Friday, January 30, 2009

a newly minted dharma bum

Dharma Mittra is a magical little man. My current proximity to Manhattan meant that I got to spend Wednesday evening in Dharma's classes - a Sadhana practice followed by a course in "psychic development." I felt very much like the cliche'd kid on Christmas morning, racing up the metal steps to his studio with my heart pounding hard. Over the past two years of my practice, Dharma-inspired crescent moons and lizard pose in Graglia's intense yoga classes in DC took me infinitely deeper into asana. After my best friend dove head first into yoga this past year and emerged from Dharma's teacher training all tatted up with rainbow-Sanskrit forearms, I knew I had to go and see what type of teaching bred such intensity.

And it was clear. Dharma exudes such a calm, quiet sense of something. I immediately wanted to emulate it, channel it, whatever. 10 days of that and I would tat myself up as well.

I have a hell of a time meditating. I close my eyes and my mind races out of control. I usually need an intensely physical practice to get my mind to a quiet place. I feel at peace after svasana, but then the racing picks back up. It's in the post-svasana moments that I usually get a rush of creativity, often so much so that I have a hard time balancing the thoughts and the joy. In DC I would go straight from Flow into Whole Foods and somehow looking at the shiny produce would calm me down.

After Dharma's asana practice, he led a "psychic development" component - a combination of pranayama, chanting and some practical advice on life (if you want a bicycle, think of one and it will come!). I've always focused on intensifying my physical practice (6 hours straight of yoga, anyone?), but this was different. I sat up post-svasana and started chanting mantras with Dharma, plugging my ears, closing my eyes and humming like an angry female bee - bzzzzZZZZZ! I shut off my senses - plugging my ears, pressing my fingers into my eyes, plugging my nose and shutting my mouth. The result:


Or maybe not, but it was still incredible. When he brought us around to extended alternate nostril breathing, I could feel the exhale rushing out of every pore - or wherever else I focused.

I understood the difference - that intensity and strength of visualization that, channeled correctly, can do incredible things. Dharma managed to sneak out during the kirtan, while I was all wrapped up in harmonium and Hare Krishna, so I gave a little wink of thanks to Ganesh on my way out.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

winding down...or winding up?

Looking out on Lake Michigan. It made me think of this photo I took in 2007:

Papyrus on Lake Bunyonyi.

I'm so relaxed I can barely blog.

The past six weeks have been a bit of a blur. I've flagged much of the United States (DC, Florida, Colorado, California, Illinois, Wisconsin, New York...), experienced vast shifts in climate (it was -30 in Milwaukee last week with the wind chill and in the 80s in LA's heat wave), and reveled in the joys of travel - train, planes, automobile, snowshoe.

Milwaukee was a surprising shot of culture (ie. the Calatrava-designed Milwaukee Art Museum) and a non-surprising shot of frigidity (the freezing freezing temps that would prevent me from ever living in the Great Lakes again).

I'm now residing in Beacon, NY, an adorable outpost on the Hudson River - a 1.5 hour train ride north of Manhattan. The spare bedroom at Venessa's place gets the majority of the heat in the house, and her house is so damn cozy that it's near impossible to leave...

Yep, that's all I'm going to write.

Friday, January 16, 2009

a space/time warp and yinka shonibare

Sometime in the wee hours of Thursday morning, I was plucked from a warm bed in Evergreen, CO, and traveled for an hour through damp, dark, foggy nothingness to Denver International Airport. I woke up in LA.

The idyllic days in Beaver Creek have come to a close, and I'm here in LA focusing on selling One Mango Tree products to west coast retailers. This involved some logistics, like procuring one [fancy] black PT Cruiser, spending 1.5 hours at the LAX Office Depot making copies, and then gridlock traffic into downtown LA to set up the trade show booth. The gridlock gave me plenty of time to enjoy Morning Becomes Eclectic, as well as the 80 degree California heat. ...And to soak up that yellow blanket that lays on LA. Smog. I'd forgotten about smog.

Trade shows are an odd by-product of industry. Thousands and thousands of buyers and sellers spend thousands and thousands of dollars on setting up a booth to peddle their wares. The LA Convention Center is cavernous - not unlike any other convention center I've had the pleasure of visiting. The One Mango Tree booth is nestled in the "World Style" section of the show, between a Virgin of Guadalupe light switch designer and a Peace/Love/Hippie purse purveyor. The only sounds are the whizzing of suitcases on wheels (more later) and a Peruvian flautist that played 80s tunes all afternoon.

I'm not really sure what the buyers put in their suitcases...but none of the wheely-suitcase-toters seem to stop at my booth. After 9 hours of sitting absolutely still, I did manage to snag three new wholesale accounts. The highlight of the afternoon, however, was when a happy West African woman came rattling down the aisle with $10 veggie lunches - jollof rice, cabbage and plantains.

One sale from today is really worth mentioning. I sold quite a few bags and neckties to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. In March they are featuring an exhibit by Yinka Shonibare, a Brit/Nigerian whose work I stumbled upon when I started researching the history of wax-print. His work explores race and class issues - my favorites are his sculptures that mock the concept of achieving status through "cultural authenticity." So, in visiting SBMA, you'll see this:

which is quite a departure from this:

And once you're done checking out Shonibare, you can head to the museum gift shop, pick up a One Mango Tree necktie and secretly mock your boss (!). Happy Friday.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


oh, trade show LA
buyers race, fake cold air
wheely suitcases

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

on eating

"Organic Oreos are not a health food." oops.

I spent much of the 2007 Christmas season engulfed in The Omnivore's Dilemma, talking to everyone who would listen about the great corn conspiracy and waxing poetic about how I was going to plant organic veggies in the old bathtub out on my patio in Washington, DC (utter failure). In September of this year I followed up with Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - Barbara Kingsolver's look at eating local. After a failed attempt at a Thanksgiving meal supporting local farmers (people were way too freaked out about the size, recent aliveness and exorbitant cost of the turkey I bought from Blue Egg Farm), I decided the only changes I could really make were in my own diet.

After reading In Defense of Food, MP once again took me on a trip into eats-land, exposing nutritionism for what it is - a reductionist science that truly knows very little about how what we eat affects our health. We (myself included) all latch on to "food claims," and the Western diet is little more than a mix of government-led efforts to create jobs in the food processing industry by making us eat more crap. But really, isn't it obvious that Americans are a fat lot of people with high incidences of heart disease and cancer?

Here are some of my favorite bullets:
  • Shop the peripheries of the supermarket - stay away from the middle aisles, where all the processed foods tend to live, or better,
  • Stay away from supermarkets altogether - shop farmers markets or CSAs
  • Eat mostly plants, especially leaves (vegetarians live longer, and so do flexitarians - think like good old Thomas Jefferson - meat as a condiment)
  • You are what you eat eats too - this is where all that organic/grass-fed stuff comes in too - if you're going to eat meat, then your eating high up on the food chain, so consider the effects of what that animal ingested - all the antibiotics, toxins, garbage - that's all going to get into your system too if you eat crappy, cheap meat.
  • Be the kind of person who take supplements - aka be healthy and make educated choice, then ditch the supplements unless you're over fifty - get all the good stuff from your food instead.
  • Have a glass of wine with dinner - YES YES YES...needs no further explanation.
  • Eat meals - getting even more common sense with this one, but it means sitting down at a table for a shared meal (not alone, if you can help it) - eating more slowly and mindfully, and
  • Cook, and if you can, grow a garden - the closer we get to the production of our food...well Pollan says it best:
"The cook in the kitchen preparing a meal from plants and animals at the end of this shortest of food chains has a great many things to worry about, but "health" is simply not one of them, because it is given."

At first this book made me optimistic about the coming move to Uganda, and all the whole foods I'll be eating there. Sadly, this is really not the case, even in the more remote and traditionally agricultural places in the country. Take, for instance, Gulu. The tailors-in-training this past September wanted to have a mid-day snack, so first we sent Lucy and Prisca off with this sticky-sweet HFCS orange drink and sugary biscuits. It certainly sent the ladies at Unyama Camp into giggle fits from the sudden burst of glucose - followed by a late afternoon lull. We switched immediately to spending more money but buying a meal instead - having the ladies take turns cooking a meal of rice or beans and vegetables. Notice I said spending more money. Even in Gulu, fast and cheap (and nutritionally worthless) food has pervaded the market, making me wonder how long it will take for Western diseases to creep up - obesity in the lead, followed by heart disease and cancers. Luckily the tailors all still seem to prefer rice, beans and g-nut sauce and tea instead of sweets.

The more I go on this tangent of cheap food in Uganda, the more I wonder how much this it has to do with the twenty years of conflict that have unraveled that part of the country. If the war had not forced people from their land, and food aid had not become the norm (not to mention the influx of Western aid workers), would this cheap processed food be so readily available?

MP: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

thank you, andrew bird, for rocking my world

I love to snow shoe.

On an unrelated musical note -- back in July 2007, I sat at Crocodile Cafe and stole 30 precious minutes of super fast Ugandan internet to download Armchair Apocrypha on iTunes. Since that night, Scythian Empires has been the soundtrack for my life. It reminds me of interminable bus rides across northern Uganda, giraffes, Red Stripe and my big fat tears at Bird's show in Baltimore last year. I'd never been emotionally moved by music before, and haven't been since...

...perhaps until tonight, when I found out that Andrew Bird has a new CD streaming on NPR this week - it comes out January 20th. So Andrew and I had a few glasses of wine while I giggled with joy over new turns of whistles and violins, and his lyrical genius. For example:

Tenuous at best was all he had to say
when pressed about the rest of it, the world that is
from proto-Sanskrit Minoans to Porto-centric Lisboans
Greek Cypriots and and harbor-sorts who hang around in quotes a lot

Here's where things start getting weird
while chinless men will scratch their beards
and to their minds a sharpened axe
is brushed upon the Uralic syntaxes

Love of hate acts as an axis
Love of hate acts as an axis
First it wanes and then it waxes
So procreate and pay your taxes

2009 has a new soundtrack, and it's called Noble Beast.

Monday, January 05, 2009

where'd you come from?

When I was small, people would ask me "Where did you come from?" My Dad reminded me this week of my unwavering, confident and non-sensical response - "Colorado." It feels quite appropriate - returning to a place I've never been - to this land of my imaginary birth. It's quiet and cold and peaceful. The mountains loom and the trees seem to whisper "welcome back" as I snowshoe past. I'm here for 10 days to do, well, not a whole lot. Snowshoe, sit by the fire, catch up on work, read. So here I am. In Colorado, with baby eyes soaking it all in.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

iowa, nebraska, corn, cattle and flatness

Katie and I drove 18 hours across the heartland - from Minneapolis, MN to Beaver Creek, CO. Enjoy.

Manly Forest City. Somewhere in Iowa. We almost decided to live here forever, but decided instead to keep on truckin.

We admired some scenic alternative energy in the heartland.

And fueled up with cheap gas. They serve ethanol here. Shocker.

Nebraska...the good life (and the ice storm).

Thursday, January 01, 2009

sivah namah omg

Place: Sivananda Ashram, Paradise Island, Bahamas

Early in 2008, I had one of those remarkably crisp and clear dreams that stays with you for days after waking. Many of the details maintain the weird and surreal quality of dreamland-ish-ness. It was dusk in a hushed public park, with twilight of the sort that emphasizes shadows. I was walking along and suddenly felt a sharp pain in my left wrist. Looking down, I saw that an arrow had pierced it. I looked around the park, but the guilty archer was nowhere to be found. Minutes later I was in the greenish empty light of a hospital room, feeling impatient and acutely aware of the life seeping out of the wound. I reached down, broke off the protruding tip and the feathered end, and pulled out the arrow. I reached for a roll of duct tape on the metal stand next to the hospital bed, and wrapped it twice around my wrist, biting the tape to rip it. And then I walked out of the hospital, alone.

My four quick vacation days in the ashram were all bliss, from the warm air and salty ocean to the winding paths from bay to beach. I slept in and never made it to morning satsang, instead playing on the yoga platforms in the inbetween-hours. Lots of laughing, lots of reading. I quickly dropped the heavy history of Eritrea in favor of Untethered Soul, reading aloud on the beach and on the bay platform between inversions. The bits were so obvious that we found them laughable: "there is a very simple method for staying open. you never close."

Somewhere between unblocking my heart and listening to Justin's stories of Hindu deities, I thought of an archer - blue-skinned in a jungle pulling back with all his might to release a storm of arrows. That nameless, faceless archer from the dusky park in dreamland resurfaced and drowned out what the yoga and satsang at the ashram could not. I left the Bahamas on the first day of 2009, wide wide open, with the echo of another obvious quote from Untethered Soul:

"If you love life, nothing is worth closing over. Nothing, ever, is worth closing your heart over."