October 22nd, 2011

I have been attracted to poetry lately.  When the Borders was closing down a couple months ago, I left with three books of poetry:  Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, and an anthology.  I gravitate toward different poetry than I used to.  I loved Robert Frost as a teenager but now the poems remember (can still recite) seem self important and a bit too allegorical.  I was attracted to the strangeness of e e cummings.  But now I prefer the poetry of careful observation.

I heard the poet Marie Howe interviewed and liked this poem.

What the Living Do

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss — we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.


September 20th, 2011

The backstreets were hungover this morning. A young red and yellow Spanish football jersey carted away some kegs. I headed out to the mercado for higos, pan, and to the farmacia for something for H. He’s all worn out–was worn out even before out departure– and his throat hurts. At the farmacia, I pointed to my throat and indicated that I would like a spray. I walked out with Anginovag. All of the possible root words are all wrong in English; perhaps it indicates something more appropriate in Spanish. Regardless, it seems to have helped.

My Spanish is quite poor. I have only a single box in my head for romance languages, so French phrases (my only formal language training) come to mind instead of Spanish. Je voudrais…. no no no. Should have refreshed with some Spanish tapes before the trip, but there wasn’t time. It’s all been rather last minute. Luckily, folks here are friendly when you smile sheepishly and mangle their language. Sigh. so American.

H still has work to do, although I’m usually the one to get in trouble for working on vacation. He has a meeting this Friday in Madrid– the excuse for our trip here, along with my travel to Tennessee immediately before (right next door to Spain, compared to my usual digs)– so, he is working away this morning.

A short history lesson from Granada: 1492 is the year that American school children learn that Columbus headed off across the Atlantic in the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, but it is also the final year of the Reconquista, when Ferdinando & Isabel completed their conquest of Spain and ejected the last Moorish ruler in Andalusia; it is also the year that marks the beginning of the Inquisition. A trifecta. The brutality of it is shocking and still, unsurprisingly, human.


August 29th, 2011

I returned from the high seas a week ago. It took a few days to recover. Not so much from the physical work — although the tiredness and vague nausea of the ship heading into the seas the last few days does take it’s toll– but from the social intensity of living in close quarters for a month.

I spent a month carefully curating my interactions with the crew, my colleagues, and my little team. There are so many potential pitfalls, so easy to annoy people, so easy to lose their confidence. It was exhausting to do everything just right. I felt brittle upon my return… carefully constructed but not sturdy.

And this careful construction is just the many tiny bricks of an ego edifice. The curating of my ‘professional’ image. I post about my activities, accomplishments, clever observations. But with all this reporting, feel further from myself upon return. I can feel the change in my body– tightness has returned in the hips and loss of sensation in the thoracic spine. I can feel it in my relationship with H.

Can I do this work without the striving?

Ship Practice

July 31st, 2011


No diving today, so I scooted out to the bow of the ship this morning to practice.   Although the ship is large (224 ft), you still feel the rocking of our currently calm seas.  The bow isn’t the most stable part of the ship (that would be the fan tail), but it is the loneliest and smells the least of diesel.   The ship is a rather male-centric environment, so it’s best to find a lonely spot before doing crazy yoga poses that might attract attention.

Boat yoga is a little like yoga for pregnant ladies — you have to keep your feet a bit wider. In samasthi and throughout the standing sequence where you would normally have your feet together or aligned, on the boat, I keep mine a few inches apart. In vinyasa, sometimes the boat rolls you into urdhva mukha svanasana or adho mukha svanasana , and sometimes you have to overcome the roll to get there. Utthita hasta padangusthasana requires a hand for balance.  Low arm balances are, curiously, not a problem: bakasana, titibhasana A are still solid.  High arm balances are tricky:  I tried pincha mayurasana with moderate success,  handstands felt a little scary, and I didn’t bother with karandavasana, which still needs work even on terra firma.   Kapotasana and standing backbends were fine, at least in the easy seas we have right now.

With all the experiment planning, the most difficult part of practice is the spinning mind — this is the same as home, of course.  But, perhaps, worse because of all the protocols and scenarios running through my head.  Being out here is a huge investment in people, time, and resources (the ship costs ~$10000/day to run) so I want stuff to work!  Tomorrow, we will launch a small dive boat off the big boat, go to the site where we deployed an instrument two days ago, carefully anchor (avoiding any coral damage in the protected area), deploy a corded instrument from the boat to the dive site, and run a bunch of experiments.  It’s all a little crazy and exciting, and has lots of details.  Lots and lots of details for me to worry about and so my mind spins…. today it was running around about anchoring scenarios.

But, if all goes well, my mind has mellowed by the end of practice.   Maybe I should get in at least the sun salutes even on dive days…   I suspect the rest of my team might appreciate it.


July 27th, 2011

Mokumanamana is where light and darkness meet, where the living and dead intermingle. The entrance to Po, where mana is strong. This last high island before the volcanoes descend into atolls is the Hawaiian River Styx. A monk seal greets us here. Boobies, frigates, terns, and petrels abound, and their excrement enriches the land, the sea, the air.

A successful day in the field; a day where experience mattered a little, and I had some. This still surprises me. Here’s what we did:

We also saw a little crabby friend.


July 25th, 2011

The cliff face of west Nihoa plunges into the water with an iron-red stain. Perhaps the red stain gives the water its shade of royal purple-blue. Not much coral here: cauliflower heads and small polyp patches on large basalt boulders that get rolled enough by passing storms to prevent larger, slower growing corals. Bright four-spot and ornamented butterflies wander through the high relief with hole-peeping blennies, pursed-lipped chubs, and square-jawed emperors.

The push and pull of waves overhead overwhelms our effort at staying still. Here, stillness is to acquiesce to the movement of the water. Of course, we push against the stillness: we have work to do. Work on hypotheses that, in the blue face of nature, are clearly oversimplified by too much time in the lab, in front of the screen. It’s all foolishness, even when the experiment works.


May 13th, 2011

The interns are coming. Lots of them. I need to purchase three computers for my lab. One expensive one (for this and another purpose) and two perfectly adequate ones. I was supposed to purchase them weeks ago. I finally tried to shop for them today. I find these decisions paralyzing. There are an infinite number of tiny decisions to make, I don’t have any brand loyalty to help me, and how my needs match up to the many possible specifications is entirely unclear. It, ridiculously, makes me want to quit my job so that I never have to purchase anything again. (It took me >10 months to purchase a $10k microscope.) I feel incompetent that I don’t know enough to make the decision, lazy since I don’t really want to do the research, overwhelmed by the shear number of possibilities, embarrassed that I can’t make such a trivial decision, cheap because I make too big a deal about it, and silly. Silly, silly Wombat! So much feeling and so little deciding.

And now I will feel tired, for having stayed up too late looking at NewEgg.com. Hmm, I wonder if those eggs are from chickens or my friend the echidna?

To Cali

May 12th, 2011

I head to California tomorrow for two weeks. Not vacation, really, just playing house (and work) from another venue. I am anxious to see H, visit the strawberry stand, and avoid the string of meetings that have obliterated the last several weeks.

As you head west out of Davis, there is a small field and strawberry stand at the corner of Covell and Pedrick. The stand is run by southeast Asian immigrants who have, I hope, profited greatly from my strawberry gluttony, and sent their kids to college on strawberry proceeds. It’s hard work of rice-paddy hats and fingers stained red all summer. It a wonder that this little plot remains on the edge of a town where land values resisted the recent downturn. They grow Chandlers and Seascapes, which are small, sweet, flavorful, and spoil quickly. Davis is a college town, originally the ag campus of Cal. Those big, unbruised, and flavorless beauties in every Safeway and Kroger that need maceration or a coating of chocolate are likely Camarosas and were developed on campus. Now, few souls know of the delicate possibility of any other varietal.

But the Wombat knows. And she plans to eat a lot of them.

Pincha and Renunciation

May 6th, 2011

I woke up this morning to discover some new muscles! I think they are the holding-the-rib-cage-down muscles. They are sore. I think it must be from this week’s introduction of pincha mayurasana. What fun! Wombat likes inversions! And Wombat’s handstands are improving, too.

Last Sunday, I joined a monthly satsang that started at the yoga studio. The theme for the first meeting was attachment, non attachment, and renunciation. Laura and Yoko are leading the satsang, and Laura posts about this month’s theme here (http://www.lauradunnyogablog.com/2011/04/satsang-on-attachment-non-attachment.html). Having not participated in such a thing before, I was a bit leery (the closest thing I have participated in were “small groups” we used to do at church in HS and college, which can be a bit intense, thus my leeriness). But it is nice to connect with some familiar faces from the studio, whom I smile at each morning but never speak to.
So, considering that one way to discovered just how attached you are is to renounce something, I decided to turn off the audio for this month. Usually, my morning alarm is NPR news, which I listen to until I get to practice. After practice on my way to work, I listen to more NPR news or Talk of the Nation, depending on the time. After work, I do the same thing on the way home, and listen to the news or a podcast of Fresh Air, or some other show while I cook dinner and sometimes through until bed. Sometimes I only turn it off when I am on the phone with H. And while you may think this is the same as having the television on all the time, let me assure you, the Wombat declares haughtily, that is it not! Oh no! This Wombat listens only to educational, informative, or properly intellectual programming! No Housewives for this Wombat! And, the Wombat can do other *productive* things at the same time! Like cook or clean or practice handstands! (Well, the Wombat admits, it might be just like having the tv on all the time, but she lacks a tv, so she wouldn’t know…). The Wombat likes to rationalize her listening.

So, I depart the satsang, quietly deciding to turn off the audio until next month. I get in the car, catch myself turning on the radio, sigh, and turn it back off.

The initial effect was increased anxiety. The radio is one way that I turn off negative thoughts.
Since I can’t turn the radio on, I have to let them pass without distraction. I had a couple bad nights of sleep — waking up in the middle of the night for a couple hours, which is typical when my anxiety increases.

I also find that I don’t really want to cook dinner without some entertainment. That is a bit difficult and has resulted in some cereal-for-dinner nights. I think I am a bit calmer talking to H in the evening, which is probably good because he is 3 hours ahead and usually winding down, while I am still up. But I also feel bored, which is its own kind of anxiety that I have to sit with.

Speaking of sitting, I’m thinking that sitting practice might be a nice idea before bed. But let’s not get too ambitious…

Hopefully, the Wombat won’t tear her fur out before the end of the month.


April 24th, 2011

I made it out for a short ride yesterday morning.  Cycling on Oahu isn’t great — there is a lot of traffic and very few back roads.  But one of the nicer rides is the Tantalus/Round Top loop, which is right behind where I live.  This is the view from the top.

I could feel the ride in my practice this morning: IT bands a bit tight.  But it all worked itself out.

Off to chinatown for some vegetables!