Category Archives: Musings of the Zen Master


IMG_1919It’s snowing, sticking to the branches of the trees and dusting the ground. This kids are asleep so it is quiet and still here. The house smells like the fresh herbs and shallots that Luisa used to season the turkey this morning but doesn’t smell like roasted turkey because she took it to our friends’ house to cook over there because we aren’t hosting this year.

This year feels different–inside our home but outside in the world as well. There is so much pain and suffering, so much anger and outrage, so much fighting on large and small scales and I am overwhelmed. I think we all are. Yet, I have so much for which I am grateful so today, I want to focus on that more than ever.

I am grateful…

…that we have shelter and food. That we have more than enough.

,,,that we are healthy.

…that I have the luxury of spending my days writing.

…for my family and friends and their love.

…for laughter.

From my desk, I can see one of my little neighbors–just five years old–standing in his backyard, hands held out to catch snowflakes and Zeca just woke up and looked outside and excitedly shouted, “It snowed! It snowed!” Sometimes, it’s these small moments of wonder that give me hope.

Happy Thanksgiving and may the day be filled with peace.

Playing Cards and Prayer

FullSizeRender-1I can still see her sitting across the table from me with cards fanned out in her left hand and a cigarette clenched between her teeth. My best memories of my mother are playing cards with her, game after game starting as soon as I was old enough to know the suits and hold the cards. She was predictable in those games. She’d draw a card and slide it into her hand but not push it all the way down. Then, she’d take the cigarette from her lips, flick the ash and speak. Sometimes, she’d say, “Up popped a fox!’ in a slow singing, drawl, which meant the card was unexpected but good. Other times, she’d say, “Holy Mary Mother of God, bless us sinners in this time of need…” drawing out the last word dramatically. That meant that whatever she’d drawn had wrecked what she was building.

My mother was raised as a Baptist and was not a religious woman. To this day, I don’t know where she learned those words and why they came so easily to her. That’s a question I would ask her if I could.

There was only one other prayer I ever heard her say. She learned it in church basements with strangers who became friends.

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

I remember sitting outside those rooms on uncomfortable chairs and old couches, watching sitcoms on television sets with broken antennas or reading a book I’d brought with me. I couldn’t hear the words clearly where I sat but I found comfort in the hum of the words intoned, in the swirl of cigarette smoke and the smell of stale coffee. I grew up in bars and grew up in different ways as I watched my mother try to get sober.

During the time of AA meetings and the Big Book, there was Holy Mary and smiles during card games but more moments when I’d peek into kitchen and see her holding onto the counter whispering and pleading with her eyes closed, “God grant me the serenity…”

It would take years and many health crises before she finally stopped drinking and I was never privy to her thoughts on the matter, just a witness to the struggle.

I am not a religious woman and I am not one to pray but, lately, the Serenity Prayer has come to mind more often as I grapple with all that is going on in the world. The words are about peace and change and wisdom and, sometimes, I close my eyes and hear them like a whisper.

Family Values

IMG_4498Last week, Zeca had to write an essay about her family’s values and she said with a dramatic flourish, “I don’t know what are family values are!” We were driving home from school so I looked in the rearview mirror and said, “Really? What is something we talk about all the time?” She was quiet for a moment and said, “Kindness.” Yes, we talk about that one a lot. In fact, when I drop her off at school each day, I say, “I love you. Remember to be kind.” As we made our way home, I kept saying, “What else?” and she would come up with another thing and by the time we got home, I pointed out that she’d already named five things and she only needed to write about three.

This morning, I read her essay and she wrote about kindness, community and sense of humor as three of her family’s values.

We talk a lot about the importance of kindness and we have built a close community of friends, people she knows she can turn to and count on if needed, so the first two didn’t surprise me. I definitely value a sense of humor but, when she mentioned it initially, I didn’t think it rose to the level of a “family value” and secretly hoped it wouldn’t make the list. I hoped that she’d pick something more noble like service to others but I don’t monkey with the controls on these things and let it go.

But when I read her essay today, I loved what she wrote about humor. She said that it is important to fill your life with people who make you laugh, that laughter is important because it is something you can share and it draws people together. And then she said that sometimes humor can go too far and can hurt others but everyone makes mistakes and we have to apologize and move on.

Sometimes, I wonder if they are paying attention but after reading her essay, I know without a doubt that she is.

The world feels like a dark place right now and people are scared and angry and I certainly don’t have the words or wisdom to know where to begin to address the problems in the world. I was offline most of the weekend and came back last night to see people fighting on Facebook about profile pictures and flags and trying to organize and prioritize tragedy as if that is something that can be done. So, I closed it all down and tried to find quiet in writing and reading.

I still don’t have any answers and my words will always be insufficient but my daughter has armed me with things to focus on when it becomes too much: kindness, community and a sense of humor.

Dispatch from DC

IMG_0004 Luisa and I are in DC this weekend and, last night, we walked to the Washington Monument from our hotel and then to the Lincoln Memorial. I’ve always wanted to see it all at night.

So, I stood taking in this view for the third time in my life.

I stood there in 1989 during the March for Reproductive Rights.

I stood there in 1993 during the March for LGBT Equality.

And last night, I stood there with over 20 years of life experience since my last visit.

In that time, Luisa and I have bought a house and had kids. We’ve had career changes and traveled. We’ve made a life that is beyond what I could have imagined in 1993.

It was a good night.