About Me

My photo
Born in the US, raised on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, lived in Italy, the US, and Canada. Lover of language, travel, colour, and the natural world.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

An afternoon with Mould, Matisse and Picasso

The Sketchbook Project in San Francisco, June 17th 2011
Last Friday was my birthday. It was also day 2 of a three day stopover for the sketchbook project, a traveling exhibit of over 10,000 sketchbooks filled with drawings, paintings, sketches, poetry, cartoons, thoughts, stories....you name it, it was in the exhibit. San Francisco was the last city in the tour, and I was there for a reason. One of my best friends, Louise Mould, had a sketchbook in the exhibit, and it being in San Francisco on my birthday was the best kind of birthday gift!

Driving into the city
I went down to the city with my parents on one of those rare sunny days in San Francisco. The sketchbook project was set up a bit like a library. You pick a theme from a long list, and then a country, and they bring you a sketchbook from that place. I started with Louise's sketchbook of course, give that it was the whole reason I was there. As usual, she had filled it with beautifully detailed pen drawings with fine geometric pieces of coloured paper integrated into the otherwise black ink abstract drawings.

Me with Louise's sketchbook
 I took my time browsing through the gallery of images that Louise had so beautifully filled her sketchbook with. The theme of her book was "Secret Codes," which had me wondering on every page whether there was a code, and what it was! It is an interesting experience to be enjoying a piece of artwork that has been in the hands of a good friend way on the other side of the continent, and even more so because I was doing so surrounded by a large crowd of strangers. An intimate moment of connection in a foreign space surrounded by strangers.

Me enjoying Louise's sketchbook in San Francisco
The exhibition took place at Madrone Studios, and the gallery space had a high ceiling, and was flooded with light. A number of sofas sat around the edges of the room for people to enjoy the sketchbooks.

When you were done with one, you could go back and ask for another.

In addition to Louise's book, I decided to check out books from Tasmania (which included the journal of a ten year old girl whose sketchbook documented everything she could do in five minutes!) and New Zealand (a superbly executed sketchbook by a Ken Beatson, who lived through the Christchurch earthquakes, and not only documented the entire experience, but finds great moments of humour even in the face of tragedy -- is this a NZ characteristic or what??). I also took out some sketchbooks from Japan, hoping to see some reflections on the tragedies that the country has undergone this year, but the only two Japanese artists that had submitted sketchbooks made no mention of the earthquake. One other sketchbook that made a great impression on me was Miguel Ruibal's, from Spain. The man is a superb artist. You have to see his work to fully understand. If I ever publish my novel, I will be contacting him to design the cover!

 It was the perfect way to spend my birthday. After leaving the gallery we stopped by my now all time favourite tea place, Samovar, for a delicious meal and a cup of hot chai before heading over the the SF MOMA for an exhibit of the artwork that used to be in Gertrude Stein's Paris apartment -- Matisse and Picasso, among many others. The curators had set the gallery up to mimic Gertrude Stein's apartment, including a large selection of black and white photographs of the apartment with an array of well-known painters perusing art, eating meals together, and enjoying each others' company. A few items of furniture that had been in the Paris apartment at the time were also included in the exhibit, which made me feel as though I was actually wandering through the apartment with Gertrude! Having just seen Midnight in Paris last week, the experience was amazingly tactile. Very different than other exhibits I have been to. I was experiencing the artwork in the intimacy of a home, surrounded by friends and artists.

We headed back to Sacramento in the evening, fully satiated with creative energy. It was a superb birthday, and Louise, your notebook was beautiful. Two other women came looking over my shoulder and asking if they could check it out once I was done (which they did).Thank you, Louise. Thank you, Ken Beatson and Miguel Ruibal. And thank you Picasso and Matisse. I fully enjoyed my afternoon in your superb company!

For those interested in taking part in next year's sketchbook project, check out their website. It is a wonderful initiative to be involved in.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Iron into steel

"...those who journey in the garden land of knowledge, because they see the end in the beginning see peace in war and friendliness in anger." -Baha'u'llah, Seven Valleys and the four Valleys

I am contemplating the Valley of Knowledge. The Valley of Knowledge is one of seven valleys in a book called 'The Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys,' written by Baha'u'llah. It is a mystical story about the stages the the soul passes through as it grows through life. I have been thinking about the Valley of Knowledge because I think I may be in it right now. In fact I am pretty sure I am in this valley. I know this because this valley is all about being able to see the end in the beginning. Being able to recognize that everything that happens in life is happening for a reason, and that instead of complaining and cursing tests, I should not only welcome them, I should actually be blessing their arrival at the time I am actually experience them.

I have come a long way over the last year. There have been many tests. Tiny tests in the grand scheme of things, really, but for me they were really, really huge. The first few I feel like I was being dragged through kicking and screaming. The next few I may have moved through on my own feet, but I am pretty sure I was stomping and cursing as I went. The last few tests have been about letting go of people and things that I love deeply, and these tests have been associated with a lot of sadness. It has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride, to be honest, and I have been through so many ups and downs that I KNOW there are more to come. But I am slowly....ever so slowly learning to find joy and beauty in the valleys, and to move forward with the knowledge that the tough times, just like the peaks and celebrations in life, are only temporary. To embrace change and growth gracefully.

It is really tough to stay cool in the valleys of life. Easier to look back down on them from the side of a hill or a mountain top and say: "now that was a just a temporary valley." But the true growth comes not from being able to look back and realize the purpose of tests, but to be grateful for them when they are actually happening.

I have a very good friend who I have written about so many times over the last year in this blog, for many reasons, none of which can be mentioned without mentioning all the others. Pascale moved back to her hometown of Christchurch, New Zealand this past Fall. She had been living in Japan for a number of years, and was ready to move home and establish her own personal training business. Pascale arrived in New Zealand, got her business website going, made up business cards, and started working just before a massive earthquake hit Christchurch. You may remember hearing about it, or seeing it in the news. Pascale was living with her parents at the time, and one wall of their house collapsed onto their next-door neighbour's car during the earthquake. The house was so badly damaged that the family was forced to abandon it, and move in with Pascale's brother, his wife, and their two children. I don't know if you have been keeping up with the news, but Christchurch has been experiencing aftershocks and tremors ever since February, pretty much non-stop. They have had thousands of smaller tremors since the major quake that destroyed so many peoples' homes. Then, this Monday, they had two more larger quakes. Since the last quake, Pascale and her parents had moved into a tiny apartment, leaving her brother and his family to enjoy their small home. But Monday's fire shook the microwave in her brother's apartment off of the wall and onto the stove, where it short-circuited, starting a fire that spread to other areas of the house, damaging it badly. As a result of the damage, Pascale's brother and his family ended up having to move out of their apartment, and move back in with Pascale and her parents in their new small two-room apartment.

If this sounds a bit tumultuous to you, then you would understand if the Battrick family were feeling a bit discouraged right about now. Maybe a little frustrated with all the moving and losing of belongings, and the upheaval, over and over, disruption of work and school, and the lack of privacy that living in such small quarters with seven people implies.

What you would probably not expect is what I have seen as I watch Pascale and her family confront the tests that these disasters have thrown at them, over and over in the last five months, which is courage, unity, compassion, kindness, generosity, an attitude of service, and a tremendous amount of laughter. Yes, laughter. The Battrick family has been laughing and making others laugh all the way through their tests and challenges. When they evacuated their home back in the winter, carrying only what they could fit in a wheelbarrow, they filmed the whole process, and the humour in having to carrying everything of value out of their home in a wheelbarrow. Pascale went back to the old house not to try to salvage belongings, but to feed the ducks in the creek next to their house. She went on to cook and bake for her neighbours, friends who were experiencing equally difficult times, and volunteers who were helping with the cleanup effort; to make tea to cheer people up, and to offer free personal training sessions to lift the spirits of her community.

I have thought that how they have handled, and continue to handle all of this, is incredible. To me it reflects a tremendous amount of faith in God, trust, patience, acceptance, and a deep recognition of the great bounty of tests to help us grow. Apparently, I am not the only one who has been impressed by the way that the Battricks have been handling their situation. This week a television crew turned up to interview the family. Impressed by how joyful they have remained throughout these many months of uncertainty, the anchorwoman was curious to know what was keeping Pascale's family from giving up, packing it in and moving elsewhere, or from becoming cynical about their situation.   

I could tell you what Pascale and her family had to say about how they have remained joyful and mutually supportive and hopeful no matter what transpires, but I would rather let you see for yourself, because I think their attitude toward tests has a lot to inspire and teach all of us. Here is my dear, radiant friend Pascal, and her unified and incredibly loving family, on Christchurch's daily news. I hope you are just as inspired as I am to keep working toward remaining focused on the larger picture. To learning to be grateful for tests, and continuing to focus outwards -- on serving others, and bringing joy into the lives of your family, friends and neighbours. Have a very joy-filled Thursday!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

An illogical conclusion

A friend of mine came over to visit today with her gorgeous 4 month old son. The sun had finally come out, and so we sat in the back garden barefoot beneath the shade of the Japanese Maple sipping our drinks, munching on Green & Black's white chocolate, and talking about a number of things -- all while enjoying her son's gorgeous, radiant face and happy laughter.

One of the things we talked about was winning. I have been noticing an interesting pattern emerging in my life over the last few months. As most of you know, I won a trip to the Dominican Republic to build a drinking water system in an organic cocoa-farming community at the end of March. Then a couple of weeks ago I entered a draw on my favourite blog, Chookooloonks, and won a hand made Kenyan scarf. And then this week I came across a blog written by another adventurous spirit, Bahieh K, who was doing a giveaway of SKY's recently released awesome new CD "Now,"and I just got an email yesterday that it was my lucky day! I won that too! Given that I have been looking for full time work now for a year with very little success, it is incredible to me that I have won three amazingly beautiful things/experiences in just four months. I was recounting my excitement over having won SKY's CD to my friend, and she said "yeah -- I noticed that you were doing a chocolate giveaway on your blog about a week ago, but I didn't enter because I didn't think I would win." Hearing her say this struck a chord with me, and I felt a whole bunch of dots suddenly connect.

The truth of the matter is that up until recently, I rarely entered giveaways, and the reason was that I did not think there was any chance of my winning. Why? Because I have rarely won anything in my life. Why? Because I have rarely entered to win anything. Not because I have entered to win over and over and over and been unsuccessful. Because I never even gave myself a chance to win. So really I have no logical reason to think that I would be unsuccessful. In reality, the few times I have applied for things, I have actually been very successful. I applied to college and got in. I applied to art school and got in (and did not go). My application to law school was successful -- again, I decided to not go -- but I did get in. I was also accepted to an MFA program in creative writing which I chose to not pursue in order to enroll in a Master's program in Island Studies at the University of Prince Edward Island. I wrote a UNDP grant application while I was in graduate school to go do research on a Mediterranean island, and it was funded. I wrote two more grant applications, both of which were also funded. I won an award for my Master's thesis. I could go on, but I think I have made my point.

I write with two other women writers two days a week. Both of them were telling me about their successes with their creative projects this week -- Ahava Shira had applied for two separate grants to fund her creative, collaborative, community-based arts projects, and had just received news that both of them had just been funded, and Daniela Elza recently published a book and completed her PhD, AND sent off a manuscript of her poetry to a publisher. Listening to them, and reflecting on my own experiences lately that challenge my previous assumptions that I do not win anything has made me think it is time to start expanding my success with winning to some other areas of my life. As I mentioned in my last blog entry, I am currently reading the novel The Tiger's Wife, by Tea Obrecht. Tea is only 26 years old, and her first novel has just made the cover of the NY Times. As I read, I have been asking myself how she accomplished this at such a young age, and at the same time finding myself thinking -- you could do this, you know. Not the same way she is doing it of course, but in your own unique way. Sure it would take a lot of work, and you need to practice your craft and hone your writing technique....but the truth is that when I hear that other voice that always has an answer that shoots me back down whenever I start to dream about accomplishing a dream, it has no logical foundation. How would I know whether any novel/poetry manuscript I write would not be successful when I have not ever even tried to get anything published? I sent off exactly two other article proposals to travel magazines before I had my recent article about voluntourism published at Bootsnall. And I am now working on a second article for them that will be published in July. So if the two positive responses I have received are any indication, I would have to say that at this point the only thing standing between me and publishing my writing is my own lack of initiative.

Which reminds me of a poem I used to have up on the wall in my kitchen by Marianne Williamson that I really need to get back up on that wall, which says:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other
people won't feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of
God that is within us.

It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

When I think about it, I know I would never have entered the draw to win the Kenyan scarf if I had not won that trip in March. I would probably not have entered to win the CD either. But I am learning a rather obvious (in retrospect) lesson -- that the more I apply for, the more often I succeed (and just for the record, out of the 25 people who read my chocolate giveaway blog entry, only two people entered the draw to win a large stash of really, really good chocolate, so your chances of winning were incredibly high). I have entered to win a number of other things this year that I have not won, but even the things I didn't win led me to connect with new people and enlarge my community. Shortly after returning from the Dominican Republic, I entered a draw for two female bloggers to go to Kenya to write about a water project that was to bring water safely into a community, so that the local women did not have to walk all the way to the water source through areas that posed a threat to their physical safety. I did not win that trip (but you should check out the work of the two incredible women (Rachel Cernansky and Tonyin Ajao) who did, here), but about a month later I received an invitation to join a community of women bloggers composed of all the amazingly talented women around the world who had applied for this trip, and I have been exchanging ideas, thoughts and information with them ever since, enriching my own writing, building relationships with fellow female bloggers, and introducing me to an endless supply of inspiration and encouragement. So I guess I won something there too, after all, eh? 

It seems to me that the biggest difference between the writers who become best selling authors, or the business owners who succeed, or the ___________________ (fill in the blank here) who become international successes and those of us who do not is the willingness to try. My grandfather used to say that "the right angle to use when attempting to solve a difficult problem is the try angle." I give you full permission to roll your eyes at that one -- I did it every. single. time. he said it -- I have no idea where he got that from, but he may just have had a point.

Next time you come across something that sounds like fun, but you think "what are the chances that I will win/be selected/be nominated/succeed," why don't you just give it a try? Just for a change. Just to see what happens. Oh -- and please jot me a note if you do. I am really interested in hearing what the outcome is!

Have a great Thursday, people!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Eve of light

Photograph by Ariana Salvo. May not be used without permission.
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to bloom.”  -Anais Nin

I came across this quote, which I love but have not read in ages, on Bahieh's lovely and inspiring website Soul Searcher. At sunset tonight the month of Nur or Light began. Being a Baha'i, my calendar has 19 months of 19 days in it, and each month has a title. I particularly like the month of Nur -- I think because it comes at the beginning of the summer as the light stretches out long and expansive from dawn til nightfall, and I can actually *feel* the advance of summer, which is my favourite season. 

Photograph by Ariana Salvo. May not be used without permission.
This has been an incredibly challenging last month, and I am ready for a fresh start, fresh ideas, and the potential for new opportunities to enter my life, so beginning a new month also feels like a weight has lifted, ever so slightly. 

I just started reading a new novel. It is called The Tiger's Wife, by Tea Obrecht, and although I am only on page two, I can already tell I am going to love it. Interestingly, I was doing some research on the author, and found out that in addition to being the youngest best-selling author in the United States (she is only 26), she also lived in Cyprus for a while, loves Pablo Neruda, and says that a topic she likes to explore through her writing is how place influences character. Having grown up in Cyprus, owning every book of Neruda's poetry, and being equally fascinated by how place influences people and identity, I was amazed at how much I have in common with Tea. I was kind of wishing she were more easily contactable because she sounds like the kind of woman I would love to look up and invite out to tea! Since all I can find online is the information for her publicist, I am thinking connecting may not be all that simple, so I may have to content myself with reading her engaging new novel. 

Photograph by Ariana Salvo. May not be used without permission.
I have been thinking a lot about listening the past few days. Thinking about it, and trying to do it more. I have been trying to be more silent. To sit and listen after I pray. To take more time after waking up to soak up the sounds of morning -- the doves cooing on the eaves outside. The sound of the kettle boiling in the kitchen. The sound of my own breathing. I find that being silent more and listening to what is happening around me is also helping me to listen more internally -- to my higher voice, or heart voice. Tuning in, if you will. Trying to find the right frequency. 

I can't say I have found it exactly. At least not consistently. But I do think I may have felt momentary zaps of it over the last few days, like miniature electric shocks that come and are gone again so fast I barely register that they happened at all. Only I am registering it. And I am hoping that noticing those sparks and how and when they happen -- what I am doing, saying, thinking, and not doing, saying and thinking -- might help me to hone my internal frequency tapping skills so that I can get there more and more often, until maybe I reach a place where I can get a few whole minutes at a time of uninterrupted connection. 

It has rained on and off all weekend. I have been feeling pretty low on energy, and missing the company of my friends back in Canada who I seem to speak with less and less often, and so have been drinking lots of tea and doing a good deal of reading, writing and praying. It's interesting how making the decision to slow down and focus on listening, everything suddenly starts reflecting that state of awareness. It is as if the openness to receiving -- the willingness to walk, ever so slowly and gently through the space that is loneliness, and keep going even when I cannot see or understand where I am headed, invites the universe to send tiny messages my way. Like the beautiful bouquet of flowers that my mother brought home for me from the market that she placed in a vase on my writing desk. Or the call from one of my best friends this morning asking me to join her for breakfast at my favourite breakfast place (Orphan). Or this novel, which I have been wanting to read, and am on a waiting list for at the library -- risen to number 90 on the waiting list this -- that my mother came home from her trip to the bookstore with the other day. Yes, I am hearing things. Internally and externally. 

It has just started raining. The pitter patter is gaining momentum as I type, and as the Sunday night traffic dies down I can hear the sound of the wind moving through the oak trees. I love listening to the rain as I fall asleep. There are few things quite so calming, quite so perfect to lull me into a deep, dream-filled sleep. 

Photograph by Ariana Salvo. May not be used without permission.
Happy Monday! And may your week be filled with light. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Didn't ask for this

Our childrens' class at Bosch Baha'i School, and our miniature flower garden
  "O SON OF SPIRIT! I created thee rich, why dost thou bring thyself down to poverty?  Noble I made thee, wherewith dost thou abase thyself?  Out of the essence of knowledge I gave thee being, why seekest thou enlightenment from anyone beside Me?  Out of the clay of love I molded thee, how dost thou busy thyself with another?  Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting." ~Baha'u'llah~

Wednesday mornings I have a writing date with a close friend who lives on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia. We usually write together for about an hour, share what we have come up with, and then are off on our merry ways, busily engaging with the rest of our days. I usually work on a poem or a short story that I am working on. But it has been a rough week, and I felt like doing some reflection, so we both wrote for a 45 minutes, shared and reflected, wrote for another 45 minutes, and then did some further reflection.

I spent the weekend in Santa Cruz teaching a children's class for 3-5 year olds. I drove down on Friday, and got home Monday night. The past few weeks I have applied for quite a number of jobs, and received a number of those letters that make me cringe. The "thank you for your application. We had many qualified applicants apply for this position, and therefore regrettably have to inform you..." variety. I was feeling so frustrated last week that I had actually had a "chat" with God, explaining to Him that I needed a sign of some kind that I was in fact still headed in the right direction, and I gave Him 'til Sunday night to send me some kind of guidance. If the idea of giving God deadlines amuses you, I am not surprised. Let's just say that I have reached the farthest reaches of my job hunting endurance, and wanted to be ultra clear with the universe that I am in great need of some guidance.

I headed off to Santa Cruz feeling lighthearted. A little apprehensive about teaching 3-5 year-olds, since it is not an age group I have much experience with, but lighthearted nonetheless. When I offered to serve, I had expected to be set up with kids over 6, which is what I have experience with. I had contemplated calling back and mentioning that perhaps there was some mistake -- surely they would prefer someone with more experience with such a young age group. But a little voice in me responded to my own objections with the obvious fact that when you offer service, you are offering to do what is needed, not what you would most like to do, so I decided to swallow my apprehension and hope for the best.

It was a perfect day for driving, and I had decided that I was going to leave a little early and head down to San Francisco to have a cup of tea at Samovar, my favourite tea house, on my way to Santa Cruz. I had good tunes on the radio, I had snacks, and I was feeling great about getting out of the city. About 2/3 of the way down to the city I hit the weekend traffic. After about 30 minutes of crawling down the highway, I realized that if I drove all the way into the city at that rate, I would arrive in Santa Cruz late, and I had made a plan to sit down with my co-teacher to plan out our classes that evening. Slightly irritated, I abandoned my plan of making it to Samovar, and instead typed the address at Bosch Baha'i School in Santa Cruz into my GPS.

As soon as I changed my destination, and headed off in a new direction, the traffic lessened, and I actually arrived in Santa Cruz early. Ready for a break from the car, I parked on one of the side streets in downtown Santa Cruz, found myself a coffee shop, and settled into a chair in an outdoor patio area with a cool drink to enjoy the lovely afternoon sunlight, the college students roaming up and down the sidewalk, and the live music that was happening just down the street. When I finished my drink, I headed back towards my car. As I was about to get into it, I looked up and noticed that I had parked right in front of a clothing store that sold my kind of stuff -- classy looking, elegant, artsy, soft fabrics and uneven, handmade-looking items. I knew I shouldn't go in, because I am trying to be ultra careful about my expenditures at the moment, but I slipped in anyway. My initial thoughts on the place were correct. There were many things in the shop that I loved. But one thing stood out to me -- a crocheted cream-coloured summer scarf with crocheted roses stitched to it unevenly along its length. Knowing I should not be spending the money right now, I told myself to think about it over the weekend, and come back and get it on Monday if I still thought it was a good buy. I peeled myself away from the scarf, and set off on the winding ascent through the redwood forest, to Bosch.

Bosch is a very special place. Nestled in amongst the towering redwoods, the campus used to be a winery that was donated to the Baha'is to use as a school and conference centre. The accommodations are beautiful wooden cabins scattered beneath the canopy of trees. I have been to Bosch a number of times in the last six months as a guest, and was accommodated in the winterized cabins, complete with shower and toilet. This time however, I was informed that since it was a full session, and I was volunteering, I would be staying in a summer cabin at the other end of the campus, and sharing the toilet and bath house with all the surrounding cabins. My cabin mate was a woman from the bay area who would be working with the junior youth group over the weekend. That first night, we settled in only to realize that it was really cold. I got up to turn up the heat, which I had been told was located in all cabins on campus. Unfortunately I had not asked where the thermostat to turn it up was located, and perhaps because it was late, neither myself or my roommate could locate it, so we went back to bed, layering up to stay warm. You would think that after six years in Canada, I would have mastered the art of layering, but unfortunately I was still cold, and at 2am I finally got up and launched a second hunt for the heating system. I finally found it, and by 6, just as my alarm went off, the room was feeling toasty warm.

The next morning I was tired. But I figured it was nothing that a hot shower couldn't fix. I gathered up my stuff and headed over to the bath house to find a line of four women ahead of me for the two, already occupied showers. At first glance, I thought that the long line would mean being late, but as it turned out, everyone took short showers, and the extra time standing in line gave us all a chance to get to know each other a lot better than if we had all had showers in our cabins.

I headed off to meet the nine children that we had been entrusted with for the weekend. The following three days flew by. We made prayer beads with the kids, and crowns of nobility, and paintings that the class sold to raise money for the Baha'i fund. We planted flowers outside in the garden. We played games. We dealt with meltdowns and accidents, washed hands and faces, pushed kids on swings, held them on the monkey bars, encouraged them down the slide, walked with them in the forest, ate snacks with them, cleaned up spilled juice, and learned songs with them. At the talent show on the last night the kids all got up on the stage with us to sing their favourite song in front of everyone. I had known that the kids would teach me far more than I would contribute to their lives, but I ended the weekend feeling utterly exhausted, deeply humbled, and happier than I had felt in a long time, all at once.

The night before I left Bosch, my computer, which was filled with all the writing I have been working on over the last year (and not backing up), died. It died on the night I had given to God as the deadline for getting an answer to my question about whether I was on the right path, and yes, I see the irony in this situation far more clearly than I would like!

On Monday morning I woke up feeling tremendously discouraged at the prospect of having just lost masses of my writing, and the reality that I cannot even consider purchasing a new computer right now. Still, we finished up our program, the children were happy, and their parents were very pleased with everything their children had been working on over the weekend. Not wanting to face the reality of job hunting without a computer, I decided to go see how much our class had raised with their artwork. Only a couple of paintings had not been claimed, and the donation box was well-stuffed with bills. I was pleased for the kids that all their hard work had generated such a great response. I headed up to the flower garden that we had planted with the kids, concerned that it might not have survived the night after stories of local deer that eat anything and everything in their pathway. As I came up over the hill, I found our garden fully intact, our sunflowers standing tall and happy. I watered the garden, reflecting on how many blessings the weekend had brought.

I packed up my car, and started off towards home. About twenty minutes into my drive I had the urge to drive into San Francisco and go to Samovar tea house before heading back to the valley. Usually overcast and chilly, I arrived in San Francisco on a bright, sunny afternoon. The Yerba Buena park was green and lush, church bells were clanging, and the tea house was all light, its doors flung open, and people relaxing on couches outside on the patio as well as inside. I settled at a table facing the windows and started reading my novel, while sipping on a cup of their delicious masala chai. Part way through my visit I noticed a bird that kept flying in through the open door, gathering up crumbs from the floor, and then flying out again. I looked up and noticed that the man sitting at the table next to me was watching the bird too. Going back to our books, a few minutes later I noticed a couple sitting opposite me who were sitting less than a foot away from each other, snapping photos of each other across the table. The image, slightly comical, made me laugh, and as I did so, I noticed the fellow next to me smiling as well. We started talking, and it turned out that he had a PhD in computer sciences, and was a genius with Macintosh computers. He proceeded to give me a step by step description of everything I needed to do to try to save the data on my hard drive. After having spent the day rather irritated with the universe for allowing my computer to crash before I found a job, I had to again recognize that irony of the situation, and the obviousness of that fact that this fellow's presence at the table next to mine on the very day that I needed help with my computer was no coincidence.

I arrived back home Monday night to find an email in my inbox from Karen at Chookooloonks, a fantastic blog that I follow, informing me that I had won her Thursday giveaway -- a Kenyan scarf by Nest, a non-profit organization that empowers female artists and artisans around the world. I thought back to the scarf that I had walked away from in Santa Cruz so reluctantly, and again, had to smile at the logic of the universe.

Last night a whole group of friends came over to study the Baha'i holy writings with me. I was still feeling exhausted from my trip, and felt more like crawling into bed with a good book than entertaining. As my friends filled the living room, excited to start studying, i could sense myself resisting what was happening around me. Most of the class passed in a blur, until, at a certain point, we read a line about how to behave in Baha'i Houses of Worship. The text, from the Kitab-i-Aqdas, explained that when visitors enter the houses of worship, they should seat themselves, and, in silence, listen to the words of God (paragraph 115, Kitab-i-Aqdas). The group discussed how, usually when we enter a House of Worship, we sit down and immediately begin to pray, and how different this approach is to that of entering and being silent, and listening to God. We discussed what listening meant, and what we were listening for, and how what we were really listening to was not something external, but rather a spirit within ourselves.

Last night, after my friends left I sat down and said some prayers, and then decided to try to get my computer to start up one more time, so that I could try to get all of my data off of it. This time, despite the fact that it had not started up for four days, my computer went on immediately, and stayed on until I had everything that I needed off of the hard drive. Again, the obviousness of Divine assistance was very clear.

Today I checked my email, and I had one message from an online travel site that I had sent a proposal into for an article that I would like to write about the Mediterranean, approving my proposal and giving me a date for my first draft. I think it was a sign, however small, that although none of my job applications have yielded an interview, my writing is being received well by those who I send it off to.

In my writing with my friend Ahava this morning, I decided to focus on the topic of listening, because it is a skill that I want to nurture and develop. Listening comes in many forms. I was realizing that over the past year I have been praying a lot for very specific things that I think are what are best for my life, but have not been getting many answers. What I have not been doing nearly enough of however is listening. Pure, openhearted listening. The kind of listening that need not involve ears, but very much requires opening the heart to receiving not what I want, but what God, or the universe thinks is best for me and for my community. The kind that involves showing up every day to serve the world around me, being receptive to whatever comes my way, and practicing gratitude for the many blessings and opportunities that come my way.

I didn't ask for not owning my own car when I left Canada last winter. I did not ask for having a computer that would die in the middle of my job hunt. Or having to be so careful about my spending that I could not get small gifts for myself and my friends here and there every now and then. But I also did not ask for the blessing of spending an entire weekend learning from nine 3-5 year-olds. Or winning a one of a kind scarf made by women in Kenya. Or getting free computer advice from a tech guardian angel in a tea house in San Francisco. I am learning that listening and receiving with grace takes some work. And that often the most rewarding experiences are the ones I am not expecting.

How do you practice listening in your life? Both the external kind, and the internal listening -- the kind that enables you to find Him standing within you, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting?