We Are All Phenomenal Women

This poem came serendipitously my way today. I love it because it’s so full of love! The most important love, the love that precedes all other love – self love. I think it should be the anthem of every woman and that if we could all feel this way about ourselves, we wouldn’t let, as she puts it, others violate that space inside us that needs to remain inviolate, the space where we meet God. Amen to that!

Phenomenal Woman

By Maya Angelou

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

From And Still I Rise. Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou.

Alive and Writing

I know that from where you’re sitting it looks like I haven’t been writing, but I have, I tell you, I have! For now, anyway, you’ll have to take my word for it. Okay, I’ll be honest and admit that there’s been a lot of surfing and procrastination. Even some foot dragging and downright reticence. But since I last posted here and promised you a blog about the second half of my trip to California, what seems like such very long time ago, I have accomplished the following as far as writing is concerned:

I’ve dusted off my memoir, given its structure some serious thought, cut the several of the opening chapters (saving them of course in a file that I’ll probably never be able to find if I decide I need to exhume them) and taken another stab at writing parts of it. I’ll tell you in all honesty that reading 50 Shades of Grey inspired me to write some of the juicier bits, particularly one scene that involves a dive instructor.

I’ve written copious emails (one of my weaknesses and a way in which I waste bucket-loads of time, but I am here to contend that some of those emails are written in the manner of letter-writing that existed in the early 20th century, long before email and when consideration was given to the literariness (wow, that’s actually a word!) of personal communications. In the case of famous authors and poets anyway, it’s as though they knew that years later biographers and their readers would be judging their letters alongside their literary works).

I’ve journalized. [Yes, that is the correct verb for writing in a journal and according to my dictionary “journalled” is not a word, but I use it to describe this action all the time. Perhaps my dictionary needs updating?] I’ve done this to deal with the mounting anguish I’ve felt because I haven’t been posting to my blog, I’ve generally been misbehaving and none of it has involved a MAN. I’ve been writing the classic stuff of existential navel-gazing that any writer worth their mettle is practically required to do. And I’ve pined in my journal. I’ve pined for my lover. Any lover.

Most recently, I’ve been working on an essay I was asked to write for an online journal called Anthropologies. It describes, albeit in extreme shorthand, my experience working on community-based conservation when I first moved here to Mexico.

And lists…I’ve been writing lists – grocery lists and lists of all the things I should be doing, including chores, repairs and writing. After I make my lists, I promptly go surfing even though it’s not on the list.

I’ve also been mind writing, but hardly at all, because I’ve noticed mind writing mostly occurs a lot between actual writing sessions. So if I’m not doing one, I don’t do much of the other.

Aside from writing, I’ve begun conducting research related to an article I’m going to write examining a topic related to the history of surfing. I’ve even conducted two interviews related to said article and set about arranging several others. I don’t want to reveal too much just yet (don’t want to get scooped!), but I will tell you that this project has me more excited than I can say and I’m looking forward to the entire process, particularly the interviews, the people I will get to meet as a result and the knowledge, both specific to the article and about surfing in general, that they may impart to me.

I haven’t just been writing either – I’ve been doing one of the most important things a writer must do – I’ve been reading:

  • Deep in the Wave by Bear Woznick which I will review here at some point in the coming weeks;
  • Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen, which if you haven’t read and think it is anything like the movie, then I will save you the trouble and tell you it is a stretch to say it is even remotely like the movie. There is not even one mention of her romance with Denys Fitch-Haton (played by the lovely Robert Redford in the movie), which clearly was the raison d’être of the movie.
  • Some of the poems in Handwriting by Michael Ondaatje, always worth the time for their beauty and ability to inspire;
  • Several articles in the current and back issues of The Surfer’s Journal (the bible of surfers everywhere);
  • I’ve been picking up and putting down Man Without A Face: The Autobiography of Communism’s Greatest Spymaster by Markus Wolf, but I finally put it down in order to read:
  • Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford.

Millay was an early 20th century Pulitzer Prize winning poet to whom the expression “burning the candle at both ends” is attributed. So far my favorite part of the book (probably because it introduces some much needed levity to what is a depressing story) is when the author describes how Vincent (as she was called) helps her sister Norma, who’s just moved to bohemian Greenwich Village from conservative Camden, Maine, get used to life in the city.

One of the first things Vincent explained to Norma was that there was a
certain freedom of languarge in the Village that mustn’t shock her…”So
we sat darning socks…and practiced the use of profanity as we stitched.
Needle in, shit. Needle out, piss. Needle in, fuck. Needle out, cunt. Until
we were easy with the words.”

I am a third of the way through the book and so far I find Millay to be an unsympathetic character, selfish and manipulative, particularly where men are concerned. I’ll let you know if my opinion is altered by the time she dies.

There is so much I want to share with you! I do hope you’ll check back here in the coming days or better yet why don’t you subscribe and get my posts delivered direct to your email so it’s super easy for you to get the latest on my adventures over the last five or so odd weeks. I promise you won’t be disappointed. Double pinky finger promise!

Sensory Poetry

Cinnamon Peeler OndaatjeMichael Ondaatje is one of my favorite authors. While attending Ondaatje’s alma mater, Queen’s University, I read his first novel Coming Through Slaughter (published 1976) that depicts the life of a jazz musician in early 1900s Louisiana. It was love at first read. I was still a teenager and the sensuousness of Ondaatje’s prose delighted and tickled my senses, felt a tiny bit wicked. It was unlike anything I’d read before – beautiful, literary and arousing.

Later, thanks to my boyfriend at the time, a brilliant Fine Arts major, I would be exposed to his poetry. It likewise often aroused me, but it was the playfulness displayed with metaphor and the exotic qualities of so many of his subjects that took hold of me.

Here is one of my favorites.

The Cinnamon Peeler

by Michael Ondaatje

If I were a cinnamon peeler
I would ride your bed
And leave the yellow bark dust
On your pillow.

Your breasts and shoulders would reek
You could never walk through markets
without the profession of my fingers
floating over you. The blind would
stumble certain of whom they approached
though you might bathe
under rain gutters, monsoon.

Here on the upper thigh
at this smooth pasture
neighbour to your hair
or the crease
that cuts your back. This ankle.
You will be known among strangers
as the cinnamon peeler’s wife.

I could hardly glance at you
before marriage
never touch you
–your keen nosed mother, your rough brothers.
I buried my hands
in saffron, disguised them
over smoking tar,
helped the honey gatherers…

When we swam once
I touched you in the water
and our bodies remained free,
you could hold me and be blind of smell.
you climbed the bank and said

this is how you touch other women
the grass cutter’s wife, the lime burner’s daughter.
And you searched your arms
for the missing perfume

and knew

what good is it
to be the lime burner’s daughter
left with no trace
as if not spoken to in the act of love
as if wounded without the pleasure of a scar.

You touched
your belly to my hands
in the dry air and said
I am the cinnamon
peeler’s wife. Smell me.

In Mexico Taking Care of Business Bites

la mordida todavia existe en MexicoBribery and political corruption are hardly unique to Mexico. According to Wikipedia, both are perceived to be greater issues in countries like Somalia, Angola, Sudan, Chad, and much of the Middle East than in Mexico. Yesterday’s blog, however, touched on the problem of corruption in Mexico and how it almost invariably supports big business interests. In the course of my morning online surfing (the wind is up, I’ll kite later), I happened across the following op-ed piece by Mexican poet, environmental activist and United Nations diplomat Homero Aridjis, illustrating the challenge faced by a nation to rein in what has become an accepted part of their culture.

La mordida,” the term in Spanish used for bribe literally means “the bite.” If, like me, you wonder where all this backroom dealing and monetary massaging started, Les Shulman, Mexico editor for Bellaonline, explains in his excellent article on the subject:

Although this institutionalized form of bribery dates back to the Spanish Colonial era (and wherever the Spanish colonized in the Americas), this insidious practice became entrenched in Mexico from 1929-2000 during the Partido Revolucionario Institucional’s (PRI) near monopolistic political control of the country. The PRI’s long, virtually unopposed reign created a national culture which allowed for and perpetuated a lack of oversight in public life which permitted the widespread corruption to become, at all levels of government, the traditional and customary way of getting things done.

When the PRI’s reign ended in 2000, there was nation-wide hope that it would mean an end to what amounts to a 240 billion-dollar-a-year tax-free industry. The case of the Cabo Cortez developers receiving environmental permits through bribery is not all that unusual and reflects that described by Aridjis below. These and many other less notorious examples receiving little or no coverage by the media prove that 12 years have not been enough to change a culture entrenched from 71 years’ practice. It is, I believe, the challenge and the responsibility of the current generation of young Mexicans entering the workforce and political arena to change the face of their nation to one less blemished by corruption.

The Sun, the Moon and Walmart

Walmart bribes it's way into nationally significant Mexican lands

by HOMERO ARIDJIS

Translated from the Spanish by Betty Ferber.

From New York Times op-ed, Monday, April 30, 2012

A child in Mexico soon learns that corruption is a way of life, and that to get ahead in school, work and politics, “El que no transa, no avanza” — loosely, “You’re not going anywhere if you don’t cheat.”

When I was in junior high school, my history teacher sold us lottery tickets, promising that the more we bought, the higher our grades would be. The winning number, he said, would coincide with the National Lottery winner. I happened to buy that number and received the highest grade, but because he kept the tickets, I never got the money.

Years later, as president of an environmental activist organization called the Group of 100, I was offered visits to Las Vegas (chips provided), cars (drivers included), cash and even prostitutes in exchange for staying silent. But my most uncomfortable experience was in 1988, when I met with the secretary of Fisheries to protest the killing of dolphins by tuna fishers. He asked me, “What’s your problem?” “I don’t have any problems,” I replied. “How can I help you?” “Make the tuna fleet stop killing dolphins.” He reached for his checkbook. “Let’s talk money, how much do you want?”

So the news that Walmart may have paid $24 million in bribes for permits to open stores in Mexico was no surprise to me. When President Felipe Calderón declared he was “very indignant,” I thought of Claude Rains in Casablanca: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”

Walmart already had a history of controversial behavior in Mexico. Most notably, in November 2004, despite widespread opposition, the company opened a 72,000-square-foot store within the boundaries of the 2,000-year-old city of Teotihuacán, which features the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon (“the place where men became gods” — or consumers?). Walmart has also built a supermarket on forested land in the resort town of Playa del Carmen, in Quintana Roo — though the permit for the building later turned out to have been granted for another site, on the island of Cozumel. The question now is who allows this, and in exchange for what?

Will the federal investigation discover how many Walmarts were built on the quicksands of corruption? Marcelo Ebrard, the mayor of Mexico City, is carrying out his own investigation, but considering that his brothers have been Walmart executives, I don’t have much hope that the truth will emerge. The other day I visited a Walmart, and one of the teenage packers, who are unsalaried and work for tips, confided in me that they had been forbidden to say anything to the press about their employer. They were told to consider themselves lucky to have a job at all.

In this country, corruption exists at all levels, from magnates to street vendors. It seems easier to get something done with a bribe than to fill out myriad forms and wait in lines to confront evasive civil servants. According to a recent study, companies shell out approximately 10 percent of their earnings to corrupt officials. In the last 30 years, the Mexican economy has lost more than $870 billion to corruption, crime and tax evasion.

The consequences of this corruption are clear. When devastating earthquakes hit Mexico City in 1985, an alarming number of shoddily constructed public buildings — schools, hospitals and government offices — were destroyed. Our school system has been hijacked by the politically powerful teachers’ union, and around 90 percent of the budget is eaten up by teachers’ salaries, though many on the payroll work for the union or hold political office instead of teaching.

Extortion and protection rackets flourish alongside drug trafficking. President Álvaro Obregón, who was assassinated in 1928, once said that “no general can resist a 50,000-peso cannon blast,” a precursor to today’s “plata o plomo” — silver or lead, the drug cartel’s offer to officials of a bribe or a bullet.

Clearly, putting an end to corruption — to kickbacks and nepotism, to crooked judges and policemen, to delinquent bureaucrats and drug lords — is Mexico’s greatest challenge. In 2000, when the left-of-center Institutional Revolutionary Party lost the presidency and its 71-year grip on power, there were hopes for reform, but it remains to be seen whether increased democratization will lead to lessened corruption.

This January, when a 341-foot-tall quartz-clad tower known as the Estela de Luz was inaugurated to commemorate 200 years of independence from Spain, Mr. Calderón called it “an emblem of a new era for Mexico.” And yet, the tower was finished 16 months late, at three times its planned cost. An investigation has begun; public servants have been charged with criminal offenses; protesters call it a monument to corruption.

The truth is, we have created a corrupt system that preys on both Mexicans and foreigners — how can we be outraged when an American company exploits it? At the same time, how can we hope for Mexicans to put an end to corruption when one of the most powerful and allegedly law abiding companies in the United States gives in to the same temptations? As a former governor of Chihuahua once said, after being accused of corruption, “If we put everyone who’s corrupt in jail, who will close the door?”

This essay was encountered on author Dick Russell’s website