Vision Quest

In October 2008, I went on a vision quest. I spent four days in a local provincial park fasting and meditating. I was completely alone and kept silent for three of the four days. On the fourth day, I was hungry, cold and tired. I asked to use a cell phone and seriously considered conning small children out of their bananas but thought better of it. Unseemly behavior after questing, I mused.

What did I learn on these days of deprivation and deep meditation?

Always carry a nail file. It’s damn near impossible to connect with a vision when you’ve got a raggedy old nail catching on your wool sweater or pants every 15 seconds.

You may think I’m being frivolous or flip here, but let me tell you, there’s a lot of nuts and bolts kind of stuff that comes up when you’re out in the woods for four days, no matter how saintly your motives for being there.

Like, where will you pee? Continue reading…

Poem Shot

This morning I awoke to my husband’s honking iPhone alarm. Barry continued to sleep as I jumped up to check whether our son was texting for an early morning ride home from last night’s sleepover. Sliding the lock to the right, I saw it was a reminder, not a text, that read:

Max flu and poem shot

It took a moment before I realized he meant flu and pneumonia shot.

I really liked poem shot, though. I’m uncertain if it’s a vaccination against or a dose of, but I like it either way. To think you could be inoculated for poetry, hit with just enough to keep it in your system forever, steeling you from it’s intoxicating effects was rather profound. You’d be immune to its power, aware but unafraid to go places it exists. That could be useful.

But for me, give me a shot of poem straight up, no chaser. Let it burn my throat going down, heat up my toes and make my head spin.Whether I like the taste or not I will experience the flavor concocted by another human and, if I’m lucky, be transported by the draught to unknown lands, learning a new topography and language.

Besides, hanging out with poetry drunkards is bound to be more fun than meeting with the theorists, critics and editors.

Oh, the joys of misspellings and malapropisms. I love that man.


Families, especially large families, tend to have legends, lore and stories about their histories. This is one of those stories.

Until I was four, I lived in a very small house on a very large lot, both constantly filled with children. In our 3-bedroom, 1-bath home there were two adults and five kids. One bedroom (downstairs across from the bathroom) was for the parents, one-bedroom (upstairs under the peaked roof and to the right) was the childrens’ room, and one bedroom (upstairs under the peaked roof to the left) was for my father’s model railroad set.

Downstairs was a small eat-in kitchen, a small living room and a big pantry closet under the stairs. The washer and dryer were out back behind the house in a side room of a large shed and garage building. Our freezer was in a room on the other side of that same shed. In the room with the washer and dryer were an old pump organ, lots of moldy old steamer trunks from the relatives, cans of paint, old appliances and tools, and hundreds of other treasures children couldn’t keep their hands off.

We played outside and in that shed a lot to stay out of the way of Mary Elizabeth Baker Williams, the black woman who took care of us, the current baby, and the house. We played cowboys, army, kick-the-can, tag, and of course, hide-n-seek.

I had only just turned four and was not that good at coming up with hiding places. At three you’ve only recently left the stage of believing if you close your eyes, no one can see you. My sister, Pat, age six, on the other hand was brilliant at hiding. I attribute this partly to her naturally sneaky personality which became highly troublesome in her teen years but that’s another story.

This particular sunny summer afternoon, my brother Warren, age five was IT and Pat and I were the hiders. Chubby little Robin, who had just turned three was toddling around somewhere and Mary Elizabeth was in the house with Robert, not yet two and the baby, Cheryl, only five months old. Pat and I were in the shed as Warren counted down and the pressure was on. Behind the organ was out—overused, wedging between the trunks was possible but fairly easy to find. Further back in the shed was not for me—too many spider webs and I was a rather timid child.

In desperation I asked for guidance from my older sister. Pat never really liked me except for a few years in my 30s and 40s when I was a good place to escape from her own six children. I’m fairly certain at age four I already had a scar on the back of my head where she hit me with a conch shell (stitches) and a scar on my little finger (stitches) where she slammed my hand in the door.

Still when she opened the round glass door of the dryer and said, “Hide in here,” it was not my instinct for self preservation that kicked  in but rather my desire to win the game. It was an excellent hiding place. Who would think to look there?

I’m a little shaky on the details after that. From the way the story’s been told, Warren ran into the shed, yelled, “I see Wendy,” and hit the button.

I’m not sure  how long I bounced around inside before someone ran to get Mary Elizabeth. If only I had been able to brace myself like in some amusement park ride it would have been way cool, but those protrusions inside the cylinder meant to keep your clothes tumbling nicely whacked me mercilessly  as I tried to figure out what was going on.

Mary Elizabeth rescued me and shooed us all into the house frantically telephoning my father the doctor at his clinic in the middle of our small town. He, of course was shocked and appalled. “Mary Elizabeth,” he admonished, “all those cameras around and you didn’t get a picture?”

Later when he came home, he spanked us all. Pat for telling me to get in, Warren for turning it on (and for blaming it on Robin) and me, for being foolish enough to get in.

To this day my family believes my hair is curlier than my siblings from being fluff dried at an early age.

Clothes Make the (Wo)Man

An article in the New York Times today seems to have finally settled a debate in our house—whether clothes are important to how we feel and behave. If you see my son Max, you’ll know on which side of the question he stands; the same is true of my husband Barry. It may not be immediately obvious what my feelings are on the matter (I’m a middle-aged self-employed Mom—I love my fuzzy sweatpants) but the truth is I’ve known for a long time what you wear can make a great difference in your feelings and performance.

Certainly, there were hints of this in high school when a Villager skirt and sweater with Pappagallo ballet flats could make me feel I ruled the world. However, the most striking instance to this day of the magic an outfit can create was the summer of 1977.

I was doing an outdoor drama, Wings of the Morning, in St. Mary’s County, Maryland and for our Second Stage production, director Andy Weisnet chose Jean Anouil’s The Lark. I had hoped to land the lead role, Joan of Arc, but as these things go I was cast as Joan’s Mother. This was a small role yet I was onstage the whole time as was the rest of the cast. We performed by candlelight in a restoration of Maryland’s  first statehouse in sweltering humidity on our day off. When not “onstage” cast members sat motionless on benches in tableau awaiting cues to stand and perform. I committed to doing the play though I was less than thrilled with my part, that is, until I put on the costume.

Designed by Andrea Sachs out of bits and pieces left over from the costuming of the main show, my dress was plain and coarse, a sort of burlap and rag creation. I put on my heavy peasant dress with wimple each night and slipped into another era. I became another person; I moved differently, spoke differently, felt I was Joan’s mother. The effect was so profound even my colleagues treated me as if I were someone they had only just met. There was a reverence in that costume and a stoicism accompanied it. I sat immobile each night of the play enduring heat, dripping sweat and flies just as Joan’s mother had endured what happened to her daughter.

I’ve had outfits since then that made me feel wonderful or powerful or pretty but those feelings pale by comparison to being transported through time into a new identity via the power of clothing.

Pulling Bottles

1950s Coke BottleIn the late 1950s, I loved going with my older brother Warren to the barbershop. It was an old-fashioned place, large, dark, and manly, three hydraulic chairs in front of a long bank of mirrors with exotic bottles lined up along the shelf below. The unvarnished wooden floor was black with years of footprints and the cavernous green walls were heavily stained from cigarette smoke.

This was the domain of men, men both big and small. I was an outsider and knew it, so the barber shop held a compelling fascination for me, like some exotic foreign island I could visit from time to time but never inhabit.

In the front section of the building was the barber shop itself. The side with the barber chairs brightly lit, the opposite wall where I sat on a deacons bench, dark and shadowy like the rest of the building. Midway through the room ran a low open railing with a sort of gate at the gloomy side of the room. Beyond that barrier lay the pool hall.

If the barber shop was an exotic island, the pool hall was the 9th circle of Hell. You simply didn’t go there. It was too dangerous, tinged with sin, full of riffraff. And, as such, was just about the most alluring place a five-year old girl could ever hope to see. The smoke, the dim lights, the crack of balls smacking against each other, blue chalk and mysterious red cubes shaken from oddly shaped containers kept me fascinated while my brother was on the chair. Some part of me knew I should be paying attention to my brother and Mr. Bill Upchurch the barber, but my eyes and ears were constantly drawn to the dark smoky richness behind the barricade.

As children we were not allowed to pass the gate except to go to the Coke machine. Mr. Bill must have felt the strength of that pull to wickedness because invariably he would open the cash register and give me two nickels, one for me, one for Warren, and I would open the gate and step into that other world gingerly and breathlessly. Sometimes, though not often, an older boy with slicked back hair and a pack of cigarettes tucked into a rolled up shirt sleeve would look up past pool cue and bulging bicep to grunt some word of acknowledgment before returning to the concentration of the game. I was insignificant to him, but that moment of being seen was heady stuff for me. I was thrilled.

I’d go back to my seat on the other side occasionally climbing up to the red leather banquette where businessmen came to read the newspaper while a tiny old black man rubbed paste wax on the their shoes, buffing and polishing like a machine, which is how he was often treated by his customers. From time to time he would be present during Warren’s haircut. He would smile and help me up to the leather bench that floated high above my head and once treated my tiny brown oxfords to a professional shine.

Like as not, once I got my Coke, Mr. Bill would hand me a pack of salted peanuts to go with my drink. A Coke was good, but a Coke with peanuts was pure heavenly delight. I’d open the package with my teeth and pour part of the nuts into the cocola as we all called it. Then I’d take a big swig of liquid, filling my mouth with peanuts as well. What a taste sensation; sweet and salty, liquid and crunchy, rich and mouth filling.

By this time Warren would be finished with his haircut, dusted off with talc and doused with cheap perfume. He’d come over to my perch, climb up and enjoy refreshment and entertainment with me. We were both loath to leave, knowing it would be weeks before we got to reenter this wonderland. And so, to pass more time, we began to pull Coke bottles.

The Coke machine was big and red: retro versions have popped up all over the place in the past decade or so, but this was the real thing. You put in your nickel, you pressed the button  (there was only one) and an ice cold drink clanked through the metal flap at the bottom into a trough awaiting pick up. A wall-mounted bottle opener was attached to the railing between barber shop and pool hall, and to the left of the machine itself was a tall (at least for a 5-year old) rack with angled slots where people would place their empty bottles. Beside that were wooden crates where the bottles would eventually be organized for return to the bottling plant, our nearest being Goldsboro, North Carolina, a mere 20 minutes up the road.

It was the angled metal rack that was important. The bottles went in base-side down. This way any unconsumed liquid stayed in the bottle rather than spill on the floor. Only the bottle necks were visible and accessible. The bottom of each bottle was embossed with the name of the town where the bottle originated. Because we were so close to a bottling plant, most of the bottles in our rack came from Goldsboro, most, but not all. Coke bottles were surprisingly mobile in those days. You might pull a bottle from Oxford, Mississippi or Little Rock, Arkansas. It was the custom of the pool players when not betting on their own games to bet on the bottles from the rack. Greatest distance from Mt. Olive won the bet. An ancient map of the continental United States hung above the rack to aid in settling any confrontations about whose bottle had travelled the farthest.

I started pulling bottles before I could even read. Warren and I would each choose carefully, draw the bottle from its resting place then take them over to Mr. Bill who would read out the names for us. Exotic locations blossomed before us as those names were read out. Jacksonville, NC; Savannah, GA; Charleston, SC; and my personal favorite, Tuscaloosa, AL.

Oh, those names, musical and magical. I knew one day I would see those places. I felt it deep in my tissue and bones; I would see the world.

I have gone much farther than Tuscaloosa in the ensuing years. The wanderlust imprinted on my soul is just as palpable as the embossing on those bottles. The excitement I feel seeing each new place is the same sense of wonder I had at five hearing their names read aloud. Travel has never disappointed me.

Perhaps I owe it all to the Coca Cola bottlers of the South, and if that’s the case, I humbly thank them.

Getting Naked

Wendy in seated pose.Last spring I did something I’d wanted to do for a long time; I modeled for a life drawing class. Why, you might ask, would anyone want to do such a thing? Anyone other than a total exhibitionist, which I am not… really, I’m not.

I was intrigued with the notion of sitting still for long periods of time with people watching. I have meditated at different times in my life and it seemed to me, sitting for artists would be a sort of meditation. Of course, the harried working mom part of me was grateful for three hours to just sit anywhere without people needing me to shuttle, pick-up, clean-up or fix anything. I don’t believe I’m the only mother who looks forward to going to the dentist for a little peace and quiet.

So, that explains the sitting part. But the other part, you know, the part where you take off all your clothes and let people see every bump and ripple, why would I do that?

As it turns out, that too is a sort of meditation. By meditation I mean a stripping away of all that is non-essential; knowing the self through experience and presence. Taking off my clothes and sitting in front of a group of non-judgmental people allowed me to be with my physical self in a very different way, to simply sit and be. My attitudes about my body were meaningless in that situation; I was a body, no more, no less. To maintain stillness it was necessary to clear my mind, release my thoughts and feelings about how I looked. Release everything and become one with everything. Isn’t that what meditation allows us to do? I felt a great sense of freedom and a wonderful peacefulness at the end of the 3-hour session. I had done my job to the best of my ability and that was all I or anyone else expected of me. Afterwards, I was fascinated by the drawings from the different artists. I loved them, I loved the person they had drawn, I loved that body with all it’s bumps and bulges, dimples and ripples. I saw myself for the first time.

As I approach 60 I long to take off all the trappings and wrappings of family, society, expectations and guilt to see what exists of me. What is essentially, undeniably me? As I shed the layers, I feel that same sense of wonder, fear and excitement I felt as I disrobed in class. And I feel that same sense of inevitability and determination. This is something I want so I will do it. I’m not sure of what I will find at that deep level but my hope is to love that soul with all its faults and all its beauty the way I learned to love my body, by seeing it as it is rather than how I want it to be.

A Wish for Fish

Davis Bay's resident Great Blue Heron keeps watch.

Photo courtesy

At Davis Bay on a beautiful end-of-summer morning, I sit watching fishermen in waders. Up to their waists in water, they cast their lines into the Strait of Georgia angling for Pinks.

They’re out there. From time to time a fish jumps, breaking the surface, a tease, a promise.

There is a delicacy to the actions of these fishermen, a poetry of motion as they cast their lines, pull back, release, pull back, release—a song of racheting spinners clicking as lines are reeled back in.

A flash on the water and heads turn. Did he hook it? Are there others?

Not a single fish is basketed while I sit but the fishermen persist, some moving from spot to spot, some stubbornly rooted in position; all sharing a love of their silent sport and a wish for fish.

A Walk in the Woods

My friend, Jude the Puppy Nanny, told me about Hidden Grove in Sechelt and I’ve taken my dog, Millie there a couple of times. I really haven’t hiked that much since I came  the the Sunshine Coast, but lately it’s been very soothing to be among the big trees. They have so much stable energy; it’s very powerful but never frenetic. In fact, I take my frenzy there to let it seep into the earth, sometimes placing my palms or forehead against the tree to assist me. When my husband asked me what that feels like to me I told him it’s like a vortex inside the tree and when I put my hands there I plug in, releasing my unstable energy into the bark, the wood, the sap. It is magic—something the Druids had that I’m rediscovering, remembering. I feel emotionally clean when I come out of the woods and I’m grateful.

We Have It All

Yesterday, Barry and I heard Grant Lawrence at the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts. My third time at the festival, Barry’s first. Lawrence was hilarious, a born story-teller. From there we bustled back down to Gibsons to see a fabulous accordian duo, TOEAC, at Music in the Landing. We only caught the last half of the program but it was wonderful.

Today, I picked raspberries and dug potatoes, walked in the deep woods with my dog listening to the whup, whup of a raven’s wings, and drove past a mama bear and two cubs waiting to cross the highway to Cliff Gilker Park.

This is an incredible place we live. How shall we treat it?

Nia and Energy

Nia is always fun but some days it’s so much more. Today we did an older routine, Chains, but gave it new life. We’ve been working with the concept of conscious movement, and one way to move consciously is to recognize and engage the flow of energy through the body. I illustrated the difference by asking everyone to raise their hands, then drop them. Next, I asked them to close their eyes and do the same movement but sense energy moving from the armpit down the arm bones and into the hand to lift the hand, then feel energy contract under the armpit to bring the arm down. There was a marked difference in the quality of the movement. Finally, I had the group move energy from the Hara  (the energy vortex centered at the navel) all the way through the arm. This brought out ooohs and aaaahhhs as people enjoyed pure sensation moving through their bodies. We stepped into the routine from there and experienced it like never before, drenched at the end and blissful. Working with energy, really feeling it and moving it, creates a sense of oneness with the universe because everything is energy.

The greatest energy is Love and wow, we love Nia.