Thursday, April 17, 2014

Conversations with Guy, Volume I: Chapter 2

First of all, I have to say that this is really just about one of the best photos ever. Guy looks like he’s regaling me with some of his most humorous anecdotes. As he probably is. When these posts are someday published in an encyclopedic set of books, that photo will be on the cover.

I just spent a few days up in Portland with the Glanvilles, and since Guy’s last visit down to California only a month ago, he’s improved a number of words. “Piaaaaa” has now become more recognizably “fish,” “ngyo” has become “owange,” and he has even graced me with a extra letter in my name: I am now “Tamva.” Perhaps by the next visit I can be up to three syllables. Oh, and he also says “muncle” at me sometimes, which the rest of the family has been doing since he was born, but which I hadn’t heard from him before. (That’s a “monk uncle,” for those of you who haven’t heard.) It’s adorable.

Another thing he’s doing is stringing more words together into proto-sentences, or at least reasonably related groups. So for fun one evening I tried to get him to call me “yellow muncle Tandava.” This is what happened:

(Me:) Can you say “yellow muncle”?

(Guy:) ’ellow!

(Me:) “Yellow muncle”?

(Guy:) ’ellow muncle!

(Me:) Good! Now can you say “yellow muncle Tandava”?

(Guy:) [mischievous grin]

(Me:) You can do it… “yellow muncle Tandava”?

(Guy:) BUM!

He’s also collecting some other interesting new words, like “hummingbird” and “kombucha.” He can mimic pretty well sometimes, too, even if he doesn’t know what we’re talking about. We got him to say reasonably credible versions of “authenticity” and “symmetrical,” for reasons that made some sort of sense at the time. “Euphemism,” however, is still stuck at “eh-VOOM.”

I spent a great deal of the time there reading books with fascinating plots, mostly involving colors and numbers. Guy would often get tired of a book before I was finished, though I would naturally want to see how they ended (not having read these thousands of times like Lacey has). So there would be a little struggle, with Guy saying “no” and “all done” repeatedly, and eventually wresting the book away from me. After which he would say “good job,” in a tone that implied “don’t feel bad, you tried your best.”

Monday, March 10, 2014

Conversations with Guy, Volume I: The Early Years

After spending the last 10 days with my adorable, almost-two-year-old nephew, I'm not always sure whether I'm teaching a language or learning one. It can be quite entertaining, though Lacey still has to translate for us a lot.

Guy has standardized the pronunciation of my name to “Tama.” For a brief period of time a couple months ago, it was “TanBbBbBbBbBb,” but that seems to have been too much work. A great many of our conversations now go something like this:







“Tamaaaaaa :-)”

“Guyyyyyy :-)”




“Yes, that was the train going by. Very good!”



And so on. Pure poetry, that. We had similarly scintillating discussions regarding the repeated opening and closing of sliding glass doors, which he was getting very good at operating (given copious amounts of practice).

He does have quite a remarkable number of words at his disposal, though, in spite of what the above may imply. Many of them involve food, including such relatively obscure items as chia seeds, edamame, and quesadillas. Though the first time he used the latter on me, I responded almost automatically with “It’s Saturday.” But then Lacey reminded me that he doesn't speak Spanish, and has trouble with S’s.

We also get to watch him pick up new words even (so to speak) as we speak. We visited Jim in Santa Cruz one day, where he learned the word “ocean” (“otun”). Then as we were trying to get him ready to leave, he wandered into a room where he found a suitcase. As he is inordinately fascinated by suitcases (“too-ca-ca”), Lacey remarked in despair: “Oh no, he found a suitcase. We’re doomed.” Upon which Guy ran from the room waving his arms, crying “Doooooom!” He repeated his trick when we recounted the story for Mom the next day, but we've all been laughing at the word so much that I think it's safe to assume he doesn't know what it means.

Speaking of making us laugh, one of the first things Hugo told me when they all arrived was how Guy has been learning his colors and keeps calling things “yellow” all the time. So naturally we pointed to my shirt and said “Guy! What color is this?”

With a big grin he replied “-ite!”

“No, not white! What color is it?”

More enthusiastic this time: “Boooooo!”

Another try, and now he’s totally laughing at us: “Geeeeen!”

He went through all his colors before finally admitting that it was actually “-ellow.”

Another time, we took a break from the playground to go inside and get a drink of water (“ca-ca” — yes, we’ll need to do something about that particular pronunciation). After we were done at the sink, we made it as far back as the door before he wanted water again. So we went back, got another drink, got back to the door… and then had to go back for yet another drink. By this time he was grinning mischievously, and also rather giving himself away by asking for “door” after water, rather than “playground.” So I eventually escaped that cycle.

So anyway, this has been excellent communication practice for both of us, I think. They're heading home today, but I'll get to see them again in about a month, when I'll probably get to learn a whole new batch of Guy vocabulary.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

The (Old) New New Guitar

So. I know I was all excited about my new guitar, and even gave her a name and everything. But sometimes you just have to suck it up, admit you’ve made a mistake, and do a complete about-face.

After spending a little while in the honeymoon phase, then a little while in buyer’s remorse, and off-and-on convincing myself that I should just get over it, I finally went and had a talk with Karen, friend and choir director extraordinaire. She confirmed that, yes, perhaps I had bought a guitar that matched me pretty well, but did not necessarily best match what I was trying to do.

Well, when you put it like that… okay, back to square one. Practice spiritual qualities like non-attachment and non-embarrassment. (Is that one? It should be.) Karen was kind enough to come with me this time, and was an immense help in being an extra pair of ears and getting me to spend more time on guitars I would have overlooked.

Seraphina was a Taylor, and I liked a lot of the Taylors — they have a bright, clear sound, feel lovely to play, and many of them are just beautiful to look at at well. Most of the other contenders were Martins, and I like their sound too, though in a completely different way — more resonant, and just plain yummy. But most of the smaller selection at Gryphon didn’t feel as nice under the fingers as the Taylors did, and were simply unattractive, so I tended to pass over them. But Karen kept dragging them back out.

Finally, after about an hour, she found a surprise: a used Martin D1, not particularly noticeable, not very expensive, but with a simple fascinating sound. The low strings are so mellow that at first I thought they had just been left on too long (though all the guitars there have bright new strings). But then when you start playing it you find that it has just a huge dynamic range. The higher strings sound brighter, and here my first feeling was that it just wouldn’t blend well, but in some miraculous way it does. I almost didn’t like it at first simply because I was so distracted mentally trying to figure out what was going on.

I also have to admit that I just dislike the look of the dreadnaught body shape, and it’s a bit much to get my arms around sometimes, though it really does the trick with the sound. Karen told me to play with my eyes closed for a bit, and that helped. It felt okay to play — better than the other Martins, if not as lovely as the Taylors. But it’s the sound that sold me. Karen remarked that being used is a plus: it sounds like it’s been played and loved.

So the new guitar came home, and needed a name. It popped up in meditation that night: Neville. I almost couldn’t bear to name it “Neville” after giving up a “Seraphina,” but there’s really nothing else for it. It’s a good name, and one that will be forever associated with the Harry Potter books in my mind. Neville is the one of the most humble characters, but in the end also one of the most heroic. He does what you need him to do with courage, compassion, and faith. You could do a lot worse.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Meet Seraphina, the New Guitar

For the last 18 years or so, I’ve been playing Mom’s guitar that she bought in high school with her babysitting money. I’ve really been quite fond of it, if more for sentimental reasons than for any musical qualities. But over the last couple months, a few people have been floating the idea at me of getting a new guitar. The fact that two of our primary guitarists at Ananda Palo Alto recently moved away probably has something to do with it — I’m on accompaniment duty much more these days. So, while I can muddle along on my own alright for quite a while, the fact that other people have to listen to me finally got me out shopping.

Gryphon Stringed Instruments is like Ollivander’s Wand Shop for guitarists. I spent about 3 hours there yesterday, looking for one that would shoot red and gold sparks when I picked it up (the wand chooses the wizard, after all). None of them quite did in the literal sense, but I came away quite happy in the end anyway.

I surprised myself a little with how important the visual appearance turned out to be for me, but really, if I’m going to spend actual money on a new instrument, I’d like it to be beautiful in every dimension possible. One of my favorites had simply gorgeous koa wood back and sides, but an overly bright sound that was a bit too much against my singing voice. Probably the best-sounding one of my short list was mellower and smoother, but had other points against it. First, it was just a standard brown-and-black ugly. And second, I felt an odd sort of resistance from it when I played it. It took me a little while to notice the pattern (I was playing so many guitars that day), but I felt that I kept making unusual mistakes, and that the guitar in some sense didn’t want to cooperate with me.

Which leads us to the final winner, a Taylor 412-ce limited edition with granadillo back and sides, a simple but beautiful front, and fretboard dots that somehow remind me more of the chakras than other ones do. The body is a little more petite than most, which I rather appreciate. You can check it out on Gryphon’s site, or on Taylor’s.

The tone is brighter than the previous one mentioned, which I like, without being as overpowering as the first, and it works well for fingerpicking (something this model was particularly designed for). The strings don’t all blend quite as well for some kinds of strumming, but I think some of that will smooth out as we get used to each other. And most importantly, this guitar felt like it wanted to play with me. One of what you might call the “red and gold sparks” was the moment I did a double-take: “Did I really just play a barre chord? That was too easy!” I got the distinct impression that the instrument was trying to help.

The other thing guitar shopping reminds me of, besides wand shopping, is an afternoon of speed-dating, followed by a wedding. There’ll be some amount of trepidation no matter who you go home with, but the one that wants to help make the relationship work is pretty likely to be the best choice.

Oddly enough, considering how much I tend to anthropomorphize things, I don’t usually name my instruments. But this one seemed like she needed a name, and this evening I decided on Seraphina, after the dragon-girl musician from the eponymous and excellent book by Rachel Hartman. I also like the association with seraphim — angelic but fiery. (See also, for instance, here.)

Today is the anniversary of Yogananda’s birth, and so Seraphina got to jump right into the middle of things, playing with me both for the birthday celebration last night and for Sunday service this morning. Very appropriate, as I consider her to be both Master’s birthday gift to me and my birthday gift to Master.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Divine Mother Hugs

This happened, very fittingly, the last year I went to Camp Harmony. For those of you who don’t know it, Camp Harmony is a 5-day folk music camp I attended every winter for many years, up until recently. It was my first introduction to concepts like intentional communities and karmic families, and it will always have a special place in my heart, thanks to this story and many others.

It was New Year’s Eve, the last night of camp. Well, early New Year’s morning by this point. I was starting to wander around saying goodnight to people, and goodbye in many cases, as we’d all be heading home the next day. In the dance hall there was a large group of kids (it’s a family-friendly camp) whose parents had evidently decided not to sweat the whole bedtime thing, given the occasion. They ranged from fairly small to probably early teens. Many I knew, many I didn’t.

Anyway, one of them that I did know heard that I was leaving and ran across the hall to give me a goodbye hug. And somehow the entire herd of them got swept up in his enthusiasm, and I was engulfed in one giant swarming hug that involved probably at least 15 kids. Pretty silly.

But then, after they all broke off and let me breathe again, one small boy complained that he didn’t really get a proper hug, because there were too many people in the way. Well, I’m not one to refuse hugs to adorable children, so naturally I remedied that situation.

That’s when something a little bit magical happened, as every one of those noisy, bouncy, up-way-too-late-at-night kids quietly lined up, single file, behind that first boy and waited for their turn to give and get their own hugs.

Our happy, friendly little scene had suddenly just expanded into something much greater. It wasn’t about us anymore — like I said, I didn’t even know some of these children — but there was Love around that needed to be expressed, and there we were to do it. So we did. It was so sweet I was nearly crying by the end, through all the smiles.

And then the moment passed, the children all scampered off, and I headed off to bed in a slight daze.

There aren’t many times Divine Mother reaches down and gives you a big hug without even bothering to be metaphorical about it, and it’s been a dear and comforting memory every time I’ve thought back to it over the last couple years. And in a way, it’s even sweeter now that I’m a monk, and especially as I watch our little band of brahmacharis growing larger. It’s a reminder that there will always be more people to love, and more than enough love to share around. We just need to remember where it’s coming from, and be open to letting it flow through us.

From Swamiji’s book, Affirmations for Self-Healing:
The whole world is my home, and the human race, my family.
With God’s kindness I embrace all men.