Posts Tagged ‘Commitment’

the third movie

January 18th, 2012    -    7 Comments

It’s not hard to make your first movie. It’s not hard to make your second movie. What’s hard is to make your third movie. — Meryl Streep

Meryl Streep says and does things I like. This was what she said about how hard it is to construct a career in the movies, but it applies to everything. It applies to love and commitment, family, work, physical and mental health, and everything else in your life. She means it’s hard to muster enough commitment to see things through. To keep going. To give up your expectation that anything worthwhile happens easily, without disappointment, or without trying really, really hard.

I repeat it here because of what I see so frequently repeated elsewhere about things not working out. By the time you’re approaching your third movie, you’re not new anymore. You’re not today’s darling, but you might yet become interesting. You might become resilient and resourceful, willing to make allowances. You’ll let yourself gain some weight, for instance, and do silly things with your hair. You’ll make a fool of yourself. You’ll take risks for your third movie, and every one after. Because when you do that for your third movie, you’ve realized there is only one movie. It’s called your life, and you don’t want it to end in bitterness and despair. The show has only just begun, and you love it. If you don’t love it, nobody will.

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go

November 28th, 2011    -    6 Comments

It took a very long while. Thirteen years. It took a lot of people. Nine thousand or so. We had to travel a far way. From California to Florida. To wake up awfully early. Five a.m. We took a car, a plane and then a bus before we sat on the shore of Banana Creek in the drizzle of a gray dawn to watch the Mars Science Laboratory – NASA’s newest and largest rover – lift off from Cape Canaveral.

The rover will look for the smallest signs of life.

My husband had a role in its engineering for several years. I do not recall the stretch of time with particularity. In the heroic cause of ordinary life, the days do not shine with glory.

We sat in bleachers for two hours as the minutes and clouds passed. We chatted with our neighbors, compared stories of kids and colleges, and drank coffee and hot chocolate, our gaze focused lightly on the horizon, where a shiny sliver stood against all odds that time could yet stop, or the day turn disastrous.

As the count drew down, the flight director made one more audible poll of system flight controllers for a go/no-go call, a spoken ritual broadcast on loudspeaker. There was no no given. There was only go, and again, go, and again, go.

Go.
Go.
Go, and all accounted for, go.

Certain then that neither earth nor sky would intercede, we stood and crossed our hearts and sang an anthem, then heard one last benediction, one final decree, a dedication to all the men and women who had risen each day to this task, traversing their own long years and brave distance, in the split second before their work could be judged as success or failure, taking measure by each part, each step, allowing the greatness to be no greater than the small in each of us.

And I thought to myself: Could there ever be life more intelligent than this? The propulsion of human ignition, the momentum of life itself, the genius of the inevitable, irreversible, go.

groupon nation

April 5th, 2011    -    75 Comments

Your writing will not save you. Managing to be published will not save you. Don’t be deluded. – Joyce Carol Oates

Every morning when I click on my email and see the daily offer from Groupon, I feel a little twinge. I may or may not read it. I may or may not know the business. But I definitely will not use it. I am heartsick over all the businesses that will not be saved by Groupon.

Your couponing will not save you.

This post is not about the relative merits or demerits of social couponing. Yes, I understand it is the latest big thing. It is the big thing that reminds me a lot of the last big thing. We have a remarkable capacity in this nation to make each other poor – and call it the next big thing. We have a remarkable capacity to demean and devalue each other, and degrade the decent work we all do. We might even call it progress. To want something for nothing, to take more and pay less, to come out ahead, as if we can stand taller on the cumulative loss from our cheap, daily deal making.

Don’t be deluded.

This treatise may be inspired by the bloodthirsty union-busting that passes as budget balancing in our statehouses, or the arrogant idiocy of the other side in Congress. Or it may have something to do with our income tax returns. My husband finished them last weekend, and in a sign of his unshakable goodness, he did not report that my net income last year had inched valiantly up, to the round number that is the very lowest of the low five-figures. He has, over these 16 years, made what amounts to a guaranteed, year-over-year, skyrocketing investment in my poverty.

Your writing will not save you.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not some big-timer. I am not like, say, Joyce Carol Oates, the Pulitzer Prize winner, author of bestselling books too numerous to count, collector of accolades too voluminous to mention, including several rumored Nobel Prizes, whose recent memoir from the abyss of her widowhood included the remarkable passage I quote above.

Managing to get anything will not save you.

At this point in my so-called life I feel like I did about a half-second after I got married, when I had a startling realization. Someone has to be the wife! And then a half-second after I gave birth: Someone has to be the mother! And now: Someone has to be the priest! Each of these revelations occurred after I’d made an avowed commitment to do something that I had no earthly idea how to do. That’s the way vows work: forever after, or they don’t work at all. read more

seeing through

March 23rd, 2011    -    18 Comments

Here’s the thing about your 11-year-old. She has begun to see through the school she tries to like and the teachers she tries to love. See through the endless days and the culminating years. See through the grades and contests, the History Festival, Science Fair, Math Olympics and the Cultural Appreciation Day, all serving a half-hidden agenda. She has begun to see through the false privilege of measured gifts and talents, the flimsy prize of more work and extra credit. She has begun to see through the exaggerated stakes, the badges, and the salesmanship without end. She has begun to see through the unmasked elitism, the hysteria of parents in panic. She has begun to see through anyone and anything that would make a pet or pawn of her. And that empty stare, that wounded glare she brings to you – she’s wondering if you don’t see through it too.

There is that one thing, though, that ignites her pulse and passion, that giant leap beyond reason, a goal that defies the odds. See that through. Just see that through. And scream your fool head off.

goes well with chocolates

January 19th, 2011    -    3 Comments

Some of the most profound truths come from the simplest minds and mouths.

The movie character Forrest Gump immortalized his mother’s homespun wisdom in the line, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” The saying is so pervasively repeated and unarguably true that my 11-year-old daughter, although she’s never seen the movie, quotes it to me regularly. Surrounded lately by the tasty snack buffets of holiday parties and bowl games, I arrived at my own recipe for sagacious living.

Life is like a five layer been dip. You always get out what you put in.

Everything you do well requires these five ingredients. Together, they deliver irresistible goodness and lasting satisfaction . . .

Taste and share the goodness! Continue reading this recipe for a tasty life and leave your comment at the Huffington Post.

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You can call me

January 5th, 2010    -    13 Comments

It is revealing to me now that back then I didn’t want to make a fuss about this marriage. I didn’t want to have a wedding. I didn’t want to spend the money. I didn’t want to buy a dress or take the time. I didn’t want to bear his name or wear a ring and of course I didn’t want to have his children. In my own defense, I concluded that I was being modern. I meant no harm. Nothing about it had much meaning at all, certainly not the archaic vows I spoke in a half-price hotel suite before immediate family only.Hand Wash Cold

Those of you who read my ravishingly narcissistic Facebook updates may recall that an editor recently asked for permission to delete my Dharma name – Maezen – from my byline, suggesting that it was too Asian and too religious for the sensibilities of modern Western “mindfulness” adherents. (Air quotes are my own.)

You can imagine how I responded. It was not pretty, but it was swift.

For the benefit of all, I’d like to poke into this topic, because it is a jugular.

When you give a color a name, it is the beginning of blindness. – Zen saying

A Dharma name is the name given to a student by a teacher, usually as part of a ceremony in which the student commits him or herself to the practice, or the Way. In my case, I practice in a Japanese lineage, so the name sounds Japanese. In Tibetan traditions, the name will sound Tibetan. Even outside the formal practice, your first name may sound Irish and your last name Serbian. Or English, Spanish, Dutch or Swahili. I say “sounds” because that is what all names are. They are sounds. Names are made-up utterances. I asked for a Dharma name that paid tribute to Maezumi Roshi. My current teacher, Nyogen Roshi, gave it.

Of course, just because a name is made up doesn’t mean it is meaningless.

Some people do a ceremony, get a name, and never take it. I can understand that way of thinking: it’s more modern. Some names are cumbersome. Some are easy to forget. Some sound funny. And let’s face it, a new name doesn’t ever sound like the “me” that each of us so dearly knows and loves. It’s hard to commit to anything or anyone else if your most important commitment is still to yourself. That attachment to ego blinds you.

In my sangha, we all use our Dharma names. Sure, at first, it’s awkward. We think we’ll never remember, and we forget a lot of the time. Then, we adapt. Old habits change. The mind rewires. It happens, and it happens by itself. That’s what Dharma means.

Dharma is translated as “truth” and “teaching.” And the truth teaches itself, once little old me gets out of the way.

I vow to take what I am given. – Zen priest ordination precepts

Maezen (“May-zen”) isn’t really Japanese. It isn’t Asian, and it isn’t Buddhist. It is a vow. And unlike other halfhearted vows I’ve made but never kept, I’ve vowed to take it. I wear it on my sleeve, where I can see it, and where I can be it.

It is the heart of the Dharma.

You can call me Maezen. You can call me Karen. You can call me Mrs. You can call me Buddhist. You can call me Irish. You can call me Serbian. You can call me Mom. You can call me Honey. You can call me @#%!# You can call me No One. You can call me and I will respond. The response makes all the difference.

In matters of the heart, we too often forget what we have promised to remember, and remember what is best to forget.Hand Wash Cold

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In the end analysis

June 9th, 2009    -    24 Comments


You know I’ve been married before, so you might wonder how the second time around is better than the first. Surely the first one was wrong and the second one is right?

I’ve stopped thinking that way. It seems to me that we have the same fights, the same frustrations, the same salty tears, the same low-grade despair, and yes, even the same loneliness. I’ve stopped thinking that one husband is different than the next, or even that my husband is different than yours. They all seem a lot alike to me. After two, five, ten years or more of cohabitation, they still don’t know where you keep the extra toilet paper.

In the middle of it all I remember that my husband doesn’t have a spiritual practice, so he can’t always see things clearly. In the middle of it all I remember that I do have a spiritual practice, so I try to see things clearly. I cannot find a different husband, but I can find a different me, who looks at things differently, taking more responsibility and assigning less blame, appreciating the whole instead of dividing the parts.

***
A reflection on recent social media reconnections.

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We are all Susan Boyle

April 15th, 2009    -    11 Comments

I know you’ve already seen this 5.9 million times, but this time, I want you to give yourself a “Yes” and go back to your own small village with your bad hair held high, blowing kisses to strangers.

Keep singing your song, and I will too. What else is a church volunteer to do?

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Wanna get away?

January 11th, 2009    -    21 Comments


Open your eyes.

Open your eyes and see that you are no longer in the dreary landscape you habitually occupy in your head.

This is a head’s up and sincere invitation for you to take part in two eye-0pening events coming round the bend.

The first is a Beginner’s Mind One Day Meditation Retreat I’ll be leading on Sunday, Feb. 15 at Hazy Moon Zen Center in Los Angeles. It’s perfect for you, and it’s only $25.

The second is the half-day Palo Alto Mothers Symposium at Stanford University on Saturday, March 7. It won’t be complete without you, and it’s only $20.

Now, before you tell yourself what you always do, “I can’t possibly go,” stop and open your eyes. Read aloud the next words you see here:

Let’s just see how it goes.

Let’s just see how it goes. That’s what Maezumi Roshi always said to me. It’s not just a social courtesy. Not a simplistic cliché. It is a precise instruction on how to live an enlightened life.

Open your eyes.

That brings me around to mentioning something that might seem peculiar about zazen, or Zen meditation. We meditate with our eyes open. Slightly open, but still open. What you probably think of, and maybe even do, is meditate with your eyes closed. But that’s not practicing meditation, or awareness. That’s daydreaming, or sleeping. Daydreaming is nice, but no one needs to practice it. If you want to meditate with your eyes closed, I suggest you just opt for a deep tissue massage and get total body benefit out of it. That’s what I plan to do with the gift certificate I got for Christmas.

Wanna get away?

See how it goes. See that airfares, in some cases, are delightfully low. See that cross-country or even cross-town, is amazingly close. See me smile in total rapture to finally meet you face to face.

This time of year, we might find it easy to make long-range plans and commitments to improve our health, break old habits, lose weight, enhance our productivity and save or make more money. But can we commit even a few moments to transforming our lives and everyone in it? Sure we can.

Open your eyes and see.

Counting it up

September 23rd, 2008    -    9 Comments


How many times I’ve received the Kilkenny email about Palin: 4
How many times I’ve given to the Obama campaign: 1

How many times I’ve received the Women Against Palin email: 3
How many times I’ve given to the Obama campaign: 1

How many times I’ve received the Gloria Steinem essay about Palin: 5
How many times I’ve given to the Obama campaign: 1

How many times I’ve received the Anne Lamott essay about Palin: 3
How many times I’ve given to the Obama campaign: 1

How many times I’ve received the email to give to Planned Parenthood in Palin’s name: 4
How many times I’ve given to the Obama campaign: 1

As much as I like to receive, I know first-hand that receiving even the most inspiring words won’t change the outcome of anything. I’m giving to the Obama campaign today, because I’ve done the math, and I have a lot of catching up to do.

Give $15. Give what you have, or (like me) give money you don’t yet have. Join me in changing the outcome of everything.

Where in the world

April 23rd, 2008    -    13 Comments


My husband gave me a new car. This is a gift of staggering dimension, and I’m only now, as they say, beginning to “wrap my mind around it.”

It was not a surprise. On Christmas morning he handed me a piece of paper with the picture of a car on it, the car he had determined was right for my needs: hauling all kinds of precious and ever-growing cargo. Then he spent several more months deliberating on the features that were the ones he thought I deserved.

My old car was doing fine, but at 12 years old, it could definitely be called old. I had driven it from Texas to California in 1997 and it symbolized the life I had left behind: a life of workaday grind, grief and stress, yet relative solitude and independent ease; a life without a child, a dog, a Brownie troop and Keebler crumbs. Mine was the kind of car that never fails, yet lately, when pressed to make a road trip, I felt better off renting some reliability.

When we arrived at the dealership, I could tell from the start that times had changed since the last time I bought a new car.

I remember the delivery process like this. You sit behind the wheel with the salesman beside you. He shows you the refined and slightly unfamiliar features of the dash: the windshield wipers, the gear shift, the lights, the stereo, the AC, the adjustable steering column, the cruise control, the CD changer (!), the remote side mirrors (!), the cupholders (!).

There was none of that.

Instead, we sat in the front seat and he began punching a touchscreen that occupies the center of the cockpit. As a car marketing professional, he must have sensed the slight quiver that was about to send my female eyeballs orbiting, because he said:

I’ll never buy another car without one of these.

Hmm, I thought, I’d better keep my opinions to myself.

His fingers were flying through maneuvers that I would never remember.

You can find the nearest Starbucks, for example.

Isn’t there one on every corner?

When you’re alone on the road this will lead you straight to the nearest Chinese restaurant.

If I’m ever again alone on the road I’m heading straight to China.

I’ve already programmed in your home address.

Can’t I just go back the way I came?

I considered it all harmless folly, even when he handed me the owner’s manuals. That’s right, two manuals. The manual for operating the car was 584 pages. The manual for operating the GPS system was 274 pages.

My husband sensed my trepidation and said, “Want to just follow me?”

And I did. Things went smoothly until he decided to try a shortcut. Then the map started scolding me, in that mildly sensual yet patronizing voice inherited from patriarchal computer forebears.

Right turn in one-quarter mile, she suggested.

Left turn in one hundred yards, she intoned.

Right turn ahead, she insisted.

Left turn ahead, she shrieked, and shot me in the head.

The commands elevated in urgency as the system rapidly reconfigured the route to accommodate my husband’s own innovative guidance choices one car ahead. Once we arrived home I was drenched in flop sweat and palpitating with fury.

I did not set my ass in that car again for one week.

Oh I know there’s plenty of gender psychology at work here, but I consider it all too obvious to mention.

Suffice it to say this may well be the car that I deserve, but I’m more convinced than ever that I don’t deserve it.

Honey, I said carefully to my husband one morning, I just don’t find myself getting lost that often.

Compassionately, he disabled the GPS and I’m getting used to driving again. I’ve located the radio. But I haven’t yet ventured toward the windshield wipers.

And I know in my gut what the lesson is. If I can overcome my aversion, if I can truly find my way around it, then I will finally be getting somewhere.

When it pours

January 31st, 2008    -    20 Comments


The other week my h-u-s-b-a-n-d stayed home on a Friday. What? Turns out his office closes every other Friday. What? But he’s usually either out of town or so busy that he can’t spare the day at home. What?

But on this day he’s home working, and I’m home working and he seems happy enough and then he looks up, a little disoriented, and asks what time our daughter gets out of school. I tell him 2:15. Then he says,

Maybe I’ll just go to a movie.

Now in all the nearly five years since my daughter started preschool, it has never once occurred to me to go to a movie during the daytime, during a weekday, when I could have stayed home and slaved like a worn-out washerwoman.

So I looked up at him dumbstruck and I thought, What is wrong with me? Why hasn’t it ever occurred to me to enjoy myself on a Friday before 2:15? But what I said was,

You could clean the rain gutters.

Cleaning the rain gutters, like nearly everything I do around here, is a job I don’t particularly like doing but a job I like to get done. In my first marriage, we paid someone to come around once a year and do the job for us. But that was before I took so seriously all those vows of worse and sickness and poorer. For all the years Ned and I have been together I’ve done the gutters on my own.

So he looked up at me and without even a sideways glance or a rolled eye, he said,

OK.

This is all I have to offer you. In a month when LA County has recorded about 55,000 inches of rainfall, he said OK, climbed up to the roof and rooted the mushy guck from the swollen gutters, and this is my testament, my only secret to a happy marriage.

***

We’ve plumb run out of fun with marriage this week. But you can still claim your chance to win an autographed copy of my book, Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood by leaving a comment on Monday’s post. The winner will be drawn after 12 noon PST on Sunday, Feb. 3. Good luck!

It only looks like a doughnut

January 30th, 2008    -    14 Comments

I’ve written before about the kind of work my h-u-s-b-a-n-d does. He’s in the long-distance business, the very long-distance business. Outer space.

Specifically, now he’s working on Mars. Seriously. When you work on Mars it involves daily side trips to the far reaches of Pasadena and occasional launches to Los Alamos, Washington and France. Before he worked on Mars, he worked on a couple of asteroids, which was a kind of a code word for Italy and Germany. When we met on that fateful evening in Florence, Italy, 13 years ago he was actually working on Saturn.

So you think it’s a surprise to me that I find myself alone so much? I always say the same thing to my friends in a similar circumstance, although it’s nubby comfort: Every mother is a single mother.

Now careful: I mean no offense to the single mothers who are fathers, or to the single mothers who really are single mothers. I do not know the depth of fear or frustration or anxiety, the financial hardship, the personal sacrifice, the sadness, the isolation or the inconsolable straits you may find yourself in, I only sense that most of us are in these things alone.

To his credit, Ned tries to interest me in the curious question of the composition, age and origin of the dust on the surface of the red planet, but that is not the aim of my life’s mission. My mission is to uncover the truth of my life on Earth, a mission that in my earlier days I had no earthly interest in at all. And so I know that I am indeed lucky to have this field to roam so freely on my own, to resolve my questions, to find the deep source of life and love right where I stand.

Even so, Ned’s absence gives me time and space to make trouble; it lets me boil and burn in my own flaming grievance; it invariably wears out my welcoming heart. He’s always happy to come home, and I am usually quite pissy about it. He has this habit of stopping near the airport and picking up two doughnuts as a coming home prize for Georgia and me. How is it that I can hate when he does that, but love when he does that? I eat mine promptly that night or next morning.

When I eat that doughnut, mind you, it only looks like a doughnut. What I am eating is my own clogged heart and deep-fried resentment. I’m swallowing residual anger and bad attitude. I’m chomping that ever-living ego of mine back to a manageable size so we can start over.

The search for intelligent life involves a lot of starting over and an advanced form of mathematics. As my daughter wrote in an email to her dad last night: YOU + ME + MOM + MOLLY (the dog) = 1.

***

Join me for more fun with marriage all week. And just for grins, here’s your chance to win an autographed copy of my book, Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood by leaving a comment on Monday’s post. The winner will be drawn after 12 noon PST on Sunday, Feb. 3. Good luck!

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