Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Yoga in India Part 2

I'm loving the India story.  Steph has told me a lot of this story before but not all of it.  It's been so long that I've forgotten much of it.  The details she is sharing here are just so vivid and outright comical.  I think she should make a book out of this!!!

Health is Wealth. Peace of Mind is Happiness. Yoga shows the Way. Swami Vishnudevananda

…The smell of incense, BBQ chicken, and dung grew stronger and changed, like a location signature, as we passed through different villages (none of which had traffic signals, just crazy round-abouts with no yield signs). We made many abrupt stops for men riding elephants and herds of goats and sari-clad women in the middle of the road balancing baskets on their heads, and then we arrived at the Sivananda Yoga Vendata Dhanwantari Ashram in Neyyar Dam (www.sivananda.org/neyyardam/
I realized that I hadn’t practiced converting rupees to dollars in my head, so I paid the curry-scented cabbie the amount he quoted, unsure how far we’d traveled and if I was overpaying with the wad of play money in my fanny-pack. The cabbie took my money, unloaded my gear, and sped away leaving a cloud of dust on the unpaved road.
It was hotter than India, and the steps up to the ashram were as steep as the ones that Uma Therman had to climb to reach her Kung-Fu master, Pai Mei, in Kill Bill. I was a panting, sweaty mess when I reached the top and took a moment to collect myself and soak in the surreal scene. Again, I was overcome by an intense gust of reality.
Beautiful trees and flowers with pink and orange blossoms filled the entrance. The scent had changed. The incense smelled somehow holier, there was no smell of grilled meat in the air, and the subtle notes of dung had been replaced by a strong, blossomy perfume. 
A marble temple was tucked back behind the trees. A communal bunk house and vegetarian snack shop stood to the left, and the shaded camp grounds lie to the left –  it was the place I would be calling my home for the next month - beyond that were the ‘facilities’ which were fed by the unfiltered lake water. A communal bucket with boiled iodine water was to be used for brushing teeth (I opted to brush at my tent with my liquid gold Evian instead).
These ‘safe water’ buckets were located throughout the ashram with rules posted for proper drinking etiquette. You were supposed to hold your mouth just below the spigot (not touching the nozzle) and turn the handle to release the strange tasting red water. Every student in the teachers training program was assigned a ‘karma’ task to be performed each afternoon. One of the jobs was to boil the water and carry it to each of the water fountains. I was not assigned to this cushy post.
I realize that I am bouncing in a non-linear fashion as I tell my story – but you’ll have to just deal because it takes too long to craft it just right.
I was assigned to garbage detail which involved collecting trash and carrying it to the burning mound located in a clearing in the forest. The long path to the smoldering dump was a cloud of mosquito escorts who could be carrying any one of a vast array of plagues. I shouldn’t have been concerned since I’d had my shots before leaving the states (Japanese encephalitis, Hep B, typhoid, malaria, they had no vaccination for cholera since there were thousands of varieties in India), but I was still a little concerned.
We had to sit Indian style on the dung packed patio floor by the lake for meditation (5:30am and 8pm) and theory classes (10am-12 and 2pm-4). One of the students scratched some mosquito bites on his ankle until they were bloody, and they got infected from being rammed into the dung floor for so many hours a day (so we thought). His ankles blew up like grapefruits so they took him to the ayurvedic doc in town, and it turned out that he had to be rushed home because he had TYPHOID!
I’d scratched bites on my ankle to bleeding too, so not taking any chances – I petitioned for a new karma job. I was assigned to be a (waitress / assistant to the assistant cook) at the ashram snack shop. It was a decision fraught with regret.
I knew that Indians did things slower (like they do down south in the US), but the slowness there was even more exaggerated. I’m from Chicago where things move fast – I walk fast, talk fast, type fast, and could take a McDonald’s order for a family of six, ring it, and serve it in less than 90 seconds. But the disorganization and deliberate sluggishness in India was insufferable. Why? I couldn’t figure it out. All of the Indians I'd worked with in IT had been real whiper-snappers and gained my respect.
However, I questioned the competence of my bosses the first day on the job. I’d redesigned the process flow of the snack shop in my head in less than an hour. If I'd had my way, it would have flowed just like a McDonalds at lunchtime. I shared my ideas with upper management, and they listened patiently – turning their heads from side to side in unison to signify that I had their attention. When I finished, they told me ‘no, no, no - that’s not how we do it here’ and looked at me like I was crazy for even suggesting the changes. So I was forced to endure the frustration for the next three weeks. I was even tempted to ask for a transfer to swab the toilet holes with my friend Eva, but decided against it…
(India - Part III   will be posted soon)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Yoga in India Part 1

As I said before I never had the guts to do the stuff that Stephanie did.  Here is the next installment on her trip to India and it confirms my reasons why.  NO WAY would I have been able to do that ALONE.  Maybe with another person but not alone.  I still say Stephanie is one brave hippy.

Donned in patchwork overalls and sandals on a frigid Saturday in February, my family and live-in boyfriend bid me goodbye as I boarded the plane to Kerala, India from O’hare airport – unsure of exactly how I’d ended up in that situation.
The first leg of my 40 hour journey was a 6 hour flight to Heathrow airport where I had a 3 hour stop-over before catching my Gulf Air flight to India. I killed the time by playing Magic the Gathering with a six year old boy who had an extra green (worm-filled, giant growth) deck for me to play (against his black and blue). He won two of the three games and gave me a distorted opinion of the general intelligence level of kindergarteners.
I’d already lost track of time when I boarded the plane to Abu Dabi, Saudi Arabia for my 10-hour stop over. I knew I was headed to parts unknown when the flight attendant (dressed in a hat, veil, and puffy pants exactly like Jeanie) brought me some of the spiciest chick pea curry I’ve ever had.
Upon arriving at Abu Dabi airport, two attendants with machine guns quickly escorted me (I was unveiled, dressed like a dirty hippy, and my toenails were painted whore-house red) to a taxi van to take me to a lay-over hotel for Americans. It was Ramadan and everyone in the airport was kneeling on mats facing towards Mecca and praying like crazy.
I ate and slept until it was time to leave in the van to go back to the airport. I didn’t understand why, but the armed guards didn’t escort me to my gate, and I had time to admire the incredible architecture of the airport before passing through security.
After about 40 hours of travel, I landed in India. I descended the stairs of the 20-seater plane, and my ruck-sack and case of bottled water was waiting for me on the ground. It was about 100 degrees, humid, and the heavy air was saturated with the smells of incense, tandori chicken, and dung.
I had my passport, travelers’ checks, and Indian money (I’d hit a currency exchange in Chicago before leaving) in my fanny-pack and followed the others into the two room airport. The customs attendant was unfriendly, and when I was officially ALONE IN INDIA, I experienced a sobering surge of reality.
The surge caused an immediate rush of rolling thunder in my bowels, so I headed to the single, uni-sex bathroom – lugging my water and ruck-sack crammed to overflowing with a tent, sleeping bag, yoga mat, towel, toilet paper (incredibly, I’d made a correct estimate of how much I’d need for five weeks), 20 cassettes of the favorite Dead and Phish shows I’d attended (1st generation copies from my taper friend), toiletries, and a minimal amount of clothes.
The stifling bathroom had a hole in the floor, a water spigot, and a tin cup – that’s all!  I’d read Fodor’s travel book on India, so I knew all about the primitive “facilities”, but the logistics of actually make doodie while squatting over a hole should have been covered in a little more detail. I dug out my first roll of Northern and set about my business, being as frugal as possible with my treasured 2-ply papyrus.
I left the airport in a full sweat, on the verge of tipping over backwards from the weight of my ruck-sack, and promptly removed it minutes later when I was spotted by a cab driver in an old-timey British looking car. I gave him a slip of paper with the address of the yoga ashram, and he conversed on his walky-talky in a terse, yet somehow fluid, stream of an Indian dialect which I came to know as Malealum (spelling?).
He took off (they drive on the wrong side of the road there) and barreled down the dirt roads like there weren’t any traffic rules. I still wonder if an Indian ‘Rules of the Road’ book exists, and if so, what it could possible say regarding safe driving practices.
The smell of incense, BBQ chicken, and dung grew stronger and changed, like a location signature, as we passed through different villages (none of which had traffic signals, just crazy round-abouts with no yield signs). We made many abrupt stops for men riding elephants and herds of goats and women in saris in the middle of the road with baskets on their heads, and then we arrived.
More tomorrow…

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Second Midlife Crisis

I remember an interesting time when Stephanie packed up and left for India.  I was impressed.  She went there all by herself.  I would never have had the guts to do such a thing.  She was always doing things that blew my mind.  Not that I WANTED to go to India.  I just wanted to have the GUTS to go to India if I did want to go.  Back then everything scared me.  I'm a much braver person now.
So anyway, I really wanted her to tell us the story about India.  This is her first installment just giving us the background of WHY she decided to go in the first place.  She will tell us more about what it was like later on.  I'm excited about this one.  

I had my second mid-life crisis when I was 27. My first one, at 24, was a bust and didn’t come off as planned. I was dating three non-committal guys at the time and was planning to leave them all, sell my condo, quit my job, and travel to an artist kibbutz in Israel for six months and then to a yoga commune in Canada for the next six months (no plans after that).
However, I couldn’t sell my 600 sq. foot, half-bedroom condo on Lake Shore Drive, and I started dating a fourth guy who wanted to commit. We bought a three-flat together, and after 2.5 years of living together with no marriage proposal, I decided to revisit my failed mid-life crisis.
I’d amassed a large sum of surplus cash as an IT consultant / 3-flat landlord – and had no problem swinging the adventure financially, so I quit my job and booked a flight on Gulf Air to Kerala (Thiruvananthapuram city), India for a month long program to become a certified Yoga instructor – after which I planned to travel to the bottom tip of India,Kanniyakumari, where the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal meet, and then hang out on Kovalam beach by the Arabian sea for a week – then jet over to Rome to meet my boyfriend, my sister, and her boyfriend on a two week trek from Italy to Austria to Germany to the Czech republic to Switzerland. To return to Chicago and start my new career – Yoga instructor / Shiatsu practitioner (since I wasn’t certified yet – I’d have to work in Merrillville, Indiana - but that's another story).
Details about Yoga in India, the European leg of my mid-life crisis, and my return to Chicago in later posts…

Monday, July 23, 2012

You Enjoy Myself

As well as the Grateful Dead, Stephanie is a big fan of Phish.  She wrote a stream of consciousness post for me about the song You Enjoy Myself.  This is Stephanie's "Brain on YEM."

Just listening to You Enjoy Myself - Live Phish, Volume 7, Disc 3 – trying to pick out the bass parts – I’ve tried to figure out a bunch of Phish songs on bass, but have had very limited success, even after following along with the hacked out tab available online.  YEM is one of those songs that I’d never even think of attempting since songs like Suzy Greenberg  and Sample in a Jar (the ones I can sort of pull out of my ass just by knowing the chords) are more my speed, and because my memory is shit, and all of those different parts would drive me insane.
Anyway, I was listening to YEM on my way to the Metra after work and got to thinking how cool it would be if they would issue these live discs where you could isolate an instrument to bring up in the mix so that you could have a fighting chance at figuring out how to play it.  I know it’s possible to do it with Rock Band (which I could play all the live long day), but I don’t have an xbox gold membership, and even if I did, I couldn’t play on the train, and four colored buttons does not a bass player make – not by a long shot!
Sometimes I think that if I could just sing the bass parts (which seems much easier than figuring out the notes and strings and transitions and hand positions) and get those down perfectly, that I’d be in a better position to figure out the parts on the four strings (except I don’t have a 5-string bass like Mike, so should I tune down, if so how far – c#? just the e string? does he ever play a b on the open fifth string? How important is that fifth string anyway? Could I get by without it or does that string anchor the whole operation down? I need to watch some footage of him playing…)   
Back to thoughts of singing the bass lines…but I can’t sing as low as a bass, so I’d have to bring it up an octave. And I’d have to be alone, cuz I’d sound pretty funny at first, and I’d have to have the time… the car would be a good place…but I’d need to do a lot of rewinding to get parts just right…
Then, at around 17 minutes in to the song, they kicked off this wicked cool a cappella jazz odyssey thing.  I started thinking that it would be funny if there was a contest where Phish fan groups try to pull of all vocal versions of YEM (like that one TV show). Then I started pretending that I was in on the vocal jam and was playing air vocals in my head, coming up with cool counter harmonies and rhythms to augment their dissonant poly-chords…ticka ta flicka flicka fla...Aaaaaalice…. Aaaaaalice…doe be doe doe doe – cha cha bicca chow chow –eeeech  eeech – jacko jacko jacko jacko….didit didit …do do do do do….washa fla feet-sees ohhhhh… flicka fla flicka sees… mamma see feet sees…. eeehhhhhhhh…oohhhhhh… mmmmmmmm
Then I wondered, are there any groups of fans who would be interested (and remotely capable) of even attempting this feat(sees)? Who would sponsor this contest? Who would be the judges?  Would there be prizes?  Would everyone have to do YEM, or could they pick the song (Halley’s Comet, Simple) – and then be rated based on level of difficulty?
Want to know what I do sometimes?  I pretend that there’s a ‘Guess that Phish Song’ contest where you get a half a measure in a solo that has deviated very far from home (like in Reba where you forget what song it even is for a while). I like to fancy myself an expert song picker (although I imagine a contest would probably alter this assessment) .
Another contest that I think would be fun is where you listen to a live song and have to pick the next song in the show.  I love contests!  OK, almost home….  I like this ‘My Brain On – stream of consciousness thing’ – I may do more

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Interview on KNON Radio in Dallas

Friday night I received an email from Stephanie that she was going to be on a radio station in Dallas, TX for am interview about her book, Scarlet Begonias.  I was in a hotel in Birmingham, AL at the time but managed to stream it on line.  HOW EXCITING to hear my cosmic pal on the radio.

Unfortunately, they had difficulty with her call because she was calling on a cell phone and they couldn't transmit it without her sounding like a robot.  BUT, she sounded calm, cool and collected and I wish I could have heard much more.  I asked her to write about this experience with KNON.

Hey man - here is the post that I just put on Facebook to Eric Schultz. (and the questions that I emailed to him)  ---
Eric, thank you so much for having me on your KNON Lone Star Dead show last night. I really enjoyed talking to you about my novel, 'Scarlet Begonias' - High-brow sci-fi for hippies. Sorry the cell phone reception was so bad, I hope you'll have me on again during your pledge drive - I'll be sending over a few more books to give away.
I wanted to ask the listeners a few questions. I'm compiling a list of responses for a youtube talk show channel I'm working on to promote my book. I'll be posting the questions on my blog today, I'd love to hear your responses. Thanks again! SciFiSteph.com
Here are the questions that I wanted to ask for an interactive twitter exchange. Since I wasn’t able to ask them on the air – please offer your responses here. I can’t wait to read them!
1)    What are your favorite Grateful Dead songs? What are your favorite lines of lyrics? – I was lucky enough to get permission from Ice Nine Publishing & Robert Hunter to print my favorite line from Scarlet Begonias – “Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right” – Thank you to them again!
2)   Did you ever have a major epiphany at a GD show? If so, please describe – which show?  How were you transformed?  -- check out my post about my first show
3)   Do you think accelerated evolution is possible?  If so, describe what that would even mean and the possible ways to achieve it.  Have you ever had an unexpected gust of evolution?
4)   Do you think it’s possible to unravel your ego?  If so, why would you want to do it?  Is it good or bad to have an ego with a large gravitational pull?
5)   Have you ever read the Carlos Castaneda books? If so, which ones? How did they impact your belief system?
6)   Can you lucid dream?  Please share your experiences – even if you tried, but weren’t able to do it.
7)   What do you think about the new Higgs-Boson discovery?  -- read my made-up article (about a real scientific dilemma)  about the drifting mass of the International Prototype Kilogram on my website (book page) and give your thoughts – Can something exist if it can’t be measured?
8)   Do you ever have unusual levels of serendipity or coincidences?  Do you ever get affirmations or signs from the universe? Please share.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


I asked Stephanie if she believed in God.  Here is her response.

Do I believe in God? - Part 1
Yes – but not in the sense that most people do. I consider ‘god’ (no need to capitalize since we don’t capitalize universe – although we do capitalize ‘I’, but that’s because of a grammar rule, otherwise we would capitalize all of the pronouns) to be all that is, is not, was, and could be – to include the measurable and immeasurable – detectible and invisible – virtual and real – potential and realized – fantasized and actualized.
My god = 100%. My god is the space-time-energy-matter-perception-probability continuum (including any other unit of measure that accurately defines the ratio of the whole) .
My god is a collection of the divided permutations of itself which is all that is, is not, was, and could be (which according to my definition - includes both my awareness and my physical body).
So, if I am part of god, then why aren’t I omniscient?  How, when, why, where, and into whom did the whole divide itself? Why has the whole forsaken part of itself?
(100% - me% = God with self-imposed amnesia of initiating the division)
How – Do a thought experiment - imagine that you are pure awareness – time, space, and matter do not exist. Energy (as we know it) does not exist - it is pulled taut, like a slingshot, into the center of The All - infinite potential - even our awareness is not as we currently know it – it is pure, unaltered by the filters of a physical form, not blurred by the filters of socialization and linear experience. Imagine that all you sense is that you exist – you are aware.  But you need a brain to be aware! – really?  Are you sure you do? This is thought experiment – and since you are performing it within the confines a brain, you have no other choice but to pretend that you don’t.
Why – If you were aware that you existed, but had no idea what you were, because you had nothing to compare yourself to – you might be curious. Am I alone? Am I all that there is? Is there nothing that I am not? If so, does nothing know that it is nothing – and not something – as I know myself to be something? Does nothing have a sense of its nothingness?  Wait, maybe I’m nothing – but if I can conceive of the state of nothingness, then isn’t nothing really something?  OK, I’m deciding that I’m something because nothing is just nonsense. Non-sense. I can’t sense what I am not. But I can wonder about what I am not.  Is nothing created by my wonderment of what I am not? How much nothing can I create? If I create nothing by wondering about it, will nothing wonder if it is alone? Will it be aware? Will nothing think it is something?
OK, that is the seed of why?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Mail Order Tickets

Back in the day when Steph and I used to go to Dead shows we used to send in for our tickets via mail order.  There was a special and almost magical process to it.  In one chapter of her book, Stephanie writes about the mail order process. This is what she has to say about it.

The first chapter of ‘Scarlet Begonias’ introduces the protagonist, Suzi Greenberg, a directionless art student on the brink of graduation, and her college roommate, Eve Mendel.  They are sitting on the floor of their boarding house trying to figure out the mail-order instructions for the Grateful Dead spring tour of 1991 - the April 27-28 shows in Las Vegas to be exact and the setting for the pivotal nexus around which the story orbits.
Have any of you experienced the convoluted ricockulosity required to complete the paperwork for a Grateful Dead tickets lottery?  If you have, then you already know the pain involved. But if you’ve never had the pleasure, then here’s a peak into the mind of a Deadhead with order-form in hand.
Firstly, the name itself ‘ticket LOTTERY’ is daunting.  How many tickets are available through this process?  Do repeat buyers really have a better chance? Will I find out if I got the tickets before they go on sale at Ticketmaster? If not, will I have to go to Jewel that day to buy more just in case – how fast do the shows sell out – will there be a line – what time should I get there?  
If I have to buy the tickets twice, then why even bother with the lottery – are the seats better – do I even want seats when I like dancing in the lawn better? Do I have a better chance of getting tickets if I just select lawn? Maybe – but if I get really good tickets, then I will have better leverage when bartering for magical provisions in the lot before the show – we can trade our good seats for lawn tickets + goodies.
We only need two tickets, but should we order the max of six, in case our friends don’t get theirs?  Duh – that’s a no brainer!  If we get extra, we trade. That could be a lot of extra tickets – six mail order + six through Ticket master – 2 for us = 10. If the show doesn’t sell out, will we have to eat the 10?  Are you cracked in the ass – have you ever been to a show without loads of desperate hippies with cardboard signs around their necks and fingers in the air begging for a miracle?
How many postal money orders do I need? (one for the lawn price + the difference between seats and lawn (in case of a partial refund))x(the # of venues attending)……all of which need to be labeled correctly. And don’t forget a stamp for the self addressed stamped envelope.
What’s a #10 envelope? Do we have any 3x5 index cards? Did you spell San Rafael right? If we decorate the envelope with mushrooms and bright colors, and fold up the corners, will it get picked first? If we put it in the mailbox at the airport at midnight, will it get postmarked and put on a plane to California faster?
See what I mean – the thought and coordination involved in that transaction was maddening! And was required for every season they toured!!  
Just in case you are wondering – yes, Suzi and Eve got the tickets. In fact, so did Mannie, Driscol, and Rajesh of the Psycho-cartographers. And in Jerome, AZ, a record number of bong sales financed the tickets for the entire Heart of Gold Coven.