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English Only

June 19, 2017

I want every single person who is ever tempted to say “We speak English here” to someone to do this: go live in a non-English speaking country for a few weeks and try to learn the language and live your life.

You’ll learn more than just the language and culture. You’ll learn how humiliating it is to not be able to express your needs (one day I ended up telling a woman at a pharmacy “Those little things that go around your finger” because I couldn’t think of the word for “bandage”).

You’ll learn how much your language defines YOU. How lost you feel when you can’t use your wit, your humor, your clever turns of phrase to ease social situations. How humiliating it is to talk like a three-year-old and to be treated like you’re dumb because of it.

You’ll say incredibly stupid things by accident, without meaning to.

You’ll learn that, without fluency, many people will have no time for you, that they will turn away in impatience and frustration rather than to bother with your foolishness. You’ll be relegated to the background, desperately trying to figure out what people are saying to one another right in front of you.

You’ll learn to treasure the people who do have patience and kindness for your bumbling with their language. You’ll see their lovely hearts shining past this barrier that divides you, and you will want to cry from relief.

The Hill

May 29, 2017

I only exist because of Gaviota. Gaviota did not exist before my family and was erased from the earth soon after we left. The only people who ever really knew that spot were the 50 or so of us who lived there over the short 17 year span when it arose, was populated, and was destroyed. It was a place that belonged only to us, a wisp of wood smoke on the wind, passing into existence and then quickly out again.

You can drive by and still see the sign by the side of the road. It says something like Gaviota, population 93, but those people – if there are even 93 anymore –  are scattered in isolated spots for dozens of miles among the mountains and valleys. The real Gaviota, our Gaviota, was a place we simply called The Hill.

On The Hill, there were seven small white wooden houses in a row at the top of a winding half-mile road up from the highway. They were ringed by a road made of crushed rock, and faced the Pacific Ocean and San Miguel Island offshore. The nearest town was Buellton, 13 miles away, with a population of just 300 back then.

Each house had 2 bedrooms and a front yard and back yard and a storage shed out back. They were built as worker housing by the Flying A oil company, and everyone who lived there worked, as we said “In the oil patch.”

After returning from World War II, my 27-year-old father Bernard married my 19-year-old mother, Pauline, in January, 1946. In November of that year, my eldest sister, Elva, was born. For the next four years, my parents moved again and again as my father sought steady work in a sputtering economy. He farmed, he started a tractor repair business with my grandfather, he worked as a mechanic, but work was never steady.

In the summer of 1950, my mom was again pregnant and sweating in a tiny one-bedroom t
in-roof shack in Los Olivos. The water heater stuck in one corner of the kitchen made the house even hotter. My mother, tired of moving and struggling and not even knowing where the new baby was going to sleep when it arrived was fed up with the whole thing.

One day my father came home to ask my mother “How would you like to live in a brand new house with a view of the ocean?” My father had landed a job with Flying A oil company and the house, newly constructed, was part of the deal. That house saved my mom’s sanity and that job provided my father work for the next 35 years.
Because of that job and that house, my parents went on to have five more children instead of an early divorce. I was the last of those children.

My father and all the other men worked at the marine terminal, which was across the highway from our homes, under the bony arms of a black iron railroadGaviota Family trestle. At the terminal, tanker ships off-loaded oil to storage tanks on land. Shiny silver trucks came at all hours to pick up the oil products and drive away to destinations unknown.

The men’s work in the oil patch was a source of pride and terror. We were never blind to the dangers of working with oil and solvents and gasoline and gas. We all knew people who had been badly hurt or killed at work.

My own dreams were haunted by the sump – an open pit of black oil about 15 feet square. It was surrounded by what seemed to be an entirely inadequate and flimsy iron railing, which had bars set so far apart a child of my age could easily slide through to certain death, because, as my father told me, no one could swim or survive in the pool of oil. I had no way of telling how deep it was, which was the scariest part of all.

The marine terminal faced a crescent moon beach about a half-mile wide, protected on both ends by natural walls of crumbly yellow rock that extended out into the sea. The only name of the beach was “Our Beach.” You could get there either through the marine terminal or by scrambling down steep rock cliffs about a mile away and walking in at low tide – and out before the tide rose again – so we rarely saw anyone but ourselves there.

The people on the hill worked together and lived side-by-side, far removed from other civilization. Every day, all day long, we could see and hear each other. With town so far away, we counted on each other for help, support and love. That intimacy marked our lives and led to lifelong friendships that still feel more like family than family.

When the oil company reevaluated its strategy of providing worker housing in the late 1960s, all seven families were kicked off the hill, which at the time seemed like a tragedy, shattering the sweet way of life we had become accustomed to. Low rent, close to work, an ocean view, a private beach, a close community – how could we leave all that behind? The seven wooden houses were torn down and the land bulldozed to make room for a new, larger refinery. The place that existed only for us was wiped away as if it had never been.

As sad as it seemed at the time, the truth was that the move forced my parents to become homeowners, something that set them up for a lifetime of economic stability that benefits my mom even at age 91.

Almost 50 years later, most of our family stories and memories are set in Gaviota, and we have all said that when we sleep and have dreams of home, those dreams are always set back on the hill.

Winter’s Tale

December 15, 2016

I am so tense. This damned Trump thing. Every time I turn around, it is something weirder and worse. Rick Perry for Energy Secretary. This is the same guy who wanted to eliminate the Dept of Energy…except he couldn’t remember what it was called. SERIOUSLY. And today it is Sly Stallone for head of the National Endowment for the Arts. That’s SOME endowment you have there, heh heh. F***ing Rambo is going to be deciding on grants for the American Ballet Theater. On the bright side, some 50 caliber guns will certainly liven up Gisele!

Yeah, a little tightly wound. HOW tightly? The other night, at a church potluck, a woman said she had FOUR TICKETS TO HAMILTON but (insert wrinkly nose here) she wasn’t sure about “all that rap stuff.” My people, I had to walk outside and catch some Pokemon to keep from assaulting her. LEAVE THE TICKETS FOR THOSE OF US WHO ACTUALLY WANT TO SEE THE THING, DAMMNIT. And Peggy.

I spent two hours on the phone trying to enroll Mom in Medicare Advantage yesterday. You have not lived until you have had to translate between a person with a heavy Filipino accent talking about complex insurance terms and a very stubborn, cranky 90-year-old. I was pretty much weeping by the end. The best part was that they needed mom’s checking account routing number and I did not have it and she did not have it, so we get to do the whole thing again tomorrow.

We would have done it today, but I dropped my iPhone on my laptop screen and cracked the shit out of the laptop. Yes, it is possible. Conflict of tech or something. Damn. So I called the help desk and they told me they would escalate my issue because they knew I could not work like that and they did that, all except for actually escalating the issue. Instead, they put it in the queue to nowhere, so I sat here for hours waiting for their call, which never came. This is pretty much the same as the last time I called them, when I had an email outage, so they sent a follow-up email to ask me WHEN A GOOD TIME TO CALL WAS instead of actually calling me. If I could have gotten email, I could have SEEN their email, but no. So when I didn’t answer, they went home.

God I love them.

I am tense. How are you?

Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life with Suebob

November 26, 2016

My alternate version of the four new episodes of Gilmore Girls:

Rory returns to Stars Hollow. After Yale, she became a protegé of Christiane Amanpour and covered wars and refugees across the world. She is older, wiser, and sadder. Her career is on hold because the network wants her to take classes to get rid of her baby voice. She sues them under the Americans with Disabilities act and the case drags on.

Lorelai makes a hash of her inn because of her poor business sense, her gigantic staff and her high overhead. Michel is long gone, obviously unfit for customer service. There are rumors that he is breeding chow dogs in New Jersey with a partner named Chet.

Lorelai discovers that she can make more money renting out the inn for filming than she can running a real inn. It becomes a popular spot for direct-to-Hulu reality shows like Hound Dog: Dog Breeders Find Love and the Great Australian Baking Show, which tends to be a little Marmite-heavy, if you ask me.

All this filming in town drives Taylor insane. No one minds.

Renting out the inn gives Lorelai time for her real passion: running a conscious-eating clinic where she teaches former junk food addicts like herself to get healthy by consuming food slowly and mindfully. She loses the 50 pounds she has packed on by eating pizza and Pop Tarts every day.

Sookie, inspired by Lorelai’s newfound health, develops a line of Kombucha drinks and the first Kombucha-based cleanse, which makes her a very wealthy woman. With Jackson’s help, she expands into expensive, fresh-pressed vegetable juices. Kohlrabi-pomegranate is my favorite.

Logan calls up Rory. He is engaged to a lovely French woman, but wants to continue the friends-with-benefits relationship he had with Rory some years back.

Rory tells him “I’m a 32-year-old woman, not some 24-year-old idiot anymore. You’re a complete jerk for fooling around on your fiancee. Step off, pal.” He calls up his friends to talk about this, but they are all in rehab and not allowed to take calls for the first 30 days.

Logan runs the digital arm of his family’s media empire. He has made buckets of money by offering bloggers hi-res images in return for writing favorable blog posts for his clients. He is the only person in the history of the internet to have ever made this work.

Miss Patty has died of lung cancer, Babette of diabetes. I tried to warn them.

Emily Gilmore suffered through a brief period of mourning after Richard’s sudden death, but awoke one day with the realization that she was meant to take over his business. Without missing a step, she became a major player in the ACA private exchange market. Richard smiled down from heaven. She began a relationship with a driven, intense Chinese businessman and now splits her time between Connecticut and Shanghai. Her Chinese is flawless.

Lane left her dumbass husband and opened a music school called “The School of Stars (Hollow). She lives with Mrs. Kim, who is a part-time vocal coach at the school, devoting the rest of her time to doting on her twin grandchildren. Mr. Kim still does not exist.

Kirk has a podcast called “How to Get All the Jobs.” It is moderately popular among millennials who are wondering how to do just that.

Jess cooks at Luke’s Diner. He still reads Kerouac and Bukowski and dresses like a hobo. He dreams of glory. His notebook is filled with the start of multiple novels.

Dean’s wife Jenny runs the front of the house at Luke’s, which means Lorelai and Rory can never go there again. Weird, right? That’s life!

Dean himself is a happy stay-at-home dad. He started a blog about being a stay-at-home dad but only got 3 entries in before he got bored with it, so it sits forever parked with the last entry from April 11, 2009. He drives a very cool 68 Camaro that he restored himself on the odd occasion that he is going out without the children, because you cannot put car seats in a 68 Camaro.

No one has heard from Paris and no one cares.

Lorelai and Luke decide to get married. Well, Lorelai plans a whole wedding and then tells Luke that they are getting married. Luke wisely suggests that leaping into things without consulting other people is a continuing theme in her life and shows that she has some serious boundary issues. He agrees to marry her if she goes to therapy for at least six months first.

Rory travels to Afghanistan to work on opening a school for girls. She reconnects with a photojournalist she knew during her time there and they fall instantly and madly in love. They travel the world, telling important stories, living out of suitcases, and using all their money to fund the school. She remembers to take her birth control.




There are miracles here

November 19, 2016

I knew Trump had won when I heard the gunshots. I was already in bed, sleeping, trying to escape the news I was sick to think of hearing. I awoke to the sound of gunfire and a loud Harley roaring up and down Main Street over and over.

All night I had been avoiding the news. I spent hours walking the dog and playing Pokemon Go, only daring to peep at Twitter once or twice, flipping the radio on, then off five seconds later. Now here was the unwanted confirmation, loud, unavoidable.

I didn’t know what to expect. Would windows begin breaking?  Would there be a mob? I waited, unable to breathe.

That hour of sleep was the last I got that night. I spent the rest of the night locked in anxious paralysis, my mind spinning, thinking, worrying…

I tried to use my all the spiritual tools I had to calm myself. Prayer. Meditation. Affirmations. And finally the question came to me, over and over…”Who Am I?” I was desperately trying to remember my oneness.

“Who am I? Who am I?” I asked between sobs, looking for that fine silver cord that leads me, always, back to my soul, which is every soul.

Creaking with tired, I reached for my phone at about 6 a.m. I flipped through apps, avoiding getting up to face the day and our terrifying shared future.

I spotted an app with A Course in Miracles lessons. I had downloaded it but never used it. ACIM was something I studied for 9 years . My A Course in Miracles study group saved me. It made my life make sense at a time when it just wasn’t making sense, when I felt dark and lost and alone. Like now.

I randomly chose a lesson. Opened it.

Let me remember I am one with God.

Today we will again give thanks for our Identity in God. Our home is safe, protection guaranteed in all we do, power and strength available to us in all our undertakings. We can fail in nothing. Everything we touch takes on a shining light that blesses and that heals. At one with God and with the universe we go our way rejoicing, with the thought that God Himself goes everywhere with us.

…and it goes on.

Who am I? The answer I needed was right there all along, provided for me when I needed it most. God is good. Life is ugly and nasty and complicated. It is also perfect, whole and complete. Both at the same time. Walking the path while sharing all of this is our mission as humans. We are all, as Ram Dass said, just walking each other home.

Who am I? I am one with God. Onward.

A sunset over the ocean with a dark sky


Be the peace, or whatever the hell Gandhi says…

November 5, 2016

I went to Dances of Universal Peace in Ojai tonight with my friend Deana. The dances are simple movements, accompanied by simple songs, aimed at creating community and inner peace. The songs come from every mystical tradition.

I ran into 2 people from San Luis Obispo that I hadn’t seen for about 15 years. We had danced together up there. We had danced at the Harmonic Convergence.

It was a nice reminder that I have been on the same path for a long time, following in my perfectly imperfect way.

I often think I am doing everything wrong. I am impatient with my progress or lack thereof. It is simple meetings and sharing love like tonight that make me think I may not be so far off the mark as I think I am


November 4, 2016

I am Trumped out.

I am electioned out.

I am Twittered out.

I am Facebooked out.

I am argued out.

I am idioted out.

I am lied out.

I am insulted out.

I am CNNed out.

I am out.

Dear God, I have been good. Can you make this end quickly and quietly? Please?


Can You Tell Me What is Troubling Me?

November 3, 2016

My new doctor is a trip. Her office is in a little old house and looks like a rococo antique shop. The furniture is not medical office at all. Every piece is ornamented and upholstered. I perched on a striped mahogany loveseat topped by a bower of carved roses. The restroom has a marble-topped table with half a dozen delicate vases of purple roses. Yes, real roses.

The good doctor herself came in wearing a black and white hat worthy of the Kentucky Derby. A tidy Chanel suit. Heels, of course, and dark red lipstick.

So not your ordinary medical office.

That may be to my advantage, though, because she was the first doctor to ever test my vitamin levels. Anemic! Who knew that 30 years of vegetarianism could leave you a little light on iron reserves? And low on B12 as well.

I have only been supplementing for 3 days, yet this was the first day in years where I haven’t taken a nap.

So keep wearing the hats and decorating all crazy, doc. You seem to know what you’re doing.

The Story of Tonight

November 2, 2016

I have been walking around the house for 20 minutes laughing and saying “The Cubs won the World Series.”

And I am going to wake up in the morning, and the Cubs will still have won the World Series. What is life?


Leaving Early: A Primer

November 1, 2016


I am the person who leaves early. Before the event is over. Long before other people start thinking about leaving. I get a notion. I get itchy. I get bored. I get tired. I get, as my sister would say “cooked.”

If you need to leave early, here is my expert advice

Do not telegraph your moves. Be stealthy. Take a moment to map the escape route, carefully considering everything you need to do on your way out.

  • Spring suddenly into action, alerting as few people as possible. The longer you dilly-dally, the more “Oh, don’t go!” steam can build up. Speed is key.
  • Explain very little. “I’m sorry, I have to go,” is perfect. No one can come up with a counter-argument and you are left looking like an international person of mystery. Or maybe someone with irritable bowel syndrome. Who knows?
  • Do not argue if someone tries to stop you. Keep moving swiftly and silently toward the exit. If someone asks “Why are you leaving?” just give a sad little shake of your head and say “I’m sorry.”
  • Do NOT be pulled into long goodbyes. If someone says “You must say goodbye to Uncle Kevin,” just say “Oh, please tell him goodbye for me. He’ll understand.”

That’s it. Swift, silent, mysterious. It may seem hard and awkward at first, but believe me, in 5 minutes, they will have forgotten you left, and you’ll be breathing free air. Good luck.

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