The monkish (married?) life

September 4th, 2016

buslife2I’m living the monk’s life in my green turtle bus, up on the bluff over the lagoon.

Wake up, chop wood and carry water, wash my panties in a pail and hang them to dry in the sun. Sit a bit, stretch a bit, watch the tides roll out and in. Out, and in. Soak some beans, then boil them slowly on the two-burner hotplate, seasoned with garden tomatoes, zucchini and herbs. Eat. Wash. Empty toilet bucket into pit. Sleep. Start again.

I wonder how my monk life will mesh with my married life … I wonder, but can’t know. The beauty is, we are grownups. We make up the rules.  It is my life, it is our life, it is art: all one grand experiment.

Carmen getting hitched

August 10th, 2016

cute daniel & carmenDig this: Carmen is getting married. Yes you heard that right: CARMEN is getting MARRIED.

I’ve been super skittish about outing myself on this because frankly, it is about the scariest thing i’ve ever done in my life (and i’ve done some pretty scary things).

What is most scary about it I realize – what is actually flipping my stomach over and keeping me awake nights – is not that i don’t want to do it, or that i think it is a bad idea. I’m into it. What is scaring the living shit out of me is that getting married totally messes with the carefully constructed edifice of identity that i have spent 53 years building up. I swore I would never do this, and ha ha, the gods laughed. (The gods on their mountain snicker into their sleeves when they hear the words ‘never’ and ‘forever’.) I’ve ranted about marriage a thousand times, about how it is obsolete, patriarchal, neurotic, restrictive and destructive. In many ways I still believe that. But enough of my beliefs. There is nothing healthier than doing that very thing that makes everyone say SHE DID WHAT?! Carmen did WHAT?! That is the thing to do. And I’m doing it.

It’s the Pink Notebook, writ large.

I feel fully committed to Daniel as companion, helpmate, and lover. I am ready to take on the experiment of living in partnership, and I’m stoked for the adventure with all its challenges. We’ve done very well for the past year-and-a-half, maintaining the long-distance relationship with frequent border-crossings and rendezvous. But it is clear that this experiment can’t go much farther until we can normalize our relationship by living closer together, and so we will take this step.

So here is the deal, as it unfolds. On Sept. 24, in California, Daniel and I will be married (I’m still working on not rolling my eyes when I say that, and cannot allow the W-word into my vocabulary without invoking white gowns and flights of turtledoves). It’ll happen at Daniel’s mom Beverly’s place near Sacramento. Panther will be in attendance not merely as Good Dog, but as Best Dog. My brother Bennett will preside as Head Chef over the barbecue and salads. We are hoping Beverley will make her famous cheesecake. PattiPow may grace us with a tune or two on the ukulele. We will make our vows, and be witnessed and supported by a small gathering of our families, both chosen and blood.

There will be rings, and we’ll exchange them. Mine is simple hand-beaten silver. It’s weight feels good on my hand. Daniel’s is also silver, but a little more fancy and tribal. We have different styles. Mine fits best on my middle finger and that is where Daniel will place it. For me the ring is not a brand to exhibit, but a reminder to myself of our bond and my vows. I resist the notion that in taking this step I will somehow vault the fence to join the other team—the team of claimed and beloved people. I am already a well-loved and entirely valid person, owned by myself and my community. On September 25th, I will still be loved and valid, and I will still be me. I won’t be a Married Person any more than I have been a Single Person. I will just be this empty vessel called Me, moving forward on the path of partnership, casting aside old labels and assumptions that no longer serve me. At the same time, I am ready to be surprised at how these vows may work in me. When I took vows two years ago to accept Jukai (Lay Precepts of Zen) I experienced a chemical transformation that I could not have expected. Vowing is powerful and mysterious medicine.

Living by vow, not by blind habit—that is the goal. I vow to commit myself to this path of inquiry, with courage and curiosity. White doves be damned.

Mountains and molars sesshin

July 23rd, 2016

View-from-the-Lookout-at-SSRC-AfternoonI sat this sesshin with my best buddy, the angry Molar.

The Zen retreat was at a small Tibetan Buddhist center at the foot of Black Tusk, in the forest near Squamish. I got a ride up to the retreat with Kaye, an RN specializing in mental health care. She counselled me to take Ibuprofen at regular intervals, and if my face puffed up,  to get myself to the hospital pronto. She also divulged my job assignment for the sesshin: I was to be Ino. The Ino is ‘practice coordinator’, or ‘mother hen’. My job was to care for everyone else’s pain.

Hour after hour, I hung out with the howling Molar. I tried my best to observe it with kindness and curiosity. At lunch I chomped down on a bit of red pepper. My head, a brass gong, hit by a hammer. I recovered in time to clack the wooden sticks to signal the next round of oryoki. On with the show.

Teacher Kate dropped a dharma talk about mountains and waters. She said that mountains walk, and people sit; mountains are created within us; the elements trade places; earth water fire and air, volcanoes and glaciers and bugs and grass … we are the mountain and the mountain is us, nothing existing alone. Meanwhile, Molar screamed bloody murder. My body feverish, limbs heavy and throbbing. Fire inside, fluids thickening, minerals mixing, breathing in, breathing out. Everything rushing to aid poor little Molar and its suffering root. My body the mountain, knows how to heal. In five elements I place trust: in earth, in water, in fire, in Ibuprofen, and in air.

If there was an empty cushion in the zendo, it was my assignment to track down its missing occupant. If someone felt woozy and left the room I followed them out. I made sure the sick ones had food and the sore ones got chairs. I woke up the nappers so they wouldn’t miss tea. I chased down almond milk and calamine lotion and extra blankets. I fussed and cared. I soothed. I noticed that my particular pain was temporary, where others’ was chronic. Vivid to me was the fact that this pain, that I was feeling, was pain—but it wasn’t mine. I was not it, and it did not belong to me.

On the third day the fever passed and my energy started to return.

I unzipped the mosquito door of Teacher Michael’s dokusan tent and stepped in. I prostrated to the buddha, took my seat on the cushion, and told Michael about Molar. His face creased in sympathetic pain. Then he cheerfully assured me, in typical Zen style, that this toothache is great practice for what is yet to come.

Molar and I bowed and stepped out of the tent. We took our mug of milky tea down to the lake. A glossy brown bear strode out of the woods and rambled down the beach. It stopped, raised its head, sniffed toward us. Then it turned, and melted back into the mountain.

<photo: view from the lookout at Sea to Sky Retreat Center>

Angels on every corner

July 2nd, 2016

brianMy bike got nicked while I was running the door for PattiPow’s choir concert, at the Korean Hall at Hastings & Clark. The ol’ slippery pole trick got me. I locked my bike to a sign post with not-one-but-two heavy-duty U-locks, and even gave the pole a firm tug to ensure that it was solid before I walked away. The thief simply pulled out the bolt at the bottom of the post and slid it out. Bike vanished, U-locks and all.

PattiPow hugged me and said don’t worry chum, I’ll help you. Tomorrow we will go out and look for your bike. We’ve done this before and we’ll do it again. Conrad Schmidt was loading a/v gear into his van behind the Hall when I came trudging down the alley in the rain, feeling pathetic in my yellow bike jacket with my helmet on my arm like an empty shell. Quick, jump in the van, Conrad said. We’ll drive around and look for your bike. Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t lose your bike key

June 18th, 2016

mutantbikeWhen I help a customer in the bike shop to choose a new lock, my standard spiel includes: “…and it comes with five identical keys. Don’t carry them all around together”.

So guess what I did?

Five days ago with the best of intentions, I finally reclaimed my old mountainbike from Red Sara’s crowded shed. This is a strange little brass-coloured mutant my brother Bennett bought for me at a Toronto auction maybe 15 years ago, which I brought back to Vancouver on the plane. It is a weird unlabeled prototype with fat aluminum tubing, high-quality components and fancy gold axles. Read the rest of this entry »


May 17th, 2016

Dai_Bosatsu_Zendo_Kongo-Ji_2Silent in the zendo face to the wall, Sangha surrounds me. Conventional wisdom says that the reason we gather is to support our practice, but I wonder again whether really the practice is just reason for sangha. Stripped down to essence of presence we don’t even pretend to drink coffee or walk or even talk. We just sit. Together. That’s enough.

I am thinking about Sangha:community. About why we need other people, and the ways we have of satisfying that need. I call up a friend to have coffee, play Scrabble, walk in the park, go to a show. Read the rest of this entry »

Dumpstering on Granville Island

April 9th, 2016

Granville-Island-ShoppingI’ve been taking a course with Michael Stone down on Granville Island (more on that soon). The Island —which is technically not an Island but a Landfill—is an urban wonderland of hidden treasures and oddities. My coolest new discovery is the big green dumpster in front of the trés-upscale Public Market. Yesterday a quick exploration yielded carrots, green onions, and a package of baby pattypans. The day before, a fine cabbage, a perfectly good red pepper, many red and yellow potatoes, and a small Read the rest of this entry »

A twig in my teeth

March 14th, 2016

danger-sign-cliffA daydreaming monk falls off a cliff. As the monk is plunging downward he sees a twig sticking out from the side of the sheer cliff, and he manages to grab the twig with his teeth (yeah!). He is hanging by his teeth, above certain death, when a student arrives on the beach far below. The student calls up to the monk: “Oh wise monk, why did Bodhidharma come from the west?!” Obliged to deliver the dharma, the monk knows that if he opens his mouth he will fall to his death.

The power of the question is lost in the answer. Read the rest of this entry »

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