Coney Island: playground of the unconscious

I only visited Coney Island once as a child; I lived on Long Island, and Brooklyn was far away. But in my memory it’s magical: the huge carousel horses with waving manes and real tails (a horse-crazy kid could pretend her mount was alive); the polished wooden slides, so tall I was afraid to go down them; the Steeplechase ride, whose mechanical horses coursed along a long outdoors track (I longed to go but was too timid); the Tilt-a-Whirl, which made me sick. By the time I returned as an adult, the Steeplechase had been torn down, the streets were[…]

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Creativity all dried up? Try this

If ever your brain battery feels dead, this exercise will give you a recharge. I learned it in my Girls Write Now mentoring program and tried it out with Winkie Ma, my teenage mentee. Start by generating a random list of 5 words. We used a smartphone set to Swype. Squiggle a finger across the keyboard and it’ll pop out a word. We took turns doing this til we had five words. (Half the fun is inventing new swyping patterns and seeing what words you get.) You can also use a website like this one to generate your words. Or[…]

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These shoes will kill you

Some years ago I was walking down a city street with a male friend. We passed a shoe store, and my head swiveled involuntarily to check out the contents of the window. “What is it with women and shoes?” he exclaimed. “Why are you so fascinated by them?” Good question. It came up again when I saw an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum aptly titled “Killer Heels,” which made it evident that the answer is: power and sex. It turns out that people have been making and wearing tall shoes for thousands of years, and centuries’ worth were on display—from[…]

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Moon over decentralized system

I’m posting this photo mainly because I like it. Visually it’s one of my better efforts, but I also see in it a certain irony: above the sweet full moon caught in the branches is a sparkly light that belongs to a police helicopter surveilling the demonstration at Foley Square in Manhattan the other night, protesting a grand jury’s failure to indict the policeman who killed Eric Garner. Four thousand people (according to one report) showed up in the square (thousands more elsewhere in the city). Overall the action was peaceful; no die-ins blocking traffic that I could see. Lots[…]

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Writing—and paying attention

This fall I became a volunteer mentor for Girls Write Now, an organization that pairs New York City public high school girls who have a passion for writing with professional women writers who pass on their craft. I find myself going back to basics, trying different writing styles and genres; it’s a little like being a baby writer again. My mentee and I began with exercises in the building blocks of writing: interviewing, note-taking, description. Last week, we did character description. We sat on a bench in a plaza outside a mall and picked out a man sitting a couple[…]

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A happy, peaceful demo

Coming to this late, but I’ve been ruminating. The People’s Climate March was perhaps the most enjoyable demo I’ve ever been on. Maybe partly because I marched with my Buddhist group, and our staging area was on a block of West 58th St with many different faith groups, including a variety of other Buddhists. That was a new flavor for me—in the past I marched with political groups. At the back of the block where we were, during a looong wait before we got to start walking, people were friendly, even joyful. The crowd was so dense toward the other[…]

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How [high][deep][wide][fine] can awareness extend?

Into your little toe, at least. During twenty years of writing with master body therapist Yamuna Zake, I’ve learned to keep my feet healthy. Key is maintaining the space between the toes, normally squished together by shoes. I use both Yamuna’s techniques and my yoga practice. For example, before doing some standing poses I always spread my toes with my hands. As I did this recently, an exercise from a book Yamuna and I wrote (The Ultimate Body Rolling Workout) popped into my mind. Can you raise all your toes together, and then, starting with the little toe, place each[…]

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Where does writing come from? (part 3)

In the early 1990s I had the wonderful fortune of spending time with Jean Klein, a teacher in the Hindu Advaita tradition. Klein grew up in Czechoslovakia and Vienna between the wars, studied medicine and music in Berlin, then when the Nazis came to power fled to France and Algeria. He left Europe in the early 1950s for India, where he met a teacher and experienced a complete awakening. He returned to Europe and began to teach himself. At the time I encountered him, I had little experience or intellectual knowledge of Advaita, Buddhism, or meditation, so my reaction was[…]

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Where does writing come from? (part 2)

Mavis Gallant, a Canadian short-story writer, died in February at 94. A notice in the New Yorker got me curious about her. After a brief early marriage, she moved to Europe in 1950, at 28, giving herself two years make a living entirely from writing. And she did it, making the tradeoff so many women have felt compelled to make: “She has quite deliberately chosen to have neither husband nor children, those two great deterrents to any woman’s attempt to live by and for writing,” as one scholar put it. So when she explains what drives someone to become a[…]

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