Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Moving right along...

Finally, after a long wait in which many other projects were accomplished (including our wedding), I've been setting up my blog on a new site with a dedicated domain.

Please come check out Like Words Together at the new site!

If you have comments to make, please go to the new site. All future posts will be put there.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Why I'm Not "Going Pink"

Ahhh, October... there's a crisp bite to the air, the leaves have begun to fall, there's 50 pounds of apples in my refrigerator, and I'm once again bombarded by the nauseating pinkness of "National Breast Cancer Awareness Month."

For years it has just been the ever increasing tide of pink consumer crap in the stores, and that has been bad enough. However, for the past two Octobers I've watched cutesy memes take over Facebook. Last year it was women coyly posting the color of their bras in their status updates. When it finally started to come out that bras, therefore, breasts, were the topic at hand I'm sure everyone rushed to donate to the Komen Foundation (more on them later). This year it is the suggestion that we post where we like to put our purses when we get home, e.g., "I like it on the table".

Now, leaving aside my irritation at the assumptions that only women get breast cancer (they don't) or that all women carry purses (they don't), I'm just left with the annoyance that not only does this juvenile status update meme have absolutely nothing to due with breast cancer, but that it uses breast cancer as the reason to make some kind of sexualized joke. How does this puerile humor have anything at all to do with breast cancer? Once again, do you see this kind of nonsense and rush right out to buy something pink or donate money to Komen?

Yes, you might think that I'm being a stick in the mud about this. I mean shouldn't I just lighten up and enjoy the whimsy? Isn't this just a harmless joke used to raise awareness?

To those who might say I'm being shrill and a kill-joy, I say:

Really, is anyone in the western world not aware of breast cancer at this point? Seriously?

If there are people unaware, perhaps it because they are buried under the load of pink consumer crap and juvenile Internet memes that we're bombarded with every October. So much money is spent on enticing us to buy pink M&Ms (yes, really) and BMWs (yes, really) that we're hopefully distracted from the lack of funding that goes to understanding the causes of breast cancer and the utter disorganization of those efforts.

We're so pinkwashed that we hopefully won't notice that many of the companies with products directly related to causing breast cancer are funding our "awareness". Those companies hope that we'll be so charmed by all the pink and whimsy that we won't ask them why the hell they're still producing the crap that is killing us.

Keep in mind that the "National Breast Cancer Awareness Month" was created by a drug company that is now called AstraZeneca. Yes, that's the same company that in addition to producing & hugely profiting off of breast cancer treatment drugs, also profited substantially off the sale of an herbicide known to cause cancer. That alone makes me question all of the happy, cheerful messages designed to raise my "awareness".

I am bashing the Komen Foundation, that sacred pink cow of breast cancer activism, a little bit too. After all, Komen manages to blithely take in thousands in contributions from the very chemical companies who market products that cause breast cancer! They put on these hugely expensive races and events that push mammograms and say nothing about the causes or prevention. This is the very same organization that helps market pink cars while ignoring the powerful link between a chemical produced in the exhaust of cars, benzo(a)-pyrene, that is one of the most powerful carcinogens known and was connected directly to breast cancer by the Peralta Cancer Research Institute in the 1980s. Yeah, go Komen...

What can you do? Well, know your risk and make efforts to reduce it.
  • There is a lot of evidence that shows that maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular exercise, having moderate or no alcohol consumption, and following a diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains is beneficial.
  • Buy organic if possible as many herbicides and pesticides have also been linked to breast and other types of cancer. I totally sympathize to the economic barriers to this suggestion and know this is not an option for a lot of people, but if you can, buy organic.
  • There are known links between r-GBH (recombinant bovine growth hormone - used on dairy cows) and breast cancer.
  • A healthy vegan diet has many benefits; reducing the risk of cancer is only one of them. Yes, this is one of the many reasons I am vegan.
  • Get your vitamin D level checked, particularly if you live in the Pacific Northwest like I do. There have been several studies linking low levels of vitamin D to cancer, particularly breast cancer. People in the Pacific Northwest are known for being chronically low in vitamin D.
Check out Breast Cancer Action, an organization I think is doing things right. They aren't busy "going pink", they are demanding action to reduce causes, educate people (not sell them pink crap), and find more effective, less toxic treatments.

BCA also created the fantastic "Think Before You Pink" campaign to educate people as to where the money goes when those pink Tic-Tacs are purchased.

All of this is said from my perspective as the daughter of a two-time breast cancer survivor. Yes, that puts me in a higher risk category and I take it very seriously.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Cup Gazing

The latest and greatest installment in what continues to unfold for me with this bit from Rumi:

Take sips of this pure wine being poured.
Don't mind that you've been given a dirty cup.

Last week I realized that I had a Tuesday evening completely free. Since I would be busy with Ignite Portland on Thursday I decided to go to the zazen and discussion held on Tuesdays. The leader for last Tuesday had suggested that people bring quotes or short readings that inspired their practice. I brought the Rumi.

When I shared it I commented that what has started to really get through to me are the two words, "Don't mind". These are the important bit, as my teacher had commented to me. When I don't mind the cup is stained, that's when the stains clean themselves. Just recently it has finally felt like I'm in a place where I am starting to get the whole not minding thing.

Fresh off my sharing at the Dharma center this little gem of Rumi's came up during a conversation with PB. How I've been working with it, seeing the cup as my life and the traumatic moments as the dirt on the cup. She offered that perhaps I should consider buying a new cup.

I immediately, passionately said that wasn't the point. I can look at all the ways I tried to keep re-inventing myself during my teens, 20s and into my 30s as merely trying to "buy a new cup". It doesn't work, you cannot buy or acquire your way out of this one. You have to work with the cup you're given.

I said that it also felt that wanting to discard the cup because it was dirty wasn't compassionate. In honoring the cup, using it, it equally honors the person I was. In particular it acknowledges and holds the child I was in loving-kindness. To want to get rid of the cup is to want to get rid of that child and she doesn't deserve that. Besides, that isn't the point.

One of the younger priests in my Zen community once suggested upon hearing this Rumi that "There is no cup."

While that's very Zen and strolls right along that uncertain path called "No Self", it misses the point. The cup, the dirty cup is an intrinsic part. We must have a cup in order to partake in the pure wine that is life.

The point is not minding the dirt.

Not minding that I was hurt doesn't mean I condone it, rather it means I don't see myself as intrinsically flawed because of the "stain" of those events. Yes, those events affected me greatly, still affect me, but they are not an indicator that something is wrong with me. None of it was my fault.

Which brings me to a mug I purchased at SFMOMA in May. The colors and the simple ginkgo leaf pattern make me smile, it was also on clearance in the gift shop (bonus!), and I drink tea from it pretty regularly.

Tea can be a pretty strong dye and in short order my new favorite mug for tea had acquired stains that the dishwasher doesn't affect.

Do I mind? No. Does it affect the tea? Not in the least. Is the cup still completely pleasing to me, stains and all? Yeah, absolutely. It isn't exactly self-cleaning, but I don't mind. Silly as it may seem, given that the stains appear on the mug not out of some act of violence or deception, but still this mug is a good reminder.

This cup holds my tea and if it is a green tea I can even appreciate the stains on it when I'm drinking from it. They indicate nothing more than the ability of strong liquids to leave a mark. It is the outcome of this mug having a life. A perfectly good mug and I like it stains and all.

My life shows the effects of everything that has happened to me. Some of those things leave me feeling pretty sad and hurt. Taken as a whole, I have learned a lot about not minding my life. I even have begun to relax occasionally into even enjoying it, not minding the stains at all.

Monday, September 27, 2010


I have been on a bit of a cleaning frenzy since yesterday. The house had become hugely chaotic with stuff not put away. It was just a mess, truly, and bugging both of us. Merely moving some things down to the basement where they belong (yoga props I'd loaned to a Dharma sister) and getting some things taken to our respective offices made a lot of difference. Today I've vacuumed, dusted, sorted, and organized some. That and laundry - I'm kind of tired, but it feels good to have things cleaner.

Amidst all of that frenzy, while dusting, my cane caught my eye. It is mixed in with rolled up yoga mats, hiking poles, and an old paper umbrella. The handle of it was covered in a rather thick layer of dust.

As I cleaned it off I was struck at how long it has been since I've used it. From 2000 until well into 2004 I would use it occasionally when the pain and weakness in my hips would necessitate the extra assist. I purchased a cool, lightweight one with the ability to be broken down like a tent pole. People commented on it a lot for the coolness factor and they were mostly too polite to comment on a woman in her 30s using one. I generally resented the hell out of it but admitted that I really needed it.

I'm not exactly sure when I moved my cane into the cluster of stuff. Sometime in the past couple of years it took up residence with the hiking poles, which feel like an accomplishment instead of an accommodation. My third yoga mat. CK's mat. The paper umbrella I've had for years; I've been pondering how to repair a tear in it and re-purpose into an art project. The cane had an impressive amount of dust on it.

I'm also not entirely sure when I stopped using it, even very occasionally. At some point it just became a thing in my house that I never interacted with. I didn't need it, so I never went looking for it.

What I am aware of is the meaning of that dusty handle. The lack of use, the accumulation of dust as the cane sits next to my scratched up hiking poles is a testament to my Yoga practice and to the hundreds I've spent on one form of therapy, including body work, or the other. Amusingly enough the dust is a rather powerful indicator of progress.

Yeah, there's still a truly mechanical failure I deal with. It does affect me, but now it is just another part of my physical practice. Tomorrow I'll probably really feel all the cleaning and organizing I've been doing the past couple of days. I'll most likely be moving a little slower, a little more cautiously. I might wake up with a bit of a groan.

Even still, I won't need that cane.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

If I Don't See That I'm Strong Then I Won't Be

The title of today's post comes from Maxi Jazz. Specifically from the amazing song 'My Culture' which is featured on the first 1 Giant Leap music disc. Seriously, check this stuff out.

This song randomly popped up on my iPod a few minutes ago and I was struck once again by those lyrics. They pretty much catch my full attention anytime I listen to 'My Culture'. We're not strong if we don't think we are. We lack confidence when we think we don't have any reason to have any.

That brings this post around to chatting this morning with my EMDR therapist, PB, about my anxiety around the job search, my current lack of job. Next month my severance package, my "lovely parting gifts" from my last job, will run out leaving me on unemployment. I'm feeling a lot of dread and downright panic about this.

CK says I should take my time, find a job I'm really going to like. Sure, most of me believes her, but there's a rather insistent part that doesn't trust it. I've never been able to count on anyone to have my back and this habit is very hard to unlearn. Under it all there's a part of me that doesn't trust anyone, particularly anyone who says they love me. After all, my experiences with people who've said they love me have been pretty negative.

That shines a bright light upon the part of me that is pretty sure that all of those negative experiences have happened because I'm fundamentally not worth that kind of love. I'm so deeply flawed and such a misfit that eventually people will become disenchanted and hurt me again. It is the same part of me that dearly wishes I could be possessed of an average IQ and settled down into a seriously mainstream, ordinary, invisible kind of life.

All this insistence despite the preponderance of the evidence to the contrary. The larger part of me trusts CK and her love for me. That greater self also knows with certainty that the further I've moved away from the "mainstream" the more in touch with my essential self I've become. I know that when I tried to play that game, reinventing myself to be what would make my boyfriend/husband/family/friends/etc. happy, I was seriously, deeply depressed and had a weight & cholesterol over 290. It was a fraud, all of it.

The reality: Vegan, Queer, Buddhist, Yogini, Liberal, Smart, Poetry-Reading Freak.

As they tease CK (in a friendly way) at her office, "Edge Case".

What's underneath this job stuff? Well aside from the not trusting anyone to make sacrifices while I'm not bringing home an income and really have my back, I'm pretty intimidated by the popularity contest that job seeking feels like. It takes me right back to all the unease and awkwardness I felt as a adolescent. I got my last job through the sheer nepotism of being hired by the team I was a support engineer to when I was laid off. No interviews, I was the only qualified candidate for a job requisition written to match my resume.

I'm afraid all my inherent freakiness somehow seeps off of my resume and all hiring managers take one look and say, "No way!" Surely this can be the only explanation for my marked lack of anything resembling an interview. Clearly my lack of confidence is well founded. Right?

PB told me to work on being aware of the physical sensations that arise around this fear, especially since I experience this more as a physical sensation rather than a voice in my head telling me horrible things. She also said to work at bringing awareness to those moments, even if there are mere seconds, when I remember that I'm a strong, capable, talented woman. And that being a freak isn't so bad. Neither is being smart.

If I don't see that I'm strong then I won't be.

Monday, September 20, 2010


The entire time we've been working toward our ceremony CK and I have known that we wanted to include the first five Grave Precepts. Both of us have spent a lot of time with these vows. We've each written about them and have taken them in a public ceremony with our community (sangha), friends and family present. At those times we looked at how these vows informed our own personal practice.

Including these vows as part of our marriage ceremony would reaffirm the most basic of the vows of our Buddhist practice together. Ultimately we sat down with several translations of these vows to write ones that we felt truly reflected the practice we share together in marriage. Of the many wordings we looked at, we were strongly influenced by the vows we both have taken within our Zen community, the writing on the precepts by the late John Daido Loori Roshi, and the interpretation of the precepts by Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Naht Hahn.

During the ceremony we each recited the following vows to one another:
  • In the practice of our marriage, I vow to affirm, cherish and protect the lives of all sentient beings.
  • In the practice of our marriage, I vow to be generous with my time, energy and material resources and to take only what is freely given.
  • In the practice of our marriage, I vow to be aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct and to cultivate my responsibility to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families and society.
  • In the practice of our marriage, I vow to manifest truth, to cultivate loving speech and deep listening. I will refrain from using words of discord and will make every attempt to resolve conflict, great and small.
  • In the practice of our marriage, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming.
We each then wrote our own vows we were taking in our marriage. After reciting our own writing of the first five Grave Precepts we then gave our own vows. Here are mine to CK:

I will always remember seeing you on the first day of 2008. It was merely the third time I had seen you in person, but in the bright light of early afternoon I suddenly knew with certainty that my life was about to change in a significant way.

So it did, and here we are today in front of friends and relations. All of us gathered to honor the power of publicly taking vows to love, honor and cherish one another. It has been a mad dash to get to this dazzling finish, complete with unexpected news, arguments, wild passion, laughter, and tears. I’m told this is perfectly ordinary even though it feels to me rather extraordinary.

In addition to the precepts, which I have vowed to make a fundamental part of the practice of my marriage with you, I offer these vows from my heart:
  • I vow to nurture unbridled joy in equal measure with gravitas.
  • I vow to great each day with loving-kindness.
  • I vow to nourish my health so that we may explore many more years together.
  • I vow to create art, write, sing and cultivate playfulness together with you.
  • I vow to admit when I am wrong.
  • I vow to offer you cheer, humor, deep listening, and wise counsel. Whenever needed.
  • I vow to challenge myself and you so we continue to grow fully into who we can be.
  • I vow to read you poetry.
For my birthday last year you gave me a collection of Rumi’s poetry translated by Coleman Barks; an edition I did not have. It had been an amazing day spent celebrating my birthday and you fell asleep early. I stayed awake longer to read poems and enjoy my cake. One poem in particular really caught me; I knew I wanted to say some of the words from it to you at our wedding. Although I feel rather presumptuous playing with Rumi’s words, I do so as an act of love and from a deep honoring of the original poem, “The Self We Share”. These words especially speak to me of you and of this moment when written in this way:

The Prayer of Each

You are the source of my life.
You separate essence from mud.
You honor my soul.
You bring rivers from the mountain springs.
You brighten my eyes.
The wine you offer takes me out of myself into the self we share.

Doing that is religion.

I am a prayer.
You're the amen.

CK's vows to me:

My dearest Sherri: You are one of the most generous, compassionate and courageous spirits I have ever met. From the beginning, you opened your heart wide to me and while cautious at first, I have learned to take great refuge in your presence.

In addition the precepts we have already shared, I offer a few of my own vows:

Because our life together will not always be easy, I vow to meet challenges in our relationship with a sense of compassion and adventure.

Because our family is but one piece in a very large puzzle. I vow to live a life of service to you, to our marriage and to our community.

Because while love is not scarce, many resources are, I vow to make sure you always have the things you need most such as food, water, shelter and art supplies. I vow to utilize our resources wisely.

Because I want to spend the most amount of time possible with you and grow old together, I vow to care for my body and mind.

Because play is just as important as work, I vow to cultivate playfulness, laughter and lightness in our relationship.

Because what I was hiding, deep inside, you brought out into the light, and even thought it is terrifying at times, I vow to stand bravely in the light of your love.

My dearest Sherri, You are the first person who made me truly feel loved. I look forward to sharing a life of practice with you and I am truly honored that you are making this commitment with me here today, in front of our friends and family.

When we exchanged our stunning, one-of-a-kind wedding rings, handmade by local artist Barbara Covey, we each said the following words to one another:

May our marriage be nurturing, intimate and supportive throughout the years. May our marriage be a refuge to us as we cultivate kindness and compassion toward all sentient beings. I give you this ring as a symbol of my vows and commitment to you with body, speech and mind. In this life, in every situation, in wealth or poverty, in health or sickness, in happiness or difficulty.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wedding Poems

There's been so much going on, joyful (our wedding) and hard (Mom being in the hospital and missing our wedding) that sitting down to write has been a far lower priority. I'll be getting back to it more since there's been a lot I've wanted to write about, but for now my return to posting is to share the three poems we had read during our wedding ceremony.

Oh, and a great picture taken by a friend after the ceremony!


CK's mother read this poem:

I Want Both of Us

by Hafiz

I want both of us

To start talking about this great love

As if you, I, and the Sun were all married

And living in a tiny room,

Helping each other to cook,

Do the wash,

Weave and sew,

Care for our beautiful


We all leave each morning

To labor on the earth’s field.

No one does not lift a great pack.

I want both of us to start singing like two

Traveling minstrels

About this extraordinary existence

We share,

As if

You, I, and God were all married

And living in
a tiny


One of the Zen priests, a dear friend and inspiration to our practice, read this:

Entering the Shell
by Rumi

Love is alive, and someone borne
along by it is more alive than lions

roaring or men in their fierce courage.
Bandits ambush others on the road.

They get wealth, but they stay in one
place. Lovers keep moving, never

the same, not for a second! What
makes others grieve, they enjoy!

When they look angry, don’t believe
their faces. It’s spring lightning,

a joke before the rain. They chew
thorns thoughtfully along with pasture

grass. Gazelle and lioness, having
dinner. Love is invisible except

here, in us. Sometimes I praise love;
sometimes love praises me. Love,

a little shell somewhere on the ocean
floor, opens its mouth. You and I

and we, those imaginary beings, enter
that shell as a single sip of seawater.

Another friend from our Zen community read this:

The Plum Trees
by Mary Oliver

Such richness flowing
through the branches of summer and into

the body, carried inward on the five
rivers! Disorder and astonishment

rattle your thoughts and your heart
cries for rest but don't

succumb, there's nothing
so sensible as sensual inundation. Joy

is a taste before
it's anything else, and the body

can lounge for hours devouring
the important moments. Listen,

the only way
to tempt happiness into your mind is by taking it

into the body first, like small
wild plums.