Monday, April 8, 2013

Lucid Chapter Four: Fairy Tales

I didn't tell Kathleen about Jack. I didn’t want to sully the sanctified atmosphere of the programs with sordid tales from my botched romance. Besides, I hadn't come out to her. Somehow it didn’t feel right to divulge that either. After all, Kathleen was my mom’s friend first. She and I didn’t really have a relationship independent of theirs – or a connection beyond the one all three of us had to the Guru. My personal life wasn’t relevant.

But I did tell Kathleen about my dream, the one I had about Gurumayi the night after I walked out on Jack. I described the way Gurumayi stood barefoot on my head, levitated above me, and contorted my body. I told her how Gurumayi gave me specific instructions about my breathing, the use of my silver japa ring, and the mantra. I told her about the moment, six months later, when I discovered the image from my dream in a photograph of the guru's feet at the Welcome Gurumayi program.

As I shared each detail, Kathleen’s expression became fixed. For someone ordinarily in a perpetual state of effusive animation, her reaction to my dream was matter-of-fact.

“You should write Gurumayi and tell her,” she said flatly after I finished. “She should know.”

Her suggestion was so immediate and straightforward I didn’t think I should question it.

Between the second and final week of Gurumayi’s programs, my mom arranged for me to fly me back home to Colorado to attend a family gathering for my Grandmother’s 80th birthday. I’d miss one of the evening programs but still make it back in time for the last two.  The day before I left, I sat down and typed up a one-page letter to Gurumayi. Just the contents of my dream and a line that said, “Thank you for letting me share my dream with you.” I unrolled the letter from my typewriter and signed my name at the bottom. Writing to the Guru; this was something new. But for some reason, now that I’d done it, it didn’t feel as out of the ordinary as I’d expected. Maybe reaching out to her like this was the natural next step. Maybe this was what people meant when they said, "This is why we have a living master."

I creased the letter into precise thirds, sealed it inside a legal size envelope and addressed it just as Kathleen instructed – to Gurumayi Chidvilasanda, care of the address of the Siddha Yoga Ashram in Oakland. I'd never written down Gurumayi’s full name before. It looked so long hand-written out like that. It went right to the edge of the envelope.

The next morning I walked down to the corner mailbox holding the letter in both hands like a bird I was about to set free. I wasn’t sure how these things worked. I couldn’t imagine my letter would actually reach Gurumayi. But whether it reached her or not didn’t matter. I was following a direction that felt like it needed to be followed. I stopped in front of the mailbox, closed my eyes, took a small breath and dropped the letter in.

An hour later my cab arrived and off I went to the airport.

My grandmother's birthday celebrations continued through the weekend in Colorado. Early Monday evening, after we returned to my mom's house from a family dinner, my mom called down the hall to me from the kitchen: “Michael, there’s a message on our machine for you – it’s from Melissa!”

I panic. Melissa and I never called each other when we were away unless there was an emergency. Something must be wrong.

I walk into the kitchen, hunch over the machine and press play:

“Michael, I’m sorry to bother you,” she starts, catching her breath, “But I thought you’d want to know right away. A woman just called from the ashram. She said she’s one of Gurumayi’s secretaries. She said Gurumayi read your letter! Can you believe it? Her name is Yolande. She said she wants to know if you can come meet with her during Tuesday night’s program. She said after you go up to see Gurumayi in darshan, all you need to do is speak with one of the attendants near her chair. She said just introduce yourself and give them her name and they’ll know what to do.”

I rewind the message and play it back. My mom and I stand there staring at each other with dopey smiles, shaking our heads in disbelief. I don’t know what to think. I feel hyper-aware and exposed, the way I feel right after bowing down to Gurumayi in darshan, like I’ve just received a sudden blast of attention bigger than I can contain. I’m excited, and a little scared. What can this mean?

When Kathleen prompted me to send my letter I never expected a response. Not something immediate and direct as a call from one of Gurumayi’s secretaries. Gurumayi had secretaries? I guess if everyone was writing just to tell her about their dreams, she needed them.

I walk in a daze back down the hall to my old room. The room I lived in from the time I was three until I bailed from Colorado just before I turned eighteen. The room that’s now for guests. My uncle Mitchell, who also flew into town for my grandmother’s 80th, is sitting in the over-sized corner chair, his long legs crossed, flipping through my copy of the ashram’s Darshan magazine. I must have left it sitting out on top of my suitcase. He’s smiling.

In the early 1960s my uncle Mitchell took a trip around the world with my grandparents, and their week in India was a memorable highlight. It’s the week from that trip they often recount tales from during family dinners while reminiscing about their world travels. My grandmother still refers to India as the place she’d return to in a minute, if given the chance. Once, when I asked her why India remained her favorite she said, “Because it’s the one place in the world where you never know what’s coming next – and the men have the most marvelous eyes.” Now, in his work with the government, my uncle Mitchell circles the globe annually, and India is a frequent stop. As he sits sifting through my copy of Darshan, as first I think maybe he’s smiling because he’s recognized something from his travels. Perhaps the image of a Hindu deity he once saw in a temple; maybe a familiar Upanishad quote. But when he notices me standing in the doorway and glances up, I realize his smile is more I’m-your-uncle-and-I-know-better than it is pleased. He fans the pages of the magazine closed with his thumb, looks at me over the tops of his glasses and says, “This is all fairy tales, you know.”

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Robot Housekeeping

Those of us who wish to leave a comment on posts here are going to have to perform an extra step, at least for awhile, as I've added word verification to the site. RoD has been plagued by automatically-generated spam comments that are proliferating wildly, and which have overwhelmed the Google spam filter's ability to weed them out. That means that I spend a lot of time hunting spam down and deleting it—yesterday, in fact, I spent close to two hours combing through all the comments pages going back to the beginning of RoD in order to delete some 3,700 spam comments that had either clogged the filters or attached themselves to posts.

First, let me assure everyone that commenting is still perfectly anonymous, if you choose it to be. When you log in to comment you will now see something like this:

You can still choose to click on the anonymous button, but you will have to type in the sequence of numbers and letters you see below the comment box. In the case above it would be:

4164 ionewer

You don't have to worry about capitalizing the letters in the nonsense word so long as you get the sequence right.

Occasionally you'll see a number picture that is unclear, or a letter sequence that has been tortured into illegibility. If that happens, just click on the little round arrow right next to the space bar and the combination will change. You can change it as many times as you need to in order to find one that you can read and type back.

Many of you probably already know how to do this, so apologies if this seems pedantic, but I'm posting it here for those to whom this is all new.

And yes, this is a pain in the ass, but the alternative to the above is for me to go back to moderating comments--which I'd really rather not do as it is a hassle for everyone to have to wait to see their comment posted, and a waste of time for me.

Let me know you thoughts and questions and I'll answer them all.

yours, SeekHer

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Lucid Memorie, Chapter Three: Why

That morning last October, the morning I walked out on Jack, started out like all our other mornings. He worked late and I had the day off so we hadn’t bothered to set his alarm. He woke first, rolling over to curl his smooth bare limbs around mine. When I opened my eyes he was looking up at me, like he always looked at me, like I was the only other boy in the world. I knew that look was on purpose, but that didn’t lessen its effect.

No matter how much we drank, smoked, had sex, or stayed up into the night watching Ingrid Bergman collapse into Cary Grant’s arms in old Hitchcock films, none of it showed on Jack the next day. He always woke up with that face of his, a face right out of an old Hollywood headshot. With his dewy dark eyes, full lips, caramel-colored skin and brylcreemed black hair, Jack looked like Latin version of a young Tony Curtis.

Often it seemed he intentionally saved those well-lit, sun-streamed morning close-ups to deliver his most swoon-inducing lines. “Michael,” he sighed on one such occasion, right after we’d woken up and had sex, “You’ve captured me.” Jack was a master of timing. But I was the one being held captive in those moments, and he knew it. All I could do was stare back at him like an awestruck fan.

Sometime before noon we finally got out of bed, staggered down the hall and sat side by side at Jack’s retro, Lucy and Ricky-style, aluminum-legged kitchen table. He placed two Lucky Strikes between his lips, lit both and passed me one, then poured inky thick coffee from his press into thin miss-matched porcelain cups. We smoked and sipped and tried to pull ourselves back up out of our mutual hangover. It was always an easier feat for him. Jack was a bit of a Dorian Gray. His abuse of time didn’t show.

No matter the time of day, Jack always had music going in the background. He kept the volume low, but the music was always there, as if no scene from his life was complete without just the right soundtrack. He prized his collection of old jazz albums; rare treasures he’d unearthed from forgotten dusty crates in the backs of used record stores. Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn, Dinah Washington. That morning he picked Billie.

With a lit Lucky Strike jutting out from between his lips, he slipped the record from its faded cardboard jacket, then old paper sleeve, and placed it on the turntable. He lifted up the needle and set it back down along the edge of the outer groove. The record began to spin, the music began to play, and Billie’s wistful, broken voice sang out from underneath the crackles in the thick vinyl:

The very thought of you
And I forget to do
The little ordinary things that everyone ought to do
I’m living in a kind of daydream
I’m happy as a queen
And foolish though it may seem
To me that’s everything . . .

I felt like shit.

I wondered how much longer I could keep this up, keep up with Jack. Before I met him I rarely drank. And never straight whiskey. Three years ago Melissa and I made good on our pact and quit smoking the day we arrived in San Francisco – yet there I was, leaning in as Jack cupped his hands around the end of my cigarette, held my gaze, and offered me another light. Jack made everything that was bad for me seem sexy.

“I'm jonesing for a danish,” he said, stubbing his cigarette out in his rectangular mosaic ashtray. “I'll zip down to the corner and come right back. You want anything?”

I needed to siphon in a few more cups of coffee before I could think about food.

“Go ahead,” I told him. “I'm not going anywhere."

He swept a strand of hair from my forehead and tucked it behind my ear. “You want me to trim this for you, babe?” I knew he was teasing. He’d told me many times if I cut my hair it would have to be over his dead body. He pressed his lips to mine, then grabbed his keys, slipped down the hall and out the door, bolting it behind him.

Jack’s intentionally placed mid-century modern decor filled every inch of his tiny apartment but without him in it, his place always felt empty. Like the star had left the stage and lights had gone out in the theater. I took another deep drag off my cigarette and sat there alone, just me and Bille, who was now singing an up-tempo, bathtub gin arrangement of “I’m Gonna Lock My Heart and Throw Away the Key”:

I’m gonna turn my back on love
Snub the moon above
Seal all my windows up with tin
So the love bug can’t get in . . .

I shouldn't have come here last night, I thought. I shouldn't have come back. Those few days away in Colorado, surrounded at my mom’s wedding by family, by people who seemed stable and healthy, people who were living in the real world, made me realize I couldn’t keep this going. Those few days away from Jack helped me to start to put myself back together.

As I flew back to San Francisco, I made a plan in my head to confront him, to tell him we couldn’t do this anymore. It was only a matter of time before one of us had to end it; maybe he’d be relieved if I was the one who decided to speak first. That was my plan. But that plan ended in a bottle of Old Crow and sex. No matter how I felt about Jack when I was away from him, no matter what I set my mind to before I saw him next, once I stepped into his apartment, once I was with him, my feelings were never a match for the pull of his attraction. Ever.

I stubbed out my cigarette and Billie sang her final verse:

I’m gonna park my romance right along the curb
Hang a sign upon my heart
“Please don’t disturb”
And if I never fall in love again
That’s soon enough for me
I’m gonna lock my heart and throw away the key . . .

The song ended and the needle slid into the center groove of the record, then clicked back into place on its stand. Jack’s apartment fell silent, the building too. Everyone else who lived on the third floor had real jobs and had left for work hours earlier.

I poked through the stack of Jack’s collected art books piled high to one side on his kitchen table. El Greco, Caravaggio, Kahlo. I pulled “Caravaggio: A Passionate Life” from the middle of the stack and out fell one of Jack’s notebooks.

Jack’s pads of paper filled with his unfinished drawings were lying around everywhere. He drew in pencil first then transferred his small sketches onto the large canvases he transformed into his oil paintings of rapturous religious martyrs and male nudes. He always had at least three paintings going at once, propped on makeshift easels, wherever he could make room in the corners of his tiny apartment. The piney scent of oil paints and turpentine always hung in the dank air of his apartment, just beneath the hazy film of cigarette smoke.

He’d shown me his preliminary drawings in the past but I hadn't seen this particular notebook before. This one wasn’t like his other art store sketchpads that I'd seen lying around. This was one of those lined composition books with the speckled black-and-white covers, the kind I used to pack around with me to my class in high school. I opened the notebook and turned through the first few pages, running my fingertips over a series of small, pencil-marked torsos, until I came to a page, three pages in, filled not with Jack’s art but his writing.

I didn’t know Jack wrote.

There's a date at the top: June 7, 1992. Four months ago. I realize this must be a journal entry but it’s too late, my eyes drop in a free fall down onto the first line: “I hate myself for doing this to Michael …”

My heart stops. I know what’s coming. Deep down, I’ve known for months.

Before I can make a frantic scan of the next the next sentence, I hear Jack's key sliding into the lock. My back snaps straight. The bolt clicks open. I slam the notebook shut and stuff it back into the stack.

Jack enters the kitchen, sees me and stops in a slight double-take. "Are you okay?"

I grip the sides of my chair beneath the table to keep my hands from shaking. I feel like I'm going to combust, like any sudden movement I make or word I utter will send his kitchen and the two of us up in flames.

I'm just tired, I tell him, looking down and away, hoping he'll buy my excuse for not moving or speaking – hoping I’ll buy myself the thirty minutes between now and when he needs to leave for work.

He sits beside me, pads my cheek with a small kiss and pours me another cup of coffee, then finishes his pastry. I sit next to him immobilized. Mute with rage.

After breakfast I walk him down the dark, narrow hallway of his apartment to the door. He hugs me tight, like he always hugs me when we say goodbye, like we’re standing on some train station platform in a cloud of steam as the violins soar. As he pulls me in for a last kiss, everything inside me stiffens into an internal barricade, trying to keep him out. As he seals his mouth over mine, I feel like he’s blotting my lips with poison. Inside I’m screaming.

I open the door and he steps out into the hall. “Stay as long as you like,” he says, as he always does, offering a last smile. I smile back, betraying every emotion I’m feeling, then close the door behind him and bolt the lock. I close my eyes, hold my breath, and press the side of my head to the door, listening until I hear his steps descend the hallway stairs. He’s gone.

As I turn to walk back to the kitchen my legs feel heavy, my steps slow and methodical. Now that Jack’s gone I feel oddly sedated. I sit back down at the table, pull the notebook from the stack and stare at its nondescript cover.

How long has this book been sitting here? How many mornings have Jack and I sat at this table with this book right here between us, its thin black spine poking out from the stack, daring to be noticed and opened?

I open the cover of the book and turn slowly back through Jack’s sketches, back to his writing. It's just one page but the confession is complete. Everything I suspected and worse. I read down through the list of names of all the guys he’s been fucking around with, and I know most of them; down through the list of drugs he’s relapsed back into using; down through the excerpts from the questions I asked him before I stopped asking questions, and down through his carefully crafted answers: “Michael confronted me last night about . . . but I told him . . .”  “Michael asked me today if I had ever . . . but of course I lied and said . . .” It goes on and on.

As I read each word I feel like I’m swallowing something my body instantly wants to expel. When I reach the bottom of the page my stomach contracts and feel like I’m going to vomit, but I can’t move.

What should I do?

I glance across the kitchen into the living room and stare at the vintage 1950s lamp I gave Jack for his birthday last June. The base is a glazed porcelain figurine depicting two Chinese boys dressed in traditional gold and red jackets wearing matching conical hats, seated on either end of a canoe; a fiberglass lampshade stretches out above them to form the shape of a sail and conceal the light bulb fixture on the other side. We’d first seen the lamp displayed in an antique shop window on Hayes Street. We passed by it several times and Jack fell in love with it. It did look like something that belonged in his apartment, since everything he collected and prized came from a time long before he was born. Neither of us could afford the lamp, but right before his birthday I sold two grocery bags filled with clothes to a second-hand store and came up with the amount. When Jack unwrapped the lamp he lit up like a five-year old.

I stare at that lamp. Should I walk over, pick it up and throw it out his third-story bedroom window?

No. It’s too beautiful to destroy.

My eyes scan slowly back across the living room, across Jack’s paintings propped on easels, past his shelves of records, past his VHS stacks of old movies, back into the kitchen and down to the table and the pack of Lucky Strikes. Should I light one, drop it on his carpeted living room floor, and walk out?

No. Other people live in the building.

I decide I don’t need to do anything. I have what I need. I have proof. Proof that every suspicion spinning in my head and gnawing a hole through my gut, was real. I have it confirmed in writing, Jack’s writing. What if I’d never discovered this book? What if hadn’t discovered it for another month, or year? I’ve been dying to have this confession from Jack for months and now I have it. I can walk out knowing I’m not insane. That’s better than any act of revenge.

Don’t do anything, the voice inside me says. Just leave.

I pick up my wallet and keys and head down the narrow dark hallway to the door. As I place my hand on the lock and unclick the bolt, a last minute second thought stops me. Should I go back and leave Jack’s book out on the kitchen table, open to the page I read of his writing? Leaving that book out, open to that page, that would tell him everything.

Again, No. That’s exactly the kind of drama Jack loved. I walk out.

Later that night Jack calls five times. I don’t pick up. His messages start by him matter-of-factly asking when I’m coming over. A few calls later, he’s wondering where I am. A few calls after that, he’s drunk and confused. He calls every day, multiple times a day, for a week. His voice sinks further with each message. I’ve vanished and he doesn’t know why. Each message is more incoherent and pitiful than the last. Finally, at the end of the week, he gives up.

The night he stops calling, I grab my Walkman, lie down on my bed and cover my ears with my headphones. I can’t listen to scratchy old love songs anymore; I want to hear something new. I need present tense. I couldn’t afford it but treated myself anyway to a cassette recording of the new album by Annie Lennox. It’s her first record as a solo artist since breaking up with her ex-lover and former band mate Dave Stewart. I slide in the tape and press play, close my eyes and curl up inside the melody. This music is exactly what I’m feeling right now. I drop down into the song and, when Annie’s soulful voice turns defiant and sails up over the lush orchestration and into the crescendo, I press rewind, crank the volume and play that final verse over and over:

This is the book I never read
These are the words I never said
This is the path I'll never tread
These are the dreams I'll dream instead
This is the joy that’s seldom spread
These are the tears, the tears we shed
This is the fear, this is the dread
These are the contents of my head
And these are the years that we have spent
And this is what they represent
And this is how I feel
Do you know how I feel?
‘Cause I don’t think you know what I feel
I don't think you know how I feel
You don't know what I feel . . .

Monday, February 18, 2013

Rentention, not Recruitment

Is Scientology out of the numbers game and now only looking to keep its shrinking donor base on the hook and paying up? This Ad Age article contains an interesting admission by a former high-level member--that has (no pun intended) 'clear' parallels to SYDA:

"Former Scientology church member Jefferson Hawkins, who once ran marketing for the organization and is best known for his 1980s TV ad that featured an exploding volcano, said the church's strategy when it comes to TV advertising is mostly reactive. "Their solution when negative stuff happens is to get high-profile ads out there..."

 Mr. Hawkins, who has been a regular critic of the church since he left in 2005, believes the (recent Super Bowl) ads are vanity TV buys aimed more at retention than recruitment:

'From my experience, they don't have a real interest in getting new members," he said. "It costs money to train new members. There's no immediate profit. They are more interested in keeping current members and encouraging them to donate.'"

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Lucid Memories, Chapter 2, Part 2

That evening during her talk, Gurumayi speaks at length about the importance of what she calls “welcoming others.” She tells us that welcoming others is not only the foundation of Baba’s teachings, but also a powerful tradition and spiritual practice found in all cultures.

She suggests that one of the ways we can welcome others is by “seeing beyond people’s shortcomings.” She urges us to avoid getting “stuck in our judgments.” She encourages us to always strive to see the highest and presume the best in everyone we encounter.

“Treat people,” she says, “as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being.”

How beautifully put. It makes absolute sense.

After her talk and a brief meditation session, the Emcee for this evening’s program, Cosby Show actress Phylicia Rashad, steps up to the mike to make the closing announcements before the aisle monitors dismiss each of our rows for darshan. No fanfare was made earlier about her appearance as tonight’s hostess. None was needed. Everyone knows who she is. She’s just one of several semi-B-list celebrities who dot the crowd throughout Gurumayi’s Oakland visit. One night the former Mod Squad star Peggy Lipton motions me up to Gurmayi’s chair during darshan; I’m too young to remember the show, but Kathleen points her out. She looks thin and pale under the bright stage lights and appears self-conscious about being assigned the very visible role of Darshan Usher. Another night I see actor Gary Busey wandering around the lobby, looking disoriented. When I first notice him I can’t think of his name, but it comes to me later. I wonder if he’s struggling in his career and seeking a new direction. Maybe that’s why he’s here.

Projected across the giant jumbotron screen suspended above the stage, Phylicia Rashad's glossy smile is as big as a Cheshire cat's. Her pupils, black billiard balls, roll back and forth in her dewy eyes as she slowly scans the crowd.

Everyone in the hall sits there staring up at her, as if stoned in a collective post-meditation stupor. Leaning into the mike and tilting her head to the side she says with a wink, “Now that you’ve tasted an exquisite drop of this nectar, don’t you just want to dive in?"

In response to her little flirtation many in the hall laugh, as if in on a joke, and several erupt in applause. But something about her delivery strikes me as over the top.

“Take the intensive,” she continues, pausing with intent. “Take the intensive,” she says again, adding another intentional pause. “Take the intensive.”

I squirm a little inside each time she repeats her pitch, relieved when she stops at three.

The program concludes and the moment our row is dismissed Kathleen perks forward in her chair and grips my hand. “Darshan will be going on for hours – let’s go eat and come back.”

As we exit the theater and cross the street to the Amrit, Kathleen loops her arm though mine. She’s strolling along in a post-program reverie but I’ve still got Phylicia Rashad’s refrain stuck in my head – and my mind is trying to stave of her repeated pitch with a mounting list of questions. Why the hard sell? Was that necessary? What goes on in the Intensive? And why would anyone need, or for that matter be able to withstand, more than what’s offered in these programs?

I don’t want to offend Kathleen; she’s been a devotee for over a decade. But I’d like some answers and I figure she’s as reliable a resource as I’m apt to find.

When I ask her a carefully phrased question about the Intensive and the way it's being promoted at the programs she sighs, “Sometimes the people who would benefit from the Intensive the most also tend to be the people won't attend unless they're specifically told they need to go!"

“But,” I ask, “Isn't what takes place in these programs enough?"

She sighs again. My sense isn’t that she’s tiring of my questions; my sense is she doesn’t think the answers pertain to us.

"Some of these people need to be hit over the head in order to ‘get it,’” she explains. “The Intensive is for them. You’re not like that. I wouldn’t worry about it.”

“Trust me,” she adds, smiling up into my eyes, “You’ve already received shaktipat.”

After dinner, as we make our way back to our seats, we're halted at the top of our aisle by a brusque woman with shoulder pads and a clipboard whose clear mission is to redirect us.

When we explain we’re merely returning to our seats via the exact path by which we left them, her face flattens, as if stunned we’re challenging her. Our aisle is closed, she informs us, and we need to go out and come back in another way. It makes no sense but she’s got a laminated name badge and a clipboard and we don’t. She extends her arm and makes an opened-palmed but firm gesture back in the direction of the lobby doors.

As we turn to head back up the aisle, Kathleen quips under her breath, referring to the main message in that night's talk, “Well, I guess she’s practicing welcoming others.” We share a muffled laugh, exit into the lobby and take the long way back to our seats.

After we sit down I ask Kathleen, “Why did she speak to us like that?” – given where we are and why we are here, the interaction seemed jarring, so out of place.

“Oh,” she says, letting out a deep breath, “Some of these sevites are just so full self-importance.” Sevites, she explains, is the title given to all the devotees I’ve seen doing all the volunteer work over the past few weeks. Seva is the name for the work itself, though it’s not work, she says, it’s service – to the Guru. “You run into them everywhere,” she continues, “In the Amrit, in the Bookstore . . . all you can do is keep your sense of humor. It’s like I always say when I’m signing up for an Intensive: With every registration you get a free lecture!” She giggles at her own joke.

I like the fact that Kathleen has been involved in Siddha Yoga for so long, been so close to Gurumayi, and yet still remains un-phased by all the nonsense. I like that she breaks the rules, at least the ones that don’t seem to matter. Maybe Gurumayi is a bit of a rule-breaker too.

Later that night, up on the stage during Darshan, just as we're bowing down, Gurumayi draws Phylicia Rashad to her side, as if she needs tell her something. As my forehead touches the carpet I hear Gurumayi say in a voice that's low and monotone, “It should have happened at 7 o’clock.” Her statement is firm, and indisputable. Her displeasure is controlled, but it’s there. Some part of the program hadn't gone as planned. Someone was late.

As I back up and away from Gurumayi’s chair, I catch Phylicia’s face looking down in deference. I can tell that although she may not be the person who was late, she's the one Gurumayi's holding responsible.

Kathleen and I return to our seats and watch as the tail end of the darshan line files up. Each night we stay after and sit and wait until darshan ends, with the hope that Gurumayi will stay in the hall a bit longer. Sometimes a French magician named Arsene cames out and performs as if he were Gurumayi’s court jester; sometimes there is light banter back and forth between Gurumayi and the swamis; sometimes a chant.

One of the last women to step forward kneels down and offers Gurumayi a huge bouquet of flowers. Kathleen leans into me, places her hand over her mouth and shares in a whisper, “When I first started coming to Siddha Yoga I always took Gurumayi flowers. But then one day she told me: ‘Don’t bring flowers, bring money – And tell your friends!’“

I laugh along with her at the punch line to her story, though I’m not exactly sure why it’s funny.

During these final moments of each evening I can’t take my eyes off of Gurumayi. She’s been sitting with her legs folded up under her in the same lotus position for nearly five hours but looks just as radiant as she did when she arrived. Maybe more so. I don’t pretend to know who she is, but I do know this: no human I know would ever be capable of such a feat.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lucid Memories, Chapter Two, Part 1

I first heard Kathleen’s name early in 1992, not long after my mom and John called to say they were finally going to tie the knot. Having made my sister and I suffer through their unnecessary to us ten-year protracted courtship, they called one night and announced with glee that they were putting a date on the calendar and us out of our misery. Over the years, whenever we tried to press them about sealing the deal, my mom would joke, “Once my relationship with John outlasts the length of my two prior marriages, we’ll make it official – and not a moment before!” When they finally hit that target and made good on their promise my sister I were thrilled. We’d never known two people more meant for each other. We were also relieved. Due to our own need for security, we wanted a concrete guarantee they'd stay together. Now we had it.

The year prior, my mom had struck up a friendship with Kathleen through their local Siddha Yoga Center in Colorado. Although they hadn’t known each other long, the moment my mom announced her engagement Kathleen jumped in to help. Overnight she became both wedding planner and personal assistant, managing every last detail leading up to the big day.

I can’t remember the first time my mom told me about Kathleen, but during our phone conversations in the months prior to the wedding, she mentioned her name too many times to count. Clearly my mom was thrilled to have such a devoted, zealous volunteer at her side. “If I hired someone to do all this,” she gushed one night on the phone, “It would cost me a fortune!”

My mom was one of the most appreciative people I knew, and I understood why she felt so grateful, but to me it sounded like her new best friend was taking over. She began to adopt an almost “Kathleen knows best” attitude. That wasn’t like her. I hadn’t met Kathleen and felt protective. Maybe even a bit suspicious.

Who was this woman?

In October, just before the floor between Jack and I splintered in and collapsed, I flew home to Colorado for the wedding. Upon my arrival I finally met the person I’d been hearing so much about.

Kathleen was petite, attractive, and impeccably groomed. She had small, sparkling brown eyes and a pleasant, diminutive smile. Although Kathleen was a woman in her 40s who was living in the 90s, she still maintained her thick, glossy black hair in an immaculate braid that dangled down below her waist. She had the longest hair I’d ever seen and not a single strand was out of place. I suspected she was known for her hair.

Fall had arrived early in Colorado and Kathleen was ready, dressed on the day we met in an amber-colored cowl-neck sweater, coordinating calf-length skirt and dangly Navajo-style earrings, the kind she might have purchased while lingering at a roadside stand on a trip through in Arizona. She looked like a very put together flower child. Not someone I imagined dancing barefoot in the mud at a Grateful Dead concert, but someone who nonetheless likely wore a strand or two of love beads in her day – the kind she’d strung herself. I could imagine Kathleen bead shopping.

When my mom introduced us, she was chipper and polite, in an official wedding planner sort of way, but it was clear she wasn’t going to let anything, or anyone, divert her focus. Seeing her in action my immediate impression was that Kathleen had a lot of confidence in her work. She struck me as someone who believed she knew exactly what to do, how to do it, and when – the kind of person who, once assigned a specific task, doesn’t require further direction or stop for input. She wasn’t pushy, but she was certain. As the twenty-four hours before the wedding dwindled down, I could see her ticking through her mental list of priorities, checking off each one in her head then moving briskly onto the next.

I tried to dismiss Kathleen’s hyper-professional, somewhat controlling demeanor as expected from a bride’s personal assistant the day before the wedding, but something about her continued to rub me wrong. I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Still, it was obvious she was going way above and beyond – even offering to do my sister’s hair and make-up for the ceremony in addition to my mom’s, on top of having to take care of her own. I had to admit my mom glowed in Kathleen’s attentive care. That’s what’s most important, I thought, that my mom feels taken care of. That’s the only thing that matters.

As the weekend proceeded, I tucked aside my unease about Kathleen and made an effort to warm up to her – after all, her support meant so much to my mom. In the process she opened up and I learned a quite a bit of her story . . .

In the early 1980s, Kathleen lived for a time in Siddha Yoga’s mother ashram, in Ganeshpuri, India. She was there during Baba Mukantanda’s last years as Guru, there when he died, there when Gurumayi was appointed his successor. A talented seamstress, Kathleen was assigned the highly intimate role of making Gurumayi’s clothes. Prior to her sharing the highlights of her early years in Siddha Yoga, it hadn’t occurred to me that a specific person made Gurumayi’s clothes, but it did make sense. I couldn’t imagine Gurumayi wearing something purchased off a rack. Besides, she didn’t have time to go shopping.

Eventually Kathleen met her husband in Ganeshpuri and Gurumayi married them. In a giant gold-framed photo from their wedding I saw hanging in their house, Kathleen and her husband Alan appeared draped in thick garlands of marigolds, their foreheads glistening in the Indian heat as they lean in near Gurumayi who sits beside them beaming. I somewhat marveled at the photo when I saw it. I hadn’t known that Gurumayi married people. That was also the first time I saw a picture of Gurumayi taken with someone I actually knew. It hadn’t occurred to me that some people had their pictures taken with the Guru, owned copies of those pictures, and hung them in their homes.

I stared at that photo. To be married by the Guru must be the ultimate way to sanctify your relationship, I thought. But Kathleen didn’t mention her husband that weekend and I didn’t meet him – he was away on business.

Kathleen was so involved in the wedding it struck me as odd that her husband couldn’t arrange to be there. Later, when I asked my mom about him, she gave me her classic “Don’t ask” look. The list of people she disliked was short, but that look told me in an instant Alan was on it. While my sister and I were growing up my mom enforced and adhered to a strict “If you can’t say something nice” policy. I’d learned long ago that when she gave me that look we weren’t going to have a conversation. “I tell you about Alan another time,” she said. She didn’t mention him again; neither did I.

The moment for ceremony arrived and my mom floated through her wedding. I had to hand it to Kathleen who herself seemed to thrive in the midst of those final break-neck hours. She and I didn’t stay in touch after my mom’s wedding; there wasn’t any reason to. After I returned to San Francisco I sent her a card, thanking her for the support she gave my mom because it was the polite thing to do. But that was it.

Six months later in April, during the second week of Gurumayi’s programs, Kathleen called me out of the blue and left a message. I was startled to hear her voice on my answering machine but figured she must have contacted my mom and asked for my number. “I’m coming to Oakland Wednesday!” she exclaimed, near-breathless. “Let’s meet at The Paramount!”

Two days later as I stand waiting for her inside the lobby, I feel bit awkward. Kathleen is my mom’s age and the wrong gender, but for some reason I feel like I’m moments away from a first date – except instead of dinner and a movie we’re meeting for a chant and darshan. I agreed to meet her but now that I’m here it suddenly strikes me as an odd setting in which to spend the evening with someone I hardly know. Up until tonight I’ve been coming alone.

Suddenly I feel my focus yanked from behind. I turn around and see Kathleen, rushing toward me across the lobby. “How are you?!” she bursts, crushing me in a hug, like we’re old friends who’ve been apart too long. I jump inside, startled aback by her over-gregarious greeting.

“Isn’t this theater gorgeous?” she beams, looking up at me like a teenage girl out for her first night on the town. “Come on – I saved us some great seats!”

Inside, as we settle into our chairs, I watch from the corner of my eye as Kathleen employs a bit of artful choreography with her pashmina shawl, draping it over both shoulders, just so, to inconspicuously conceal the small spiral-bound notepad and pen she produces from her purse. As if she’s made this same move a hundred times before, she slips both items underneath her shawl and into her lap while looking around nonchalantly to see if any of the aisle monitors have spotted her.

As I observe her do this, my eyebrows raise a little. At the intro to every program the Emcees are explicit: “No note-taking aloud.” At first the rule strikes me as counterintuitive. Wouldn’t notes give people something concrete to refer to and focus on later when they meditated at home? But then I second-guess myself and try to imagine the potential rationales. Maybe if you’re too focused on writing things down you loose the true essence of what’s being offered. Maybe the process of absorbing the Guru’s teachings is too subtle and too profound to be reduced to a lecturer-audience format. Maybe it’s disrespectful to scribble the guru’s wisdom down into a series of illegible notes.

Ok, I get it.

Still, there is one curious phenomenon at these programs that does make the no note-taking rule continue to stick out as odd: despite how captivated everyone seems during Gurumayi’s talks, a common joke afterward is that many people can’t remember a thing she said. Often I see small groups in Amrit giggling over their collective inability to recall any specific part of what she’s said; the overall gist is there but none of the key details. It’s as if once she’s spoken them, Gurumayi’s words become slippery fish.
“What was that hilarious Nasrudin story she told – something about losing a key . . .?”

Given the four-hour combo of chanting, lecture, meditation and darshan, maybe some people are simply too blissed out to repeat anything back in a complete sentence. Like driving under the influence then getting pulled over and asked to repeat “toy boat” ten times, maybe the more you try to wrap your mind around the Guru’s exact phrasing, the harder it becomes.

Regardless, the consensus seems to be that just listening to the Guru is, in and of itself, enough. Her words go in, whether they’re remembered or not. The point is to be with Gurumayi, to be in her presence. That’s the real teaching.

Ironically, for whatever the reason, the effect her talks have on my retention is just the opposite. When she speaks I’m hyper-alert. As she sweeps through each passage all the cells in my body attach to her words like a trillion pins gathered up by a magnet. During the first week of programs I raced home with her words and the sound of her voice alive inside me. Her words fueled me past midnight as I typed them down as fast as I could, fearing they’d evaporate. I didn’t want to lose a single one.

When Kathleen notices I’m observing her notepad and pen sleight of hand she looks up at me with a mischievous glint in her eye. As if to alleviate any concern I might have that she’ll get busted for her bit of rule-breaking she leans in and whispers: “The year they instated the ‘no note-taking policy’ was the year I started wearing shawls to the programs!”

As the lights dim several volunteers pad up and down the aisles, scanning the crowd with strained faces, looking for people like Kathleen. They don’t notice her and apparently she couldn't care less about them.

Knowing Kathleen once worked so closely with Gurumayi, and knowing, as she shared earlier, that she writes to Gurumayi often, I figure it’s safe for me to take my cues from her. I make a mental note to bring my own notepad and pen the next evening.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Lucid Memories, Chapter One, End.

Two days later I return to The Paramount for the Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evening programs. During the chanting and meditation sessions that occur over the course of those consecutive nights, the mesmeric imagery unfolding in front of me is as real as anything I’ve seen in my most vivid dreams:

I’m sitting alone inside a large, old, dilapidated wooden boat, floating in the middle of a desolate, near-motionless ocean. The horizon is dark and flat. There’s no land in sight. The massive grey ocean expands out around me in all directions, as far as I can see, to furthest edges of the earth. My boat floats anchored in the middle of this vast expanse, creaking in spots as it rocks gently back and forth, in synch with the vibrations emanating from the tamboura. The sky above and water below are equally heavy, impenetrable. I’m on the other side of the world, far from anywhere I know. I’m nowhere.

The only thing keeping this bleak setting from becoming one of irreparable despair is the steady repetition of the mantra, and the resilient, sustaining sound of Gurumayi’s deep, honeyed voice. Each time she calls out and each time I call back the vibrations of her voice fold over into mine, like one caressing wave folding into another, and together our voices merge with the voices of everyone else in the hall.

I've been chanting the mantra on my own for years but tonight, here in this distilled moment with the guru, a window opens and suddenly I understand its true meaning: The mantra is a call, a call to return home. Not home as in a specific place, but home as an internal state. Home as a feeling of deep peace not dependent on anyone or anything. Tonight, in this moment with Gurumayi, the mantra is calling me to repair that severed cord, to reconnect to that protecting source, to return to who I am.

By the third night of programs spent rocking back and forth under that abandoned sky, something inside me releases and my boat begins to glide forward. In time, little by little, several of the others gathered in the hall begin to join me inside the boat and we sit side-by-side, chanting and rowing forward in effortless unison. We’re all heading toward the same destination; we are all going home. As our momentum builds, our voices fuse and thicken into one unified vibration that cocoons the entire hall inside the sound of the mantra.

When I glance up again into the foreboding sky the night suddenly comes alive as if someone’s flipped a switch inside a planetarium and revealed a giant web of sparkling constellations. The stars flicker then dim as a prehistoric sun burns a hole in the horizon, then rises up and glazes the sky a brilliant orange. Looking down over the water, I watch as sunbeams dance out across the once ominous ocean, transforming its murky surface into ripples of royal blue.

Everything inside me lifts and lightens; every cell in my body hums. It’s a new day.

As I sway back and forth, the images of the ocean fade and I begin to feel my entire body filling with sand. Our collective call and response slowly subsides until only the lone tamboura plays. I sit immobilized and watch several members of my family – none of whom have, or likely will ever bow down to a guru – appear in my mind, step up onto the stage and approach Gurumayi’s chair for darshan.

My grandfather, my mom’s dad, who is fighting his descent into Alzheimer’s, steps forward first. He approaches Gurumayi in his characteristic dignified manner, dapper as always in his customary suit, silk necktie and crisply-pressed pocket square. He extends both his hands and Gurumayi leans in to cups his with hers. He looks like a Head of State meeting the Queen of England. Watching their exchange I smile so broadly I can feel my cheeks pushing up underneath my eyes.

My biological father steps up next. Four years ago, just after I moved to San Francisco, he called out of the blue. First time in a decade. “Michael?” he asked, “Do you know who this is?” I knew. Ten years, but I’d know his voice anywhere. I didn’t say anything and hung up the phone. He didn’t call back. Now, as he approaches Gurumayi’s chair, he appears so small on that stage; tentative, ashamed. He looks around lost, unsure of what to do. Gurumayi sits waiting, motionless as a mountain. After another moment’s hesitation he cautiously steps forward, as if he has no other choice, and bows down.

One by one, each member of my family whose impact on my life has been significant comes before Gurumayi and one by one she welcomes and blesses each of them – just as I have watched her welcome and bless hundreds and thousands of others, night after night after night. Gurumayi expresses in these exchanges a respect, dignity, and unconditional acceptance I’ve never seen anywhere else, from anyone else. It’s as if in her eyes everyone is worthy of the highest honor, everyone is royalty.

As the images from my family processional fade and the hall plunges into silence, Jack emerges from beneath a shadow and steps into the center of my mind. He's alone; both the stage and the hall are now empty and dark. It’s just him and me. He turns toward me and presents himself, defenseless. His eyes say he's ready; prepared to hear and to take whatever I have to say.

Jack is the last person I expected to see here, in this setting, at this moment, but I can tell I’m being given an opportunity – a chance to feel differently about him and what happened between us.

A voice inside me asks, “What do you want to do about Jack?”

And, without even the effort of a breath the clear answer comes and simply slips out, as clear and without effort as a drop of water slipping off the edge of a leaf. “I just want to love him,” I say inside.

The moment I hear myself say those words, “I just want to love him,” the spell is broken – Jack’s image dissolves and is washed away, like sand washed out to sea by a retreating tide.

Seeing Jack for who he is – vulnerable, flawed, human – and realizing what I wanted most from our relationship was something I could never have, unties the not. It’s that simple. He’s gone, and that infected wound deep inside me I couldn’t reach to mend feels washed clean. A tiny bell rings, the meditation session ends and I sit mesmerized watching two 100-foot columns of white light shoot out from the centers of my upturned palms. I look up, rotate my wrists from side to side, and trace playful figure eight searchlight patterns across the Paramount’s ceiling. I know I'm the only one who can see this happening, but it doesn't matter. It's incredible.

After the program, I step out into the lobby to search for a pay phone where I can call my mom. Looking up I notice that the elegant gold Art Deco letters across the inner lobby marquee have been arranged to spell out Siddha Yoga's central teaching: “See God in Each Other.” It’s very Ancient-India-meets-Radio-City-Music-Hall. I’m giddy.

I ascend one of the lobby's winding carpeted staircases to the second floor, spy an ornate gilded phone booth, call my Mom and gush – about Gurumayi’s talks and funny stories, my mind-blowing meditations, all of it.

“But,” I add, “Amazing as all of this is, I don’t have any desire to take an Intensive. If an Intensive is more powerful than these programs, I’m not going anywhere near it!"

We both laugh.

"And," I continue, "I have no desire to go run off and live in the ashram.” 

I mean it. The experience I’m having right now is more than enough.

“Wow,” she says – explaining how so many people have such a longing for the Guru, such a longing to be close to Gurumayi, such a longing for more – “You don’t know how lucky you are.”

End of Chapter One: Lucky

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Lucid Memories, Chapter One, 3

As I wait in line a tanned, wispy-haired woman wearing a guaze skirt, chunky turquoise bracelets, silver Roman sandals and a nametag that says “Urvashi Cohen" dances up and down the line, trying to tempt us away to the temporary dining hall across the street. "There's plenty of time!" she assures. "You can come back for Darshan after dinner!" No one budges.

Five minutes later she twirls past us again, this time literally singing this evening’s dinner specials. Unlike the pinched-faced volunteers who scurried me out of the lobby and into the outside darshan line two hours ago, this woman seems to be genuinely enjoying her assignment. She stops near me and describes each dish on the evening's menu in mouth-watering detail, as if any attempt on our part to choose just one of these delectable items will prove to be exquisite agony. She’s a character. I like her, and everyone within earshot is engaged by her ardent effort – but not a chance. No way am I losing my spot. Undeterred, she pirouettes away and tries her luck again, further down the line.

At last we are moving, but as the line inches off the sidewalk and back into the lobby, my mind drifts, out of the theater and back to the dream I had about Gurumayi last October – the night after I broke up with Jack . . .

I’m at my mom’s house in Colorado. A group of her friends from the local Siddha Yoga center have gathered for an occasion that feels ceremonious. Since I’m not a member of the center I'm not sure why I’m there, or what’s going to happen next. I notice, however, that I’m the only one in the room dressed in what looks like a more formal version of white cotton pajamas.

Everyone assembles quietly into a seated circle then begins passing around an old, heavy, atlas-sized book. I can't see the cover but it looks like an ancient text of some sort. The book makes a full circle and gets handed to me last, open to a page containing an elaborate diagram illustrating the back of a human head. Looking closely, I notice that traced over the back of the head are the precise outlines of the bare soles of two feet. I’m intrigued. I’ve never seen an image like this before. I have no idea what to make of it.

As I study the image, everyone begins speaking in hushed exchanges. Clearly they consider the image to be powerful, symbolic. When I close the book and look up, Gurumayi is standing directly in front of me. The room falls silent. As if it’s an involuntarily automatic response, I immediately lay my entire body flat, face down on the carpet, and place my head at her bare feet, pranaming before her. Then, lifting her feet one at a time off of the carpet, Gurumayi steps delicately up onto the back of my head, and balances there in place, almost weightless. I can feel the bare soles of her feet pressing lightly against the back of my scalp. I’m alternately watching all this happen from a vantage point somewhere high above my body, and experiencing it internally with my eyes closed.

After holding her motionless position for a moment, her feet slowly lift off the back of my head and she levitates up into the air and hovers over me, the bare soles of her feet floating a just inches above my head. Turning slowly in midair, she steps down onto my back, kneels between my shoulder blades and begins to manipulate and contort each of my limbs through a series of humanly impossible, though somehow painless, complex and specific yoga postures. Once she completes this intricate, ritualistic procedure, she remains seated on my back, kneeling in silence.

After a pause she starts to speak. The deep vibrations of her voice coat me in a protective balm.

“I’m going to tell you some things," she says, her voice calm and almost monotone, "And I want you to repeat each of these things back to me, so that I know you've heard them.”

She then gives me specific instructions about my breathing, followed by a description of the true purpose of the silver japa ring I wear on my wedding finger – a gift from my mom purchased years ago at the original ashram in India, one of the few possessions I treasure but have never used for actual mantra repetition.

I repeat everything Gurumayi tells me back to her, word for word, step by step.

Then her voice drops down into a final instruction. “I have no importance here,” she says.

Repeating her words, I reply: “I have no importance here.”

At that moment the dream ended and my eyes split open – as if I’d been grabbed by the throat and yanked awake. I kicked off my sheets and ran down the hall to wake up Melissa. I was bursting to tell her what had just happened. I had no idea what to make of it. We fixed coffee and took our conversation back to my room.

As we sat crossed-legged on my bed talking, Melissa confided something she’d been holding onto for years. Leaning in and smoothing a stray strand of hair away from my forehead she said, “Michael, I have to tell you something. I always regretted not going back to the ashram that second night with you and your mom. Something happened to you that night, and since then I’ve felt like Gurumayi has always been with you.”

The look in her eyes turned more serious.

“I think for you to have this dream about Gurumayi, right now, while you’re going through all this with Jack . . . I just know it must mean something. Something important.”

My mind drifts away from Melissa’s words, and back to where I’m standing inside The Paramount, in the darshan line that’s finally made it's way deep into the inner lobby. In front of me now is the temporary bookstore they’ve set up for the program. My gaze meanders across the sprawling display of assorted tapes, videos, jewelry, and incense featured along on the various tables – then slams to a stop when my eyes fall on a picture depicting the bare soles of the Guru’s feet.

My breath leaves my body.

I can’t believe what I’m seeing. It’s as if someone has lifted the image directly out of the dream I had last October, placed it inside this photograph and strategically displayed it in this exact spot, at this precise moment, just to catch my attention.

Immediately I turn to the older, seasoned-looking devotee I've been standing next to in line for two hours and barge into her reverie, hoping she can help. “Excuse me," I ask, pointing toward the photograph, "Can you tell me why there is a picture of Gurumayi’s bare feet? Is there some significance?”

“Oh, yes!” she bursts, not skipping a beat, as if thrilled I’m soliciting her expertise on this particular matter. “They are very significant!" Suddenly self-conscious, she lowers her voice, draws me in and shares in a near whisper, "It is said that all of the guru’s power travels through the soles their feet.”

I’ve passed through the looking glass again . . .

I can barely focus as she continues and politely points out because obviously I’m new at this, that the picture I’m referring to is actually of Baba Muktanada's feet, not Gurumayi’s.

Suddenly, something amusing occurs to her and turning to her also seasoned-looking female comrade she ponders aloud, “Are there any pictures of Gurumayi’s feet?” At this musing the two of them erupt in giddy giggles. Apparently posing such a question, while standing moments away from bowing down before the real thing, strikes them as laughably superfluous.

30 minutes later, on stage inside the theater, just a few feet from her chair, Gurumayi’s eyes lock with mine and never break away. Her eyes penetrate me, as if in this moment she sees everything I’ve put myself through in the four years since I saw her last, as if she sees that inside I've died a brutal emotional death. She holds me suspended in her gaze with the deep concern of a parent who has been away from their child far too long. Her eyes implore one clear, direct question: “What has happened to you?”

People are bowing down six heads across; several attendants are perched at Gurumayi’s side – making introductions, taking notes, whispering messages, distributing gifts, and removing the baskets that continue to fill with offerings of flowers, coconuts, cards and money. All the while a small group of musicians play a soft lullaby version of the mantra just a few feet away. There is a lot going on up here, but Gurumayi’s gaze never leaves me. As I take her gaze in to the deepest part of me and see all the activity happening around and between us I think, It can’t be possible, she can’t be focusing on just me, I must be hallucinating.

I'm motioned to move closer in the line by an attendant and Gurumayi then directs me with her peacock feathers to step around the group that's already bowing down and come kneel close beside her, near the edge of her chair, as if she were going to tuck me up under her shawl. I kneel at the base of her chair, place my forehead to the carpeted floor of the stage, and then – Tap! Tap! Tap! – three jolts of static electricity shoot out the ends of her peacock feathers and zip through me like a current. I hear a something crackle and a sharp spasm rockets through my chest.

Backing up and away from her chair, I’m trembling. I feel naked, exposed, too aware of myself, and the crowd. I want to get off this stage and escape to someplace safe and private as quickly as possible.

I bolt up the aisle, exit the theater and catch the first BART train home.

As my train pulls away from Oakland and disappears back inside the tunnel, I sit in my seat unable to move. I’m traveling in some other zone.

Everything is so different, again.