Right Livelihood and the Woman Warrior

From the Daily Dharma:

October 23, 2009
Tricycle’s Daily Dharma

Being a Buddhist Police Officer

For thirteen years I was a law enforcement officer. In the dark humor of that environment, we called ourselves “paid killers for the country.” No one else wanted to be in out boots. I did not identify myself as a Buddhist; I was not aware that the way I behaved and experienced the world fit squarely with the Buddha’s teachings. It is clear to me now that we could have been, and were, instruments of karma. But skillful action, discriminating awareness, karma, the law of causality were not terms in law enforcement basic training.

For a Buddhist in police work, the most important thing is to be constantly aware of ego. It is not your anger, not your revenge, not your judgment, no matter how personal the event. I was paid and trained to take spirit-bruising abuse. I endured things of which the majority of women in America will never even dream. For me it was not judgment, in the Western sense, but discernment. This kept me, and others, alive and healthy. This discernment allowed me to act skillfully in crisis. The law of causality allowed me to know that if I could not stop the perpetrator of violence or pain or loss, that some other vehicle would reach that person—karma.

– Laurel Graham, from “Vajra Gun,” Tricycle, Winter 1998

I think a lot about right livelihood. For me, it means not only not causing harm, but also finding purpose and meaning in my work. Like most challenges of this magnitude, I rarely fulfill them perfectly. But I do strive toward them.

Being in relationship with a veteran has given me a new perspective on the life of a soldier — a warrior. I’ve always had a sort of fascination with this archetype. I view the realities of being a warrior with a mixture of horror and respect. It’s a way of life, a mindset, that in some ways I wish I were more able to stomach. What I’ve realized, though, is that being a warrior — a soldier/a police officer/a litigator/a fighter — doesn’t always mean fighting.

People who have been trained in competitive conflict and who have seen “action” have about them a quiet assurance in their own abilities, as well as a healthy respect for the consequences of violence. It’s one of the things that I find so attractive and admirable in M, and it’s one of the things I wish I had more of in my own self.

Sarah Palin and the Media Elite

Someone on my friends list posted a link to a Vanity Fair article that took a red pen to a transcript of Sarah Palin’s resignation speech. The speech itself — and the woman delivering it — is definitely not going to go down in history as a marvel of oratory. Posting the copy-edited version of it seems a cheap shot, though. The ex-copy-editor in me can’t help but get a kick out of the fact that people are still using the shorthand I learned years ago, and which used to be my bread and butter. The left-leaning Democrat in me loves the schadenfreude that comes with seeing Palin made a fool of. But haven’t we made enough of a fool of her?

And in a way, it seems to me that mocking her lack of verbal skills is just feeding into the class and cultural divides that gave us Red States and Blue States. Dubya was notorious for his lack of oratory, and New Englanders loved to make fun of him for it. But it didn’t stop him from keeping the highest office in the land for not one but two terms.

We can’t assume that people make rational decisions when it comes to politics. It’s much easier to look at things in terms of Red States and Blue States than it is to look at individuals and their motivations. But which is really the more conscious way of viewing an issue?

In the end, I think we can all agree that Palin has about as much a chance of becoming the next POTUS as Dan Quayle does. But we also can’t dismiss her because her speeches don’t stand up to Obama’s. Actions matter — but so does marketing.

This Is Your Hair on Henna

Starting in college, my naturally golden locks started to darken. When I overheard someone describing me as having brown hair (it’s dirty blonde, thank you very much), I finally took the plunge and dyed it red. I look great as a redhead, and at one point had shoulder-length red hair. Unfortunately, chemical dyes are murder on anyone’s hair. Since I’m spoiled with naturally thick and mostly healthy hair, I really noticed the difference when it started to frizz out. Eventually I allowed my natural color to grow back in. Last summer, though, grey hairs started making serious inroads into the faded blonde. When I cut it short, I decided to take the plunge and go red again. Chemical dyes worked okay for a few months, but once again my hair started to frizz, break, and whimper. I wanted to grow my hair long again, but knew that if I kept dying it I’d end up with a full, thick head of damaged, faded red hair and obvious roots.

I’d heard about henna, but had been warned about the difficulty of finding a quality supply. The henna they sell in supermarkets and beauty supply shops isn’t pure henna, and it’s often mixed with unnamed chemicals that can do all sorts of damage to your hair, especially if you’ve already dyed it with something else. Then I discovered that a friend of mine with gorgeous, long, glossy curls uses henna, and I asked her where she gets it.

“I use henna from Yemen,” she said, and sent me a link to Catherine Cartwright-Jones’s online henna empire. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my curly-haired friend sent me to one of the only reliable sources of 100% pure all-natural henna. The website isn’t the easiest thing to navigate, but that’s for the best of reasons: It’s host to a wealth of information about the history and uses of henna. And it’s a home-grown business without the budget to hire an information architect and UX designer.

After a fair amount of perusing, I ordered a 200-gram packet of henna from Pakistan. I opted for the Pakistan henna because it was described as having a lower dye content than the Yemen variety, and I was hoping for a more coppery red.

When I got the package, I was really excited to try it, but also wanted to make sure I paid attention to what I was doing. It’s not difficult to prepare Mehandi henna paste in advance, but it does require some planning. You have to mix the henna powder with a mildly acidic liquid (lemon juice, for instance) and let it sit for at least 12 hours in order for the dye to be fully released. You also have to leave it in for at least twice as long as a standard chemical dye.

My first attempt was less than perfect: I only used about half of a 200-gram packet, mixed with orange juice, and didn’t have quite enough paste to coat my hair in the recommended “mud-mask” fashion. In spite of the shortage, the results were quite impressive.

Here’s my hair before the henna:

Photo of my hair before using henna

And here it is afterward:

Photo of my hair after using henna

This time, inspired by the individual mixes posted by various women, I decided to get more creative. In particular, I wanted something to mellow the smell of uncut henna, which I find vaguely reminiscent of dried blood.

This is what I put in my second batch:
300 grams henna (Lawsonia inermis) (half from the last packet, plus one full packet)
about 20 grams senna (Cassia obovata)
Enough orange juice to give the mix the consistency of stirred-up yogurt
~1/2 C ground cloves
a righteous sprinkle of ground ginger root
cinnamon
frankincense (I’ve always wanted an excuse to put frankincense in my hair!)

I let the mix sit for almost 24 hours, and while the smell of the henna was definitely still there, the other spices masked it well. More than 24 hours after rinsing out the dye, my hair still smells richly of cloves and the other spices I used. It’s a deeper, richer red than the last application. The texture is glossy and smooth, rather than the frizzy, damaged mess that chemical dyes produce.

For my next batch, I’m thinking about reversing the proportion of senna and henna for a more subtle color. I’ll probably use less cloves (they darken the dye) and more cinnamon and ginger root. I may use some cardamom as well, and more frankincense if I have time to replenish my stash (I’ve had a bottle of frankincense on my altar for about 10 years. I don’t think my ancestors mind.)

If you’re interested in learning more about henna, its history and uses, there’s a free e-book on the Henna for Hair website.

I found the historical information fascinating and feel like I’m connecting with an ancient tradition that goes back thousands of years, even while I wrap my head in plastic wrap and watch Netflix videos while the henna sets.

Get To, Not Have To

Woke up only slightly reluctantly this morning, all the alarms blaring and the kitty purring. Thought about a blog entry I might write about the night before.

Army Guy calls just a little after 7:00, and I answer the phone saying, “Just ten minutes!”

“Wake up Frances!” he shouts into the phone. Our own little ritual.

I get up.

I get to get up today.

I get to drive to work — I get to have a job to drive to!

I get to have supportive conversations with my coworkers.

I get to see the beautiful puffy clouds.

I get to do some real work.

I get to enjoy springtime in Boston.

I get to be alive.

Alison Townsend in Mudlark: Demeter and Persephone

One of my favorite myths. From Demeter Faces Facts (second poem down)

Without even meaning to, she’s gone underground,

the face whose curve you shaped with your own hand,
fugitive, a sullen stranger’s you’ll never touch the same way

again. Still, you keep brushing and braiding, separating
the strands and binding them together again, as if they were

a rope by which you could hold her, tethering her to your body
as she was once anchored and fed, your blood hers. Before

she got big enough to cross the street without looking back
to catch your eye. When you were still everything she needed.

— Alison Townsend

The poems here don’t always inspire me with tight, bright language, but lately I’ve been inspired by writers whose work is less than perfect. Some deep inner critic, some just-sprouting bulb of defiance inside me says “if they can do it, why can’t I?”

Seeing a feminine moniker in the masthead also soothes the woman-shaped ire within.

In the Midst of Madness, Beauty

Lick

The love-struck deer is asking, with his eyes
and tongue, is asking, with black gums and quivering
limbs, to be let in–

grinding against the actual gristle and crystal of salt,
wetted and domed in the forest’s center.
Someone else’s pleasure is always present.

The lick’s a sensate toy, a voyeur, watching him work:
shrinking her body by the second,
using lust, that dominant drug, to disguise aggression.

Apologies to the soaked ground, marked with arcs:
trampled bed, doomed intersection.

Paula Bohince

Reading tonight at Brookline Booksmith. I’m not going. I just get lots of email.

The Good, the Bad, and the Roomba

The Good
“Remember how you said that the beef stew was a little thin for your taste? Well, I added some stuff to it and cooked it down, and now it’s nice and thick. Do you want me to save you some?”

“You know, sometimes I think you have the impression I don’t like your cooking. I think you’re a good cook.”

“I know. But it’s not just enough to be good. I’m a perfectionist. It can’t just be good, everything has to be faaaaabulous!”

“Well, you already are fabulous.”

“Awwww! I’m going to eat the last of the stew for lunch.”

The Bad
Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance. My cousin out in California and I had a falling-out because I kept trying to raise his awareness about trans issues. Regardless of what you think about trans genitalia, or whether trans sex is “real sex” (take a wild guess as to where I stand on that issue), I think we can all agree that transfolk have the right to, you know, live. Without being beaten, maimed, or murdered. I think that the ability to walk down the street undisturbed is a basic human right we can all agree on.

More information here: http://gender.org/remember/day/index.html
(and no, visiting the site will not make you queer).

The Roomba
Yet another reason for me to get a Roomba (I need to amass a good amount of them in order to overcome that “but we’re in a recession” voice in the back of my head):

Link in case of embed failure

I can’t imagine my timid kitty would ever actually ride the thing around the room like that. But still, soooo cuuuuuute! Robot friends!

Dear Dad

Dear Dad:

Just a few days after you came to visit, we elected our first black president. Some people call him bi-racial, some people call him African-American, but we all call him Barack Obama. His father was born in Kenya, his mother was born in Kansas, and he was born in Hawaii.

Grandpa told me a story once about a time when you brought one of your college professors home to dinner. He was a black man, and I got the impression that Grandpa and Grandma weren’t too happy to be having a black man over for dinner. Grandpa may have actually called him “colored.”

This is what Grandpa said:

He kept talking about how money would solve everything, money money money. So I turned to him and I said, “I’m going to take this knife and cut your hand with it. Then I’m going to slap a hundred dollar bill on it.”

I never got to talk to you about that story. It’s one of the many things I never got to talk to you about, because you died in 1989. But I’d like think that you’re proud of our country right now. And I’d like to think that you would have voted for Barak Obama, too. And against Proposition 8.