. But when he nestled in its branches, he would remember the tangy smell of lemons ripening on a branch under a window at the stone house by the edge of the sea. And he would move on.

May we all move on through a life as lush as the French landscape until we reach a wide open front door, settle into a warm, familiar spot and come to rest, knowing we are home.

Earlier recommendations here and here.

The last to leave the shelf

Children’s books that forever changed my life.

I often tell people that every book they read to a child they read to themselves, and therefore not to miss the urgent message that is being delivered into their own hands, from none other than their own lips, and through their own eyes.

Of late, as I’ve recounted, the shelves of my daughter’s room have been cleared of those things that never had much to give or from which every use has already been wrung. A few children’s books remain, all of which my daughter has outgrown, none of which I have or ever will.

This week I’m going to recommend them to you. Some are rather obscure; others, not. Each of them arrived into my hands and heart when I needed them most. Every time I read them is precisely when I need them most. I entrust their magic to you.

Pierre’s Dream
By Jennifer Armstrong
Pictures by Susan Gaber

Pierre is a lazy, foolish man who has no job, no interests and no hobby besides sitting under the olive trees in the afternoon thinking of dinner. That alone recommends him as a hero to me, however in this telling he does far more. He falls asleep, and he begins to dream a dream of fantastic proportions and unbelievable feats.

“Very realistic,” he murmured. But as it was his dream, or so he thought, he had no fear. “For of course, I can wake up at any time,” he reminded himself.

Pierre taught me to stop distinguishing between those things I only dream of doing, and those I do. He teaches me still. The distinction, you see, is only fear.

Pierre’s dreams are very realistic, and so are yours. Wake up and surprise yourself beginning with this book!

Disputation on the sudden appearance of sunlight

Because we are longing for the slightest glimmer of change on the horizon, and because it can be seen.

Day before yesterday I was pulling weeds or raking leaves or some such that comprises my morning rounds on this ranch and I heard the buzz of chainsaws, then the crack of a branch and breathed a gust of dust that came over the back fence.

The property to the rear is derelict and has been for decades, overgrown with monstrous trees and thickets, a forgotten ramble and a pit, with ragged shacks and sheds and a wildlife population so vile that we could only smile and call it Raccoon Lodge. I’d noticed on my strolls when the lot had gone on the market, the near eternity that it had been sale-pending and knew with the noise that the closing date had been crossed.

The routine rumble we’ve always heard on our street has been quiet of late, a deafening lull, as the upgrades and add-ons and even tree trims wait for the return of good days and easy money. It might be awhile coming. It might be a good, bad, sad, tight, taut, crying out loud long time ’til those days are here again. With everything and all getting worse and no way to tell, I don’t mind too much that something blasphemously new and huge is probably about to go up adjacent to me.

I don’t mind anymore. Because about four o’clock yesterday afternoon, after the crew had quit, and the work was done, and I walked into my kitchen, and I looked out the window toward the western sky, I saw the wide open sky, through my own leafy cover, the dreamy blue and the streaming sun, the light that had been eclipsed for so long by the tangle of rotten trees and vines, by the dark of gloom, by an unkempt past. I saw the sun, I saw the future, and I saw the incalculable density of dog hair, glistening gold each and every strand, hair that blankets my floors, heretofore unseen, and I knew the truth with a certainty that I must speak and console you with here.

It’s going to be okay. We’re going to be fine. The light has arrived.

That, and a merciful vacuum cleaner.

One step to normal

When girls turn 9 quite a bit begins to change and you may no longer see so intimately eye to eye. Then you realize they’ve been waiting all their lives to have the high ground under their feet.

Me: You are growing so much! (With poorly masked dismay over the rapidly outgrown clothes, the discarded toys and the little girl lost.)

Her: Maybe that means I’ll be a normal-sized person some day!

I don’t have to tell you that she already fills the sky and outshines the sun, but normal is good enough too. Normal will do.

Tangled up in feelings

Overture to a yard sale in which a mass of mangled Barbies sold for the unsentimental sum of $2.50.

He said: You’ve got to understand my feelings. I’m watching my daughter’s childhood go out the front door.

She said: That’s true, your daughter’s childhood goes out the front door every day. Let’s not mistake her childhood for a piece of plastic.

The finale: $238 and a change of heart, plus a very happy girl who can bank in all ways on the outcome.

The encore: I nearly forgot! For more on my feelings, or unfeelings, about Barbies, read this magazine article from a while ago. I still find her to be quite the educational toy.

The fall of the smart house

Could be a metaphor for our economic collapse, and it is, but it’s not.

By my bleary reckoning, it might have been 4 a.m. when Georgia got out of bed, walked across the darkness, said “I don’t feel well,” and threw up on the white wool carpet in my sister’s tony new townhouse.

It was a stunning flood of Mexican beans and rice and milk, a regurgitation that transfixed a mother into the gripping awareness that the day to come wouldn’t be going her way. At 9 a.m. my daughter and I would be boarding an airplane for a flight from Houston to LA. This was a new one for me: traveling with a five-year-old through the turbulence of stomach flu.


She spit up at steady intervals, giving my lame hope of a less paralyzing diagnosis no time to coagulate. It was the crowning blow to what had been a triumphant return to my old hometown.

I’d been hired to do two days of media training for the wealth management division of a regional bank. Damn I’m good! I’d brought Georgia along to visit old friends and family. I can do it all! On the eve of leaving, we’d gone out for a Houston twofer: Tex-Mex and margaritas. Life is sweet, with salt on the rim!

I was satisfied that I still had it. (The business thing.) I’d figured it out. (The mommy thing.) I was a sassy smartass at the top of my game.

Two hours later, I hunched over the wheel of my rental car heading up the interstate, one eye on the rear view mirror watching Georgia double over into a plastic Target shopping bag. My baby would have to fly 2,000 miles with her face in that bag. What else could I do? I’d never done this. I’d never been in this bind. I knew nothing. For all my bravura, the smug congratulation of the night before, we were starting all over again. Day 1.

About then I realized: It’s always Day 1, you dummy.

I begged and consoled, consoled and begged. “If you make it home I’ll buy you a Barbie Smart House,” I said, kissing her sweaty neck, shielding her convulsions in the window seat.

This was a mommy Hail Mary. The Barbie Happy Family Smart House was an $80 obscenity, just the latest in an onslaught of overpriced molded plastic monstrosities that possessed my daughter, still immersed in her all-Barbie, all-day play stage. I’d refused it a dozen times over. Drawn a line in the sand. But now I reached for it like a miracle cure.

It worked. By the time we made it home, she was sipping Sprite and bubbling with nothing but anticipation. I was so grateful and proud and humbled. It had become the happiest day of our lives.


I’ve wised up so I’m not running the Chicago Marathon this Sunday. My former running partner and I are staging a marathon of another kind, a garage sale. No, it won’t be worth it, but this time the Smart House is going.

It’s Day 1 all over again. The happiest day of our lives.

And what’s this? See if you’re a quack happy winner of our latest giveaway here.

Goodbye to everything else

This year,
My sister broke her fall
My dog broke her knee
And through it all, there was one good thing
My deal disappeared
My words dried up
And through it all, there was one good thing
My other sister lost her job
My hopes took a hit
And through it all, there was one good thing
My bank failed
My future all but vanished in a day
And through it all, there was one good thing
My country collapsed
My happy ending kaput
And through it all, there was one good thing
A good so good it cannot be called good.
A thing so vast it cannot be called a thing.
A one so many it can only be called one.

Life keeps proving it cannot be grasped.
May you be safe
May we all be safe here forever
as One.

Photo by Kevin Carden
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