Monday, January 28, 2008

That Which Animates

Two weeks ago my cat Pooping Genius died. I didn’t even know he was sick. When I left for New York he was doing just great, a little skinny because he was getting on in years. Is ten years old getting on in years? And near death? That never entered my mind.

Then a week after I got home from New York Pooping Genius started showing signs of disorientation. Like, he would cry out when I got up and away from him. Or, he would curl up in places where he never did before. Then one day he just stopped eating and crept into an empty drawer. I thought he was just chilling out. The following day, he was still acting lazy, but nothing that showed signs of failing health. He slept most of the day (like most cats do) and then… and then he died at midnight. I found him after a very long and involved phone call with a girlfriend. Poopin’ was lifeless on my bed.

I was stunned, shocked, devastated. I loved Pooping Genius. As a rescue kitty of four weeks, I bottle-fed him and his six littermates. He was the fluffiest, most impish little thing ever. He had imploring eyes and followed me everywhere. When I went near him he would immediately flop over on his back and stretch his exposed throat for me to tickle and give me his paw to shake. Pooping Genius was very loving and gentle but when it came time to take him to adoption days at Pet Express, he would act out, hiss, snarl and claw at the person who was looking to adopt him. I took him several times and ended up taking him home each time. I guess Pooping Genius wanted to live with me.

Anyway, Poopin’ died at midnight. I called the friend who cat-sat for me when I was away and she said to put him in a glad bag, and to think of the glad bag as a shroud. Thanks a lot, friend. Then she said to make a funeral pyre in my yard. What the hell? I guess midnight was the wrong time to call her because I wasn’t loving anything she said to me.

I ended up swaddling Poopin’ in a towel and holding him next to my heart all night. I knew I would have to bring him to the vet for cremation in the morning, but in the meantime, I was going to hold him all night for the last time.

I shut his eyes tight and nudged his mouth closed. I couldn’t take my eyes off him all night praying desperately and weepingly that I could will him back to life. Where did his life-force go? When he was alive Poopin’s energy was vibrant, his body quick and nimble, his eyes sparkly, his meow loud and demanding. I know his heart stopped beating and there were other things that stopped working inside, but where is that which animates… where did it go?

It’s been two weeks now and I just got a call from the vet letting me know that Poopin’s ashes are back. I can’t believe he’s gone. Now I’m holding on tight to Mau, my 14-year-old yellow tabby, and watching vigilantly the rise and fall of his chest, listening for the whisper of his breath, the breath of life...that which animates.

Friday, January 25, 2008

No Chef, She!

I burned the chicken again today. The other day I charred the brussels sprouts. Good thing I don’t have any one else counting on me to get fed. I marinated the chicken thighs last night in soy sauce, orange juice, sesame oil, sesame seeds, green onions, lots of garlic, and black pepper. Mmmm… yum! Try it sometime. It’s really delicious eaten with rice and Thai-style cucumber, carrot and sweet onion salad.

Then, just before lunch, I put the chicken in the broiler and started tooling around on the internet. It was an extremely busy day today with tons of emails, lots of moderating, writing, reading and research to do.

Before I knew it, the fire alarm was beeping, Arnold was barking in my face, and the cats have scampered on top of the bookcases, knocking down books and bric-a-brac. I couldn’t salvage the chicken. It was hard as rock with a measly sliver of meat clinging to the bone. Lunch turned out to be a bowl of cold cereal.

I’m not too good around the house. I’m great at the aesthetics of living, like what curtain treatment would fit which room, what style lamp goes with what, or what plant will do well in certain light conditions. I’ve got a queer eye that way. But I’m a disaster in the kitchen. In the twenty-two years I lived with my mom I never saw her cooking or baking, or doing anything domestic. When I was very young, my mom was an editor for a Philippine women’s magazine, and luckily, she took me along with her to work, wherever that happened to be. Mom was taking her daughter to work even before it became the fashionable thing to do!

I also remember tagging along with my mom to lunches with her friends – artists, writers, reporters, fashion designers, politicians, university professors, business men and women, ambassadors, foreign dignitaries, and all kinds of VIP’s. Of course I didn’t know it then. I mean, I guess I knew they were important but to me, they were just mom’s friends. Mom always wore a string of Mikimoto pearls, her birthstone. Papa gave her lots of pearls. After she died, I got one of her necklaces, and the one and only time I wore it, I broke it. I’ll re-string it one of these days.

Papa doted on my mom, and mom indulged her interests. I never saw her lift a finger unless it was to wield a sumi-e brush in a Japanese painting class, or a pruning shear to cut chrysanthemum stems for an ikebana arrangement. Of course mom’s tool of choice was her mini Corona typewriter.

I never actually saw her typing or slaving away over her Corona. The Corona always had a single-ply onion skin paper fed into the roller, though, ready to receive her thoughts. Mom had her typewriter on a small desk next to her side of the bed but whenever I entered her room I always found her in the reclining position, eating bonbons and leafing through American magazines – Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, and yes, even Cosmopolitan. (I remember seeing the issue with Burt Reynolds as the centerfold, butt naked. I thought it was gross and creepy, like looking at a human with a gorilla body.)

Mom was always in a good mood and would greet me with the broadest, loving-est, naughtiest smile every time I entered her “inner sanctum” and found her in that relaxed state. She’d announce without an ounce of guilt, “Isn’t it fun to be a writer? That’s why you should be one!”

In spite of the appearance of leisurely living, Mom was a prolific, accomplished and highly acclaimed writer. She wrote the literature textbooks we used in high school (English class was really easy for me). She churned out anthologies, translations of Filipino classics from Spanish to English, edited books, wrote columns, did book reviews. In college, most of my advanced literature professors were her contemporaries, and more often than not, my journalism professors started their careers at my father’s newspaper, the Manila Post, the first English-language newspaper in the Philippines.

I spent most of my career running like a rat in the corporate wheel, slaving away to reach goals not of my own making. I always had enough money to order in, eat out, everyday, every night, year in, year out.

Now I feel the undeniable, unmistakable genetic pull to write, so I must relax, recline on the chaise, and be still for the inspiration to come. I have to live on limited means now to follow my bliss, and eat burned brussels sprouts or cold cereal to sustain me. I’m filled with awe, wonderment and overwhelming gratitude for my mom – all that she was, all that she did, all that she taught me.

If only she could cook!


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Decking Othello

I love Barack. I love that he is – I think the oft-used word for him is… inspirational. I love his soaring rhetoric. I heard him speak in Oakland early last year and, yes, he can send you high on those hopes.

I love Edwards. I love that he stays on message and seems sincerely passionate about the poverty issue. Besides, he’s really cute and if I had the wherewithal to make a catchy youtube video, I would give Obama girl and Hillary guy a run for their money. Hey, why not a MILF crushing on John?

And Hillary? I find myself these days jumping to my heels with my fists in the air and a guttural shout of “YES!” whenever she scores one. Like that unexpected New Hampshire victory after being pronounced virtually DOA by the pundits. And that come-from-behind Nevada win despite the union non-endorsement. Oh, that “slum landlord in inner city Chicago” zinger? Whoa! That was a Thai kickboxer knockout – KAPOW!

I wrote in a previous post that I have two
sisters. Cora, the elder, is exquisite with creamy skin. Mayita, the younger, is cute with dainty manners. I was the dark one in the middle, skinny, with a Prince Valiant haircut, tomboyish, outgoing and naughty. While my own nuclear family never teased or heckled me, everyone else did. I was called “Ugly Duckling” and “Little Black Sambo”, among those nasty nicknames I remember.

One day, I think I was in third grade, while swinging on the parallel bars of the jungle gym, I heard a kid chanting, “Black Spider Monkey, Black Spider Monkey, Black Spider Monkey.”

I looked down and saw Othello Solis, this round-faced kid with scrawny knock-knees looking up at me, his hands cupped around his mouth. “Black Spider Monkey, Black Spi-”

With nary a thought of bodily harm, I scampered down fast and decked him good.

In your face, Othello!

Monday, January 21, 2008


I have a very sweet memory of my father teaching me how to write when I was a little girl. I think I was five at the time. It was late and I was having trouble sleeping. I got out of bed and, as was my habit even then, headed straight for my parents’ room. I remember the scene vividly as though watching Act 1 in a stage play.

The room is dark. On stage right, the contours of my mom’s reclining figure is softly backlit. On center stage is Papa, under the glow of a lone spotlight, sitting at his desk, reading. He is wearing his usual bedclothes – white boxers and a white T. Against the stark dark, his figure in white looms large.

I enter from stage left. “Papa, I can’t sleep.”

“You can’t sleep? Come here.” He calls me in softly.

He plops me on his lap and reads to me from his book of poetry. I sit quietly, my eyes on the page, listening to his soft voice. I feel loved and content.

“The moon is a pale yellow-orange disc
On the edge of the sea.
There is a trail of light
On the shimmering waters
Leading to the moon…
Your eyes cast a soft beam on the dark
Waters of my soul.
I shall trace the trail of light
Into your innocent heart.”

Changing his tempo, he says to me, “I know what! Let’s play blackjack.”

Papa started dealing out cards, face open, adding as he went along. I couldn’t get it. Math is, and always has been, a mystery to me. I’m highly literate but I’m sadly innumerate, innumeracy being the inability to deal with simple mathematical concepts.

When Papa sensed I wasn’t catching on, he said, “I know what! Why don’t I teach you how to write your name?”

Papa reached for a yellow pad and pencil. I was still plopped on his lap, and now he took my right hand in his, positioned the paper under our hands, held the pencil between our fingers, and then we started scribbling.

“Maya Subido”

“Maya Subido”

"Maya Subido”

After about three tries I announced proudly, boldy, and triumphantly. “Okay, Papa, I get it now.” I pushed off his hand.

“Maya Subido”

“Maya Subido”

“Maya Subido”

End of Act 1.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

From Tongue In Cheek to Limpid Poetry

I’ve been rolling out some tongue-in-cheeky stuff lately. My friends with whom I’ve shared my blog call or email to say my posts are funny. I can’t complain. I consider “You’re funny” to be a compliment. At least NOW I do. Used to be a time when I wasn’t too pleased with that observation about me.

I’m the middle of three daughters. My older sister, Corazon, or Cora for short, is a very elegant and regal beauty. Up to this day she’s skinny and beautiful. My younger sister, Kristina, nicknamed Mayita, is the pretty, doll-like one. Up to now she’s still cute as a button. Me? I was the funny and friendly one. I never got any compliments about my looks. The closest I got was, “Nice purse.” So funny is good. I’ll take funny. Thank you very much!

My cheekiness comes from my mother, Trinidad Tarrosa Subido, one of my country’s most distinguished writers. She has long since passed on but her words and wit will live forever. In an early poetic exercise, she writes:

Of Critics

When I in honesty observe
My verse has light, and lilt, and verve,
They up and wallop me with heat
For such delusion and conceit.
Then, when THEY write me up, they write
About my Verve, and Lilt and Light;
And my conceit and self-deception
Becomes their Critical Perception.

One of my mom’s poems is included in Diana Culbertson’s “Invisible Light -- Poems About God” published by Columbia University Press. I must say I’m immensely proud of her inclusion. She’s in good company there with the likes of the classical John Milton and Ralph Waldo Emerson, the 20th century’s D.H. Lawrence, Thomas Hardy and Anne Sexton, among others.


God, but I do
Worship you.
Nun-like adoration? no.
Like a bird? so:
natural as breath.
I shall pray when prayer is
lips’ caprice
like the trilling of a bird
God to me, and prayer
is as song to bird, and air:
not sacramental.

But mostly my mom is known for her passionate and limpid poetry. She was way ahead of her time. For a Filipina, her unabashed articulation of emotion and human desire was outside the cultural “norm.”


While the enamored stars would dare
Seaward to leap,
Seeking a truer heaven in
The loved deep,
My love, so near me on the grass –
What cowardice! --
Dares not to melt his mouth upon
My waiting kiss.

I cannot understand, O moon,
Cloud-kissed now and then,
You still remain unsullied
Before the eyes of men
Who think me now unchastely,
A blot upon me thrown,
Seeing my lover’s shadow brush
The fringes of my own.

Some days, when I’m overtaken with melancholy, I feel the pulse of my impassioned progeny, so I try and I cry:

For lovers absent, still unmet --
Will I ever fall under the spell of
your sensuousness?
Will I see the spark in your eyes
When you behold my hidden beauty?
Will you beam me the warmth of your desire
And the feather touch of your tenderness?
Maybe never, maybe ever
For always I will long for dreams impossible,
A love beyond matter and human form
Divine only in essence
So instead I turn to prayer
For the only heaven I know
Within is the love, not without --
Within is The One, My Only Love.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Ready, Set... Action!

While my daily routine varies, a morning constant in my life is meditation, a reading of an affirmation, the Daily Word, and Ralph Marston’s message. I don’t know who this Ralph guy is – some kind of dotcom-person-turned-life-coach, from what I can tell. There seems to be a zillion life coaches popping up everywhere these days. Not that that’s a bad thing. Heck, I wouldn’t mind hiring my own rah-rah squad watching my back 24/7. Sometimes it’s hard just getting out of bed. I would love to open my eyes in the morning to a cheery empowerment employee egging me on with, “C’mon, Maya, you can do it! Now, open your eyes and swing your legs out to the side. Good girl! Prop yourself on your elbow now… 1, 2, 3… Hooray! You did it!”

Wouldn’t life be just so, so super?

Ralph Marston's message today is all about taking action. A good thing. Because this morning I’m feeling inaction. A very long time ago I emailed Ralph asking him for permission to reprint his message on my blog but he hasn’t responded. I don’t think he reads his email. Now, I can add a hyperlink to his site, which I’ve done
here and over there in my first sentence to give him proper attribution. Think he’ll get mad? He charges to have his daily messages emailed to you, but you can always go to his site and read his messages for free. So, friends… introducting the one and only Ralph Marston!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Your Actions

Whether something is possible or impossible for you depends more
on what you do about it than on any other factor. Your persistent, focused action is what brings possibilities to life.

Certainly there are obstacles that stand in your way. And you can choose to use those obstacles as excuses for not taking action.

Or, you can choose to get up, get motivated and get busy working your way toward the results you seek. Once you begin to take action, the obstacles lose their power to stop you and instead become steps along the pathway to achievement.

The actions necessary for success can often seem to be difficult, complicated, inconvenient, embarrassing, uncomfortable, tiresome or demeaning. Realize that those undesirable qualities are, for the most part, mere inventions of your mind, and your choice to take action will override them every time.

When you know what you must do, then go ahead and make it happen. Stop focusing on the excuses and start moving toward real, valuable achievement.

Your actions have the power to change your life and to change your world. Make full use of them, and fulfill your greatest dreams.

Well, I better go and pay my cable bill so I can watch the re-run of The Big Bang Theory tonight. Get it? My cable's been locked out.

Time to take action.

Gimme an A!

Gimme a C!

Gimme a T!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Baba Wawa's Vajaja

The other day I got an email from my friend Elena Buensalido Mangahas calling on Filipina women and men to audition for the production of The Vagina Monologues, sponsored by the Filipina Women’s Network (FWN). In collaboration with Eve Ensler’s V-Day organization, FWN is now in its fifth year of production with the mission of ending domestic violence in the Filipino community.

FWN’s production of The V Monologues is in Tagalog. Naku po! Yikes!

If you haven’t seen The V Monologues in English, be prepared to hear 1,001 synonyms for the word “vagina”. It’s shocking! But after a while, the crackle and pop of “c-nt” and “p-ssy” loses its shock value. I still can’t type it, much less say it. Nevertheless, it’s not quite nails on the chalkboard.

If you’re a native Tagalog speaker, however, and you hear the Tagalog version, Dios mio! Oh – My – Gawd!

This may not resonate with monolingual people but bilingual people will relate to this.

A gentle, noble, loving thought expressed in the native tongue bypasses the filter of the intellect and goes straight to the heart. “Mahal kita” – “I love you” -- is filled with profound meaning and evokes such sweet sentimentality. As well, nasty, four-letter-words uttered in the vernacular can make you cringe with shame and disgust.

The V Monologues in Tagalog – Usapan P-ki – is pure torture. Not that it isn’t any good. It’s fantastic! It’s funny! But it’s like watching porn for the first time in the presence of your mom and dad. It’s eye-popping, jaw-dropping, knee-slapping, foot-stomping, and seatmate-smacking. You’ll want to slide and hide under your seat. This kind of excruciating, mortifying un-ease is especially felt by burgis collegeiala Filipinas, middle-class Catholic school-bred Pinays.

Two months ago I went to see my Ob-Gyn. I was lucky to find Dr. Lilia Lizano. I didn’t intend to look for a Filipina doctor but I was referred to her by my health network. Dr. Lizano is a very petite, dainty, soft-spoken, stern-looking woman who looks more like an all-girls’ high school principal than a successful doctor with a thriving practice. She has been written up by San Francisco magazine as one of the best.

She instructed me matter-of-factly to put my feet into the stirrups and to scoot down. I protested. I said, “Dr. Lizano, this is so undignified.”

“What do you mean, ‘Undignified?’” She asked in an even tone. “What about me? I’m the one down here who has to stare at it!”

Not a one time during the medical visit between me and Dr. Lizano was the word “vagina” uttered.

Since Eve Ensler’s V Monologues, however, “vagina” has become a mainstream word. Stand up comics, both male and female, throw it around frequently to get cheap and easy laughs.

Kathy Griffin, in her Bravo special, “Straight To Hell”, recounts her guest appearance on the ABC TV show “The View”. She said that in the green room, all the ladies ever talked about was menopause. Kathy said she was warned by Joy Behar and Barbara Walters that when she got to their age, her vagina would dry up.

Kathy, wanting to get a rise from the always poised and unflappable Barbara Walters, said she knew exactly what to do with a dry vagina. She would slather on gobs of KY Jelly, Kathy said.

To which Barbara Walters supposedly replied, “I prefer Astroglide myself.”

Oh – My – Gawd!!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Live from Times Square!

My friend Monette and I were on the back side of the ball drop on Times Square. We were two blocks away on West 47th St. In front of us, the street was cordoned off. Half a dozen NYPD cops mounted on well-fed horses were in formation, ready to kick the asses of rowdy drunks at the first sign of trouble.

All day long people trickled into Manhattan. By 6 PM people started buying booze, staking out their spots, or hanging out at bars, diners and delis, killing time. By 8, the subways had reached critical mass. Underneath, Times Square was a teeming mass of humanity buzzing with babel-like accents and dialects. I hardly heard a word of English. But then again, the New York accent sounds foreign to my California ears.

Overheard on the subway:

“Dad, I hurt my hand.”

Dad to young son: “You’ll live.”

The world seemed to descend on Times Square that night. Men in Jesus robes handing out flyers about the Rapture were as busy as whirling dervishes, out to save every soul passing through the turnstiles. Girls-gone-bad types, giddy with the early gulp of bubbly were everywhere, as were frat boy look-alikes, out to get lucky.

Four hours to kill before the ball drop. I was beginning to have misgivings. Monette and I had been all over Manhattan on foot the day before, and we had stayed up with two other friends, Ann and Marlina, chatting until dawn. Truth was, I wanted to go back to Ann’s apartment in Queens and watch it from TV. But I was already in Manhattan! There was electric excitement in the air. The whole world would be watching and I would wave to them on TV.

After big farewell hugs and new year's wishes, Marlina and her parents dropped us off at deserted Battery Park so we could look out on to Ellis Island and Lady Liberty. From there we crossed the street to the former site of the Twin Towers. Ground Zero. It was church-quiet there. The few people who were there walked with reverence, in hushed tones, as though afraid to awaken the sleeping.

Marlina told us to park ourselves in front of Planet Hollywood, next to the Charmin’ toilets. “They’re handing out free rolls of toilet paper there,” she said gleefully.

Instead, Monette and I ended up at a Korean-owned deli where the savvy but ruthless business owner demanded a purchase from everyone in order to sit and wait inside, or to pee in his one-stall men and women’s bathrooms. All night long there was a long line leading to the loo. Cha-ching. New Year’s Eve dinner was kimchee-flavored instant cup-o-noodles.

Outside, the cops directed people to enter through a wanding line. We entered three at a time, arms high to the side, while cops opened our backpacks and inspected New Year’s noisemakers and paraphernalia. When Monette and I finally made it into position, we found ourselves at the back of the crowd. A clever one started a mambo line, and people at the back jumped in. I grabbed Monette’s hand and said, “Hop in so we can get to the front!”

Ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta! Ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta!

That’s what I’m talking about! The people in front who didn’t know what the hell was going on gave way to the mambo line and found themselves outsmarted, outflanked, and displaced. Meanwhile, Monette and moi got to the front, with only a row or two of merry-makers in front of us.

Tall buildings flanked us on both sides. On my right side, a 10-story high picture of CNN’s silver-haired wonder boy Anderson Cooper, wide-stanced with arms crossed sternly, stared down on the masses, while he took the front row seat at the celebration. How did he get so lucky? On the left, a plastic 3-dimensional 5-foot-tall lobster with swinging arms, and clutching claws, stood above the rotating door of Red Lobster. Neon lights imbued the streets with an other-worldly glare.

Throughout the long wait, the crowds amused themselves by volleying balloons, shouting, screaming, singing, swearing, hissing, booing.

Overheard, an exchange between a foreign tourist and a local:

Question: “Why booing?”

Answer: “Whaddaya think?”

People sang the Star Spangled Banner, Auld Lang Syne, smoked weed, cheered, jostled, swayed, did the wave. Helicopters hovered in the air. Excitement was reaching a crescendo. Finally, it was time.

“10 – 9…”

The ball started descending…

“8 -- 7…”

The ball disappeared behind the building’s rooftop screen.


“Where’s the ball?”


“What the fuck?”

“Where did it go?”


“Damn, all this for that?”


“You and your great idea. I’m through with you.”

“We always do what you wanna do on New Year’s Eve…”

“Yeah, but this? This is a fucking waste of my time!”


“Is it New Year yet?"

Monette and I dropped our gaze from the heavens and stared at each other in disbelief.

“Happy New Year, Monette.”

“Happy New Year, Maya.”

“Which way to the subway?”

“That way.”

“C’mon. Let’s go get a hot dog.”

And that’s New Year’s Eve… live from Times Square!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Keepin’ It Real

I was supposed to start my new six-figure job this Monday but at the last minute the Project Leader emailed to let me know that my start date was going to be postponed for several weeks because sales projections came in drastically lower than predicted.

Several weeks!?!?! I had taken the whole month of December off to decompress knowing that I would be starting this dream gig in January. Last month was an expensive one, what with the holidays, the usual recurring bills for housing, utilities, food for my ravenous animals, transportation, a trip to New York, a prepaid Miracle Mastery conference in LA, impulsive and pointless purchases, and on and on and on.

Now I would have to wait for several more weeks before any income started rolling in. Like most people, I never put enough away for that dreaded stormy day. As a seasoned recruiter of twenty years, I knew full well that a job search could take forever. As I started to anticipate the coming penny-pinching weeks, I felt my peace dissolving and my equilibrium faltering.

I reached for the phone and dialed my best friend and fellow spiritual seeker, Medi Tate. Medi’s birth name is Donna, but she renamed herself Medi to remind herself to meditate. Well, that’s her story, anyway. Where I go for spiritual nourishment, my African-American friends change their names like they change hairstyles. Yesterday’s Laura could be tomorrow’s Imani. As my mom used to say to me when I was little, “to each his own, Maya.”

Medi told me once, “I know you’re always trying to be politically correct, Maya. Well, I come from the generation when we were called Black. Juz Black. Black is beautiful and I don’t have a problem with that. When I’m with you, you can say black.”

I shared my disturbing news with Medi.

“Oh, no, baby. Uh-uh. They can’t do you like dat,” she crooned soothingly, suave and silky, like only a sistah can.

“You mean to tell me their bookkeeper didn’t know sales would be down?” She spat each word out sarcastically, sounding sardonic and cynical. “What the hell kind of finance people do they have?”

Medi was on a rant. “And they tell you at the last minute? Hell, no! Why would you wanna work for them anyway? They can always take away your job anytime. Uh-uh. You bettah count your blessin’s that they told you now rather than later. If sales are down they all gonna find they butt out ova job, anyway. They can’t do you like dat. God don’t roll like dat. Uh-uh.”

Medi was getting off, and when she gets her groove on, it’s hard to stop her.

“Thank you, God, that you found out what kind of company they are! Thank you, God, that you didn’t start working there and start buying stuff! Thank you, God, that you can now look for a better job. GOD IS AWESOME!”

I tried to interrupt, “But, Medi, wait. It really was a good job. They offered me in the six figures to work from home. From home, Medi! With full benefits, reimbursement for all my office expenses, my landline, my cell, I don’t have to commute, I don’t have to pay for gas. With the price of gas these days…”

“No, baby, uh-huh…”

Medi would not be swayed. Medi doesn’t believe in working for corporations. She doesn’t believe in working for anyone. She doesn’t believe in doing anything other than what God created you to do.

Medi is amazingly insightful, intuitive, intelligent, spiritual and scriptural, with a wacky sense of humor. For a black woman, she is tiny-boned and dainty-petite with a personality as full and voluptuous. Her flawless skin is a creamy Hershey chocolate. She wears her hair short cropped, sometimes in “twisties.” When she feels like changing up, she weaves braids into her own hair by herself. Medi dresses quite uniquely. One of my favorite look on her is a golden tablecloth wrapped around her hubbahubba booty like a sarong with a simple halter tank. She wears no makeup at all. She likes to joke that she wants a guy to notice there’s something different about her when she brushes her teeth.

When I met Medi over two years ago she was living in her funky maroon Honda station wagon. Although on the physical level everything about us seems radically opposite, everything about us on the metaphysical plane is in synch. She jokes that I’m her good twin.

Medi’s burning passion is kids and childhood development. She used to work as a live-in nanny for a yuppie black couple in Montclair, an affluent neighborhood set in the serene canyons of Oakland. As Medi tells it – and I totally believe her – the wifey-poo started trippin’ and when the situation became too uncomfortable, she quit.

She quit because she doesn’t like anything that disturbs her peace of mind. Medi quit because she doesn’t like wifey-poo’s thick negative energy creeping into her bedroom through the slit under the door. She quit because she doesn’t like food in the fridge marked “do not touch.” Medi quit because she would not compromise her serenity.

She packed her few belongings into the Honda and booked herself a cheap Oakland motel room. She didn’t care that it was on prostitute row with crackheads down the hall. She just wanted her own space where she could be still and find peace. After a week, her money started running out and her car started acting up. It was a choice between staying in the hotel or getting her radiator fixed.

Not knowing what to do, Medi said she surrendered herself to God. She had options. She could go and join her brother in Houston. She could find another live-in nanny job. Those were the easy options. But “easy” was just too easy.

Medi didn’t want to leave Oakland. This was where all the kids needed her help. She could teach them living skills. She had the magic touch with kids. She knew how to turn them around. She knew how to mentor them, set them on the right path. She had programs in mind that she wanted to develop. She would find a church to sponsor her programs, and Oakland was dappled with denominations of all stripes.

“I surrender, God. I give my life up to you. Tell me what to do. Your will, God, not mine.”

Medi “got” that what she was supposed to do was stay in Oakland, and hang until she “received further instructions” from Spirit. She would live in her car rather than take a nanny job with another family and risk the same kind of distress. She wouldn’t ransom her peace of mind. Medi knew she was supposed to work with kids, but the how or the where and other details, she would leave up to God.

I don’t know how Medi ended up walking into the East Bay Church of Religious Science on Telegraph Avenue. I was working on a project there importing contributions data from a dinosaur database program and populating and reformatting a new one. Anyway, we met, and a deep soul connection was forged.

“Fuck that job. You can do better. Just take this time and relax.” Medi ordered. “Just be still and listen to that still, small voice.”

“Medi, I just came back from New York! I took the whole month off last month! What do you mean relax?!?! I feel like I should be doing something.”

“I know you think you should be doing something. But if the job isn’t there, then it isn’t there. If it isn’t there, then that means something better is. Thank God they fucked up. Now you can do what you’re destined to do.”

“What’s that?”

“Write, silly! Do you really think you’re going to write after working for someone else all day? Do you really think you’ll have the energy after dealing with corporate shit all day? Hell, no! You’ll just be postponing what you’re supposed to be doing, what you really love to do, what you were born to do. You can’t keep postponing your destiny. You can’t say, ‘Someday I’m gonna be a writer. You’re a writer NOW!’”

“What about my bills?” I asked incredulously. “I’ve got bills!”

Medi cut in, “Bills? What bills? If you ain’t got none, they can’t get none. Fuck ‘em. Look at me. What, you say they want my car? They can go get it, honey. And they did. I don’t care. Something better’s gone come.”

One day, Medi said, the cops finally caught up to her unregistered vehicle. She saw them towing her car away. Instead of interrupting the tow, she walked away in the opposite direction, chuckling under her breath and thanking God for all the time she was able to live in it.

It’s impossible to subdue Medi’s attitude of gratitude. She recounted to me that one winter night it was so cold out that all her car windows fogged up. But from the spot where she was reclining, the warmth of her breath created a clear hole from which she could see a big, bright, shining star. She said she slept in peace that night.

Medi used to say her “home” was centrally-located. At night she parked at the lot in the Rockridge Safeway, open 24 hours so she could duck into the ladies’ room anytime. Across the street was Wendy’s where she could sit and sip a cup of 86-cent coffee during the day and charge her cell phone. And just a short walk away was the Public Library, from which she could email friends and family, and borrow books and cds to her heart’s content. Medi is an avid and voracious reader, devouring everything from the Bible to Dick and Jane, to Thoreau. She could throw quotes at you from anywhere.

“Speak your truth and you’ll find your audience,” she admonished me. “Find something else to do in the meantime. Teach art or something. There’s so much you know how to do. You gotta use your gift, gurl. Get writin’ and keep it real.”

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Barkada ko, Mahal ko

I wasn’t particularly close to Marlina back in college. I was a journ major, and she was in broadcomm, but we were in the same barkada.

is a Tagalog term meaning clique. More specifically, a barkada is a group of friends who hang together informally. I say “informally” (yes, with fingers of both hands gesturing quotation marks) to differentiate it from fraternities, sororities, or associations with a specific identity or stated mission. A barkada hangs together for no reason at all. Sometimes they sit around and drink a lot of beer. Most times they just sit around and chat. But more than anything, barkadas hang out just to be.

It had been 20 years since I saw Marlina. We had a reunion back in ’86 in Stockton, but even then, I don’t think we paired up to catch up. My college best friend Iza made a rare appearance and we latched on to each other to the exclusion of others.

Then, over the holidays and from out of the blue, Marlina posted a message and sent me a picture on Facebook, and we started emailing back and forth. I knew Marlina had made Minneapolis her home but, as fate would have it, she was visiting her mom and dad in New York. I told her I was going to be in New York and we decided to meet.

Marlina hadn’t changed at all. She's still as cute as ever, pretty, petite, witty, sharp and ageless. What a gift to share two days with her! As we caught up with each other’s lives, laying bare our souls, I saw her true inner strength. Out of respect for Marlina’s privacy, I will only say that her personal triumph over intense challenges has imbued her persona with palpable power.

“Cross with confidence!” Marlina prodded me and Monette, as she jaywalked across busy Lexington and 49th, oblivious of oncoming, honking New York City cabs.

Over and beyond my superficial example of her fearlessness, I found so much to admire and love about Marlina. We had a lot of catching up to do and we talked non-stop as we braved the crowds and crossed the streets of Manhattan with determined confidence.

Marlina went on to finish grad school, headed up the Asian film fest in New York, moved to Minneapolis to work at a prestigious arts center, got married, had a daughter, and survived tremendous personal crises with incredible fortitude. Marlina’s way out was through, with courage, spirituality and humor.

What a gift she is to me! I’ve been missing intelligence, imagination and inspiration in my immediate circle, and somehow we found each other again. Time hadn't ravaged our connectedness.

Marlina, I thank you for who you are. I know who you are. You are a perfect child of God. In you I see the manifestation of divine power and light. You are an example of strength and faith. You don’ta looka like-a man. You are whole, perfect and complete! Now and forever more. And so it is!

Barkada ko, mahal ko. My friend, I love you.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

I spent the early morning hours of Sunday hugging the immaculately clean toilet bowl in Room 1403 of the legendary Waldorf Astoria puking my guts out. No matter. I was kneeling on marble and robed in luxury spa-quality Egyptian cotton terry. I wasn’t drunk. I was having an attack of vertigo.

Vertigo. The sensation of spinning or whirling. My life in the last couple of years had been pure Hitchcockian. As I look back on it now, I feel like a detached voyeur seeing my life draining into concentric circles of hell and re-emerging on the other side. On the other side of what?

I could not stop vomiting.

My friends Monette, Liz and I took the subway to St. Mark’s Place in the east village neighborhood of Manhattan. The subway looked exactly like the subway I know from Law & Order -- ancient and dirty, starkly lit, dangerous-looking and pulse-poundingly exciting. If you could scratch and sniff TV, it would smell like humanity. We walked around looking for someplace to eat. Young, skinny Asian hotties in trendy gear packed authentic yakitori and sushi houses. No room there for three frumpy over-the-hill Asian women. We ended up at an empty udon house.

As I knelt hurling noodles down the drain, I grasped for the meaning of it all. I knew that my physical sensation of spinning was a metaphor for my recent life challenges. But I was now emerging and gaining equilibrium. I needed one last purge to purification.

The following day was going to be the oft-used first day of the rest of my life. I would be lunching with a publisher, a bestselling author, and fellow winners of this free fru-fru New York trip. I would be reconnecting with long-lost beautiful and inspirational friends.

As I snuggled into bed and cradled my head into the soft down pillow, I surrendered in gratitude for all that was and all that is yet to be.

God rest ye, merry Maya. Let nothing dismay you. Thank Father-Mother-God and Goddess, for tidings of comfort and joy!