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Spiritual Road Trip, Part 3: Me, The Visiting Deity?

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Part 3: Saturday – Me, The Visiting Deity?

Saturday morning, the day I was supposed to stop by the temple before hitting the road to Tennessee, well, that did not happen. Instead I settled into a full day at the Temple, a day I would not have had had I gone to Tennessee, yet I still would have been returning home days earlier than originally planned. The problem with returning was that my objective had not been met, in that my anxiety had not yet diminished in the least, and I had not counted on, nor was I fully prepared for, how seductive the hospitality of the Indian people can be. A practice unknown to most Westerners is that when visitors come to Hindu homes, the guests are to be treated like visiting Deities. This is rather convenient when one has guests in ending that awkward personal dilemma that arises when you’ve made something delicious and secretly want to keep the bigger piece for yourself… if you wouldn’t short Ganesh the big piece, you cannot short your guest. I often get very special treatment when I am among Hindus, and though my ego would like to believe it’s due to my smile and surrender to their spiritual truths and culture, it’s more likely that they are simply extending that philosophy to me, or, peradventure, they are simply hospitable people. In light of their openness to Westerners partaking of their culture, here’s one point I need to make in regards to this “cultural appropriation” nonsense. Whenever I wear Indian bangles, skirts, a bindi, or Gods on my jewelry, the Indians light up. The Indians I have met LOVE seeing a Westerner embracing their culture. I have been complicated more than once on my dress. Even in the temple back in Ohio the Priest complimented me on my Indian-influenced style. Want to see an Indian smile? Talk about their mythology, food, Bollywood or Hinduism, or wear a bindi and sari. So, here’s the deal, culture police… you don’t know what the hell you are talking about when it comes to the myth of “cultural appropriation” and, believe it or not, no one appointed you as a spokesperson for other people and other cultures, so keep your holier-than-thou hostility, bigotry, judgments and cultural ignorance to yourselves. Once you have informed and enlightened yourselves, you can go around telling the rest of us what to do, wear, or sing, until then, follow my Granny’s advice and mind your own business.

Now, on to more pleasant matters. Again, here at the Atlanta temple, the Indians have welcomed me with open arms into their culture, into their temple, and into their sense of style.

OK, confession time, maybe the thing I miss most about temple life isn’t the spirituality, the Satsang, or the culture, maybe it’s the food! See, I LOVE Indian food, and one of my biggest frustrations with Indian restaurants in America is how the food is often dumbed down to suit our limited palettes. For one thing the food is mean to be very spicy, and for another chai is NOT chai if it is not sweetened with sugar! I know it’s some weird American pride thing to drink coffee and tea black, but that most definitely is not culturally authentic. If you are not sugaring your chai in restaurants, you are drinking bastardized American chai… period! Me, I want an authentic experience, hot food and sweet chai. The food at temples is prepared lovingly by fellow devotees to suit an Indian audience, so the food is spicy and delicious. I have eaten nothing but temple food since I have been here (confession… a couple chocolate chip cookies), and most of it free. Sure, I paid for some of it, but Saturday as I was enjoying my first temple meal, one of the kitchen staff came to me and welcomed me, and upon talking to me was pleased to hear of my genuine interest in their culture and devotion to their spirituality, and he told me that all day long all my food would be free and that I could take whatever I liked. He then handed me some Indian sweets, including the BIGGEST Laddoo I had ever seen–as in the size of softball. For those of you who have never had Laddoo, it is a little like a round Indian sticky donut hole, but far more textural, flavorful and delicious… especially when prepared in a temple. The problem with laddoo is were I to eat them as much as I would like… I too would be the shape of Ganesh.

In mythology, Ganesh had eaten so much laddoo that Chandra (moon God) saw him struggling to walk and laughed at him. Ganesh fell and his extended belly split open and all the laddoo spilled out, so he grabbed a cobra and tied it about his belly and cursed the moon. This is the story of why the moon is not full year-round. And, by the way, no most Hindus do not believe this to be literal scientific fact, it is accepted as mythology.

One of my bigger disappointments was that the temple gift shop was not open. This temple is more than a temple, it is a community center and for many, a spectacular tourist attraction. Additionally, as Hindus love their murti (so-called “idols”), they need a place to buy not only them, but books of wisdom that are otherwise hard to find, and this book store even had lots of Indian ACK Comics, which are all based on Hindu mythology, history, and so forth. I wanted in, so I went upstairs and asked the little old white lady if someone could open it, as it was supposed to have been open anyway. I told her I had driven almost 5 hours just to be here and really wanted a chance to pick up a few things. She, with complete disinterest, rather flatly and unsympathetically told me no. Rather cold.

OK, so I wasn’t going to get in to the gift shop, then I thought about it a little longer and realized I had approached this thing all wrong… all wrong. I realized that if I know Indians, and I am beginning to, then all I had to do was ask one of them, and soon I would be in the gift shop, so I asked one. Also, I knew that if I knew Indians, and I am beginning to, that no one would know who would open it, where the key was, and there would be a certain amount of confusion and disorganization… but give or take ten minutes, and the shop would definitely be open. Confusion and disorganization aside, that was a huge improvement over the unfriendly, disinterested and unsympathetic little old white lady who had no interest in helping me because it was simply easier to tell me tough luck. Well, I sat on the stairs of the shop and watched them go at it, and soon enough, in some great swoop of karmic justice, along came the Indian woman I had talked to about getting in, and toting along behind her… guess who? Yep, the cranky little unsympathetic white lady… with the key… and a stern scowl. Oh, no, she did not smile at me when she saw me sitting on the stair, but my smile was big enough for both our faces. The woman who sat in the shop, Sudha (if I have that right) was all smiles and kindness. We talked a little as I selected a few books and comics, and I thanked her and went along my way. The lesson here… if you’re at a temple and you want something done, always ask an Indian.

Between the free food and the lovely gift shop experience, I was beginning to realize more and more that I was gonna miss the hell out of this when I left in the morning.

image001Of course food and gifts were not really why I had gone there, so I went back upstairs to the temple to watch the rituals which Ram had promised would be unforgettably beautiful and “auspicious,” and he was right. The first thing I saw was a lengthy pujah to Lord Vishnu. They have, in this temple, an astounding larger than life shining black Vishnu. I don’t know how much you know about Indian temples, but there are sanctums. There is the outer sanctum in which all shoes must be removed as no outside dirt is allowed inside the temple. This is a symbolic practice, as it symbolizes that we are also not to bring any outside dirt into the temples in our hearts, minds and souls. Now, encased within (or beyond) that is the temple proper, and upon entering you are to bow to the Deities, many, myself included, prostrate themselves flat on the floor. Within the temple are numerous smaller inner sanctums which house the Deities. The most significant Deities (such as Shiva and Vishnu) are housed in their own small structures or sanctums, and the devotees are allowed in the outer sanctum that houses the Deity, but only temple Priests are allowed within the innermost sanctum where the murti reside. Now, contrary to the limited Christian viewpoint, Hindus are not “idol worshipers,” and to say so is a gross over-simplification based on ignorance and cultural bias. The so-called idol, or murti, is really nothing more than a representation of the Deity that we focus our meditation or prayers on to connect with the Deity. This day Vishnu was being offered milk, honey, and various sensual and delicious offerings. Ram was right, the sight of the shining black face and body being coated in milk was lovely beyond description. All the while the Brahmin (Priests) are chanting in a call and response whose strange harmonies stir the soul.

Shortly before the Navagrahas (planetary Deities) pujah, my new friend Ram talked to me for a while explaining that I should consider staying through Monday as it was a major Shiva festival, Karthika Deepotsavam. He said the temple would be decorated with thousands of lights and that “two eyes are not enough to see” the beauty of the event. I thought about this for a while and realized that my original plan was to be gone at least as long as Tuesday anyhow, so I would stay around and witness that before I tended to my oil leak. Besides, the hospitality that had been shown me had warmed my heart and had left me feeling as though I was in no way ready to go back home, and I was feeling far less lonely than I had in a long time. It is also important to note that as a Shiva devotee, it seemed astonishingly fortuitous that I had arrived there with an oil leak at the precise time of year when a major festival in honor of Shiva was taking place. I realized more and more that my oil leak was most definitely an obstacle placed in my path to keep me where I was meant to be (Ganesh not only removes obstacles, but places them in your path if you are going the in the wrong direction). So it was that my plan to stay until Tuesday remained, the only difference being that I stayed in one place and saved myself 4 more hours of drive time. Thanks, of course to Ganesh… though now that I think about it, as Shiva is Ganesh’s father, it’s no wonder he had a hand in keeping me at the temple, a devotee of his father’s, for his father’s sacred day.

So here’s another confession, though I stayed after and participated in the Navagrahas pujah, I had no idea what the significance of it was. Hinduism is a 10,000 year old religion, and I have only been a practitioner for about six years, and have had to practice my devotion in practical isolation, so there is much I do not know. For example, yesterday when the Brahmin poured yellow liquid over Vishnu… I was moved to tears by the sheer beauty of the act, but I’m not 100% certain what the vibrant yellow liquid was.

While waiting for a similar pujah to be performed over the Shiva Linga, one of the Priests explained that most milk, even organic milk, contains fish oil extracts, so is not appropriate for Lord Shiva. One of the devotees asked why we do not use vegan milk. The Priest patiently explained that he was not here to change their traditions, just to educate them about the milks they were buying.

Now, there is a rather troubling question, or attitude, that is passed judgmentally upon these rituals in the form of a heavily loaded question, “Why do Indians pour milk and honey over their Deities when so many people are starving?” This is a question that demonstrates a “pragmatic” Western bias or comes from a person who clearly does not value spiritual practices highly enough, meaning that, to them, there will be no satisfactory answer. It must be understood that in order to advance spiritually sacrifices must be made. When a devotee comes to the temple with an offering, they come as an offering. One cannot just take from God, one must give as well.

This evening, once the Shiva pujah was underway, was when the most significant event of the trip took place. Now that I had decided to no longer allow fear to dictate my actions (meaning I did not run home), and chose instead to stay in the temple and attend the Karthika Deepotsavam, right then and there, in the middle of the worship of Shiva, a miracle happened. Within ten minutes, give or take, all at once, as if I had sprung a leak, all of the anxiety I had been carrying around in me for the past weeks and months simply drained away… all of it! I noticed soon that not only had all that anxiety drained away, but ALL anxiety had drained away. I was perfectly clean and clear for the first time in decades! I had simply forgotten what it felt like to not be carrying some anxiety in me somewhere, and it felt amazing, as though a dead dog I had been carrying forever had been lifted off my shoulders. God has reset my nervous system. Now it would be up to me to reset my mind.

Just prior to the Shiva pujah I had gotten in line for another meal, but they were briefly out of chana masala, so Sudha (from the gift shop) asked me to step aside and wait for the food, after a while I left, not because I got impatient, but because I didn’t want to miss the conclusion of the Shiva pujah. She arrived in the middle of the ceremony and was genuinely concerned that I had not gotten my food. I held her hand and told her it was OK, I just wanted to participate in this. After I drank the holy water and ate the prasadam (blessed food), she took me into the closed kitchen and the staff sent me home with boxes full of free delicious food, enough that I have not had to buy a meal all weekend.

Yes, the hospitality of the Indian people can be moving and seductive, I was definitely staying on through to Tuesday morning. Though I was concerned about the additional hotel bill, when Sunday came I was cosmically certain I had made the right sacrifice (i.e. money for wisdom and Satsang), as early Sunday morning I had what was another peak experience, the very Satsang that had been so sorely missing from my life since I had moved away from my home temple in Ohio, that which could end my loneliness, if only there was a way for me to continue the Satsang… but, there was and is a way…

NEXT (Part 4, Sunday): Satsang Sunday

Spiritual Road Trip, Part 1: Hindu Temple Or Trump Hysteria?

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Part One: Friday, Episode One – Hindu Temple Or Trump Hysteria?

I began making escape plans Wednesday Morning. First thing out of bed, in my inbox, bad news, and all around me people were losing it, hair pulling, wild-eyed, weeping hysteria. I know, “this time it’s different,” but I’ve heard that argument applied to elections every single cycle, “We have to stop Bush, the other Bush, Romney… now Tump… whoever. It’s always so urgent, so desperate, so much more important than last time, as if the fate of the world depends on it every damn time. Nope, no one’s EVER allowed to vote third party, no one’s ever allowed to vote for who and what they believe in because we’re all being manipulated by fear mongers demanding we vote in another worthless Democrat, or we’re snorted at contemptuously for daring to do what we feel is right, etc. Number one, I don’t participate in “lesser of two evils” voting, and number two, I will NOT be manipulated by fear.. not yours, anyway. I have my own fears manipulating me, say, for example, the same old same old system running us ever deeper into the ground while we wait for people elected by cowards on both sides who, at best, do little more than slap band-aids on open wounds, or or at worst, dig at the wounds, and what is the open wound? Soul-sick broken America. The smartest and hippest among us think the system is broken, the news isn’t even that good, America itself is broken. The system cannot work within a nation with a broken consciousness. The problems we have are beyond the system, beyond the game of musical chairs we just played this past Tuesday.

Sorry, group, Trump is NOT the problem. Hilary was NOT the solution, she was a band-aid on a gaping and fetid wound. The maggots are already in the wound, what good will a band-aid do? The wound is simply that we are a declining empire, a wounded dragon, and for decades we have let ourselves become obsessed with d short-sighted, extremist divisive politics on both sides. Yep, 24 hour news channels, news comedy shows, the relentlessness of our Facebook feeds. It’s just one HUGE fear bubble, and we keep blowing the damn bubble up around ourselves. Frankly, two things come to mind: first, we were all better off when we watched the six-o’clock news and forgot about it; secondly, we were all better off when people had the decency to keep their politics to themselves. What happened to the privacy of the voting booth? Now people press you into political conversations that, in more civil times, were considered inappropriate to hold in polite society. We’ve let politics not only consume us, but we have let it wholly divide us, and I don’t see ANY way back to sanity. I don’t care which side we’re on in this new civil war, both sides are utterly fucked until we realize that we’re all just Americans… hell, we’re all really just citizens of the world.

I’m not playing that game, I don’t care how much someone feels it’s my duty as a thinking person to “be pragmatic” and vote for Hilary… I want no part of this bizarre mutant monster that is today’s political world. I don’t want that shit on me. I am not participating in that karmic outhouse.

Yep, after the election all my friends had their heads immersed up Twitter and Facebook’s ass of fear, every friend I had was lost in their cones of fear, so what did I do? I got the hell out of Dodge, and do you know what I discovered once I hit the road and started dealing with real people outside of the cones of fear of my progressive friends? I discovered that NOTHING had changed, nope, not a thing. Sure, we can spend all damn day on Facebook reading carefully selected horror stories about mentally handicapped children being abused by Trump supporters, or about the horrible graffiti going up, we can spend all day fretting over the precious few examples of Trump-mania, but the truth is, most people are just going about their business as usual. If you’re terrified, things haven’t changed that much once you sign out of Facebook and turn off the 24 hour hellhole of ever-flowing “news” It’s no longer “news,” folks, it’s all opinion at best and obsession at worst. If you’re terrified… walk away from your damn computer, step outside of the cone of fear, trust me, you’ll like it.

The last thing I want to say on this, to all those of you (and they are legion) who are prepared to flee the country declaring Trump the new Hitler (which is not impossible… but) let’s take a deep breath, there is nothing so far to suggest that he is an inhuman monster… he’s an asshole, sure, but there is a world of difference between an asshole and an inhuman monster. Let’s just wait and see what he turns out to be before we freak. I used to get all my family’s right-wing nonsense in my FB feed, all that stuff about how Obama was gonna take away all your guns, turn us into socialists, and make Sharia law the law of the land, the Right-wingnuts were pulling their hair out over this shit, and how much of it happened? Well… not a bit. In fact, apart from the brilliant maneuver of making us all debtors to insurance companies, very little changed directly because of Obama, he pretty much kept waging the same Bush-era wars, it was business as usual. Let’s just assume the same is gonna happen with Trump, and if it doesn’t, if Trump does enact all his lunacies, let’s REACT as needed.

A people busy overreacting will be incapable of reacting appropriately when called upon to do so. Why? because hysterical neurotic freaked-out people cannot think straight.

Yeah, Wednesday morning I had the choice, get sucked into Trump hysteria, or get the hell away. For a start I took my class out for lunch and then to my house so they could spend the day in the woods getting some perspective, and all the while I made plans to get awaya. Now, regarding my decision to leave town, I won’t say what was the straw that broke the camel’s back, but a course of action was proposed that was going to gut my life, leaving me with NOTHING. I was facing the possibility of life in Gainesville with the only reason I had to be here gone for good. This was impossible news to bear, especially as I had been suffering a slow burn of anxiety for a very long time already. Now, with the old anxieties alive and well in me and this new one large in my head, I began to overreact, at least internally. I had two choices, wallow in that, or go do something else. I began doing research, I began making calls and moving money around. My plan, quietly disappear for several days, heal, maintain (hell… FIND) my center, and let the election storm pass. My plan, as it turned out, was to drive up to Atlanta to the Hindu Temple, spend some time with Lord Ganesh, Ma Durga and Lord Shiva, then drive up to Sadhguru’s ashram in Tennessee. I figured some time with Gods, gurus and fresh mountain air would do me good. Part of this plan, no phone calls, no internet. I made reservations, did all the prep, told one person (dear Joe Courter), turned off my phone and internet, and hit the road. Well, as it turns out, none of it worked out properly, but what became of my escape was far more beautiful than what I had planned. Then again, my life’s been like that. So many times when life upended me, it was only because I was going in the wrong direction.

I hate traveling alone, frankly, to be honest, I hate that my life has become one big ALONE. I go to bed alone, get up and go to lunch alone, go home and spend the day alone, go to a movie alone, eat dinner alone, watch a movie alone and go to bed alone… only to get up alone and do the whole lonely routine all over again day in and day out; nope, no best friend to pass the time with, no one to casually have dinner with, no one to hold me at night, no one to hold onto when I’m scared, I got no one. I, Barefoot Justine, may be an internet sex symbol to a few, a symbol of barefoot abandon to a few others, but none of that has done me a damn bit of good. Guys come all day long to look at my topless pics, but not a single man has asked me out in over 4 years. No, I didn’t want to travel alone, in fact traveling alone terrifies me, but the only thing worse than traveling alone was going to be spending the next several days alone in my room binge-watching Starsky and Hutch (I’m up to season 2) while my friends and life fell apart around me. So, I hit the road, as usual, the most anxious part was the planning, once I got in the car and got some music on, I felt the pleasure of freedom and release that only a road trip can deliver.

And you know what? Contrary to our self-perpetuating cones of Facebook fear, Trump’s America looks exactly like America before the election. We’ll see what happens later, but for now, the sun still shone, people were still nice, and most people were just doing what they always do, did, and will do. Probably the most important thing I realized was driving away from it all was healthy.

I hate driving long hours on the road, always anxious that my car’s gonna blow, but back home my mind was gonna blow, so what the hell. Everything went great, until I got off 75 to find the Temple. The directions were intimidatingly complicated, full of immediate turns and confusing information. To make matters worse, I realized that none of the roads in Atlanta are marked. I kept making turns based on my best guess as to what road it was I was turning on. After a while I became terribly panicky–I hate being lost, but miraculously I ended up on the road the temple was on, but I had no idea where it was, and it wasn’t where the directions said it would be. Then, just as planned, my oil light came on. Yep, that’s why I hate traveling, more to the point, traveling poor. I’ve never in my adult life made enough money to buy a car I could trust on a road trip, and this car was no exception. I pulled into the first gas station I found, walked in and asked “Where’s the Hindu Temple?” The Indian behind the counter said, “There.” Sure enough, Ganesh had delivered me AND broke my car down right in the shadow of the (UNMARKED) Temple. It was right behind the trees of the very spot where my oil-drained car sat, no sign or anything, but right there behind the trees. Then a lovely young Indian boy offered to help me with my oil problem. Like a true gentleman, he guided me through the whole process and put all the oil in my car for me. Listen group, I’m not into this modern-woman bullshit. I don’t want left to be strong and learn to do these things for myself, I want some guy to roll up his sleeves, pop the hood and take care of it just like men were born to do… dammit! I don’t wanna have to prove to men that I can do heavy dirty work, frankly, I don’t want my fingernails broken, nor do I want my make-up smudged. I always kinda liked it, when I went to see Granny Glover up in the mountains, that the men hung out in the garage and women in the kitchen.

My car filled with oil, I got in and laughed, then bowed to my dashboard Ganesh, not only had he delivered me (after the chaotic directions and random which-turn-to-make decision-making) to the Temple gates, but to a gas station where lovely Indian men worked! Now, one might ask, if Ganesh is so great, why didn’t he just stop the oil-leak? I have a theory about that… Ganesh is not a mechanic. Ganesh guides consciousness, removes obstacles that are created through consciousness, the oil leak and bad directions were mechanical issues out of my control, but my random turns and arrival at EXACTLY the right gas station into the hands of helpful smiling Indians in the shadow of the Temple itself… well, that is Ganesh helping me master consciousness. Consciousness, that’s Ganesh’s business, the car, that’s my problem.

I pulled up to the Temple and felt a sense of relief, but didn’t know what I was going to do about my leaking car and the rest of my trip to the ashram, so I did what I usually do, I started to work out the problem. See, I have anxiety issues, and I have had them so long that I know how they work. I knew if I went into the Temple I would have been immersed in anxiety, so I began to work out how to deal with this new information (i.e. my car leaking oil profusely) before even trying to pursue my spiritual vacation any further than the parking lot. I realized that I could cancel my further drive to Tennessee, so I made that call, and realized that if I kept cans of oil in the car I could probably limp home and have a mechanic I know look into it, and THEN I went into the Temple, wondering how the hell I was going to find my way back to 75, as there was no way I could remember all the complicated twists and turns that got me there.

Temple life is something I have really missed. I can’t overstate how important having a nearby temple is to me, and NO, the Temple Of the Universe may be amazing for many people, but I need a straight-up Hindu Temple with straight-up Hindu rituals and Deities. As soon as I stepped in I teared up, it felt like someone was baking chocolate chip cookies in my chest. And when I bowed before Ganesh, tears streamed my cheeks. I have a Ganesh at home, but I have really missed the experience of seeing Ganesh in a Temple, of being with Ganesh in a Temple. Of course I thanked him profusely for guiding me there and for the help I got at the gas station below. I next visited Ma Durga, and wept again, but as always seems to happen, it wasn’t until I bowed before Shiva that I broke down. Something about Shiva will always bring me to tears of bliss and release.

I was exhausted and trying not to think about how lost I was. I mean, how was I gonna find my way back from where I was? Was I going to a hotel, or just turning back and going home? Could I have really counted on Ganesh to guide me back the same way he guided me there? Not likely, but along came my personal hero, Ram. Yep, as in Ramayana. A young man named Ram befriended me immediately, and he took care of me, going so far as leading me out of the Temple and to a hotel, AND going into the hotel with me to make sure I had a room before he drove off! God I LOVE Indians!

But before Ram even got me to my car, we sat in his and he told me his life story, and it reads like an Indian Fairy Tale, or perhaps more accurately, like a humble bit of Indian Mythology.

NEXT (Part 2, Friday Episode Two): The Story Of Ram

“Beautiful!” Observed Molly Rose…

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Best Friends… Molly Rose and Justine

Best Friends… Molly Rose and Justine

Some of you may know, my best friend is 2 years and 6 months old. I just left her room, as tonight I got to put her to bed, as mommy and daddy are (still) out with their friends. As happened last time I put Molly Rose to bed, I laid down under a blanket beside her crib, her in her crib, the two of us side by side, talking, and she fell asleep holding my hand.

This is a friendship I could never have seen coming, but it may well be the deepest friendship I’ve ever had, if nothing else, it is certainly the most joyous and loving. A month or so ago I turned her on to the classic Disney Winnie the Pooh cartoons, childhood favorites of mine. We sat together on the couch, her nestling in close against me, cuddly, and saying, “We’re friends!” Of course we are, my dear, the best of friends. She’s not always cuddly, she is, after all, a toddler, and is at times fiercely independent… which I encourage. Of course, I love it when she’s cuddly, but I love her no less when she isn’t. I let her lead. Tonight, she was unusually relaxed, cuddly, and easy to entertain.

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I had brought along McCartney’s splendid animated version of the great children’s book, “Tuesday,” promising her a cartoon with flying frogs in it. McCartney has done, I believe, 4 cartoons with this particular animation company, and “Tuesday” is by far the best, especially towards the end when he and Dustin Hoffman are doing the voices together. “Tuesday” is not only majestically and beautifully scored by McCartney, but it is one of his masterpieces as a producer of animation (the other being the far darker and far more experimental “Daumier’s Law”). Well, I’ve watched a lot of cartoons with Molly Rose, and I’ve known her since she was a baby, but this night she took me wholly by surprise. Firstly, she was positively enchanted by this charming cartoon, but she made an aesthetic observation that took my breath away. About mid-way through the cartoon, a lovely shot of a small town at sunset spread it’s sky blue-pink glory across the screen, and Molly simply said, “Beautiful!”

It was beautiful, but even more beautiful was not only hearing her say that, but realizing just how far she has come. It seems like just yesterday I felt so helpless, never knowing what she really wanted or needed as a helpless infant, and now here she was knowing that something, a work of art, was beautiful, and saying as much. This, to me, was the most magical moment I have observed in her development, other than the sarcastic and knowing smile she shot me last week.

Ah, last week, I had come over and she just wasn’t interested, had been sucked into a loop of YouTube videos that teach color and such. She was barely looking at me! Finally I announced to her dad, “Well, I guess if Molly Rose is going to watch “A C la” (that’s Molly Rose for watching YouTube), I’m going home.” I got up kissed her head, then sat down with her dad (Tom), and talked about how I was going to go now. Molly looked up from the computer, turned her head slowly towards me, and looked at me with the most sarcastic and knowing smile, then turned back to A C la. I said to Tom, “Did a toddler just call my bluff?”

Later that night, we could not get her to bed. The powers of Mom, Dad, and Justine combined could not get her to go to bed. Lately she has been sleeping with a golden murti of Ganesh in her crib, at least when I’m around, and she stares at Lord Ganesh and says, “I have Ganesh.” When I’m around, she’ll usually have a pair of my wrist bangles in her crib with her. That night I heard the rattle of them hitting the floor, as she often tosses things out, When I was called back in to try and get her to sleep, I figured I’d get my bangles up off the floor, but could only find one of them. I asked, “Where’d the other one go?” not at all thinking she knew, but she stood up in her crib and looked around, asking, “Where other go?” Neither of us could find it, I eventually decided this might be keeping her wound up, so I said, “It’s not important,” and went to her side, then I looked down at her wrist, she looked down at her wrist… there it was… my huge purple bangle on her wrist. At the same time we both looked up, our eyes connected, and we laughed together. For me, it has been beautiful to watch her develop so much that she is making aesthetic observations, giving me knowingly sarcastic looks, and getting jokes and funny situations.

Best Friends… Molly Rose and Justine 2

Best Friends… Molly Rose and Justine 2

And so it went tonight, I knew she just wasn’t going to be able to go to bed knowing her best friend was in the other room, so I set up my sleepover bedding beside her crib, settled in, and worked the electronic toy from her hand by giving her her Ganesh and telling her the story of how Ganesh banished the moon from the sky after the moon laughed at him for having eaten so much laddoo. I was surprised how engaged she was in a story that had no picture book to go with it, but I knew Molly loved the moon and Ganesh, and often asks “Where the moon go?” And that, of course, is part of the story of Ganesh and the moon… where’d the moon go, indeed!

She wound down after that, laid down close to the edge of her crib, I worked my hand into her crib, she took hold of my finger, her tiny fingers wrapped around my finger, and we talked, like any girls at a sleepover. She asked where daddy and mommy were, I told her they always come back. She said, “I always come back,” I told her yes, she does, she goes to daycare and comes back with mommy and daddy, she corrected me, saying, “daddy,” who usually is the one to bring her back. I told her I always come back and that everyone always comes back because they love her. I’ve been teaching her late sixties slang, so I said, “groovy,” to which she replied, “Groovy… right ON!” Then she reminded me we were best friends as I sang the same song my grandfather used to sing to my mother, “You are my sunshine.” Slowly, after a little more chat about Ganesh, best friends, and mommy and daddy, she changed position, took hold of my thumb, and drifted off to sleep. I looked in through the crib at her beautiful little face, and realized that I’ve rarely ever felt as good as I did in that moment.

It’s impossible to relate just how magical this friendship is. It’s impossible to express my joy at being loved and loving someone else with such purity of heart. And it’s far more impossible to describe the peace and contentment… and yet more impossible to express to anyone just how dear and beautiful she is to me.

And that, my friends, is what it’s like to have a best friend who is 2 years and 6 months old. Splendid… huh?

Ganesh, please take care of and bless my saawariya, my sone yaar… our Molly Rose.

On Being Back At the Drawing Table 2

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Well, it’s been a long time coming, this whole wild and bumpy full-circle ride… and yes, the people in the front row did get wet. I’ve frequently and long felt as though at this point in my journey that I have still turned out horribly incomplete. I thought that feeling of completion was going to come from somewhere else, but in a rather unexpected way it came about through returning to the one thing I knew about myself to be true from the age of 8 or 10. I knew and frequently announced that, “I am going to be a comic book artist or a dolphin trainer.” OK, so there were a few surprises along the way, but I had eventually landed squarely on comic book artist. Then, I burned out and wandered through many adventures before coming home to the drawing table again. How prodigal of me.

I’ve written on this topic once already, but it seems I feel the need to speak on it again. This process of getting and being back in the saddle is not so simple as one blog entry. I am not looking back at the prior blog entry as I write this, I don’t know how much it will overlap, and I really couldn’t care less anyhow. Stop reading if you hate repeats or capsule (“clip”) shows.

There is a lot of new information. For one, I have finished the pencils on the Odysseus job for DARPA (part of the DOD), and I gathered tons of steam throughout, and slowed down towards the end, but I had accomplished my goal all the same. My goal with these pages was to just draw them. Just draw them. I didn’t want to torture them into existence, I didn’t want to research and reference. I simply wanted to trust myself and channel all I have internalized, and I have internalized plenty. Below you will find pencils (yet to be inked) of my favorite page:

Barefoot Justine's Odysseus for DARPA (Lotus Eaters)

Barefoot Justine’s Odysseus for DARPA (Lotus Eaters)

Yah… it’s a good page.

So now it is time to ink this beast, all 17 pages, and I can’t wait. I love the process of taking that wooden handle in my hand, dipping the hairs into wet ink, and making marks on good ol’fashioned paper. I just can’t, won’t, and don’t get the playtime attitude of a lot of my contemporary artists and students; this compulsive need to use toys and playthings like brushpens, pigma markers and computers. Toys, just fucking toys. When I pick up a brush I am spiritually connected to the Masters, to every artist I have ever admired, to every artist who ever picked up a brush. I believe that the truly great art involves all 4 aspects of the human experience. The great art is not imbalanced, it contains a mix of the spiritual, the physical, the emotional, and the intellectual, to concentrate too heavily on one aspect creates art that is sick, sickly, neurotic, just as is true in life. Think of all the sickly intellectuals you know, think of all the intellectually bankrupt jocks you know. This to me is why the Beatles will forever be greater than the Rolling Stones. The Beatles were a brilliant mix of the physical, the intellectual, the emotional and the spiritual, all of those elements were available and essential to their work, the Stones were heavily concentrating on one aspect, the physical, the penis to be precise… and THAT bores me. It bores me in visual art as well. And consider this, all the artists who work away on computers… there is NO physicality to what they do or produce, the work is a fiction, an abstract, numbers in space, and immediately out of balance. And worse (consider this) no one can convince me (not even Bjork) that said computer-created work is spiritually connected to anything but ones own mind. I am not suggesting that my work is great or all that well balanced, but that is what I admire, and it is the mark toward which I aspire. Nope, no toys for me, just wood, hair and wet stuff on paper.

It seems that when it rains it does indeed pour. I am simultaneously finishing out the semester teaching at SAW, creating an animated infographic for UF, and starting a new project for DARPA all while finishing the first one. How did this happen? When did this happen? Well, without putting too fine a point on it, and I fucking hate to do this again (as I have so many times before), but I have to give much of the credit to St. Thomas of Hart, who has rather unwittingly become something of a guardian angel. Quite a responsibility for the poor guy, considering what a handful I can be sometimes… but I’m worth it (right Tom… RIGHT?). As Tom has said more than once, “Let Lakshmi and Tom provide.” He may pretend to be humble, but deep down he knows that he and we are all working for Gods. I bow before my Gods frequently in gratitude, to Ganesh who has removed so many obstacles and who has continued to send good fortune my way, and to Saraswati who provides inspiration and the energy I need to teach when I feel discouraged by certain students at certain times. I have more than once started out my door in the morning in a foul mood or in a fit of obsession over some dark shadow in my heart only to stop and bow before beautiful Saraswati as she reminds me that I have a duty to perform, and that duty is to teach no matter what else is going on in my life or the depths of my often self-inflicted suffering. She gives me the strength to set it all aside and do my duty. Her glories and grace have given me strength I never could have found on my own.

But back to the material world, yesterday Tom and I had a meeting with the staff at UF regarding our animated infographic, and though he was a tad anxious about it all, somehow I knew we had won this battle prior to even entering the meeting to show them our progress. As I had hoped, they were blown away by what we showed them… as they should have been, problem is, most clients are too thick to see what they saw. Most clients want what they want however lame what they want is. These fantastic women at UF have been open, warm, and have trusted us as artists to do what was best. I always feel it is a sure sign of incompetent and unconfident managers who do not trust their own judgment. What kind of lousy manager hires a person they cannot trust? These women chose to work with us, and they have been wise enough to trust their judgment and allow us to do what we were hired to do rather than riding us and meddling. No one likes or trusts a meddling manager. If a manager can’t trust their judgment enough to trust who they hire, then how can I trust them? Well, anyhow, fortunately these women are confident enough to trust their own judgment. The meeting was victorious, and we not only satisfied but delighted and moved them! That is how it should always work with clients, and that is how it can work, so long as clients trust artists to do what artists do, and trust their own judgment in who they employ.

And next, I have to balance all of this with more work on a new project from DARPA, and I couldn’t be happier. Oh, sure there are days I don’t feel it and the work is workmanlike at best, but most days are good if not inspired. Sure, there are days when I’m exhausted and I really feel and worry about the pressure of having to produce so much all at once, but for the most part I trust myself and I trust what I teach enough to live by it. I have internalized the hard lessons.

There is a crossroads students must face: choice one, to grind away and internalize the hard lessons; choice two, spend time playing with toys, dabbling, experimenting, indulging ones fancies. The choice a young artist makes at that crossroads is critical to their future. Sure, you can be a dabbler, a player, focus on the fun and “creative” parts, but it sure as hell is gonna cost ya in the end. Or, you can sacrifice a little on the front end, focus, learn anatomy and perspective, torture yourself a tad, and in the years to come you can rely on all the hard lessons you have internalized, it’s up to you. I will say this, if one chooses the hard way, to learn a more academic and classical approach, that makes ones later experiments far easier; however if one becomes a dabbler, said artist may never learn how to draw properly and will find themselves boxed in by the limitations of having chosen poorly at the crossroads. In the end I don’t really care what path my students choose, whether they choose to put their carts before their horses or not is their choice, but I know, I know deep down the truth of such things, and I know deep down that I am whole heartedly committed to what I teach. I teach what I know. I don’t know much, but I trust the few things I do know. And I know that I am an artist, and I know what path I took to get there, and I know it was the right path. It feels good to be on that path again, even when the path wends uphill and through the dark and tangles of briars. Just because a path is right, doesn’t mean it will always or ever be easy.

The more one struggles uphill, the closer one gets to God.

Clarity About the ACA

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It’s Christmas day.

I am deflated.

Today was the day that I learned that under the Affordable Care Act I will have (somewhere abouts) a $6,000 deductible.

That’s what I make a year!

That’s it. I am losing the health plan I have now, a plan I like that comes through Alachua County, and am being forced under penalty of law to take on an inferior plan, one that not only does not help me in the slightest, it is in fact devastating to me. I literally do not know how I am going to navigate my complicated health life with the ACA. I was doing fine without it through Choices health care with the county. As far as I’m concerned Obama has been of NO value. He came in, sold us on hope and change and delivered nothing, including the ACA, which does NOTHING to ease the pain of poor people. Blame Rick Scott all you want, Obama was the one that backed down and pulled the public option–and I’m tired of hearing people make excuses for this drone bombardier, Republican in Democrat drag, and conman. In answer to Palin’s question that went something like: how’s that hopie changie thing working for you? Well, Sarah, we’ll tell you as soon as we see some. And NO, the Republicans are not entirely to blame, Obama has been a coward and a follower during a time when we needed a leader and a man of conviction.

I became overwhelmed as I realized the implications of this devastating news regarding the ACA, and had to excuse myself from Christmas to come home. This is one of the most important issues in my life at the moment. I had so naively thought that this change over to the ACA was going to improve my life. Learning that it was going to make my life worse… pitched me into an inner spiral I couldn’t control.

I didn’t know what to do, so I chose to try and do the impossible and meditate.

I lit incense, bowed before Ganesh, not knowing what I was wanting, looking for, needing, let alone what I was asking for. This is how I meditate. I can’t seem to find that silent inner place yet (I have a powerful ego, or perhaps it’s partly because I am afraid of that place), so I meditate in a different way; to still the chaos to a single clarity. I meditate to find my way through the chaos. At moments like this my heart and head are full of conflicts, imaginings, dread, confusion, anger, helplessness, fears, fears, and more fears, I meditate, focusing my eyes directly on Ganesha’s face while I stare through the clamor upsetting my every breath and hair. I focus my mind on the “nothing” in the middle of the chaos. Sometimes, Gods willing, I find clarity there. I find there the only thing I need to know, the only thing that will allow me to rise up and stop the anxiety and depression.

Tonight there was not one thing, there were two.

The first clean and simple spot of clarity was that time and again I am thrown to my own wolves over these sorts of things… dispirited and overwhelmed by them, but there is a way out without having to kick back and fight the biting and snarling wolves. The way out is that single truth, that pinpoint of clarity offered through my meditations on Ganesh. Tonight the first note of clarity was: this is nothing you haven’t survived before, this is just more of the same… I will keep going just as I always have and always will. Believe it or not, this was a profound comfort, it allowed me to shrug it off. This is just one more bullshit thing in the shit-storm of life. Learning to weather these things better, with the confidence that things were never any different before the latest crisis, that somehow made it not only bearable, but hardly out of the ordinary. The ACA has in fact done nothing more or less than deliver me to exactly the same place I was in before it came along. No hope and no change, but I’ve survived this long, so what’s the difference?

The second pinpoint of clarity that came to me through Ganesh was to love everyone else who is experiencing this same distress.

If you are truly being devastated in your poverty by this Affordable Care Act mess (and I have NO interest in arguing over who made the mess)… I love you.

If you are different, have different needs, if this ACA mess makes your challenging life more challenging… I love you.

If you are fed up, exhausted and think you can’t fight one more battle… I love you.

If you become overwhelmed and can’t find your footing… I love you.

If you just can’t bear one more disappointment or complication… I love you.

Now, the hard part, and perhaps with many years of bowing before Ganesh I can learn to do it. Perhaps I can learn to love Obama, the Tea Partiers, the Republicans, the Democrats, Bush, Reagan, the insurance company executives, big bank executives, hospital executives, Ricks Scott… the whole lot of them, if I can learn to love them, then I will truly know God, and know myself.

Peace

(p.s. What I am hoping is that what I have learned about the ACA is not going to pan out to be true, in which case this blog was a release of emotion, and a good lesson all the same, however, my source for this was very well researched and reliable.)