01 November 2010

Between the Worlds: a Witch Attempts Bilocation

Bilocation.  (No, I don’t mean what Hermione did in order to attend two classes simultaneously.)  I’m talking about living in two countries, across two continents, maintaining two sets of friends, two languages, two cultures, two homes, two places to learn/work/love.  Although, now that you mention it, it might be easier to get that twirly gadget of Hermione’s.  Bare with me as I explain…

The three days between All Hallow’s Eve (or Samhain or Halloween) and the Day of the Dead (or All Soul’s Day) is the time when pagans tend to commune with the dead.  We generally talk about the veil “between the worlds” of the living and the dead being thin and, therefore, more permeable at this time.  Climatically in North America and Europe we are transitioning from the end of the harvest time into the fallow periods of winter.  While I lived in New England this rhythm was obvious and clear as the frosts came and my friends started hibernating (read: disappearing).  In Southern California I’m experiencing a sort of “Fall Lite,” with more subtle differences in temperature and foliage.  Having just returned from a month in the Brazilian spring, however, has turned my senses upside down.  As I sort out the reverse culture shock I’ve been steeped in for the past ten days (including the changing of the seasons), I’m hoping my dead family and friends will offer some insight into my newest puzzler: Bilocation between Brazil and the Central Coast of California.

All throughout 2010 Brazil has been seducing me, shamelessly.  She has followed me everywhere, singing me songs, lulling me into submission.  My recent journey there was my surrender to Her, my deepest acknowledgement that, yes, I was hers and She could do with me as She pleased.  I completely fell back into her lap, allowing Her to caress my worries away and fondle my desires for reconnection.  I played, laughed and cried with friends and family who have known me for 26 years.  More than anywhere else on the planet, my small town in the interior of São Paulo state holds memories of who I am and who I have been since that younger version of me arrived at 16, hungry for adventure and needing to expand my vision of life.   Most importantly, these people continue hold me and love me in such a unique and special way that my heart can’t help but burst.  Their special brand of caring and attention is as impossible to describe as a beautiful Brazilian song, and just as dynamic.  And this is no one way street; my love for them is vivid, huge and bubbling.

Each day of my trip someone conspired for me to stay, to acknowledge my Brazilian soul -- my two best friends, my sisters and brothers, mother and father, even new friends jumped right in.  We plotted to create work opportunities which would allow me to spend part of the year there and as we schemed I understood the real possibilities.  My graduate program is structured for distance learning (and it would be easier than commuting from China as my colleague is doing).  I started to truly imagine how my life could look/feel/be if I traveled to Brazil every 3 or 4 months for a month to 6 weeks at a time, keeping my connections in both places.  In my head the internet became my bosom buddy, cell phones a lifeline – the possibilities blossomed.  Brazil’s rising economy is palpable and I could feel the hum in my blood as I thought about bringing my work here, especially as the country has developed its value for human resources, human rights and women’s leadership.  Somehow they’ve managed to craft an economy inclusive of their deep spirituality and respect for the environment, something new the world needs now.

Even sunny, friendly California did not measure up to the pure radiance of being accepted and loved by old friends.  My graduate program has been incredible, something I’ve been wanting for many years now.  It feeds my soul; otherwise I would have packed up already and headed south.  It is, however, the only thing that holds me back from moving to Brazil fulltime (never mind the visa, it will work itself out certainly). 

Physically leaving Brazil this time was so incredibly hard; I was not prepared.  I hurt deeply even though my plans were well underway and emotionally I trusted myself to make them happen.  I did not expect this level of grief.  But there I was, sobbing in the airports.  Having just reconnected with my long lost friends and holding them tightly for fear of losing them again.  Somehow I need to cultivate the grace required to hold them lightly as I travel back and forth, trusting they will be safe and holding space for me until I return.  And I need to hold my life and friends and family in the States with as much care and love as I learn to be present and mindful in both places.

So you see, I don’t need to be in both places at the same time… I need to be able to flow between my two worlds, finding the resources necessary for this lifestyle, and the trust that I am held.  So I offer a prayer to my beloved dead, here and in Brazil, honoring their memory, opening my heart to the possibilities.

And lest you think this great Brazilian lover has left me in peace this week, think again, for She is hard at work wooing me.  I bumped into a homeless man whose sparkling golden shirt shouted BRASIL at me.  I then managed to duck into a coffee shop to recover, only to pick up a harmless book to distract me: Elizabeth Bishop’s translation of Minha Vida de Menina (Pulitzer Prize winner Bishop lived shamelessly in Brazil for 15 years), the diary of a country girl between the ages of 12 and 15.  Back out into the brilliant sunlight, smack into a bookstore’s display of Committed, Liz Gilbert’s follow-up to Eat, Pray, Love where she contemplates marriage with her Brazilian man in the face of deportation.
Damn, this lover is good – consistent, sassy and trustworthy.  A terrific guide between the worlds.

08 August 2010

On Being Alone in the World…

Yesterday a powerless (and hey, it's no big deal to type "powerless," or even read "powerless" -- see, it doesn't hurt a bit!  -- but to feel it is, oh so different) feeling overtook me as I noticed how completely alone in the world I can feel at any given moment; there is nothing like my car breaking down to remind me.  Even as I encountered the smallest, safest and least inconvenient breakdown – a dead battery while at home – I collapsed into the knowing that I was alone without a primary other who would drop the world to rescue me.  (And I do mean collapse, but read on for the wheel turns.) 

One gift I received from New England is the value of creating community that is geographically based; neighbors become very important when snow and ice storms hit.  Now, although I have remained in the Pioneer Valley for this retreat time before traipsing across country, I am on the other side, way over here in Northfield, where I know no neighbors and my hosts are at this moment gallivanting through London.  And while I am blessed with a multitude of friends and many deep connections with incredible people the world over, during a tangible physical emergency the gift of electronic communication can shimmer away like maya before a truth-telling, sword-wielding Hindu goddess. 

Text message to Brazil:  Car broken down; could you come help?

Facebook entry:  Ulla, I know you are in Amsterdam, but could you stop by and jump my car?

Twitter:  Is anybody out there?  Can you find the mountain where I am hiding out?  I’m at the top. 

For many years I’ve contemplated the much explored paradox of how we are each essentially alone, even while simultaneously surrounded by community and loving family.  And, clearly, this theme is a favorite parallel of divorce.  We were a unit and now there is me.  I used to buy food for 2, now it rots if I buy too much.  The other person always had the spare key, now I have to rely on having only one shot at each event, rather than a back-up.

Last month, during a particularly unbearable heat wave I was finishing up teaching two intense summer classes (do not attempt this particular form of torture – one at a time is plenty) while preparing for my move to California.  I was in a whirlwind of tag sales and trips to make donations, retrieving boxes and logistics for the POD, a new apartment and housemate in Ventura – In short I was required to make an average of 73 life-changing decisions each hour.  The impact of leaving my animals, my house, my gardens, my ex-husband, my town, my community (not to mention my concept of who I was) behind was enormous.  And did I mention the heat?  Then I started to bleed, waking in the middle of the night to incredible pain. 

I grew up fainting from menstrual cramps and other extreme pain, but it wasn’t until about two years ago that a phone call from my sister clarified why.  She too was prone to fainting and was finally diagnosed with vasovagal syncope, a condition limiting oxygen to our brains leading to a loss of consciousness.  A loss of consciousness.  What powerful words.  It also feels a bit like impending death; I kid you not. 

Even before the diagnosis I had successfully avoided these episodes through self medicated with yoga, diet and careful attention; I hadn’t been bitten by old vasovagal for 7 years!  But the unkind combination of extreme heat, exhaustion and stress was too much for my body and at 3 in the morning I woke up in excruciating pain, knowing I was in trouble.  I made it to the bathroom, downed a couple of Advil and crawled back to bed.  Then the fainting began.  It’s sort of like a large bell of doom ringing far away and you can tell it tools for thee.  So I screamed.  I screamed the word for help in my language of the last 8 years, “Sam!” 

We’d been pretty successful at sharing our home while getting divorced for the past 6 months, not an easy task.  Many folks could not fathom that we were choosing to do this; there were days when neither of us wanted to be there, many days.  But because of finances and, most importantly, the three amazing animals we lived with, we choose to stick it out.  We were also committed to our friendship and separating in loving kindness, despite extreme discomfort and a lack of privacy most people (including us) need when licking wounds.

So, while I cannot say it didn’t cost me a small piece of an old, stubborn pride I didn’t know I had, I was immensely grateful that Sam did hear me and came running from his room to revive me and hold my hand for the two hours it took to recover, through vomiting, trips to the bathroom and a lot of pain.  I cried a lot and heard myself say deliriously, “I don’t want to be alone,” over and over.
Today my return to consciousness includes sitting …and sitting  …and sitting... with the paradox of being alone and yet still connected.  I want to feel deep in my bones that I am safe in the arms of the world.  I want to feel safe in each moment, regardless of the transient feelings arising in my gut, my craw, my vasovagal nerve. 

…and to know it is safe to reach out and ask for help.

26 July 2010

Stalked by a Nation

I was running from the oppressive steamy, thick New England summer heat.

“Go swimming, relax,” Denis had brightly suggested from the safety of his São Paulo apartment, deep in the heart of Brazil’s own brand of winter.  Here I was in Northfield, Mass, on the “other side” of my own Pioneer Valley, which I thought I knew inside and out.  I was quickly discovering I knew nothing really worthwhile about Northfield.  Where were the secret swimming holes, decadent hikes and mellow rides?  Heck, I was having enough of a time finding wifi spots and places that sold ice.  What I’d taken for granted in West County.  It had taken me years to infiltrate Ashfieldian culture to discover such sacred communal secrets.  I had been forced to pinky-swear never to reveal swimming locations to flatlanders, even though I myself was still considered one.
I consulted my gazetteer; surely a map was all I needed.  

After attempting to forge my way past barricades to a lovely reservoir appearing on my map just behind Northfield Mountain, I was thwarted by a cheery, hardhat-wearing gent who politely informed me that there surely was no swimming at this “energy” reservoir.  (In my head: yes!  Energy reservoir… that’s just what I’m seeking… let me in mister!)  My thoughts then returned to my conversation with Denis.  “And swimming, you can exercise a bunch and not feel so tired.  It’s so refreshing.” I considered his endearing attempt to get me out there splashing.  My new hard-hatted pal wasn’t getting it; he was my personal brick wall with none of the flexibility offered through Brazilian culture.  Deflated and melting, I waved as he drove away, ever perky.  He had surely had a clandestine dip.

And just what is up with Brazil?  Go ahead and ask.  Here I was heading off west to California, a PhD program and complete and total freedom. 

I have been attempting to discover the Brazilian spell I am under these days.  My three years living there were immensely influential; most importantly I came of age there, socially and sexually and I developed my sense of family, spirituality and community.  Between the ages of 16 and 21 (which is 5 very formative years mind you) I was all Brazil, all the time, a dedicated channel, a prosthletizing disciple.

And that was a long, long time ago.  My last visit was in 1994 and I’d been in embarrassingly poor, sporadic contact at best with my many friends and extended family.  Until Facebook.  Now, not only do I have a lovely vista into the lives of several of my friends, but I find I am longing for those Brazilian ways, social and familial.  I can suddenly taste pão de queijo in my mouth, hear my favorite singer Renato Russo crooning in my ear and imagine the green apple smell of the Villela’s bathroom overlooking the town’s zoo.

I am being haunted here, in the very distant Pioneer Valley, by Brazil herself.  Every single day.

In the changing room at Marshall’s Brazilian gals chatter in Portuguese, sure no one can understand them.  As I’m getting a massage in Easthampton new yummily distracting Brazilian music plays in the background.  Shoes I fall in love with are stamped on their soles/souls “Made in Brazil,” just like me.

Now I have lived in peaceful resignation for the previous 15 years, understanding that I was not living in Brazil, nor was I planning on it.  No such haunting occurred.  I occasionally ran into Brazilian people, spoke Portuguese rarely and didn’t really spend time pining; I had successfully shut the door, all the better to feel no pain.  Then about 6 months ago, when I realized my marriage was over and I was free to take off for grad school, or wherever else I was heading, Brazil started her siren song.

She must have quietly been biding her time all along.  “Tudo bem, go where you need to and I’ll find you in 2010.”  If you’ve ever been stalked by a country as large as my Brazil you might understand the severity of my situation.  My Brazilian friends are also totally in on this scheme.  Calmly they coax, “April, you must come to Brazil.  For what do you wait?  We miss you.  You will make success here. We have a good life here.  And now economics are strong.  You must know our new Brazil.”  

Yes, it seems I must.

Have you ever had an entire country haunt you?  It’s quite impressive.  (Imagine an activity as benign as looking at magazines.  National Geographic has an article on the dunes of Brazil, Vogue an article on Brazil’s super-Gisele and her new baby.  And this is happening each and every day.)  As my friends will proudly tell you, Brazil is larger than the US minus Alaska.  That’s a mighty large stalker; you can see her shadow in the alley at night.  I wonder if being followed by another country would be as eerie.  Would being shadowed by petite Belgium be as jolting?  (Immediately a small mustached and accented character enters my mind:  “Can I offer you lace?  Remember, Brugge is lovely this time of year.  And we are within easy access of 4 other major European nations.”)

So, with one foot on this coast, one foot on the west coast, and a large part of my soul listening to Brazilian siren songs, I find myself a bit displaced as I attempt to close New England doors gracefully.  I hope to leave this part of the county and pull up my own roots of 14 years without too much damage and with the greatest amount of love.

I had been planning to hit the road in mid-July when I delayed my trip in order to teach at Vermont Witch Camp this August.  Confusion arose as folks were starting to ask repetitive, predictable questions. “So, when do you ACTUALLY leave?” “Are you DRIVING across the country?” “Are you driving your CONVERTIBLE?”  Please imagine those questions posed with intonation and raised eyebrows.

When I arrived as an exchange student in 1984 my Brazilian dad, Domingos, and I used to laugh about these types of repetitive and predictable questions.  We planned a T-shirt I could wear with the answers at the ready; I could simply point.  The questions of the day were along the lines of culture, language, food and homesickness.  “Do you miss your family?”  (Who?)  “Have you already become accustomed to the Brazilian way of life?”  (I didn’t know life could be this cool, especially at 16.)  “Do you like brigadeiro/churrasco/bala de coco?”  (Imagine my social calendar full of invites for parties and meals where the key phrase is, “Don’t you like the food; please have seconds.”)  
At the end of my yearlong visit the R&P questions resurfaced, this time embodying the qualities of leave-taking.  “Will you miss Brazil?”  (Neither you nor I could express how much.)  “Will you come back?” (Several times.)  “What will you miss the most?”  (Here I point to my T-shirt where Domingos and I would have hand drawn stick figures of my many friends and new family.  See.  Look here.  These folks.)

It seems that when someone doesn’t know me well these R&P questions can certainly be comforting and reasonable ice breakers.  I now recognize this phenomenon as inherent with major moves and, let’s face it, I’m the queen of these.  And although I’m quite comfortable with taking off to live in foreign lands, frequently moving somewhere where I know no one, it can cause extreme discomfort and even anxiety in others.  Virgos squirm in my presence.  “But where is your safely net, your parachute?”   Cancers scurry back into their dens, locking their doors behind them, lest this virus be catchy.  And yet… when someone I am attached to begins to make noises about moving away I too begin to twitch and squirm.  Just how emotionally vulnerable do I want to be with you if you are leaving, hmm?  Is this the end of our relationship or will you become one of my close friends that I’ve maintained for 25 years?  Are we in this together?  And just why are you leaving this town/friendship/community?  I mean it’s great here, right?  How threatening is this?  

And so I don’t blame folks for caring for their own precious hearts.  I will keep smiling and attempting to be present with each question, each time it’s asked.  Because I love these people.  Each one.  And if I feel I’m losing it I’ll give Domingos a call; perhaps he’s up for helping me design a new T-shirt.

23 July 2010

1st Step Toward Decompression: A snug retreat cabin deep in the heart of the forest

Found my way to Northfield, Massachusetts... post POD deployment to Ventura.
Resting.  Ressusitating.  Resurrecting myself.
Send life vest.
Cancel that.
Doing just fine...
Rebuilding my rhythms, my mind, my heart.
Connecting and reconnecting with life and in love with it.