Monday, December 22, 2008

I finally realized why the run-up to Christmas leaves me so weary: it's the last days of full yin energy before the solstice, when things turn around and yang starts rising. There is yin and yang in every moment, but overall in the annual solar cycle, this is my experience.

Here's a curious thing: most scholars agree that Jesus Christ was probably born in May, and the Christmas feast was designated by the church as Dec. 25, to replace the post-solstice Roman pagan festival pf Saturnalia, at which point it can be perceived that days are getting longer. And the Nativity Feast of John the Baptist (the precursor of Christ) is just after the summer solstice, June 24. Seems like an expression of yin and yang. The days begin to get shorter after John's Day, until the moment when --with more sun -- the days begin to lengthen, Christmas Day. All these cosmic metaphors!

I guess this works just the opposite below the equator; just another yin/yang opposition. Or as my son points out, axial tilt is the reason for the season.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


I should know better than to listen to the news in the morning while I'm getting gets me dEPressed, especially when I'm in one of my very yin cycles, evaluating how the end of the first year in my new cycle (that 61 thing) is shaping up.

For all the global optimism after the US election in anticipation of change--positive change--it doesn't feel so optimistic to me. All you have to do is listen to one half-hour of CNN and realize that in fact nothing really changes---there's just cycles. Russia still wants to turn Poland into a parking lot, actors still go on futile junkets to Africa to call attention to interminable strife, pirates still roam the seas, the economy goes up and down, there are still robber barons (in the form of auto execs with private jets). My Tao teacher explained how that is normal in the "post-heaven" state, illustrating with yin and yang and trigrams and hexagrams and cycles. The Asian mentality just gets suffering....and gets to suffer. But still, it is little consolation considering my 401(k). Glad to have paid off the mortgage in spite of our financial advisor's advice not to. What was he thinking? The Tao, the DOW. And I saw a foreclosure notice on someone's door as I left the building.

So after I turned off the news and left for work, on a glorious sunny morning, I looked for my touchstones, the kolea, the Hawaiian name for the Pacific golden plover, at right. I usually see at least one, sometimes four to six, on my way out of my neighborhhood. I say hello, and then feel like the day will be okay. They always look like they are waiting to see me too. Masters of cycles, they fly to Alaska to breed every April and return to Hawaii in August to winter. They breed in Palin country and but come home to Obama land. I thought this morning I wasn't going to see any, but finally, just before turning on to the main road, there she was, waiting for me. And then another. Has turned out to be a pretty nice day. A two-kolea day.

Sunday, November 09, 2008


With a great sigh of relief, I have completed the monumental effort of "Pillars of the Earth," Oprah's Ken Follett pick, the book I bought in HNL and nearly left with my boarding pass in a restroom in Narita Airport in September on my way to China. I only read a few pages as I lugged it from Honolulu to Hong Kong to Xian to Wudang, and back home, then to let it ripen under a pile of Chinese-related books until a couple of weeks ago. Not sure what Oprah was thinking (especially since her latest tout is Eckhart Tolle), but it did get me through the last of the election noise. On finishing I was motivated to get out my DVD of "Becket" with Richard Burton as a perfectly priggish St. Thomas and Peter O'Toole as Henry II. And then, a quick visit to W.E. Lunt's "A History of England," just to get more bearing. Should have done these things BEFORE I read the book, but who knew? And now I have a compulsion to see "A Lion in Winter," O'Toole again as Henry II, but a little later; "Camelot," and a "Man for All Seasons." All those great Brit-history movies of the '60s. I also feel compelled to track down and reread "Mont St. Michel and Chartres," Henry Adams, which was a required college freshman Western civilization read.

Despite having unintentionally acquired two copies of the sequel to "Pillars," (see previous post about book club orders) I'm not quite ready to commit to 1014 more pages, another kilo of Follett. Checking in Lunt for a quick overview of the 14th Century, I am reminded that this is Black Death time, so I watch a History Channel DVD about the plague (when people really did have reason to think the world might be ending). Interesting stuff, but still my dilemma: do I attack one of the several dozen mostly Chinese-themed books in my to-read stack (the Chinese philosophy texts don't count, I usually read from those with my morning coffee) or do I plunge ahead, or cannon into, as Follett might say, the new "Novel Without End." Noting the Washington Post's blurb which cites Follett's "no-frills prose," (praising with faint damns), I flip through this bulky publishing equivalent of a soap-flavored mini-series to see if the plague appears as a character-- well, it has to -- but come across several of Follett's frequent no-frills sex scenes. Spare me! Though I finished "Pillars" with only minor tendinitis in my wrist, the sheer volume of these volumes must explain why no editor could afford the time to chisel them down to size. Neither of these works would make it as recommends to MY book club, but "Pillars" did make me go on a search in history about a time and place I haven't paid much attention to recently. And I like a big old miniseries as much as anyone.

So what next? I rummage through my to-read pile and after rejecting a few false starts (Stephen King's "On Writing," "Eat, Pray,Love," and two journalistic books about China--"Factory Girls" about migrant factory workers and "China Witness," interviews with the generation of Chinese people since the Long March,) I settle on "Red Dust" by Ma Jian, blurbed as a "Chinese equivalent of 'On The Road' ." I see an intriguing scene where the protagonist is visiting a Daoist master, and a chapter called "Flies in Scrambled Eggs." I think THIS is the book for my mood right now. It's only a 314-page paperback; I can hold it with one hand. When my other hand feels stronger, I may pick up "Pillars Vol. II." As "World Without End," I'm sure it'll be there when I'm ready.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

MESS, Part 2

Still contemplating "A Perfect Mess." This is the most inspiring thing I have read since Lao Tzu.

The organization industry is like the diet industry: a bunch of self-styled professionals ready and waiting to charge us to get our homes or bodies in the same shape as portrayed in magazines. They prey on the guilt we suffer when viewing the images of beautiful rooms, svelte bodies, the promise of perfection and happiness and --more than anything -- the ideal images that we would like to project to other people.

It's just self-help for people who really don't need help, they have just been convinced they do. That guilt thing. That desire thing. That fear thing. That American thing.

Now, there are some truly pathological messes--cases of people being killed when stacks of old newspapers fall on them, the organizational equivalent of 650-pound people who can't leave their home without the help of a crane -- they do need helping hands and counseling. And now that I think of it, our preoccupations with anorexia and OCD seem like parallel pathological overboard reactions to the self-help and perfection movements.

I have often thought that it would be nice to have a drug that would make me a little more OCD (without any of the annoying physical, mental and legal side effects of cocaine or meth), the mirror of the pharmaceutical that stops people from washing their hands 120 times a day, something that would push me to make my bed and clean the litter box every time the cats use it. But now, after reading this book, I realize I'm okay. (The Perfect Mess authors observe that making the bed every morning is something akin to tying your shoes after you take them off.) Not that I didn't know I was okay all along, but I did buy the book for some reason. But now I'm going to make an effort to love my mess. (Still, it bothers me that I can't discard those size eight tweed suits in my closet...and I will probably file the other two organization manuals, useless and unread, right back in the pile with "A Perfect Mess.") So no zen existence for me. Yet.

I realize too, that for many of us, our messes develop because we no longer have attics and basements, the normal repositories of junk and, upon excavation by the next generation, treasures. eBAY is our communal attic. In my little storage-challenged condo, you might be hard-pressed to tell whether we are moving in or moving out. In fact we are going nowhere, having paid off the mortgage and looking forward to retirement, possibly funded by a sell-off of all the crap we have accumulated. And who would pay money for all these collected camels and Chinese objets d'art and costume jewelry and old computers and complete runs of magazines like Fate and T'ai Chi and Allure and Life? Well, I did.

The Life magazines, truth be told, were rescued from an old public library weeding and resided for a long time at the in-laws'. "But we threw those out once already," they complained. It's a lot of fun to get a miscellaneous box, say July-Dec 1956, and just read them, a kind of history lesson. More fun than looking at them on CD, the solution, as yet untapped, for my now-discarded 15 years' of New Yorkers. For Life, it's not so easy though, because they are in our commercial attic, a storage locker about 8 miles away. That means going to get them, lugging them up and down to our 10th floor appartment, and taking them back. Just like a library without overdue notices. And I am loosening my grip on the fashion and decor magazines, a certain effect of my Taoist training over the past two years. All these magazines accumulate because things come upstairs in little bits almost on their own--and between us, we must have 20 magazine subscriptions--but it takes a real effort to get them back down to the dumpster.

I'm sure someone out there would love to see pictures of my messes, and that may come in time. But right now, just go look at your own. I just know you have some somewhere! I think , like those tours you can go on to visit people's beautiful homes, we should have tours of other people's closets. And now I see a retirement gig for myself: Closet Inspector. There are people who would pay good money!

Saturday, October 18, 2008


Beginning to feel normalish after too much travel...China...Palm Springs (CA). The thoughts and observations have been overwhelming me, my mind is a mess.

So today I picked up a book, A Perfect Mess, lurking among the piles of tomes to read. I am indeed a compulsive Amazon one-clicker with a wish-list, but there are also a couple of book clubs I "belong" to and I like to send off the order in the mail and then forget about it. Then maybe six weeks later, these books I don't remember ordering arrive like little surprise presents to myself. Very disorderly. Three of these recent arrivals have to do with the concept of getting is about planning and features lots of acronyms and mnemonics and bullet points, one is about shedding (what was I thinking, ordering more books?) and tackles the emotions one has about those old really nice clothes you have in the closet that don't fit. But the best one, A Perfect Mess, is about "why bother?" There is a whole INDUSTRY of people helping other people clear their closets, manage their space (to say nothing of their time) and making money off the tremendous ambivalence that modern Americans have about materialism. Why? Turns out order can be counter-productive and the time you spend creating it may be a waste. And really, who cares. In my case, I don't entertain, I know where everything is (or what it is under) and I know there is no closet inspector.

Once when I was a little messy girl and sloppily stashed and crammed everything in my closet, my mother in exasperation persuaded a nice man from our church to pose as the closet inspector. We actually had closet inspections. Consequently, I now keep pretty orderly closets and drawers, but the open space is a problem. I need more. It is true what Stephen Wright said:" You can't have everything...where would you put it?" But again, who cares?

These thoughts come to me at a strange time, after having recently traveled with a Buddhist monk to a Taoist place, where material stuff was not an issue. The monk had NOTHING except a bag of robes and some malas. (But it should be pointed out that his existence depended on the benevolence and largesse of people who would provide him food and shelter just because he was a monk.) He was not burdened with stuff -- I thought I had packed lightly, but he shamed me.

The authors of A Perfect Mess point out that it is in our mess and display of accumulated stuff that our personalities can be detected. It would make sense that the monk would have no stuff: he also has no ego (or at least he's trying to clean that out of his being).

I think my mess and my ego are going to be with me for a long time.

Thursday, October 09, 2008


Any Taoist watching the stock market must just be bemused. Why do you think they call it the "Dow?" I was just hoping for balance and stability in my retirement.

Monday, October 06, 2008


Catching up on my back New Yorkers I find that David Foster Wallace, whose work I have read there, and in Harper's, hanged himself in September.  Young (46) major literary author. Apparently suffered from depression for a long time.  So I went web browsing and came across a commencement address he gave at Kenyon College in 2005 that is really worth reading.  It saddens me that the person who said these things has taken his own life (but it may be predicted there in the text). I may have to read "Infinite Jest," his 1996 novel. (It's time I read something that isn't about China.)  According to some literary analysis,  the story takes place in 2008. ("The Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment.")  Have any of my two readers experience with DFW?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

And its weirdness. If anyone gets the impression from my yang posts (the yang TAO 61) that I don't like China, please let me correct that misunderstanding. I love China -- but I hasten to add, am NOT NOT NOT sympathetic with its government, although I think I understand it. (If Sarah Palin can be VP, can I be the Chinese ambassador? Pick me, pick me!) A Chinese librarian once told me, in Idaho in ~1971, "There is always chaos between dynasties." China is in chaos, the yin-yang of development, and some new dynasty is probably forming itself. The Walton dynasty? (The biggest Wal-Mart I have ever seen was last year in Beijing. As big as the Forbidden City maybe.)
The food, the culture, the arts, the people, the geography, the tai chao (the strange blended religion of Lao Tzu, Buddha and Confucius, and perhaps now, some Jesus thrown in--it started with Jesuits and continues with Baptists), the foibles and the triumphs...China is just intriguing.

Giant live grubs for sale in Xian (qv,yang TAO 61) just a five-minute walk from a perfect caramel macchiato at Starbucks. How about that "da grande" on the street?  

And Tony Leung Chiu-wai, but that's a whole 'nother topic, explored in Hong Kong. He is the star of Chungking Express, In the Mood for Love, and Lust,Caution (and some others, DVDs of which I didn't have enough time to find). All fabulous Wong Kar Wai movies. As well as his Ashes of Time, an artistic kung fu film, although that movie has two Tony Leungs -- Chui-wai (Tiny Tony) and Ka-fai (Tall Tony) -- only in Hong Kong would you have two terrific actors with the same (English) name. TIny Tony is like a Chinese Clark Gable or Pierce Brosnan or Johnny Depp. I put my hands in both Tonys' paw prints on the Hong Kong Walk of Stars, but TIny ("Tiny" just because he's shorter than Ka-fai...) Tony is my favorite. Here he is, Tiny Tony...

Monday, September 22, 2008


At home again from my Journey to the West.  Like the kolea, I just flew off and did my thing and came back. Sorry couldn't post from China, email access was intermittent and no internet access for things that required more time and thought.  We had to  line up for access to the Camp Wudang machine, (a big Lenovo) where the desk clerks were usually involved in long competitive bouts of solitaire.  No web surfing for them! Card playing.  And not even mah johng, my usual default computer game.

Most difficult part about returning home apart from serious jet lag and immediately going back to an office: sorting accumulated snail mail.  I must train my house/cat sitter in this dreary decision making.  Among the pile, a few worthy things like bills, subscribed magazines, and a package of special pen refills I ordered before I left.  The rest, piles of glossy catalogs, charity offerings of address labels, greeting cards and pocket calendars (I used to chide my father for piling these things up--does anybody actually BUY address labels?) , political mail, real estate, insurance and credit card offers. And no "delete" button.  

I must investigate how to stop all this junk mail.  Monitoring on a daily basis is easy, but after you see the accumulation of a week or more, it is just ridiculous and irresponsible.  Need a snail mail spam filter!

Will be commenting on my crazy trip over the next few days... weeks ...months.  Have to edit the 1167 photos I took and figure out how to post them here.  This is all new to me.  Thank you for your patience!  But first I must finish sorting/trashing my mail.

Friday, August 22, 2008


Have a paper list of jotted-down notes of blog topics that seemed fascinating to me at the time and now I can hardly remember what the thoughts were. What could "Bees and Albizias" mean. Ah, I recall I was highly offended by a rash of tree cutting along the H-2 and most recently by the destruction of a magnificent big albizia at the end of our lane where it joins the main road to civilization.  Its big white trunk and limbs and dense green foliage glowed in the morning sun. A few years ago it had been looked terrible for a few months, but in Hawaii, everything grows back, and quickly.  Unless you chop it off at ground level, which apparently the condo association did so that someone could have a better view from their lanai.  Ha! I hope the sun shines in on them. Love that UV. 

And the bees. I noticed a distinct lack of them this year when the other magnificent albizia visible from my lanai was in snowy bloom.  Where were the bees?  

And Foresters!  Saw a disturbing TV ad for a Subaru SUV, maybe a hybrid, that was supposed to be so economical and environmentally sound that the family who needed it could now buy...a bigger house for all the kids for whom they needed the SUV.  Of course they'll have to cut down all the surrounding trees to build it.

My  wonderful Druid-ish mother-in-law, who once said she was far more disturbed by cutting down trees than abortion,  got a bad reputation in her upscale country neighborhood.  All the other houses in the developing slope of a wooded area cleared out all the trees to plant putting green-grass for front yards.  She tucked her house away back from the road in the woods and had lots of bird feeders (and squirrels and deer and other critters and varmints...and privacy). The neighbors frequently asked when she was going to clear the front yard. "Never," she said.  Alas, when the old folks sold the house, the first thing the new owners did was clear the lot for a lawn to mow.  Probably put a statue of a deer in the middle of it.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Woke at 4 a.m.with a major yin anxiety attack wondering if I actually submitted the proposals I spent all day yesterday preparing for a midnight deadline and which could net the company a couple hundred thousand dollars. Log on to the submission site to find out all is okay, "There is no submit button, all proposals will be automatically uploaded at closing time." Back to bed after putting hydrocortisone on the new scratch from Lao Hu, the Yellow Emperor, who sneaked up behind me as I limped out of my study; the plantar's fasciitis is especially bad after being in bed. Then some prone breathing exercises to sleep and bring on a dream in which I was leading a marketing team trying to come up with a name for a food concession. Brainstorming in the dream yielded "Chic Chompers." French fast food maybe?

On the commute to work, contemplating the silence since I have been sans radio for about two months after it was stolen for the third time in 15 years (it's an old, but fun, car). I wonder if I should even bother to get a new one installed. A habit of silence can be attractive, no anxiety from right wing ranting and leftist lament, but time to think and just enjoy mindful driving. During time of war and political campaigns, silence can be golden: rare and precious. But I fear with a radio I will tune in again, breaking the non-listening habit I adopted after my Wudang Taoist retreat. Can I resist? I don't HAVE to turn it on. (It'll be iPod-ready and we do have fine classical and jazz stations.)

And can I continue to resist meat and alcohol, part of a routine fast begun at the Chinese New Year? I will be preparing a traditional sacrificial leg of lamb on Easter Sunday and in the fridge there is a bottle of Mumm's that's been chilling since Christmas, calling my name. Can I just observe a feast day and then return to fasting? How long does it take a new habit to become an established one? Which is the real habit?

As I am alone with my strange lunar pre-Easter/Ching Ming thoughts in the car, I wonder about those SUVs and trucks with memorial messages in olde English on their rear windows: "In loving memory of father/brother/son/mom, 1953-2006." Was the vehicle purchased as part of an inheritance? In there an urn of remains in a supersized cupholder? Is this only a Hawaii thing? Is this an extension of the creepy and tasteless roadside shrines at fatal accident sites, marked with balloons and teddy bears and deteriorating or plastic flowers? Is that even legal? Come to think of it, I saw some of those in Florida, which probably explains something.

I would hope that no one would put up such a shrine for me should I meet my fate on the road. But if one was so compelled, a taiji, a stuffed plush camel, and maybe Tibetan prayer flags would do. And on the car, a simple sign in Helvetica that says, "Just move on."

Monday, March 17, 2008

Trying to make this posting more readable. Is this font nice? My yang side has nice titles for posts. Why can't I find them?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

I have created the yin and yang of blogs, somewhat by accident. Perhaps yin posts (reverse type on black ground) will go here, yang posts (black type on white ground) on the other (you can find it). Since it is evening, I suppose yin is the place to start. And also it is the Ides of March, if that is auspicious.

Today, went to a contest of Toastmasters...which I sometimes mistype as Taoistmasters. There is a big difference. I did not have to speak on the table topic, "Should we be judged by the company we keep?" And just as well. We were in a church, a simple stripped down folksy place of indeterminate denomination, with a flag, a podium, a cross, and I think a baptismal tub under a print of Jesus holding some lambs. As a Zen meditation hall might be compared to a gaudy Taoist temple, this church compares to a big bells-and-smells cathedral. The comparison ends there though, because I have a taste for the bells-and-smells. Still, had I been speaking in this environment, I would have suggested "Suppose someone was seen with a prostitute," and gone on to talk about Jesus and the disgraced Governor of New York. Both political figures with concern for their publics, they each had dealings with whores, both were sacrificed, both are judged by the company they keep. But one became a savior and one becomes needy of salvation. Indeed we all judge and are judged, but the key to the table topic seems to be, just what are we doing with that company we keep?