Dear Everyone

Dear Everyone,

It has been a lonely time

Inside of here

 

No, there have been people

People to see

People to hear

People to call

But I hope to learn

To love you all

While sitting this one out

 

It gets dark in here

I’m not sure how I feel

Just a hollow

A tightness in my throat

 

She’s gone

She is really gone

I held on

Until it didn’t hurt too much

To let her go

 

And now there’s this big gone-ness

Where she once was

An open space

That a bird flies across

So vast

It’s an endless sky

But it fits inside

Me

Like she fit inside

Me

 

She’ll never not be with me

And so it hurts

Deeply

To have her leave

And see

How no one will talk to me

 

The fear is great

The fear to say or do the wrong thing

It’s safer to leave me alone

And wait

I understand

 

I also understand

That you can’t understand

And if you do

I am so sorry

 

If you do understand

Let me give you this embrace

Let me hold you so you can cry

And let me tell you that I am sorry

 

I’m sorry that you know what this feels like

And even if they are afraid to be there for you

You can learn to love

Everyone

Equally

 

Because we all want

To be happy

We all want to be free

From pain

And so you see, we are all the same

 

Dear Everyone,

I know you cannot know

How it feels to watch her go

I know you cannot feel

The space she left behind

 

But maybe somewhere

Deep inside

A past life

A dream

You were a mother

Or a baby born who stopped breathing

An alternate ending

And so perhaps you do know

How it goes

 

And no matter what

I am learning that

I can love everyone

In spite

Of

My

Self

 

Throw Me Under the Bus

It’s cool and dark in our room, and we are wrapped up in blankets, fast asleep.

Except that I’m not fast asleep all of a sudden because someone is saying something outside of our room.
“Addison,” the man’s voice says. “Addison? Addison.”

We are subletting a house in Fort Collins from a writing professor who is away for four months doing Semester At Sea. We are sleeping in her bed, which fits in the room in a strange way because of all the bookshelves and because we wanted the door to be able to close.

“Addison,” I say. He breathes the deep breath of sleep. “Addison,” I say again. “Your dad is calling you.”

Why is Addison’s dad up in the middle of the night calling for Addison? It sounds like he’s faraway. Maybe he’s standing in the hallway outside of the guest room he and Melissa are staying in. I imagine bare feet on cool, wooden floor boards.

Addison stirs finally. “What?”

“Your dad is calling you.”

He wrenches the covers off of him and we both realize he’s naked. “What Daddy?” he calls.

“It’s time to get up,” his dad says.

The wheels in my head turn and click. It must be 3:30 a.m. It must be time to get up and drive Russell and Melissa to the airport.

“Okay,” Addison says. “We’re getting up.”

“My alarm must’ve not gone off,” I say, sitting up and checking my phone. “It’s 3:37 a.m.”

“Huh.” Addison crawls out of bed and fumbles for light switches and clothes.

Today is the day. Yes, it’s the day we drive my in-laws to back to the Denver airport after their 10 day visit, but it’s also the day we hand Charlie a big wad of cash and finish buying our future home: a 1991 Bluebird school bus.

We went to a credit union yesterday, one that we knew is affiliated with our Texas credit union, and asked to withdraw $3,020.00—the remainder of the cash we needed to add to our $980 in cash at home; plus the $1100 deposit we already gave to Charlie.

The girl at the bank counter typed up our account info and then looked around for her manager. “I need my manager’s permission to go into the vault,” she explained. She was slender and small, with long black hair and red nails that clacked first on the keyboard and then on the counter top.

We made small talk while we waited for the manager. “That’s such a cool design,” she said, looking at our Love Sprockets koozie that was snugged around my Spindrift sparkling cucumber water.

“Yeah, that’s our band actually,” I told her.

“Ha ha, cool!” She looked around for her manager again. Still no sign of her. She looked back at us. “You guys drink wine, don’t you.”

We blinked in unison and then shrugged. “Sure,” Addison said.

“What wine do you recommend? I have to buy some later for my friend and I.”

Addison listed off the brand name of the last wine we’d purchased since we couldn’t remember any others. We told her where she could buy it nearby.

“I just moved here,” she explained.

I almost said, “We just moved here too,” but we seemed to have enough local knowledge acquired during our short foray here to satisfy her further inquiries. So I didn’t mention it.

“I think my manager is in the bathroom,” she said finally.

Fine time for her to take a bathroom break. I do enjoy sitting in the bathroom alone though, it’s a nice hiatus from work. A meditative zone of sorts. I imagined her manager sitting on the toilet in a dress skirt with black high heels, scrolling through Facebook on her phone. Or sending texts back and forth to her on-the-rocks boyfriend.

The counter receptionist finally decided to just give us three grand out of her cash register. “It’s going to be a lot of tens,” she said. “Is that okay?”

“Sure!” Addison said.

“We’re giving it to someone else anyways,” I laughed.

She double and triple counted the bills for us and then stuffed them into a bank envelope. They barely fit, and stuck out the top.

“Sorry about that guys. Have a great day,” she chirped with a smile and wave.

So before we walk out to the car in the predawn light, I double check for our cash wad and then shove it into the depths of my purse.

We all pile into the car, including Zoso the dog, and have a sleepover-like talk while I drive us through the dark. We talk about coming-of-age awkwardness and stigmas and parenting regrets and what Melissa and Russell enjoyed about their visit.

After we drop the parents at the airport, we look up a 24 hour Denver diner.

“Charlie isn’t going to be at the shop at 5:30 a.m.,” I note studiously.

“Nope,” Addison agrees. “He says he’ll be in at 8:30.”

Our bus has been living at the Art Builder’s Guild where Charlie runs his bus conversion operation. It’s a bus that Charlie picked out and bought at an auction, and then is selling to us.

At the diner we get tea and omelets and hash browns. I can’t eat so early in the morning but I try. We also try to get some computer and writing work done, both of us rubbing our eyes and yawning and stretching.

I take Zoso for a walk around the block while Addison keeps working.

So this is Denver. I pass a church declaring the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, alongside a sign announcing “Spiritual Movement Yoga Classes”.

I come around a corner and see a sleepy man picking through a trash can outside of Family Dollar. He finds something and puts it in his mouth, chewing while he continues sorting through discarded takeout containers and soda cups. I imagine myself looking through that trash can and being hungry enough to eat its contents. Sadness wells up in my throat. But I’m too shy to approach the man.

A skinny man with a black lab on a leash is standing on the corner, fumbling for keys to the door of the school bus parked there. The dog is pulling at the leash, wanting to say hello to Zoso.

“Come here! Come here!” the man yells, yanking at the leash. He doesn’t look up to see us.

I decide to not approach him either, though I am curious what the inside of his bus home looks like. If Addison were with me he would have already given the homeless man some money. And maybe he would have talked to the school bus guy. I just don’t trust people who are mean to their dogs. And men seem to be more likely to see me as a “pretty girl” instead of a human being. Oh well.

When Zoso and I get back to the diner, Addison is ready to roll. It’s 8:30 a.m., so we hop in the car and head over to the Art Builder’s Guild.

When we arrive, we walk up to the shop entrance where there are sawhorses, trashcans filled with sawdust, and tools hanging on the walls. A partially converted school bus is parked inside.

Four of Charlie’s crew are standing around, clearly waiting for “the boss” to show up.

“Is Charlie in?” Addison says.

“Not yet,” a fellow with dark hair, a beanie and glasses says. “But he’ll be here soon.”

“You guys are the prison bus people right?” another fellow asks. He has dirty blond hair and a beard.

We laugh. “Yeah, I guess you’re right!”

The big shop dog greets us and we slip inside past his makeshift doggy gate. We shake hands with Ben, the dirty blond- haired guy and Tim, the guy with the glasses.

“So you guys are the bus elves huh?” I ask.

“Yep!” they say, and I even get a cracked smile from the stern looking girl in the crew.

“What are y’all working on today?”

“Still working on that bus over there,” Ben says.

“Mind if we look inside?” Addison asks.

“Sure, go ahead!” Addison steps into the bus and Ben turns to me. “Man, I’m jealous of y’alls bus.”

“Aw, did we steal it from you?”

“Nah, I’m not really ready to buy a bus right now.”

“What do you like about the bus?” I ask. It’s always nerve-wracking making a decision on something like one’s future home, so I’m eager to hear positive feedback from someone who’s seen and converted a lot of school buses.

“Oh man, I like everything about it. I love that engine, the 8.3 Cummins, that thing is so beastly. And I like it’s age. I mean, the thing is indestructible.”

“I’m glad to hear that!”

When Charlie arrives I tell him, “We have a big ol’ wad of cash for you!”

“Sweet,” he says, leading us upstairs to their loft office. Everything is covered in sawdust, but in turn it all smells great too.

“There’s going to be lots of 10s,” I tell him.

“Really? They didn’t have enough 100s at a bank?”

“Well, their manager was in the bathroom so the girl helping us had to empty out her cash drawer.”

“Well that’s awkward.”

We hand him the wad. “You’d better count that to be sure.”

He spreads the bills out and counts them, than signs the Bluebird’s title and hands it to us. “It’s your bus now!”

I want to squeal and do a jig but I don’t.

We walk over to our bus and run our hands over the front of its off-white, speckled face.

“Here it is!” Addison says. “It’s a big ‘un!”

We climb up the stairs and go inside.

“It’s so sexy!” I cry, finally doing my squealing jig.

“Well, not yet,” Addison says. “Give it some time.”

“No, it’s sexy right now. It’s got soul!

“Yeah, you’re right.”

The bus is filled with double brown seats, leaving a walking aisle in the center. There’s a metal cage in the back, which Charlie assured us was used for transporting gardening equipment, not prisoners. We choose to believe him.

The bus was used for transporting prisoners to do community work around Colorado. Kinda makes me happy, thinking of those fellas or ladies going and doing good work in their communities. I try not to imagine the guys hocking loogies on the floor as I kneel down to examine the bolts holding the seats in place.

Before Charlie and his school bus elves can get started with our conversion, we have to pull all of the seats out, gut them and recycle their metal interior, and strip out any extra metal pieces, bars or strips in the interior.

Shouldn’t be too difficult, what with this sexy new drill we bought ’n’ all.

I find the biggest hexagonal drill bit in our pack and test it on one of the bolt heads.

“Um…” I say to Addison, who walks over. “The biggest drill head is too small for these bolts.”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously.”

“Well fuck.”

“Well they lent us these pry chisel thingies and that hammer, right?”

“Yeah.”

“So maybe they’ll lend us a drill-head bit thing one size bigger.”

“Yeah maybe.”

“Here,” I hand him the one that’s too small. “Ask if we can borrow the next size up.”

“Okeydoke.”

I work on getting some screws out of the metal strips that line the rubber walkway. None of them will budge. I finally pry one out with the back of a hammer. It’s so rusty you can’t even tell it’s supposed to be a screw.

Addison returns with a bit that seems to fit the bolts.

“Alright!” I watch as he fits it into the drill and then tries to unscrew the first bolt. It spins and whirs but makes no move to pull free.

“What the…?” Addison stares at the offending bolt and tries to twist it with his fingers. “It fits, why isn’t it coming out?”

“Oh lord. Try a different bolt.”

That one also spins in place.

“WD-40,” Addison says. “Maybe they’re stuck because they’re so rusted.” He starts spritzing the bolts down with WD-40.

I try the drill out on some of the other bolts with no success. Addison tests out his greased up bolts, but they are just as unwilling as the others.

I grab the sledgehammer and chisel and starting wailing away at one of the bolts. I try to wedge it out from below, and then we both take turns trying to smash it’s stubborn little head off.

“Well this is a lot harder than I thought it was going to be,”  I say to Addison.

“Yeah, I’ll say. WTF.”

I go back to the bus elves and tell them their first drill bit isn’t working. Ben finds me another one. We test it out and the bolts continue to spin in place, like rusty, metal, stubborn, whirling dervishes.

“Ok, shall we go to a hardware store then?” Addison says.

“Yep. Let’s go.”

At the hardware store an old timer helps us find the right drill bit, as well as a wrench and a screwdriver with eight pieces. I ask for a bathroom and they send me to the store next door, a Latino clothing shop. The shop girl tells me the public can’t use their bathroom. I notice that she is wearing the exact same outfit that the gray, eyeless mannequin she just dressed is wearing.

As we’re walking back to the door, we see a little fridge filled with Topo Chicos (a Mexican mineral water drink). We haven’t seen Topo Chicos since Austin!

“You want a Topo Chico?” Addison asks me.

“Sure, why not.”

He grabs the fridge handle to open the door and we see that the handle is chained and padlocked.

“Forget that,” I say.

“Yeah, forget that.”

We get back to our bus, armed with our new tools and drill bit.

Believe it or not, the bolts continue to spin in place. While Addison consults with the school bus elves yet again, I work on prying more rusty screws out of the floor with the hammer and chisel.

Addison returns and announces that we’ll have to drill the bolt heads off with a big drill bit that we need to buy.

“Tim says if they’re not coming out than we have to drill their heads off.”

“Good lord.”

“Yeah, should we call it quits for today?” Addison looks hopeful.

“No, I want to leave here knowing that we at least have a sure way to get these seats out. I feel like we haven’t accomplished anything yet!”

“Ok, ok… do you want me to go buy a drill bit at the hardware store or do you want to go?”

“You go,” I say, kneeling back down on the floor and trying not to think about prisoner loogies. “I’ll keep ripping screws out.”

“Okeydoke. See you soon.”

As I hammer and pry and my hands get covered in rust and grime, I feel good. I feel empowered. We are not just talking about this anymore, we are doing it! People are so afraid of spending money, but I feel great spending money on this project! And the money is going to Charlie and his bus elves who all seem like wholesome human beings.

And now I’m sweating and getting dirty and maybe we’ll have pulled one seat out by the time we go home today.

If anyone ever sees us in our awesome gypsy home a year form now and says, “You guys are so lucky,” I am going to laugh—most likely—and I’m going to point to the floor and the walls of the bus and say, “You know what this bus is covered in? Our blood, sweat and tears, honey.” Hopefully not prisoner loogies too. “This bus is covered in our hopes and dreams. Our deepest longings and aspirations. Our determination to never give up, to live the life we’ve always wanted. This, my friend, is not the product of luck.”

Oh, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Addison gets back with a giant drill bit and starts trying to drill the head off one of the bolts. The drill is slipping as the bolt head turns, and little shards of metal are sliding out and piling around the mangled bolt.

Suddenly Tim appears, standing in the bus. “Hey guys, how’s it going?”

“Good!” I say.

“Yeah, we’re just trying to drill the bolt heads off like you said,” Addison says. “They keep spinning so it’s hard to really get in there. But I think it’s working.”

“Yeah,” Tim says. “You know, Charlie just mentioned something—there very well may be nuts screwed to the other end of the bolts, like, underneath the bus.”

“What?” I say.

“Oh man,” Addison says.

“Lemme see,” Tim says. I follow him outside. He sticks his head under the wheel-well. “Yep,” he says. “There are nuts on the other end of these bolts. That’s why they’re not coming out.”

“No way.” I laugh. “I would’ve never thought to check that in a millions years.”

We both crawl under the bus. I lay on my side and look to see the bolt ends that Tim is pointing at. Each one has a nut on the end, holding it in place.

“Yeah, one of you will have to hold the nut on this end,” Tim says, “While the other one unscrews it from above.”

“Wow. Thanks. This is going to take a while.”

“Yep!”

Tim leaves and I grab a wrench and crawl back under the bus. I lay down and army crawl to where I can see some bolt nuts. Then I carefully sit up, wiping gravel off of my arms, and make sure I don’t hit my head on something metal and protruding.

I am in the belly of the beast now. Wow, getting run over by a bus is really not as simple of a matter as I had perhaps previously considered. I mean, there are a lot of things under here to get caught in, or on, or to get hit by as you’re being run over! It’s really quite uncomfortable!

I feel a surge of hope that the bus will remain completely still while my head is wedged between its axles.

This is really quite intimate. Me and my bus are getting to know one another for sure.

Zoso crawls under to join me, and to escape from the hot sun above. Well, he seems to say. Dis is pretty kewl.

I reach up and tap tap tap next to two bolts, asking Addison if he can find the place I’m at from above. I tap tap and clang clang and eventually Addison’s footsteps stop above me.

“Got it,” he says. I hear the drill and then one of the bolts moves.

“Okay,” I say. I grab the nut with my wrench and hold on. “Go for it!”

The drill whirs.

“Wrong way! Other way!”

“Really? But… okay.”

The drill goes again and the bolt spins and lifts out, leaving me with a lone nut balanced on my wrench.

“Yes!” I yell. “It worked!”

“Woo hoo!” I hear Addison’s muffled victory cry from above.

Slowly but surely, a small pile of bolt nuts gather on the ground next to me.

There are some nuts I can’t reach because of pipes and tubing. And some nuts are rusted onto the ends of the bolts. Those will have to be beheaded.

We work until about noon and then I pocket the nuts and crawl out.

“Success!”Addison says when I come back inside the bus. “We got a bunch of bolts out. And we own our bus now!”

“Yay.” I’m tired and happy. “From now on we have a home no matter what.”

We don’t want to live in the bus the way it is right now, but we could if we had to. We are now proud home owners.

On Sunday we’ll come back and I’ll get thrown under the bus again, to hold nuts in place while Addison pulls them out from above. But I don’t mind.

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.

A Part of Me

About one year ago, I moved into this house in Austin where I live now. I was pregnant with a baby girl. I saw that several loquat trees were growing in the backyard of my new home, and it made me happy. I watched as the fruits ripened on the tree, and when they were soft and golden, I ate them, feeding myself and my growing child. I knew that five or ten years ago, a bird had unknowingly planted this tree, by dropping a seed as it perched on the fence.

Whenever I would look at the loquat tree outside of my window, I would smile and know that I carried part of this tree with me. When I saw the blue jays and mourning doves land on the banister outside my window, I would smile, knowing they had eaten fruit from this loquat tree and also carried part of her with them. The birds, my baby, the tree and I all had something in common.

This tree’s fruits and seeds had fallen to the ground outside my window, and many baby trees sprouted.

Six months later, my baby was still-born. We buried her in the earth, at Eloise Woods, where many other people, babies and pets are buried. We planted a loquat seedling next to her grave. The little tree is a baby from the loquat tree in my backyard. Now this tree, who is in me and in my daughter, has a part of her growing in Eloise Woods.

I know that this baby tree will grow up to be beautiful and strong and that she will grow many fruits. Her roots are growing in the same soil that my daughter is buried in, and she is creating life out of death. The animals and birds who live in Eloise Woods will eat her fruit. When I see the cedar waxwings and squirrels at Eloise Woods, I can smile through my tears, knowing they carry a part of my baby with them, and a part of me as well.

And so we all continue on–me, the trees, the birds, my daughter–seemingly without beginning or end.

Sitting in the Dark

It’s midnight and I can’t sleep. My heart is aching and feels squeezed inside a too-small space in my chest. I consider waking Addison up in case I really am having a heart attack this time. But I sigh, knowing this pain will not kill me. Not tonight.

I slip out of bed and creep across the floor, gathering up my writing materials and my laptop and bringing them out to the kitchen table. I put some broth on the stove to heat up while I write. 

The house has as an emptiness to it now, a strange, ghostly shell feeling. I open the door to what would have been Chickadee’s bedroom, to put something away in there. It smells like an empty room. Like no one has ever lived in there or ever will. Addison almost set up his office in there, but failed halfway through the process. Books, magazines and papers lie on the floor in mismatched piles. The plant stand is empty. I couldn’t bear to leave a plant in there all alone.

I write to two of my friends in Vermont, puzzling over my conundrum of how to get the support I need right now. I reflect on my realization of how rare and precious we few are–what priceless gems the people are who can truly listen, truly be present and available to our loved ones. Even though I meditate and breathe deeply and read books and go for walks and play music and cry… I feel rotten and festering inside. There is no replacement for a listening ear, no replacement for a friend who considers my suffering to be their own.

After writing and drinking a cup of broth, I wander into the living and lay on the couch. Going back to bed with Addison while he is sleeping peacefully is too hard. If I am alone than I want to be alone. And at least one of us should sleep. 

Chickadee had awakened me and led me to this very couch so many times during my pregnancy with her. I would awake as early as 2 am, with a hunger so fierce and undeniable I would be driven from my bed and sent waddling to the kitchen. I would find something to eat and make my way to the couch and Gurmukh’s book on pregnancy. I would read about being a pregnant mother, opening myself to my child, preparing for birth and preparing to have a baby.

Before Gurmukh’s book, I would read out loud to Chickadee from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. But after a month or two of this, I wondered if perhaps it was too morbid to be reading about death to my unborn baby. The Tibetan Buddhist monks don’t seem to be all that happy about being born. They seem to be devoting themselves wholeheartedly to their practice so that when they die, they don’t have to be reborn.

And at the same time, I had the feeling that Chickadee already knew all about birth and death and the realms beyond all of it. I imagined her smiling knowingly as I read to her.

Sometimes I would be awake around dawn, and birds would be coming to the feeder outside of the living room window. I would open the door and stand out there, being quiet and listening deeply when the chickadees were speaking, so my baby could hear them.

This morning I am on the same couch we had shared, in the same living room, at 2 am, but now I am alone. I think about Chickadee and wonder why I don’t feel like I can still talk to her, wonder if she’s still here with me. It is so silent, lying there in the dark, and I feel empty inside.

I wonder if this is how dark it was for her inside of my womb.

My mind drifts groggily, and as my eyes close I hear a sound. It’s a small sound, as though a moth wing has brushed against the strings of the viola that is hanging on the wall above me. Or perhaps the sound came from the guitar that hangs over the fireplace. I can’t tell. I hold still and listen. Silence.

As I begin to doze off again, I hear the faint sounding of an instrument’s string once more.

I don’t know why, but I feel afraid, so I get up and walk back to the bedroom.

I find Addison has scootched all the way to my side of the bed, as though he has been searching for me while I was gone, and had traveled in his sleep to the far side of our big bed, in hopes of finding me there. I stand over him, wondering how best to move him so I can lay back down.

“You’re up,” he says suddenly, and I clutch my chest in surprise. 

“You scared me,” I murmur.

He rolls over and gets up to pee. I crawl into the spot he’s opened up for me, all warm and damp from his overheated body. When he returns he puts his arms around me, and even though he’s a little too hot for me, I am soon fast asleep.

For a few precious hours I will be unconscious, and my pain will be a distant dream.

I will awake to more heartache. But I will make myself get out of bed, and I will go and sit on my cushion. I will practice looking deeply at the painful feelings in me, and I will smile to them, and I will breath in, and I will breath out.

This pain will not kill me. Not today.

Chickadee

I am a dead body moving

I’ve got lightning in my hands

I won’t be here for long

So you’ve got to understand

You can dance with the demon

Look him dead into the eyes

I’ve already been where we go

When we die…

Now, when I sing this song, it seems to fill the air with the intensity of my feelings for her.

How many times had she heard us play that song?

Was it she who taught it to us?

I remember when we first started learning the song, in a second story apartment in Mexico City. Our veranda doors were wide open, and the hot, sunny, taxi-filled air blew in over us, a wash of street taco smells, and vendors selling things made out of plastic in all shapes and sizes.

I had ridden my bicycle halfway across Mexico by this point. When Addison had arrived at the Juarez International Airport, I held onto him like a lifeline in a tumultuous ocean of fears, hopes and dreams that seemed to be hanging just above me, ready to be dashed against the rocks at any moment, should he ever stop loving me.

During the months leading up to this moment and even while we were together, I cried more than I can ever recall, crying as though my tears were prayers. I cried until I was dehydrated, until my nose bled, until I felt drained of life, and then I would cry some more at the miserable human I had become.

She came to me at my darkest moment, an answer to my prayers. She loved me so intensely, that I was able to draw her to me in my time of need.

We learned this song, Dead Body Moving by The Devil Makes Three, during our short stay together in Mexico City.

Then Addison flew home to Austin, and I crammed myself into a bus, holding onto Nana as long as I could before it took me away, across to the Southeast, to Villahermosa, where I would continue pedaling in a loneliness that felt desolate.

But from that time on, I was never truly alone.

Nana had tattooed a chickadee onto my leg, and I invoked its fierce spirit to join me on my journey.

I didn’t know that she was with me, but I suspected, at moments, that someone was there.

I sing a ragged and a crooked song

The sun is setting and it won’t be long

My body’s weak but this soul is strong

I am a shadow dressed up in these skin and bones.

I am afraid to regret.

Afraid to regret that I didn’t treasure the 9 months I had with her more.

How could I have known?

How can we ever know when the last day is we will get to be with our loved one?

It was only hours before I was to go into labor. Watson–Uncle Watson, as we thought she would learn to call him–had stopped in to visit.

“I can’t believe there’s a baby in there!” he cried, staring at my huge belly with a mixture of awe and deep suspicion.

“Do you want to hear her heartbeat?” Addison asked. He wore an expression of pride only a father can wear. She was his baby, he’d helped to make her, to keep her alive this long.

Addison pulled out the doppler MariMikal had lent us that day. “Our midwife sent us home with this doppler so we could check her heartbeat. She hasn’t been moving as much since Saturday, so we were a little worried.”

He lifted my shirt and put some goo on my belly, than pressed the doppler where her heart was. It took a second to find the right placement, but then we heard her heartbeat pulsing out through the little speaker, the greatest proof of her aliveness.

“Holy shit,” Watson said with reverence.

Then we picked up our instruments and surrounded her with music.

Dead Body Moving was the last song we ever played for her while she was still alive.

We weave our stories in a worthless yarn

Trying to escape with all these tricks and charms

It’s far too late to ring the alarm

We are just babies falling in the spider’s arms.

There is a kind of shock that takes over, before devastation settles in.

The next morning, when I went into labor and my midwife came to get everything ready, I refused to believe that anything was wrong after she checked for Chickadee’s heartbeat and heard only silence.

I refused to believe that her lack of heartbeat meant death.

It wasn’t until I heard the rasp of panic in my midwife’s breathing, while we rushed through the hospital hallways, that I began to acknowledge that something was terribly wrong.

“There is no fetal heart activity,” a doctor with a strong Australian accent announced to us. The sonogram clearly showed her little ribcage, her little heart not beating.

Addison recalls a nurse handing him a pile of paperwork to sign, seconds after being told his little girl had died. He said he discovered in that moment that he no longer knew how to read. Our midwife snatched the papers from his hand. “Go to her!” she said, and he made his way to my side, held my hand, and laid his head in my lap to cry.

We went home, and I continued the long day of work that stretched ahead of me.

Giving birth.

I’d never thought about how someone could die before they were born.

It’s all backwards.

How is it that you can still be born even though you’re dead?

Chickadee managed it. She’s about as determined as her mama.

24 hours later, when she finally emerged, I could let myself fall apart.

The way her arm fell limply behind her when the doctor handed her to me, said it all.

And yet I still felt a great relief and joy to be able to hold her in my arms finally, to be able to give her to Addison and see him hold her for the first time.

Why did she have to be so perfect?

Why did she have to have Addison’s eyebrows, his shock of thick hair, my hands and feet?

What was the purpose of all of this?

My father and sister arrived from their separate ends of the world, having traveled all night from Washington and Idaho. It was 5 am when they found us in the dark hospital room, a warm spotlight shining down on our new family.

How strange that the newest family member had decided to leave us so soon.

We all wept together, and laughed at how big she was. I’ll never understand how I fit all of that baby inside of me, and how I ever managed to get her out.

And then there’s the anger.

9 months of preparation, feeding her, learning about her, buying things for her, receiving gifts on her behalf, making plans for her life, practicing spanish and french so she could hear other languages in the womb, discussing what she was going to look like, what musical instrument she might end up playing, how beautiful she was going to be…

Why?

When someone tells me it happened for a reason, that she chose to leave for a good reason, than I feel as though the world is a stupid, shitty place full of stupid, shitty people and we’d all best just get to it like the Buddha did so many hundreds of years ago. No point in wallowing around here for much longer. Enlightenment is the only worthy pursuit.

And if she chose to leave, than how could she? How could she do this to me?

But than there’s always the option that there is no why, there is no reason why she died, that she didn’t want to leave, that things are random, and shit happens.

And that makes me feel like the world is a stupid shitty place full of stupid, shitty people.

Except that we’ve been showered in so much love by all of the people we know, and even those we didn’t know that we know. Cards have come in the mail, flowers, food delivered to our door, long hugs, sympathetic smiles and shared tears.

Our family surrounded us and kept us afloat when we felt we would drown.

How could I ever have doubted that I am loved? How could I have ever believed that people are stupid and shitty?

We buried her 3 feet under, at a green burial plot out in the countryside. A handful of friends and family were there to dig the hole and to listen to us sing to her, to tell her story through tears, and to add their own voices with words and songs.

She was wrapped in her daddy’s flannel, the one he’d rode all the way across the United States with, the one with the patches that Peggy had sewn on for him in Florida, because even though it was full of gaping holes, he wouldn’t give up on it.

And she was wrapped in her mama’s green elephant tapestry, the one I’d gotten in India 10 years ago when my sister and I visited my brother there.

Her grandmother got her a stone chickadee statue to stand over her grave, and a rose quartz heart.

Her aunty Bhakta Priya and I hung a birdfeeder full of sunflower seeds near her spot, so she could be kept company by the birds.

I know she’s not just there, in that little grave. I know she’s everywhere, and I hope that she will never leave me.

For now I try to heal. My heart feels like a piece of pottery that fell, and broke, and I’m trying to glue it back together.

One day I’ll get all of the pieces back in place, but you’ll always be able to see the cracks.

And the song of the chickadee will always find its way through those cracks, and reach me.

“This body is not me;

I am not caught in this body.

I am life without boundaries:

I have never been born and I have never died.

Over there, the wide ocean and the sky with many galaxies all manifests from the basis of consciousness.

Since beginning-less time I have always been free.

Birth and death are only a door through which we go in and out.

Birth and death are only a game of hide-and-seek.

So smile to me and take my hand and wave good-bye.

Tomorrow we shall meet again or even before.

We shall always be meeting again at the true source,

Always meeting again on the myriad paths of life.”

Thich Nhat Hanh, No Death, No Fear

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