Tuesday, March 9, 2021

I Got My Mojo Goin' On!

Early on in the 2020 pandemic, I noticed I'd become a nervous driver, missing stop signs, feeling anxious about right turns on red, even on familiar streets with very little traffic. This was in sharp contrast to how driving my car had been a natural and confident experience. I often imagined it must be like riding a beloved horse, not just a way to get from one place to another, but a sense of freedom and happiness.

Two weeks after my second COVID vaccine, I drove across town to the vet to pick up flea medicine for my cats, and half-way there I noticed I had my driving mojo back! I hadn't been thinking at all that I was now "safe." In fact, my friends and I had confirmed the latest news with each other that we should still wear masks and avoid being indoors or in a crowd. 

I know how basic and deeply seated a sense of security can be. But I hadn't realized, even with careful steps to keep myself from exposure, how threatened I'd felt. We may have scarier times ahead, but for now I'm grateful to feel safe in my own skin.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

This Body's Temple Tarnished and Worn

Knees that danced the twist; legs that swooped into a Taekwondo flying kick; hips that settled into classroom chairs, workshop circles, meditation mats; arms that lifted children, carried luggage through countless airports; fingers that bore rings, twisted off caps, opened doors, played piano, guitar, dulcimer--mind and body once transported by lightened gravity now earthbound, turning slowly toward the light, toward the moment. This body's temple tarnished and worn, the spirit longing for a greater flight beyond the rooted remains of youth.

Peacock totem helps us through rebirth with integrity: 

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Finding Our Way Home

The most difficult decision I've made since early March was telling my son Dylan he couldn't come to visit from Palm Harbor to celebrate both of our March birthdays (we're almost exactly 30 years apart). He had bought a hanging plant for my patio, and would have risked it, but I knew covid-19 was going to be an S.O.B. and not worth the risk for either of us. 

So when I first posted about the Pigeon Totem on April 11, I was really missing my son's super hugs, and wrote this: 

"Pigeon totem represents finding our way home; also caring, understanding, altruism. This totem is carrying a wounded bird home on its back. May we all help each other find 'home,' whatever that means for each of us." 

Then, while ordering magnets to make sure the lettering is well-placed on the finished products, I sent Dylan the one that for me represents the emotional 'home' he and I share: "Pigeon Totem helps us find home."


Tuesday, September 1, 2020


I recently learned the Ojibwe word for totem is doodem, and love knowing that because my own totems grew out of doodling.

I looked at creating card sets of key totem images but couldn't find an option that allowed a variety of images in one set. So I printed a few on photo paper and inserted them in 4 x 6" magnetized photo holders. Those were pretty but didn't have the totems' purpose printed on them.

Then I discovered how to create 3 x 4" photo magnets on Zazzle. I've had fun with these. Doesn't matter if anyone buys them; I just like having them in a concrete form, and ordered the ones I find appealing for myself. The colorful ones work especially well.

Just Mucking Around

The pig totem pictured below is possibly the least attractive of my spirit animals, but there is a sweetness about it, and--for me--something appealing about just mucking around ("Pig Totem helps find the gems in a murky situation").

It never occurred to me that there might be an evil pig until I googled it, and discovered there's now a book on Amazon called "The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig." Worse, we now have the Evil Pigs in the Tomba! series ("Tomba! 2: The Evil Swine Return!").

Well, I'm going to stick with all my positive associations about pigs ("This little piggy went to market . . . "). Who doesn't love Wilbur in "Charlotte's Web," or Loony Tunes' Porky, or the inimitable Miss Piggy the Muppet?


Sunday, August 30, 2020

Make Room for the New

I'm occasionally contacted by Bast "relatives," only to explain that I chose that name with my daughter Katja Amyx's help.

I'd kept the married name Schwab while my son and daughter were growing up, but when starting my own business wanted a name that was meaningful to me, not my father's name (Ritter), or any other family name that seemed too conventional at a time when I was completely shifting my sense of self.

My daughter suggested we review her book of goddess names and we spent a long phone conversation considering the options. I chose the Egyptian cat goddess Bast because . . . well, cats, but also because followers prayed to her for deliverance from evil spirits--and that pretty much encapsulated my consulting work with corporate leadership.

As far left as I might have moved over the years, Katja has always been ahead of me, and I so admire how she and her family stand against all the evil isms. So I've sent her the Duck Totem, which symbolizes what my daughter represents, releasing the old to make room for the new.


Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Making the Most of What We Have

My mother and father met when they were both 14 years old and never wanted to be apart, but Mom's parents insisted she go to college. After three years and three colleges, each closer and closer to Texas A&M where Dad was studying, Mom finally got their permission to marry, though Dad still had a year until graduation, and this was during "the Great Depression" (they had only $50 between them).

Mom had always been able to make something out of nothing, but those early years of their marriage reinforced her natural tendency to preserve. Her whole life, she washed, saved, and marked with a note every single item that might possibly be re-used at some future point.

I was pretty much the opposite; being an Army brat and having to leave so much behind with every move, but when Mom lived with me during her final 17 years, some of her self-preserving nature rubbed off on me. I'm so grateful, because her example has helped me think through how to preserve food, especially, but also how to preserve mental and physical health during these months of isolation.

Mouse totem teaches us to make the most of what we have, no matter how scarce the resources or how tough the environment.


Saturday, August 22, 2020

The Same Old Things

The past 18 months have brought major change to my life; the most necessary and difficult change has been closing my coaching business.

My first paying job at age 16-18 was playing the organ for military post church services/choir. I then helped pay for my college expenses by working 15 hours a week, and--after the ten years of my first marriage--supported myself through graduate school & two internal corporate jobs before starting my own business at age 50.

So even before covid-19 hit, I'd already begun the process of grieving the loss of connection with some very fine, intelligent, caring people and moving from extrinsic to more intrinsic motivations for finding joy in each day.

It has taken a while to release the old voice telling me I should be working hard and working fast, letting myself simply BE, and--especially since isolating in response to the pandemic--appreciating the Tapir Totem, which brings comfort doing the same old things without self-criticism (tapirs lead almost exclusively solitary lives).


Saturday, August 1, 2020

Who Taught You How to Do the Twist?

Med student party, I the newest bride, though no one saw my bewilderment except Marty, who came straight toward me. Come on, Mary, Do the Twist. He knew my Dave, had cautioned me to reconsider. Eager girl, life folded umbrella-slim by marriage, famished, opened toward this man and danced all night. My husband never said a word.
(Martin E. Plaut, M.D., died February 17, 2020 at his home in Buffalo, NY. He was 82. Bless you, Marty, for your brief time in my life, never forgotten. )

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Conversation with a Ghost

 February 14, 2009

Dear Dave, 

You, more than anyone, might find it strange that I write to you on Valentine's Day. You might even be amused, given your belief that this day is nothing special, trumped up by Hallmark to sell cards. Your spare philosophy extended to the ending of life's holiday, considering visions of heaven more romanticized nonsense in spite of your Roman Catholic upbringing.

I was frightened by your conviction that death is the end of everything, and amazed by your equanimity. You said it was simply the nature of things--to come into being, to age, to die--and you wouldn't want to live in a world without death. You thought something would be missing, a lack of drive to morality, perhaps, or insufficient passion to do what we believe we're here to do.

Yet you did everything your medical training suggested could keep you alive and in good health, paying rigorous attention to what you ate, playing tennis and racquetball, as though your body protested your concept of death and feared you would, as you did, die young.

We'd been divorced more than fifteen years when Dylan called to say you'd had a heart attack. I thought of you by then as an occasional friend or interested party when issues with the children arose. So I was surprised by how much I grieved.

John Updike died recently and I wept over his death, too, even though--of course--I didn't know him. Through these many years I'd read Updike's own progress through life, feeling sure his fiction drew from experiences much like mine. The phrase from one of his Rabbit books I remember most clearly is this:
      In a hundred years we'll all be grass.
If that's what you've become, Dave, I see you as reed grass, tall, lean, somewhat spare. (As for Updike--if granted his likely wish--Cannabis sativa, or "grass" grass.)


*   *   *

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Pearl Inside

Alone on cold stone steps, a milling hubbub in the courtyard below, air quivering with impulse -- currents of new thoughts, strange fiction, eccentric poetry -- wildness in ferociously lush mountains on the Blue Ridge, a writers' retreat. July, 2008.

From within my mantle of introversion, I imagine the people below reconnecting from past gatherings are experienced novelists and poets with no interest in knowing me.

The poet Claire Bateman sits alone, a few feet away.

I inch closer, tell her I bought her collection Clumsy, was stunned by "Reprieve" about her absorbed twin, a pearl now joined in her bloodstream, swooning in the glare of sunlight, a loner who surrounds herself with loners . . .
. . . just as each pearl pierced through by the same golden chain basks in the luminescence of the others even as she secretly believes she's the only one suspended there, and whines, "I'm so lonely."
Our conversation strings together mutual experiences of withdrawal, cultivates shared delight in the delicacy of solitude.

The next day I sit solo, pondering my own vanished sister, the irritant of my otherness inviting layers of poem to form "If I Had Absorbed My Twin:"
She might walk
with one leg shorter
and disclose the reason
for my stumbling
into bedposts,
into prose.

Perhaps she'd suffer
from Tourette's,
thus justify
my intermittent
vocal tics,
my fuck-you frets.

Or synesthesia.
I would understand
sharp pain of sounds,
fine touch of words,
and dissonance's
bitter taste.

High sensitivity?
Ah, that explains
my shrinking
in the midst of crowds
my need to separate,
to fade.
My twin, a poet?
Then we're truly
joined in spaces
where the loneliness
of being strange
can't be explained.
December, 2017. Claire and I reconnect when I write about the radiance of her poetry, then discover our pearls still match, pierced by the golden chain of painting abstracts. Neither of us cares about distractions such as time-consuming fancy meals, and I imagine she, too, is surrounded by her easels, brushes, canvases, in every room a notebook and a pen. So I, as she, might find myself in any space with rhyming, sketching, scribbling, gluing, strata on strata, hue upon hue.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Through the Sieve of Maya

I once read a challenge to write an autobiography in 150 words. Not counting the notes below, this is mine, the first piece in my Autobiography Passed Through the Sieve of Maya.

Harlingen, Texas: born, barefoot. Alabama: outhouse, one-room school. Virginia: Blackberries, ticks. Tokyo: post-war occupation, sleepwalking, bicycle. D.C.: Army-Navy Medical Museum, Arlington National Cemetery. Paris: banks of Seine, petting, impressionists, piano, Schumann. Scotland: sixteen, rape. Munich: high school concert, hoarse. London: senior trip, Shakespeare. Garmisch: Zugspitze, skiing. Boston: Simmons B.S., Vedantism, medical secretary, Alexandria Quartet, e.e. cummings, marriage, folk guitar. Indianapolis: Stranger in a Strange Land, classical guitar, Villa-Lobos. San Francisco: Irish country dancing, fog, jazz, mushrooms, baby girl. Cincinnati: Tae Kwon Do, Flamenco guitar, baby boy, marijuana, group marriage, divorce, Taft Fellowship, M.A., T.A., R.A., PhD, textbook, William Stafford seminar; parenting, mini-skirts, psychic experience, lover, Mozart; Bast Consulting, hot shot, wealth, loneliness, second marriage, depression, divorce. Gainesville: mother care, Tai Chi, high school sweetheart, If I Should Fall Behind, grief, market crash, rebirth, Out-of-the-Box Coaching, the poet, Wildacres, jeans and Birkenstocks, Qigong, Buddhism, breast cancer, painting, found poetry, dulcimer, Bardo.

*     *     *

NOTES:  "Maya is the veil that covers our real nature and the real nature of the world around us. It's like dense clouds that prevent us from seeing the sun. Our clouds appear as egotism, selfishness, hatred, greed, lust, anger, ambition. When the clouds disperse, we become aware the sun has been there all the time." Vedanta Society of Southern California.

"Bardo is an interval, a hiatus, a gap. It is a peak point of experience, and at the same time a situation of extreme tension, caught between two opposites. It is an open space, filled with an atmosphere of suspension and uncertainty, neither this nor that. It is a crossing, a stepping stone, a transition." Tricycle Magazine.

Sunday, May 19, 2019


Neil Braun taught me the phrase "Fuckin' A." He and Bonnie, Dave and I were at a fancy dinner party at John and Sue Bercaw's. Sue should have known not to invite us, but Neal and Dave and John had gone to high school together, and we knew why we'd been ushered past the posh guests in the dining room to a table in the kitchen.

A bottle of expensive, fine, highly palatable Bordeaux was on the table and we poured it into delicate crystal, wedding-gift glasses. When I went nuts over how delicious the wine was, Neil said "Fuckin' A!"

I laughed so hard I nicked my wine glass against my fine china dinner plate and the stem broke. "Fuckin' A? What does that mean, Neil? Like 'Fuckin' A, not Fuckin' B? Or is it short for something that starts with A, like 'Your fuckin' ass!'?"

Meanwhile Sue came by, saw me holding the stemless glass, couldn't help saying how expensive it was, to please be careful, and I said, "Oh, I'm so sorry, Sue, all I did was accidentally tap it (picking up Neil's glass) against the plate like this," and broke the stem of Neil's glass, too.

Neil mouthed wordlessly, {{{"Fuckin' A!"}}}

Neil Braun died at age 79 on April 18, 2015, only three months after Bonnie.

 I'm still hanging in.


I didn't name it Kafka, though the thought crossed my mind. Progeny of 320-million-year-old species Blattadea, staggering across the bathroom floor in its death throes. Definitely Kafkaesque in its powerlessness to understand or control its fate, given the pervasiveness of pesticides. Lost member of an elaborate and interdependent social structure whose foraging area is their home, was it activating its own chemicals, signaling its end to kin?

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Clips: Memoir

Bruce bought me a cheap wedding ring at Walmart even though he was married. I let him do it, even though Walmart is The Evil Empire.

*     *     *

Once when stuck on a boat with someone I didn't like as much as I thought I would, we passed time answering offbeat questions. "If you had to lose a limb, which one would you let go of first?" I'm right-handed so of course I said "Left arm." I met a guy at a party, born without any arms at all, who left his shoes at the door and used his feet for everything. After he put a fork between his toes and ate from the table I became inured, though he got my attention again when he lit up a cigarette. Now I hear he's dying from lung cancer. Nailed, one way or the other.

*     *     *

On the ant hill, the drudgery of hauling dirt upon dirt, the battles, the torn antennae, the marching, marching, the long sigh from heavy hauling, blind to being blind, not one idle leg among thousands. In the end everything kicked over by something unthinkable, survivors building yet another hill.

*     *     *

Short stories. If you relish one, you can't rush into the next, so the whole evening is ruined because you've planned to read yourself into another reality. Gradually, though, like coming down from any high, you begin to feel the hunger, open the book and start another story. Because otherwise there's only life.

(For far more eloquence, Claire Bateman's "A Few Things to Know About Reading.")

*     *     *

Friday, March 22, 2019

Eulogy: Fiction

Walter Frenesco knew how to go it alone. Back in the early fifties when submarines were diesel-fueled, sausage-shaped tin cans, when only the bravest or most lost souls--for our own unfathomable reasons--volunteered to be submerged, Walter spent months at a time almost a thousand feet deep below the Atlantic's surface.

On the same crew as me, Walter was a quiet man. While the rest of us played five card draw with a dollar ante, he wrote letters, or so we thought. He didn't let on that he had a novel in mind. In fact, I was the only one who knew about the story he worked on the rest of his life.

Why me? He saw I could barely read and write, so he knew I wasn't going to criticize or suggest how to make it better. Walter was too afraid to show his work to an agent or a publisher, even to one of his relatives, but he'd send me a few pages at a time. I guess he just wanted somebody to keep track.

His hero--also a loner--was a mountain climber intent on making it to the top of a high mountain nobody else ever climbed, somewhere in a country called Bhutan. I can't pronounce the name but he wrote it over and over: Gangkhar Puensum.

During his later years as a mail carrier, Walt was the opposite of the so-called postal worker syndrome--the quietly raging guy. He was not burrowing out from hidden animosities; he did not nurse subterranean rages that threatened to blow him and his surroundings to pieces. Walter was a nice man. In forty years of letters from him, he didn't once complain to me of anything.

He liked carrying mail. The job gave him many hours a day to figure out plots, imagine triumphs, slog through undiscovered territory, and picture himself a published author as soon as he retired at 65. Water missed his deadline by one year. I hope his job in the afterlife is not too demanding, because he told me in his final letter that he only had a hundred pages to go.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Ekphrasia: Mixed Media Tributes to Artists & Poets

Ekphrasia: A combination of fantasia (unusual or exotic) and ekphrasis (one form of art inspired by another).
I've been intrigued by all forms of art as reflection of and inspiration for social change: how we can inform, surprise, stretch, invite and incite changes in perspective that lead to action. My concern and outrage over environmental issues, political dissent, divisiveness, war, and discrimination are mirrored in the first stanza of a found poem I created from the contents of Bacopa Literary Review 2018:
A culture ignorant of reverence, currency cold, hard,
dark hills, cultivation of scabs, scratchings of desire,
stand before the bar charged with racism, tangles, decays.
So much feels wrong, another chapter of slow death . . .
Studying Abstract Expressionism this year then heightened my anguish over the minimization of women and (no surprise) other minorities in the historically white-male-dominated art world. Deeply reflecting on the works and history of a number of artists overlooked until recently, I found myself drawn into a six-month process of creation that was entirely intuitive, fueled by my desire to embody and transform underappreciated artists' stories and works in a way that would draw new attention to them.

For each I downloaded small images of their paintings onto 22-pound printer paper and cut them into various abstract shapes unrelated to the original. After preparing a canvas with gesso, I put on disposable gloves, sat down on the floor with the pile of cut shapes, a jug of gloss varnish, a brush--and just let things happen. Sometimes I was drawn to fitting shapes as in a puzzle; sometimes I played with juxtaposition of colors. When I was happy with the placement of colors/shapes in a piece, I let it dry, then drew lines, circles, and outlines with a fine point pen to create new patterns.

"Frankenthrall" by Mary Bast -- Mixed Media, 8" x 8"
My particular design for this series arose first with "Frankenthrall," created after a friend sent me the catalog from an exhibit of Helen Frankenthaler's work, "As in Nature."

Frankenthaler (1928-2011) was better known and appreciated in her lifetime than many female Abstract Expressionists. Note, however, that histories of this art movement typically list Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, and Franz Kline among exclusively white male artists.


Friday, November 2, 2018

The Lovey Chronicles

February 15, 2018: I've been bereft over the unexpected loss of my dear Timmy on Christmas Eve, my constant companion of eight years, "a miracle cat"--according to my late mother--because of his deeply loving nature.

For six weeks I've pushed myself to move through each day, missing that funny, chubby guy sleeping on my desk while I work, his sweet little head next to me on the pillow at night, his contented purr that became my personal sound machine lulling me to sleep.

Heartbroken, sleepless, lonely, it occurred to me to foster a cat--for mutual benefit, two beings in need of comfort. So today I picked up an older female at Gainesville Pet Rescue.

With my first look at her torn left ear, her missing front teeth, and her obvious fighter attitude, I found the name on her chart patently ridiculous. "Lori." Such a girly handle for a combat vet. Home again, I unzipped the carrier to let her nose around my apartment, all the while mulling over what to call her that would be more fitting with her character. But, after scoping out the territory, she turned and told me wordlessly, "I'm Lovey. The fools have been mispronouncing it."

February 16: I spent yesterday in my bedroom suite with Lovey, making sure she knows her food and water bowls are always there for her, and the route to her litter box has become familiar in this new dwelling--her fourth in a short period of time, I was told.

Now she has the run of the place, and enjoyed the satisfaction of kneading her daybed before watching the lake for a while, then dozing off. She's had almost a year of upset, surrendered last April to Levy County Animal Control, and recovered by Gainesville Pet Rescue in a multiple cat blitz. Her three previous foster families didn't stick around, so she's spent most of ten months in and out of her kennel at the shelter. No wonder she's been quick to figure things out here. She's well practiced in assessing the parameters of new territory.

February 17: Lovey has passed my two Pet Tests: (1) When I came home after being out for a few hours this evening, she walked to the front door to greet me. (2) I moved her daybed next to me on my desk, started watching something on Netflix, and when I turned around she had quietly joined me.

February 18: Lovey's first toy on a string ("Play Guy"):

February 19: Lovey wants to be cuddly, if I move toward her slowly--and never from the front. She'll sit quietly on my lap, as long as she initiates it. And even if she bites, it's very gentle, followed by licking me, as if rewarding me for approaching her in a way that she feels safe.

February 21: Gainesville Pet Rescue requires foster families to return the pet to the shelter Thursday morning through late Saturday afternoon, because these are key adoption days. However, Lovey is not a friendly little kitten people will jump to adopt, and it's taken her all week to begin to trust me, so there's no way I'm going to put her back in that cage for three days. I proposed adoption, and Lovey accepted. We'll make it official tomorrow.

February 22: While I was signing the adoption papers, one of the staff members said "Oh, you know she's FIV positive, right?" Of course, no one had told me, but Lovey and I are a family now, and we will deal with this together.

The shelter offered no information about Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, so after returning home I studied some internet articles. FIV can only be transmitted to cats, not to humans or other animals. Even in cats, transmission would require deep scratches and fluid exchange. Lovey may not show symptoms for years and, once symptomatic, the disease might progress slowly or intermittently. In our stress-free, indoor environment, she could live many healthy years.

March 3: Lovey chews up paper left on the table or floor. I've never had a cat do that, and wonder if it's an anxiety response. I've cut out many small pieces for my ongoing collage project, and now have to hide those not yet glued to the canvas. No matter, today we can celebrate: for the first time she felt safe enough to stay seated on the screened-in lanai and watch a dog being walked by.

March 9: Well, this little cat and I have a different journey now. The vet says the state of Lovey's spine indicates she's probably in her teens, much older than the nine years quoted by Pet Rescue. Sadly, urine and blood tests show she's in chronic renal failure, advanced enough that if she were human she'd be on dialysis and signed up for a kidney transplant. She might have only months, but maybe a year or so. A diet of renal support cat food will help--low in protein, which is difficult for kidneys to process--so we brought home samples in a variety of flavors, both soft and hard food. She made her preferences quite clear.

March 10: Lovey hasn't let her illness get in the way of settling in and being an affectionate and playful companion. She especially likes to bat around her toys in the middle of the night, because--after all--she's slept all day. And she wants me to play with her. I have not slept all day.

March 15: "Lovey Does Taxes." I had just worked my way through email, news reports, etc., piled everything on my desk to prepare taxes, took a coffee break, and walked back to my desk to find her sleeping on top of the pile. This is touching to me for many reasons, not the least of which is the symbolism: "Take it easy! No need to feel stressed!" Their straightforward messages are among the many blessings of animal companions: "Stop and play!" "Slow down!" "Feel the love!"

March 18:  Today Lovey fell asleep on my laptop after I'd left it sitting open. I don't know what key or combination of keys she stepped on while turning around and settling down, but my screen display went sideways. I have to leave the laptop open and let it sleep, because if I close the lid, the ON button no longer works. Knowing the warmth of a recently used keyboard would continue to attract Lovey, I considered leaving it sideways, but the view is annoyingly narrow that way. So I googled how to return the view to landscape mode, and found this instruction (in case your cat ever turns your laptop screen sideways): "Hit CTRL + ALT + UP ARROW."

April 10: We've had a sweet few weeks of growing closer. Lovey bonds by licking my hand if I sit near her or licking my cheek to wake me up.

May 2: Now up to date on her rabies and FVRCP shots, Lovey was a model patient at the vet's today, but has gained a pound and a half since she came to live with me 11 weeks ago. So, it's time to stop feeding her every time she chirps, follows me into the kitchen and sits at attention in her feeding spot, looking up at me with longing. Or perhaps it's not "longing," but rather Lovey seeing just how far her training of me can go.

May 23:  Lovey often awakens from sleep crying out. Though she seems more and more at peace, her dreams must take her back to a scarier time. If it's daytime when this happens, she'll come to me to be kissed and petted and reassured, then groom herself. If night-time, when she's already next to me, she'll go straight to grooming, which I've read can reduce anxiety in cats.

May 25: She's shown no signs of end-stage kidney failure, so I'm hoping Lovey's now months-long diet of renal support food and stress-free environment will give her longer than initially predicted.

June 3: Lovey has taught me how to play. She's insistent when she wants attention and specific about the attention she wants. First, she taught me how to dangle Play Guy on a cord and she'd roll around, bite and kick, then let go so I could dangle him again. Yesterday she upped the game a notch, showing me that if I drag him slowly across the carpet she'll run very fast, turn with screeching speed, and run very fast again after him. Now I look forward to our play times. She makes me laugh!

Play Guy, though, seems a little tired.

June 10: For the first time, Lovey snuggled next to me under the covers for an afternoon nap! OK, sure, there was another thunderstorm and she was trying to find a hiding place, but she stayed there and we both slept for about an hour.

June 15: Over the years I've become increasingly allergic to cat dander. Timmy slept in his bed on my bed, his bed on my desk, or a pillow next to mine, and I could wash those frequently. Lovey, though, has countless sleeping spots. There's no telling where she's been. I've tried putting a towel down where she's slept in the past, then washing the towel, but no matter, I wake up every morning stuffed up and sneezing, eyes irritated and red. I love her anyway.

June 18: All right, five months post-adoption, and (a) trust has been established, (b) Lovey has become a Love Tyrant. She wants, always--when not sleeping or eating--to be brushed, to be cuddled, to be enticed with Play Guy on a string and (more and more recently) Squeaky Mouse on a string, plus either or both Guy/Mouse jumping in and out of an open cardboard box. This requires, of course, that I am puppeteer.

July 21:  I clicked onto The Beatles and Lovey immediately wanted on my lap, is licking my hand. She knows what I am feeling, what I am remembering. "Get back, get back to where you once belonged...."

Mid-July-mid-August: We've had almost a whole month of loving, happy times, though there have been many thunderstorms and Lovey hiding under the bed for hours. Sometimes I lie down on the floor next to the bed and place an arm near her, just for reassurance. Other times--when she seems not sure where I am--she'll give a long, lonesome howl. I'll come running to reassure her, and as soon as she sees me, she wants to play. She's also developed the habit of sleeping on the bed near its edge, but I could never predict which side. I finally realized -- as with the laptop -- she wants to sleep in the warmest place, in this case whichever side a lamp has been warming (on right side when floor lamp is on for back light while viewing a film; on left side when crookneck lamp is lit for reading).

Saturday, August 18: Observing that some days she seemed tired and less active, and occasionally would throw up, I asked Lovey to tell me when she was ready to go, hoping to myself that would mean months at least. I was still in denial--it turns out--because she'd apparently been waiting to know she could finally let go. Starting four days ago, on Tuesday, she simply stopped eating.

Lovey rallied on Wednesday, ate a bit, let me pet her, and we played with her toys for a long time. But Thursday and Friday she didn't eat, just sat alone, often in corners behind furniture. I was going to wait until Monday, but by late afternoon on Friday I could see I'd only be dragging out my time with her for my own sake, not for hers, and arranged to take her to the vet today.

They gave her a sedative, left us for a while, and I wrapped Lovey in a blanket with my arms around her. She was licking her lips with thirst, so I filled my hearing aid carrier with water and--even though she was drowsy and lying on her side--she drank it all, even when I refilled it, three times. Then she tried to give herself a bath, and lost consciousness while doing that very ordinary thing.

In February the vet had said "months," and Lovey was with me for six months. I will miss this tough little person. She taught me so much.

August 19: My relationship with Lovey was very different from "pet/owner," more like engaging with an older, experienced woman who was mute. We each seemed able to read the other. It was obvious from her behavior that she'd been abused and obvious from her physical state she'd been in fights, so I watched her reactions carefully to avoid doing anything that seemed threatening. She'd let me pet her a little bit around the head and--if behind her--I could pet a few times down her sides. But if facing her and reaching out with a hand, her automatic reaction was to bite, quite aggressively and fast like a snake. Then I read that former prisoners always watch your hands, because danger lurks in unexpected weapons or blows. So instead of reaching down to pet her, I'd sit on the floor beside her, place my face against her body, and she'd lick my face.

Lovey also read me--she loved to play with toys on strings that made noises, and would move to a table leg and reach her paws around, watching my face to see if I understood she wanted to play with it that way. After a few weeks of jumping around table legs, she'd run away from me a bit, then look back at my face to see if I understood she wanted me to pull the toy across the floor so she could run after it. She invented a number of games that way, and thus we had several play-breaks each day. I spent all our play times laughing, and that's how I'll remember Lovey.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Dipping: Memoir

The forties of the last century: A glass dish on our kitchen table, shaped like an open hand,  full to the top with sugar. Beneath it a lace tablecloth, not an heirloom or even hand made, but a find from the dime store. I eye the bowl, thinking I'll lick a finger and stick it in, when there's a knock on the front door and Mama opens it to Mr. and Mrs. Spees. I run to Mr. Spees, who always has Dentyne gum in his pocket for me.

Sixty years later: I read that we taste four flavors: sweet, sour, salty, bitter. I've never cared much to go past sweet.

Grieving for bees being killed off by vampire mites, I am deeply touched that one bee will groom another, trying to bite the mites. I mention this to a date while sitting on his porch enjoying the delicious spring air after dinner. Just returned from a trip to Italy, he buzzes off and brings back ten small pots of honey with Italian labels, each a different flavor. I expected clover, orange blossom, even blackberry, but also on this little tray are pots of acacia honey, chestnut honey, and a thick Millefiori.

"No spoon?" I ask.

"You have ten fingers," he says with a grin.

I feel six years old again, dipping my fingers in something sweet.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Jamaican Red: Fiction

I peel a supermarket banana, hold it to my nose. It has almost no scent. It is too hard and mealy, a pale yellow.

I think of the house in Ocho Rios, see the fruiting ten-foot, red-trunked trees in my grandmother's back yard, feel the strong, textured, purple leaves between my fingers. Brilliant magenta aromatic fruit with soft, orange-colored pulp. Tender, moist, sweet. Like custard. My nostrils flare, remembering the summer air that surrounded this simple feast: waves of strong wind from green Jamaican hills coupling with delicate sea breezes.

"Hush, chile, you go to sleep now," my father would say to me when I asked for bedtime stories about the island. He, who usually spoke carefully, in clipped tones with accurate grammar, only then allowed a hint in his voice of the reef-sheltered harbor where he was born.

"Hush chile, you go to sleep now," Grandmama Abrianna had said to
my father's busy questions when he was a boy, and again to me years later during my summer visits. She did not always speak the dialect of her Ocho Rios neighbors. "Your Abuela is part Spanish," she would remind me in her silvery tones. But she could slip easily into vibrant, musical Jamaican.

From my perch on her porch swing one summer in the early fifties when my father and I came to visit, I heard the woman next door ask, "How de pickney dem stay?"

Slanting her eyes left to see if I could hear, Grandmama answered sassily, "Bwai, dem alright."

My father disliked it when I mimicked Grandmama's songful words. And in later years he corrected my use of the term patois to describe this dialect. "Jamaican is not a patois," he lectured, "not a degeneration of English. It is creole -- its rhythm and timbre the independent language of an independent people!"

As a teenager in love with Bob Marley's reggae, I would imagine strolling with Marley on an early summer island morning, to the gully outside Ocho Rios, through the canyon of an old watercourse, hardwood trees canopied overhead, filtering aqua light as if we were under the sea, the tree tops waving water ferns.

"Why do you listen to that Rastafarian?" my father would interrupt my daydream, his lips tight -- fearing for me, I now think. A Rhodes Scholar, he'd found on his arrival in 1942 New York that he was simply "colored." This beautiful man with cinnamon skin could only find work as a janitor. In fatigue and frustration he would lash out at my British mother, criticize her untidy hair, the way she placed a knife next to a plate.

She left me with him when I was nine years old, telling me that morning, "He sees his hopes in you. If I take you with me, he will haunt me." I was quiet, grieving, dutiful.

My father
was unwilling to leave me unsupervised in our run-down neighborhood while he was at work, and reluctantly sent me to stay with his mother every summer until I was fourteen.

He wanted me to succeed where he could not.

I had to be careful not to show my love for Jamaica. How I longed to claim it. Because I loved my father, I did not tell him I preferred the Rastafarian's dreadlocks to his own short, smoothed hair, did not say the lyrics from "War" were for him as much as for me: Until the philosophy which holds one race superior is abandoned, everywhere is war, me say war.

"Listen to this instead," my father would direct. And we would sit together, immersed in Albinoni's "Adagio in G," my tears mirroring those in his mahogany eyes.

My father is old now. He is curved over, jaundiced, soft. Like the bananas from the supermarket -- pale cousin to succulent Jamaican flesh.

If you enjoyed this fictional piece, read Gail Galloway Adams' "Olives," fiction so believable The Kenyon Review published it as memoir.

Flight: Fiction

Her dreams are all of flying. Lambros, in a baleful mood, again reminds her this is a symbol of escape. "You're being irresponsible," he complains.

Miriam believes her inability to write is tethered to the maddeningly predictable pendulum of their marriage, the distracting social obligations of his tenured professorship. "I cannot listen to one more pompous speech," she says. Her notes, laptop, and portable printer are already on the the back seat of the Volvo. "Besides," she adds, "If I'm not in town you'll have an excuse for my absence at the ceremonies."

Lambros looks dispirited but says nothing. As Miriam finishes packing sweatpants and lightweight sweaters, he stands with one elbow on the bedroom door frame, arrested by the mirror's reflection of her short, graying hair, her spreading middle.

His final comment as she leaves their house in Bangor seems particularly unkind: "You'd like to dig a hole, climb in, and pull the sides in after you." She ignores him, accelerates onto the street, and drives away without looking back.

It is the first warm day of spring, and Miriam indulges her secret habit of whistling as she drives the two hours to their remote country home near Woodland. I won't have to wear make-up or a bra.

The slightly uneven stones in the pathway make walking to the front door a conscious effort. She has designed the oak house herself, insisting it be built in the traditional New England way, a simple two-story design with mortise-and-tenon-pegged joint frames, gabled roof, dormer windows.

Miriam has often felt the timbered scent of the house drawing her in, so she is not surprised to see a woodpecker's new doorway, a small hole on the west side just below the inverted V of the roof. At a distance the downy creature's tiny chalet resembles the entrance to a cuckoo clock.

After she's been there three weeks, the late May weather tempts Miriam away from her desk near the south window where her novel is taking shape. She sits in the cedar Adirondack chair under a large spruce, among the wildflowers at the edge of the small lawn: hyacinth, lady's slipper, meadow lily, buttercup, clover. Pulling a frayed green cotton blanket over her legs, she carefully balances a mug of tea -- her own decoction of roots, seeds, and berries.

Suddenly she hears a chick-like peep-peep-peep-peep-ddddddrillllllll followed by an irregular but rhythmic knock-knock-knock-knock-knock-knock. Miriam looks up to see the woodpecker grasping the edges of his round threshold, drumming a territorial hip-hop. Then he flies away, the vertical white stripe against his black back reminding her of a prison uniform, though cockier, the jaunty red tuft on his head like a baseball cap turned backwards. She imagines the little bird is making a break into the spacious sky.

Birthright: Fiction

Like many discreet professionals, Chausie's career path was oblique. She'd dreamed  of devoting her life to animals and waited anxiously for news of her acceptance to veterinary school. When the letter came, she climbed up the white oak in her back yard to savor it alone, absently licking the dried glue at the torn edge of the envelope as her future rolled out before her. She pictured being surrounded by soft creatures who gave no backtalk.

That vision was clouded when she observed her first surgery. She'd studied the textbooks where all the colors, layers, and organs were in place, and easily memorized the necessary implements and procedures, but shortly after the first slice of the knife she fainted and never went back. All that blood and glistening viscera, such impersonal and shifting interior anatomy!

Her given name was Charlene. Cat breeder parents had chuckled with tender amusement at their agile child who liked to jump on things, and nicknamed her Chausie after the new hybrid cat whose ruddy color matched their daughter's thick, auburn hair.

While still in vet school, Chausie had rented a carriage house on the large estate of an elderly woman with the single name Geneviève, an au courante sculptor whose statues resembled obese Giacomettis. Geneviève shared a taste for luxury with Zula, her Red Abyssinian catsilk sheets, the finest meats, organic wild-crafted catnip.

Geneviève's only worry was Zula's fate if orphaned. She spoke of this in the garden with Chausie, savoring the scent of cosmos and lilac, zinnia and verbena, while Chausie's cats, Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, conducted their own analyses of the breeze.

"Charlene, dear, I would like to will Zula to you, with a small stipend, if you agree."

A pedigreed cat! The first scent of greed dilated Chausie's nostrils. Ribbons from New York, a board membership with the Abyssinian Cat Club, mine to stroke: that golden goddess whose coat glows like a flame. "Of course," she said.

When Geneviève showed her the will, Chausie was stunned to learn she could live at the mansion with a monthly income of $8000 for as long as Zula lived. She told her boyfriend Max, "Just think. I could make this into a profession: ten cats, twenty cats. I could afford to have the carpets replaced every three months. Come over tonight and help me celebrate. Bring Claude. It's time he got to know the felines."

Not as species-biased as Chausie, Max had tamed a wild parrot he named Claude whose eyes, circled by white, gave it the appearance of a jaunty academic. Max played to this, teaching the bird Elizabethan curses. When they arrived at the carriage house that night, Claude cast leery glances at Carl and Sigmund: "Mewling, idle-headed ratsbanes!"

Chausie became a swanky cat sitter. She sought out wealthy people with elegant cats and gained their trust by showing her sure hand with their pets. But no matter how she ingratiated herself, none of them offered  her an inheritance.

To sate her lust for pedigree, she became a cat burglar. Her targets were prominent figures who failed to treat their pets with proper respect. She would grow close to the cats, quietly observe their owners' movements and habits, even be given her own key.

She never burgled while officially pet sitting, and thus she was the last person suspected when cats disappearedperhaps while their owners were hosting a large party. Chausie would sneak into the house through the kitchen door, grab some gourmet hors-d'oeuvres, and glide unseen up the back stairs carrying Smoked Salmon Tartare, Caviar, or Shrimp Ceviche.

A Maine Coon would look wide-eyed when she picked it up, then purr against the familiar cheek as Chausie tiptoed to the window, quietly opened it with one hand, and dropped lightly to the ground. A Persian might hold its ears back, unsure of what to do until Chausie chirped its name, called it to her, cradling it gently as she slipped away. 

By this time Geneviève had met with an untimely accident, leaving Zula and her home to Chausie, who now had plenty of room for more. She renamed all the cats after famous people. Carl and Siggie had set the tone. Zula was now Goldie Meir.

The two Ragdolls she had whisked away from a well-known Republican were particularly rare, mitted with black toes. Male and female siblings, she'd named them Snoop Catty Cat and Madonna. Snoop and Maddie would rideone draped over each shoulderas Chausie went about her chores, hardly time now for anything beyond formal cat sitting and informal sitting with her catsfeeding them, changing their litter boxes. An entire afternoon might pass in the enclosed garden while she brushed the longhairs one by one, and the shorthairs chased butterflies and beetles.

About the time that Chausie snatched her fifteenth prize, Max said, "Enough!" and slouched away, Claude swaying in a dither at his wrist. Max's departure was not due to moral outrage (he rather admired Chausie's prowess as a cat burglar), nor to the increasingly strong scents and invisible clouds of dander. No. Jealous of the time and attention she gave the cats instead of him, Max felt neutered.

As they left, Claude cried triumphantly, his spectacled eyes wide upon Chausie through the narrow aperture of the closing door: "Saucy, spur-galled miscreant!"

Out of Bounds: Fiction

"Have you ever seen someone eaten alive?" asks Jerry.

"Good God, no!" Amie is sick at the thought.

"Well, that could happen. What is it with you and Tim? Aren't you worried about the bears?"

"He knows what he's doing. He's been studying them for years."

"Yeah, right! Suicidal. That's what I think. Stay with me, Honey. I'll just munch on you a little." Jerry leans toward her, nuzzles her neck.

"Not funny, Jerry. I told you. I'm in love with Timothy. He makes me laugh. And he's adventurous. Look at these photos."

Amie shows him pictures of Tim with Boobie, Mr. Chocolate, Molly, Aunt Melissa. "These bears know him. He loves them. We're not going to do anything dangerous. Anyway, now I have to go. I've sold the house, given huge bags of stuff to Goodwill. I have my tickets to King Salmon and from there we'll go by boat to Brooks Camp. Then we'll hike to the bear trails at Katmai, camp there all summer. Think of it! I'll help collect data for the documentary. Isn't it exciting?"

"Go with God," says Jerry. He seems to mean it, though he's a bit sappy from smoking dope--brows furrowed, mouth inclined downward into a tsk.

Amie refuses to admit she's scared. A park ranger had warned Tim to keep a boundary between himself and the bears, to build an electric fence around the campsite, to carry a gun or at least pepper spray. Tim had been insulted, told the ranger if anyone was that fearful they had no place out in the brush, and he wouldn't do anything to bring these beautiful animals pain.

"You're star-struck," Jerry says to Amie. "It isn't just that you're leaving me, all our friends. You only see your golden-haired boy who was interviewed on Dateline NBC. Tim's naive--it's real out there. Male grizzlies can weigh 800 pounds."

"He's not naive. He's cautious. He knows what they can do." But Amie remembers Tim's widely quoted retort to an Alaska bear authority that he'd be honored to end up in bear scat.

I don't want to be the last thing a grizzly leaves behind.

Later, reading about bears in an Alaskan guidebook Tim gave her, Amie underlines these words: Brown bears eat mainly vegetation. Grasses, sedges, bulbs, roots. They also eat insects such as ants, fish, and small mammals. She reads on, suddenly stops. In some areas they have become significant predators of large animals such as moose, caribou, and elk.

Holy shit! A moose weighs a thousand pounds. Amie shifts her 120-pound frame uneasily.

The phone rings. It's Tim. "Hey, Sweetie. Are you packed? I can't wait to see you. I've got new video equipment, funded by Werner. This is going to be the best trip ever."

"Good to go!" Amie laughs.

"During August," she reads later in the evening, "when the bears are fattening up on Buffalo Berries, their scat takes on a blackish-red appearance with plenty of Buffalo Berry seeds visible."

Heck, people make jam out of Buffalo Berries. The bears just want something sweet. I wouldn't miss this for anything.

*     *     *
(The Facts: on October 5th, 2003, Tim Treadwell and Amie Huguenard were killed by a brown bear in Katmai National Park. Their remains were found in what is known as a "food cache.")

Requiem Aeternam: Memoir

From my Autobiography Passed Through the Sieve of Maya:

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine

The plane was late and I arrived only minutes before the service was to start. My son and daughter had left the music up to the funeral director, who was not pleased with my insistence on Verdi.

Lacrymosa dies illa.

The scene: an unctuous mortician who speaks too softly and keeps his hands folded in front at all times, a funeral parlor filled with the sickening, overpowering scent of flowers, the deceased in the open casket resembling someone we used to know, but waxy and strangely colored. Dear God, they've gotten his nose wrong. It's much bigger than I remember.

Ah, that day of tears and mourning.

I learned that funeral music is meant to be white noise, to keep people hushed, emotions tethered, everyone miming the embalmer, eyes down, looking properly respectful. The Verdi was a mistake, an intrusion, far too beautiful, drawing our attention away from memories of a life. But it was too late, the service had started. The Requiem's urgent soprano and eerie choral murmurs seemed to admonish me for this choice, for all my choices.

Libera me, Domine.

Relentlessly the music soared, competing with the low murmurs, barely perceptive, discordant notes: "Was it really his heart?" "Why no autopsy?" "They say it might have been suicide."

Deliver me, O Lord. 

Saturday, March 3, 2018

A Wise Teacher: Memoir

"My classes became more like ballet than like workshops. What did a piece of writing mean? Not what did it say, but what did it portend, or hint, or reveal, about the surely valid human impulse that brought it about. My job was not to correct but to understand and participate." William Stafford, You Must Revise Your Life.
According to Lu Chi:
"To learn writing from classics
  is like carving an axe handle with an axe," and
  then, "you must excavate your own soul,
  search yourself till your spirit is refreshed."
Our teacher Bruce Hoch has us read "When I was a kid I was a Buddhist and an atheist, but I kept making bargains with God," then says "Write about your bargains with God." When he hears what we have written, his face flushes, his eyes tear.
Sikong Tu advises that our writing "thins
to nothing" if we approach with too much effort.
Our teacher Bruce Hoch says, "Do not try so hard to be clever. When writing is too full, it is thus empty."
"Observe creation without taboos," writes Sikong Tu.
"Swallow a vast wilderness, then spit it out again."
Our teacher Bruce Hoch hands me The Art of Writing. Seeking the proper handle, intuition draws me to Snyder's "Axe Handles."
... I begin to shape the old handle
With the hatchet, and the phrase
First learned from Ezra Pound
Rings in my ears!
"When making an axe handle
                 the pattern is not far off..."
My teacher Shih-hsiang Chen
Translated that and taught it years ago
And I see: Pound was an axe,
Chen was an axe, I am an axe
And my son a handle, soon
To be shaping again, model
And tool, craft of culture,
How we go on.
A wise teacher is an axe and we are handles, soon to be shaping again.

How we go on.

Friday, July 14, 2017

How Language Can Make Women Invisible

Small acts of linguistic rebellion can change the world. We can only become what we can imagine and we can only imagine what we can articulate. That’s why language matters to our lives; that’s why little changes in grammar and vocabulary can affect the entire architecture of our political imagination. "Gender-Neutral Language and Why It Matters"
I've just read a post by a writer I respect, in a blog for writers, who used masculine pronouns unnecessarily: “. . . the reader may feel he is being tricked . . . He may even quit reading. He will certainly not . . . .”  

Technically, I doubt this writer hopes to be read by only one reader. More important to me, as a social psychologist, is the degree to which language affects our thinking, which then affects our language. We know how women in all professions, including writers, have been overlooked historically. Apparently, not everyone knows that language affects how human beings think, in this case about women. More succinctly, we as writers have the opportunity to decrease gender bias by the way we write. 

It's not simply my wishful thinking that we can influence readers' views of women by how we write. Such effects are substantiated by a growing body of research. As indicated by one recent study, “A large body of empirical research documents that the use of gender-fair forms instead of masculine forms has a substantial impact on mental representations. Masculine forms activate more male representations . . . .”

Since reading A Feminist Dictionary* in 1985, I've written a number of books and hundreds of articles and blog posts without once having to resort to "he/she," "s/he," or "they" (referring to an individual).

What is now termed gender-fair or gender-neutral language has become standard practice in journalistic and academic writing. It's easy to accomplish and doesn’t require the awkward he/she substitution. Gender-neutral language also extends to everyday verbs such as "manned," when "staffed" is as easy to say or write, and to role titles such as "Chairman" when "Chair" is shorter and equally definitive. 

In my own writing I even avoid general terms such as "mankind." We are all of us -- male, female, bi, trans, or any other gender description -- "humankind." 

Unfortunately, the writer quoted earlier in this post chose not to revise her post, though it would have been quite easy for her to write, “. . . readers may feel they are being tricked . . .  They may even quit reading. They will certainly not . . . .”

Nothing would have been lost, everything would have been gained.


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Land of the Birds: Memoir

Atiu, Cook Islands, is a raised coral atoll with a circumference of about 20 miles and land area of 10.4 square miles. Its 230-foot-high central plateau is surrounded by low swamps, beaches, and a 66-foot high coral reef containing many underground caves. Fertile volcanic soil and freshwater springs in the valleys allow cultivation and export of citrus fruits, taro, bananas, copra, and papayas. Coffee is also grown. Shipping is hampered by the lack of an adequate lagoon behind the fringing reef but there is an airstrip on the northeast coast. In the 1980s more than 1200 people lived in the island's five villages (by 2010 there would be only 511). 

Early in 1988 the corporation I worked for was acquired in a hostile takeover and my department eliminated. My March 50th birthday put me in a "protected" category that increased the size of my severance check, and I found consulting work one week a month for as much income as I'd been making in a full-time job. Suddenly free of traditional work hours and with plenty of money, I could do something I'd been interested in for a long time -- join an Earthwatch expedition.

Though tempted by Tracking Orangutans in Borneo (more about this later), I was most intrigued by an archeology/anthropology expedition to Atiu Island (or Enuamanu, land of the birds) in the Cooks. My friend Nikki joined me. The following and some future posts will cover highlights from the journal I kept during the trip.

Our room in Rarotonga
Tuesday, July 5, 1988: Nikki and I are sharing a room in Rarotonga before catching the cargo plane to Atiu with the other volunteers. The weather is cool, overcast, and windy. Our back window looks out on jungle and our front window on the ocean, framed by coconut palm trees, hibiscus, orchids, and bougainvillea.

Dr. Sinoto and Dr. Stephenson
Our expedition leaders Dr. Rebecca Stephenson, Dr. Hiro Kurashina, and the senior investigator, Dr. Yosi Sinoto held a press conference this morning describing our goals -- to trace the route of Polynesian colonization through archeological artifacts and to observe changes in island culture by comparing our journals to similar information collected by Becky in her year on the island for her doctoral study a decade ago.

At lunch today we were told the difficulty of Earthwatch trips varies a great deal. One woman, on her eighth expedition, said the Borneo trip was the toughest. At times they tracked the orangutans through waist-deep swamp water and afterwards had to pull leeches off each other. Because they moved from place to place, their camp sites and facilities were temporary. At one site, the team leaders were concerned about a wild boar in the area. So their night visits to the latrine -- a wooden plank over a large hole -- required balancing on the plank while holding a flashlight and a club.

Nikki left front, Mary middle front
In contrast, we look forward to a welcome from friendly and loving Māori islanders. Two members of our group have been to Atiu with Earthwatch before. Both are back because they became so attached to their hosts. Each of us will live with a family for two weeks, and those two will stay with the same families as before.

At today's briefing we learned that Māori is a directive language. Technically, "please" and "thank you" do not exist, so we shouldn't be surprised if told "Do this!" Reciprocity is integral to this culture. If you admire something, an Atiuan will feel obligated to give it to you. The same goes for us -- we'll know what gifts to give members of our families by what they admire among our possessions. The Māori have a saying that things "get legs." The children will be curious about jewelry, or small alarm clocks, or watches. If we leave such things lying around, they might disappear.

Umukai (feast)
Because we're guests, we will probably eat alone until our families get to know us, and we will eat with our hands, as they do. Shoes are not worn in the house. Both men and women are affectionate and will hug and kiss on the cheek. When attending the dances, a tap on the knee by a man will be an invitation to dance. After the dance a tap on the rear end will be an unspoken "Thank you."

There will be a conspicuous display of food, and we'll show our pleasure by eating a lot, though not necessarily everything. We asked a man who was here last year what that really means. He said, "It means six meals a day."

Thursday, July 7, 1988

Nikki and I awoke early in Rarotonga yesterday from anxious dreams about being in unfamiliar territory. After two weeks on the island of Atiu we'll probably come back to the "civilized" world and wonder why we do all the things we do. But in these early days we'll have to adapt to a simpler life. Few Atiuan homes have running water, for example. Instead, most collect rain water. Becky says "When it's time to wash up you'll take a pitcher and basin to the bath house. Do it the way birds do."

Nikki wearing a pareu
In Atiu's traditional Christian culture, women are expected to dress modestly. Bathing suits, short shorts, or low-cut tops are not acceptable, although families may have different standards for attire in the privacy of their homes. For swimming and as a cover-up at home, Nikki and I each bought a pareu (sarong), two yards of cloth to wrap around the body in various ways. We chose the same dark blue and green on white pattern.

My room in Papa Tu's home
I'm now sitting in bed in my small room in Atiu at 5:15 a.m. The canopy is made of white lace, and a gentle cross-breeze flows from the window to the open hall in the middle of the house on this hot, muggy morning. Papa drew the plans for this house, and he and his brother built it from cement block, with a raised tin roof to let the air circulate. I'm glad I brought a battery-operated book light, because electricity on the island is turned off between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Our outhouse in back
Washing up was easier than I expected because the collected rainwater flows from a spigot in the bath house. Before "doing as the birds do" last night, I brushed my teeth and rinsed the brush in my bath water  I was a bit nervous using the outdoor toilet in the dark, but found it flushes with only a little help from a bucket of water kept at the door of the outhouse.

So much is new, some expected because of our briefings, some surprising. It's certainly true, as we've been told by many people, that families here are wonderfully generous and caring. I have the good fortune to live at the home of the mayor, called Papa Tu by everyone because of his position in the village, and his wife Teu Mere, or Mere for short -- a name pronounced like mine: Mare-Ray, though I'm to call her "Mama."

Mama (Mere) on the right, in blue
As promised, our plane (one of two) was met yesterday by our host families and we were draped with eis (called leis in Hawaii) and our hair bedecked with garlands of flowers. I went with Mama right away to our home, where she served me fresh coconut milk (in a coconut), and two kinds of coconut meat: the nutty, mature meat and the immature flesh of the sprouting coconut -- fluffy, juicy, and very tender, similar in flavor but more delicate. 

After the second plane arrived, we were all taken to two umukais (feasts), the first an official greeting by Papa Tu and the head ariki (chieftain). Because it's customary for guests to eat first, our hosts did not join us in this feast of passion fruit juice, chicken, bananas, cookies, marinated squash, and a staple of the island called taro. This bland-tasting root looks somewhat like a sweet potato, although it can be grey or white or pink. Papa Tu says the color varies by where it's grown and how much moisture surrounds it.

Umukai (feast)
The second umukai followed a brief religious ceremony at the Sunday School. Papa Tu, who is also the assistant minister, introduced the minister -- a younger, quite heavy man with a booming voice, who gave a sermon on love. I taped the traditional hymn which was sung in Māori, eerie and beautiful, all the voices clear and joyful.

My island family is highly religious. Yesterday evening, after I was shown to the bath house and we had coffee, tea, and more taro with butter, some of the children and Mama's sister Rongo came in for evening devotion. Papa Tu played the guitar while all sang a folk hymn in a combination of Māori and English. Mama and the children alternated reading verses from the Bible in Māori. In my honor, Papa Tu read in English. Then we had a closing prayer.

Papa Tu and Mere have raised 21 children; only the two youngest boys still at home. Newton is 10 years old and very handsome, named after the town in New Zealand where five of their children lived at one time. Another son lives in the next village because he has a girlfriend there. I asked if they are married, and Papa Tu said, "Not yet. It is better that they know each other first, so they don't divorce right away, as so many have done." This son and his girlfriend have a two-year-old boy.

Papa Tu is very proud of his family, especially his oldest brother, who has passed away. In their inside sitting room are photographs on the walls, decorated with shell necklaces. This brother's picture is displayed prominently next to one of Papa Tu when he was younger. This oldest brother, Vainerere Tangatapoto, was Becky Stephenson's "Papa" on the island -- the one she lived with for a year and a half thirteen years ago while collecting data for her dissertation in anthropology. Papa says his brother loved Becky like a daughter and she loved him like a father.

Clearly, Papa Tu's favorite son is his namesake, who lives in New Zealand and is very much missed. Papa recalls with great tenderness Teio Tu's helpfulness as a boy. Mama says Teio Tu helped Papa put up the kitchen ceiling when he was only 12 years old.

There are other children about, mostly nieces, and one granddaughter. Of one of the nieces, Tau, Papa Tu says her parents are "not good." These relatives of Mama's, he said, drink a lot and go away at night with their "gang," leaving the children unattended.

Papa Tu with the children
Humor is a big part of their lives. Papa Tu teased Mama that only her relatives are bad. Even his nephew joked with Papa at the feast last night, saying everyone hoped Papa would keep his speech short.

Mama speaks English quite well, though not as fluently as Papa. This is, I suspect, partly due to personality, and partly to roles. Papa Tu does most of the talking and he's the one who decides what's appropriate behavior for me. Mama is present, adding comments or laughing.

In this morning's briefing we were asked to describe to the Earthwatch group what we've observed so far, and I found myself tongue-tied, trying to share how open my family has been and how touched I am by their stability and spiritual depth. Though many described themselves as happy with their families, I believe I'm the luckiest to be with mine. I'm interested in the island's history and traditions, and my family holds to most of the historical culture.

Mama dressed me in a traditional costume
In contrast, Nikki is with a "modern" family -- they watch TV (VCR) till midnight, drink Diet Pepsi, and eat mostly tinned food. I'm sure her "Mama" believes she is serving her guest especially well, but Nikki isn't experiencing the old ways of the islanders.

There was much laughter in my family, for example, when Mama dressed me in this traditional costume.

Friday, July 8, 1988

I slept soundly, in spite of some on our team telling me of cockroaches and other insects in their rooms. Awakened by bird calls, I remembered being a child on my grandparent's farm and hearing the cocks crow in the early morning, though the Mynah birds are certainly a new touch.

Mama waiting for me to eat
For breakfast we had shredded coconut, taro, fried eggs, papaya, cabin bread (a thick cracker), butter, and mashed bananas fried with arrowroot (looks like a potato pancake)--delicious. And Mama is generous to ensure there's always hot water for my herb tea. For lunch we had the same food as at breakfast, with the addition of both fried and fresh bananas. I think Papa Tu gave Mama this instruction because I said I love bananas. Mama says grace in Māori before each meal. Papa Tu repeats it in English.

I've learned to say Kia Orana ("May you live"), a special greeting that's more than "hello." This morning, as Papa Tu and I sat outside the house in front, everyone who passed said "Morning," with an Australian-sounding accent. I learned this was not for my benefit, but rather a typical greeting. All the Atiu tupu talk and joke in Māori in my presence. I feel happy rather than excluded, knowing they act naturally around me, even though I'm sure they're sometimes talking about me.
With Jay at today's dig

One team member, Jay Powell, is staying at the home of Mama's sister, who sent him over here for lunch because she didn't know we'd take a mid-day break and hadn't prepared food. Papa was charming and funny, trying to get Jay to eat more. I said I'd already proven I "eat like a pig." This is a family joke because the Māori word for papaya, vipuaka, literally means "food for the pigs." Before the Europeans arrived, the Māori never ate papaya; they only fed it to the pigs.

I'm sitting near the cab, white socks and sneakers
On the way home from the dig today, our truck driver stopped at the harbor to let off a young German woman and English man who had wandered the island while their ship unloaded its cargo. On the deck we saw crates and crates of beer marked Atiu Motel. Papa has told me of attempts to reduce the amount of drinking in the village, especially among the young people. He discussed this with all the parents, who agreed to enforce a curfew. Many wanted to completely ban drinking, but Papa understood this would simply lead to rebellion, and too many young people were already leaving the island.
Papa Tu

As Becky has explained, Māori is indeed a directive language, and Papa Tu's efforts to guide me sound like commands. Even so, he's pretty flexible. He'll say "Eat more," followed by "You do not have to finish if you are full." After I returned this afternoon he said, "You should take a little rest and then a bath before dinner." I asked if I could take a bath first and he was hesitant, but I think this was more because Mama wasn't around to find things for me. When I showed him my soap and told him my towel was in the bath house, he seemed more at ease with my impertinence. But later when I left my room after writing in my journal, he said "You go back and rest. I will tell you when Mama is back and dinner is ready."

Spirit House (Marae)
Tonight after dinner Papa Tu told me about the Cook Islands celebration held each year to commemorate "the coming of the Gospel." Each island celebrates according to its own history. On Atiu, villagers prepare and rehearse a play. Our village, Tengatangi, reenacts the arrival of John Williams. Before his landing, a woman had foretold the coming of strange men, their bodies covered from head to toe. They would bring a new god and all the present gods would be cast away. The islanders had thought her crazy, but the head ariki was the first to be convinced. When others protested, he demonstrated the power of this God by eating sugar cane from a sacred place, a Marae, to test their belief that doing so would lead to possession by the devil. When nothing happened to him, he offered this as proof that the new god had greater power. Soon afterward, everyone accepted the Christian God.

Earthwatch Team and families in front of C.I.C.C.
I'm back row, second from right
There are three churches on Atiu: Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, and the Cook Islands Christian Church (C.I.C.C.) to which Papa Tu and his family belong. They and the minister, as well as some others, are Born Again Christians who want to move their church toward a more literal interpretation of the Bible, banning musical instruments in church.

Papa Tu told me today the traditional hymn we heard on our arrival is from Psalm 25:
Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken, but endures forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forever more. The sceptre of the wicked will not remain over the land allotted to the righteous, for then the righteous might use their hands to do evil.
Some of the children surrounding me
This sounds very Western and formal, and I couldn't have imagined those words from the haunting, traditional singing that ushered in our arrival.

Tonight at evening devotion Papa Tu's family and I sang this song in English, accompanied by Papa Tu on guitar: He is able, He is able, He is able to carry me through, heal the brokenhearted, set the captive free, make the lame to walk again, make the blind to see.

Mama and Papa Tu's son, Ina Ina, who lives in another village, was here for dinner tonight. We had taro leaves (somewhat like spinach, but tastier) cooked with corned beef, fish in coconut sauce, bread, butter, boiled bananas, and a choice of tea or coffee. The fish was excellent. The boiled bananas take some getting used to, their taste and texture somewhat like artichoke hearts, only more dense. We started eating before Papa returned from the bath house, and Mama taught me to slurp my food as a sign of enjoyment. When Papa came in we demonstrated, and after that we all ate noisily. I'm sure they had restrained themselves from this in earlier meals.

This led to a story from Papa about a visit to New Zealand, when his older brother taught him how to use a fork. In one restaurant Papa embarrassed his brother by asking a member of the staff if he could eat with his hands. The answer was "Yes." Then lobster was brought in, and Papa felt a step ahead of everyone.

Islanders & Earthwatch team; I'm in red shirt, middle
Saturday, July 9: We had our first work day yesterday, but not a long one, only about five hours. We can walk to this site and cleared off about one-third of the Marae at Vairokaia, on land next to my family's plantation. Among the whole team we excavated pig's teeth, a flake, and what appears to be the top of a fireplace, as well as many shells. The boys from the village, who helped us clear away the site, climbed up nearby trees and brought us fresh coconuts to have with our lunch. After drinking the coconut milk, we were shown how to scrape the fresh coconut out with our thumb nails.

Musicians at singing competition
In the evening there was a singing competition and dance. Two of the four finalists, as well as the guest singer, are from Papa Tu's extended family. It is the custom here to take small coins (10 or 20 cents NZ) and throw them in a basin in front of the entertainer. Some people show their pleasure in the music by dancing on their way up to throw a coin. With only a little coaxing from Mama, I danced my way up with a coin.

Today, I learned from Papa Tu the meaning of some names. Our village is Tengatangi after a chief of the old days--Tangiia--who was very popular in the Cook Islands. The village's original name was Taturoa ("standing point that is long"). A village farther toward the coast is Ngatiarua

Papa Tu's given name is Teiotu-O-Tangaroa ("The Standing Mirror of Tangaroa). Tangaroa was the god of gods, and the "standing mirror" refers to a clear lake where Tangaroa was said to have looked to see if all the other gods were happy.

Mama and Papa Tu in front area of house
Mama's name, Teu Mere, is her wedding name, not the one she was given as a child. Her older sister was Papa Tu's first wife, who died in her early thirties. Papa Tu considered moving to New Zealand at that time, but the families got together and decided he should marry his wife's younger sister, who was then 18 years old. The name Teu Mere means "something surprising," referring to her sister's sudden death. Their twin sons are named Rouru Ina Ina ("gray hair," after Papa Tu's mother-in-law) and Tangiia (after the famous chief).

This morning, after being notified that our trip to the caves was postponed due to rain, some of us walked to the Atiu Motel. There are three units, with a fourth being built. The owner was away, but we met a couple from Canada staying there who showed us inside their unit. It's an A=frame with indoor plumbing, a double and a single bed, and a loft that could sleep two more people. Food is supplied in the small kitchen area, and guests are charged only for the food or beverages they use. Papa Tu says the motel owner, Roger, met his Atiuan wife in New Zealand and came here "to get away from the rat race." The islanders are not happy with him, some even urging that he be deported. He built a saw mill to produce the lumber for his motel, which is made almost totally from materials found on the island. But he charges dear prices in the mill. Also, while shops in the village are open only in early morning and late afternoon, he keeps his shop open for long hours, and the Atiu tupu believe he is trying to steal their money. Finally, he doesn't impress on guests the ways of the people here. Papa stopped one woman riding by on a motor bike wearing short shorts, telling her angrily to go back to the motel and put on some clothes.

I'm ready to walk to the dig site
The women and female children in Papa's family never wear pants. I wore Bermuda shorts once, but could see from how he looked away that he was uncomfortable, so I only wear long pants or a skirt at home. The women here sit with their ankles crossed, and rarely cross their legs. Yet I've noticed children bathing together outside next to the house. I asked Papa at what age the boys and girls are separated to bathe, and he would only say, "When they are older."

Papa treats "Mommy," as he calls her, gently, and shares decisions and some tasks with her, though roles are traditionally delineated. She cooks, cleans, washes clothes. As head of the household, he governs through participation much the way he governs as mayor. Mama rarely tells me what to do as he does, but apparently influences his decisions. For example, I had told her I couldn't eat all the food she sent with me for lunch, and when Papa was late for dinner she confided in me that she had told him not to insist on so much food for me. When he is away, she and I laugh as if we were sisters, and even plan jokes to play on him, as we did with my noisy slurping of food. They both laughed heartily with me.

Papa Tu's home office is in the front bedroom across from mine. He says Mama insisted on having a bed where he could sleep when he works late. 

The children seem to live next door in the second house, where Mama's sister also lives, and only come here for devotional services. When they do peek around corners Papa admonishes them to be quiet.

He told me they are "too noisy" to live in this house, but I think some of them sleep here when there are no guests. 

Sunday, July 10,1988:
Wero ("to cast a spear") is a traditional Māori challenge at a pōhiri, or welcoming ceremony, to ensure that visitors come in peace. It also establishes their steadfastness, and the prowess of the challenging warriors.
The male members of Nikki's family took her to a tu munu (brewery) last night, where only women visiting the island are allowed (for local women it would be considered a disgrace). tu munu sites are in the middle of the jungle, the beer brewed and stored in the hollowed-out trunk of a coconut tree. The brew itself is fermented orange, and generally takes about a week to be ready to drink. Nikki said the beer tasted like fruit punch and she didn't drink much, worried it would be too easy to get drunk. A recording she made sounded like a noisy bar anywhere. Singing, music, laughter.

Meanwhile Jay and I accompanied my family to their Saturday evening prayer meeting, where everyone in the group was asked to share something. When it was my turn, I spoke of my pleasure to come half-way around the world and hear children singing songs I had learned as a child: "Rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham" and "What a friend we have in Jesus." I could barely keep my composure when members of the group sang a welcome song, then filed by, kissing each of us one by one and saying "I love you, in the name of Jesus." Papa Tu also read Psalm 133 in Māori: "How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity. . ." 

Mama has a very clear singing voice, and helped guide me through the hymns in church today. I was also able to follow the hymnal pretty well. She told me later that people watched my lips and were happy to know I was singing in Māori.

After church there was a meeting for women only. This involved a combination of individual responses to today's bible text and spontaneous dancing, usually started by an older woman. Mama says they call this woman, Mama Mika, their "comic." I was invited to dance, and tried to imitate the hula-like movements, which generated much laughter.

Though some Earthwatch members modeled traditional island dresses made for them by their Mamas, most of the local women wore modern dress to church. All them have brimmed hats, and Mama loaned me a white one with white ribbon trim. She had hand-woven this hat, heavy enough to withstand today's strong winds. When I commented on the winds' force, Mama said her parents were in a hurricane before she was born that was so terrible all the houses and trees were flattened. People survived only by running into the valley below.

I am slowly learning the names of the children. Today after church, 5-year-old Maru took my hand walking home. Her mother, Mama's sister, is Rongo. In addition to Mama and Papa's son Newton, their daughter is Miimetua, and they have a "feeding child" (adopted) who is actually their niece, named Ngatokorua. Other nieces are Tau and--born in New Zealand--Jennifer and Darlene.

Returning from a walk after church, I met a young woman from New Zealand as she was leaving our house. She's here to study local music in preparation for a Master's degree in music, and was seeking Papa Tu's permission to tape record his family's traditional challenge to distinguished visitors. Though she'd tried to convince him it might otherwise be lost to posterity, he would not give permission. I asked Papa about this, and he said it is a welcome greeting allowed only to his family. I've seen him willingly agree to other requests, so I know this is a real family secret.

Mama making tapa cloth.
This afternoon after lunch, our Earthwatch senior investigator Yosi Sinoto came by to find out who in Atiu is most skilled at making tapa cloth from ava bark, and Papa pointed to Mama. She showed us a photograph where she is pounding the cloth over a log. Yosi said Hawaiian Air will pay her airfare and hotel for a week in Honolulu, plus $75 a day. In return, she will present at a two-day workshop demonstrating and answering questions about this traditional method.

Papa, trained by his father in the traditional ways, answered many of Yosi's questions and is negotiating to accompany Mama. He showed us a hand-knotted fishnet used to catch flying fish in the old way. Papa is now the only one on Atiu who can make an akeikei (fish-catching basket) in the traditional manner because none of the young ones want to learn how. He also spoke of picking anani (oranges) as a boy and rowing a thousand cases at a time out to the ship, because the reef is too dangerous for ships to dock at the wharf. Mama said the pickers would climb the first orange tree, then leap from tree to tree by the branches.

Monday, July 11, 1988
Because it's not economical to grow ara (pineapple), Atiu is losing potential trade in taro, nu (sprouting coconut), and akari (mature coconut) that used to be shipped ot New Zealand along with pineapple. Ships will not come unless there is a minimum of 300,000 cartons of pineapple. Coffee production is also slacking because there's been difficulty collecting payment for the coffee beans already shipped. Vanilla beans are now being planted for export, but they won't mature for a couple of years. The freight costs prohibit exporting spices.

While Papa and I were discussing exports, Hiro stopped by with a young man who has a brown belt in karate. I had told HIro about my brown belt, and they were here to invite me to their karate class on Wednesday evening. I told him I cannot practice because of my neck injury, but will be delighted to observe. Two of Para Tu's sons (the twins) have black belts.

Today, there was much talk about the three nieces and two granddaughters who will return tomorrow from Rarotonga, where they have been attending a conference for the Girls' Brigade.We looked through family photo albums, with pictures of granddaughters Mata Tu and Rima, and nieces Vaine (wah-ee-nay), Ina, and Aketaau. The albums highlighted the 21st birthday of the twins because 1st and 21st birthdays are special events on Atiu (other birthdays are noted, but no gifts).

(to be continued)