In Memoriam (JULIA VINOGRAD, 1943-2018)

I was about nine years old when I first met Berkeley, CA native and poet Julia Vinograd, who just died at the age of seventy-five. A year or so before our meeting, I’d seen her picture on the cover of one of her books of poetry my parents had laying around the house. She looked so unique and sincere in the photo and in real life, a lone woman blowing bubbles everywhere she went.

One day on (most likely) Telegraph Avenue, around late 1975/early ’76, I told Julia about seeing her on the cover of a book. She replied matter of factly, “That was me,” and blew another bubble. Shortly after this on another occasion while again walking along, but on Shattuck or a street other than Telegraph, she asked my parents for directions, looking vulnerable. “I’m lost,” she said with a frown and sad puppy eyes. My folks gave her directions to wherever she’d requested. She then limped away in her long skirt and ever-present leather cap with pin-on buttons attached to it.

At yet another time in 1976 or early ’77 in Berkeley, I saw Julia read at a large gathering of poets, a short-statured woman with a long, dark braid down her back, leather cap in place. She stood before the mic looking small yet focused and determined. I remember only her over and above all of the other poets who read that evening.

Julia was a shy, expressive loner who cultivated her eccentricity with a sense of dignity and fun, all of which I could very much relate to being in my own ways, odd fairy child that I was. She was a Berkeley icon. I’m glad I got to meet her and witness her fun bubbles in 1970s downtown Berkeley. May Julia Vinograd rest in peaceful eternity, blowing bubbles while floating happily on a big one of her own as she recites poetry to the universe.

Guidance in My Craft

I now see two clinical supervisors once a month each, one for IFS (Internal Family Systems) and one for EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), the latter methodology in which I am working towards certification. Having two terrific seasoned supervisors to help support and guide me along in this calling feels so invaluable and fulfilling. It is both sad and, dare I say, somewhat impressive how when I worked for an agency a while back, I went for years at a time with little to no direct clinical supervision, an exception being the occasional crisis. Back then, clients got decent care from me, but, now, they definitely get much better. I experience what I do for a living as both a craft and an art, whereby I am always apprenticing whilst healing others and myself.

Trust the Sense of Fit or Lack Thereof

While in graduate school and then at an agency for many years after that, I don’t recall hearing the clear message: “You don’t have to work with a client if you don’t want to.” There was no consistent conveyance of trust and acceptance that we grad. students, and then new mental health professionals, already were open to working with most clients that came our way.

No matter the mental health professional, there will always be a few certain clients that simply are not a good fit. And this is not a reflection of some concerning shortcoming of who one is as a professional. Period. That should be understood and clearly affirmed by professors and supervisors alike.

On Homework and Grades: No Thanks

The whole emphasis on homework for school-aged children, especially before high school, is misplaced and wrong to me.  Apparently, research has shown that homework is largely not productive for children’s learning, and I will obtain some bibliographic info./citations on these sources on a small essay I might write someday on this subject.

When I think about all the homework put on me from especially 5th grade on through to 10th grade and the pressures from teachers and my parents about getting it done well and on time, I see how it was such a source of performance anxiety development and internalization of shame in my psyche.  Also, grades were overly-emphasized, as if I were my grades.  Such falseness and a waste of time and energy over something not important.  My intelligence was there intact, regardless of my grades, which were largely poor through grammar, middle, and the first half of high school.

Parents and teachers reading this, please do not pressure and shame your children/students around homework and grades.  If your kids are smart, they’ll learn however they best learn. Trust and support them in that, please, and go from there.  Thank you.

Our Fifth Trip to Pura Vida (Early March, 2018)

“I’m a Queens’ queen!” was one of the first things Michelle said to my husband and me.  While declaring this, she smiled broadly with full, dark lips and quickly swayed from side to side, her body a big “snap” of exclamation.  And so, our first full day in Costa Rica at Pura Vida Spa Resort felt like it had truly begun.

The next day, while lounging on a comfortable couch of the Wellness Center during the first of my husband Ray’s spa treatments over the week, I got more acquainted with Ronnie, Michelle’s long-time friend.  Comparatively quieter than Michelle, she opened up with me there in the empty porch of the treatment waiting area.  We exchanged pieces of our life narrative.  Ronnie had moved from New York City, where Michelle still lived, eighteen years ago to join the police force in Baltimore.  My mind began to open about about future vacation travels, such as to Anguilla, where Ronnie has relatives.

Ronnie’s face would be still with seriousness one moment then expressive and animated the next.  Her wiry hair was kept short and pulled back, leaving me easily able to think of her in a police uniform, including hat.

Over the week, Ray and I enjoyed meeting up on a few occasions for lunch in the dining area with Ronnie and Michelle.  We spent a bit of time with them in the outdoor hot tub once too, until they had to return to their yoga retreat group from which they were briefly playing hookie.  At one of our lunches together, Ronnie shared more about her work, such as some challenges of being a woman in a still predominantly male-filled profession, where many men abuse their power over citizens but the women officers do not.  “We know how to listen,” Ronnie explained, referring to herself and her female colleagues.  She had a boyfriend from Nigeria, a tribal prince there, who had moved to Baltimore.  He treated her well.  Ronnie’s face lit up with a big smile when she spoke about him.  They would be leaving together to Florida soon for a long weekend, shortly after her return from Costa Rica.

As a testament to Ronnie’s incredible resilience, she exhibited a level-headedness and determination to balance work with frequent fun-filled travel, this despite– or partly because of– having lost her one and only child, a daughter, in a car accident about seven years ago.  The young woman was still in college at the time.  I noted with quiet respect how Ronnie memorialized this daughter by having a photo of her as screen wallpaper on her phone.  I’m certain I would do the very same after such a loss.

At one of these lunches, Michelle shared how she had been working in New York City as an accountant for HBO over the past twenty-four years.  She had purchased a house in Queens in 2007, right before the housing crash of ’08.  Michelle was single, having divorced her Nigerian husband some years back, her daughter then still a toddler, though now twenty-one and finishing up college.  Her thick eyelashes over large, dark brown eyes on an unmade-up face were pleasantly striking.  I think they were eyelash extensions, but they did not at all appear overdone or fake-looking.

This vibrant duo of women New Yorkers said farewell to us a few days before our own departure.  Ronnie shared how she often makes a tasty “jungle juice” with Amaretto and five different kinds of rum and would find a way to send Ray and me some in the near future.  Everyone agreed that this delicious-sounding refreshment would be great to enjoy at that very moment if she only had some handy.  We talked about possibly meeting up again at Pura Vida, as both Ronnie and Michelle agreed how pleasant a place it was, despite some of the run-down look to much of its buildings.  We laughed together one last time while voicing a fantasy about what we would do if we collectively ran the resort, such as getting walls repainted and some structures remodeled, sooner than later.

We exchanged embraces, then they were off to get their luggage.  Ray and I walked on along the cement walkway, grass and shrubs on our right, while on our left, the not-too-distant mountains cozily encircling the city below.

******

One afternoon around mid-week or a little before, I sat on a cloth hammock overlooking a sun-lit view of the tropical trees and shrubs before me, a lightly clouded sky just beyond.  A cicada, or some insect sounding very much like one, hummed in a high pitch for a long moment before stopping.  Bird sounds took over, filling the brief silence.  Leaves beat softly in the growing breeze.  Further off, someone dropped a metal bucket, disrupting my attention to write next about the distant drone of traffic.

A ways below Pura Vida’s mountain perch spreads the city of San Jose, though Alajuela is the immediate urban area of which the resort is a part.

I was struck by many things there, including the black vultures with their white-tipped wings gliding on the up drafts overhead.  My husband managed to see two of these raptors touch their talons together while in flight, all while we lay back in hammocks.

Ray and I enjoyed being graced by the intermittent attentions of Julia (the “j” pronounced as an “h”), Pura Vida’s resident cat.  A slender and petite calico, Julia followed us to our room at least three times, spending the night with us twice.  One evening, she walked by the front desk area with a squeaking mouse in her mouth.  Clearly, Julia’s job involved many duties, ranging from pest control to greeter and relaxer, her mere presence and playful ways a treatment of sorts.  On this trip, Julia startled me with her initial appearance by bounding into our path from out of the darkness.  It seemed like she remembered us from last year and before.  Or maybe she simply liked making surprise grand entrances to unsuspecting visitors.

******

Our mid week tour to our favorite excursion was disappointing.  As always, the hot springs under jungle canopy were a relaxing balm to our bodies and minds.  We spent three hours sitting back in different sulfur-smelling pools by a large stream, leisurely immersing in, and then emerging from, hot then warm then cool before returning into hot again.  But, the tour guide seemed burnt out, embittered, or both.  We had had him before for another excursion about four years ago, at which time he spoke prolifically about the countryside’s natural history and climate zones.  He also expounded in detail then on the agriculture of the region, this being a significant segment of Costa Rica’s economy.  This time, though, he was brief, repetitive, and negative.  And while the guide had good reason to feel upset about the government’s imminent tax increases on largely the middle class and the slow recovery from a large earthquake that had hit the region in 2009, I felt for our three fellow bus mates who had never been on this particular trip.  They were missing out on a wealth of information regarding the verdant land opening up on each side of the narrow road winding along the mountainside.  Instead, we all sat listening to our guide as he couched so much into a complaint.

On the way back from the hot springs, the tour guide broke his silence by pointing to outside of the bus window and exclaiming in his thick Costa Rican accent, “Look!  Scarlet milk cows.  They’re very rarely seen around these parts.  Scarlet milk cows!”

I looked intently at a group of cows behind a fence not far off the road.  Some of them had a reddish coat.  I had never heard of a “scarlet” breed of cow.  In my mind, I guessed that was a rarer one alongside all the Jerseys and Holsteins.  My husband Ray turned to me and remarked on seeing a pair of beautiful scarlet macaws flying by, two of what we had seen so many more of while on excursion along the Tarcoles River for years before.

I replied, “I thought he said ‘scarlet milk cows.’  Damn!”

******

The day after our excursion, I received a hot stones massage from Mar Y Sol, one of the treaters.  She and I talked about our families of origin and our good fortunes at having love-filled marriages.  I listened a lot under her skilled hands while she shared heart-felt concerns about her parents and one sibling.

Before the massage was over, we’d both agreed to ask our husbands if we could all go out for dinner at Las Espuelas, a restaurant closeby Mar Y Sol’s and her husband Miguel’s house, located in the small town of El Roble.

Mar Y Sol and Miguel are each thirty-five years old with wide, white-toothed smiles.  Miguel assists Eduardo with managing Pura Vida.  Ray and I hit if off with this warm and friendly couple early on in our annual visits to the resort, which led up to us visiting their home and eating out at the nearby Las Espuelas last year.  Well, this place had since been completely redone from a hole-in-the-wall dive to a slick, spacious eating establishment.  Huge square windows looked out into a mostly bare parking lot before the view swept downward into a blanket of city lights.  Mountains silhouetted the night sky further on.  The ceiling above us was lined with a covering of long, thin wood sticks, lending a somewhat tropical look against the smooth, concrete walls.  The lights were pleasantly dimmed.  Fun.

On occasion, our conversations were momentarily broken by the harsh shine of car lights through the windows behind me.  Miguel and Ray sat opposite Mar Y Sol and me, their faces enduring these brief white blasts.  The front of the restaurant had a parking lot as well, a poor design completed by large low windows left uncovered.  Not fun.  But, the company of Mar Y Sol, her tall and swarthy husband Miguel, my partner Ray, and Eugenia, a yoga teacher at Pura Vida, all out-shined this annoyance.

We talked about politics in Costa Rica, which had started to become dismally comparable to the scene in the States.  We discussed movies, social media, each of our family dynamics, and other things.  I enjoyed the ease between us all.

The food was decent.  Ray and I both ordered shrimp with rice.  The white foamy sour sop beverage especially went down easy.

I remember Mar Y Sol and Eugenia talking the most, including in moments to each other in Spanish.  Their graceful speech felt pleasant to listen to even though I hardly understood what was being said.

Eugenia sat at the head of the table while I was placed by the other end.  As the evening wore on, her position seemed naturally apropos.  Eugenia had been an elementary school teacher in her previous career and, now teaching yoga to adults, she continued to be used to holding the attention of a roomful of people.  Newly forty, here she was, a dynamic, independent woman opening up about herself.  For me personally, Eugenia had acted a little brazen by asking at the last minute if she could come with us all to dinner.  While we all were gathered at the front desk area, Miguel had turned to me with his big, soft, hazel brown eyes and asked, “Is it alright if she comes?”  “She asked,” I replied as politely as I could, smiling through my disappointment.  I proceeded to encourage my thwarted wish for an exclusive evening with Miguel and Mar Y Sol to gently shift into an openness around getting to know an additional dinner mate.

I ended up finding Eugenia interesting, engaging, knowledgeable and full of compassion.  We connected around the topic of Internal Family Systems therapy and she seemed to readily agree with how she has a “part” of her that cold be harsh and bossy, particularly back in her schoolteacher days.  This part had since softened in her, she explained, and I did sense that to be the case.

Mar Y Sol’s deep, gentle voice and open-book self-reflectiveness encircled my attention like an elegant, soft-furred cat.  I could listen to her for hours.

Miguel grew more quiet after we’d all finished our meals and I wondered if his rigorous hike up and down Costa Rica’s highest mountain peak (about 12,000 feet) was catching up with him.  He and Mar Y Sol had just completed this trek the day before.  I selfishly said nothing, though, and let someone else decide when to bring the get-together to a close.  Mar Y Sol eventually suggested concluding things.

Ray was generally quiet throughout, which Miguel remarked on with respect and understanding.  “You like to listen and observe, don’t you?” Ray nodded vigorously and smiled, “Yes.”

******

The following day was our last full day at the resort.  For a final treatment, I had Mar Y Sol guide me through “Ananda,” which entailed listening more to her soothing, often velvety voice.  I lay on the massage table receiving Reiki and some light touch before she guided me through a most unique visualization.  This was derived from her Himalayan Masters training she’d received some years ago in India.  The energy began to run through me like undulating waves, a pins and needles buzziness, and, eventually, an overall sensation of floating.  Visual imagery in my mind’s eye was simple and limited.  I “saw” light beneath me, as if it were reflected from water.  Powerful, trippy, relaxing, heart and mind opening.

Before we ended, Mar Y Sol instructed me to sing “Om” with her.  Interestingly, I felt a longing to open my mouth and sing several minutes before she told me to do just that.  We softly but strongly san at least three “Om’s” together.  She then removed the light cloth placed over my eyes.  I started a slow transition out of my trance by sharing aloud what I had experienced and continued to feel.  Mar Y Sol sat off to the side.  At first, I kept facing the ceiling, but then I turned my head to the right and looked into her broad face of coffee dark skin and large black-brown eyes.  I acknowledged the incredible opening to energy, including a sense that she had brought me briefly to other portals of existence and activity before repeatedly focusing me back to my center, a center of a much larger center.  Mar Y Sol validated my narrative with ease, out of her own familiarity of deep meditative experience.  I stated how my knowing and trusting her as I did made a big difference with being able to “go deep.”  She suggested I try doing this guided meditation at home on a regular basis via using a free recording available online.  I told her how it would be fun to do together with her and my husband in our upstairs loft bedroom, should she and Miguel ever come to visit us.  “That would be great,” Mar Y Sol replied.

I now understand why dear Ray has done the Ananda treatment three times with Mar Y Sol.

******

Before leaving Pura Vida, Ray and I looked one more time at the pair of tropical screech owls perched high up in the interlacing palm trees next to the main entrance.  Hugging against each other, the brown-feathered duo looked down with a soft sternness, or so it seemed.  From my heart, I bid them a warm farewell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heart/Lotus

An image I often come back to is that of a full lotus blossom. Earlier last month, a massage therapist at Pura Vida in Costa Rica reminded me that this flower represents the heart chakra in Ayurvedic medicine.  Right before she told me this, I experienced an open lotus filling my whole chest, which prompted her to explain what I was seeing from within.

This living more consciously from the heart– being with a sense of openness, wonder, and gratitude– has been a path longtime in manifesting.  But, I seem to come right back to it after straying off now and again into fear and anger.  It’s like I have a clearer, new-found baseline to live from and always return to.  Thank the gods!

 

More From a Baby Boomer’s Child

Elaborating further on my previous blog post, I do think my hippie elders I grew up with and around had their hearts in the right place in many respects.  But, they didn’t in other ways, such as most of the men at the time with their sexism. This helped lead to the next wave (certainly not the first) of the Women’s Movement in the 1970s.  Also, homophobia and heterosexism remained largely unexamined, which then contributed to the Gay Liberation Movement concurrently manifesting with the feminists’.  Recent reflection on my childhood has elucidated for me just how pervasive a self indulgent ethos existed, expressed, for example, through loose sexual boundaries and a general self-centeredness (the “rampant narcissism” I previously mentioned), in addition to the already discussed plethora of substance abuse.  All of this behavior and mindset hurt the next generation, i.e., the children of these hippies, such as yours truly.  It’s like these Boomer and pre-Boomer progressives spent a lot of time extending their adolescence, as much as doing so helped to foster artistic cultural expression along with (formerly referenced) healthy political rebellion.  I deeply appreciate the occurrence of both these social phenomena to this day, as they became foundational to my own value system.  And, in significant part, these same Boomers et al went on to form the two aforementioned Movements, which were inherently political, formally and personally.  However, at least one important domain, that of attentive, responsible parenting, got somewhat set aside, a big psychological, even arguably spiritual, price to pay.  “How so?” one might ask.  Well, many progeny of West Coast hippie folk internalized experiences of being and feeling set aside (or worse) while our parents rebelled, created, partied, and focused on “finding themselves,” both in and out of marriages or less conventional, traditional unions.  Indeed, we all err throughout life, so this automatically includes whole segments of a generation.  These mistakes of my elders are ultimately forgivable, much as holding them to account is important.

As I have grown comfortable in my own beliefs and overall sense of Self, what I am no longer doing is idealizing in any way a particular movement or cultural scene, in this case the very one I grew up within.  Now, I just idealize the gods, as expressed through nature, some art, scientific wonders, those deep moments of love between one and another/others, etc.– whatever opens my heart up and transports me into a deep place of wonder, connectedness, and gratitude.  These are above and beyond any particular person, group, generation, or specific movement or culture.