Monday, October 27, 2008



My dog, Maya, died today. She was a thirteen-year-old Turkish street dog. I found her when she was a puppy and she's been my shadow, my friend, my companion ever since. A friend e-mailed me today to remind me of a great story. When my daughter, Coranna, was born I was walking with her and my dog in the park. A woman stopped and said, "she's beautiful. How old is she?" I told her that she was about seven and the woman gave me a strange look. I realized then that she wasn't talking about my dog, but my daughter. As my friend said, Maya was my first born.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Rhino Beetles

I've been thinking about giving the female protagonist in the novel the nickname of rhino beetle. I'm trying to find the Nepali name for them. I remember these guys as being harmless but noisy like a helicopter.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Growing up with diaperman

This is a photo of my daughter with my brother and his son, Luke, this past summer. Yes, they are wearing life jackets as if they were diapers and bike helmets too. My brother, Brent, donnes the diaperman outfit when he takes his team camping, he's a coach. My daughter and I had just arrived to his house and he brought this out as an introduction, a way to break the ice. As you can see, my brother is funny. He's fun and funny. Back in high school, people used to either love Brent or hate him. When we lived together when he was in college, I noticed that most people liked him and few hated him. I think he had perfected his sarcasm, brought out more of his silliness. I'm not sure how people see him now, but his home is in constant flux as people, students, team members, neighbors, whomever come and go. These visitors are borrowing, lending, fixing, dropping off cakes. Few just stop to say hi, everyone knows that my brother is a kinesthetic guy and any convergence is rapid and with purpose. They hope for a laugh and usually find one.

My brother has a visceral reaction to anything that reminds him of me: theater, the arts, reading. Oddly, I realize that I am just as forcefully repelled by sports. As I've been putting more and more humor into my writing, I realize that I'm breaking an unwritten family rule. Humor is my brother's domain. I'm the serious one, the bookish oldest. Yet, I can't help but put my characters in humorous situations. I feel apologetic when I do this, and this feeling is something no one, with possibly the exception of my brother, could understand. It's part of the paradox of family.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

More photos

I can't get all my photos on the post below. Here are some more.

The More Things Change

So much has changed in my life since coming to Oregon in 2001. I realized that my family's outing today is one of the few exceptions. Today follows the thread of a tradition that started when my parents came to visit that first Labor Day: a day in the Hood River area picking apples. For several years we've been going to the Kiyokawa Family Orchards. This year, Chris, my brother-in-law decided to begin a new family tradition of locking his keys in the car. Speaking of the more things change. . .it brought me back to the days of working with Chris in Turkey when he would come into my building to ask me if I had seen his keys. This time it was AAA to the rescue. I'm the picture taker so there aren't ever any pictures of me, but this year I handed off the camera for a couple mother-daughter shots. I need something to send the relatives, and Oregon is showing her most photogenic side in the fall.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Time To Write

I had coffee with some friends today, and one friend, a poet named Jenn,talked about going for her MFA. One aspect of our conversation has been eddying around my head all afternoon. She was telling us that the program expects its writers to put in about 20 hours a week on their writing. I'm not heading out to get an MFA any time soon. It was the time aspect that really has me thinking. I do want to finish my second novel by the end of next summer. Am I putting in enough time each week? I write on the weekends and a bit during the week, but is that enough? All said I may be putting in five to six hours a week writing and another one to two reading works from my two writing groups. How can I eek out more time? It is easy to say that I can write more when I'm sitting here on Sunday evening refreshed from the weekend, but at 9:00 on a Tuesday after I've been racing around since 6:00 am, it's harder to do. Isn't that, though, what separates the dabbler from the writer?

I can't give 20 hours a week to my writing. Not now. But, I can do 10. I'm sure of it. I am setting a 10 hour a week goal from now until winter break.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Crescent by Diana Abu-Jaber

Reading the haunting lyricism of Diana Abu-Jaber's Crescent. It is a book about people in exile from country, from soul, from love, from desire. People who ache for a homeland, a love, a friendship, a loved-one, a taste from childhood. How stories, food, friendship, writing, can fill an ache if only temporarily. The story strips the skin back, rattles the reader's ghost bones, dares the reader to find peace.

The main character, Sirine is a middle-eastern chef. Food, obviously, plays into the novel. Yesterday I made Mousakka, today cumin-infused lentils. Middle East tastes are like comfort food. Above is a photo of my daughter, Coranna, making her first Baklava. I made one pan for my book group and she made another pan for my writing group. Now what I want is a hot cheese-dripping Kunefe with milky vanilla salep to remind me of wandering the cold, wet cobble streets of Antakya in December.

Here's my Baklava secret:
Use crushed pistachios instead of the walnuts. Also, don't use honey, use sugar for the sauce. After the sauce has boiled and thickened, add lemon juice. The lemon juice gives it a remarkable tang.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Richard Russo

Magic, humor, and class were the topics tonight. In listening to the first speaker in the Portland Arts and Lecture Series, writer Richard Russo, I discovered much about my own self. And I thought much about my own writer's voice.

A magic realist Russo is not, but a humorist who believes that adults need to be reminded of the magic in our mundane, every day surroundings. Isn't that magic realism, in some small strand of its definition. In that, somewhere in the weary task of survival (in whatever form that takes, maintaining the loft in the Pearl or foraging for food in the wild), our brains find explanation for every gap in the continuity of our rational minds. So if we see a commode, to use Russo's example, in the yard, we decide that the workers are working on the bathroom. Our adult, linear minds do not allow us to wonder at the vision of a commode in such a wide open space. Writers, said Russo, make the readers see the wonder.

Humor. Russo is a humorist who finds the funny in the serious and the serious in the funny. He said that when he first started writing, he didn't know what his writer's voice would be, only that he wanted to be a writer. He hoped that editors would publish his work and find it profound even though it wasn't. I related to that. I fought my narrative voice, wanted a deep, thought-provoking, serious voice. When in life, I'm a goof. When I workshopped Secret of the Plains, the writers in my group latched onto my humor, and soon I realized that I could not fight that part of my personality, or my way of relating to the world. My writing is earthy, and ghostlike, but it is also goofy and silly just like me. Russo helped me to articulate that about me as a writer.

Class. When I was getting my masters, I loved studying Marxist Literary Criticism because it looked at class. I've always been fascinated by class, which is one reason I like writing about Nepal because class, or cast, used to be barriers that people wouldn't even question or consider crossing. Now it is messy and that has caused much tension in the villages. Russo came from a small work class New York town, probably not far from where my brother-in-law, Chris Russo, grew up. I know east coast working class, am a product of that culture. And so I understand Richard Russo's experiences and the moral imperative he feels about putting that lens of class before his readers. He touched on the fact that talking about class has become almost an old-fashioned notion, and he warned against such sentiments. I agree with him.

Great night.

Saturday, September 6, 2008



Washington DC, September 5 (ICT)—Taktser Rinpoche, the eldest brother of the Dalai Lama, passed away earlier today (September 5) at home in Indiana in the United States having been ill for several years. He was 86 years old.

Taktser Rinpoche - whose given name was Thupten Jigme Norbu - was recognized at the age of three as the reincarnated abbot of Kumbum monastery in modern-day Qinghai, one of the most important monasteries in Tibet, and was therefore already a prominent figure in Tibet's religious hierarchy even before his brother the Dalai Lama was born.

In the immediate wake of the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1949-1950, Taktser Rinpoche played important intermediary roles first between the Dalai Lama and Chinese Communist officials and then later, when in India, between the US State Department and the Dalai Lama during the protracted negotiations between Beijing and Lhasa surrounding signature of the controversial Seventeen Point Agreement - the document which was intended to give legitimacy to China's rule of Tibet.

Taktser Rinpoche was deeply mistrustful of the Chinese Communist Party's intentions in Tibet, and was a prominent voice advising the Dalai Lama to leave Tibet in the face of what was perceived as direct threats to his own personal safety as well as to the integrity of Tibet itself.

In 1950, when the Dalai Lama was still in Lhasa, Chinese officials attempted to persuade Taktser Rinpoche to travel to Lhasa and convince the Dalai Lama to accept the "peaceful liberation" of Tibet, even promising to make him the governor of Tibet if he succeeded, according to one account. Taktser Rinpoche eventually agreed to travel to Lhasa to see the Dalai Lama, but evaded his Chinese escorts on route and instead conveyed to the Dalai Lama his deep misgivings about China's influence in Tibet, and urging the Dalai Lama to retreat to the border with India.

Although a devout and dedicated follower of the Dalai Lama, Taktser Rinpoche nevertheless took a different stand on Tibet's status to his brother, calling instead for the complete independence of Tibet as opposed to the model of autonomy put forward by the Dalai Lama.

An extremely energetic individual, Taktser Rinpoche dedicated his life to serving the Dalai Lama, Tibet and the Tibetan people, including serving as the Dalai Lama's representative in Japan. Upon leaving Tibet in the 1950s and over a long and prolific writing career, he wrote several academic papers and books on Tibet including his own autobiography, Tibet Is My Country, one of the first books on the Tibetan experience to have scholarly credibility. He went on to serve as Professor of Tibetan Studies at Indiana University in the United States, where in 1979 he founded the Tibetan Cultural Center.

Taktser Rinpoche was a tireless advocate for the protection of Tibetan culture and the rights of the Tibetan people in Tibet. Each year - including this year prior to the Beijing Olympics - he participated in long walks and cycle rides to raise awareness of the plight of the Tibetan people.

He is survived by his wife Kunyang Norbu, and three sons.

Tsewang Phuntso
Liaison Officer - Latin America
241 East 32nd Street
New York, NY 10016
Tel: (212) 213 5010 extn. 11


When I first trolled the internet and went into the Multnomah library to research Tharu culture for my second novel, I felt discouraged. A couple sites about tourists passing through left more questions than answers. I questioned myself in writing about a culture I know less about than Gurungs who I lived with in Nepal. But, I enjoy a research challenge. Besides, Nepal is a country I know. There are people I know who live in Nepal, work in Nepal, and still visit Nepal regularly. Many of my friends stay informed. So, as I researched the Tharu culture, I sent out two e-mails. Just two to a listserve of PC volunteers and to someone I know who lived in Nepal and still works with Nepalese artists. The response showed me, again, why I chose to write about Nepal. I'm still getting e-mails of photos, stories, titles of books, names of articles, and even documentaries. There is a monsoon of information out there, and people who want to talk about their experiences, who want to share.

This is Damian Jones' site. As written on his site: "Aid Through Trade™ was founded with a desire to bring the artistry and craftsmanship of Nepali designers to a western market, while at the same time improving the social and economic status for the artisan groups involved." His is one person I met in Nepal who never let go of the concept of "service".

Another person whose involvement in Nepal has been lifelong, and whose opinion I respect is Laurie Vasily. Laurie is a member of UNMN and is still actively working in Nepal.

Though I haven't gotten anything from Ravi Vadlamudi yet, I need to mention him. Ravi was my neighbor in Nepal and has been like a brother to me. He and his family just moved to Kathmandu so I'm sure I'll be picking Ravi's brain. Here's an article about Ravi's clinic in New Orleans. He's in the photo in front of his clinic.

Finally, Cora Clark. She was a Peace Corps Volunteer with me in 1990. Now she lives an hour away and has been a great sounding board. Here she is still talking about the Peace Corps.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Dog Mountain

Every Labor Day my family has had the run of a private camp. Acres of trees, and just us. It's on the Gorge so we enjoy the vinyards and the hikes. This year my brother-in-law and I hiked up Dog Mountain while everyone else went wine tasting.

The trail split at one point, to the left an easier hike, to the right a steeper grade. Next to the more challenging path were several warnings written by past hikers. Chris and I pondered for a moment if they were sarcastic, but then at the written warning of dragons, we both nodded. Chris turned to me said, "this is the zombie trail." Note to those who hike with others, never hike with someone who is deep into a zombie novel--they see zombie apocolypse hideouts in every cave and dark cavern of the trail. While Chris scanned for zombie hideouts, I breathed in the pine air, and tried to imagine the lush trail in the heart of wildflower season. We kept a good clip and I felt warm and comfortable until we crested the top.

The mountain next to Dog Mountain is called Wind Mountain. We hiked it last Labor Day, and stood sweating in the still, warmth at the top. This, Dog Mountain, should have been named after a scavenger dog or dingo because it must have stole the wind from poor Wind Mountain. At the top of Dog Mountain, gusts ripped through my jacket and chilled the sweat on my back. Gorge wind is famous, and as we started up the goat sized ledge to the apex, I was brought back to Nepal.

My village was on top of a 6,000 foot hill just below the Annapurna Himals. The Himalayan wind blew against me on my hour-long daily ridge walk to my school. I didn't wear a jacket, because Nepalis didn't have jackets. Instead I would cacoon myself in a green shawl and walk as fast as I could. I got into pretty good shape, and my cheeks took on a nice rouge red. I also remember that, during the winter months, I spent my time running from fire to fire, and filling my stomach with the most scalding tea available, not to mention that I hate tea.

Not having a fire or scalding tea, we scanned the beauty of the Columbia River and decided to run down. Besides running down a mountain is good training in case there is a zombie appocolypse.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I'm back

It's been almost two months since I've written. For a consistent blogger, that's a long vacation. This break was intentional. I wanted to slow down and just check in.

I was diving.

Tonight I was reading a piece from a member of my writing group where he describes what it feels like to sit at the bottom of the sea. I think that's what I've been doing since the start of July, sitting at the bottom of the sea, dredging up my past, feeling it pass through my fingers. Neutral buoyancy. I remember when my friend Marianne was diving in Turkey. Her favorite thing to do was pick the frail sand dollars from the bottom of the sea, to hold them in the palm of her hand as she learned neutral buoyancy. She knew she'd gotten the trick when she stopped crushing the sand dollars. But,try as she might, she would always crush them in her ascent to the surface.

I confronted my past in the Carrie-Ann way--head one. Family, lot's of them: my brother and his family, aunts, uncles, cousins, and childhood friends. Great-aunt Virginia who has 51 great-grandchildren and remembers all their names, and whose mannerism reminded me of my grandmother. My two best college friends. Three of my dearest Peace Corps friends. And because we couldn't get together, a long three-way call with two of my long-lasting friends from Turkey. Add to that, heart-to-hearts with my friends here, and check-ins with Sheila when she was state-side. Phew! A lot of silt swimming at the bottom of my sea. No wonder I could only maintain.

I am a different person than the woman who met all of those people I swam with this summer, but I'm also very much the same. I am the sum of all these experiences, and cannot be crushed like a sand dollar in my ascent to the surface. It is time to surface, but I'm ready.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Magic Realism. . .concerts at the Portland Chinese Garden

My daughter, Coranna, and I attended the Tuesdays By Twilight Concert Series at the Portland Chinese Garden. I used to believe that the Cisterns in Istanbul were the most surreal concert venue, but now I'm voting for this one. The Vancouver Chinese Music Ensemble played traditional Chinese instruments: erhu, ruan, dzeng, and pipa. The erhu, similar to a violin, was my favorite. Watching over the water with the Chinese temple arches framing the musicians was magic. I Should also add that Coranna was perfect. When the woman playing said that she wrote a piece to resemble the feel of candlelight, Coranna closed her eyes and tried to feel how the music was candlelight. Careful not to speak outloud, she raised her thumb to indicate that she felt it.

Magic realism is like this night was for us. It disarms you a bit, maybe even makes you gasp as you realize that art can transcend to a place that is intuitively beyond the realm of words. Placed in a real world, it sparkles with magic.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Vikram Seth

I rediscovered an old love this weekend.

Last month I went to Powell's and was poking around the stacks looking for Indian authors to read while also talking to my friend Sheila on the phone. Sheila just returned from Thailand so we were intermixing conversations about Thailand with books and I think I got all jumbled and chose a Vikram Seth book. I remembered his name, but I thought it was from his novel, A Suitable Boy. Sheila, who knows me so well, and probably read every Indian author I've read agreed that surely that was how I knew Vikram Seth. So, I bought An Equal Music without really reading much about it. Just to clarify - I'm sorry I'm so excited about my discovery that I'm gushing faster than I can write this story - I'm reading Indian author's to get my feel for the rhythm I want in my second novel. It is set in Nepal, and I want it to have a breathless, folklore like quality to it. I want the village to be a character, and all the characters to tie into the voice.

Yesterday, I felt tired after not sleeping Thursday night because I was excited about the half-marathon, and tired from running the half-marathon in, what I now realize where shitty shoes I bought off the sale rack, so I only went to one cookout and didn't go over Nadja's to watch the fireworks. Instead, I stayed home to read Vikram Seth's An Equal Music. At first, I was disappointed because it was set in London and there was nothing of the Indian lyrical quality about the book. I almost put it down, except the writing was so alive, so electrical, I couldn't stop. Then I realized that the main character lived in Bayswater, very near where I lived in London, and the central motif of the novel was music. As we know, I love music so I just kept reading. Maureen called, upset because she found a home for her little pit-bull puppy, and I had to stop reading to console her. Then today I had things to do, a cookout, shopping. But, I kept picking up this magnificent story, and something about the style, the soul of this book reminded me of a past love. I ran to it at each interval, and finally, just now, finished it.

As I do when I'm so in love with a story I want to soak more from it, I looked over Vikram Seth's other works. I was shocked to discover that he wrote Golden Gate. Have you read this book? I devoured it in the nineties while I was living with Sheila in Washington, DC. That's probably why Sheila recognized his name - I was in love with this book and have thought of it often through the years. It is a novel set in verse about people in San Francisco. But the author is so true to his characters, so shrewd about human nature, that I never forgot it. The book wasn't mine, probably borrowed from our other housemate, Monica. Otherwise, it would have been a book I held onto.

So,in reading An Equal Music, I rediscovered my love for Vikram Seth. Deep breath. There, now I've gushed. I'm content. But, I don't want to let this story go. As my fourteen-month-old nephew says, putting his little fingers together in sign "more, more."

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Nepal by Districts

This is a great map from Nepal's Election Commission. map by districts

I'm using the map to think through where I want to set Hara Shankar. It needs to be in the Terrai of course, but otherwise I'm not sure. I have three ideas.
a.) On the boarder of India because of the Indian influence. Also, the boarder towns were the driest places I experienced.
b.) Somewhat near Chitwan National Forest. Where there would have definately have been jungle at one point.
c.) Closer to the hills. Could see the outline of the himals in the distance.

By the way, I lived in Lamjung district above Beshishahar.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

108 Sun Salutations for the solstice

I went to an interesting class at Yoga Shala last night. 108 sun salutations for the summer solstice. Actually, I didn't complete all 108 because I did a few variations in there, but for the most part, I tried to keep the rhythm going for the entire two hours. I wanted to flow into the sun, the feel the energy of summer radiate from my core. But, with all the running I've been doing I took a pragmatic look about half way through and realized that I could also get some much needed stretching in too. The balance between the plan--aka do the entire 108--and the inspiration--hey I could get a good pigeon stretch in right now. Each solstice I learn a bit more about myself. I heard, and more importantly paid attention to, the message that I need to let go of the plan. When I joined the Peace Corps, the PC macho phrase resonated too well in my New English rugged individualist soul. I have softened. I really have. But I also have hardened. Balance. Be nice. To myself and to my world. I repeated these mantras as I dipped down into each forward bend-that would be 216 forward bends, if all had been completed.

I put the number 108 in the first paragraph of my second novel. It's a good number with meaning in Hinduism and Buddhism. It is round and rolls of the tongue. And the number enabled me to stay in the yoga room for two hours feeling a rhythm and just being present with my breath. That in itself is of sparkling importance.

Friday, June 20, 2008


A Lovely poem by Byron

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne'er express, yet cannot all conceal.
I love the last two lines because that is what it feels like to stand in nature and realize the diminutive nature of our lives.

I'm realizing that nature and ghosts infuse my writing. It could be that I grew up in the woods and my grandmother instilled in me an awe of spirits. I spent much of my childhood silent standing in nature trying to hear her breathe. Now, as an adult, I need to stop and listen more. Perhaps that is what writing is to me. Tonight after I worked out I decided to do my stretching in the club's hottub. I don't know how long it took me to realize that I had been stretching over my leg for an indeterminate period of time completely traveling down a scene in my novel, watching it rather than my environment. I get lost in thought like that a lot when I'm not "on duty" either with work or my daughter. And when I'm in nature I'm lost.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


In Shaw's The Importance of Being Earnest, the irresponsible main character, Algernon, creates a fictional friend named Bunbury who is always "getting sick" and calling him to the country, thus freeing Algernon to explore. Algernon tells his friend who has a secret life in the city, "What you really are is a Bunburyist. I was quite right in saying you were a Bunburyist. You are one of the most advanced Bunburyists I know." I am an unabashed bunburyist. I realized this today as I was tooling around the streets of downtown Portland while my daughter was in theater camp. I'm happiest when I'm clicking down unknown paths, watching, searching, bunburying. Today I walked all over the Pearl district, poked my head into stores, listened to conversation, tromped down busy streets, residential areas, and construction sites. When I lived overseas that's what I did most weekends, I wore through the soles of most of my shoes. Now that I have a child, I don't wander as much as I used to, particularly because Coranna hates to go on walks. But when I do, I feel whole, right, in my own skin. I can't put it on my resume, but I'm really good at bunburying.

I suppose it is no accident that my first novel would be a journey. I don't travel much any longer except in my writing and in reading. That's fine because I know I'm tilling the soil for my daughter, but it is strange for a milkweed to land and take root. I guess how else could you grow other milkweeds.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

It's been awhile

I haven't written in a couple weeks--the longest I've gone. Blame my silence on the end of the school year. Sometimes it takes superhuman effort to pull me through the thick seaweed of tasks and obligations, but I can see the open ocean up ahead and I'm smiling at the sight. Just one more week, and then I'll do a Kirtan to clear my head, and drift into my summer. Spend lot's of quality time with Coranna, get caught up with some old friends too. I also plan on upping my workout times and running distances. I want to hit some trails and get to ten miles by July. And I will write. Write. Write. Write. And lastly, I need to think. I experienced a lot of change this last year and I really need to reorient myself. I've been looking at some of the Buddhist centers near me, and I think it is time to go back to meditation. Still my mind so that I can think more clearly, really figure out what I need to be doing with my life. It is difficult to listen to your soul when you're racing between appointments.

Monday, May 19, 2008

I was there!

72,000-80,000 strong and I was there.

Earthquake in China

Mercy Corps: donate now to help survivors of the China earthquake.

I lived in Turkey when the massive earthquake killed thousands just south of Istanbul. I saw first-hand how a devastating quake could rock an entire nation. Now China is reeling under an even more serious quake, where entire villages were gone in an instant, countless lives. Coranna has been watching the images with her grandfather on the news and she's very worried about the children. This morning she heard a report about a thousand children who were stranded and in danger of starving if food was not brought in. As we walked to the car she told me that we had to do something to help the children.

After school, we explored the Mercy Corps website and we found out that you can give directly to relief efforts in China. My daughter happily agreed to give up a movie night we had planned for Friday night and use that money to donate to the effort. She even talked my mom into giving something.

If a five year old can so easily give up a night of entertainment to help, can't others? Challenge yourself to stay in one night and send the "fun" money to Mercy Corps.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Ershou Meigui

This is a new video from Cheng's favorite band. This is the song that haunts him through his journey. The "Chinese horn" sound is the Suonas. Many say that it is the sound of a thousand birds crying.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


I don't mean to sound like Timothy Leary, but time is more fluid than Terminator 2. Little things, like listening to the radio this week when they announced that the Twix came up with the peanut butter Twix twenty years ago blew me away--I still think of the peanut butter Twix as the new, upstart candy bar. I wanted to slap myself across the face. Get with it! Times, they are a'changin', and I'm in some sort of strange cross current that just pushes me against time so that I'm runnin' to stand still.

Is this what happens with age, life melts together, a beautiful Ebru artwork? Memories of childhood more indelible than yesterday's conflicts. The sky charging you with the energy of your twenties. The earth calming you with the wisdom of your future. Trippy. Maybe it is not Timothy Leary, but us who are on the outside lookin' in. Maybe it is just me.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Hara Shankar

I have the title for the new novel, Hara Shankar. It will be the nicknames for the two protagonists. I wrote the first chapter and I'm working on the skeleton. In the meantime, I have a quick novel structured loosely around Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice just busting out. I'm thinking of juggling both and then just see which one dominates. They're both set in Nepal, but one is Nepalese and the other American.

Yo Yo Ma

Click on the link to hear beautiful samples from Yo Yo Ma's Silk Road Journeys. It is a beautiful collection of music from Turkey, Indian, Iran, Mongolia, and other countries between Europe and China. As someone who listens to music from the part of the world, I'm amazed at Yo Yo Ma's ability to evoke the spirit of these cultures through the passion and the tempo of the pieces. If I ever figure out how to put music on this site, I'll upload some of the songs.

Music has been important this last week. I went to Glen Hansard and Maketa Irglova's concert last Monday. On Friday I did a three hour Kirtan, and on Saturday Coranna and I went over a friend's house to "play" guitar and sing. I think Coranna played better on her violin than I did on my guitar which does not say much for me. But I'm determined to finally pick that monster up and learn it. I have two learning goals for the summer: the guitar and Japanese. I have my foot in both doors, it's just a matter of walking through.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

sick, sick, sick, sick

A cold has been nipping at my heels for more than a week now and it bit down hard this weekend. I can't drink enough fluids today to drown the fever blistering my lips and burning my throat. I managed to drive Coranna to swimming lessons, but haven't done anything else today. This is my first time on the computer and I had planned to finish my on-line class. So much for that, so much for running my 8 miles today either. Instead I read magazines, played Candyland with Coranna, and slept and had strange fever-induced dreams. I do have a poem from Rumi to share. Not surprisingly, I like Rumi. I'm a mystic-lover, though I will confess to nodding off during the Mevlana (whirling Dervishes) in Konya, Turkey, but there's a long story behind that involving men,CaltalHyuk, and carpets.

The Guesthouse
By Rumi

This being human is a guesthouse
Every morning a new arrival
A joy, a depression, a meanness
Some momentary awareness
Comes as an unexpected visitor

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows
Who violently sweep your house
Empty of its furniture
Still treat each guest honorably
He may be cleaning you out
For some new delight!

The dark thought, the shame, the malice
Meet them at the door laughing
And invite them in
Be grateful for whoever comes
Because each has been sent
As a guide from the beyond

Translated by Coleman Barks

Friday, April 18, 2008

No adhesive needed

I spent tonight having drinks at a wine bar in Beaumont with a good friend. We had one of those three-Chilean-wines-into-it talks. My friend focused on life journeys and the importance of those people who adhere to you. I understood what she meant. I have had incredible friends who have had my back. But it is more than "have my back" because I think many friendships exist with a huge degree of loyalty and love, but few thrive with loyalty, love, and commitment to lifelong camaraderie. That element of sticking with you and in your life is precious.I even have family members who haven't stuck, and that really bothered me. The love was there, but for some reason that wasn't enough. Sometimes I think about my future and I worry about living alone, but I wonder if my worry is a societal construct or a valid fear. I don't know how to answer that question. I've never been alone. I have always had someone: friends, family, my daughter, my animals. The most alone I ever felt was when I was married, so what does that say? Well, the phone just rang and my sister and her husband want me to go out to celebrate Chris' promotion. As I just wrote, I've never been alone. Life is delicious so in that spirit, I will throw caution to the wind, add a little fairy dust, and throw in a kiss for good measure.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Lovely Blog

This is a lovely blog where you can find a new poem each week, thus the name. :)

Poem of the week

Dalai Lama Centre for Peace and Education Speaks Out

I received this from the Dalai Lama Centre for Peace and Education in Vancouver, BC

In Tibet, as elsewhere, open dialogue is critical in "educating the heart"

By the Trustees of the Dalai Lama Centre for Peace and Education

The text below originally appeared as an Op-Ed piece in the April 9, 2008 on-line edition of the Globe and Mail.

There are times when it is appropriate to turn the other cheek in the pursuit of peace, but it is never a good option to turn a blind eye - to stand mute in the face of injustice or ignore an act of aggression against the innocent. And so we, the trustees of the Dalai Lama Centre for Peace and Education, feel compelled to speak up about what is happening in Tibet.

We have hesitated to do so precisely because some people will find it predictable. Some may even accuse us of being part of what certain Chinese politicians are cynically deriding as the "Dalai clique." But it would be wrong to assume that we care about Tibet only because of the Dalai Lama's link to that region. In establishing the Vancouver-based DLC, we have been careful to create an organization that is apolitical and secular.

The intent is not to laud one political position over another. It is to honour the Dalai Lama's universal teachings - in particular, his insistence on nonviolence. We are speaking out against the use of force and urging the parties to this and other conflicts to choose dialogue as the first step toward resolution.

Our objection to what's happening in Tibet is no different than our dismay at events in Darfur, Afghanistan or Iraq - in each case, we have lost the peace. We have lost the values that are most fundamental to the Dalai Lama's teaching: kindness, compassion, patience, tolerance, nonviolence, dialogue, mutual understanding.

We established the DLC because we were inspired by those values and by the example set by the man himself. Regardless of how others might characterize his actions, he has been unfailingly patient and perfectly consistent. He has offered dialogue and urged peace.

That, in this new century, is a commodity that still evades our grasp. The world is well-armed for war, but poorly prepared for peace. There are war colleges in virtually every major capital - centres for tactics and strategy, think tanks dedicated to pressing an advantage. But there are too few institutions dedicated to studying and resolving human conflict.

The DLC is dedicated to righting that balance in a unique way, concentrating on what the Dalai Lama calls "educating the heart." He teaches that if you hope to be a force for peace, you must begin by searching for peace in your own heart. It is from that peace that we later find kindness, compassion, patience, even forgiveness.

The current conflict in Tibet presents a challenge and an opportunity, a chance to reward those who have chosen nonviolence and to engage those are still inclined to fight.

The first step must be dialogue, open and unconditional, and the chance for this may never have been better. After recent talks between British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, it appears that the groundwork has been laid. Now would be an opportune time for other world leaders to join Mr. Brown in urging this peaceful course - a moment for U.S. President George W. Bush, French President Nicholas Sarkozy and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to press strongly for dialogue and for peace.

It is a testament to the Dalai Lama's lifelong teachings that much of the world is united behind his quest for peace and his hope for his people. Against overwhelming physical superiority, it is only the force of world opinion that offers a chance for peaceful resolution.

This is no time for brinksmanship. It is seldom the right moment for punishments or threats. It is, rather, a time to say to those perpetuating this conflict that dialogue is the answer. It is also time to make it clear that we are watching - that we may forgive, but we will not look away.

Evan Alderson, Victor Chan, Brenda Eaton, James C. Hoggan, Gwyn Morgan, Martha C. Piper and Thomas E. Rafael are trustees for the Dalai Lama Centre for Peace and Education.

Do you know someone who might like to be on our e-mail list? Please see the Forward to a Friend link at the end of this e-mail.

Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education
2300 - 515 W. Hastings St. Vancouver BC V6B 5K3 Canada
Tel: 604-215-2DLC (352) | E-mail:

Monday, April 14, 2008

Nepalese Elections

Wow, there are so many parties in Nepal now! It used to be Gham and Rhuk, now there are 74 parties to choose from. Amazing. My favorite new party is the Rastriya Janasshakti Party because their logo is an umbrella. As a Nepali once said, "the umbrella is to protect from sunlight and rain." One of my main character's, Punchok, carries an umbrella throughout my novel, and he gets teased a bit. When I lived in Nepal, I became an umbrella carrier. The umbrella did protect against the elements, but I also used it to help stretch my back on the long hikes, as a walking stick on the steep hills, and to shoo away water buffalo. Great invention, the umbrella. I wonder if the umbrella will protect a party in an election?


Ah, the Nepali Maoists. The Nepali Maoists are in the background of The Secret of The Plains. They "kidnap" Cheng and the journey is, for some of the party, a search for the Maoists. There are many incarnations of Maoists in Nepal. When I lived in Nepal, it is was just before Prachanda gained power as a revolutionary leader. The Maoists were scattered, manned with well-intentioned young men who wanted equality in the villages, and who campaigned in elections. Under Prachanda's leadership, the Maoists hardened into a guerrilla faction fighting for complete revolution. Prachanda's directive was clear: no compromise with the Feudal King or the Inept Parliament. My, my, have times changed. It amazes me that Prachanda has come in from the hills and thrown his name into the elections. What I am not surprised at, is how popular he has become as the new face of democracy. This article is incredibly interesting.

UN Human Rights Logo Resembles The Color of Tibetan Monks' Robes

An interesting article in The Independent about the UN's new logo for Human Rights.

click here

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Brit spies confirm Dalai Lama's report of staged violence

CanadaFree Press[Friday,March 21, 200810:20] Brit spies confirm Dalai Lama's report of staged violence
By Gordon Thomas
London, March 20 - Britain's GCHQ, the government communications agency that electronically monitors half the world from space, has confirmed the claim by the Dalai Lama that agents of the Chinese People's Liberation Army, the PLA, posing as monks, triggered the riots that have left hundreds of Tibetans dead or injured.
GCHQ analysts believe the decision was deliberately calculated by theBeijingleadership to provide an excuse to stamp out the simmering unrest in the region, which is already attracting unwelcome world attention in the run-up to the Olympic Games this summer.
For weeks there has been growing resentment inLhasa,Tibet's capital, against minor actions taken by the Chinese authorities.
Increasingly, monks have led acts of civil disobedience, demanding the right to perform traditional incense burning rituals. With their demands go cries for the return of the Dalai Lama, the 14th to hold the high spiritual office.
Committed to teaching the tenets of his moral authority---peace and compassion---the Dalai Lama was 14 when the PLA invadedTibetin 1950 and he was forced to flee toIndiafrom where he has run a relentless campaign against the harshness of Chinese rule.
But critics have objected to his attraction to film stars. Newspaper magnate Rupert Murdoch has called him: "A very political monk in Gucci shoes."
Discovering that his supporters insideTibetandChinawould become even more active in the months approaching the Olympic Games this summer, British intelligence officers inBeijinglearned the ruling regime would seek an excuse to move and crush the present unrest.
That fear was publicly expressed by the Dalai Lama. GCHQ's satellites, geo-positioned in space, were tasked to closely monitor the situation.
The doughnut-shaped complex, nearCheltenhamracecourse, is set in the pleasant Cotswolds in the west ofEngland. Seven thousand employees include the best electronic experts and analysts in the world. Between them they speak more than 150 languages. At their disposal are 10,000 computers, many of which have been specially built for their work.
The images they downloaded from the satellites provided confirmation the Chinese used agent provocateurs to start riots, which gave the PLA the excuse to move onLhasato kill and wound over the past week.
What theBeijingregime had not expected was how the riots would spread, not only acrossTibet, but also toSichuan, Quighai andGansuprovinces, turning a large area of westernChinainto a battle zone.
The Dalai Lama has called it "cultural genocide" and has offered to resign as head of the protests against Chinese rule in order to bring peace. The current unrest began on March 10, marking the anniversary of the 1959 Uprising against Chinese rule.
However, his followers are not listening to his "message of compassion." Many of them are young, unemployed and dispossessed and reject his philosophy of non-violence, believing the only hope for change is the radical action they are now carrying out.
ForBeijing, the urgent need to find a solution to the uprising is one of growing embarrassment. In two weeks time, the national celebrations for the Olympic Games start with the traditional torch relay. The torch bearers are scheduled to pass throughTibet. But the torch could find itself being carried by runners past burning buildings and temples.
A sign of this urgency is that the Chinese prime minister has now said he is prepared to hold talks with the Dalai Lama. Just before this announcement,Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown declared he would meet the Dalai Lama, who is to visitLondonnext month. This is the first time either leader has proposed to meet the Dalai Lama.
Tenzin Wangmo DUNCHU (Ms.)

Saturday, April 5, 2008

A Tibetan Monk Speaks Out

This is an interesting article in BBC.

Chinese government indicating openess to talk to the Dalai Lama

This from the site AVAAZ.ORG. Headway!

"On Monday, thousands of people in 84 cities worldwide marched for justice for Tibet--and delivered the 1.5 million-signature Avaaz petition to Chinese embassies and consulates around the globe. (Click below for photos.) Avaaz staff have engaged with Chinese diplomats in New York and London, delivering the petition and urging action. And a growing chorus of world leaders is joining the call.

China is on the fence--quietly indicating an openness to talks with the Dalai Lama, while at the same time pressuring other governments to support its continuing crackdown. Each day, more leaders are speaking out--either for dialogue, or supporting the Chinese hardline. Click below to send a personal message to your head of government, urging support for dialogue with the Dalai Lama--and check out the photo gallery from Monday's day of action!

Together, we've built an unprecedented wave of global pressure. The Avaaz petition is one of the biggest and fastest-growing global online petitions on any topic in history; since it launched on March 18, it has been signed by 100,000 people per day--an average of more than 4,000 per hour, day and night.

Politicians understand that there is power in numbers. We need to show them that they have more to gain by listening to their own people--and heeding the cry for help from Tibet--than by giving China a pass in the lead-up to the Olympic Games. Take action now

We're privileged to be alive at a time when people anywhere can reach out and support people everywhere--instantly. If we have the power to make things better, we have a responsibility to act. Thanks for what you've done so far, for the people of Tibet and for a more humane world for all.

With hope,

Ben, Ricken, Graziela, Galit, Paul, Iain, Pascal, and the Avaaz team

PS - The more people sign the petition, the more powerful our call for change. We will hope to deliver it to the Chinese government again once we reach our target of 2 million signers. If you haven't already, please forward the email below to your friends and family, and urge them to sign the Tibet petition!"

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

This is from MSN: The Chinese government says at least 22 people have died in Lhasa; Tibetan rights groups say nearly 140 Tibetans were killed, including 19 in Gansu province.

So far, the U.S., Britain and Germany have all condemned China for its response to the protests, but stopped short of threatening to boycott the games or the Aug. 8 opening ceremony.

But French President Nicolas Sarkozy has suggested he could boycott the opening ceremony."Our Chinese friends must understand the worldwide concern that there is about the question of Tibet, and I will adapt my response to the evolutions in the situation that will come, I hope, as rapidly as possible," he told reporters in southwest France.

Belgian Vice Premier Didier Reynders, meanwhile, said officials in his government had not excluded the possibility of staying away from the Games. The sports minister of the northern Dutch-speaking region of Flanders has already said he will not attend the opening ceremony of the games, arguing the ceremony is used to promote Chinese propaganda.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Breitenbush Hot Springs


I read this on an ICE sign lining the drive home from Breitenbush Hot Springs. Be nice. If anything, my retreats at Breitenbush always remind me of this. Be nice to myself, to others, to the earth. For the first time, I went alone and, for the first time, I joined one of the organized retreats, this one led by Ashtanga Yoga teacher and Kirtan chanter, David Garrigues. It was an amazing weekend. The snowline was down, so families of deer grazed just beyond my reach as I soaked in the hot springs. I came within feet of a woodpecker, so close I saw that he had red on his cheeks as well as on top of his head. Kirtan, chanting, hours of revitalizing yoga, deep forest scenery, clean air and organic food all came together at 4:00 in the morning when I was jolted awake, vitalized and humming with energy. I crept out for a soak just a few feet from sleeping deer, and then wrote as the sun rose. Ah, be nice. I wish I could be that nice to myself all the time.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Matt's Blog

Take a look at Matt's blog and read his entry on Tibet. It is very interesting to read Andrew's comments to Matt's entry. Andrew presents the views expressed by the Chinese. For years I've been trying to understand these views--very important considering that Cheng is a Han. I don't agree, but I want to understand why reasonable, peaceful people support such policy.

Uprising in Tibet: Tibet on Fire

Read the three posts below to find some websites to visit for more information about the uprisings in Tibet and also to sign a petition. I will be honest, I've been signing petitions since college, but I doubt the Chinese government will respond to international pressure on this subject. They never have before. Beijing's line is that the "separatist" Dalai Lama has hoodwinked the foolish Hollywood liberals into spinning a fairy-tale story of Tibet, and all the pressure to Free Tibet comes from this. Beijing has been unmovable in their disdain for Western intervention on this matter. However, there are new factors coming into play now. These factors give me enough hope to spread the word. Sign Petitions, keep informed, get involved because if ever there was a time, it is now.

Here's why: The Olympics. China as a viable player in the world economy. If China wants to trade, they will want to run a nice looking show at the Olympics. If they want to run a nice looking show at the Olympics, they can't have a bunch of Tibetans burning down Han stores. It is the serpent eating its tail, but it does present a new spin on this issue. In any case, I did sign the petition.

I think this uprising was inevitable. The impending summer Olympics has fanned fires, but the embers have been rising for a few years. The completion of the supertrain in 2006 pushed these tensions higher. The Chinese are incredible road-builders. Build a road or a supertrain and you have a better economy. That is what Chinese did in Tibet. According the The Economist, Tibets GDP growth has stayed above 12% for the past seven years. I read in The Economist and elsewhere that while that may be true, most Tibetans perceive that the bulk of the new wealth has gone to the Hans. You see, while these roads and trains bring better trade and mobility, they also bring more Hans. The plan has been to dilute the Tibetan culture and destroy its roots. It is a slow, methodical process, but since the new rail link in 2006, a dam has broken. This flood of Han immigrants probably had a lot to do with the recent uprising.

This leads to a second point, and that is the idea of identity in Tibet. When I lived in Turkey, I learned this lesson of cultural identity firsthand. Ataturk said, "how happy to be Turks." This motto is everywhere in Turkey and for good reason. Turkey was, and still is, a land of many disparate cultures. The only way Ataturk was able to unite his fledgling country was to bring them all together under one identity. Sure, you can be a Kurd, Arab, or Armenian, but only if you display your pride at being a Turk first. Swear your allegiance to and your identity to the Turkish land it its ideals, then eat some Kurdish food with your Turkish friends. The problems in Turkey are with those subcultures who still consider themselves "Kurd" first and Turk second. It is the same in China. A popular pop singer is a Tibetan girl who sings in Mandarin and wears "hip" clothing. She is the ideal Tibetan, one who thrives in Han culture. Most know of the Chinese campaign to stomp out the culture of Tibet, "patriotic education" it is called. However, many do not realize that moving Hans into Tibet, clearing the land of its people, is the most effective. This same relocation has happened in areas of Mongolia and Xinjiang. In fact, for many years Hans were paid money to relocate and marry a person from the subculture.

How do I feel about what is happening in Tibet? Angry, but strangely hopeful. For so long, the Tibetan people suffered silently. When I see a Tibetan emboldened by the riots to disrupt Olympic events, I think "go, man, go." This silent suffering and release is encapsulated in the story of one man I interviewed named Karma. Having grown up in Tibet, Karma was a rare man to meet here--a Tibetan who had lived in his homeland. I meet so many first, second, third, fourth generation refugees. He told me that he left Tibet as a man. In fact, he grew up in the area where my book takes place. One day, Karma told me, he realized that he could not live one more day without freedom. He just got on a horse and rode, found a way across the border, and finally was able to come to the U.S. I asked him if he told his family he was leaving and he told me that he hadn't. He said that if he told anyone he would have endangered their lives. He said that every day he wondered about his family, but he felt sure that they understood his decision. I imagine Karma, brooding at the rolling dark clouds, watching a sunbeam rise and sink, and finally lacing his boots and riding to the pulse of his fate.

Could this be that possible opening for Tibet? If only the Tibetans can squeeze through this space and breathe. What will that feel like?

Economist Correspondent in Tibet

With the Olympics around the corner, China was opening up some of their constraints on journalists in a bid for goodwill. As a part of this opening up, the Chinese allowed The Economists' journalist into Tibet just days before the uprising in Lhasa. He was the only Western journalist in Tibet when the violence erupted. Go to to read about the account from The Economists' Beijing correspondent.

This is from the Tibetan Community: Petition and Informative Site

After decades of repression, Tibetans are crying out to the world for change. China's leaders are right now making a crucial choice between escalating brutality or dialogue that could determine the future of Tibet, and China.

We can affect this historic choice -- China does care about its international reputation. But it will take an avalanche of global people power to get the government's attention. The Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has called for restraint and dialogue: he needs the world's people to support him. Fill out the form below to sign the petition--and spread the word.

sign the petition

This is another site where you can find information on what is happening in Tibet.

A Message from the Venerable Geshela Kalsang Damdul

This is a recent message from the spiritual director of the Shakyamuni Tibetan Buddhist Center, the Venerable Geshe Kalsang Damdul. I have had the honor of attending his workshops.

The situation in Tibet is very sad and difficult. Hundreds of inocent
people have been killed by the Comminist Chinese. Over eight hundred
people have been imprisoned. More and more people are coming out in
the to protest in almost all parts of the world.

For more information, please kindly go to the web site of Tibetan
Center for Human Rights and Democracy:

Here we all are praying at the temple for those who have lost their
lives and those who are in prison and the families of the victims. The
situation in Dharamsala is really very tense. The pictures of the
people killed and wounded are put on the walls. Every now and then we
receive fresh news about arrests in Tibet. So please kindly keep
Tibetan people in your prayers.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Motherless Child

My friend Maureen and I talked for over three hours tonight. It is only within the space of that time that people can really understand themselves and their friends. It is like diving to the depth of our reality. These conversations sustain me. Yeah for great friends.

After talking to Maureen, thinking about the motherless child. Thinking this archetype will be the central person in my next novel. Thanks Maureen!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Listen to Yourself

One thing I was never good at was listening to my body or my heart either when it comes down to it. I have these very sensitive instinctual feelers that drag before me like a walking cane, tapping against the needs of others, directing me towards some rather crooked goals. It's been a heavy way of getting on in the world, and sometimes very confusing. So, I've started listening, tuning into my body. I discovered at the age of 39 that my bronchial tubes constricted, sent out all sorts of antihistamines, and just plain impeded my breathing when I exercised. I went on a little singular pill and I was able to run. I've been running ever since, and plan on finishing my first half marathon this summer. Crazy that I never really tuned in to notice it before, but I was so busy pushing past the pain. This is me finishing a 5 K Shamrock Run this morning in a 30 minute jog. Not racing, just feeling the course out with my breath rather than a walking stick.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Spring with my daughter

It is spring. Coranna is riding a real bike now, helping me in the garden, running a race, and just all around so much fun. Today we went to a birthday party for one of her friends.

Having a kid in the season when I feel most like a kid is like peanut butter and chocolate.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Magic Realism

Click on the link above to read Neil Ayres' article "Magic Realism Defies Genre." I haven't even taken on Magic Realism yet on this blog. I need to. Before I take a deep breath and plunge into that discussion, read this article. Ayres argues that Magic Realism has been around a long time and is the work of great fiction, fiction that transcends others. I happen to agree. Did I mention that Secret of the Plains contains the elements of Magic Realism?

It's Raining

It's raining against my window. The familiar sound is strangely unfamiliar, reminding me it has been a dry, sunny spring--so unPortland. I've appreciated, noticed, and soaked up the sunny patterns brightening my school walls, the ability to walk and bike. But, it is Oregon, it is spring, and I need the rain, welcome it back, feel order has been restored by the light tapping against the window behind my back.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Who is Tara?

Tara, Bodhisattva of Compassion. Clink on the link above to read an article I wrote about Tara. My artistic friend, Marianne, took this photo and the one heading this blog. She bought her White Tara statue in Kathmandu while helping me search for my own Kali, my obsession at that time, though now I prefer the quieter Tara. This very green looking White Tara sat in the corner of a shop and Marianne was immediately drawn to her, though she also told me that she wasn't there to buy statues. I bartered a bit with the man, and when he went down a little in his price, Marianne immediately clasped Tara to her, and paid the shop keeper. We laughed at her easy conversion to Buddhist relics. There is something otherworldly and comforting about this statue. Who knows maybe she pried open this novel.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

An excerpt from A Secret of The Plains. In this scene, Cheng falls into a dark cavern and under the spell of a beautiful woman.

A sticky heat crawled over his skin as Cheng slithered into an enormous steaming cavern that funneled up to the sky. He stood. Steam snaked around him, choking him. Yet, even that was preferable to his chest being pressed between two slabs of rock. He tilted his head up to the yawning opening and gasped for breath. The sky looked so open, so blue.

“You’ve come,” said a soft feminine voice through the steam. He felt no surprise. He expected her.

“I’ve come,” he responded, echoing the local greeting. Before him, a woman with dark cavernous eyes and wildly fanned hair the color of water floated across the sweltering steam. She approached as a wingless dragonfly, her dark skin illuminating the water. The steam twisted up her and encircled her naked body like a misty gown. Unlike White Tara’s noble stature, this goddess assaulted his senses with her blunt, fiercely feminine form. All thought and fear left Cheng, and his groin pulsated. Had he learned to accept these many faced goddesses? He felt giddiness in his acceptance.

Cheng licked his lips. “Where am I?” he tried to ask, but only a breathy muttering emerged. She stood before him, her full breasts moistened with clear drops of misty water, her ruby nipples erect. Her rounded belly rose and fell as she flowed closer. She stopped a hand width from his own burning skin. Her long, lotus petal eyes fluttered. Cheng waiting, feeling her closeness, smelling the mossy, burnt scent of her, like a pit fire.

She placed her arms across her breasts and kicked the water. “You’ve come,” she said again a warm smile spreading across her sensual face. This voice was softer, more feminine than the other Tara’s. She lowered her head to his neck and giggled again. “I’ve been waiting for you,” she said, her soft voice whispered into his neck, prickling him. Her hair smelled like ash and a strange dust filled his nose. He felt so lightheaded that he reached out and squeezed her hand to keep from falling back. This feeling was nothing like the sweet shiver of anticipation he had felt with the Karaoke woman in Fuzhou. This was the Yangse River coursing through him, flooding him.

“Tara?” he whispered, tipping his chin back, willing her to wrap herself around his pliant body.

“You have come! My tse-das,” she said a feather from his neck. Tse-das. The one who cannot be named.

“Tara,” Cheng whispered, naming her, closing his eyes and leaning into her so that her lips touched his skin. “Tara.” He lifted his neck into her lips. His body shook. To fall to the earth and melt into her. He didn’t know why Tara had picked him, but felt a sureness he’d never felt at any other time in his life. This spirit filled him, empowered him. He almost laughed at the pleasure. She moved her lips across his Adam’s apple to his shoulder.

Cheng licked his lips, leaned into her. This was what it felt to touch the divine.

--Copyright C. Tkaczyk

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Fire Lamb

I've been thinking about Lili and Fire Horses. I didn't realize until recently that I was also a fire sign. I was born in the year of the Fire Ram, or Fire Lamb as this site calls me. I like this description I found on the web. "Nary a cantankerous bone in the Fire Lamb's body. Their lives are filled with laughter, giggles, and fun surprises. The Fire Lamb possesses an unusual combination of traits of the introvert and extrovert. Thoroughly enjoying their own company, they relish solitude but also thoroughly enjoy the companionship of others. They exude such warmth and energy, people naturally gravitate to them, while respecting their needs for privacy. Straightforward in all their dealings with people, Fire Lambs show sublime kindness because they know every person they meet is facing a difficult battle. Courageous under fire, Fire Lambs realize they need to make big changes to banish the many obstacles that stand in their way. For instance, they do not experience a smooth-sailing career. When something turns bad, Fire Lambs have to persevere to make turnarounds, and they do just that. Financial fortune peaks in middle age, but the Fire Lamb has to be careful to make that fortune last way into the autumn and winter of life, or else! But, oh my, do Fire Lambs ever experience good fortune when it comes to Love! Mama mia! Affectionate, loving, and passionate, they never part from their loved ones without loving words because they realize they might be their last. Every day is living poetry!"

Monday, February 18, 2008

Culture Fair

For six years my ESL students have presented their cultures to the school. This Culture Fair has stretched and grown to enormous proportions. For most of the day, students bring their "passports" around the world and then at the end of the day, a diverse group of students perform at our diversity assembly. I stood in the auditorium before the assembly watching them practice: Mexican, Japanese, Irish and Chinese folk dancers as well as the more modern Salsa and Hip Hop. I grabbed my MCs, Inna and Winnie, and as we stood in the middle of their rehearsing we soaked it all up. It was amazing.

Between my students and my novel, I get to travel quite a bit.

Chinese editor resigns over fake Tibet photos

"I have no reason to continue my sacred career as a newsman. I am not qualified for the job," Xinhua quoted Liu, the photographer, as saying in a statement.

This article is interesting on several levels.

First, look at the quotation above by the photographer who spliced together a photo of endangered Tibetan antelope near the very controversial Tibetan railway. The photographer's word choice for his resignation is just not something you would hear in this country. We do not call our careers "sacred". Even more importantly, we deflect blame. In the U.S. the journalist would probably say something like "I was under pressure" or "I was trying to improve my career" whereas Liu stated "I am not qualified for the job."

Secondly, this is a very touchy subject. The Chinese have been under great pressure to demonstrate that their railroad has not harmed the fragile ecology on the Tibetan plateau. Damage to the permafrost and decline of animals such as the antelope have been the two most contentious issues. In fact, just recently I read an article by a scientist studying decline of the antelope in Tibet. The Chinese government had used the photo of antelope grazing by the railroad to bolster their case, but now they haven't an antelope leg or antler to stand on. Click on link to see the Chinese government's web page asserting that the antelope has adapted to the railroad. Liu's photo is at the center of this page. This scandal has only furthered discussion of an issue on which Beijing would prefer to stay silent.

Finally, this issue flames the world-wide sentiment that the Chinese should not be occupying Tibetan lands. China's superfast trains carry more Chinese tourists, immigrants, and industry which chip away not only at the ecology but the culture of Tibet.

It will be interesting to follow this trail to see where it lands. The speedy and comfortable train will not be derailed, but neither will the opposition.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Kirtan with Benjy and Heather Wertheimer

I am a kirtan addict. I stumbled into it. After I separated from my husband, I went to Breigtenbush with a friend during a kirtan weekend. We attended the free kirtan and I was hooked. Singing is the most ancient aspect of my personality, the only innate talent I have, and one of my greatest pleasures. Kirtan--sacred Hindu chanting--combines singing, Hindi (oh, so close to my dear Nepalese), and spirituality. When I returned to Portland I immediately trolled the net for more. The problem was that the first kirtan I found fell on a Wednesday night. Now those who know me understand immediately the dilemma. I think of Wednesday night the way an evangelical looks at Sunday morning. Wednesdays are my don't ever pen me in for anything days, my schedule my vacations to wrap around this day. I don't like to miss Leora, my writing group. But, it was early enough into my joining Leora that I could make a deal with myself: I decided to attend the kirtan and then go late to my writing group. So in late winter of '07, I went to David Newman, my first kirtan. It blew me away. I had not felt so satiated since a good night of sex. I went to Gita Sala, Benjy and Heather Wertheimer, and others. Each time I came away at peace, centered, and a little more whole.

Tonight I took my mom to a kirtan with Benjy and Heather Wertheimer. They are the best musical group I've seen perform kirtan so I thought it would be a good introduction. I got a little nervous after the great "om" at the beginning about whether it would all be too overwhelming for my mom, but then I lost myself in the night and trusted that she would find something to hook into. My mom's acceptance of things new always surprises me. She comes from a very small town and from a family fearful of change, but she can just dive in when she feels safe. She loved the night and is considering going to another with me. She even started singing along at the end. And, she was very excited to tell me that the beginning "om" was so powerful it shook the floor. I guess you never stop learning new things about those you love. Jai, jai, jai kirtan.

Monday, February 11, 2008


**A little addendum on Oscar Night. This song won an Oscar.

On Saturday night, Coranna and I had a girls' night at her friend, Abigail's, house. Cathy, Abigail's mom, had seen the film Once and decided to invite people over to sing, to bring creativity and music into her community. Cathy and her friend played guitars and I followed along in the song book, and while the little girls played dress up and BINGO in Abigail's room, we sang songs and then watched the film Once. It was a nice night. Singing folk songs in a circle of new and old friends is relaxing, creative, and satisfying in a deep, down primal way. We don't do things like that enough in our culture--or at least, I don't. When I lived in other countries, communities gathered around making and sharing music, in England, Nepal, and Turkey. After the video here of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova singing the signature song from the film, Glen Hansard talks of how music eeks from Ireland's dark soil, falls from her rains, and howls in her windstorms--music is Ireland and Ireland is music.

We lost that. America is a fast-music nation, laying on his back like Shiva listening to an i-pod while the world Kali-dances over him. This year I organized the small stage and assembly performances for the Culture Fair/Diversity Day at our school. ESL students came forward with their music, their expressions of culture: Cambodian, African, Mexican, Peruvian, Chinese, Irish and Japanese. In the rest of the world, the making of music and culture are interchangeable. I wish America could get that back.

In Tibet and Nepal--music and music making is like breathing. I tried to show this in the novel, by threading Cheng's signature rock song with the lama's love for Madonna, Punchok's constant declarations that it is time to dance and sing, and the folk songs reverberating from every stopping place. As Cheng moves closer to Tibetan culture, he also moves closer to the folk music, so that by the last scene he is no prone Shiva, but a powerful Kali dancing and singing with the village.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Culture Shock

In the start of the novel, Cheng Lin, a young Chinese road engineer is clearly out of his element in Tibet. The reader may question Cheng's perception, or believe him and begin to change their own perceptions as the novel progresses. Either way, this scene is pieced together from feelings I've felt when deep in the paranoia of culture shock. Cheng has much to learn in his journey to the Fire Horses.


“Fire Horses,” the woman whispered into Cheng's ear, her braid falling against his shoulder again as it had in the tent. He looked at the shiny strands of hair, incandescent like a dark sea shell.

“Fire Horse?” Cheng swallowed, his interest in the sword man gone. He remembered her earlier words about a journey to the Fire Horse. “I don’t believe in Astrology. Fire Horses mean nothing to me.”

“You do not believe in the destructive power of Fire Horse women?” the woman replied lifting her head.

Cheng felt his throat closing from the incense. This woman was bating him, trying to get him to talk about Lili. She must be a spy. “I need to get back.” He turned, but the woman caught him with her words.

“I am only asking for your compassion.” Something in her voice compelled him to turn. She placed her hand on Cheng’s arm and the warmth of her skin cauterized him, filled his heart. “I know you can feel compassion.”

Before he could reply, someone grasped him from behind. Cheng’s heart still pulsated with the warmth of the Tibetan woman’s touch as he felt himself being tossed over a man’s shoulder. Hanging upside down he watched the man in the dress charging at him, jumping around bodies and bowls. The masked actor with the wooden rod attached to his pants had caught him up. Cheng tightened his grip. He didn’t want to be the next human shield, felt embarrassed by the explosion of laughter erupting from the crowd. If he thought he had not been noticed before, now he realized his error as the crowd's cheers rose at his humiliation. The round, grinning faces pressed against him the fervor of their screams increasing, as if someone had thrown gasoline on a fire. They could attack him, who would tell.

Cheng stiffened, squirmed and tried to get off the actor’s shoulders but the man only tightened his grip. Cheng pinched the actor’s forearm until the man released him, and he grasped for his balance before landing onto the unyielding stage. Silver pain coursed through him as he slammed his rigid elbow on the floor. The crowd silenced.

The actor dressed as a man whipped off his mask, revealing the pockmarked face of one of his road workers. A worker Cheng had told Dorje to fire for his slow work. The shadowy craters gave the worker’s face a sinister look. The villagers pressed into him. The worker rotated Cheng’s arm, and then patted him on the back. The crush of drunken faces cheered. The pulsating activity returned. Cheng took a deep breath and closed his eyes. He needed fresh air.

“It is not broken.” The woman stifled a grin. Cheng followed her eyes to his hands. He’d been wringing the worker's wooden rod. He tossed it from him, his head beginning to pound. “You hit a nerve.”

Squatting next to Cheng, the worker nodded, his eyes piercingly intelligent. Cunning. Cheng would need to watch this man. The worker donned his mask and the two actors slapped Cheng on the back, motioning their good intentions. The worker picked up the rod and rubbed it into Cheng’s hair as the villagers cheered and crushed against him. The villagers' earlier hostility still prickling against the back of his neck, Cheng resisted any reaction of anger, moving only when the worker tied the rod around his waist again.

“You must return to your camp. The sun is rising,” The woman urged her words like the icy plateau slick with reality. She placed her long fingers on his shoulder and he wondered how a hand so soft could be found in this inhospitable climate.
As he followed her through the crowded tent, he didn’t look at his watch. He didn’t want to know the lateness of the hour.

Outside, the surreal events dissipated as the night’s air filled his lungs and cleared the heavy incense from his nose. An orange slit lit the Kunlun Shan peaks. Night lay like a mountain shadow at his feet, deceptively dark below the awakening sun. The shadows rolled back quickly once the sun crested the peaks.

“I still need your help.” Cheng kept his eyes on the rising orange glow.

The woman's words prodded him. “Run toward the rising sun. You will find your camp. If you hurry no one will know you were gone.”

-- Copyright C. Tkaczyk 2008

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Tseyang Palzom's words.

Tseyang Palzom, an 18-year-old in Gangtok. India writes this in her blog (click on the link above to visit her blog).

"I believe that i am a Tibetan though i have never seen Tibet nor have my parents.Being a Tibetan is not about living in Tibet .Its not about wearing a chupa and speaking in Tibetan .Its about who you truly believe you are from within -a Tibetan. Its about that feeling of love and togetherness we feel when we are among Tibetans.We all shout slogans against the Chinese demanding them to get out of Tibet and give it back to us .But how can they give it back to us when it never was taken away from us.Tibet forever continues to remain alive in our hearts .

Its because Tibet is not about the land,its about us ,the Tibetan people and as long as we are alive and united and as long as are carefully preserving our rich culture and language,we are surely heading in the right direction.The Chinese may be living on the plot of land called Tibet and rejoicing over their victory on having gained it. It does not matter because its not about where you live its about what you feel from inside. I am a Tibetan whether I am living in Tibet or whether I am living in Timbuktoo and there is absolutely no one who can take away that identity from me.So what do I care if the Chinese are living on my land.
Being a Buddhist ,I believe in being at peace with myself and to forgive and move on . Hatred and anger does no good. It only eats you away from within and weakens you.It hampers your fulfilling existence on this planet.I do not have hatred for the Chinese within me and I am happy as long as I am alive and am continually working to make this world a better place to live in-not only for the Tibetans but for humanity as a whole."

This young woman very eloquently cuts to the heart of what I am trying to do in Secret of the Plains. A person's culture cannot be taken away, a heart cannot be preempted.