Fear on Wheels!

            Like snakes on a plane, but much more likely: Me on roller skates. This is evidently very scary to people in my small town.
            It’s not scary to me! It’s awesome to me. I have fabulously fun quad roller skates, the old-school kind that are white  Suzskates with hot pink wheels. I can skate backwards and cross one foot over the other as I take turns, and it’s fun to ride on the back two wheels of my front skate while balancing on the front two wheels of my back skate. My boyfriend rolls on inline skates, but I’m super-down with the quads.
            And really, up until my last roll through town, the general feedback was a thumbs up as a rolled past. But this last weekend – so lovely with 78-degree weather, sunshine and live music by Moska Project at the stage abutting the St. Lucie River – also happened to be the height of snowbird season. And these people are scared!
            “Careful!” someone randomly yelled out as I moved to sit on a totally stable bench to dig my cell phone out of my backpack.
            “I would skate right off the dock, don’t do that!” laughed someone else as I rolled by.
            “Don’t fall!” cautioned another, as he shifted his weight from side to side, hands raised in alarm, as if I were about to fall at any moment.
              For the record, I did not fall that day – not once. And you know what I think about caution? It’s a word that I cannot understand!
            I mean, look. I understand that these strangers are trying to be nice, that they care. They could go tell me to suck it as I rolled past. So, yeah, thanks. I smile. But honestly I’m smiling in spite of these random people. I am really smiling because roller skating is super-fun!
            I saw my friend Malik downtown, busking and doing pretty darn well at getting people to honor his guitar-playing skills with some singles and even a few fivers. Go Malik! So I skated in circles, listening to him and waimalikting until his song was finished so we could hug and chat it up for a minute. He was set up in the middle of an art show, which was pretty savvy and filled with lookey-loos ready to drop some coin. Malik is a smart guy.
            Suddenly, a woman interrupted us and said to me, “OK, I’m really starting to get nervous now.”
            I looked at her, confused.
           “You are very close to my booth,” she said, putting her hands up on her standing art board walls.
           “Oh, was I touching your booth?” I asked, very much aware that I was not within a solid two feet of her booth.
           “No, but it is not sturdy,” she said, suddenly holding on to it as if it were about to fall at any second. She was wearing an om necklace,     which was nice. There was a worried crease in her forehead.
           “Well, I’m about to leave. Would that make you calmer?” I asked. “If I went away, all your fears would be gone, right?”
           She smiled and relaxed for a second. “Wouldn’t that be great, if that would happen?” she said.
           “Well it is going to happen,” I proclaimed, wheeling slowing in place. “I am going to leave, and all your fears will go away. You will have nothing to worry about, ever again.”
           And she smiled, and I turned to Malik and told him that I had to bolt in order to relieve this woman’s fears, and off I went.
           Really? Is life really that scary? I don’t think so.
fear          Do people think I need to be reminded about the bad that could happen in my life? Of course I have fallen before on my skates. I have a heart-shaped scar on my elbow. I hear this is a solid product. Did I ever show you my scars on my knees from when I was 6 and rode my Big Wheel without shoes? I know! I was THIS CLOSE to that knee modeling contract.
         I mean, honestly people, it’s OK. It’s but a flesh wound!
        So, I mentioned that my boyfriend rides inline skates. He’s certainly a better skater than I am, but I’ve never seen anyone tell him to be careful. And come on, he’s totally grinding sides of benches and things. He is more likely to be really injured at this extremely fun activity, not me. I’m all 8 wheels on the ground, except when I’m not.
          I think all this worry is actually just old-fashioned sexism. Like: “Oh, you foolish girl. You sure are cute on those skates but I think you are dumb and have no idea what you are doing. So you need to be stopped and warned before you hurt yourself, because you’ll be so helpless when you do that you will bother me into helping.”
          My grandmother was a notorious worrywart. She would warn you about walking down the stairs in flip flops or putting in an earring – things that were worthy of an eye roll. But I loved her, and she had a very sheltered life. Maybe she and everyone I encountered on skates would probably have preferred that I were safe and sound at home. Maybe barefoot (and pregnant) too?
         Well, news flash: I own these skates and I’ve got health insurance! Thanks Obama! So I’m ready to roll. Who’s with me? Come on, are ya scared!?

Religious Co-Op in My Soul

No, it’s not a They Might Be Giants song, (Birdhouse in Your Soul might be too obscure to open this blog post, but that’s the joy of no boss!) … it’s how I feel about being a drop-out Catholic yogini during Lent season.

Sr. Dorothy Wilkinson in front of St. Leo the Great Parish with an unidentified and evidently chilly but well-prepared woman

I’m religiously open, even though I was raised Catholic. Those last two words, when shared among friends, often feel like the midst of therapy session … hey, I’ve moved on from the injustices of Sister Dorothy of St. Leo the Great Parish in Lancaster, Pa. Right, Mom?

Through the years, I have enjoyed close friendship with many Jews. Cloaked in neon and fancy fabrics, I’ve attended many a bar/bat mitzvah (can I get credit for spelling this correctly the first time?). In college, I oddly and awesomely received a box of sweets and masks from Hillel, the Jewish Culture Foundation at NYU, for the holiday of Purim (An interesting tangent: Read this essay by Jeffrey Rubenstein). I’ve celebrated many a Seder and Hanukkah (I spelled that wrong at first!). I have even traveled to Israel for a magazine assignment.

In college, I connected with the Buddhist Student Association and began practicing meditation and Yoga, albeit sporadically but lasting through today. (Click here for a good resource) About 15 months ago, I graduated Yoga teacher training and have been a teacher of Yoga since.

Hanuman, the awesome monkey god who embodies Bhakti, and I love how this photo mimics the Sr. Dorothy photo. #notoverit

While I was learning all about the root Hindu mysticism of the Yogic tradition, I loved having religious conversations with my Christian friend Amy while we walk the bridges over the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.

My boyfriend was raised Unitarian, and interestingly my office is next door to the Unitarian Universalist Church in Stuart. Now to the point:

Even though I am in no way a practicing Catholic and haven’t been to church in years, I gave something up for Lent last year and am doing it again this year. I guess I did it as a kid; I really don’t remember it being anything stressful. I do remember Easter baskets after the 40-day denial fest! My parents would hide my purple and yellow woven plastic basket filled with chocolate and jelly beans (and eggs we would paint prior – to be discussed in a subsequent blog posting) throughout the house on the big day. One time, the “Easter Bunny” hid my older brother’s basket in the dryer, and he failed to find it. Mine, meanwhile, was long-found from under the dining room table, and I was munching and laughing. Sorry, sucka!

Wait, back to God. Right. Before you get the goods of Jesus rising again and somehow saving me (comments welcome below), you have to give something up or create a positive habit to make you remember God in your life every day.

Back up to God, since this is the religious blog post, so what the h-e-double-hockey-sticks: I believe in God, she’s awesome! As far as I’m concerned, God lives in each and every one of us, and we are limitless and amazingly beautiful and perfect and are so blessed and blissed.

This crepuscular God in Clouds is brought to you by Jazz Fest 2014. New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, like God in a fest.

Am I wrong? If New Orleans knows anything, it’s that life is a party. Mardi Gras, mais oui.

So it’s Lent time, and last year I gave up alcohol. I’m certainly not a drunk (well, I function. That’s good, right?), but it was a bit of a challenge to give up all alcohol for 40 days.

Catholic rules – at least when I was a kid – was that you could break your Lenten vows on Sundays, because you have to go to church that day so you’re already forced to remember God because you’re dragged to a stain-glass castle with Latin chanting, incense and wine. I must admit that I saved up my Sundays for the end of Lent, when I partied at the Wanee Festival last year. And even then I definitely didn’t drink as much as I did the last festival I enjoyed.

See, last year at this time, I was pretty stressed out. I was working to pass a referendum for the Children’s Services Council of Martin County, which ended up passing with 77% of the vote. (Woot!) Still, at that time, I didn’t know the outcome and $9 million for local children and family programs was riding on it. It could drive you to drink!

Enter Lent. I had to confront that stress head-on – in the now. Instead I did a lot of Yoga. I started teaching the previous December, and sobriety jived with many of the teachings of the Yoga Sutra. A quick connection to a few Yamas and Niyamas:

  • Isvarapraṇidhana: connection to God – this is the obvious one, where we contemplate the supreme being constantly
  • Ahimsa: non-violence – alcohol is a toxin to the body
  • Satya: truth – I am not truly myself when drunk
  • Asteya: non-stealing – You steal time from your highest self when drunk
  • Sauca: purity – Clear minds aren’t influenced by drink

What a buzz kill!

Indeed, not drinking made me a bit of a social hermit, since so many of my friends would invite me out to get a craft beer or dance to live music. It took my love of the latter to overcome my love of the former!

So, 2015: This year, I’ve given up processed sugar, and I can tell already it’s going to be a snap. Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, when Catholics smear ash on their foreheads and not wipe it off to let everyone know that it’s all temporary, man. As an acne-ridden teen paranoid about clogged pores, I hated that tradition. Way to smite me twice, God! Who am I, Job?HomerDonut

Anywho, I’ve come across a bunch of sugar in the last four days and it’s all good. I even upped the ante by purchasing dark chocolate-covered almonds earlier in the week. Who needs those when you have Barlean’s Chocolate Silk Greens to mix with almond milk? I realized that I eat very little processed sugar from the get-go.

So what can I learn? I am continuing to analyze myself to change, improve and evolve. Who knows? By the time this is live on the intrawebs, I may be gorging on vegan sugar doughnuts in the corner of my kitchen. There are still 36 days left in Lent.

What I learned from 14 years of Vegetarian Times

By Suzanne Wentley

After I escaped from the hangover of the holiday season, I looked around the house I was living in for the last eight years. It had seen a few live-in lovers come and go and watched as I rented out what became known as “the transition room” due to short-term needs of friends. I had grown roots here. More precisely, I grew piles of paper.

It was like I was opening my eyes for the first time to my house. I had a big stack of travel magazines on my desk from all the places I’ve visited over the last few years, all containing bits of information I wanted to remember for the launch of The Lovelight Project. I had two overflowing boxes of magazine and newspapers that I’ve written for dating back to my college days. I had books from high school ­– seriously, want to read Shakespeare? I’m your library. Speaking of library, I realized that one of my bookcases was filled with magazines. It seems I started collecting one magazine in particular, Vegetarian Times, in 2001.

Just a portion of my Vegetarian Times stack
Just a portion of my Vegetarian Times stack

I was, to my surprise, a hoarder! I talked to my friends and family about this, and they all agreed that they never felt like my house was messy or overrun. I was very good at have neat-looking stacks of paper. I was a functioning hoarder. I evidently hoarded alone, in the dark, not letting anyone know. I was fooling myself. And when I realized that it was time for this habit to come to an end, I was overwhelmed.

See, as a Yoga instructor, I learned about the concept of Aparigraha, or non-possessiveness. It’s one of the yamas, or ways of living, outlined in the Yoga Sutras, to remind us that material possessions do not provide satisfaction in the end.

Letting go of attachment, it seems, is quite a project.

So for the last month, I’ve been undergoing a massive divestment campaign at home. My roommate was extremely patient (and not surprisingly spending extra time at her boyfriend’s house) with the papers that were now out in the open as I tried to make sense of it all.

Those magazine and newspaper articles? I clipped them out and scanned them into my computer, organizing them my date and topic and creating a back up on a flash drive. Books are continuously being given away. I cleaned out my closet. I got rid of the seven years (SEVEN YEARS) of birthday cards people gave me. Hey, thanks, by the way. I love you too!

But the biggest project was that darn pile of Vegetarian Times. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 15 and a vegan (most of the time) for the last two years or so. So I really appreciated new recipes, especially since I receive a box of organic produce from Palm Beach Organics at my door every other week. I need to understand what I’m exactly supposed to do with all the mangos from my backyard trees.

So I went through each issue, ripping out recipes that interested me. Then I cut them neatly. Then I organized them by genre, like appetizers or desserts. Then I bought a binder, colored paper and tape, and I created my own cookbook. And I recycled that huge pile of leftover paper.

It took a while. I really wouldn’t recommend this to anyone. Here’s what I learned:

  1. We force ourselves to do too much. At what point did I really think I would make everything in all these issues, look back on them, find new ones? With so much happening, I really needed to make the divestment campaign a priority in my life. Most people don’t do that. Most people would just chuck all those Vegetarian Times, I know. Maybe it’s my own expectations for myself and what I do that needed to be checked. Maybe my possessiveness isn’t just material, but a drive to be great. My self worth is just based in who I am, not the foods I cook.
  1. It’s important to find joy in every day life. At the end, I was so exhausted from clipping and organizing that I would throw pasta in a pot to feed myself. Ironic, right? I cook because it brings me joy, and at some point I lost it. So I plan to spend more time, eating more slowly, cooking my own food and enjoying it more. Today, I made a tempeh sandwich spread. I toasted my whole grain bread and made a little side salad of organic greens and tomatoes. It was delish!
  1. There’s always more to let go of. This was step one, although step one really consisted of many, many steps. It’s surprising how attached I was to piles of paper and how wonderful it feels to have my home now free of those piles. I still need to rid myself of even more, and I’ll get there. But first, I need to pack a lunch for tomorrow. What shall I make?

Learning About Lolita Through Art

By Suzanne Wentley
    What a pleasant surprise to discover, as I was cruising up South Beach’s Washington Avenue in my new white-and-hot pink quad roller skates, my dear friend and very talented artist Huong!
     I knew she lived in Miami, but the fact that she had a fabulous gallery there slipped past my busy mind. I was overcome with joy to see that she also happen to be there the day I was visiting with my boyfriend.
     Her gallery was quite different than the one she opened in the town where I live, about two hours north, in Jensen Beach. When I met her a decade ago, her “War and Peace” museum had rocked this quiet, conservative town, and I loved it! She painted from the heart, with passion and with knowledge, about the horrors of war and the dream of peace. I had the same dream. It’s how we connected.
     It had been years since I saw her. Since then, I know she’s moved on to use her compelling personal story and her powerful art to bring other important issues to light. Creating a network of dedicated activist artists, she remains an advocate to close the “detention camp” in Guantanamo Bay (as am I). Together with others, she worked to change the unfair immigration laws. And she took a stand when Trayvon Martin was shot, reminding everyone who listened that it could have been them in that hoodie sweatshirt.
     She has always cared about the rights of others to live in peace, beauty and joy, and that’s why I love her.
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     So I was impressed that her studio’s current exhibit focuses on the health of our world’s oceans and marine life. One of the sentinel beings caught up in the mix of everything is Lolita, a killer whale that’s been living in 35-foot-wide tank since she was captured in the Puget Sound in 1970. Forty five years! The comparison to prisoners of war was obvious to me. Just as Huong’s early work shed light on the barbaric state of war in her native land of Vietnam, fellow artist Michael Gray’s huge painting of Lolita in Huong’s studio reminds us of how unjust her captivity is. Just for our entertainment, a beautiful, normally social creature has been forced to spend most of her life in a loud, confining chamber.
     It takes no time for visitors to understand that Lolita must be immediately freed from the Miami Seaquarium pool, if for no other reason than the need to follow our own moral compass by helping those who cannot speak for themselves.
Talk about disturbing. Check out this video of her capture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzUgLbHzKIE&feature=related
     Everyone who has a heart has to agree that Lolita needs to return to the sea, which is breathtakingly depicted in small squares of brilliantly colored artwork that hangs along the hallway walls of her gallery. I had never been to the Seaquarium, so I am grateful to Huong for once again opening my eyes and sparking my (and others) commitment to advocating for what is right.
     I sent this note off:
I recently became aware of the fact that you have kept a killer whale in confined captivity for 45 years, and I would like to tell you that I am completely disgusted by this. I am boycotting your educational facility and will be telling everyone I know how cruel, inhumane, immoral and unjust your organization is. If you had any heart whatsoever, you would release Lolita from her small pool and allow her to return to the wild where she was taken. This needs to happen immediately. I work with children’s organizations, and I will be sure to alert everyone to the slavery you are perpetuating just because the slave is a different species. I think all children agree that you ought to be ashamed of this and end it immediately.
Thank you for reading this and freeing Lolita right now.
     You can do the same by clicking here: http://www.miamiseaquarium.com/hours-and-directions/contact-us
     I also encourage you to visit Huong’s gallery at 1606 Washington Ave., Miami Beach FL 33139, to meet this beautiful woman and hear more about this tragic situation. Of course she has petitions for you to sign, too.
    One piece of art there states a quote from John C. Sawhill: “A society is defined not only by what it creates but by what it refuses to destroy.” Let’s preserve the dignity of other magnificent beings, preserve our stewardship of nature and refuse to destroy my faith in humankind.