Open from 2-6 pm today
729 Park (Park and Mill) , SLO
July 14, 1937 – June 2, 2018
The Bodhisattvas, they walk among us,
and sometimes we lend ourselves and they become us.
The hand of spirit is the hand you raise
when you weave the strands of your nights and days.
Charlo Vogt, Weave your Reality
Bobbe Scott was the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known.
She was radiant, she was impossibly energetic, she faced life with endless grace. Her laugh was contagious, her smile delightful, and she was always beautifully dressed, right down to the rings on her arthritis-gnarled, stubby fingers. Bobbe’s eulogies should overflow with admiration for the many ways she dealt with that arthritis.
Bobbe was wise and funny, as all the best Buddhists are. She loved life and the arts, Los Angeles and New York. She was perpetually of service to others, and graciously asked for and received the care of others when necessary. When I sat in a room in meditation with Bobbe, I would be drawn to a level of serenity that I rarely reach on my own.
Bobbe was a dear, dear friend and mentor to me, precious beyond words. She made me feel deeply known and profoundly loved. Our relationship was intimate and authentic.
And I am one of many people who feel this way. Bobbe loved us all.
In my notes from one of the One Year to Live classes Bobbe taught at SLO hospice, I found this page. It’s from the session on end-of-life paperwork, during which we discussed assisted dying.
“If I can’t enjoy a good meal, if I can’t remember what I ate yesterday, if I can’t get to the Palm Theatre, put me out.”
The next year, she put it more simply, “If I’m more disabled than I am now, that’ll be it.”
And she chose to leave as gracefully as she lived.
The current state of the pallet.
We’re experimenting with what to take and what to leave behind, and piling up various configurations of it on the driveway. Pretty soon we’ll have a good enough idea of how and what will fit and the pile will move indoors.
Since my project is called Two Suitcases, I took the idea of moving to France with two suitcases pretty seriously. Well, with two suitcases apiece. Eventually it came to me that, though it would offer me to opportunity to partially replicate my parents’ arrival in the same part of the world in 1940, it was a thoroughly romantic – and therefore impractical – notion. We shifted our thinking to shipping one pallet of boxes.
Right now the boxes making the cut contain: the library I’ve collected to use as background material for Two Suitcases, a few boxes of my papers and other books, some of Tom’s papers and books, framed photos of the family, art, kitchen things, winter clothes, and some items to make our new home feel like our old one. Carpets, my computer, Tom’s keyboard, and more art will be shipped separately.
Most of my days are filled with sorting and packing. This box has our favorite mugs at the bottom, some delicate pieces of art and glass in the middle, and at the top, some of the birds that lived in our houseplants or flew around the ceilings in our home here.
At its center, packed very carefully, is the crystal bell my father bought my mother with his first paycheck in 1943, less than a year after they arrived in Philadelphia. He always said he bought it to remind her of what is important.
Tree of Life by Lee Lawson
For a panel discussion recently, I was asked to share the advice I would give young women on embracing their inner goddess. This is my response:
I am convinced that on August 21, 2017, at 10:15 in the morning California time, the balance between god-energy and goddess-energy tipped toward the goddess.
In preparation for the shift, our culture has been teetering between a Father-in-the-Sky-centered mythology to a mythology centered on ourselves, leaving out divinity altogether. Neither of those myths holds up anymore. The myth of the goddess, on the other hand, is gaining power.
Unlike God-with-a capital-G, of whom there is only one in the dominant monotheistic view, the goddess manifests in infinite ways. She is the spark in everything that makes it unique.
The goddess shows up when we value the present moment, when we value what we have over what we wish we had. As the future becomes less dependable, the present gains value. Now, more and more people will recognize the magic in the myriad of small things. The goddess hides in the ordinary. The dove is in the stone, as my teacher Alice O. Howell would say.
As the times get harder – hurricanes, floods, droughts, earthquakes – and the loss of material goods and comfort becomes more widespread, a value shift always happens. It was palpable in the days following the fall of the Twin Towers. It happened in Houston after Harvey hit. It happens whenever there’s a disaster. At least for a little while, people begin to see the value of working together, of helping one another, of contributing to the good of the whole. We are all in this together, after all.
Embracing your inner goddess means finding that in yourself that only you can do, the unique way you that you alone can serve the greater good. That’s your purpose here on earth. That’s when God-with-a-capital-G becomes good-with-a-small-g, and the goddess in you recognizes herself everywhere.
Ganesh Baba used to say that. Such a delightful aphorism – so full of broad and deep meaning.
To me, it means wherever you are is exactly the right place for you to be. The central secret is at your center. The treasure is buried in your own garden.
We didn’t move. Tom and I are still living in the same house, and working at the same business, Mama Ganache. The house, in my mind all ready to be someone else’s, wanted to be ours a little longer. Everything seemed to be in place, and I’d done all kinds of symbolic, metaphoric, ritual, and inner work around letting go—I even led the session called “Letting Go” in a Year-to-Live class I co-teach—but the fates had it that we’re here, at home again.
It’s a fortunate thing, although fraught with difficulties and very hard work. This house is filled with light and beauty. And now it’s clean and repaired! What a gift!
During the weeks the house was on the market and the first few after, I was tired and depressed and sick. Not all at once. Yeah, all at once.
Still, underneath all that physical, biological and psychological stress, I managed to retain a small, frequently imperceptible, sense that everything was going to be alright. It’s true I was wearing my little ceramic disk that says THIS TOO SHALL PASS, which always helps, but it was the way life itself unfolded that gave me the message most profoundly.
The very moment Tom and I decided that we would stay here, a text arrived from a friend, who had another friend, who was in need of a furnished room or two. Our new housemate moved in an hour later. Best housemate we’ve ever had. It would have been enough.
Events had almost inevitably been turns for the worse over the weeks before that. Things broke down, big things, the water heater, the sewage pump, the washer, all within a short time. The toilet overflowed and needed to be replaced when Airbnb guests were here. Everything took forever and cost too much. Then, in a flash, a helpful, upbeat, mature, and kind housemate moves in.
A week later, Mama Ganache lost both of its weekday shop employees at the same time, and it became clear to me that I should step back into the business. So here I am, Mama Ganache again.
I spent the last month on a new website: mama-ganache.com. I set up a chocolate club and free delivery service to hospitals and nursing homes. Tom and I are hosting two weekly events at the shop, a tea on Sundays, and a conversation on Thursday afternoons. We’re hosting two parties a month, Art after Dark on first Fridays, and the chocolate club pick-up party on second Fridays. I’ve been crazy busy.
In the middle of all that, Eva came on Thursday last week. She and I already have a long relationship with hummingbirds, so I knew the hummingbird who flew into the living room just before Luana dropped her off, had some message for me.
It was another rufous hummingbird, West Coast parallel to the ruby-throated hummingbird. It was trying frantically to fly out of the window above the dog’s bed. Lily Bear thought it was very exciting indeed, but she backed off when I asked her to. Almost immediately the bird fell, stunned, onto the window sill. When I tried to lift it up gently, it awoke and dashed into the upper corner of the window again. In my hand were three tiny hummingbird feathers.
As I stared at them, astonished, the bird fell again, very nearly into my open hands. This time I could lift it and carry it outdoors. I put it in a flower box and went to get a succulent leaf to make a sun shield for it.
When I came back with the leaf, the hummingbird looked at me with one eye and took off, circling around once and then landing high in the oak tree.
The feathers must have slid out of my hand when I put the bird in the flower box.
I picked them up and put them in a special box. Hummingbird feathers, so tiny, so exquisite. Extraordinary.
These are hard times. The large, slow-moving astrological configuration (Uranus/Pluto) that’s been putting so many obstacles, small and large, in my path, will affect us all in one way or another. But surely something bigger is afoot, or, perhaps I should say, in the air.
I haven’t had much time to write lately. What with watching Éva, charming but nonetheless 19 months old, up to five days a week; sorting and emptying this enormous house and getting it ready for the market; hosting a slew of wonderful guests, some paid, some not; and best of all, having our whole, hilarious family here for over a week, entailing regular meals for between 15 and 23 guests (impossible without the help of my sister-in-law, Joanne Currie), quiet moments are scarce.
AND YET, the ancestors haven’t let up on me. Material floods in. My parents’ papers from Vienna, Paris, and Verfeil. Above, their identification papers from Tarn-et-Garonne, in France. Below, a history of the Social Democratic Party in Brigittenau, the neighborhood in Vienna where much of what I’m currently writing takes place:
I’m overwhelmed with gratitude.
Here’s a draft of the section I managed to write during all the uproar of the last couple weeks.
July 12, 1929
Trude looks into the old mirror on the inside door of the armoire and straightens her red tie for the fifth time. Her new blue shirt looks good but the tie isn’t hanging quite right. She wants everything to be perfect. Finally the tie is right. She takes Mitzi, the pipe cleaner antelope her grandmother made, from her shelf in the armoire and slips her into her pocket. Mitzi always comes along to important events. Moments later, Trude is hurrying down the stairs to catch the streetcar to the Heldenplatz for the opening ceremony of the Second International Socialist Youth Congress.
The sight that meets her as she steps out of the car is stunning. As always she is early – but the huge plaza in front of the Hofburg Palace is already filling with many thousands of young people. Troops of children, from seven years up, their leaders, and throngs of young adults are pouring from every direction, following and clustering around red flags in a variety of shapes and sizes.
All the same beautiful deep red, the flags symbolize International Socialism. At the entrances to the courtyard and on the steps of the palace, tall, narrow flags flutter from very high poles. Similar narrow flags are scattered across the plaza, but most of the thousands and thousands of flags – everyone is carrying one – are simple rectangles of red. Each group carries at least one to which they’ve added a symbol to identify themselves, but the great majority are just red. It is so inspiring! As Trude winds her way through the sea of color and eager young faces, she’s filled with the excited energy of the crowd.
“Hi!” she calls out, waving her arm at Karl and Erwin when she spots them on the steps to the Federal Chancellery, where their group is gathering. The brothers got up at four in the morning in order to stake a claim on this fine spot. “How great! We have a perfect view!” Trude says. She climbs up a few more steps to survey the plaza.
Never before has such a group gathered.
“You won’t be able to stay up there,” Karl tells her. “Those steps are reserved for functionaries more important than our little group of event coordinators.”
“It’s remarkable!” says Erwin, his eyes never leaving the gathering attendees. “It’s like an enormous symphony orchestra!”
Fritz and Ida arrive next.
“We were just at the station,” says Fritz. “What a welcome we gave! A good-sized brass band was there and they were playing loud, but we young people were even louder. As the train pulled in, we formed a long, broad wall along the tracks, and waved and chanted ‘Friendship, Friendship!’ You should have seen the eyes of our comrades on the train!”
Next come Hugo and Gert, she, in the new spring coat she made for herself out of offcuts from the dressmaker’s shop where she works.
“It’s beautiful!” says Trudy, seeing the coat for the first time. “You’re so creative with so little!”
“That is truly a compliment,” Gert replies. “Your mother is the queen of creative reuse! And you’re no slouch yourself.”
Trude smiles and turns a little to model her grey skirt, recently an old coat, swinging it outward gently to let the red trim show.
“Thanks! I’ll never be as good a seamstress as my mother, though,” she says. “I can’t compete. That’s why I worked so hard to get into Gymnasium.”
“That’s not true. You’re so smart! You’d be bored being an apprentice like me.”
“I don’t think I’d mind if I could work for someone else in a big shop like you do. But I would have to work at home for my mother! I wouldn’t be able to stand it!”
“I understand perfectly!” Gert laughs.
The group is talking animatedly as the musicians seat themselves on the large balcony above the palace entrance. Then Ida looks up in surprise.
“Erich!” she cries out. “You came!”
“Would it be alright if I join you?” asks Erich.
“You aren’t part of our group,” says Hugo. “You really shouldn’t…”
“Why not?” Ida’s voice cuts sharply over Hugo’s. “Everyone, let me introduce my friend from the University, Erich Stein. Erich, these are my friends in the events coordination group I told you about. Hugo Preis, the rude one there,” she glares at Hugo, then goes on, “and Gert Heber, his girlfriend, Karl and Erwin Weiss, my brother Fritz of course you know, and this is Fritz’s girlfriend, Trude.”
Erich subdues his inclination to flinch at her boldness, and nods and smiles at each one of Ida’s friends. “Glad to meet you,” he says. Only Trude notices his discomfort with the way Ida spoke over Hugo; she feels the same way herself.
The orchestra begins with Richard Strauss’s “Festival Procession.” By the time they finish and the chorus joins in for the “Wake Up” from Wagner’s Meistersinger, every heart in the massive plaza is joined to every other.
The hope of a new world is gathered.
Otto Felix Kanitz, founder of the Red Falcon scouts and head of the progressive Kinderfreunde school at the castle, Schönbrunn, greets the Future of Socialism, standing in the plaza before him. Karl Seitz, the mayor, welcomes them all to Red Vienna, living proof that a City of the People, For the People, is possible. The Dutchman Koos Vorrink, speaking for the International Youth Movement, announces that internationalism, the Internationale, the greatest conception of what humanity can be, is alive and flourishing. The orchestra is drowned out by the enormous cheer that rises from the crowd as the red flag of International Socialism is carried up onto the dais.
In the afternoon, guided tours of Vienna are offered, and most of the young people spread out over the city in small groups, visiting the social housing complexes as well as St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the Opera House, and other sights. The event coordination group splits up to prepare for the twenty-five concerts, celebrations, and performances that will be offered all over the city that evening.
Ida is the leader of the group preparing for Josef Luitpold Stern’s poetry reading in the large meeting room at Karl-Marx-Hof that evening. She intends to get there at 6, but how can she refuse when a group of her friends says they were going to a café for a drink and a bite to eat?
“Hey, redhead, you come too,” one of them calls to Erich as he links arms with Ida and pulls her along.
Erich is very entertaining on a couple of beers – Ida already knows that. An hour passes in laughter as comical imitations of the morning’s speakers mix with deep appreciation of the Youth Congress so far. The sheer numbers! The power of the language: “a City of the People, for the People.” And how tightly organized the congress is!
Oh my! Ida realizes that she should have left for Karl-Marx-Hof ten minutes ago.
“I’ll find something for you to do, Erich,” she says over her shoulder as she hurries down the street. “But you really should have decided to come when I first invited you. We would have found a good job for you.” He catches up with her. For a few moments, their long strides match.
“I’m usually good at making myself useful wherever I am. What still needs to be done before the bard declaims?” he asks.
“Just tag along and I’ll see when we get there.”
They board the tram together.
Trude arrives at Karl-Marx-Hof and heads straight to the large meeting room. The room is unlocked, and but no one is there. She looks at her watch: half an hour early. All the way over, she worried she would be late. Well, she is not.
The high-ceilinged room is lovely in the late summer afternoon. The windows are open wide, letting in a pleasant, fresh breeze. Summer sun fills the space and bounces off the glistening wood floor. At the front, the podium is already on the dais. Banners hang on all the walls. Hundreds of folding chairs are neatly stacked on wheeled carts lined up along the back wall.
The center of the room is gloriously open.
As quietly as possible, almost on tiptoe, Trude crosses the huge room. She hangs her bag on the back of a folding chair, squints to look at the whole room, and then checks her watch again.
Humming the Skaters Waltz to herself very softly, Trude begins to glide around the perimeter of the room, sliding on the highly polished floor as if she were skating. After just a few bars, she realizes how much more smoothly she could glide if she weren’t wearing shoes, so she pauses, unbuckles her sandals, and slips them off. Looking at her watch one last time, she leaves her shoes under the windows, and begins the waltz again. Her thin stockings slide beautifully.
This time she sings out the melody, dah, dah, dah, dah! Soon she leaves the edge of the room and glides across the middle. Then she skates around happily, making figure eights and graceful curves, singing all the time, until she notices with a shock that someone is standing in the door watching her.
It is Erich, who arrived at Karl-Marx-Hof with Ida a few minutes ago.
“Go ahead of me, Erich, and go and see if we need to turn on the lights in the large meeting room,” said Ida, who needed to stop in at the office first.
When Erich gets to the large meeting room, it is filled with light, and a fairy, some lithe little thing in a blue blouse, a pretty skirt, and stocking feet, is dancing around the room alone, accompanying herself with a slightly off-key version of Skater’s Waltz.
He is instantly enchanted. Should he announce his presence? Surely she will see him on one of her turns. In the meantime, he takes in the sweetness of this young girl dancing by herself so beautifully.
When she sees him, Trude is mortified. Her heart pounds and blood rushes to her face. A man saw her being so silly!
Without retrieving her shoes, she heads toward the door to see who it is. When she realizes it’s Ida’s friend Erich, she’s even more upset. He must be at least Ida’s age – what, 20? – and he stood there watching her make a fool of herself. When did he come? How long was he watching her? Suddenly she’s angry. How extraordinarily impolite of him!
Breathing heavily, she stomps over to where Erich is leaning in the doorway. How dare he look so relaxed, so nonchalant? His long limbs remind her of a grasshopper.
“Why are you here?” she asks bluntly. She is standing firmly in front of him, hands on her hips, looking up. He’s a head and a half taller than she. “Didn’t Ida tell you the poetry reading doesn’t start for another hour and a half?”
“Ida sent me up here to turn the lights on for that very event,” says Erich. “It seems it isn’t necessary.” He smiles at the fire in her eyes.
Footsteps echo from down the hall.
“Ah, here is the great leader herself,” he finishes, looking down the hall and calling out, “Ida, Trude is already here!”
“Trude! Well, there are three of us. Let’s set up the chairs,” says Ida, entering, brisk and businesslike, apparently not noticing Trude’s stocking feet.
Trude gets to work, grabbing her sandals as discreetly as possible as she passes the windows, and scrambling to put them on while Erich and Ida are talking.
Soon the rest of the group arrives, all of the three hundred chairs are set up and coffee is brewing in a samovar.
The poetry is mythic, thrilling, larger than life. It speaks equally to the glory and the utter humility of humanity. It extols peace and condemns militarism. The crowd cheers and swoons.
Erich wonders if he is the only one in the room who considers it bombastic and grandiose. But he is no fan of Wagner, either.
My desk is filled with photos my parents and their friends in the 1920’s through the 1940’s. None of the main characters in my historical fiction novel-in-progress, Two Suitcases, is alive.
I should have asked more questions.
I write from pictures, from old newspaper articles and newsreels, from family stories told many times or just once, from snatches of memory, from dreams. I read about the period and places where the story is set incessantly. Then I make up stories that could have happened.
There are four main characters in the story: my mother and father, Trude and Fritz, my father’s sister, Ida, and a friend of the family, Eric. Six more characters play secondary roles. None of these are entirely fictional, but what they do in the novel is certainly not what they did in life. It’s fiction.
Sometimes I wonder if they approve.
I had the great fortune to be with both my parents when they died, and I was close to my aunt till the end, but until yesterday, I thought Eric died about eight years ago and no one knew to contact me.
In yesterday’s mail I found a beautiful handwritten note.
“Eric passed away October 3, a few weeks before his 102nd birthday. He was in good health and excellent spirits. He died peacefully at home. His heart stopped while he was reading the Wall Street Journal.”
The perfect ending.
I said good-bye to Eric in 2008 on my way home from India. I already lived in California then and came east very rarely. Eric was his usual gracious and elegant self. It was five years after my mother died, and he told me for the first time how he’d loved her. At 95, he was still walking long distances every day, but we talked about the likelihood that this would be our last meeting. He filled my rental car with treasures from his beautiful house and we stood in the driveway a long time saying good-bye.
Caught up in the hurly burly of home, I didn’t write a thank you note for some months. When I did, it came back stamped “unknown.” I mourned.
I should have asked more questions.
I missed seven good years of Eric’s life.
Still, over these last couple months, the character, Eric, has been pressuring me to give him a more and more important role in the story. He’s been developing more personality, more, in fact, than any of the others, save Ida, and that perhaps because she acts as a foil to him. His voice is clearest.
If that note isn’t a wink, I don’t know what is.
Thanks, Eric. It feels like you approve.
Alice O. Howell celebrated Aberduffy Day on Tuesday, October 28, about three weeks before what would have been her 92nd birthday. She left easily, surrounded by family.
Guests enjoy themselves in the dining room.
The city of San Luis Obispo from Monterey Heights
A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise. Aldo Leopold
“The greatest lack in contemporary society is community,” someone at the SLO Soiree last Sunday said, and it struck me as true.
The setting in which the statement was made completely belied it: the guests at that gathering form a deliciously civilized community. At its heart is a group of friends who’ve been coming to soirees facilitated by Dr. David Hafemeister, physics professor and expert in nuclear policy and foreign relations, for many, many years. Now held at the Steynberg Gallery on Sundays from 7 – 9, participants enjoy wine and cheese before sitting down to a presentation of some sort and a lively Q&A session. Last Sunday a couple of retired lawyers debated whether America is in decline. They were wise and erudite and the discussion was both profound and very much fun.
To like many people spontaneously and without effort is perhaps the greatest of all sources of personal happiness. Bertrand Russell
Not so long ago, every neighborhood was a community. Small businesses served the neighborhood and kids went to the neighborhood school. A neighborhood was an ecology, a complex set of relationships, that took up the greatest part of our time, energy and attention.
Neighborhoods, small towns, villages, tribes, and families are all ecologies, for better or for worse, and more or less sufficient unto themselves. Cities are made of neighborhoods – fortunately, or they’d be cold places indeed – but all neighborhoods are not communities.
David Spangler says,
Some people think they are in community, but they are only in proximity. True community requires commitment and openness. It is a willingness to extend yourself to encounter and know the other.
Today, though there are impressive exceptions like the cohousing movement, communities built on proximity are increasingly short supply all over the world. The oil industry, all those cars and roads to drive them on, is largely responsible.
In Monterey Heights, my neighborhood, community is on the increase. Neighbors are coming together the way they do when facing a disaster – or the potential of a disaster, as many of us view the new freshmen dorms being built on our doorstep. A clear indicator of community is how long it takes to walk the dog – everyone I meet wants to talk.
Together, we imagine seven four-to-five story buildings looming over our mostly one-story neighborhood. We agree on how hard it is to cross Grand Avenue already. “Can you believe the Environmental Impact Report didn’t take the intersection of Slack and Grand into consideration?!” We visualize roving gangs of 18-year-olds looking for parties on our already student-rental-ridden blocks. A series of meetings is being held, and neighbors, armed with a common cause, are getting to know one another.
Equality comes in realizing that we are all doing different jobs for a common purpose. That is the aim behind any community. The very name community means let’s come together to recognize the unity. Come … unity. – Swami Satchidananda
As climate change, continuing economic instability, shifting values and lack of a common belief system bring more chaos into our lives, finding commonality with others around us is more and more essential.
As Ganesh Baba says,
We must shed our fear of one another, not for some medieval ideal, but as the only practical course to continue as a species.
Let’s make survival of the human race our common goal and take responsibility – individually and together – for our part in preserving the integrity, stability and beauty of the planetary community by preserving the integrity, stability and beauty of our own small part of it, the neighborhood.
Creating harmony amidst diversity is a fundamental issue of the twenty-first century. While celebrating the unique characteristics of different peoples and cultures, we have to create solidarity on the level of our common humanity, our common life. Without such solidarity, there will be no future for the human race. Diversity should not beget conflict in the world, but richness. — Daisaku Ikeda