Category Archives: nature

Chickadee’s Legacy

Artwork by inmate Aaron Pearson

Each time we find ourselves standing on a stage or in a living room or in a backyard in Illinois or Vermont or Baltimore or Baton Rouge and we are holding our instruments and gazing into the unknown—a group of faces belonging to people we’ve never met, or people we’ve just met, or people we’ve known for years—we always reach that moment of free fall, when Addison introduces the song “Chickadee”.

“This next song is the title track of our new album, and is dedicated to our daughter, Chickadee,” he says, “who was stillborn two years ago. This whole tour is about her and this album we recorded for her. It’s also for you—all of you who showed up here and are making space for this music and this story.”

I stand transfixed, almost in horror, as he bares our bloody hearts for all to see.

“This song is the silver lining to something that was really hard,” he says. He begins playing and I fall into step with him. We free fall into the arms of strangers.

When the set is over and we enter into the midst of our audience, we find acceptance over and over again. We find a shared story with our listeners.

A woman approaches me. “Thank you for sharing that song about your daughter. Not many people talk about these kinds of things. My sister’s first and only child was stillborn. She doesn’t really talk to anyone about it and no one says anything to her, except for me. I’m going to share Chickadee with her.”

A man comes and stands with me, his eyes filled with tears. “Thank you for sharing your story. My wife and I lost three babies.” We embrace, and our tears mix together to create an elixir that heals us, a little more. Just a little more healing to get us through.

We’ve played our music for people all the way from Colorado to Louisiana and we finally arrive in Austin Texas where Chickadee was born, and where she is buried. The sights and smells remind me of the intense joy I felt while I was pregnant with her.

Our first show is at the Mohawk, a music venue with a stage and big lights that shine in our eyes as we stand up in front of a group of people we can’t see. I consider the option of bailing on the whole vulnerability aspect of the tour. This is a big venue, and people are here just to “have a good time”, right? We don’t need to ruin their nights by talking about our stillborn baby. But balking now would feel like a betrayal to something we’ve spent the past two years discovering.

Our voices and instruments are so amplified I feel as though I will be knocked over by the sound, so I try to ride the waves instead. We reach the part of our set where we’re supposed to play Chickadee’s song, and I barely breathe, not looking at Addison but watching his every move. Is he going to go through with it? He introduces the song. I wait, frozen. I wait for people to turn away in disgust. To walk out, shaking their heads. No one moves. I feel their hearts open, their willingness to go there with us.

“Being here with y’all is really what this whole tour is about,” Addison says. “Sharing this story and this album with people like you, especially here in Austin where this story began, is really special.”

After the music is over, we find our way off of the stage and once again into the arms of strangers. Human beings who have all suffered and lost, just as we have.

“Y’all are giving us all permission to be ourselves,” one person says after we’ve pulled everything off stage to make room for the next band.

“You’re doing something with your music that I want to be doing but don’t know how”, one musician tells us. He plays in different bands around Austin, but works on his own music as well. “I want to get there. I am figuring it out. I’m so inspired by your vulnerability and your story.”

A week and a half later, and about a month and half into our tour, we are going to a Buddhist gathering at the Travis Correctional Facility in Dell Valle Texas with our Dharma teacher, Alyssa. We pass a mandolin, banjo, guitar, harmonicas and fiddle through the security check and inside the fences and razor wire, and find a group of men in white and black striped jumpers, ready to meditate, to listen to our music and to discuss the wonders and hardships of being alive.

I look into the faces of these men, and see that their suffering has transformed them. They are in jail, but they are learning to find a freedom that they will always have access to—freedom from their thoughts, feelings and perceptions; freedom from judgement, freedom from attachment to things being a certain way; freedom from the notion of being a separate self but rather the freedom of finding ourselves in everything and everyone.

Addison, Alyssa, these prisoners and I have all come to this Buddhist practice through our own trials by fire, and we have arrived together from different paths, yet now we are together and trying to support one another along the same path. Alyssa greets each man as though he were a beloved son, embracing them and listening intently to their updates and check-ins.

We sit down and meditate together, following Alyssa’s instruction to relax the tops of our heads down to our feet, and to allow ourselves to arrive here fully. After meditating, I push metal finger picks onto my right hand and place the banjo into my lap. Addison tunes his five string violin and then we begin to play. The music transports all of us, beyond the prison walls, and we all forget where we’re sitting. We forget that this is the first time we’re meeting each other, feeling a familiarity that goes beyond our stories and judgements.

I tell the men briefly about losing Chickadee and how she appears in the song we just played and the one we’re about to play.

“I’m so sorry,” I hear one man utter softly.

After we play some more songs, a man shares the story of his father dying, while he was still in jail and unable to be with him. “Look at your hands,” Alyssa says. “Can you see your father’s hands in your hands? He is still with you, he’s still inside of you.”

“My father used to hold my hand through church service every Sunday,” he says. “I can still feel his hand on mine when I close my eyes.”

“Here in prison, right here with y’all,” one man says, pointing to the instruments in our hands, “is a joy I never experienced when I was ‘free’. Back when I was taking dope and peddling drugs, I never felt joy. I didn’t know what joy felt like. I would take drugs and ‘have fun’, but that was nothing close to this. Just sitting here in this circle with all of you, is the greatest joy I’ve ever felt.”

The men ask us questions about our life, how do we support ourselves, is it only with music?

“We offer people something that we have the ability to offer – our music, our story, our presence – and we always receive something back,” I say, “whether it’s money or a place to stay or a juvenile peacock feather tied to our merch case. Like being here with you and bringing you joy is a compensation that goes beyond anything we can compare. It’s the most fulfilling thing I can think of doing.”

It’s time to leave, so Alyssa rings the bell, and we bow to one another in gratitude for showing up and for what each person shared of themselves. Then we turn to bow to the trees and the insects and the sky and to all of our ancestral teachers. As the men prepare to leave, they give each of us hugs, thanking us for coming.

We make our way back out of the giant cage of the jail, and Alyssa asks if telling Chickadee’s story over these two months on tour has been like ripping a scab off of a wound repeatedly. Alyssa lost her grandson a few days after he was born, not long before we lost Chickadee, but I still haven’t heard her talk directly about him in her Dharma talks. Maybe one day she will.

“You know I don’t think there was a scab on the wound to pull off,” I tell her. “Talking about Chickadee and playing her songs for people has been helping the wound to scab and heal, instead of just bleeding non-stop.”

I used to feel so isolated in my grief, bemoaning the lack of ceremony we have as a culture around death, especially of babies and children. I had no idea until I was a bereaved mother that the way the death of babies is handled by many people is by avoiding the subject, for fear they might “upset” me, as if I’m not already beyond upset. But I don’t feel angry about the avoidance anymore. I understand their silence comes from not knowing what to do or say. So Addison and I created our own ceremony around Chickadee’s death by recording her an album and traveling the country with it.

The next morning after visiting the prisoners, we packed some snacks and Zoso into the car, picked up birdseed from the store and drove the thirty miles east out of Austin to Eloise Woods, the green burial site where we left Chickadee’s tiny little body two and half years ago.

On the day she was born, we had held her for hours, admiring every inch of this little miracle who emerged from my body. A few visitors had come and gone, crying over her both in sadness and in wonder, including my sister and my dad, who’d flown in at short noice when they heard the news. The hospital put her on ice afterwards, to give me time to recover from giving birth and slowly regain feeling in my lower body from the epidural.

Later we asked to see her again, and we cradled her cold, bundled body, looking into her face and wondering what we should do with her. The hospital was offering to incinerate her and give us a tiny urn filled with her ashes. Our midwife was telling us about a green burial space that we could bring her to.

“But we’ll need to keep her on dry ice all night, and change the ice out every four hours,” she said. “And we need to bury her tomorrow for sure. Her body is very fragile and delicate, and it will start to fall apart quickly.”

Talk about fucking impermanence.

I was trying to wrap my mind around keeping her in a box in our bedroom and changing out dry ice in the middle of the night when I could barely even walk and Addison was a bereft zombie version of his former self, when my sister stepped in.

“I can take care of that,” she said. “I’ll set a timer and change her ice out and whatever else needs to be done. You won’t have to think about it.”

She looked into my face, and I know that she could tell that the difference between us burying Chickadee or cremating her was what kind of support she could give us in this time of utter disbelief.

“Ok,” I said, knowing that I could rely on her. As soon as my sister received the news that my baby died while I was in labor, she’d gotten on the first plane out of Seattle that she could find a ticket for. “Thanks Radha.”

I’d imagined Eloise Woods to be an open area, a rolling cemetery covered in bright green grass with giant willows weeping across the symmetrical lines of gravestones. But Texas is not the northeast, where I’ve spent most of my life. This green burial place is a couple of acres covered by scraggly oaks and scrubby brush, with stony paths cut through the woods. Erect gravestones are not allowed, so all of the markers lie flat on top of the burial mound they belong to, mostly marking the graves of babies and pets, though some adults rest there as well.

We arrived in a caravan of cars. Addison parked our car in the shade where I waited with our daughter in a styrofoam ice chest beside me. My sister visited with me in between checking on the progress of finding a spot to bury Chickadee. Addison wanted the best place for her and was walking in circles around the site, trailed by his mother, my dad and the midwife. What felt like an eternity later, he’d decided on a couple of options, and they led me around and showed me our choices. I was dismayed by how hot and merciless the sun was, and by how unwelcoming this place felt, and despaired at finding a burial place I could be happy with. At one spot I was being shown, I turned around and looked behind me. There was a corner patch of woods where I could see an opening at the foot of an oak tree.

“What about over here?” I asked. Everyone turned and looked. I wanted Chickadee to be buried somewhere remotely shady, and between the oaks and a big pine nearby, it was one of the shadier options. It was also a private nook, where no one else was yet buried.

Everyone agreed it was a good spot.

I went back to my seat in the car with Chickadee, and the men got to work, relieved to have something to do with themselves. They cut back brush, raked and eventually were able to begin digging her burial spot. It need to be at least three feet deep, which is no small task with soil as hard and rocky as this Texas soil was.

A chaplain, who my midwife had asked to come, was helping to cut and dig, when I asked if I could see him and talk to him about the ceremony he was planning on leading for my daughter. He walked slowly to the car, brushing dirt from his hands, and sat next to me solemnly.

“Mary Ellen asked me to do something involving some Christian songs and words,” he said, “but I hear you’re not Christian.”

“No, I’m not,” I said. “Not that I have an aversion to Christianity either.” I think my dad had been worried about his granddaughter getting Jesus-afied during her burial, because he’d seemed a bit grumpy after the chaplain’s arrival.

“What do you believe?” the chaplain asked me.

I was so glad to be having this conversation. So glad that someone was asking me this.

“Everything I’ve read that the Buddha taught really makes sense to me,” I said.

“So are you Buddhist?”

“I don’t know…” I said slowly. “Maybe I am.”

We talked about life after death, spirituality, God or no God, all of the topics I love discussing with intelligent yet kind people such as this man.

We wrote out the ceremony together, and when it was time all of us formed a semi-circle, standing or sitting, around the freshly dug hole. Addison went to the car and carried the little bundle of his daughter over to the grave and carefully lowered her in. Later I would regret not having held her one last time, but at that moment I just sat and watched her go into the ground.

Addison and I each sang her a song, and her Nana tried to sing her a song but couldn’t get the words out through her tears, so Radha and I picked up the song where she’d left off and sang it. Radha also read her a message from my friend Colleen, and my friend Alice read her a Mary Oliver poem. MariMikal and her friend sang a couple of songs as well, and then my dad stood up to say some words.

“I can’t help feeling that she’ll be back,” he told all of us. “She came to Jahnavi and Addison at an important time in their lives, and now that her work is done she left again. But I think she’s coming back.”

When it was time to bury her, I lowered a beautiful moonstone necklace onto her bundle, given to us by the midwife’s assistant, along with a moonstone necklace each for Addison and I. Everyone surrounded her and began to pour shovels or handfuls of dirt over her. A chubby stone chickadee was placed at the head of the grave, along with some other pieces of art and beauty brought by friends or family.

Two and half years later we are arriving in the same car we’d transported Chickadee in, but this time we know our way around. We open the gate and roll in on the bumpy dirt trail, parking at the beginning of the Moonlit Garden path. Zoso knows the drill, and bursts from the car in a flurry of excitement, and commences with peeing on things and chasing rodents through the underbrush.

It’s spring this time, and although it’s sunny, it’s not yet too hot. There are wildflowers bursting with vivid colors all around, and it lends a feeling of cheerfulness to this unassuming patch of Texas forest. I look around, wondering how much of Chickadee’s essence is dispersed through the landscape here, how much of her is still inside of me, and where is the rest of her?

According to Thich Nhat Hanh and the Buddha and science, our bodies and energy re-disperse into the world around us after we die, our molecules becoming a part of the insects, trees, plants, birds, sunshine, rain and clouds. Perhaps our mind-stream carries on to another form, but that is always up for debate. As the Dalai Lama says, until science can prove that re-birth does or does not exist, then maybe it does.

“As far as I know, no modern psychologist, physicist, or neuroscientist has been able to observe or predict the production of mind either from matter or without cause,” he says. If something has no beginning, it makes sense that it has no end.

Addison and I sit by Chickadee’s grave for a while, talking, playing music, journaling, reading and, of course, filling up her bird feeder with a mix of sunflower seeds, peanuts and safflower seeds. I sprinkle the seed mix around her spot, and Zoso wanders around picking up the peanuts and munching them contentedly. He’s hot, and keeps trying to do the frog dog, legs splayed out and belly to the cool earth, directly on top of Chickadee. Addison keeps shooing him off, but I finally say, “You know what, just let him. She’s his little sister and I don’t think she minds.”

Yes, I know that a dog can’t actually be related to a human, but Zoso is our baby and so is Chickadee, so there it is.

It’s strange sitting with a part of me that has been buried.

We take a walk around the grounds, noticing new burial sites with markers from 2018 or 2019. Beautiful quotes engraved in stone mark the paths, and we pause to read them or to smell the fragrant wildflowers who smile up at us. We find a dog bowl for Zoso because he’s hot and thirsty, and as we search for a spigot to get him some water, we discover a two foot tall medicine Buddha hiding behind the tool-shed.

“Oh wow,” I say.

“What’s he doing behind here?” Addison asks.

“He’s too tall to meet the marker requirements,” I observe. “And they don’t want statues set up here either. I know we have our chubby chickadee, but we are technically breaking the rules. So someone probably brought him here not knowing that, but then the caretaker saw and hid him back here while they figured out what to do with him.”

“Let’s take him to Chickadee’s spot,” Addison says.

“Ok,” I laugh. “They’re going to discover him sooner or later and carry him away again, but we might as well bring him over to hang out with her for a while anyway.”

Addison picks up the Medicine Buddha and sets him next to Chickadee’s grave. The Buddha gazes down at her in his cross-legged pose of blissful concentration.

Chickadee left a legacy of the greatest sorrow we will ever know. And she has left a legacy of music that we hadn’t known how to play until she came around. She taught us to be brave. She helped us commit to a spiritual practice, first when we were expecting her and meditating with her every morning, and after she left us. She has shown us that we really are interconnected with all beings, and that everyone has a story. If we stay vulnerable and just listen, we will hear the entire universe in the laugh of a baby, we will see all of the oceans in the tear of a woman, and we will smell the beauty of the entire world in the fragrance of a flower. When we begin to live our lives for the benefit of others, our happiness expands and we can begin to truly see other people as human beings with a story and a legacy of their own, which is not separate from ours.

We’re all in this together.

Bare beauty and a question for you

Dear friend,

I have received your letter or message and it has been a salve to the craggy, scarred face of my heart.

To those of you who sent a letter or card or flowers (Melissa, Russell, Manjari, Chris, Ami, Ashton, Ellen, Ros, Kelsey, Chrysantha, Ben and Alice) I want you to know that your love and effort has moved us deeply. As I expressed to my friend Alice, when I receive a letter or card from you expressing your care and support, there is a sense of relief inside of me. This heavy weight in my chest is no longer only carried by me; I feel your hands holding it up as well, and it is that much easier to bear. To me, this is no small matter. Your kind actions mean the world to me. I believe that Addison feels the same.

Even just the act of sitting and reading what I write, taking the time to sit with me through each post, is something I appreciate deeply. I love seeing your comments or reading your emails. I can attribute much of my healing process to you being here—wherever you are—to receive what I am sharing. Thank you.

Here in Colorado the skies create a sapphire backdrop for the golden fields and orange or gray or white, leafless trees. I never knew dead grass and bare branches could be so beautiful. When I walk Zoso at dawn, his tracks are negatives across the frosty ground. There are sounds of crunching beneath my feet as I breath with my steps.

These days are spent working, writing, recording our album, and—for me—crying many tears. I am missing my daughter and I understand now that there is no end-date for this sadness.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a meditation retreat in the Rocky Mountains with Addison and my sister, Radha. We spent a lot of time in silence and in ceremony. At times I found myself prostrated on the ground, invoking my ancestors and spiritual teachers. I lay down on the earth, practicing letting go and asking for help. Chickadee was there. In a way she has become my ancestor, though I was the one who gave birth to her.

I asked myself a lot of questions during those five days and received few answers—but that’s too be expected in any spiritual quest.

One of the questions I continue to ponder is this: what is going to be my way of taking positive action and helping to ease the suffering of living beings on this planet?

I was reminded—during a powerful presentation given by a Lakota dharma teacher at the retreat—of the many issues which are swept under the rug and kept from public view.

I contemplated how I am living in a country whose native people have been massacred, imprisoned, lied to, and mistreated in innumerable ways by my political leaders, both past and present. The Dakota Access Pipeline was one incident that the native people and U.S. religious leaders and citizens brought to public attention. But there is so much that goes unseen. What can I do to balance the scales? Can I take responsibility for my ancestors’ actions without being crushed under the weight of tremendous regret and sadness for what cannot be taken back?

Larry Rowe, another dharma teacher at the retreat, is an African American man. He mentioned the unease he feels being in the United States, and how much safer he feels in other countries. It reminded me that someone with different skin color than me may not be treated as well. I don’t want to turn a blind eye on these things.

I do want to consider deeply where I can be the most effective in creating positive change; I know my own limitations. 

What are some ways that you take positive action in the world? I’m curious to know, if you have a minute to share in the comments below (I may very well steal your idea if it really resonates with me—heh heh heh).

Yesterday we spent three hours recording my harmonies onto a 3 1/2 minute song for the upcoming album. It felt like a good use of our time, and it was also a reality check of just how long the recording process takes, not to mention mixing the tracks before sending them to be mastered!

The song we worked on yesterday is called “Chickadee”. Addison wrote it about our daughter. There is no way I would have been able to sing the song through, but he managed it beautifully. I approached my harmonies for the song by focusing on each sentence as a separate piece. I made myself concentrate on the words as syllables or notes which I had to sing in key and match timing with Addison’s voice. It enabled me to get through the whole recording process cheerfully. Listening back through the song as a whole definitely choked me up, but by then I was done singing for the day so that was fine.

My brother—who normally lives in South India—is currently in the U.S. due to a series of events, so Addison and I took advantage of his proximity and flew him out here. You may have already seen some of the photos he’s taken since he arrived in The Love Sprockets’ Instagram or Facebook feed. (the picture at the top of this post is his)

In the next week and a half we’ll be doing some photo and video shoots with him, and he is also revamping our website. It feels good to be “starting over” in certain respects to our music and as a band. We are really embracing our band as a duet, instead of wishing it was a four piece. And this next album will have a different sound and feeling from the last one we released.

Thank you for reading this update; I hope at least some of it was interesting for you. 🙂

Don’t forget to share your own way of creating positive change (big or small) in the comments below.

Big love to you!

-Jahnavi

P.S. You may have heard or figured it out—we extended the release date for our upcoming album, entitled “Chickadee”. If you haven’t gotten around to preordering it and getting your name in the liner notes, you still have time: http://music.thelovesprockets.com/album/chickadee

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

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!”

Full Moon Witchcraft

The gravestones stand about awkwardly, some leaning off to one side, others sinking into the depths of the earth and grass.

The Aquarius moon is wearing a mysterious veil of clouds, which glow in shades of fluorescent blue and silver.

We couldn’t see much further than the light that our candles revealed, though we could still make out the profiles of a hundred more gravestones in the distance, and the silhouettes of the ancient trees that stand watch over the dead in a reverent silence.

“Don’t read it,” Frieda whispers as she places her post-it note over the candle flame. “It’s private.” The flames lap at the pencil scribbles and yellow paper, before taking hold and consuming Frieda’s fears and self-perceived shortcomings with apparent relish.

Sarah, Anna and I also have our undesirables written out on sacrificial post-it notes, and in turn we place them over the candle and watching the fire’s hypnotic destruction of our problems.

“Wow,” Anna murmurs, as the relics of her crumpled paper make jagged designs that glow red and orange in the darkness. “It’s so beautiful.”

We sit in silence, willing ourselves to let go of all that is no longer serving us, and hoping the universe will swoop in to recycle the debris of our lives and carry it to another galaxy far far away.

We had made our way to the graveyard earlier that night, after gathering up the paraphernalia for our full moon ceremony. This consisted of bits of sage, mugwort and chaga, herbs and spices from the kitchen, an abalone shell, sweetgrass, cedar, candles, and, of course, post-it notes.

Frieda had instigated the ceremony, feeling a great need for releasing the bad juju she was experiencing and opening her life up to receiving healing. And although I am 40 pounds heavier with baby, big boobs and amniotic fluid, I wasn’t going to miss sitting in a graveyard under the full moon with three other venturesome gals.

After all of our notes were burned to ash, we place a protective circle of sage smoke around us and begin to set intentions.

“I’m going to write a book by November 2016.”

“I’m going to ask for more respect from the men in my life.”

“I’m going to open myself up to giving and receiving love.”

The bowls of spices and herbs are brought forward now, to aid in the power of our intentions.

“Ok,” Sarah says, passing a basil leaf to each of us. “I’m going to read about basil for each nibble that we take of these leaves.”

We each take a bite, and the aroma of basil fills our mouths and noses.

“Basil helps steady the mind,” Sarah reads. “It brings happiness,” we take another nibble, “love, peace and money,” we put the last piece in our mouths, “and protects against insecurity.”

“Now we have a lemon,” she announces. “I will pass this wedge around and we can each take a lick.”

I start to giggle.

“Or we can just squeeze some juice into this lid and pass that around,” Frieda suggests.

“Or that,” Sarah agrees, beginning to giggle as well.

Anna takes the lid of sour juice and dips her finger in. “Mmmmm…” she smiles broadly, and starts to pass the lid to me.

“Wait!” Sarah says, glaring at her affectionately. “I didn’t even tell you what it’s good for yet!”

Anna shrugs and laughs. “Oh, whoops.”

“Lemons resonate with the energy of the moon,” Sarah reads.

I take a sip from the lid and most of it spills on my leg.

“Lemon flowers are used in love spells.”

I rub the spilled juice into my skin. The more the better, I guess. I pass the lid to Frieda.

“The fruit can be used to turn away harmful spells or the evil eye.”

Next it’s cloves, than coffee grinds, a clove of garlic. We are filled with visions and hopes of vampire protection, true love, healing, completion, good luck and the cessation of gossip.

“My baby is going to be experiencing some well-seasoned amniotic fluid,” I say, as I take a tentative lick of cayenne powder off the tip of my finger.

“Cayenne is a good one to finish with,” Sarah tells us, “because it speeds up the effect of any mixture to which it’s added.”

And, according to Witchipedia, it also curbs drunkenness. I wonder if a certain relative of mine would notice if I slipped some cayenne powder into their glass of wine?

I feel the baby squirm and give a kick, and wonder if all of the smells and tastes have sent her on an embryonic psychedelic trip yet.

Now we look around at one another. “So how should we end the ceremony?”

“We could get naked and dance around in the moonlight for a few minutes,” I suggest.

We soon find ourselves dancing around the candles (still clothed), jerking and lurching awkwardly without any outside musical tempo to guide or unify us.

“We could twerk in the moonlight,” Anna suggests.

“What’s twerking again?” I ask.

She sticks her butt up in the air, bracing herself by placing her hands on the ground in front of her, and begins to artfully wiggle her hindquarters. As we all attempt to emulate her, I suddenly notice a dark figure walking through the graveyard, making a beeline for us through the spaces between gravestones.

Frieda turns to see the mysterious figure and gasps. “Oh no!”

Anna had taken hold of a headstone to better balance herself for further twerking demonstrations.

“Anna,” Sarah hisses, indicating that we have company. Anna quickly straightens up.

As the man draws nearer, we can see he is dressed all in black, with a distinctively shaped hat. No ones says it, but we’re all thinking it: ‘Cop’.

“Hello,” the officer greets us. “What are you ladies up to?”

“Oh,” Freida says, beginning to scoop up some of our things that are scattered about in the grass. “We were doing a full moon ritual, just to get rid of some things in our lives and set some intentions.”

“Ah,” he says.

“Yeah we were making some spells with these different herbs and spices,” Sarah explains.

“But it’s all safe, just things you’d find around the kitchen,” Frieda quickly adds.

He shines the light down on a bowl of coffee grounds topped with a nibbled chunk of garlic and a squeezed out lemon wedge. “I see. And what’s that? Post-it notes?”

“We were writing things down and burning them.”

“That’s cool,” he says.

The officer seems relived that we are an innocent group of women, toting culinary ingredients into a graveyard and dancing around our candles, rather than ill mannered drunks whom he might have had to arrest. It feels like we could invite him to turn his flashlight off, take a seat and write a few things he wants to release on a post-it note and maybe suck on a lemon wedge… but then he mentions his supervisor and asks for our names and addresses.

After he writes down our information and while we pack up our bags and blankets he tells us, “Well it sure is nice to find you ladies here enjoying yourselves during such dark times… and I’m not talking about the fact that it’s night right now.”

We murmured our sympathy, only needing to imagine the kinds of things he must have to witness as part of his job.

We let him escort us out of the graveyard, and bid him good night. I wonder if this night will be permanently on my record: “8/19/16 Jahnavi Newsom discovered in a graveyard at 11:30 pm, partaking in some sot of moonlit witchcraft voodoo, evidently twerking amongst the headstones.”

Anna was thrilled. “My mom is going to crack up when I tell her I followed in her footsteps!”

Apparently Anna’s mother had been discovered with friends in this very graveyard, but perhaps a few decades ago. They had been drinking, so when they saw the cops approaching they decided to try and ‘play dead’, seeing as how they were in a graveyard anyways, surrounded by other dead people. But the policemen who discovered their bodies that night were not the gullible type.

We stand in Frieda’s driveway, saying goodnight to one another. “Thanks guys, that was great.”

“You ladies are awesome.”

“Bet that cop will never forget us!”

“Good night!”

“Good night.”

women and men graveyard

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.

2016-08-11 08.43.49

Reflecting on Choices

It’s a gray, windy day here in Austin.

I’ve been brewing over the past, the future and wrestling the present moment into a bear hug, desperate to stay grounded.

I have been thinking about what happened in Playa del Carmen after I discovered I was pregnant.

We all make choices, and then we live with those choices.

What I experienced in Playa del Carmen after discovering I am pregnant, was a rollercoaster of emotions.

I found myself reflecting on the series of choices that led me to the moment where I was sitting on the beach in the dark with Addison, listening to the waves and watching their white crests glint against the moonlight.

I had chosen to leave Addison, and to ride my bicycle to Brazil.

I chose to ride from Austin, leaving Brazil for last.

I didn’t just go straight to Brazil, because I wanted to follow the line I had started when I left Vermont on a bicycle 3 years ago.

If I had known I would only be gone for 3 months, yes, I would have gone straight to Brazil.

But I didn’t know that.

When you tell your life partner that you’re leaving them for 6-9 months and you don’t know when you’ll be back, naturally they must make adjustments of their own.

The trajectory of our lives had been splitting apart, and this child seemed to have appeared to make us reconsider everything.

In a way, it should have been relieving.

Being pregnant would mean I could go home. It could mean I wouldn’t lose Addison.

And it could mean many many other things.

Those many other things washed over me as I sat in the sand with Addison.

What about capoeira?

What about our music careers?

What about making it all the way to Brazil?

What about the book I was going to write once I finished my 9 month journey?

I imagine many new parents experience these kinds feelings.

New life bringing a sense of death to their old life.

But never once have I heard a parent tell me that they regretted having kids.

I am so fascinated by old people. People who have been through all of this and more. People whose children are already grown, and whose grandchildren have already been born.

When I see an old lady, I stare at her, study her, think about what she might be thinking about, how it might be to be her.

Her hands are wrinkled and covered with blue veins and dots, her face is sagging and her hair is thin. But her eyes are the same color as when she was 16.

She has lived–far longer than I have–with her choices.

She had dreams too. She hoped for things.

When she was young, she imagined her life to look a certain way, imagined the great things she would accomplish.

She fell in love, she broke hearts, she had her heart broken.

Maybe she tried to become a concert pianist, but it was too hard. Maybe her parents couldn’t afford the lessons. Maybe she lost interest when she got older because than she wanted to be the lead singer of a rock band.

Maybe she wanted to travel around the world.

Maybe she wanted to be a school teacher.

A poet.

A dancer.

Most likely she wanted to be loved, respected, admired.

Maybe some of these things happened. Maybe none of them did. Maybe they happened in broken bits and pieces.

But by the time she is in her 70s or 80s, how much of it really matters to her anymore?

Or does it haunt her?

I hear Tom Waits’ voice drift through my head at this moment:

“What does it matter, a dream of love or a dream of lies?

We’re all gonna be in the same place when we die.

Your spirit don’t leave knowing

Your face or your name

The wind in your bones is all that remains.

And we’re all gonna be just dirt in the ground.”

dirt in the ground

 

Thanks for reading. Don’t want these posts to be too long, so I’m practicing keeping them a bit shorter. I have the next part mostly written and I’ll share it soon!

 

Learning to Live with Myself

I am sitting in an air bnb apartment on Avenida 15 Nte. in Playa del Carmen. Outside our balcony window is Avenida 15, a busy street with tortillerias and cheap Mexican food. The ocean is a 10 minute walk away. Inside this one room apartment there are towels,clothing and musical instruments strewn around.

I am slathered in sunblock–a morning and afternoon ritual I have been adhering to since I arrived–and my skin is salty from swimming in the ocean today.

Addison is sitting on the couch trying to get his work done on the computer, though he’s really just fighting the urge to go take another nap.

I have ridden my bicycle across Mexico (and taken rides in a few buses and cars), and now I sit back to contemplate the last two weeks.

During these last 14 or so days, I’ve ridden my bicycle almost everyday, spent the majority of my hours alone, slept in random hotels or at couchsurfer/warmshowers hosts’ houses, and have eaten everything from cold tortillas stuffed with refried beans from a bag in my hotel room to huevos rancheros floating in red sauce at a fine restaurant in Champoton. I’ve consumed roadside coconuts, oranges that are peeled and sliced in half and sold for 10 pesos a bag, and the stray coca-cola when I’ve still got 30 km to my final destination and I feel like I just can’t take it anymore.

With my chapter of alone time coming to a close for this trip (at least for the moment), I feel truly grateful for this rite of passage, and also relieved that nothing ever stays the same.

My friend Watson (also former upright bass player for my band, The Love Sprockets) lives in Playa del Carmen and had been expecting me to show up any day. He had also mentioned if shit really hit the fan, he’d be open to borrowing a truck from the brewery he works at to come and save me.

Traveling from Villahermosa to Merida I had been heading due east along the Gulf Coast. Then from Merida (about 300 km from Playa–so basically 4-5 days of riding) I was turning due south for the last leg of my ride. While leaving Merida, I was hit with such an incredibly strong headwind, that it felt like my purpose in pedaling was mostly to avoid being blown backwards. It was also intensely hot all of a sudden.

In addition, my iPod had died, never to return to the land of the living, during the fateful rainstorm I wrote about in my last blog post. This meant long hours of lonely silence, only broken up by the passing of trucks and cars, and the occasional Mexican man who decided to yell or whistle at me.

I felt a wave of complete and utter discouragement, and suddenly didn’t care about finishing the final 321 km by bicycle. I wanted out. I wanted Watson to come and get me, and to just lay around Playa until Addison arrived on the 18th. I didn’t want to be fighting a headwind for the next 4-5 days, staying in hotels, eating shitty food from roadside restaurants, and being out in the full sun day in and day out, with no shade to speak of.

But when I tried to make the emergency rescue call, Watson was not available. He had work/the truck wasn’t available. Eventually, over the next couple of days, I tried to convince him to just ride his motorcycle out to see me, and I could take the day off, hang out with a friend and go swim at a cenote in good company.

However, his lady friend was visiting, and he didn’t want to drag her out on the motorcycle for a 4 hour ride to come and meet me.

So I found myself pushing through a wall that I had really hoped to just walk around and avoid altogether.

Yes, there was quite of bit of crying involved and a tad too much sun exposure, but nothing that was going to kill me. At the urging of Radha (my sister), I began to make my rides a bit shorter, tackling 60 km a day rather than 80-100 km as I had been doing for the first half of my trip. This certainly helped my moral.

This seems like a good time to talk about the wildlife I’ve seen, most of which has been roadkill, but some of which has been the real, living animals themselves.

Here is some of the Mexican roadkill I can recall (I’ve researched photos of the real thing online so you can get a visual of the magnificent, though sadly dead, creature):

Coatis

Coati

Gray foxes

Gray fox

Ocelots

Ocelot

An oriole

Oriole

Beautiful blue and green birds (maybe the blue-crowned motmot?)

blue crowned motmot

Small, brown bats

bat

Black Vultures

BlackVulturesML

Dogs

Butterflies

Cleopatra butterfly

Snakes of all sizes

patchnose snake rat snake

Parrots

parrot

Some of the live animals I’ve seen have been:

-a gray fox who crossed the road in front of me so close that I had to stop so I didn’t run into her

-lots of bats at the cenotes here in the Yucatan

-many varieties of birds including herons, orioles, parrots, doves, grackles, warblers, woodpeckers, hawks, eagles, pelicans and ones whose names I do not know.

Motmot Great Kiskadee Couchs Kingbird Blue Heron

-I was able to hang out with a bush-full of coatis one day, much to my (and their) surprise.

-I never pass up the chance to watch one of the enormous, cat-sized lizards sunbathing or doing it’s strange ‘push-up’ dance, where it bobs up and down and sometimes arches its head back rhythmically. Oddly, I feel no desire to try and catch one and hold it, like I used to with the little fence lizards in California. Dinosaurs are best observed at a small distance in my opinion. 🙂

Iguana

Here in Playa del Carmen I saw a giant rodent like creature rummaging around the trash near the beach… an agouti seems to be what I saw:

Agouti

2016-03-21 07.28.19
Here’s a picture of the agouti’s tracks that I took on the beach here in Playa del Carmen (I added my credit card in the photo so you can get a sense of their size)

I was able to camp one of the days I was on the road near a cenote, in a small Mayan village town called Yokdznot (please don’t ask me how to pronounce that). I was psyched to see an official campground in Mexico.

2016-03-10 17.22.45

Yes, I was the only person camping, and the Mexicans who passed by my camp spot seemed to be highly perplexed as to what exactly I was doing…

I didn’t sleep all that well in my little tent–what with the village dogs raising the alarm every hour or so when a leaf rustled in the distance–but I was so happy to hear the wind in the trees and to be awoken by birdsong that it was fine.

Actually, in the middle of the night at that campground, I had to go to the bathroom, and had a cool little experience.

The bathroom was a good distance away, so I followed the path that led to it, stomping my feet every now and then to scare off snakes. I saw a strange, white beast off to the side under a tree. It seemed to stock still, gazing at me with mute concentration. I stopped, feeling a little uneasy, and had to look at it for a while before I could discern that it was a goat. And no, it wasn’t staring at me with it’s head erect–that was, in fact, it’s butthole and it’s little tail sticking up in the air. It’s back was turned to me and I suppose it was just sleeping standing up or something.

When I reached the bathrooms, I saw two men sleeping in hammocks hanging from the trees nearby.

There was something so fascinating about seeing them dangling there, like two overgrown babies, snoring softly. No blankets, sheets, pillows or mosquito netting. Just a hammock swaying beneath the trees in the breeze.

I was truly impressed by this scene.

I snuck by quietly so as not to awaken them.

All of this alone time has given me plenty of space for meditation and just ‘being’ with myself.

Sometimes I don’t really want to hang out with myself.

Sometimes I’d MUCH rather hang out with anyone else but me.

But that’s usually when I’m feeling some kind of pain–fear, loneliness, despair–and I don’t want to feel bad anymore.

So I’ve simply taken the time to hang out with these unpleasant feelings, and it’s amazing how much quicker they seem to dissipate when I give them all of my attention.

It gets tiresome when these unhappy feelings arise every morning, or every 5 minutes. Especially when I need to pack up all my gear and hit the road in a timely manner, and need to have the strength of mind to cycle 7-8 hours everyday and find a place to sleep at night before it gets dark.

But now I’m beginning to regard these painful  feelings simply as little crying babies with poopy diapers. As long as I’m willing to hold them, let them cry, and even change their diapers occasionally, they can’t carry on forever. They finally seem to be satisfied at some point, and give me a break.

It’s during these respites that I regain my sense of humor, and actually want to talk to other people, even if it’s only in spanish. I feel a resurgence of inspiration around my trip. I feel space inside of me, and can take some easy breaths, maybe even smile.

What I like about being alone is that I get to decide exactly what I do when. I can leave the hotel in the morning as early (or as late) as I feel like, I can go to sleep when I decide it’s time to turn off the light, and I don’t have consult anyone about any decision I’m trying to make.

That being said, sometimes I choose to consult other people. Like Watson, for instance–when I’m getting ready to ride 100 km with a broken spoke and my wheel is rubbing the brakes off to one side even thought they’re released.

Or I’ll call Radha and Erik (my sister and her husband), when I’ve had a rough start to my morning and my insides feeling all junky and sad. I just chat with them for a few minutes to hear how their day went (they’re getting ready for bed when I’m waking up, because they’re in Thailand), and Radha will patiently remind me that feeling sad does not mean the end of the world.

I made it to the small town of Chemuyil (near Tulum) on Monday, and spent two nights at a friend of Rohn Baye’s (Rohn is one of my Patreon backers who I met in San Antonio on my way through to Brazil). His name is Pepe, and on Tuesday we spent some time walking around Tulum while he got his car repaired at the mechanics, and then he drove me to his friend’s place out in the jungle where I was taken through a series of underground caverns and swam in an underground cenote. Truly amazing.2016-03-15 17.26.192016-03-15 17.16.12 2016-03-15 17.15.56

On Wednesday I awoke at 5:30 am, so that I could rolling out to Playa del Carmen by 7 am, and be able to beat the heat. I arrived at Watson’s apartment complex around 10:45 am.

“Watson,” I said, after he’d stepped outside to meet me and was marveling at my loaded bicycle. “I rode my bicycle across Mexico. Now I never have to do it again, ever.”

2016-03-16 15.44.20
Me and Watson