Category Archives: blogging

Your Clear Refusal of Our World

My aunt Ros was organizing some books a couple of weeks ago, when one of them fell and opened to this poem…

 

For a Child Born Dead

What ceremony can we fit

You in now? If you had come

Out of a warm and noisy room

To this, there’d be an opposite

For us to know you by. We could

Imagine you in a lively mood

 

And then look at the other side,

The mood drawn out of you, the breath

Defeated by the power of death.

But we have never seen you stride

Ambitiously the world we know.

You could not come and yet you go.

 

But there is nothing now to mar

Your clear refusal of our world.

Not in our memories can we mould

You or distort your character.

Then all our consolation is

That grief can be as pure as this.

                                                      -Elizabeth Jennings (1926)

 

Ros typed the poem out, printed it and glued it to the back of a little chickadee painting photo, which she sent to us.

The poem struck me and brought me to tears.

Elizabeth, the author of this poem, describes the sudden death of her child as “your clear refusal of our world.”

Oh how rejected I felt by my daughter when she died.

“We created such a beautiful home for you!” I cried after her death. “We got everything ready. I dusted, cleaned, planted a garden, raked leaves; we hammered in every nail on the back porch so your soft, fat legs didn’t get scraped by them. I practiced Spanish and French so you could hear me in the womb and grow up bilingual! I meditated with you every morning, I read you books, I imagined your whole life stretched out in front of us. We were going to take you on bicycle tours, take you to France to meet your relatives, take you to India to hang out with your monk uncle! You were going to have such an awesome life! Why didn’t you want it? Why didn’t you want us? How could you leave me like this?”

But then Elizabeth says, “Not in our memories can we mould or distort your character. Then, all our consolation is that grief can be pure as this.”

Chickadee was and is the perfect child. She never grew up and became tainted by the many sorrows of this world. She never had a drug problem, or yelled at me “I hate you!”. She never became depressed.

How true are Elizabeth’s words to me.

Later, I reread the poem and examined the date on which it had been written. 1926. That was almost a hundred years ago.

Almost a hundred years ago this woman experienced a loss and grief so similar to mine that the poem she wrote is one I could have written.

Grief is universal. Joy is universal. Pain is universal. Happiness is universal. Who knew that a grief this specific could be so universal? I knew and yet I needed this poem as a reminder.

Whatever you are feeling right now, whatever pain you are experiencing, whatever longing you’re having, remember this:

You are not alone.

Somewhere in the world, and at many points in history, there is someone who has felt or is feeling what you are feeling. Someone has gone through what you’re going through. Someone is going through what you are currently experiencing. Someone will experience what you are going through in the future.

Thank you, Elizabeth Jennings, for writing that poem, and Ros for finding it and sending it to us. 🙂

P.S. We are going to be releasing an E.P. in honor of our daughter’s one year anniversary, called “Chickadee”. When you preorder the album, your name will be printed on the inside of the album cover, to memorialize you as one of the people who made the project possible. Click here to preorder: https://thelovesprockets.bandcamp.com/album/chickadee

P.P.S. If you preorder “Chickadee” for $25 or more, you will get a surprise in the mail along with the new album (it might be a beautifully hand painted pair of underwear, a T-shirt, a postcard, who knows?) Click here to preorder: https://thelovesprockets.bandcamp.com/album/chickadee

Happy happy

I’ve heard that while we are babies, we can still remember our past life, and that we know many things which we slowly forget as time passes.

My mom said that when I was very little, my first words were, “Happy happy!” I would say this while bouncing and clapping my hands. She always gets a big smile on her face when she tells me that.

This morning I was meditating and practicing the Four Establishments of Mindfulness. During the second part, which is feelings, I was breathing in and saying internally, “I feel happy”, and then breathing out and saying, “I feel happy.” In that moment I saw myself as a little girl, bouncing and chanting, “Happy happy.”

I thought, “Wow, I already had this all figured out back then. I guess I forgot and now I’m reminding myself.”

I wonder if I still remembered who I was when I was learning to say “Happy.”

It’s funny and terrifying, but someone recently compared the process of re-birth, or reincarnation, to be like “attending junior high school, over and over again.”

Maybe I am currently relearning things I already know. But hopefully I’m getting better at them each time around. 🙂

How to be a badass

The man sits perfectly still in his dark brown robes, his back erect, his eyes bright and smiling. The rest of us in the room are shifting, straightening or re-bending a leg, pushing shoulders back to keep from slumping.

A giant golden Buddha sits behind Thay Tihn Mahn, a similar smile curving the statue’s lips.

Thay Tihn Mahn is answering a question, a question about how to let go of bad memories or experiences.

“When I was a child during the Vietnam war,” the monk is saying, “I saw many of my friends and neighbors killed or raped. It was very traumatic for me to see.”

His Vietnamese accent is so strong, it has taken all afternoon for me to get accustomed to the way he pronounces words, and the inflections he uses. But he speaks clearly and slowly, and I can still barely believe what I am hearing.

“I could have been consumed with hatred and anger for these people who were killing and raping. But that would be very harmful to me, and to the world.”

As he speaks, he looks from each on of us to the next person, holding eye contact for what seems like many minutes at a time.

“Instead, I had to look back at these situations. I had to look back at these memories, so painful, and see how I could find compassion for these people. That is the only way I could transform the pain.”

Everyone in the circle is watching Tihn Mahn, and perhaps they are as amazed as I am to see this man, who is so incredibly kind and ready to smile, and to realize what he had to overcome to get to the place he is now.

“So we must take our pain, our suffering,” he went on, “and make it into our strength. Through finding compassion for the people we are angry with, we become very strong.”

And here I am, sitting in front of this man who sends loving-kindness to murderers and rapists, and I feel a little silly.

I thought I was really making strides, practicing compassion for friends or family who I only perceive as causing me suffering. I feel accomplished when I take my feelings of disappointment or hurt, and I channel them into loving-kindness, and come out the other side feeling more peaceful, more at ease. That’s great and all, good for me…

But practicing loving-kindness for people who murdered your friends and neighbors? This is a whole new level of understanding and it’s really raising the bar for me.

As we drive home I wonder where Thay Tihn Mahn came from, and how he ended up building a Buddhist monastery in the mountains near Denver.  Do the people speeding on the highway below realize that a 40 foot statue of the Goddess of Compassion is gazing down at them from those mountains?

I hope one day I can be a badass like Tihn Mahn. 🙂

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If you have a minute, write a comment and say hi to me. I love hearing from you. Tell me your thoughts or share a story of what you did to get through a tough experience.

Love,

Jahnavi

P.S. By the way, my band (The Love Sprockets) is releasing our next E.P., dedicated to our daughter, Chickadee. You can preorder it here: http://music.thelovesprockets.com/album/chickadee

Every Situation is a Passing Memory

Do you ever feel like you’re living in a dream? Like, what actually makes our dreams less real than our “real life”?

When I was a teenager, I would get a kick out of going wide-eyed and saying to my best friend, “What if our dreams are real life and right now we’re just dreaming??”

Sometimes I was sure I would finally “wake up”, and my true love—Leonardo DiCaprio of course—would be sitting by my bedside holding my hand, crying tears of joy as my eyes flutter open.

Pema Chodron says, “Every situation is a passing memory.” Think about it. Everything we do, every moment, every thought is always swiftly becoming a memory. Every second that passes becomes a memory.

And you are a part of my memories, a part of what I identify to be my self. Walker Bob, Tom Weis, Maria, Alice, John Gray, Bhakta Priya, Govardhana, Chiara. The list goes on.

Bob read a poem I wrote the other day, and we cried together, hundreds of miles apart.

Tom Weis, in a dream, has his bicycles and a small trailer attached to the back of our future school-bus home.

I talked to Maria on the phone while we were on tour last week, and she was organizing multi-colored fabrics and decomposing bison masks and boxes of feathers and bones and skulls while we talked. “Do you know what is relieving and depressing all at the same time?” I said to her. “According to the Buddha the only thing we get to take with us when we die is our mind-stream. In other words, the things that I think all of the time that I find so annoying, don’t necessarily just go away after I die. Actually, the real way to let go of my negative patterns is by meditating and doing the work.” “That’s kind of terrifying to think,” she sighed.

Just before we left on tour, Bhakta Priya called me (the childhood best friend who I would contemplate concepts like dreaming vs. real life with). “I think I know why you’re calling,” I said. We hadn’t spoken in months. “Yeah,” she sighed. Govardhana had died suddenly that morning. We recalled sledding on snowy Vermont hills with him, and how he would say things to us in Italian and we couldn’t understand him.

Govardhana was diagnosed with stage four melanoma just a few months ago. I created many memories of him in these last few months, even though I haven’t seen him in 15 years. I tried to get a hold of him, called his mother and left a message, considered driving to his house with soup or flowers or… I didn’t know what I would do. I just wanted to help somehow.

I created a memory of sitting with him, sick in bed. I held his hand and he smiled, even though he felt so ill. His eyelashes were still incredibly long. I told him everything was going to be okay, no matter what.

We drove all over Colorado and played music for hundreds of different people last week, and all the while I knew that Govardhana was being grieved by his parents, his children, his friends. And it was like this heavy secret I was carrying. Anyone who I confided in had to watch me melt down into an onslaught of tears.

With only 2 days of the tour left, we found out a friend in Vermont had committed suicide.

I held that, along with everything else. A crushing weight, like the whole world was sitting on my chest.

My friend Alice shared her day with me that night. Her dad’s death anniversary had just passed and she had spent it journaling, crying, just being with him.

We got home from tour the other day. I opened an email from my old friend, Chiara, and she told me the story of being 15 years old, her dad coming home from work and going to bed, and how it felt to discover the next day that he was never going to wake up again.

“I feel crushed,” I told Addison. “I don’t know how else to describe it.”

But here I have the quiet spaces, the time in between, to contemplate, to unpack, to consider all that has come to pass in these last two weeks.

Death is a dream, as is life. How could we be expected to continue functioning after the death of a loved one if it were really truly real?

Thich Nhat Hanh says that when we die, it’s not as if we leave a blank space behind. We can’t “subtract” ourselves from the universe. Everything that makes up our essence, our continuation, is all there. It just changes form.

The Bhagavad Gita says, “Never has there been a time when you or I did not exist.”

The Buddha says there is no “you” or “I”. But there is also NOT no “you” or “I”. We are not separate, but we are not the same.

When I think about my daughter Chickadee, and her tiny body buried in Texas, I wonder. Is there any of her essence still left there? The chickadees here in Colorado flock outside of my window, chirping and eating bugs and bringing me the memory of my child. There are chickadees all over the world who bring my daughter’s memory to anyone who has heard of her.

Wherever she is now, she is also my memory. And she is your memory. And you are my memory, as I am your memory.

May you and I continue to make more memories together for a good long while.

We’re All Alone Together

Are there things you wish someone would have just *told* you when you were younger?

Such as, “Everyone goes through breakups. It’s totally normal and you will live through it!”

Or,  “I promise you, you are not the only person in the world going through this right now. You’re going to be okay.”

Or, “Many people wake up in the morning feeling depressed and anxious. Yes, it is really hard to get out of bed sometimes but it’s actually not going to get better *until* you get out of bed, so the sooner you get up the sooner you’ll feel better. I promise.”

(And while I wish that someone would have just told me these things 15 years ago, at the same time, I’ve recently tried telling my youngers these invaluable truths and so far they haven’t seemed to appreciate my aged perspective)

This morning I wake up with a ton of bricks sitting on my chest. Most of the time it gets better after I get up, but some days the bricks just stay there.

You’ll feel better once you get up, I tell myself.

But it’s running day today, I respond. I hate having to go running!

(“Running day” just means that today I go running rather than doing one of my Kundalini yoga videos. Unlike in my youth when I believed I had to love everything I did otherwise it wasn’t worth doing, now I view exercise as a necessary activity, like eating or drinking water, that I’d best get over with as soon as I possibly can in the day.)

I consider lying in bed all day, mourning my lost child and letting the bricks have their way with me.

That really doesn’t sound appealing though, so I get up.

I’ll bet there are a lot of people who are having a hard time getting out of bed today, I remind myself. I’ll bet they would be comforted knowing I was having a hard time too and they’re not the only ones.

As I wander around getting dressed, I tell Addison, “It’s running day today. I hate going running.”

He laughs, because I say this pretty much every other day.

Zoso huddles in his bed in the corner, hoping I won’t notice him. He hates running too.

I decide to leave him behind and walk him later. It’s hard enough dragging my own butt out the door.

As I begin walking down the street in my five finger shoes and exercise shorts, the familiar thoughts run through my head. It would be so much easier to go running if Addison would just come with me. I know, he can’t because of his knee, but still!

Overhead, a loud racket interrupts my internal racket. It seems a cicada and a grackle are having a showdown, about 30 feet above my head. Nearby a pack of blue jays alarm obnoxiously. Blue jays seem to like hanging out yelling at someone or something just for kicks.

Addison mentioned the other day that cicadas, unlike most insects, seem to have the ability to “scream”. He gained this knowledge the other night, when our cat Shiva brought a cicada into the house. Apparently, as Shiva tortured the poor insect, the cicada sounded a variety of distress calls. And, if it hadn’t been so loud and insistent, Addison may not have realized it was inside and may not have saved its life as a result.

High in the branches of a Texas Cedar Elm, the female grackle chases the cicada. The cicada, in turn, is shrieking in terror. I know when the grackle finally catches the insect, because as she flies from branch to branch, the sound of the screaming cicada accompanies her. She seems to be trying to figure out how to eat something so fierce and loud. Finally she flies away, over the houses and past the gang of blue jays. The cicada announces her trajectory to the entire neighborhood.

I take a deep breath and start running. I have a route through the neighborhoods figured out that will allow me to run for at least 20 minutes without ending up on a busy road.

I’ve run about four blocks, when I notice another runner overtaking me from the left. He isn’t running much faster than I, so for a few blocks we run side by side, before he takes the lead. I am smiling on the inside.

Someone else is out here running too! He’s all sweaty and his headphone cord is swinging around annoyingly like mine does! I’m not alone in my misery!

I admire his sweat-soaked T-shirt and shockingly white calves, his easy-going gait as though he is in no rush to arrive anywhere anytime soon. He doesn’t seem to mind running at all!

When he makes a turn, I realize he’s running the same route that I’ve picked out. So I follow, continuing to appreciate that we are running together, alone.

We pass a woman pushing a baby in a stroller, and ahead of her a woman walking her pit-bull boxer also wearing a sweaty T-shirt and a pink visor. See? They’re out exercising this morning too! I’ll bet they had a hard time getting out of bed too. Well, maybe not the mom with the baby, but still.

When my secret running partner turns again, I veer off in a different direction. A few mourning doves and titmice flutter away from a front-yard bird feeder as I run by. The cat who has been sneaking up on the birds, is poised behind the rise of a small hill in the yard. He sees me and dashes away, stampeding into the melee of birds and feathers and flying seed. The predator joins his former prey as they all flee from me, the apparently all-terrifying one.

Just then the pink visor lady and her pit-bull boxer overtake me, and we run together alone for a block or two. When we part ways I come upon a young Latina in black yoga pants, walking briskly, her hair swinging back and forth. I leave her behind and find myself on the final stretch of my run. Halfway up the hill ahead of me is a skinny blond woman in running shorts and a red tank-top. She’s running up the hill but she looks as if she’s faltering.

You can do it! I shout to her silently. You’re almost at the top!

She pauses to catch her breath, and I catch up to her. Then she takes off running again and now we’re both over the hump and I’m turning down my street and she’s carrying on down Cherrywood Road.

There are beads of sweat rolling down my face and I brush them away before they can land in my eyes. I open the front door to let Zoso out, wheezing and sweating. He and Shiva frolic around while I stretch out my legs.

I think about yesterday, because yesterday I was learning about how we are all alone together too. And because we were practicing for the show that’s happening today (are you coming? click here if you are and if you can’t make it, just go to facebook.com/thelovesprockets at 6 pm for the FB live show). It’s our last show in Austin and we’re playing a few songs with our new friend Arielle, who’s too cool for school and I’ll tell you more about her in a minute… 😉

So yesterday, my friend Nichole came to see me while she’s in town. She recently graduated from the Wilderness Awareness School in Washington. We haven’t seen eachother since she visited me in bed in November.

We were going to have lunch together, and I noticed I was feeling apprehensive about having to make “small-talk”, and perhaps having to try and “keep it together” so I didn’t make her uncomfortable.

Even though, if there’s anyone who’s okay with crying, it’s Nichole!

Once we were seated at the restaurant, we began sharing our experiences over the past 8 months. Eventually Nichole asked, “Why Colorado? Why do you need to move so far away?”

“Well, we need to get out of that house for one thing,” I told her. “It’s not doing me any good to stay there.” I told her about how liberating it is to be giving away and selling most of our stuff, and to be really examining what we truly need versus things we had just because we had the space in our house to have them.

I told her about Charlie Kern in Denver, CO and his school bus conversion operation.

I tried to tell her about having to go through Chickadee’s things and how sad that was for me, but I had to stop talking because I was on the verge of tears. Instead of a pile of “Congratulations on your new family member” cards, we have a pile of condolence cards, which we keep in the same box as her death certificate and her little inky footprints and her lock of hair. The quilt that her Nana made for her is sitting in our walk-in closet in a cardboard box.

Nichole was looking at me, and her eyes were filling with tears. “I could feel that,” she said, and we both just looked at eachother and cried. Someone brought our plates of food and set them in front of us. We wiped our eyes.

The other day my friend Liz sent a picture of some quotes, “Cry in public! Be a mess!” and we’d both laughed (in a texting sort of way). “I’ve gotten really good at crying in public this year,” I told her.

Nichole told me her own stories of suffering–not to complain, but just because they were experiences she’d had. She told me about one of her classmate’s brother dying, and how everyone in his class had surrounded him and held him while he sobbed. And she and I cried some more. And the waitress came to ask us how our food was and we hadn’t even tasted it yet.

The whole world has been laughing and crying with me. I’ve been suffering alone with all other beings. I’ve been running, together, with thousands of people around the world every other day. Even cicadas know how to cry.

As we were driving to my house, I told her that my musician friend, Arielle would be there to practice some songs with us. “I’d love to meet her,” Nichole said. I could have said more about Arielle, like, “Arielle is a badass girl! Her voice is like an angel! She rips guitar like Jon Mayer does in his dreams!” But I decided to let Nichole have her own experience in meeting Arielle.

Arielle is playing guitar with Addison on fiddle when we arrive. I’m so happy to see her. She’s been away, recording music with some bigwigs out in Nashville (or maybe it was Memphis) and just got back. Tonight we are going to accompany her on her song ‘Magick Again’ (which is amazing, you should listen to it while you’re reading the rest of this email). And she’s going to shred electric guitar on our songs ‘Robot’ and ‘Believe’.

We’re all sitting together in our living room full of boxes, and the dead cockroaches and dust bunnies that used to live under the furniture that is no longer there. As we play, I watch Nichole’s reaction to Arielle’s singing. I catch her eye and we both laugh.

We’re all three jamming, taking solos, and I’ve never jammed with a girl before. Nichole is sitting and smiling and clapping along. I love that Arielle is better at playing music than me. And that Nichole knows a lot more about the natural world in Austin then I do. And she’s better at being friends than me because she makes sure to see me whenever she can.

And tonight we’re playing our last show in Austin for a while and it’s so happy and so sad all at the same time.

See you tonight, either at the Red Shed Tavern in Austin at 6 pm, or onThe Love Sprocket’s Facebook page at 6 pm CT.

Love,

Jahnavi

A Fork in the Road

“I just want you to say something that will make it okay.”

I finally admit this to myself and to Addison, lying in the dark and staring at a wall I can’t see.

“Well, I love you,” he begins, and I already know that there isn’t anything he can say to make it go away.

Earlier today, I went to Planned Parenthood for a breast exam (yes, everything is fine).

After checking in, I sat in the waiting room and tried to read my ‘First Buddhist Nuns’ book, while the TV cried out to me about the gut wrenching competition between two couples attempting to sell the most stuff at a flea market. Riveting, I know, but I focused on my reading.

A surprising (or perhaps not so surprising) piece of information I gained from reading about the first Buddhist nuns in India, is that many of them became nuns after losing a child or children. Once their world was shattered, they could not imagine putting the pieces back together. They simply stepped over the wreckage and into their robes and a lifelong commitment to their spiritual practice.

It is not hard for me to imagine myself doing the same thing. Except that I just married Addison and I really like him.

I heard a mangled interpretation of what must surely be my name being called, and I snapped out of my Buddhist reverie.

Once I was seated in a tiny little office space, the doctor’s assistant ran through the usual list of questions they ask all of their patients. “Some of these questions, might be difficult to answer or upsetting,” the girl said. I stiffened a little. Oh man, please don’t ask me about pregnancies and children, let’s not get into that. “…but I have to ask them in order to be sure that you are safe and so that we know how we can best care for you.” 

I nodded. She asked about family history of diseases, STDs, birth control, if I felt safe where I was living, etc. I relaxed, and answered her questions without hesitation. 

“Have you ever been pregnant?” 

Crap. “Yes.”

“Did you carry the baby to term?”

“Yes.” Please don’t ask anything else, please just stop there, that’s all you need to know.

“Are you currently breastfeeding?”

“No.” Annnnnnnd we’re good! Right?

And then, as if an invisible stop light had changed from green to red, she stopped asking questions.

Phew. 

She led me to the exam room, where I donned a crinkly, paper vest. The doctor was taking a while to arrive, so I read more about Bhuddhist nuns, all the while feeling secretly hilarious for reading about any kind of nun at Planned Parenthood.

When the doctor came in, I slipped the book behind me and greeted her. She looked to be in her 40s, with dark, straight hair and a face that seemed to have done its fair share of laughing and crying.

“I understand there’s a lump in your breast that you’re concerned about,” she said. “I’ll definitely check that out in a minute. But first, can you tell me if there is anything that may have happened in your life recently that could have effected your body or your hormones?”

I looked around the room. I really didn’t want to bother her with the details, unless it was absolutely necessary for her to know. Then I sighed. “About…. 8 months ago I had a stillborn baby.” There, I said it. Don’t worry lady, I’ve got this under wraps. I won’t make you uncomfortable by getting all emotional about it.

She looked into my eyes, her own filling with tears. “I’m so sorry.”

Well, that does it. I didn’t hear whatever else she might have said because I broke down crying. I scrubbed at my eyes and tried to pull myself together.

“Was it a boy or a girl?” she asked.

“A girl,” I sobbed.

“Oh, a sweet little girl.” After a moment she said, “Well it is definitely relevant and I’m glad that you told me. Thank you. And I am so sorry.”

During the exam we discovered that she knows the midwife I worked with last year. I waited for that sliver of a second, waited for her to tell me that the midwife I had chosen was a quack, a terrible midwife, that it must have been all of her fault that my baby died.

But she didn’t say anything like that.  

Once she had examined me, the doctor decided to be on the safe side and send me in for an ultrasound and a mammogram. When I went to the window to pay and get my referral papers, the receptionist told me the fees had been waived. I took my referrals and looked for the doctor to give her an appreciative smile, but I didn’t see her.

Later that day, I went to get my boobs smooshed in turn between two plates of glass. Although the technician chatted merrily about the weather in Colorado and women with no pain tolerance (“You have a very high pain threshold for someone so young,” she told me), she steered clear of topics about reproduction, except for when she put a protective apron around my waist to protect my ovaries and uterus from radiation.

The woman who gave me my ultrasound also avoided the topic of pregnancies and children, and when I went out after my appointment to pay at the front desk, again they told me the fee had been waived.

Whether the Planned Parenthood doctor had instructed these other women to spare me the painful question of “do you have any children?” or the like, I don’t know. I do know that we had quickly connected through a common understanding–the love of our children and the pain of losing them.

“We are companions in suffering,” my Buddhist book told me as I waited in different appointment rooms.

I had told Addison about my day, and reflected on how thorough the doctor and technicians had been, taking me through every available examination, whether or not they thought it was totally necessary. At the end of the day, we were all pretty darn certain me and my boobs were going to be just fine.

As I lie here, I drift to that crossroads in time, a time I try not to dwell on, but one that surfaces nonetheless…

…those days right around Chickadee’s due date. That Sunday when I realized that she wasn’t moving as much. Addison’s mother seemed worried too, even though she said that her babies also moved less as she came closer to labor.

Early the next morning we went to the midwife’s house so she could check on Chickadee.

“She’s barely kicked or moved at all in the last day or so,” I told the midwife. “I didn’t realize it until last night.”

She pulled out the doppler and listened for Chickadee’s heartbeat. It sounded strong and steady.

“She sounds great,” the midwife said. “It’s not uncommon for babies to move less as they begin to lower into the birth canal. I’ve seen it in my pregnancies and with a lot of other women also.”

And right here, I freeze time. Stop everyone. Just STOP.

Would it really be such a hassle to send me into get a sonogram? Would it be so inconvenient for us to take a few hours out of our lives to make sure our baby is 100% okay?

In this time-freeze, I turn us down a different fork in the road. This time, we get a sonogram. Perhaps by the time we’ve made the appointment and driven to the clinic, Chickadee’s heart rate would have sounded distressed. In that dark, cool room, we would have seen our big, fat, upside-down baby on the screen. Would they have been able to ascertain that something was wrong?

Maybe, in this alternate reality, they would have seen something to concern them, and rushed me to the hospital. They would have induced labor and maybe, just maybe, Chickadee lives in this alternate storyline.

I tell Addison about this alternate reality, and he strokes my hair. “We did everything we could with the information we had,” he said. “We trusted our midwife completely. We didn’t know that we should be concerned. It’s not going to change anything or make us feel better to resent her now.”

“I know,” I sigh, “But maybe I feel like I failed my child. When I feel angry at my own parents for not sticking up for me or protecting me at times, now I feel like maybe I did the same thing to my own daughter. I didn’t protect her from a midwife who thought she knew everything. I feel like I failed her.”

Here come the tears.

“You didn’t fail her. You didn’t do anything wrong. She still loves you.”

I hear that we learn a lot about being parents by experimenting with our first child. Did the lesson I had to learn cost my child her life?

And out of all the women throughout history who have had miscarriages, stillbirths or who have lost children, do I really think that I was supposed to be the exception? 

By running through these alternate realities, am I really just saying that sad, inexplicable things happen to other people, and surely it wasn’t supposed to happen to ME and surely if I had just done a few things differently, I could have saved my daughter’s life…?

Surely not. Surely nothing. Surely nothing is sure.

And somewhere in this mire of fears and regrets, all of these bereft mothers and I find solid footing, and we stand stronger than we ever could have before; we know something which is also somehow unknowable–incomprehensible. We’ve reached deep inside of ourselves and either pulled ourselves up and out, or else we drown.

Yes, I want someone to say something that will make it all okay.

I also know that will never happen.

And that’s okay.

Loneliness

“Yes I’m lonely, wanna die… I am lonely, wanna die…

If I am dead already… Girl, you know the reason why.”

-The Beatles

I am almost 8 months pregnant now. It is late September in Austin, hot, humid with a population of mosquitoes that boggles my mind, despite my years in India.

I hail most recently from Vermont, and am unaccustomed to the long months of confinement in air conditioning that I’m experiencing here in Austin.

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Our cat loves meditation time

Sometimes I venture to open a window, to let the sound of bird song drift in… But the heat quickly fills the house and I am quick to shut it again.

I slip outside on a daily basis to water my garden. I move quickly, swatting away mosquitoes while I hold the hose. Sometimes I’m lucky and only get 5-10 bites before I duck back inside.

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These guys don’t mind the mosquitoes…

Most mornings we meditate out on the back-porch. We set up by lighting two citronella candles, several sticks of incense, an essential oil burner filled with lemongrass and citronella oils and whatever else we can find that smokes and smells vile to mosquitoes. It’s wonderful to be able to sit outside and not get bitten… too much, anyways. An occasional kamikaze mosquito will break through the frontlines and find it’s way to a leg, or a foot, usually getting a blood sample or two before it’s exterminated with a mighty clap.

One day I scurried outside equipped with a mini saw and some clippers, to cut back the unwanted saplings and suckers from the trees in our front yard. I moved as quickly as I could, while a veritable cloud of blood sucking, hungry mosquitoes formed about me. Ten minutes later I was rushing back inside, my work done, and throwing myself onto our bed, moaning in agony. I counted almost 100 mosquito bites on my body (I got in the habit of counting mosquito bites when we lived in India and were camped on some land covered in rice paddies while we began construction on the community that would be built there). Addison and I rubbed ice cubes over the swelling bites, and I lathered myself in essential oils that eventually helped the itching to calm down.

My midwife told me about these mosquito repelling DEET sprayers that you can clip onto your belt while you garden. I never knew I would actually consider getting something like this before, but it sounds awesome. Misting mosquito death all around me… a force field of toxic doom for the blood sucking masses. Ahhh….

At this point you may be wondering what all of this mosquito talk has to do with loneliness, the title of this blog post.

Or maybe you live in Austin and you are simply commiserating with my mosquito tales. 😉

What this all has to do with loneliness is this: I am hugely pregnant, spending a lot of time at home. My usual activities (when not in my third trimester of pregnancy) involving nature connection, capoeira and cycling adventures have been put on hold for the moment.

I go to bed early. I wake up to pee up to 5 times in the night. I try to get up early and write for a couple of hours before I do any other work.

I go to Barton Springs and swim in the healing, cold waters that seem to suck the inflammation from my swollen ankles and fingers. These spring waters are a veritable source of bliss for this pregnant lady.

I have a mandolin lesson every other week, and noodle around at home, practicing the melodies and chords in preparation for the next lesson.2016-09-21-14-27-43-1

I read out loud in french, practicing for when the baby is born and I have to speak to her in french as much as possible so she can be bilingual as she grows up.2016-09-15-15-22-02

I reach out to a few people every week, hoping someone will want to come over and see me, or maybe go swimming with me. Perhaps, in some people’s minds, the fact that I’m pregnant means that I don’t exist right now. If I can’t come to capoeira class at night, or go see a show, than why invite me to anything or check in on me? I have a full time job creating another human being, so what else could I possibly want to do?

Ok, that was my bitter, proud Leo side speaking.

I’ve always wanted people to reach out to me, to invite me on adventures, to include me in crazy schemes.

But that’s what I do, not other people. I’m the one who calls people up and asks them to go camping with me, I’m the one who tries to get everyone together to make crafts and play music, I’m the one who writes letters on a typewriter and sends postcards and am thrilled if anyone responds in kind.

I know I am loved and adored by all of my friends. I know most of them would do anything to help me if I asked. I know they all care.

But I am in my third trimester of pregnancy, and I don’t want to be alone all of the time. I do like being alone most of the time. But not all of the time.

I’m feeling discouraged about creating community in Austin at the moment.

I did have a brilliant idea.

I updated my Couchsurfing profile and switched it on, to “Accepting Guests”.

Lo and behold, I’ve had requests from interesting, friendly people from all over the country who want to stay here… and that’s just within the first day of turning it back on.

I even had a Persian PhD student ask if we could be adventure buddies since he enjoys hiking and camping and wants other people to do this with. I said yes, but as I am so pregnant, I can only go on short hikes and am better off swimming.

The other day we had a young couple from Olympia, WA stay here. We talked about adventures and travel, and then they squished together on our leather chair next to the vinyl player reading books, while Addison and I worked out a couple of songs for our show on Saturday (are you coming? It’s at In.gredients on Sept. 24th from 6-8 pm).

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Back when I hosted a cyclist from England during my second trimester of pregnancy

It was very cozy and nice to have other human beings in our house.

Next weekend a woman from Alberta, Canada is going to stay with me while Addison is in Chicago. We’re going to go swimming, crotchet and read french to one another.

The weekend after a couple from Colorado is staying here for ACL.

Oh, and this kid from Denmark, who is traveling around the United States, just hit me up while I was writing to stay here tonight. 🙂

And ANOTHER guy just hit me up to stay here this weekend… he’s offering us Thai massages and yoga instruction. Woah.

Another idea I had is to figure out how to sit in my front yard on a daily basis, so I can wave to neighbors as they walk by. If anyone stops to chat, I’ll offer them a drink and a seat. I just need some really baller outdoor furniture and some extra citronella candles… maybe a fan that blows mosquito repellant everywhere. 😉 (if you live in Austin and have baller outdoor furniture to share with me, let me know! If the furniture comes included with you sitting in it, even better!)

I have always wanted community. But I didn’t always know that’s what I wanted. And now that I know that, I don’t know exactly how to make it happen. I’ve moved so frequently my entire life that I have friends and family spread across the world, literally.

Sometimes I sit and consider who I’m going to visit when, and as I start going down the list my head begins to spin. Should I spend New Years in Saltillo, Mexico with my new family-away-from-home that I spent last New Years with during my bicycle trip? How will that be with a newborn baby?

When should I fly to L.A. to visit my uncle and my new cousins who I still haven’t even met yet?

And then there’s always India. I haven’t been back there in 10 years, and I’d love to visit my mom and brother in their natural habitat, and revisit the Tibetan refugees who live near Govindaji Gardens (the spiritual community where my mom and brother live) and walk through their beautiful temple again and see the incredible depictions of the Peaceful and Wrathful deities.

Oh and France, of course. Half of my family lives there, shouldn’t I do a french pilgrimage and visit them all with the new baby?

And since my sister and her husband have decided to move to Washington, well I suppose I’ll need to head that way in the next year as well!

I will have to wait on all of these schemes while I discover what it’s like to live and travel with a baby. But I do believe she has a lot of adventuring in her future… 😉

For now I am thankful to have a beautiful, spacious home and a guest room, so that I can invite people to stay here.

And perhaps one day I will actually buy a house and live in the same place for the rest of my life and build up the kind of community around me that I’ve always wanted.

Seeing as you’ve read this all the way to the end, something about this topic must be interesting to you and I would LOVE to hear your thoughts. About any of it. In addition to being curious about what other people’s thoughts are on community and loneliness… and mosquitoes, reading your comment I think will help me feel less lonely. 🙂

Exploring the South Indian Countryside

A tale in which, at 12 and ¾ years of age, I go exploring the South Indian countryside with nothing dependable except a bicycle and my crazy best friend.

I wrote this story when I was 17, for a writing test. My now 31 year old self took the liberty of making some slight edits. 🙂

(please take note that from the ages of 12 – 17 my name was ‘Tulsi Manjari’, as I was given a different name when initiated by a guru and giving a new name to your disciple was the custom. However, around 18 years old I separated from the Vaishnava religion and went back to using my birthname, Jahnavi 😉 )

It was 1999, and we lived in Karnataka, India.

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Our homes were within a community called Govindaji Gardens (listed as Sri Narashringa Chaitanya Ashram on the map below):

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a Vaishnava ashram surrounded by fields of rice and sugarcane.

Between the farm fields around our home were small patches of jungle. Deep in their leafy tangles were hidden ancient shrines and temples, with stones that were worn down and walls that caved in. The whole countryside was riddled with small dirt paths, only traveled by wild dogs and farmers with their cows, buffalo, sheep, and goats.

At the time my best friend was visiting from the U.S. and living at the ashram with us. His name was Radha Kanta, and I always remember him as he was during that time: tall, lanky, loud-mouthed and impulsive.

We had just recently celebrated his 13th birthday and I wasn’t far behind, but he still puffed out his chest and stood tall, importantly reminding that I was younger than him (by about three months).

He and I used to take our bicycles and go for little dusty tours on the few roads we could find. One day, without really thinking much about it, we went off onto one of the small cow-paths, our bicycles rattling noisily on the bumps and rocks. Each path forked off onto at least two or three more obscure paths, and soon we were traveling across a rocky landscape with sparse clumps of bushes, and a few trees whispering loudly around us. The paths began opening up to more and more vast fields of rice and sugar cane. Above our heads, the leaves of coconut and mango trees swished in the breeze, and it was very warm. We saw no one about, and simply pedaled on and on, talking lazily about whatever crossed our minds.

Minutes sped on to make up an hour, and soon we came upon a shady clearing, in which stood two heavy-lidded water buffaloes, chewing demurely on their cuds, and flinging their gray tails at the rude files that gathered at their heels. We bid them a good day, to which their response was a lazy nod of a large, horned head.

A deep well of water was also there, and we peered into it cautiously, wondering, with echoing voices, why it was so big. The circumference around it must have been a good 50 feet, and it was a puzzling piece of architecture to be sure.

But we moved on. After all, buffaloes and water-wells weren’t that exciting.

I admit at that point on our sojourn, I was beginning to worry about where we were, and which path would lead us home.

I said to Radha Kanta, “Shouldn’t we try to head back now?” But I knew he’d want to keep going.

“Well,” he told me, “let’s just go a little more. We can follow this road and see where it goes.”

I grudgingly consented.

The road followed along a large expanse of a rice field, and there, across the swaying heads of the rice plants and streams, we saw the roof of a looming temple, which poked just above the tops of the trees.

Radha Kanta and I stopped our bikes and stood on the road, gazing at it with awe.

“Wow…” one of us murmured.

“Let’s go check that out Tulsi!” Radha Kanta exclaimed. “It looks awesome!”

It looked more forbidding than awesome to me, and there didn’t appear to be any way to reach it except for trudging across the muddy fields. All in all, the temple seemed to be far out of the way.

“But…” I protested feebly. “There isn’t even a road! What if we get lost?”

“We can’t get lost!” he cried, with big gesticulations of his long, skinny arms. “We can just go a little ways down that rice field,” he pointed to the murky mess of rice plants and trenches filled with mud water, “and if we don’t make it as far as the temple, we’ll just turn back.”

I looked at him doubtfully.

“If we go over there, there’ll probably be a road that we can follow to get back!” he cried in a last effort to convince me. “Come on!”

So we picked up our bicycles and headed across the fields without looking back. The going was messy and very slow, involving acres of warm, ankle deep mud. After the first rice field came another rice field, followed by a sugarcane field, than yet another rice field. And still, the gray dome of the eery temple loomed just ahead, out of reach.

By this time our enthusiasm had worn down completely, and Radha Kanta was just as worried as I was. And I was very worried. But then, after just one last rice field, we were there. Or almost there. At least there were no more fields left to trudge through.

We pulled our bicyles out of the mud and stopped a moment, to consider how to get through the tangle of weeds and thorn bushes which stood between us and the temple.

I don’t know how we maneuvered through the hostile vegetation, but we did. Once through, we climbed up a small hill that led to the back of the temple.

The building was very big and definitely deserted. The walls were gray and dirty, as if they had been rinsed and stained continuously by black water. The area around the temple was completely overgrown, and the stone gate that stood in front was doing its best not to fall over completely.

I could hear parrots cackling to one another from the vine covered tree canopy, but even when I craned my neck to look up at them, they were too high up and too camouflaged amongst the green leaves to be seen.

We noticed two Indian men standing about in the dilapidated courtyard as if it were the most normal thing to do. Cigarettes dangled from their mouths, and they stood about scratching their heads and murmuring to one another in Kannada. They were wearing the usual dress of the Ganjam village men–plain, cotton sarongs which they tied about their waists and folded in half just above the knees.

They did not appear to be surprised to see us, but then, there was nothing odd about that, since it did not seem likely that these two fellows could find anything surprising given their cow-like expressions.

Of course Radha Kanta overlooked this particular aspect of their personalities and sauntered over to them with purpose.

“Hello!” he said, adopting the funny accent he used when he spoke to Indians, as though that would help them understand his english better. “What is this place?”

No response.

He put his hands on his hips, contemplating the temple. Then he turned back to the two men. “Me and her are going inside to look, okay? You please watch our bikes. Make sure nobody steals them.”

I gaped a little as he placed our bicycles in front of them and started off toward the temple entrance. I ran after him, wondering why he was so crazy.

There turned out to be no door to the temple, just a hole in the wall. Radha Kanta gingerly poked his head inside. I stepped next to him and peered in. There appeared to be nothing in the room except an impenetrable blackness, big piles of bird guano, and little shapes all over the ceiling. Our eyes strained in the dark, and I began to make out strangely shaped holes in the walls. They seemed to be intricately designed windows, but there was no light coming through them. I concluded they must have been filled in with bricks.

We kept looking around, but neither of us volunteered to step inside. I noticed a small opening in the back wall that seemed to lead to another room. A faint red glow was pulsing through the blackness from that back space. But before I could form any thoughts about what might be glowing red in the dark, something bit my leg.

“Ow!” I shouted. I felt another bite, and then I was being bitten all over. I jumped up and down looking about wildly. Red ants were swarming around the floor and up my legs. “Oh my god! OW! Red ants Radha Kanta! They’re biting me!”

I wonder to this day if he even heard me. His head was still stuck in the dark, poop-filled room and he was talking excitedly to the empty space I had previously occupied. Some part of my brain registered the fact that he wasn’t getting bitten at all, and I suppose I was envious of him, as I hopped about, brushing ants off of me. I wanted to scream.

Once I had separated myself from the blood thirsty ants and all of their relatives, I grabbed Radha Kanta’s arm. “Let’s leave now. I want to go.” Luckily he seemed as eager to leave as I was. We returned to the two stupefied Indian men and grabbed hold of our bicycles.

“How can we get back to Sri Rangapatna?” Radha Kanta asked them. Sri Rangapatna was the name of the village we lived close to.

For some reason they actually answered him. They pointed to the road in front of the falling-over stone wall and said, “Sri Rangapatna, that way,” with the perfunctory head bob the Indians always use when they speak.

We turned to see where their fingers were directing us. The road split into three parts.

“Which way?” Radha Kanta asked.

They smiled happily, and one of them said, “Yes, yes,” flashing his head-full of yellow, crooked teeth.

I sighed and together we left them to their cigarettes. We stood out on the forked road. “Left, right or straight ahead?” I asked no one in particular.

“Well…” Radha Kanta furrowed his brow.

I looked in one direction, seeing what lay along that road. “Wait a minute…” I said.

Radha Kanta paused his brow furrowing and followed my gaze.

“Let’s go down this road, because I think I’ve been on it before,” I told him.

We started down that way, examining everything around us, in hopes of spotting familiar landmarks. I wondered if we’d ever make it home, or whether we’d just be found as skeletons on the side of the road.

Each minute stretched longer than I had known a minute possibly could stretch. But slowly, very slowly, recognition creeped in on me, and before I knew it, I was riding along a completely familiar roadway. “This IS the road!” I yelled.

“What?” said Radha Kanta.

“I know where to go from here!” I told him. “We’re not lost!”

Radha Kanta whooped in relief and we pedaled with a new-found enthusiasm. We recognized a side path to turn onto and soon were well on our way back home. Radha Kanta gave me an appreciative smile. “I’m so glad you were with me Tulsi, ‘cause I would never have known which way to go.”

I grinned.

Suddenly every bush, every tree, every cow even, was familiar. We were both so relieved we could have wept. The final stretch home went by so fast, it seemed to be only minutes before we were standing back at the front gate of Govindaji Gardens.

We threw the bicycles down and ran to my house, where we began to gulp down glassfuls of water.

Our siblings surrounded us, asking us where we had been and what had happened. We told them we’d gotten lost and related the whole story.

At the end, Radha Kanta, evidently carried away with the afternoon’s excitements, added, “Yeah, and as we were riding away from the temple, I saw a white thing fly out of the roof! It was wearing a big cape and riding some weird creature.” His eyes were wide, and he looked at each of us in turn.

I stared back at him. “You did?”

“Yes!” he cried. “Swear to god I did!”

Why Music?

Why music?

I’ve been considering an age-old topic, a cliche question that perhaps musicians dislike being asked:

Why do we play music?

The question of “why we play music” can be grouped amongst the other fathomless questions such as…

Why is the sky blue?

Why does everybody die?

What is the meaning of life?

To assume that we can do any justice to any of these topics by trying to answer the question, is to perhaps assume too much of ourselves. 😉

But then again, what is the point of being human if we don’t get to sit around sipping fermented beverages and discussing ponderous concepts?

So grab your beverage of choice and pull up a chair!plantation-banjo1

…and imagine a time before we had electricity and internet, before we could watch movies and stream music endlessly via Spotify and Pandora (for scandalously low prices I might add, considering that musicians such as us only receive something like 0.005 cents per song-play on a site like Spotify… but I digress ;-).

I imagine that back then, before we could listen to music without the musicians themselves being present, we must have placed tremendous value on the person who would come sit by our hearth and tell us stories from faraway lands, or play us songs about the human predicament: love, death, hope, fear, desire.

We could listen to them and enter a trancelike state, gazing into the fire, and be transported above everyday life–the rigors and the doldrums–to a place of the imagination, a mysterious realm that songs can take us to, where we find solace for our unspoken pain, inspiration to carry on, or simply a moment’s respite from our belabored thoughts.instruments-and-globe

We were able to travel, to go on adventures, right from our homes. And the wandering bard who showed up in our village was our traveling guide.

Even now, you know that you are witnessing a pure conduit of music when you sit down in front of a musician (or musicians) and forget who and where you are as the music pours over you. 

Even Pandora can’t always accomplish that.

And as musicians, this is what we aspire to… transporting our beloved audience into a timeless realm, holding space for them as they travel to a place where healing, joy and inspiration are all possible.

This is one of the best reasons I can give you for why we play music. 🙂

P.S. And if you’ve never had The Love Sprockets take you on a musical journey, it’s about time you experienced us firsthand:

http://thelovesprockets.bandcamp.com/track/by-the-pale-moonlight

(It’s a song based on the old french traditional ‘Au Claire de la Lune’ in which a young poet’s candle goes out and he goes late at night through the village to find a light and a pen to write with)

Click here to listen to By the Pale Moonlight

The Timeless Fog

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And it’s that quiet force,

a rhythm that pulses through the crickets and insects,

which blankets and cradles me in a silence so profound

it sends a hush deep down into what must be my soul.

Now I feel a relief, a release, a letting go

a relaxing of the muscles of my mind,

and I want to dive under, inside and surrender,

I want to relinquish control, hand over the reins to this utter Presence.

I want to arrive so intently

that I burst through the walls of my mentally-conceived reality

into the timelessness of the fog,

the dew-dressed spider-web,

the rippling, cold, brackish water,

the stone that sits, and sits and sits

wearing a shawl of yellow-green seaweed wrapped around its silent shoulders.

And I want to sit, and sit, and sit

and I want to be

until I simply am.

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