Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Golf Lesson

By Dan Beauchamp

A friend of mine, an excellent golfer, invited me over a few weeks back to talk about learning golf. I am retired now and have no excuse for not finally tackling the game. This was in a town we were visiting in Arizona, a town we lived in for 10 years not so long ago.

So one afternoon around 4 PM, I show up at his house and we begin.

He has a list of rules that he has carefully written out, a set of key principles. “Everything begins with keeping the proper relationship between the ball, the hands, the sixth cervical, the shoulders, and the...”

What he says sounds familiar. My father was a fine golfer; my brother was even better. (Strangely, my brother today says, “They ought to make prisoners play this game.”)

Anyway, we begin to practice the stance: You crouch down a little, you hold the club lightly in your hands, the thumbs turned just so in relationship to your right shoulder, your right leg kept firm as a post and then you turn, letting your body take your arms, relaxed and along for the ride, etc., etc. Always holding firm the fixed position of the head, the eyes, and the sixth cervical, which I presume is somewhere in the back of the neck.

We practice for about an hour and a half. I feel pretty pleased. I did notice that I was getting tired from that constant squatting but, well, I am 70 now, and I know that all this will take some patience and careful build-up. Finally, we are finished, and I thank him, and I walk out of the house thinking, “Maybe now I will be a golfer. And hopefully that will be the answer to retirement.”

My friend lives in a lovely old house, one that other friends of ours owned years before, and the front stairs down from the porch are concrete, with about eight steps, I seem to recall.

I mention this because when I take my first step down, I am suddenly legless, my left leg simply collapsing. When I try to catch myself with the right leg, it likewise goes AWOL and I plunge headlong down the stairs, badly banging my ribs on the concrete steps and the balustrade, or whatever the damn thing is called.

It is weeks later back in North Carolina, my ribs still sore, that I remember that years ago I read a wonderful book about golf, a game I likely now will never learn to play. The book is Extraordinary Golf by Fred Shoemaker, a former collegiate golfer who is now one of the most popular teachers in the country.

Shoemaker says that golf can be learned in one of two ways. You can, like most, consider it a game that is not natural or easily learned, and then spend a lifetime and a fortune trying to get the instruction and the practice to master a vast set of complex motor skills, all while wearing green pants.

The second approach, the more Zen-like approach, is coming to understand that the body already knows how to learn to play golf, using awareness and our intuitive learning skills to slip past our thinking and controlling minds filled with the "shoulds" of playing golf, and life itself.

For example, Shoemaker has people swing a club naturally but, instead of trying to hit the ball, he has them release the club, throwing it out toward the target. Then he has them hit the ball their regular way, observing the "shoulds" of good form that they have learned from various pros and instruction books.

Invariably, the average golfer will throw the club in a way that is closer to good bio-mechanical form rather than by swinging according to some ideal.

To Shoemaker, the really big point in learning golf is to become more aware of how we actually swing, good or bad. This awareness allows the body itself to learn how to move ever closer to the form it needs, and to gradually let loose of most of the ideas of form stored in our heads.

I am fully retired with a lot of time on my hands, taking way too long trying to learn the new games you must learn to fill up the ordinary times with significance when work and career are no longer available. I think that my pratfall has finally taught me the huge lesson that, at last, I am where I should always have been, playing the game of life itself, running on empty.

The whole point of life itself, in the gospels of all true faith, is that life cannot, must not, be divided into what’s special and what’s routine, because sooner or later it will all sink into routine and we will turn our attention to some fresh fix of excitement to wake us up. That way lies dragons.

The gospel of life itself is that it is all special, it is all important, it is all, every moment of it, a gift that is ours for free, and it will never be repeated. The job we all have is to engage ordinary life, all of our life, with the kind of patient attention that its own reward: walking behind a lawnmower, learning to sing in the choir, walking the dog, playing Scrabble (in the middle of the day now, thank you very much), and yes, dear Lord, attending to the insanities of presidential elections.

Instead of wondering what I should be doing that’s really important in life’s back nine, I can finally turn my attention to what I am doing today, right now. Instead of looking for my last happiness in some final significance, I can find life itself on aisle eight of Krogers or in volunteering at the homeless shelter or taking a small job in a bookstore that I have loved for decades.

And always, of course, paying close attention to what’s going on with that sixth cervical.

Dan Beauchamp is a former Washington representative, university professor, health official, and small-town mayor. He is working on a memoir about meeting yourself again, for the first time, again and again. His blog, on politics, spirituality and other matters, can be found at

Saturday, January 26, 2008

"When the Sea Catches Fire"

By Claudia Ricci

Dark green waves. But no peaceful sandy shore. These waves are roaring inside me. Salty flames slip up and down my arms, the ocean a flood of anxiety that settles into my guts and twists and turns so powerfully it threatens to drown me.
That’s how panic can sometimes feel.
Well, so, here is how on a Thursday morning, an ordinary day, it went away.
I am lying on my yoga mat, cloudy and powdery blue. I can see the outline of the gigantic maple tree outside my farmhouse window.
It is nine a.m., the agreed-upon time. Denise, more than 100 miles away in the hills of Vermont, has told me to lie down at just this moment. For an hour. She has instructed me to close my eyes, and just lie there.
Quietly. She has told me that because I cannot drive to her house today, she will do an energy-balancing session from afar.
I close my eyes, and lie there, and almost immediately it starts: I see an eye, a large rainbow-colored eye, and it’s gone and then, a mermaid squirts into view.
Not her face, though. She has her back to me, I see her head and bare shoulders. She is bending backward at the neck or waist so that I am staring at the top of her head, and her long mop of glossy black hair. It swings very gently, back and forth. Back. And forth. Across her back. Just as quickly as she swims into view, she simply slips away.
That’s when the spiraling yellow and red lights begin. They whirl somewhere, and then, they settle in my chest, sinking inside like some kind of an energy drill. Or a cleaning tool. I see the light scouring.
Cleaning me. Clearing the site of that awful tumor I had some five or six years ago.
Finally, the green spot appears. It begins small. It quivers. It is a living spot of emerald life energy. This green is…
Oh my. The sea is back again. But it is another ocean altogether. On fire in the sun, glistening and foamy. The waves lively but gentle. So bright I have to squint in the light.
And if I had more time, I would tell you each of the colors of each of the fish that swim there. And I would paint you the frog-green palm trees on shore.
And I would tell you how all of these visions, and writing them down here, leaves me. Calm. As if I am lying on a blanket, sinking into warm sand.
On shore.
Claudia Ricci, a professor of English, creative writing and journalism at the University at Albany, SUNY, edits MyStoryLives. Recently, she helped launch a new blogsite on matters related to body, mind and spirit. Called Holistic Health, it is available at the Albany Times Union blog page at:

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Love is On Its Way

By Camincha

Walter, her Lord of the Capes, said so. So she knows, it is so.

He’ll come tonight.

Tonight he'll stay till morning for many mornings to come because that’s what her horoscope said when she tuned in to Univision CH 14 at exactly 6:00 pm by all her clocks because she always sets them 20 minutes ahead so as to be sure not to miss him. Which means 6:00 is really 5:40 and at 5:40 Pacific time precisely, Walter, Lord of the Capes, Walter, El Señor de las Capas, comes on to tell all, but especially her, what to expect in their lives.

He owns hundreds of capes. Of all colors. All, hand embroidered with precious and semi precious stones. Some wide. Enormous. When he spreads his arms they open like wings of some mythical bird in flight. Others are fitted to the body. And Walter’s body language is dramatic. His eyes and voice are paternal, benign, kind. But to her they seem more, like, well, sexy. Like inviting. And he pronounces his predictions——to her——with deep conviction.

When Walter is finished with all twelve signs of the zodiac he looks at the camera. Directly at her.
He says: receive my peace, recibe mi paz, but above all, pero sobretodo, and he now crosses his hands over his chest and then with his right hand he circles his heart while telling her: but more than anything, pero más que nada, may you receive much much, much, que recibas mucho, mucho, mucho...

He then extends his right arm towards her in a benediction. Keeps his left hand over his heart. Dramatically closes his eyes, lowers his brow. Repeats, tells her again: que recibas mucho, mucho, mucho...

She waits. She wonders.

Walter stretches the silence.

She worries. Did he forget me?

No. Finally. Walter tells her, amor, amor.

He said it. Her horoscope: Be ready. Love is on its way!

The doorbell rings. Walter?


Camincha is a pen name for a California-based writer. Her novella, AS TIME GOES BY, was published by iUniverse in November 2005. The San Francisco Bay Guardian noted: "Camincha frames the ordinary in a way that makes it extraordinary, and that is real talent."

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Snow in Blue Shadow

Outside the window
snow painted in blue shadows.
Oh but what a sky!

Friday, January 11, 2008

If you meet the Buddha on the road, give her a kiss

By Dan Beachamp

Sheldon Kopp once wrote a book on Zen, titled, If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him! Kopp was warning against false gods.

But in another Buddhist tradition we meet the Buddha on the road all the time and we walk right by, sadly missing an encounter with grace and enlightenment.

Our job is not to be caught napping when the Buddha nature shows up.

Which leads me to a story about Marilyn, a girl I knew in high school.

Marilyn and I were in the band together, she one year ahead of me. She was pretty and she seemed a more mature and knowing person than most girls in school.

I figured she was for me, my first real girl friend. Of course, I had never spoken a word to her.

She played the clarinet. I played the French horn. Neither one of us were very good.

Marilyn must have known that I was dreaming of her because she asked me to go to a dance, one held in downtown San Antonio, at La Villita, a part of the old town there that dated back to the days of rule by Spain and Mexico.

Marilyn was a senior. I was a junior and I had never had a date. I also didn't have a car or even a license.

Remember, this was 1954.

So, to go to the dance we had to be driven by my father. Since it was potluck, Marilyn brought a dish, a large bowl of rice pudding.

I was wearing a new suit from JC Penney's, a stiff, sear-sucker job that my father had bought me a week before, for the special occasion.

You can imagine that I was both mortified and thrilled to be riding in the front seat sitting next to the beautiful Marilyn, with Dad driving, and her chatting easily with him.

I felt like they were on the date and I was tagging along and that maybe I should be in the back seat. I could feel the heat of her arm next to me. It felt warmer than the bowl of rice pudding in my lap.

I was stiff with fear about the upcoming dance and evening.

As we pulled up in front of La Villita, my father was telling me to give him a call when we wanted to go home and I was starting to get out of the car, with one foot on the ground and the rest of me back in the car feeling Marilyn's body next to me, when suddenly the very large bowl of warm rice pudding slipped and spilled its gelatinous goo into my lap, into the very center of my anxious being at that particular moment.

It is at moments like this that the serial killer is born.

I felt as if the whole world had stopped and was looking at me with complete disgust and that a glowering god had caught my action and was saying to me, "I can't believe you did something so stupid. You will now live the rest of your days on a remote, empty planet, far away humankind. Either that or Iceland."

But, then, I was saved. Marilyn laughed easily, told my father to go on, that we would take care of it.

She helped me brush the rest of the pudding out of my lap out by the curb, and then took me into the kitchen behind the dance floor, to finish the cleanup.

A neighborhood friend's mom who was working in the kitchen getting the food for the dance ready pitched in.

A few minutes later we were out on the dance floor and to my surprise I found that I could actually dance with Marilyn in my arms, without actually fainting. My afternoons of practicing with Mom in our small living room paid off.

Later in the evening, a friend volunteered to drive us home, double-date style.

In the space of a couple of hours I was escaping the hell of the tall, skinny, bespecaled adolescent dreaming of Marilyn.

But not quite.

As we were walking to the car with the other couple, a small dog came running up behind me and started barking and I almost jumped all the way back into my former doomed life.

But Marilyn had me firmly in hand and we got in the back seat and then we all went to Earl Abel's, the best 24-hour restaurant on the planet and I ordered coffee and pie for Marilyn and me just like the grown-up I was fast becoming.

I think I dated Marilyn only one more time, after I got my driver's license.

Sorry, not even a kiss.

But what she taught me back then I still am learning.

Somewhere within us all there is another self that we are waiting to meet, a self summoned by a place, or a person, or a calamity, and that can suddenly surface and change everything, make us see things in a newer light, helpings us make our way.

I don't think Marilyn was trying to be nice or kind. I don't think she was trying to be anything. I think she had suddenly acted out of some other place, a place where everything is accepted, where everything belongs.

She calmly acted as if a tall, skinny young man with rice pudding in his lap was the most natural thing in the universe, right up there with gravity and the stars in the sky.

Marilyn gave me a fleeting glimpse of what it means to see ourselves as we actually are, imperfect and cracked right down to the ground, and that it is all okay.

I was lost and then I was found.

That I was soon lost again no longer held its terrors for me. I knew that I had been found.

Marilyn, wherever you are, this is for you, a kiss that I never did give you, a kiss for your Buddha self.

Dan Beauchamp is a former Washington representative, university professor, health official, and small-town mayor. He is working on a memoir about meeting yourself again, for the first time, again and again. His blog, on politics, spirituality and other matters, can be found at

Monday, January 07, 2008

MARTI ZUCKROWV "Dance on Paper"

My granddaughter, Sarah, and I walk into the dance center. Sarah looks around trying to appear cool and disinterested. I can almost hear her ten-year-old heart thumping away in her chest. Getting her here was no small task.

A cluster of pre-teen, gangly, lithe girls in leotards and tights lounge on two couches opposite the front desk. An equally gangly, lithe, full-fledged teenage girl stands behind the desk, punching class cards, answering the phone, and pointing new students in the right direction. Sarah fidgets with her hair as we wait for the class to begin. The manicures we both got last week are no longer perfect although the air-brushed flowers she had put on over her bright red nails are still decipherable. She's wearing her designer jeans and a shirt that cost an arm and a leg -- nothing I would have ever agreed to buy her, but that's my
daughter. Spoils her rotten.

We are here to observe the children's ballet class. I peek through the glass door of one of the studios and notice the piano has been moved. Well, what did I expect? I haven't been back here in how many years is it now? Edmond is dead, his amazing piano playing gone from the world of the living. He transformed all
of us, the motley crew of wannabes. We leaped higher,pirouetted faster, and we grew wings when he played. His fingers danced across the keyboard and we
danced our hearts out.

"Sarah," I say, nudging her toward the studio, "your Mom took ballet in this room when she was about your age."

"I know Grandma, you told me that a million times already."

Boy, if looks could kill.

She's busy sizing up the girls waiting for their instructor to show up. Agile as cheetahs and lean as string beans, they sit straddle legged, their chests
pressed to the floor.

“Do you have to wear leotards?”she asks, her eyes glued to the boniness of one girls ribcage.

"In ballet yes, in modern, no."

There's a stampede of little feet rushing down the stairs, four and five year olds spilling out of class and into the gloating arms of their mothers or fathers or
nannies. You can almost harness their exuberance, excitement flooding the stairwell, each tiny person gushing with passionate self-discovery. Sarah's passionate self-discovery, that's what I'm after. She's gone through gymnastics, soccer,
basketball, jazz dance and tap; she's tried guitar and cheerleading.

Ten years old and already bored with life. Go figure. Oh, and I almost forgot, she no longer likes to draw, an early passion of hers that I thought might stick. Nothing is cool enough for my aspiring-to-be-a teenager granddaughter.

A wisp of a young woman breezes into the dance studio, CD's in hand.

"Hello girls," she says with a breathless Italian accent, "let's get started. We'll begin on the floor." She is poetry in motion as she descends to the
floor, her thick black hair pulled back and cascading down a long, swan-like neck, her sculpted arms and muscular legs melting like butter.

I just about salivate, longing to be in that studio, longing to point and flex my toes, to portebrae my arms, to stretch my spine and arc my back and transform into a beautiful being instead of the aging human being that I have become. Sour grapes. Not
really, but rather, a moment of grief, the loss of my dancer’s body.

I stumbled onto this studio days after we arrived in California, December 1969. I was 28, and my daughters were two and four. The girls were tucked away safe and
sound at the Telegraph Ave COOP Kiddie Coral (two hours free child care for shoppers, unbelievable in this day and age). With little money to spend and
waiting to hear if our welfare application had been accepted, I scanned the shelves, bought a few staples and decided to take advantage of this windfall of good
luck; I could take a walk, just me, with no kids. For an hour and a half, I was free.

I'd loved dance all my life, taking ballet and modern classes from the age of five. When I was Sarah's age, my favorite movie was “The Red Shoes,” a movie about a
ballerina who could not stop dancing no matter how much her feet bled, no matter how fatigued her legs became, no matter that she danced to her death. She
was my heroine and I, too, knew that I would die for the sake of dance and that it would be the greatest thing I could do. By the time I was ten, I had
discovered the trance I fell into when I danced, a trance that carried me away from the terrors of McCarthyism. I soared above the whispers of my leftist parents and their friends; my worries: who was next, who would give names. Would they kill my parents like they did the Rosenbergs?

A favorite outing of mine, which happened about once a year, was to ride the subway downtown to the Capezio store on Broadway and 47th street, where the
professional dancers bought their dancewear and where I bought my ballet shoes when I'd outgrown a pair. My mother would finish up work at her sewing machine,
exhausted from the long hours and the dreary factory, navigate her way through the noisy, bustling garment center and the two would meet, both enchanted with
what awaited us.

The world of dance. Close proximity to the ballerinas who inhabited that world. I think we both dreamed of citizenship although my mother never had the chance.

The elegant ballerinas, their long swanlike necks,their long, long hair pulled severely back emphasizing a widow’s peak at the top of their flawless foreheads,
their prominent clavicles and long their sinewy arms,I was sure they really could fly. Oh, the thrill of watching them sort through boxes of those pink satin
shoes, the graceful arches of their feet as they pointed their toes and extended a perfectly-muscled calf. My mother, with her ugly feet, so wide and stumpy that she'd hide them under her chair, her ugly orthopedic shoes almost hidden. Only then would she allow herself a peek, and maybe she, too, fantasized having such beautiful feet. I'd stare, praying that if I looked hard enough, I'd escape my mother's ugly feet
and her stocky peasant body.

Bubble bubble toil and trouble, I'd wish with all my might that I, too, could be a dancer.

So there, in the studio that day, were four generations represented: my mother from her grave, me, a grandma who wanted to be 21 all over again and study dance all
over again and do it all over again, my daughters, who had both studied dance there (one of them going on to dance with the San Francisco Ballet Company) and Sarah, who
didn't really want to be there at all.

I was in lala land doing the ballet moves in my head as the students struggled with their form. Sarah and I watched 15 minutes more of the ballet class before
she poked me, "let's go." Unimpressed, she walked outside and asked for a treat.

"Ice cream? Gelato? Please, Grandma."

We walked to the corner and waiting for the light to change, it hit me. My mother was really dead. She killed herself 10 years ago, while I was in Tunisia on a camel trek in the Sahara desert. By the time I got
back to the states, my sister, in shock and beside herself with grief, had cleaned out my mother's house, arranged a funeral and watched our mother get lowered
into the ground, right next to our father.

I heard the news and felt numb. I tried to cry. I wanted to cry. For years I wished for the tears that never came. Slowly, small snatches of the reality of
her suicide began chipping through the wall I'd constructed. Bringing Sarah to the dance center today knocked more of the wall down.

In side the gelato shop, Sarah studied the many flavors. As usual chocolate won. She watched the clerk scoop the silky treat into a cup.

"Thanks, grandma," she said, mouth full.

"Thank you," I said.

"Why thank me?" She looked puzzled.

“For being you," I answered, thrilled to give her a glimpse of the world of dance. Maybe she, too, would want citizenship. And if not, that was just fine.

Marti Zuckrowv is an Oakland, California-based writer.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

So Long, "Long John" Woodruff

By Allen Ballard

My lifelong hero, “Long John” Woodruff, is dead (New York Times, Nov. 1, 2007).

When the black children in my 1930’s neighborhood raced in the schoolyard, the winner would have the right to be called “Long John” for the whole day, and that was a real honor considering that John Woodruff had won the 1936 Olympic 800-meter title and race after race at our Penn Relays in Philadelphia. His name was one with that of Joe Louis, Paul Robeson, and Jesse Owens, African-American athletes leading us out of the dark night of segregation.

In my freshman year in high school, the cross-country coach, noting my tall and lanky frame, persuaded me to come out for the team by saying I might be “the next Long John Woodruff.” The coach’s hope was misplaced indeed for I decided, after finishing dead last and almost being lapped by the city champion in my very first race, that distance running and me didn’t mix -- football beckoned instead!

Years later, I found myself living in the same New Jersey housing development as Long John Woodruff. He was a walker then, reduced by bad knees to using a cane. But he was still tall and lean, carrying himself with the almost noble bearing of his youth, and his stride was that of a giant. One day, early in the morning, while out jogging, I saw him in the distance, about a quarter of a mile in front of me. I quickened my pace and childhood memories flooded my mind -- I was racing against my idol, “Long John.” I moved closer to him, then passed him with a short burst of speed before stopping and falling back beside him.

“Mr.Woodruff,” I said. “Guess what, when I passed you, I said to myself, 'I beat him, I beat Long John!'”

Long John, a devout Christian and a deacon and Sunday School teacher in the Baptist Church that I sometimes attended, smiled down on me, shook his head in bemusement, and then, without missing a stride, said, “It’s alright, son, we all need something to help us through the day. You just hold to this little victory of yours!” We both laughed then, and I ran on, leaving him to enjoy his solitude out there on the road.

Perhaps he was thinking back on those moments back in 1936, when he and Jesse had almost single-handedly, before the eyes of Hitler and the whole watching world, destroyed --once and for all-- the myth of Aryan superiority.

As for me, I still love to tell the story of that day I beat “Long John” Woodruff.

Allen Ballard, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Kenyon College, received his Ph.D. in Government from Harvard University. Currently a professor of history and Africana Studies at the University at Albany, SUNY, he is the author of “Where I'm Bound,” a novel about African-American troops during the Civil War.