Monthly Archives: April 2017

On the Road

“I crashed my motorcycle.”

That was what I said to the few people I told. They asked if I was OK and asked about the damage to the bike. I said yes, nonchalantly, I had bruises on my legs and the bike would need repairs. Only a very, very few knew what really happened, how I ended up laying on the road under a motorcycle I had purchased on a Wednesday, insured on Thursday, and taken out for a practice drive on a Friday.

I had moved out of my apartment and re-gifted, sold, or donated almost all of possessions in the early fall of 2014. About 7 boxes of items were stored at a few locations until I built my next nest, fluffed out my feathers, and settled down. My plan was to stay with friends and family and focus on my writing and network marketing business. A motorcycle seemed like a logical part of my downsizing plan. Even though I owned a first gen Prius, 95% of the time it was only me in the car. Anyone caught in San Francisco bay area traffic or a hard time finding parking knows what I mean. I wanted to use the carpool lane and have easy parking. Light and nimble drove my decisions.

The original plan was to wait until my house sold to buy the motorcycle.  The Prius’ hybrid battery began its death wheeze in October and I upped my original timeline, figuring I needed some form of transportation, as I was then staying with a friend in Grass Valley and there was little public transportation. I had taken classes from Moto U  in the summer months before saying adios to my apartment. They did not believe in the weekend classes format. They wanted you to take a series so your body slowly acclimated to the bike and the skills. I believed them.

When I mentioned my goal to transfer to two wheels and a motor, people either loved the idea of me on a bike, dubbing me a ‘Buddha on a bike’ or they hated it, worried about my safety. My son, 19 at the time, said: “Mom, motorcycles are so unsafe.” I paused, noting the oxymoron of him admonishing me at a moment in his life when all things unsafe were considered his purview.

I took my Moto U instructors’ advice and bought safety gear, including a lovely, luminescent yellow jacket, along with padded pants, thick gloves, and a DOT approved helmet. I found the perfect starter bike at a good price in Grass Valley. The one recommended by my instructors. A Honda 250 Rebel.

I wanted to take it slow. Problem was, there were a number of circumstances that did not support that goal. Challenge one was that several months had passed since my classes of a new skill I had not really mastered. Second, there was no real slow in Grass Valley. The roads where I was staying are hilly and also curvy.  My intuition kept prodding me with this data. Heeding my inner valid worry, I found a weekend class and signed up, but it wasn’t for a week and a half after I had bought and driven home my fledgling motorcycle. I  paused, pondered, and then decided to climb back on the verve and fragile confidence that had gotten me home from the motorcycle store atop my new ride.

My plan on Friday was to go for a simple circle drive. I hate admitting my first mistake, because it would come back to send me to the wrong side of the road. When riding, you first open the throttle fully to warm up the engine. You then down it down. I was sitting on my bike, letting it warm up when a car pulled up facing me with people sitting in it. Why I let them dictate my next actions is beyond rational thought so I will just say it.  I was making up stories about what they thought about me sitting there, so I drove away. My plan was to turn the throttle down at the end of the road, but I became completely wrapped up in managing the bumpy, narrow downhill beginning to my practice run and I forgot.  I then missed my crucial third turn because the smoother, wider road was still curvy and I saw the turn too late. No worries, I would just turn down the next road, but it did not come for a while, and then each right turn sent me onto road after road that didn’t lead me home. Cars would show up in my rearview mirror and urge me to drive faster. As my heart raced, I repeated what I learned in my classes – hug the bike with my knees, sit with a straight back, check my mirrors, keep my wrists flat, and don’t go over 35 miles per hour. After about 20 minutes, I came to a stop sign and decided to take one more right and find my way home, no matter what. I was completely exhausted with a roil of panic in my gut.

It was then that, as my mom would say, that mi inteligencia se me fue a mis pies. I saw a car coming on my left and would have preferred to wait for it to pass. There was a car behind me and I foolishly let that push me to decide to turn rather than wait. My next rookie mistake was revving the engine a little too much at the beginning of my turn. This is when the throttle still on high became the final extra push of power to unhorse me.

If anyone reading this rides a motorcycle, you will know there is a difference in how you change direction than what happens with a car. On a motorcycle, you crank your head all the way toward your destination and that tells your body what to do. Instead, I did what I do as a car driver, I turned my head slightly because the hands turning the steering wheel are what turn a car, not the head.

Where did my bike go with my head only slightly turned and my engine revved? It turned past the right lane and into the oncoming traffic lane. In a split second I knew my life was in complete danger because there was oncoming traffic and I held on for my dear, precious life.

I collided head on with a Prius and ended up on the road, underneath my bike, my padded gloved hands still gripping the bike handles. Laying there for a minute, I scanned my body. No searing pain and no mangled body parts. I slowly released the handles and slid out gingerly from under my bike. Some men who had stopped helped me pick up the bike and move it to the side of the road. The left side of my pants had ripped through the first layer. I was flooded with gratitude, adrenalin, and total vergüenza.

The woman who was driving the car that I hit ran over to me. “I thought I had killed you,” she said, and burst into tears. I hugged her, saying: “I am so sorry.”  She finally calmed down and looked at me. “You’re a miracle,” she said.

I didn’t feel like a miracle. I felt like a fool, like I had proved everybody right who had warned me this motorcycle plan was a bad idea. An ambulance arrived and the paramedic checked me out quickly, almost too quickly. I could have had a concussion. They didn’t look under the torn pant at my knee. By then the police had arrived on the scene and I answered their questions completely. After listening, the officer said “OK, we’re not going to take you in”.

Take me in? I then realized they were assessing whether I had been reckless or under the influence of any substances. Certainly laws of reason and intuition had been violated. Meanwhile, the husband of the woman arrived and also gave me a hug. They were being much nicer than I was being on myself. They even drove me home after the tow truck carted off my banged up bike. Close to tears at what I knew had been a brush with death, I had called Dee, my only friend in the area and my shopping partner when I bought all my gear. She met me at home, incredibly solicitous, and treated me to dinner and a margarita.

Over the next few days my bruises spread until my thighs were many shades of purple, while my left knee remained swollen and stiff. I had a few scrapes on my left arm and side, but it was so little given the possibilities of harm. The woman I collided with called me and texted me periodically, asking after my health and continually reminding me I was a miracle. I appreciated her care, and yet her communications also opened up my regrets of the series of unfortunate events that led to my brief moment as a biker mama. My motorcycle was not so lucky, and the insurance adjuster declared it totaled. I sold it for parts to the man who had sold it to me, both of us disconsolate about the circumstances.

A week later a friend posted one of those quotes that shows up regularly on Facebook: “10% is what happens to us and 90% is our response”. I added a comment:
“10% = crashed motorcycle 2 days after buying; 90% = grateful to be alive, focusing on healing bruises, refusing to be drawn into shame and blame, dealing calmly with insurance companies, and planning to get back on a bike once I have fully healed!”

Despite my cheerful post, I did decide to delay my motorcycle era. Not right away. I had signed up for that weekend class and I dragged myself there one week after my crash, wanting to give myself a positive experience on a motorcycle. I hung in there for almost the entire 2-day class. Just a few minutes before they ran us through the final test to award us a temporary license, I became confused with the signals of the instructor as to whether to stop, turn left or turn right. I braked and turned, landing once again on my bruised side. This time I had on my padded boots, which saved me somewhat, but my ankle was sore and cranky. I tried to walk it off and one of the instructor’s gave me some stronger pain pills (whispering to keep it between us), saying I was sure to pass the driving test. Even though I could have toughed it out mentally, my ankle refused to be silenced and I regretfully left the course with another “fail.”

I called my friend, who still rides a motorcycle in her seventies, to flush out my frustration. She gracefully talked me through the jag threatening to engulf me with more shame. It was the best medicine for my wounded body and soul and I returned home ready to give myself all the emotional and physical rest required to make sound decisions about two-wheeled, motorized creatures.

I sold or gave away my gear, creating a clean slate. Like donating organs, women are out on their bikes protected by gear I know, sin duda, works. It has been two and a half years since the accident. I Lyft, walk, bus, ferry, BART, get rides, and rent cars. I have been dubbed a Valkyrie, a vagabond, a gitana and, more surprisingly, an inspiration for folks to re-think their beliefs about the nature of permanence, the car culture, and possessions.

I do ride a two-wheeled motorized creature – an electric bike I purchased in 2015. My tiny wheels, folding bicycle gets lots of love from strangers and friends alike, further inspiring people to consider their transportation options. I favor bike paths as I have no protective gear beyond a helmet and gloves and I know who will lose if a car collides with me. (photo by Minal Hajratwala)

I used to think that my decision to not share the details of my crash was because I was embarrassed and didn’t want people to think I was una loca if one day I do join the motorcycle tribe again. In sharing this story about a year after the crash to a friend, I admitted that I had not done so before because I really could have died. It could have been a bus or a ten-wheeler instead of a Prius. It is not even my possible death that kept this story quiet either. It was the reality of how my death or even serious injury would have impacted the driver, and more importantly, the people in my life who I love – most specifically, my twins. I didn’t want to look at that. Telling this story now is part of forgiving myself and realizing what that sweet woman I crashed into said is true: I am a miracle. I bet all of you, like I did that day, have made some less than wise decisions and we are all here today. Let’s forgive ourselves once and for all so we can rejoice in every moment and every breath of life. #52essays2017 #motorcycles #crashes #miracles

Holding Your Truth

I recently trained a 2-day Racial Justice workshop for a mix of ciswomenblack, brown, and white. I did something I do as little as possible. I pushed white people about white privilege and white supremacy. No blame, no shame. Just the facts. One of which is that there is no lack of anything that causes horrible housing, food deserts, inaccessible health care, under-resourced schools and toxic environments. The problem is not crime, poverty, unplanned pregnancies, hunger, disease, climate change, or _____________ (fill in the blank). The actions stem from white and often male privilege and are rooted in white supremacy. When we were problem-solving the root causes of why it is challenging to have productive, authentic discussions about racial justice, the focus turned, as it should, to the white women in the room.

My question to them was: How did you move from the interpersonal level of “I am a good white person who can help you” to looking at inequity from an institutional/systemic level where ‘lack’ is not the issue? They couldn’t answer me. As women, this would require them to step out of their sense of being one down due to gender and step up to embrace their white privilege and own it with white women AND white men. We all agreed that was their work to do so they could be the one initiating and holding the discussions instead of what typically happens – people of color carrying both the negative impacts of white privilege in our lives AND having to challenge it in conversations. Check out this great essay by Minda Honey on doing it in the beautiful outdoors.

Several privileged situations have occurred recently to spark me to write at this moment. I was playing a tennis match at a tennis club with my team. We enjoy our away matches because the amenities are many, and our home courts are Larkspur public courts, in serious need of repair, even in wealthy Marin County. My partner and I were the only women of color on either team. One of the women we were playing doubles against hit a ball out by about 3 inches. “Out!” I yelled, raising my index finger as is the practice in case they don’t hear the call. Yet another ball was hit out so I did it again. “That ball was in. Maybe some parts of it were out, but it was in. And the other call was bad as well.” Out of that pot of rage that is always simmering in people of color, I stood my ground and said: “Both balls were out by a significant amount. If you have a problem, call for a line judge and you will see my calls are correct.” My anger was palpable, so real I imagined my aura was red hot and they all felt it. People do sometimes question calls and I am one of them. The difference I felt and which my body responded to was the clear, unequivocal tone and sound of white privilege. The complete assurance that she was right and the two brown women were wrong.

My inner warrior did not hesitate to leap on her horse and brandish her sword. By slicing through her delusion, she knew I would not accede to her sense of supremacy. She did not question any further calls and did not call for a line judge. It was only afterwards that I understood my quick and sharp response came from that place of knowing, sin duda, what white supremacy feels like, even when dressed in tennis skirts on a beautiful day with smooth, clean courts where I was enjoying my class and educational privilege that so often gets interrupted as it did the day.

The other dynamic is the requests, again and again, to take care of white, alleged allies. A coaching client and I were working through this maelstrom. She did not like a white savior woman who was constantly inappropriate, yet she was struggling to let her go. My response was for her to consider if the shoe was on the other foot. What I said was: “We give so much leash to white supremacists when they would have cut our throat long ago if we had challenged and undermined them the way they do it to us.” My sword again sliced through a delusion of having to be fair in the face of ongoing disrespect. She is on the move now.

We do no one a favor by allowing them an undetermined amount of time to figure out they act from white supremacy. We do it because we are tired and it is not in our work descriptions: “Excellent interpersonal skills in calling out white supremacy.” It should be in the job descriptions of white people! It should be in the required qualifications and in the interview questions and in the evaluation forms of every organization that has words like equity and justice and equal rights in their vision and mission. The question I raised with the white women would be a great interview question and standard by which to hire – how did you move from an interpersonal to an institutional/systemic analysis of oppression? No answer, no job. Punto. #52essays2017

The Secret of Discipline

“So let us plant dates, even though we who plant them will never eat them.  We must live by the love of what we will never see. This is the secret of discipline.”  Rubem Alves, Brazilian theologian

When you hear the word discipline, what do you think of? It often has a negative connotation due to being connected to punishment. The origin is indeed related to both punishment and suffering AND also to teaching, learning, and knowledge.  This is the definition I use, along with mental self-control to direct or change behavior. It can also be a particular field of activity, as in the discipline of writing, public speaking, or leadership.

I was not big on discipline growing up, believing that constant activity was the key to achievement. Excellence was not a word that was connected to me, even though both my parents were quite detail-oriented and disciplined in many areas of their lives. Most of my teachers did not set a high standard or pay attention to what I could accomplish. My parents didn’t understand the American school system yet still had clear goals for me that included a college degree, a good job with benefits, and a husband with children.

Discipline is sometimes inherent in an individual’s personality and sometimes, like in my case, it was initially an agonizing practice. Something interested me and I stuck with it until I reached a certain level of competency. Without being pushed by most teachers or coaches to be the best I could be, I bounced to another sport or activity. While I was competitive, I did not yet have the mindset to decide a goal, assess the situation, devise a plan, and then evaluate the results. In hindsight, some of the low expectations were based on my gender and race. I had few role models or even a visual of someone like me excelling. I now see that my parents could have been that for me, but they were not held up as role models by my US education and media. They lived by the love they did not see until I was much older and realized all they had done to achieve a comfortable life in this country as immigrants.

There is a lot of talk about the lack of discipline in black and brown communities. Talk of how we are lazy, unmotivated, and don’t believe in education. As Chelsea Batista said when accepted to 11 medical schools: “Several naysayers have attributed my successes to affirmative action, as opposed to discipline and hard work. At some points, I had to remind myself that I earned these accomplishments. That I worked just as hard as those around me and that I had to break through a prominent glass ceiling to get here. I had to remind myself that I was not chosen because I am a Hispanic woman who fulfills the requirements. I was chosen because as a Hispanic woman, I had to struggle through more obstacles and resistance than the typical medical school applicant and I still managed to excel.”

As I said earlier, when recounting my experience, a key element to developing a strong discipline practice is role models. An article about Lieutenant Uhuru from Star Trek when she turned eighty-two stated: The Star Trek character played by Nichelle Nichols broke racial barriers on TV, and when she thought of quitting the series at one point, none other than Martin Luther King, Jr., encouraged her to stay on! “He said I had the first non-stereotypical role, I had a role with honor, dignity and intelligence. He said, ‘You simply cannot abdicate, this is an important role. This is why we are marching. We never thought we’d see this on TV.'”

The first time I used all my previous discipline skills consciously was as a mother at the age of thirty-nine. Before that, but I was too often driven by the end rather than paying attention to the means I used to reach the end. Discipline is all about the means. In fact, when I knew we were having twins, I began making lists, the first conscious discipline tool I used other than a watch and alarms. Without checking off my lists, trips would have ended in tears and sad memories. Another core discipline I began with my children was living a fully bilingual life. I truly accepted that repetition and boredom are necessary elements in achieving life goals, sustaining my spiritual practice, and in raising children. Discipline forces me to transform my world, one small change at a time, planting dates that will not flourish for many years.

Discipline is inherently based in self-love. Discipline must first and foremost be directed at achieving your own aspirations and goals. Only by doing this can we truly give to others because we have the patience and fortitude to know that our present actions are based in love for what we may never see.

First and Last Hour of Your Day
To assess and deepen your own practice, I suggest you start with the first and last hour of your day. These are the most important two hours to create a fruitful discipline practice. Make a list of what you are currently doing in these two hours. Rather than judging yourself, look at each activity and ask yourself: When did I start doing this and why? Do these activities bring ease or do they encourage scattered energy and focus? Then list and commit to activities that are absolutely essential and also note down optional choices. Order them in a natural progression. One of my first hour activities is lighting incense and dedicating the merit of my day to someone. It helps me step out of ego and remember we are all connected. One of my last hour activities is noting 3 things for which I am grateful in my day and why.

Hal Elrod, a bestselling author of a series of books called The Miracle Morning, offers a 6 minute practice if time is of the essence that is a good framework to consider.
1 minute each of:
Silence to calm the mind and breathe, Affirmations to increase internal motivation, Visualization of goals and the day going well, Scribing gratitudes and results for the day, Reading something inspirational, and finally, Exercise to get the heart rate up. While every part of your day should be focused on your important values and goals, the first and last hours form the cornerstone of discipline.

To add even more value and meaning to your lives, integrate the three core elements of discipline:

Notice and appreciate how your day, week, and life blossom with the secret of discipline – living by the love of what we will never see — knowing our lives have benefited by what was planted by those who came before us. Knowing others will benefit from what we plant each day with discipline. #coaching #fullhearted #discipline #self-love

Salsa and Makeovers

Getting to my first salsa lesson took every ounce of imagining myself dancing with my most recent crush. I found a beginner’s class at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts and shooed my qualms out the front door and into the car with me.

“You have no idea how to be a follower, eres una mandona” jumped out of my throat, followed closely with “You’ll give Latinas a bad name.”

I ran into the Ashby BART station and pushed my card through the slot and there was no turning back. Those voices hovered in the air, trailing me like they owned my heart. This was my chance to set aside the independence I so coveted and see what it took to trust a dance partner the way I trusted my business colleagues and friends. The expectation that all Latinas are good dancers was as foolish as the other stereotypes I regularly helped my clients unearth and release. Practicing what I preached was not always fun.

I exited the 16th station and walked down the sidewalk full of odors ranging from pan dulce to carnitas to urine. On the wall just outside the Center’s blood-red building, a jaguar stood vigil with an outstretched tongue, daring me to enter. I boldly bought a four-class pass to reclaim my stake and climbed the dark stairs to the second floor landing. Standing outside the dance studio with a few other intrepid souls, it was as if we were going to watch a safe sex video before being tested for HIV. We avoided each other’s eyes and stood like girasoles along the cool walls. The teacher, a dark haired, petite gringa walked through us and into the studio with her assistant, a younger man with short-cropped curly hair, a thin frame and large dark, almond eyes. A full-length mirror greeted me and a sigh escaped my lips. I am not one to run away, but that doesn’t mean the thought doesn’t pulse through my veins.

“Line up in four rows,” Ava said.  She then began, as she would, lesson after lesson, by reviewing the “basic.” The 1-2-3, pause, 4-5-6 pause seemed easy enough, and I kept my eyes and mind focused by whispering the numbers under my breath. The group was mixed and I was grateful about half were Latinx and all of us were less than suave in our moves.

As I climbed the stairs each Thursday and settled into my row of four, the ‘basic’ accompanied by Hector Lavoe’s canciones became a beat that eased into my body and reminded me the cadera is connected to the corazón. In the midst of ending my relationship and managing my mother’s depression, these classes became a sliver of hopeful challenge I pushed myself to stick with as I did my fledgling meditation practice. These two anchors held my bruised spirit steady as my doubts rose like swells in the ocean, tempting me to steer back into my past delusions.

A young Latino, Jaime, probably about eighteen, with cholo pants, an ironed white t-shirt, and a net on his head inspired me to keep coming back when my worries were close to talking me into watching TV. When we shyly smiled and placed our hands tentatively on each other’s bodies, we were gente, dancing for our lives. His hands guided me into a cross body turn and my body listened for how to meld our distinct rhythms. Like friends and colleagues, some partners like Jaime brought grace and strength and some stepped on my toes as they tried to conquer salsa as their ancestors had conquered this land. My goal was to keep my beat and support my partner’s added challenge to lead me. I am not going to lie, I did at times anticipate moves, but I mostly enjoyed this rare chance to not make all the decisions. An errant move was much easier to correct with my partner on the dance floor than with my ex in orchestrating our children’s schedules.

I had never been complimented on my dancing. When Philip, the assistant, danced with me a few months into my lessons and remarked “Very nicely done,” I thought I could definitely handle having a lover half my age. That is, until the next meeting at the organization where my crush was a board member and I was a multicultural planning consultant. He charged in, the last to arrive, again. At the break he came into the kitchen where I was slicing up strawberries for the group.

“Do you want one?” I held the ripest one out, knowing they were his favorite.

He inspected it carefully. “It looks a little tired, don’t you think?”

“Come on. It came all the way from Berkeley.”

“Pues, entonces, OK.” He leaned in and grasped it from my outstretched fingers. Wearing a new skirt with slits up the sides and a more form-fitting red shirt, I was flirting, pure and simple. It was fun, a feeling I had tossed aside for demaisdiados años as I buried myself into obligations that submerged my passion.

“¿Te gustó?”

“Sí. Hey, do you need some help? Here I am behaving like a typical male.” He took the knife I held out into his bronze hand.

“How are your salsa lessons going?” I asked, feeling my face flush and my breath stop.

“Fine until today. We tried to reschedule but I’m busy this weekend teaching a parenting class in Fresno and helping a friend sell jewelry at a pow wow.”

“You don’t stop, do you?” I said.

“This is all we have. Gotta take what the Great Spirit gives you.” He paused. “I’ve had a big disappointment recently that made that real to me.”

“I’m sorry.”

The strawberries glistened in the bowl he placed on the table. My fear of engulfment had scurried into a mouse hole, chased there by my outstretched claws of infatuation.

His long hair motivated me to grow mine as part of my life makeover. As difficult life events came at me, cutting my hair had been a way to feel lighter, to let go of memories that dragged me down. Now my curls embraced the power of memory, the sudor de mi esfuerza. Instead of clipping off my pain, it joined me on my meditation cushion and we rehashed old stories, arguing over details and using more than a few of those swear words I held in check when my twins were around.

My wardrobe makeover continued as I perfected my Susie Q and other ‘shines’ in my salsa classes. I cleaned out my closet of the last of my old, size medium clothes and went shopping with Ana, my lead in learning to embrace my inner diva. She ordered me to try on a pair of tight black capris at Rockridge Rags. When I walked out of the dressing room, Ana surveyed me with her critical style eye.

“You have a more traditional Latina body.”

“And that means…”

“Curves, breasts, some hips.”

“I don’t know, Ana. They’re not quite my size.”

I turned and turned, looking in the mirror for an image I recognized. While I shunned the rumpled, cotton uniform of many moms, I did not dress to accentuate my curves. Curves were dangerous. They were about sex and lust and uncontrollable emotions that only ended in trouble. Fine then. I was ready to see what a different kind of trouble looked like other than my family woes. Ignoring my body had brought its own measure of loss.

“You look great,” said Ana. “Take them off and let’s go look at shoes.”

I cheerfully obeyed. Being a follower had more perks than I had ever imagined. #52essays2017 #salsa #newbeginning #diva #reclaiming