Thursday, August 26, 2010

Theme for an Imaginary Western - part 1

This is the time of year when it always starts for me -- I get really, really down.

I think the apex of my feeling this way was in my teenage years when I first was sent off to a military boarding school. That's a story for another blog (or eighty), but suffice it to say that during the -- over 3 -- years that I was there at Fork Union Military Academy, I dreaded the conclusion of summer like the end of life itself.

Let's just say Dickens would have killed for a setting as grim as FUMA for 'Oliver Twist'. It practically writes itself:

So every year the swansong of summer feels a little like the end of life once more, and every year I have a yearning, disconsolate feeling that comes as much from regretting opportunity lost as it does from any actual end of things…

It's all a metaphor really. Goodbye to the whiling away of time spent talking on the street corner, goodbye to the informality of people's bodies barely hidden in their abbreviated summer garments, to the sound of people out and about, enjoying (or cursing) the warmth -- where was I for all these things? It all goes by so fast.

Couldn't I have done it better somehow?

Soon it will be snowstorms, and bundling up. It's beautiful too, and yes, I've always chosen living somewhere where seasons change, but summer is special to me.

Yet, I was determined that I would make this year different than the others.

So this year when I made some plans for a second trip (since you are following this blog you remember my Maui adventure), I was actually quite surprised at the range of reaction that it would elicit:

You see, as it turns out….I'm headed for Burning Man…

For those of you who don't know, Burning Man is a yearly festival that takes place near the end of the summer in a place called the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, in what could be kindly called a hostile environment. Very remote area. Daytime temperatures can reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit and by nighttime it can get as low as 40. The area is prone to sudden windstorms - and occasionally short bursts of rain that turn the place into a mud pit. For a week the area is populated by counterculture types bicycling around in tutus and tiaras, walking around in stilts and clown suits, wearing multicolored wigs, driving around in so-called 'mutant vehicles', and generally having a big party using any and all manner of licit and illicit means to supplement their fun. Also the idea is that everyone in attendance is an artist. LOTS of artwork is around.

My sense is it will be like a big Woodstock where everyone is an active participant. Accommodations? You camp, in what sort of looks like a refuge camp for the terminally hip.

Oh, and the population of this impromptu city is about 45,000. Which makes it the 4th largest in Nevada…for a week. At the end of the week - population nearly equals zero.

So is it the biggest, most annoying tailgate party in the history of the world, or a Mecca where enlightenment can be achieved through good fellowship and art? Stay tuned…

As I mentioned, I was quite surprised at the range of reaction from my best and brightest. I'm either crazy - or really on to something. Or both.

On the east coast, there are a preponderance of folks who don't know what Burning Man even is. One day recently I was hanging with some friends, and I offhandedly said:
"Oh, I have some news, I'm going to Burning Man….


After nonchalantly delivering that to the group, I'm focusing on the 25 year old dude sitting directly in front of me, trying to explain what Burning Man is to him (it's not easy) - when I notice out of the corner of my eye that another person sitting to my right in our gathering (40ish - let's call him 'RB') is looking at me very intensely. As I've experienced RB, he's no stranger to 'adventure' - shall we say - and is replete with stories of his exploits which to my mind are pretty astonishing. I think of him as being far, far, far more 'adventurous' - on every level - than I am. We've chatted about Burning Man before, and the idea of my going.

I turn towards him, and he's staring at me, jaw dropped, eyes wide open as though I had just landed in a spaceship.

After a silence I ask: "What's up, man?"

"WOW!", he says…"ALONE...THAT'S A BOLD MOVE!"

Um....should I be more worried about this?

I have been fascinated with Burning Man ever since I heard about it. In fact I don't know where I first heard of it, but in the past few years I have thought every year I would 'try' to go. For a while it was schemes hatched with friends who ultimately couldn't make it. Then when I realized that wasn't getting me anywhere, I mulled it over with tacit - ultimately passive - interest, occasionally mentioning it to someone. Finally, this year after discussing it in an email thread with my friend Alecia from the west coast, I began wondering: "what would it take for me to actually do this? -- I mean planning, money, the whole 9 yards."

While not a 'burner' herself, Alecia knows a lot of folks who she says regularly go to burning man. I'm not sure how well. I didn't ask for names, because I want to fend for myself. She had the scoop, though. Ultimately, it was a fragment from her email that finally pushed me through to action:
"...and you don't come back the same person."

Yep, I like the idea of that. Not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but yep I like that idea.

One night, soon after receiving that note, I went to the BM website and started looking at what was involved. A lot of camping gear I don't have for one thing...crap!

Also needed: a plane ticket and some way to get from the Reno airport to Black Rock 'City'. I started looking at ticket prices, just musing about the possibility. It turns out to be really expensive to take a flight to Reno with 2 weeks notice.....really freakin' expensive. $750. It only cost $850 to get to Hawai'i fer cryin' out loud!

Judging from that, I'm figuring it's going to cost maybe $2000 to do the whole trip, including camping gear. Not doable!

I look at fares 4 weeks out -- around $300 before fees. That's what I figured. Oh well, too late.


.......uh, let me just try Priceline. I'll say $400.

A message pops up…

"The price you bid is most likely too low. Many of our customers enjoy up to %40 savings, but your chances of success will be higher with a higher bid."

To hell with that…CONTINUE.

"Your bid of $400 has been accepted, full price $446."

"ehh, still a little high, but I'd do that", I think...CONTINUE.

"Sorry but we cannot find a flight for you at this time. If you want to adjust travel times the following bid is available for a limited time only: $328 with taxes and fees."


It would seem it's now -- or never. Like...RIGHT now.

"How long am I going to keep putting this off?", I ask myself. "When am I going to step up to the plate?"

My heart races, literally pounding in my chest. Fear is screaming at me: "Don't Do It!, What if you can't meet anyone, what if it's cold?, What if it's hot?, you won't have anywhere to sleep for a couple of nights!, You can't carry all that stuff!! - what if - what if…."

Please allow me to introduce my inner 8 year old -- still trying to protect me, but woefully behind the times. He remembers the military school years all too well.

I tell myself - as calmly as possible - "trust. the. universe."

pause......hesitating.........heart pounding..........pause.........

..... p a u s e .....


"Your confirmation number is on the following page:"

Well, whaddya freakin' know? I'm going to Burning Man…..

The universe starts responding - big time - sometimes in wonderfully unexpected ways.

My buddy Robert is an amazingly open and spacious, awake person. All along I've been sharing my nascent planning with Robert, since he's my first go-to for taking care of my dog, Tito. Plus, he enjoys my space, and uses the studio, so it's a synergistic relationship. He's unshakably supportive.

I tell Robert it's a go, so expect to come housesit and Tito-sit. Once I explain it a little more, he volunteers that he has all sorts of camping gear - in fact everything except a sleeping bag. The next night he shows up with a spaceage tent, portable shower, lanterns, flashlights, cushions….this is all stuff I thought I was going to have to buy - and small enough that I can fit it in bags that can go in checked luggage on the plane!

A dry run of the new accommodations, kind courtesy of Robert:

At the other end of the spectrum, my dear friend Murray, upon hearing the news, is clearly feeling exasperation. I joke that it's either my summer to 'find myself', or a delayed mid-life crisis.

By the way, why is it only I find that funny?

"Can't you find yourself on some mountain in upstate New York?" Murray blurts. I have no answer for that one.

Uncharacteristic for him.....hmm.

Later though, he calls me - unusually late - especially to clarify. "I'm sorry I was so hard on you", he says, "I was feeling protective." He adds quickly: "Elena thinks it's great." (Elena is his wife, and a good friend too). I hear her in the background of the phone conversation confirming that.

"I just thought you'd want to know that"
, Murray says - signing off in what feels a little like gentle confession. Later the next day, Murray has sprung into action as well, finding me a sleeping bag and a mess kit amongst his stuff.

NOTE TO SELF: Methinks Elena has exerted a gentle hand in this late night call.

So it turns out I have very little to buy. When I hit 'continue', I thought I was going to be buying everything. Thanks universe!

OK, some of my friends were shocked. I just did a big cannonball into a pretty placid pool.

Maybe that means I am on to something.

Going for the bacchanalia? Fear not friends, I'm way too much of a hard ass for that. I didn't suddenly turn into Caligula overnight. Still, it wouldn't hurt if I could dance like no one's watching - just once in a while.

This trip though, cadet Robins....

.... is expecting a 50 mile hike in full combat gear.

This feels like something to confront - a bookend to that dreaded summer goodbye, and yesteryear's annual return to military school. Obviously it's 180 degrees from that prison, but still inexorable, inevitable, inescapable...uncontrollable....a parcel in the mail that's now out of your hands.

Something to confront, but this time, something to not just endure but maybe conquer. Maybe even... enjoy.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves here.

Primary feeling? Yeah, quite honestly it's still dread. But as a trusted advisor said, operate over the fear, don't wait for it to subside - because it's not going to.

So a few people misunderstood me. Maybe I misunderstood them. Hey, my heart is in the right place, that's the important part. After all, Murray came around quickly enough.

...and come to think of it, maybe my timing's a little off. I could've set this up sooner. You know, when you think about it - Mercury is in retrograde.

Thus, in the final analysis, I need to remember what my reluctant guru told me - not so long ago:
"Everything is just right as it is.
Thats what I think.
Doesn't mean it always feels good."

trust. the. universe.

…and so, it's off to the Black Rock Desert.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Pt. 7 - Unfinished Business on Maui

note: the following blog post was split into 6 installments, and each was posted in roughly 2 day intervals beginning August 1st 2010. your comments are welcome below. Mysteriously, this seventh installment has also surfaced.

Its purpose is to deal with some unfinished business...

see the first installment here
see the second installment here
see the third installment here
see the fourth installment here
see the fifth installment here
see the sixth installment here

You may remember that in the 4th installment of my Maui trip blog post, as I described my reticence to get and and play the newlyweds a song, I wrote the following:

.....It's at this moment that the exact low point of the trip comes for me. I'm sitting here with my folded-up body language, nervous, not knowing what to say. Saraswati and Raghu pass by, saying their hellos to all, and mention that their friend is going to serenade them with her guitar, and if anyone else would like to play…

OPPORTUNITY! Deep down, I know I could create a magical moment, really give Saraswati and Raghu a serious present. I know it, but do I believe it? Also - let's face it - it could also be my instant ticket out of nowhere-land. This was the instant 'get-out-of-beating-free' card when I was 12. The friend gets up. There's two false starts, which she blames on the surf/noise distractions. I can't think straight. I'm not paying attention.

I start to think about a couple of songs I could do. I'd have to sing - too noisey in this environment for solo guitar. Hmmm. The first song that comes to mind is "Little Wing". Perfect description of Saraswati. Yet it's a little high for me, but only about a half step. "What if my voice cracks?", I think. "Is there a guitar pick? I could tune the guitar down"…but I'll need it at concert pitch for the second thing I think of (an obscure but quaint little Duane Allman song called "Please Be With Me…"). "It's low, could I make myself heard?"

"I haven't practiced singing in weeks!"

I'm frozen, completely up in my head watching this moment pass by in slow motion like a car crash - and then the opportunity dissipates without being seized…people start eating - some wander about…the moment is lost…


Well, as the weeks have passed I have been thinking about this unfinished business, and I decided, with some very supportive people who have helped me with my timidity, that it would be good to offer those 2 songs here, in a video recorded in the living room of my NYC loft.

A far way from Maui...

...and not exactly the same as a live performance, but maybe a keepsake, a show of love, and some movement forward...

Try to act surprised, Saraswati:

Friday, August 13, 2010

Pt 6 - The Yoga Class and Farewell to my Satsang.

note: the following blog post was split into 6 installments, of which this is the final post, and each was posted in roughly 2 day intervals beginning August 1st 2010. your comments are welcome below. As always, click the pictures to expand them if you like.

see the first installment here
see the second installment here
see the third installment here
see the fourth installment here
see the fifth installment here

“Life is suffering.” Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta, the founder of Buddhism, 563-483 B.C.

"Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable." - "Be honest and transparent anyway." Mother Teresa 1910-1997

....I never did have that connected, heart to heart discussion that was in my fantasies, with Ram Dass. When I spoke to him, I was always trying to contrive what my words would be - think of what I was going to say - instead of speaking from the heart. Maybe he would have been the one to tell me that my "mind was broken, not my heart", if only I could have revealed that heart.

It's OK though, I'm blessed to have the teacher come forth in Saraswati. Boy, do I remember her from another lifetime…when it seemed any teaching done would have come from me.

Near the end, Alecia told me her story of connecting with Ram Dass. To paraphrase, she said that she told him that wasn't that familiar with his work, she hadn't read any of his books, but that she did find that the community of people that he had put together spoke to her strongly about his character. When I heard this, I knew that it was a connection made skillfully, and I told her so.

She then said that at the end, after she was getting ready to turn away from the conversation with Ram Dass, he said "I want to hug you," and they hugged.

Bravo Alecia.

I'm trying to get through the emotional roadblocks that hold me back from making those connections. The guitar performance not played, the connection not made, it's all part of the same challenge, and that is to come directly from the heart in all things.

I fear it, it seems.

When I mentioned my squandered opportunity with Ram Dass to Saraswati, she commented:
"Life is very unsatisfying....

I guess you will have to go back and see him again!

and by the way, who says you're in charge of everything anyway? It's not like you can make connective moments manifest.

Everything is just right as it is.
Thats what I think.
Doesn't mean it always feels good."

Thanks for the lesson, teach.

…on the last day that Alecia and Rosemary were there -- Saraswati's "everything-is-just-right-as-it-is" notwithstanding -- I'll admit I was suffering a little bit. I tried to hide it as best I could.

For me, that day began with carefree joy. We went again to Yoga. This time there were five of us. Alecia, Saraswati, Rosemary, Cindy (who is herself a yoga instructor) and me. Well, there's a part in the end of class where you go into a pose called the wheel:

In un-advanced classes, you use a partner to do it. Your partner stands over you and helps you get into the posture. You lie on your back, put your hands on your partner's ankles, and then they adjust your arm position. You then arch your back and push up from your hands until your body is in the shape of a wheel. To accomplish this your partner supports under your shoulder blades. It's an amazing feeling to do it, even though - or maybe because - you're getting assisted.

The day before I had been assisted by a friendly man named Wolfgang - very friendly. He's in great shape, quite helpful and I had a textbook - almost perfect - move. After my posture he did his unassisted. Impressive. Nice enough guy, but when we were done it felt like we'd picking out furniture together next time.

No thanks Wolfie.

Perhaps I'm flattering myself.

This day, I was standing next to a guy who was maybe 200 pounds - well suited to assist a person of my size. Alecia and I decided to be partners, but a second later she was reconsidering, and said "maybe you should go with him", pointing to the man. "No", I said, "it's you". I was firm. Unconvinced, she reluctantly agrees.

A: "Who goes first?"
Me: "You go first."

It's easy to do her, because she's more advanced than me. Right away she tells me what she needs: "more shoulder blades!" she says as she's in the pose, and I adjust her and help her do it twice. Then it's my turn…

They all gather around me. It would seem I'm a real project. Alecia is coaching me. "Move your elbows in!." Cindy runs over: "Your feet should be more THAT way", moving them in towards my glutes. Cindy stands on them once they're in place to give me support. Saraswati is standing over the proceedings beaming, as she often does. Later I'm told that, but right now I can feel it in the air.

Then it happens, I'm up! Everybody's giving me encouragement, supporting me physically and emotionally. Finally, from across the room the teacher says "That's enough Reed, come on down". It seems I'm the last to finish.

And - for me - it's a moment of epiphany.

This entire week - and everybody in it - has led up to this instant.

Is epiphany always followed by change? I don't know. There is a lot to unlearn:

It's not about perfection. The perfect pose, the perfect performance, the perfect conversation, none of that got me to this moment today....

...I wonder what did?

I've either lived my whole life chasing the perfect moment, trying to be perfect, or leaving moments unlived because they wouldn't be perfect. The non-attainment of perfection becomes suffering, and it's a cycle.

But this feels like the metaphorical equivalent - a fleeting glimpse - of what life could be. Held, supported, loved -- in my community -- by my closest people -- just because. It feels like I've got a lot of work to do with that. There are walls to break down. Big tall walls. And how do I live my life on a daily basis without this wonderful feminine energy? - without these people?

And soon they'll be gone, scattered to the four corners of the globe. Sadly, nothing is forever...

...except a moment lived. My heart, will remember this moment forever….

and after all…isn't it really what's in your heart that counts?


….and so my once-hardened heart is broken, and refilled, this week on Maui.

Later we walk, the last seven of us, into the rainforest in a spot where waterfalls are, under a steady soaking rain.

It seems fitting to be under the rain today.

I am staying about 50 feet ahead or behind of the group to get some solitude, thinking about what we had experienced over that week. Lots of joy and laughter and sweetness. I need space to hide - I feel too vulnerable.

I guess old habits die hard.

You see, as the day wasted away I was becoming sad - quite sad - to see this little adventure end.

But this is where the rubber meets the road:

The title of Ram Dass' book says it all: Be here NOW. Translation: the present moment is all we have.

In his house Ram Dass has a clock. There is no 1 or 2 or 3 or 4. Every hour on the clock says "now".

They say worry about the past is about regret, and worry about the future is about fear. The present moment is what matters.

After we said heartfelt goodbyes at the airport, I returned to my room and listened to the silence, and the only sound is rain pouring outside the window. A nice spot to be sure, but It didn't matter without the Satsang, especially Alecia and Saraswati. I didn't care to be there any more. Still, it held a profoundness in the moment which I worked to stay present to, maybe learn from.

Funny that when I booked the trip, I planned the last night - spent alone - to be for relief.

The next morning, I thought about a yoga class, but when I looked at the schedule it didn't say 'all levels' like the other days. Without my crew to advise me, I just couldn't do it, so instead, I went to the restaurant. I'm guessing the waitress thought I was crazy (or perhaps didn't notice) as I sat alone in our same booth - for four - with a single tear running down my cheek. We made small talk about coffee refills.

I notice they have the radio on pretty loud. I never noticed music in this place before....that's great, it feels like comfort food for the soul to me right now.

A song comes on from when I was a kid. It has a potently nostalgic quality for me today, and I'm listening with a musician's ear…'look at how long it takes to get to the first chorus', I think - 'That would be unallowable in today's market'. 'I love the sense of excursion between the 2nd and 3rd chord changes', I muse. Then I become focused on the lyrics as the first chorus plays:

"Ride, captain ride upon your mystery ship
Be amazed at the friends you have here on your trip
Ride captain ride upon your mystery ship
On your way to a world that others might have missed"

The teachings say that our suffering is like the clouds on a rainy day -- the sun is always up above. Best to be in the suffering, and then it passes. The sun is always shining - even if you can't see it. Even if your heart is broken.... here on Maui:


Tuesday, August 10, 2010


note: the following blog post will be split into 6 installments, of which this is the fifth, and each will be posted in roughly 2 day intervals beginning August 1st 2010. your comments are welcome below. As always, click the pictures to expand them if you like.

see the first installment here
see the second installment here
see the third installment here
see the fourth installment here

As it turns out our innkeeper John is not feeling well this morning, so we're on our own for breakfast. The wife is away in Georgia with family, so when he can't do it, there's no one to do it. It's OK for us, because - with strong encouragement from my 'satsang' - we're going to yoga class (my 2nd class ever, although I do it alone at home).

As a rule, I'm not a fan of looking stupid in public, which is a concern here.

When we return, Mike (AKA Donald Trump Jr., see previous post) wants us all to go out to breakfast together. Alecia and I are in our room rolling our eyes, trying to figure out how to get out of this torture, but Rosemary is already out there in the living room - in the line of fire, and it's getting set up.

So I snap: 'OK I'll do it -- but only on the condition that we take our car!' This is because the last thing I want is to get kidnapped by this guy all day - I'm not gettin' in his car!

As we are leaving Alecia suddenly says, "I'm going to walk". I get the feeling she thinks driving is stupid. She's right too - as a New Yorker and hopefully a good citizen of the planet, I would never drive to 14th street, but here I am driving 2 blocks - in freakin' Maui. Then as I'm getting in our car, Rosemary is not coming with me, but instead is getting in Trump Jr.'s car, so I'm left driving to the restaurant alone. That feels really stupid, but I push on. When exactly did I lose all influence?

Once at the restaurant, I get out and go in - and wait. 10 minutes later Alecia walks in and tells me she's learned they've gone to a different restaurant. It all feels really discombobulated, but it's sure OK with me!

You know those World War 2 movies where one guy jumps on the grenade to save the other's lives?…today that guy is named 'Rosemary'. When we saw her again at the inn, she had a story about Mike's political discussion, and how he had ticked off some of the local patrons of this place (being a loud talker and all).

In the meantime Alecia and I had a wonderful and calm breakfast, full of great conversation.

Thanks, Rosemary!

Back from breakfast, and someone has just shown up who wants a room. She's newly arrived from Italy and needs to stay somewhere and is really tired. I tell her to go up to the shopping center and ask around, but Mike/Trump Jr. wants to handle it. He gives her tea, sets her up on the couch, shows her stuff to read and what have you.

Well, John the innkeeper is in his little house in the back yard....

....and someone goes out to get him but can't wake him up. He really MUST be under the weather.

Rosemary and I decide we're going on a little excursion to pick up some t-shirts for my good friend Andy, and it turns out we're gone 3 1/2 hours. This is a bigger island than I thought!

We get home, and the woman is still waiting. I go in the room to get a shower, and a few minutes later, Alecia comes in the room and says, "something bad is happening. Two police cars are in the driveway".

So we're trying to figure out what's going on, but I don't want to actually go ask. After all these years removed from a checkered past, I'm still reticent about police. Less police the better I always say (although NY cops are usually dealing with real crime, or actually helping you in some way, so that mantra is only used outside of NYC).

Plus they'll want to take my name and ask questions -- what the hell, they'll find me if they need me.

"I think it may be a drug bust", says Alecia. I didn't notice a druggie quality from this guy, but whatever. I wasn't particularly paying attention. I'm clean.

Turns out someone had gone back out again to John's house, and he's still in the exact same position from before: DEAD.

Yes, the innkeeper - dead of a massive heart attack. In the middle of our idyllic Maui vacation. 58 years old. Talk about unexpected!

Didn't I see this in a Monty Python sketch?

OK, it is sad - I'll grant you. It's certainly awful for the wife, who I've never met or spoken to, but as far as John's concerned, he got off pretty easy, probably pretty quickly.

Plus, remember the wife's NOT here.

I've seen some long hard deaths - cancer, emphysema, you name it…my mother, my father, friends - so when you're walking around one minute and gone the next, that seems like a pretty good deal. I'll take it. In fact I'm free next Thursday if the grim reaper wants to schedule me.

Plus we'd only met John a couple of times.

Umm, so naturally this situation is primed for humorous quips and such, yes?

Let's face it: John would have wanted it that way.

What was really interesting was to see how this little community reacted, pulled together and coped. Donald Trump Jr. is really bummed at first. I mean really bummed. He comes across as kind of a lout when you've just met him, but at this point he's sitting there slouched over, with his head in his hands in that distraught way, and people are patting him on the back ('there, there…he's in a better place'). Seriously? He knew John for - maybe - one more day than we did…..

Rosemary is a junior detective, logging all her incoming and outgoing calls, talking to the police, and generally in crisis solving mode. We're telling her, "Rosemary, it's not a crime scene - relax."

She's not relaxing.

Alecia and I, seeing the big picture here, think this whole scene - while tragic for the kin - also has humorous aspects and irony, and so we're making little innocent jokes, off to the side. The more intense everyone else gets, the funnier it is to us, and so the crescendo begins. Alecia works in a critical care area, and so while she is clearly very compassionate, she also has experienced enough of this and so is used to it. Plus by this time, we've gotten to know each other pretty well, so as I've come to realize, she's HILARIOUS.

This is a little dangerous...

At one point, trying to move it along and get to the dinner where we're expected, I say, "I'm hungry, I need to eat."

Alecia says, "yeah, we really need to get to the restaurant, we're late....
~long pause~
I'll tell ya' who doesn't need to eat…"

Can't write the timing of course, but every one she comes up with is better than the last. She's clearly building on a motif. Also, I'm stonefaced (as the 'mourners' are in hearing distance of me). She's thinking these aren't landing, so she keeps upping her game. At one point she asks to make sure she's not offending me.

Offending me? What I'm trying to do is not to let my laughter get out of control, especially since everyone else is so serious... very reverent.

Again, of course, not laughing about the wife -- to reiterate though - she's not here.

Well, as time goes on, Mike (Trump Jr.) is taking over the booking and upkeep.

The first thing the next morning I come out of my room groggy, and a couple I've never seen is there standing with Mike right in front of our door -- he's showing them around. "Hi, how are you?" the new man pleasantly says to me. I grunt hello. Mike says in a cheery salesmanlike way: "Here's the Aloha room." "Out back here is the plantation grounds." "I think we can get you into this other room over here later today."

At what point do you just say, "the proprietor's gone to a better place, sorry but there's no room at the inn?"

Plus, I don't know exactly how it happened, but in a single day he evicts the Spanish guy, which - keep in mind - John was not able to do for some time, and has found a place for the Italian woman on a fold away bed in the front hallway. Mike is just a guest - and he's only been there for a day longer than we have.

Maybe he did do an impressive real estate deal...

Later we go to dinner with a few of the reunion folks, their numbers dwindling. Ram Dass, Krishna Das, of course the bride and groom and some others are there.

"Sorry we're late, but our innkeeper just dropped dead".

Thankfully, Saraswati saw the humor in it too. It's not just me…

The grounds in happier times, complete with deadbeat Spanish sunbather in background:

Next: The Yoga Class, and farewell to my Satsang

Monday, August 9, 2010


note: the following blog post will be split into 6 installments, of which this is the fourth, and each will be posted in roughly 2 day intervals beginning August 1st 2010. your comments are welcome below. As always, click the pictures to expand them if you like.

see the first installment here
see the second installment here
see the third installment here

A bed and breakfast definitely can create an interesting microcosm of people and activity, and we're interfacing with all sorts of odd people, some amiable enough, some bordering on insufferable.

First there's Jane. She is an elderly woman from England that has come back to Maui from England to help take care of her daughter's baby. She has all the stereotypical English mannerisms: very polite, tells un-amusing anecdotes and then laughs at them quasi-nervously herself like they're quasi-funny. She generally has an uptight personna - straight out of "Upstairs, Downstairs".

Don't get me wrong - she's very nice - and perfectly pleasant to have breakfast with (which is when you see the people). It feels stiff though, so I have problems connecting with her, since I have my own stiffness problem when I don't know someone. I don't make much conversation, as my inner morning person is AWOL. Alecia gently engages her in the mornings, asking questions and showing interest in the answers.

Then there's a boarder (a little more long term, I get the feeling) who - if I recall correctly - is Spanish. Swarthy. Neck-down hirsute. The scuttlebutt is he hasn't paid recently and he won't leave. He sunbathes around the grassy grounds a lot (what - like you can't find a beach here?), and smokes as he walks around outside in his bathing suit. He nods and then quickly looks away without speaking when you see him. We rarely see him though.

Finally there's Mike. Mike is here from Los Angeles. He initially comes off - to Alecia and I at least - as a giant pain in the ass. He's gone on and on about some real estate deal he did, talks about his money successes and big screen TVs a little too much (not impressed, dude), and speaks disparagingly to me about a woman who he's here to see in Maui with other people present (in a way that I wouldn't do). Basically he strikes me a nebbish Donald Trump wannabee minus the comb-over.

It's hard to describe here, because it's really more about his tone than the actual content of his sentences. Trust me, he's an eye-roller. A groaner. We generally aren't enjoying his antics. I'm trying to steer clear of him entirely, but Rosemary has a way of engaging him, as she's nicer than I am. As she's speaking to him I'm thinking: "In the name of all that is holy and good...please don't ask him another question!" Oh well, we finally get done with him and after a quick visit to a nearby beach it's off to the wedding.

I was tipped off by Alecia that there was going to be a poster board (as it turns out the other side of the poster seen at right in the 'preparations' picture below) where we will be invited to make a haiku. We've been staying in Haiku Hawai'i, so it's called 'a Haiku in Haiku'. Going with my strengths, I sit down in the room right before we leave and compose a little musical haiku. I've honestly never heard of that before, but someone must have thought of it, right? Anyway, as a haiku I decide it is to be three measures long (for the 3 lines), and while I composed it in music notation software there in the room, I'll write it in hand on the paper at the event. For my method, I interpret syllables as beats. You could argue that rhythm (and not beats) should be syllables, but I won't be debating that point. It'd be way too short then! As it is, it only lasts maybe 15-20 seconds.

A Haiku is 7 plus 5 plus 7 right, right?? Piece done.

Here's my, uh, musical haiku (as it turns out, the first draft):

The idea (in my fantasy mind at least) is about 2 elements existing in harmony, but each with their own autonomy. I did this with the harmonic language, and the element of right vs. left hand. At the start, I made the melody (right hand) outline a C chord which is juxtaposed over a Bb major chord. Then when the left hand chord moves to a C harmony (2nd inversion - don't want to be too obvious now, do I?), the melody moves to a B natural, for a cross relation against the Bb chord. I try to be clever with that kind of stuff. The last chord is a real ring-y pan-diatonic D over /C maj as seen in the examples.

Yes - Blah, blah, blah…pretty chords. If you don't understand it by its description here don't worry, I play the haiku below for them in an embedded youtube video.

Arriving at Ram Dass's house, the preparations are beautifully laid out. There are rocks lining the path, and flowers flowing with the rocks.

A woman opens the ceremony by blowing a conch shell instrument and then singing a hawai'ian song, which traditionally is thought to clear the spirits. Then Gopal will recite a verse, Krishna Das will play a song, Alecia will recite a lovely poem she chose and then a man from India, KK, has a reading and will direct the couple to circle the bowl of incense 7 times while he directs them through some vows.

Ram Dass does beautifully, and even injects some humor from time to time (when Saraswati's response can't be quite heard at the "Do you take this man" part, he says enthusiastically with a smile - "She said YES!"). People giggle.

Every one else does well too:

Gopal's reading is wonderful, which he delivers with quiet intensity in a no-nonsense style (My favorite line: "May this marriage have a fair face and a good name, an omen as welcome as the moon in a clear blue sky." Ode 2667, Rumi).

Krisha Das plays a beautiful song "A Heart as Wide as the World". Even right now, 4 days later the melody flows gently through my head when I'm in silence. It has a little picardy third cadence in there (for some of you music geeks), that never gets old even though it comes again and again.

Alecia's poem, which she recites from memory, is also marvelous and touching - I happen to know she worked on it hard (an excerpt: "There are days we live as if death were nowhere in the background; from joy to joy to joy, from wing to wing, from blossom to blossom to impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom. " 'From Blossoms' - Li-Young Lee).

Should I have brought tissues?

The 7 circles ritual caps it off nicely. Wonderfully evocative.

Ram Dass at the ready:

Cousin Ronnie walks the bride down the aisle:

The happy bride during 7 circles:

The first kiss as husband and wife:

Dear friends share a heartfelt moment:

After the ceremony we head to a lovely restaurant called 5 Palms which is on the beach to see the sunset and then have dinner. But on the way in the car, I'm told that a haiku is actually 5 plus 7 plus 5.


I'm a little freaked out (seriously, like anyone's gonna know?…). Still, when I get to the restaurant, I take out my laptop and start revising furiously, sitting on the beach while the sun is setting. Krishna Das walks by as I'm working, and seeing me on a laptop he says, "writing a letter?" When he sees it's music though, he's intensely interested. How cool is that? Well, I guess a score is, after all, a visually beautiful thing.

2nd and final draft:

Ultimately, I'm happy with this because I think the second effort is better. Unfortunately, when I finish in about 5 minutes - by that time everyone is seated. Even worse, I also went and did the piece in hand first before sitting, since I needed room on the paper. Now I've got no place to sit…except the kids table - the REAL kids table.

Yay! I see a place at the bride and groom's table - too good to be true, I start to walk over...someone sits down…wait there's an empty…nope…how about…

It's high school all over again! Actually, I had a little more luck with this in high school on the first day, but that's another story for another time…

Well, I finally found a seat and it was fine, but again I'm a little uncomfortable. I sat with a group that were all living on Maui - locals you could say. Once I got over my initial nervousness I was OK. Very nice people. Still, I couldn't hear what some of them were saying all that well though, so I found myself just nodding and smiling a lot. I wish I could blame it on dialect...Is my hearing on its last legs as well?

It's at this moment that the exact low point of the trip comes for me. I'm sitting here with my folded-up body language, nervous, not knowing what to say. Saraswati and Raghu pass by, saying their hellos to all, and mention that their friend is going to serenade them with her guitar, and if anyone else would like to play…

OPPORTUNITY! Deep down, I know I could create a magical moment, really give Saraswati and Raghu a serious present. I know it, but do I believe it? Also - let's face it - it could also be my instant ticket out of nowhere-land. This was the instant 'get-out-of-beating-free' card when I was 12. The friend gets up. There's two false starts, which she blames on the surf/noise distractions. I can't think straight. I'm not paying attention.

I start to think about a couple of songs I could do. I'd have to sing - too noisey in this environment for solo guitar. Hmmm. The first song that comes to mind is "Little Wing". Perfect description of Saraswati. Yet it's a little high for me, but only about a half step. "What if my voice cracks?", I think. "Is there a guitar pick? I could tune the guitar down"…but I'll need it at concert pitch for the second thing I think of (an obscure but quaint little Duane Allman song called "Please Be With Me…"). "It's low, could I make myself heard?"

"I haven't practiced singing in weeks!"

I'm frozen, completely up in my head watching this moment pass by in slow motion like a car crash - and then the opportunity dissipates without being seized…people start eating - some wander about…the moment is lost…


Shyness. I don't wish it on you. In the end, the friend's false starts (which to me - the music professional - should be the only viable justification for the continued administration of capital punishment) were nothing worse than charming to the attendees of this gathering. There's something to be learned from that.

Later, I confide in Alecia about it. She's kind and supportive to me, but inside I remain pretty pissed at myself despite her kindness. If there's in good news in this matter it's that the confiding itself is a small victory, as is mentioning it here.

This was so easy for me when I was 12 years old...what happened? Lack of threats of physical violence? They oughta have an emergency room with nothing but therapists in it. I could've been hauled in on a stretcher at that point.


Not long after though, one of the highlights of my trip comes at the end of the dinner. I have a good talk about music, and life, with KD. For someone who has such a following, he is quite kind, full of humility, and generous and respectful to me. I tell him about my projects, and we end by promising to be in contact and possibly work together. My heart fills a bit.

.....the universe taketh away, and the universe giveth.....I guess....

At the wedding with KD before heading off to the restaurant:

…and here is the final version of the haiku, which I recorded in this video for Saraswati and Raghu once I returned to NYC:


Wednesday, August 4, 2010


note: the following blog post will be split into 6 installments, of which this is the third, and each will be posted in roughly 2 day intervals beginning August 1st 2010. your comments are welcome below. As always, click the pictures to expand them if you like.

see the first installment here
see the second installment here

Monday begins with a swim with Ram Dass.

We take a long drive over to another part of the Island, and then get to the beach where we'll be swimming. Ram Dass had a severe stoke in - I think - 1997, and so he's confined to use of a wheelchair. He can however, swim. He uses a life preserver, and gets around pretty well in the water. This is the first time I'll be seeing him.

All sorts of devotees and followers are there to join us, maybe 40 in all, and he has a few assistants who cheerfully and unselfishly help him along (not just today, but in all endeavors). Photographers - with professional looking equipment - are on the scene photographing everything. Here he comes down to the beach in what looks like a kind of recumbent bike, made out of plastic:

Group shot -- Ram Dass is sitting on the bike:

As we go for the swim, people are throwing flowers into the water around him. I understand this takes place at every swim. At this point I have nothing much to say to him, so I don't interact.

I mean, what am I gonna say anyway?

"What's with that airline food?"
"Uh...Did you see Letterman had stupid pet tricks last night"?
"I hear Brittany Spears is working on a new album...!"

I guess I'll keep workin' on it....

There are people throwing around what looks like a lemon (forgot what it's called) like a ball, but they never pass to me. Boy, this feels like grade school all over again! The only difference is now I realize how unhelpful my ego trip is…who cares if they don't throw it to me, as long as I don't? I don't even know what the thing's called for cryin' out loud...

OK, maybe I do feel a tad neglected.

I tag along with the group, but it's hard to fit in. Ram Dass does look at me a couple of times and we exchange smiles. We get to a ball in the water tethered to the seabed for navigational purposes, and when we reach the marker he excitedly exclaims "Oh Buoy! Oh Buoy!", about 5 or 6 times. I'm later told affectionally by Saraswati that he makes that joke every week. Hmm.

He swims every Monday it seems, although today's contingent is a little bigger than usual. Their names are Ravi Das, Balaram - names like that...hard to remember names. A man with a friendly face gives me some sunscreen. He looks like he should be named 'Fred', but his name is 'Gopal'. I would later find out he's an attorney. Some of these folks answer to no other names, and some are called by English language names in their normal lives. Balaram, for example, is also Peter. There are lawyers, photographers, producers - it runs the gamut of professions. All are likable on first meeting. They share a kind of personal depth, it seems.

Many of them also speak with regular regional accents, and have mannerisms from their places of origin (like Long Island for example). It's pretty funny and kind of endearing to learn this.

As we're leaving the beach, Alecia and I are to go pick up our third occupant of 'Cannery Row" at the airport. The group however, is going to lunch, so I just encourage her to go along with them. I'm impressed by how she kind of wants to accompany me to the airport for moral support, but with some convincing I get her to go along with the lunch crowd. Afterwards I hear it was great. I go to the airport to pick up Rosemary.

Rosemary reminds me a lot of my sister (albeit with - let's call it - a new age twist). She's about the same age, and is a very nice woman with numerous stories of her life's experiences and is an artist. She paints with a giant brush. She's also a teacher, and has lots of experience with things like face reading. She tells me that I have issues with my mother (OK, got one), diagnosed by a crease in the skin between my eyebrows, and that the creases near my earlobes indicate that I have a good "bullshit detector". I think that's right too (about the detector, I'll have to take her word about the creases). She tells me I should write a letter to my mom (mom's passed) and then I'll be in a relationship. I might try that…

Rosemary talking to the groom in Ram Dass' great room, the day of rehearsal:

Well, Alecia is a force, and when she got up earlier that morning she went into action, telling the innkeeper - John - that we need to rearrange our room so that we can accommodate this new person. She has so much energy when she tells me her plan. I love it!...and Alecia's ideas about rearranging do make more sense, but John - seeing more work for himself - cops out quickly, and tells us that we can use the empty adjacent room free of charge. So Rosemary sets up in there and we head out to the rehearsal.

This is good.

The wedding is to be held at Ram Dass's house, and we are a group of a select few who Saraswati has invited to come to the rehearsal. Ram Dass is asleep when we arrive (his condition is challenging), and Saraswati encourages his helpers to let him sleep, but soon he appears, determined to be a part of as much as he can. We're out in the backyard when suddenly the chair lift makes a loud mechanical sound and he descends from the upstairs. I'm slightly amused as I notice it feels a little like "The Wizard of Oz" to me, when the wizard is behind the curtain. Helpers run over to receive him and help him navigate to the spot where he will sit. He will be performing the ceremony, and he wrote a lot of the text, and wants to make sure it's done well.

This man is impressive! As challenging as his body situation is, his soul is radiating out like some sort of supersonic prism. His smile has a ferocity to it, and at the same time a softness and compassion which is hard to describe. His countenance radiates a joyful quality, and he laughs easily as they basically 'mark' the ceremony (in other words, go though it nonchalantly for blocking). It's easy to see why people find him so compelling. At the same time he's clearly tired. He soldiers on. At one point our eyes meet, and he seems to be a little surprised to see me there in what is basically the inner circle. I smile at him and he smiles back.

If you don't click another picture, click this one (then click again to expand completely - check the look on his and Saraswati's faces):

The spot where the ceremony would take place is on a hillside by the sea, with lovely views of the ocean. Idyllic:

I'm surprised to find that Krishna Das, who as I mentioned is the rock star of the group (from a musician perspective that is) is going to be singing at Saraswati's wedding! How lovely. This really is a happening - thank God I came! As I said in an earlier post, I had a feeling that this would be a very, very special event. KD and I have a nice little chat, which puts me more at ease. I've been feeling a little intimidated by him whenever I encounter him. I think he might be trying to help me with that.

The remaining part of the evening we go to the rehearsal dinner, which was at a pizza joint called "Flatbreads". Man, keeping my simple carbohydrate intake down has proved challenging! Alecia, Rosemary and I sit at the 'kid's table'. The inner circle is all at the other one. Occasionally, someone comes over to talk to us. We're definitely integrating in fits and starts here.

Grown up table:

'Kid's' table (with a couple of visiting grown ups in background):

fits and starts...


Sunday, August 1, 2010



note: the following blog post will be split into 6 installments, of which this is the second, and each will be posted in roughly 2 day intervals beginning August 1st 2010. your comments are welcome below. As always, click the pictures to expand them if you like.

see the first installment here

How do you solve a problem like Saraswati? (apologies to Oscar and Hammerstein)

Yeah, it's more like, how do you afford a trip to Maui?

Saraswati had put several of her friends in touch to see if we could work out an arrangement for keeping lodging costs down. As it turned out, Alecia and I were going to be arriving at the airport in Maui within minutes of each other.

Alecia and I had a conversation on the phone the night before I left, and I already knew I was going to like her. She has a kind pleasant way and a thoughtful skillful communication. I like the way her voice goes up at the end of sentences, and the smooth lyrical quality of it. I'm very sound oriented, so voices are important to me, I can't deal with an uncomfortable voice. Thank goodness, you can never tell through email.

Landing in Maui:

Arrival: Saturday July 24th
We make a plan to meet at the rental car place in the Maui airport. When I arrive at 7 PM I set up the car, and she arrives shortly after. It was instantly clear (at least to me) that we'd be spending a lot of time together, and so we agreed we'd leave the driving to me (I LOVE to drive), and save the additional driver charge.

Setting off to the inn, we found a sort of a bar/pub to have some food, and got a great coconut beer along with it. Both being friends of Saraswati, the conversation proceeds with easy camaraderie. We were quickly seeing how quirky the island's inhabitants are. Being from New York, I'm not used to seeing people lock eye contact with you when you briefly glance at them, but here that's what was happening. In Virginia, I would have considered this a redneck bar, but I don't know what you call it in Maui.


My new BFF:

We're in tight quarters as expected, in what Alecia dubbed "our own little cannery row", but it's nice. The plan is that it's eventually going to be 3 of us in a single 150 square foot room. I had long ago decided that any friend of Saraswati's is a friend of mine, but this is already surpassing all positive expectations. I had limited idea of the scope of the wedding before coming - and no knowledge that the 'Be Here Now' reunion was a part of this - but as we talk about the upcoming proceedings (Alecia knows far more than I), we both agree that we're the outsiders, and we are starting to see that we're going to be closing ranks together.

The digs:

The first public event is a Kirtan Sunday night with Krishna Das at Studio Maui. I'm excited about that!

Sunday daytime is spent on the Hana highway. We slowly putt down this narrow windy road, stopping to take in some painted trees,

and a black sand beach,

and at other places being thwarted by onerous keep out signs.

Alas, we wouldn't make it all the way down the highway, but it was a lot of fun, and we turn around in order to get back to take a shower and then to the Kirtan.

If you don't know, Kirtan is a form of responsoral singing/chanting, and Krishna Das is arguably it's most famous practitioner, certainly so in this country. He was also one of the folks who was with the Maharaj-ji in India and is here for the reunion. I'm excited to see Krishna Das - to me, he's a bit of a rock star. His voice is a sort of Bass/Baritone, and it's one of those voices that instantly transports you. The music is very simple, humble really. He plays a harmonium as his accompanying instrument, and he also has a drummer, a tabla I think. I have some of his CDs, and have seen him a couple of times before in NY. There he's usually with a bigger group.

Alecia and I grab some dinner at a little place in the shopping center next to the venue, and when we call Saraswati just to let her know we're on our way, she shows up immediately. Saraswati couldn't be more bubbly, in fact, she's always been vivacious, but now she's more so than ever. This is the first time we've seen her since we arrived. The banter comes back as quickly as if no time had passed, and soon we're all giggles as we head into the venue.

Inside, it's a kind of Woodstock vibe, and I like it! For some reason, these folks know how to wear their tattoos, and sarongs, and all sorts of neat jewelry and hair styles. Self expressed individuals, I guess. Maui works well for this.

KD doesn't disappoint and his set takes us through many moods with effortless grace. I am sitting right behind Ram Dass, but there is no discussion amongst us. I can't see the stage, but it's OK. The audience is really entertaining, they are completely into it, singing alone and moving - sort of seated dancing really. The seating is cushions on the floor. Saraswati offers me her seat, presumably to take my seat next to Alecia for some catching up. I try to sing along, but I become mildly disgusted with myself because I keep getting the phrases wrong. In my defense. I think other people are too. They're kind of long phrases, maybe you have to be familiar with them.....I'm a perfectionist when it comes to me and music. Not a good combo for this scene! So I shut up and take it in. Plus, I'm just SO TIRED, after all, it's 4 AM in NYC, and my travel time was about 18 hours, with 2 changes of plane.

At the end I swing in really quickly to say thanks, as I'm really tired with the time change, and so I just speak to him for a second.

Nervously, I interrupt a conversation in progress: "Do you remember me?" I stammer.

KD: "Uh, I think so...where do I know you from?"

"New York."

KD: (pauses, looking surprised) "Really?" (he's from NY as well, which I already knew.)

He's very kind to me, as we exchange some more small talk, which is great because I'm so intimidated in this moment I need all the help I can get. I gotta get out of here before I pass out!

I tell him, "I'll see you tomorrow at the swim…."

Next: Swimming with Gurus