Friday, May 30, 2008

Here We Go Again...

Bible Re-shelving day has sparked yet one more discussion, over on Fark.com. Thanks James H for the link.

My favorite comment?

"The cutie staff chick, who had to clean it up, thought it was funny."

That's me!!! Okay, I'm vain, what can I say? :)

tall penguin

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Sacred Space...

I sat in a church today. On my walk, I came upon a Baptist Church built in the mid-1800's. Outside, there was a sign that said, "Church open for prayer and meditation."

I wasn't dressed "church-appropriate" by any means, but my version of God would appreciate how I look in skinny jeans and a tube top, so in I went. As I entered the sanctuary, I was struck by the high ceilings, the smell of wood and the beautiful stained glass. And the organ music. Wonder and awe ran through my body as my senses were overwhelmed by sight and sound.

There was no one else there so I had my pick of the pews. I sat in the middle of the church, to the left, paying secret homage to the fact that in Latin, "left" means sinister. I listened to the music and wondered where the loudspeakers were. I figured they had the music on loop.

I closed my eyes and let the music pulse through me. I disappeared into the notes and the silence between them. When I finally came to, I noticed that off to the far right there was a mirror reflecting back into the room. And then, I saw a face in the mirror and realized that he was the one playing the organ. And I wondered how often he played for no one but himself and his God. And I couldn't help but feel connected to this man, alone in his creation and his expression, deriving his joy from the unseen.

As I looked at the Bibles lining the pew in front of me, I realized that there was nothing in those words that could ever be as holy as this man and I sharing this moment of music and silence. When he finished playing, he got up and turned to leave. I let out an audible, "Thank You" that echoed through the room. He didn't turn around but literally disappeared into the woodwork at the back of the church. But I hope he was smiling. I was.

tall penguin

Walk on...

When I told my therapist recently that I would no longer be needing her services because life was calling me, she said, "I'd rather have people living life than sitting here talking about living life."

It's a sunny day here in Toronto. I'm off for a walk. Talk amongst yourselves. :)

tall penguin

The Birth of Possibility...

I am reading this really interesting book on midwifery called Ina May's Guide to Childbirth. Ina May Gaskin is one of the leading midwives on the planet. Her spiritual and natural approach to childbirth brings into question the traditional way we bring children into this world. She founded a community in Tennessee known as The Farm, where women anticipating low-risk births are invited to deliver naturally.

The most amazing thing I've read so far? That 30-40% of women claim to experience an orgasm while giving birth. Booyah! Now, that's what I'm talkin' about! See, this makes complete sense to me. And yet, it's something women would rarely discuss. We've been conditioned to believe that birth is a painful, medical procedure; lead to believe that a woman's body requires much intervention to deliver a child. Gaskin works from an opposite set of beliefs: that women have evolved to be able to deliver with minimal intervention and that they can actually experience a heightened sense of awareness and bliss during the process.

The book includes first-hand stories of women who have birthed at The Farm and the amazing experiences they have had. There are tales of orgasmic birth as well as the unique techniques Gaskin uses to help labor and delivery along. One that really struck me:

"Ina May suggested that I kiss my husband during the next contraction....while kissing, the contractions continued to be strong. Ina May was sitting on the end of the bed, and she advised me to open my mouth enough to surround my husband's. It was at this point that I became more aroused than I had ever been in my life! There was no pain---only the most extreme sexual pleasure and complete openness. It was orgasmic."

What would happen to our world if women knew that birth could be like this? Granted, there's still going to be a measure of pain with birthing, but what if our awareness going into the process could be one that included the possibility of experiencing this complete bliss? What if women trusted their own bodies and their abilities to birth a child with little intervention? What would our society look like if children came into this world surrounded by such love and joy and openness?

And all of this makes me wonder about so many of the collective ideas we have about life and pain. "No pain, no gain." Who says? Does growth, life, creation always have to hurt to be valuable? Can we learn from a space of joy and openness? How much of the pain we experience is self-inflicted, created in the mind? What would happen if the stories we told ourselves about how life is, about how life is supposed to be, ceased this very moment? What if we became open to just experiencing life directly and being here in the great mystery that is existence?

My friend Dom called me a hippy the other day. He may be right.

tall penguin

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Clark Kent

He got up from her bed and began putting on his clothes.

She looked at him and said, “Watching you get dressed is like watching Superman put on his glasses and return to being Clark Kent.”

He smiled.

tall penguin

The Road Less Traveled...

In a world of fugitives the person taking the opposite direction will appear to run away.
~~T.S. Eliot

Everyday we make choices. Some of them take us in directions we never thought we'd go. And sometimes, it appears that the choices are made for us. That we just show up and are taken along for the ride. It is difficult to go against the flow of the mainstream, to be true to yourself, to honor your own unique nature. But what is the cost of doing otherwise?

I was offered a job recently. Back in the fashion industry I once loved so much. It would require me to work on commission, something I was interested in trying, but it soon became obvious that the sales target was going to be the end all and be all of my daily experience. I saw myself having an enjoyable conversation with a customer and then watching as another "big money" customer enters my department. I saw myself pondering for a moment ditching the first customer in order to go over to the guaranteed sale. And that was it. I knew I couldn't take this job.

Integrity is no longer a luxury. I can barely spend a day now doing something I don't feel connected with. If it doesn't jive with who I am, with my core values, I just can't do it. Perhaps that is what happens when you've lived a life of compromise, when you've sacrificed your soul on someone else's altar. It's no longer acceptable.

So, here I am, once more, living the simple life, enjoying my low-paying bookstore job. And still never been happier. One day, I will find my way into work that both pays well and nurtures my soul. It's only a matter of time. All things are.

tall penguin

Circle of Life...

A few years ago, I went out West to visit a new friend. She, I and her husband took a long hike up to a local peak to view the mountains. In the last few steps back to the car, my foot got caught in some underbrush and my ankle twisted. I fell to the ground.

As I was lying there, tears streaming down my face, my ankle throbbing, my body wincing, I looked up. And I noticed where I was. Somehow, my fall had landed me right in the direct centre of a circle of trees. Their presence around me felt like a circle of friends. And directly above me, was the sun streaming down on my face. I smiled. It is one of the most beautiful mental images I carry with me in my heart.

Sometimes, we have to get knocked flat on our ass to see things differently. Don't curse the fall. Be happy for the new perspective.

tall penguin

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Secret World...

I stood in this unsheltered place
'Til I could see the face behind the face
All that had gone before had left no trace.

Down by the railway siding
In our secret world, we were colliding
All the places we were hiding love
What was it we were thinking of?
~~ Peter Gabriel, Secret World

All my life I have kept secrets. Secrets from others. Secrets from myself. And I wonder what would happen if every last truth was told; if every last story came spilling forth from my heart? If every stifled tear, every withheld love, every smile, every laugh was allowed to surface, what would happen to my life? Who would be left standing when nothing else remains?

Is keeping a secret ever a good thing? Does the quiet not slowly eat away at our soul? Is there not a voice that yearns to be heard, a hope that yearns to be fulfilled, a love that cannot be quelled?

I understand the appeal of the confessional practice in many religions.
I don't think it's about absolution. I think it's about having someone witness your secrets and having them held in a sacred space. It's about knowing you're not going through life alone. It's about feeling that maybe some other person can hold the space for this secret in their heart while you get on with the rest of living.

And yet, I'm sure I will die off from this life with many a secret in my heart. How could it be otherwise?

tall penguin

Secret Love...

When I was a child, my older brother had this teddy bear named Ogilvy. He was a squishy teddy with black eyes and pale yellow fur. And I loved him. Secretly.

I would steal into my brother's room when he wasn't around and snuggle Ogilvy and pretend he was my bear. I had many bears of my own, but none was as special to me as Ogilvy was. There was something in his deep, dark eyes that made me feel safe.

One day I returned home from school and went looking for Ogilvy. He was nowhere to be found. I went to my mother and asked where he went. My mother had been on a cleaning spree and had garbage-bagged a bunch of my brother's old toys that he no longer wanted. Ogilvy was now on his way to the dump. I fought back tears as I expressed my complete love for the bear.

"How was I supposed to know?" my mother replied.

I ran to my room and cried. I felt ashamed that I'd kept my love a secret, because now, Ogilvy was gone and he was never coming back. And ashamed that I'd loved at all. Because no one understood. After all, he was just a bear.

tall penguin

Monday, May 26, 2008

Sam Harris on Atheism...

I think I'm in love. This is Sam Harris speaking about the label "atheist", among other things. And damn, he's hot.

Julia Sweeney (who sounds like a new cult convert) does the intro. You can skip that part. It reminds me too much of the person I used to be and makes me throw up in my mouth a little. But Harris speaks so eloquently about the need for us to just be, without using labels to define ourselves. You can sense the Buddhist influence in his words. Man after my own heart.

Edited to add: Harris is a researcher in need of people to take surveys. You can get involved here.

tall penguin

Being a Nobody...

In the ongoing discussions at my workplace of the now infamous Bible Re-shelving Day, I have been understandably excited about the flow of traffic to my blog. The other day my boss decides to shed his brand of sunshine on the event:

"Well this is all great, but what happens next week when you go back to being a nobody?"

I laughed. What he doesn't know is being a nobody is my ultimate goal in this life. I don't want my identity to become hooked on anything I do or say. I just want to show up and be present. And if someone connects with that, so be it.

I watched the sitemeter on this blog as my hits experienced an all-time daily high of almost 3,000 after the events hit PZ Myers' blog, almost a week ago. And I have watched them go down by half each day since. And I'm amazed at how much it actually doesn't bother me. I feel so grateful for those who've stopped by, for the new friends I've acquired along the way and for the re-emergence of an old friend (the anon poster who linked my blog to Myers to begin with).

Life waxes and wanes. People come and go. It is what it is.

tall penguin

Mortality...

When I was walking through the cemetery the other day, I found many headstones, along with the names of a husband and wife, inscribed with this:

"Also, two children who died in infancy."

Sometimes, it was one child. Sometimes three children. Sometimes more. No names for these children. Just a recognition that they were born to this life and then died to it.

My maternal grandmother had fourteen children, the last of which was my mother. Of those fourteen, three died shortly after birth.

I wish I'd gotten to have a conversation with her about those children. The only thing my mother has ever said about it was that her mother once told her that there never passed a day that she did not think of those children and miss them.

I understand, Grammy. I understand.

tall penguin

Tabula Rasa Ding Dong...

Thanks Dom for sending this along. Not sure where it came from so if you know the artist, lemme know so I can give due credit. :) If you click on the image, it will become clearer.

For Sim...

"We are meant to midwife dreams for one another. We cannot labor in place of one another, but we can support the labor that each must undertake to birth his or her art and foster it to maturity."
~~Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way

Just a month ago, we were strangers. Now, we are soulmates. Sim and I met on the ex-Jehovah's Witness forum I belong to. I don't visit all that often, but once in a while there is a thread there that piques my interest. The discussion was about the sound use of mental suicide and how we must be aware of what we're doing when we enter into the space of questioning our egos and everything we've held to be dear about who we are and what this life means.

On that thread, a poster and I began sharing our thoughts and experiences on the subject. By day's end, we were exchanging emails and now we're planning to meet in person one day soon. Within a few exchanges it was obvious we were on the same page. We'd had parallel life experiences, often on the same timeline. The intensity of our personalities, our way of phrasing things, our dreams and our fears mirrored each other. They say everyone has a twin. Mine is named Sim and she lives in Australia.

Sim is becoming my spiritual midwife as I birth the creative projects I've held in my heart for so long. She is with me through the labor pains and I know she will be with me through the delivery. I feel her hold my hand and hear her whisper a soft "Just breathe" in my ear. She may be on the other side of the planet, but she is right beside me.

It's amazing to me how we can connect with people in a short time. How you can feel that you know someone so deeply after only a few exchanges. I have had this experience repeat over and over in the past year. The level of connection I've experienced with "strangers" has been a great gift to me. Now, some of these strangers are my dearest friends. I can't imagine life without their presence. I am blessed.

tall penguin

Crawl...

"If all you can do is crawl,
Start crawling."
~~Rumi

Having had chronic health problems of various sorts throughout my life, I have been forced to confront the idea of acceptance. It is only in recent months though that I have done this. Previously, I battled with my body, battled with my mind, fought with it to get it to do what I wanted it to or what I thought it should be able to do. And like a petulant child, it buckled down and ignored me. Until I listened to it.

All this time, my body has been teaching me about radical acceptance, about saying yes to what is, without argument, without the immediate need for it to be any different. I used to see illness as a defect. But really, it just is what it is. Like the rest of life, the body is merely a metaphor. It's only when we weave a story around it that it leads to suffering. And so, while I still experience chronic pain on a daily basis, I know that the pain is not me. It no longer defines who I am. It no longer keeps me from moving into this glorious present moment that is waiting to be lived.

Each day now, I sit with my body and hold it in my arms. The petulant child is responding well to that love. It has melted into the safe place in my heart and breathes with a new determination to live this life as best it can. I like my body. I dare say we're becoming friends.

tall penguin

Fuzzy Intruders...

So I get home from work last night, go to the kitchen to grab a drink and find this:

Yes, that's my kitchen window screen, with a rather large hole chewed through it. And what were the fuzzy intruders after? Notice the crumbs trailing to the window and gracing the corner of the chewed hole. Those are cookie crumbs. They must have smelled these sitting on my kitchen table and decided to help themselves:
I also wonder if the sweetness of alcohol drew them in. Had a party here the other night and the used glasses were still littering the table. The roomie said it's too bad there wasn't any alcohol left in the glasses, or we may have had some inebriated squirrels awaiting our arrival home. The image is just too funny to ponder. Drunken fuzzies on my kitchen table. Now that would have made a kick-ass picture!

So today I have to call the super and get my screen replaced. Meanwhile, somewhere, there are squirrels enjoying peanut butter cookies for breakfast. Fuzzy bastards.

tall penguin

New Roomie...

Remember my little gay buddy? He's the one that drags me out to the gay bar at least once a month. Well, he's now my little gay roomie. It started out as a temporary thing a few months ago but I've now invited him to officially move in with me. It's working out splendidly. Think Will & Grace meets The Odd Couple. We bicker like an old married couple and then curl up and watch movies together. It's pretty special.

Our largest bone of contention? His penchant for watching Hannah Montana at midnight. He tortures me with it. It's the most irritating background noise when I'm trying to sleep. But aside from that, it's all fun and games.

We discuss men a lot. It's nice to have someone to compare notes with. He gives me some interesting perspectives on the fairer sex. :)

Some days, I still cannot believe I'm here living this life I'm leading, whatever this life is. I remember where I was almost ten years ago, a tortured Jehovah's Witness trying to please her God. I had had a really great gay male friend at the time. Like the current roomie, we worked together. He was instrumental in helping me learn about fashion. I came to work one day in a floral frock and he called me Holly Hobbie and said we needed to buy me some new clothes. He helped me shop. A year later I was working as a sales specialist for Ralph Lauren clothing. I could never have done that without him.

Then life got ugly. I've posted about the episode I went through when I committed a "sin" as a jw, back in '99. After that I was excommunicated and shunned for a period of a year and a half while I fought my way back into the folds. During that time, I was struggling for a sense of identity and was not able to let go of my tribe. As I was trying so hard to get back into the good graces of my God, I parted ways with my gay friend. He was gracious enough to bow out of my life and I still admire him for his actions.

I was such an idiot. The irony of cutting off someone I loved while the jw's were cutting me off is something that still pains me. James, if you're out there, I'm so sorry.

And so, life has come full circle, as it often does. I'm living with a gay man, someone I consider family, and all is well. There is no one saying I can't and even if there would be, I don't give a flying fuck. And I like it.

Here is a pic of the little gay roomie and I, taken at his recent 25th birthday bash:


tall penguin

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Music of Eternity...

"And I can hear naught but the music of eternity."
--epitaph, found in a local cemetery


I took a walk through one of the most beautiful cemeteries in my city, which dates back to the late 1800's. I knew it would bring me back to the one fundamental reality of this life, the only thing each of us knows for certain: one day, we will die. And I was thinking about this week's events and the comments and the ideas and the beliefs we all carry around with us, and I looked up, thinking that if stars could, they would laugh at our daily debates, our musings and our questions.

At the entrance to the cemetery there is a very large tree with an incredibly wide trunk. I went over and stood under it. I leaned my cheek against its bark and pressed my ear to it's skin. I could hear forever. It was vast and silent, the music of eternity.

I looked up and felt the red of the leaves cast a glow down on my face. And I looked down at what I could see of the tree's roots. It is amazing to me that the tree I see goes off in both directions. Sometimes, what lies beneath the ground spreads farther than anything that reaches towards the sun.

tall penguin

Cursed is the Peacemaker...

"BE the change that you want to see in the world."
-Gandhi

After my last post, I decided to go see what was happening over at the RichardDawkins.net forums. Been a while since I posted there but saw this thread and decided to hop on. I'll probably get flamed for my thoughts but hey, they're just thoughts.

And I must say that whenever I go back, there's this squidgy feeling in my belly. It's like being in the room watching Mom and Dad fight. Can't we all just get along?

I have a hard time being on these forums. Any forums. We've been talking about these issues for eons it would seem. Are we really getting anywhere? Maybe I'm an idealist. My ideal world would be one where language is no longer considered the main form of communication, where we could learn to just be with each other without these endless debates of thoughts and ideas.

Sigh. I have to go now. Go and be with trees and flowers and other silent things that don't need labels to tell us what they are.

tall penguin

What Makes a Fundie?

A lot of readers found it ironic that in order to locate all the re-shelved Bibles during last Saturday's scavenger hunt, I entered the mindset of someone who I figured was a Christian fundamentalist. I thought, "If I were going to spread God's Word to the heathen masses, where would I put them?" So, it was a no-brainer finding Bibles re-shelved in Erotica, Alcoholic Beverages, Sexuality, War, Romance and Sci Fi.

As you know, it turned out that the culprits were not fundie Christians but some ardent Atheists who felt that the Bible needed to be relocated to areas of the store that best reflected its contents. In the end, the mind of the fundie Christian ended up mirroring the mind of the ardent Atheist. And so, I am lead to ask the obvious question: what makes a fundie a fundie?

When I first left the Jehovah's Witnesses, I spent a lot of time on discussion boards. First, an ex-jw one that became my second home. Then, as the ex spent much time on religious boards debating young earth creationists and other Bible-defenders, I ended up on those kind of boards and ultimately on the Richard Dawkins forum.

Over time it seemed to me that those on both sides of the line, ardent atheists and fundamental Christians, were more similar than different. While their beliefs were at opposite ends of the spectrum, their method of delivery was often just as vitriolic.

And so, I wonder if the fundie label is less about beliefs and more about the intention behind them as well as the manner in which said beliefs (non-beliefs included) is delivered. When I first made the gigantic leap from god-believer to non-believer I took my fundamentalist attitude with me. In the early days of this blog, I felt that I had to defend atheism, as my new-found non-faith. In my head, I found the same kind of judgment for believers that I once had for non-believers. And then, my soul went Uh-oh. I realized that I was just trading hats.

Today, I prefer to identify myself as a humanist rather than an atheist. For me, the term atheism puts me on a scale of belief that I see no need to be on. Granted, I understand that with all social evolution, there is a tendency to swing to the extremes before a balance is found. I trust that in time, the pendulum will swing back to centre, to a state of humanism, where our worth as humans is not dependent on belief systems one way or another. Because really, are any of us what we believe?

tall penguin

Sleepless in...

Runnin' on only a few hours sleep here so don't go expecting anything coherent.

Reflecting on this week's events, I am intrigued by the world wide web. How an event in my own backyard could wind up on a stranger's blog and within days a bunch more strangers have been invited into the secret corners of my mind and life.

Every now and then I go back through the posts I've made here. I like to read them as if I was a new visitor, coming to this blog for the first time. And I wonder about the perceptions people have of me, who they think the tall penguin is. Even going through a year and a half of my own writing, I can't say I'm any closer to knowing who I am. Rather, I can't say that any of my writing comes close to saying who I am.

This is what has always frustrated me about language. It feels like a noose by which we inevitably hang ourselves. People point to our words to define us, put us into a box and then judge us. You do it. I do it. It's the human condition.

As much as I talk here, in my daily existence, I am often at a loss for words. There is so much going on in my head at any given moment, that to let you in on it, would be overwhelming for both of us. It's why I value moments of silence so very much. To be able to be in someone else's presence and just be still with them is one of the greatest gifts I can share with another human being.

If you no longer had words, what would you say?

tall (and incredibly exhausted) penguin

Yet Another Scene from the Dancefloor...

Tonight. The college bar I've been frequenting in recent months. On the dancefloor with my girls and random dancer-boy slides up behind my friend. And then his friend slides up in front of me. We dance for a bit and then he introduces himself. I still hate small talk on the dancefloor. We're drunk. It's loud. Who cares? Just dance.

But I play along. For now. I give him my bar name, which is a shortened version of my actual name. He shakes my hand. Seems pretty gentlemanly.

And then, more questions. Sigh. Please just dance.

"Do you have a boyfriend?" he asks.

"No," I reply. At that point I should've just said yes. What would he have done then?

A broad smile spreads across his face. "Well you do now."

Woah there. I've known you for all of three minutes. Timbaland's just gettin' started and you're already claimin' possession? Uh-uh.

"Umm...no thanks. Not interested in a boyfriend."

"Why?" He's seriously perplexed. Perhaps it's a cultural thing. He's from out of town, like way out of town and maybe he's used to things moving along at this fast of a pace. But this penguin don't play dat way.

"Because I'm really enjoying being single," I reply. Nuff said. He looks dismayed. Fortunately, my girlfriend motions that it's time to visit the loo. We narrowly escape.

When we emerge from the ladies' room, we grab another drink and I begin looking around for this hot number I noticed on the way in. I spot him slowly wallflowering his way onto the dance floor. Why does it take some guys way too many drinks to get the nerve up to dance? I sally up to him and we start groovin'. Damn. Good dancer. Damn. Very drunk. In the first five minutes of dancing, he introduces himself four times!

The beat gets stronger. Our bodies fit together pretty well. I'm in the zone here. I close my eyes and drift off somewhere warm. Yum.

He reveals his age. 24. He guesses me at 22. Sure. Whatever you say. Why argue with a cute drunk boy? Through the course of our grinding (which he's really good at) he begins to sober up. He is now able to remember my name without my repeating it. Progress.

Now, I'm having a good enough time. He's hot. He can dance. Oh, and he can kiss. Really kiss. And then...it goes to hell in a hay-basket.

He says, sheepish grin on his face, "So my Mom's out of the country for the next three weeks. You should come back to my place."

I've never done such a thing and as tempting as it would be to spend the night at college boy's house while Mommy is away, I'm acutely aware of the vast ocean between us. Physical attraction aside, what the hell would I do with a 24-year-old?

I left the bar alone, but I did take his number. We'll see if he can carry on a conversation sober. Hey, I've got three weeks right?

tall (and very naughty) penguin

Friday, May 23, 2008

Maybe?

I took a blog-writing hiatus during the month of April to be with life. I needed a little privacy and the time to get some other writing done, writing just for me. But there was some stuff I wrote that I'd like to share. Here's a piece from the archive:

April 20, 2008

17 years ago when I graduated from High School, I was offered University scholarships. I pretty much had my pick of the litter. Instead of pursuing a “higher education” (as the jw's refer to it) I got sick. The diagnosis was Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia. I have lead myself to believe that this stemmed from the stress of my perfectionism, handling an abusive relationship with my first boyfriend, the stresses of being a good little Jehovah’s Witness girl and the model daughter. And yes, I believe all were factors, but if I’m willing to look a little deeper, to open myself to a truly honest estimation of what happened, I think the answer may be much more simple than that.

I had so many questions as a teen. Normal questions about life and meaning. But there were also the deeper questions I did not even know I was asking, about truth. Having been raised with such a narrow view of the world, I could not even allow myself to question my questions, to delve any deeper than the surface of a search for love, a search for self. After all, my religion taught me that I had “the truth”, what more was there?

My mother tells a story with great pride of my third grade year when my teacher came and asked that I be permitted to be tested for the gifted program. This would have meant being streamed into another school with special gifted classes and a peer group to match my own strengths. My mother gave a firm no to the request stating that she didn’t want me to be seen as different. This from a woman who decided three years earlier to convert the family into a cult. My mother, never without a sense of irony. But, I digress.

My teacher said, “It’s very likely (tall penguin) will become bored in this setting.”

“You’re her teacher. It’s your job to keep her busy,” was my mother’s answer, and when she tells this part of the story, there’s this glint of power in her eyes that would make Pol Pot squirm.

And so, busy I was kept. I remember being the first one finished assignments and tests. I would wander up to the teacher’s desk, hand her my assignment and ask if there was anything else for me to do. Invariably, I would be given busy work like marking class tests, changing bulletin boards or, I’d be sent down to the main office to collate newsletters and help the secretary with some odd jobs. Funny that I spent most of my subsequent years playing teacher or tutor in some form or fashion. We become what we’ve been taught to become; perhaps just as often by the seemingly insignificant interactions of life as the traumatic.

I enjoyed the busy work. It made me feel special. If I wasn’t already a people pleaser, the way was paved in these early years to derive my sense of enjoyment, not from my school work, but from what others thought of me. Somewhere between the perfect test scores and the putting up of blue corrugated paper for the Spring bulletin board, the stage was set. And the band played on.

By the time I reached high school, the stakes had risen. Unbeknownst to me, high school gave out awards for year-end academic standing. At the end of Grade Nine, I was given 7 awards, the most anyone had received that year. On ceremony night, I crossed the stage so many times I felt like Michael Jackson at the Grammys. I was a legend. And I knew it.

From Grade 10 to graduation I fought for those awards, for my reputation. I derived very little satisfaction from the work I did. I was doing it for the accolades, the recognition. What I thought of myself mattered little compared to what others thought of me. I was competitive. I was tenacious. And I was becoming increasingly exhausted.

I don’t know when the moment happened or if it was a moment. Sometime it’s a series of moments before you wake up and ask, “What the fuck am I doing here?” Most people have a midlife crisis at 40, I had mine at 15. I was having daily panic attacks. I got a doctor’s note stating I could leave class whenever I liked and get some air or go home or do whatever I needed to do. I could basically come and go as I pleased. It was the autonomy I believe my soul was craving and maybe this was the only way it knew how to get it.

Classes were long. The assignments were tedious. I spent most of my classes doodling. My notebooks from that time are filled with sketches and random jots. I remember the slump of my body over my too-small desk. I remember fluorescent lights and the smell of too many bodies in too small a room.

The esteem of my colleagues, my teachers, was beginning to lose its appeal. Who were these people and why did what they think of me matter? In my journals then, I would write about the education system and how much it had failed to nurture human beings, that our worth had become gauged by what we did, not who we were. I had lost myself in the shuffle of overachieving, or underachieving, if you will. The reality was nothing I was studying was sparking my soul or honoring my questions. The only light in that dark tunnel were my Enriched English classes where I could at least find a voice for my creativity, for my thirst for meaning.

In all of the mess that was my teens, I managed to graduate with a 91% average. In my High School graduation picture, my gown sleeve is caught on my jacket to reveal my newly acquired Medic Alert bracelet. My new identity as sick person was firmly established. That little gifted Grade Three student had been replaced with an 80 year-old woman. Life would become her University. And challenge her it did.

Seventeen years later, my life has come full circle. I have extricated myself from the cult I was raised in. I have come through marriage, divorce, illness of various sorts, therapies of various sorts, car accidents, business, bankruptcy, heartbreak, grief, anger, and the longing for death. And right now, all I can say is, maybe I was just bored.

tall penguin

In Honor of a Fellow Penguin...

I wanted to give a shout-out to a new reader, Skip Evans, whose emails over the past few days have prompted some of the posts I've made. His company Big Sky Penguin builds PHP/MySQL & AJAX powered web sites; which means little to this web-dev illiterate, but he has a Beanie Baby penguin atop his office stereo, so that makes him pretty cool in my books. Skip is also a produced playwright and has been a great source of encouragement in this writing journey I'm on.

Thanks also to matt and mike for their questions, banter and well wishes. And to all my new readers, thanks for stopping by.

tall penguin

Needs...

If you've been reading the ongoing journey of this penguin into all things once forbidden, you know that the world of casual sex is still fairly new to me. But it's becoming old pretty fast.

Now, I'm not seasoned by any means, but I'm noticing something emerging here that I would think is probably pretty common. In a deep analysis (is there any other kind?) of my motivations for certain trysts, I'm realizing that my need for touch sometimes clouds my rational thinking. I seek out a fuck, when really, I should just go get a massage.

So, word to my roomie and friends, seeing as my birthday is coming round in a few weeks, I think a spa gift certificate would be welcome. Nugde, nudge, wink, wink.

tall penguin

Grampy...

Someone commented on my blog that I'm a great storyteller. Funny that, because I always wanted to be a great storyteller. I grew up watching my maternal grandfather weave a good yarn. He would tell the same stories over and over, each time growing them a little more. Strangely, I don't remember the details of any of his stories, but I can still picture him gesticulating wildly and hear his animated voice in my head.

I think about what he could have done if he was able to write. My grandfather was illiterate. Couldn't read. Couldn't write. The only thing he'd learned to pen was his signature for signing cheques. And after the stroke, he was reduced to signing with an "x". I watched him struggle one day with this. It took, what seemed hours, to create those two lines.

I wonder what he could have created if he'd been able to write down his thoughts. He ended up an alcoholic later in life and I can't help but entertain the idea that it was his frustrated creativity that slowly drove him to drink. How does one release all that energy if he can't read or write? I can only imagine his frustration.

He was a passionate man, to say the least. He often put curses on people. Curses, my mother says, came true every time. She shudders each time she tells me about that. Maybe she became a jw to hide from his curses. It's as good a reason as any I can think of.

Grampy died back in 1988. I was 13 at the time. I watched the man disintegrate in the years before his death. After the stroke, he lost his speech and you could see the stories sitting behind his eyes. In hindsight, I wish I had written them down. It's sad when stories are lost forever.

tall penguin

My First Vote...

I didn't write about this when it happened. Seemed like a non-event at the time, but I was just discussing it with a new reader and so I thought I'd share the experience here now.

Jehovah's Witnesses don't vote. They believe strongly in the separation of Church and State. And since their allegiance is to God's government, they will not divert that loyalty to any "worldy" institution through voting. So, my whole adult life I'd never voted. Until this past Fall.

I decided at the last minute to vote. I hadn't followed much of the political happenings because frankly, politics doesn't interest me. But I knew enough about the candidates to make a choice and I figured I would vote, because I could.

I had previously received my voting notice but had chucked it into the garbage, figuring I wouldn't be using it. So when election night rolled around, I had no idea where I was supposed to go. I toured my neighbourhood in the pouring rain, stopped at three different polling stations before I found the one I was assigned to.

I, full of smiles and sunshine, walked up to the surly volunteer declaring that I was there to vote. And then I added, "And it's my first time. Can you show me what I have to do?"

He scowls, "You've never voted before?" I could see his face wrinkle up in judgment.

"Nope. It's a long story," I replied. Didn't think my lifelong journey through a cult was appropriate small talk for this venue.

He showed me the card, told me there were boxes enclosed to check off, gave me a pencil and shuffled me off to a polling booth.

The process took me all of 10 seconds. I put my card in the box and drifted back out into the rainy night. Another "been there, done that" added to the list.

tall penguin

The Animal in You...

Enough people ask me about my online persona name "tall penguin" that I think it's high time I wrote a post explaining where it comes from.

Many years ago I bought a book entitled Animal Attraction. It was a fun personality test that linked your personality traits to a specific animal. I carted it around to parties, to work, wherever I went and quizzed everyone I knew to find out what animal they were. You can take the test for yourself here.

Obviously I'm a "penguin" type. And well, I'm pretty tall. So, "tall penguin" became a nickname. I bought the domain name knowing I'd do something with it one day. At one point, it was a creative gathering point for a bunch of jw artists to share their work. As I was making the break from the group, that came down and the land lay fallow for awhile. In December of 2006, I launched this blog and it's become tall penguin's world of self-discovery ever since.

What is a "penguin" type like you ask? According to the personality test creator, Roy Feinson, this is the penguin personality:


"Now you see it, now you don't. Aggressive yet gentle, outgoing but shy, stable yet flighty -- everyone sees the penguin in a different way. It's that black and white thing -- the penguin only reveals the side that it wants to you to see. So, whether you like this darling-devil or not, you have to concede that it's a fascinating and enigmatic individual.

For penguins are birds condemned to live out their days on the ground. Unable to fly, their excess energy has no outlet save their creative talents and emotional outbursts. Penguins are poetic, artistic, and intellectually gifted, and as writers, penguins have no equal. But, if unable to channel their impulses in a positive way, the resulting turmoil proves damaging to their relationships and careers.

With a natural aptitude for languages, penguin personalities dominate the world of publishing as writers, editors and journalists. A strong sense of drama draws them to the theater and cinema, although unlike typical bird personalities, they avoid the spotlight unless they're able to hide behind the characters they play. Once on stage however, they prove to be excellent performers with their multifaceted personalities conveying the full gamut of emotions.

However, a lack of confidence affects their work and penguins tend to give up too easily. So work never dominates their lives and they always put their families first. Those intimate with their penguin personality are impressed by their unswerving loyalty. They are sentimental at heart and always remember anniversaries and the birthdays of nieces and nephews. With a strong compassion for others, they place their family's needs ahead of their own but often end up being taken advantage of.

In matters of the heart, penguins connect poorly with other bird personalities who look down on them because of their terrestrial connections. Mammalian personalities also treat them with suspicion too, finding them to be flighty and unpredictable.

Since penguins have the coldest feet in the animal kingdom, it's no surprise that within its conflicted bosom there beats the warmest heart of all. Unfortunately, most of us will never experience this gentle compassion, for penguins ration their love only to family and close friends."

Yes, the ever-conflicted penguin. A flightless bird. Story of my life. But a dear jw friend lightened my heart one day when she said, "Penguins fly. They just fly in liquid sky."

So, there you have it. Everything you did and didn't want to know about my screen name. My favourite part of being a penguin? "Within it's conflicted bosom there beats the warmest heart of all." And so it is.

tall penguin

edited to add: The link for the test appears to be broken. I hope that's a temporary thing. The book is worth getting even if just for party laughs. Creates endless conversation. There's always one snake in the room who gets ribbed the rest of the night. :)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Kellogg's

This woman approaches me today at the bookstore. Older woman, a little haggard, carrying a couple of bags. She looks distraught.

"May I help you?" I ask.

"Do you have any Kellogg's cereal?" She asks.

I look around. I'm still waiting for the Candid Camera people to jump out of the sidelines of my life and make some sense of my bizarre existence. No such luck.

"Umm...no ma'am, we sell books here. This is a bookstore." I respond.

"Yes, I know, but I thought maybe you would sell cereal."

"No, we don't sell cereal. I'm sorry. There is a grocery store downstairs though."

She huffs a bit, "I was already there. They're out of Kellogg's."

I then suggest some other area stores where she might be able to find the cereal she's looking for.

"You're sure you don't sell any cereal?" She asks one more time just to be sure.

At that point, I realize how much of her day probably revolves around said cereal and wish I could just magically produce some. Perhaps this one change to her routine will cause her great mental angst. Her furrowed brow was already showing signs of future distress. She seemed lucid enough, just genuinely in need of some Kellogg's.

And I wonder about the small things in our life that we use to get through our day. What would happen to you if you showed up at your local Starbuck's on the way to work only to find them out of coffee? And what if you didn't have time to go anywhere else to get coffee that morning? How would your day unfold if you didn't get what you wanted to get?

I'm sure this woman's need for Kellogg's seems silly, but to her it was a very real, very dire situation. Perhaps she is mentally ill. Perhaps she is lonely. Perhaps she is just wanting to keep her sanity through the daily rituals she has put in place. Not so different than many of us I would presume.

tall penguin

I Heart Indy...


I just got in from seeing Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. And all I can say is DAMN! Harrison Ford is still all that in my books. The man's 66 and still did his own stunts.

It starts a bit rough (and there's a twinge of fear that Lucas is gonna go all Jar Jar on the script) but it comes through and in the end, delivers a wild ride. Very pleased.

tall penguin

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Trunk Shark

As promised here, I have unearthed the story of Trunk Shark.

Trunk Shark
June 1, 2004

I currently live in a small condominium with about 8 units for the whole building. It’s a very quiet place were everyone keeps to themselves and just goes about their daily business. Much to my dismay there are no actual children in this building, yet I substitute once in a while.

One day I came across a rather interesting find in my building’s garbage room. Over towards the concrete wall, lying across the lawn mower, was a stuffed toy shark. And I’m not talking about a small, cutesy shark. I’m talking about a 4-foot, real-to-life looking shark with snarling teeth, fins and a tail. My first thought was, “Who would throw away this perfectly good shark?” My second thought: “This shark needs a home.”

I put away my garbage, gingerly scooped up the shark into my arms so as not to incur its wrath, and returned to my suite, hoping that I wouldn’t meet any of my neighbours in the hall on the way up. I mean how do you explain a grown woman carrying a 4-foot long toy shark in her arms like it was a newborn. There’s just no explanation that would suffice. And the other scenario I was hoping to avoid, which would have been worse in my books, was to come across the previous owner of said shark and have an emotional scene where he realizes the error of his ways and wants the shark back. Uh-uh, this shark was mine. I made a quick dash up the stairs and fortunately, no one crossed our path.

Once arriving home with my new roommate, I laid him on the couch and thought about where he may have come from. There was someone in the building with a son who visited on weekends. Perhaps it was his and he’d “outgrown” the shark. How anyone could possibly “outgrow” this shark was beyond my understanding, but there it was. Regardless of how he came to be in the garbage room, the “finder, keepers” rule applied and I was glad to have him.

Later that day, my Mother came to visit. Now let me explain a few things about my mother. First of all, although she’s a very wonderful woman and I love her dearly, she doesn’t have much tolerance for what’s perceived as “silliness” which this whole shark thing would soon be categorized as. Secondly, she’s a bit germ-phobic. Growing up our house was always immaculately clean and it’s still that way. Not mausoleum clean but definitely hospital clean. And she’s the reason I, to this day, hate doing dishes, because according to her there was only one way to do them and any deviance would have been considered blasphemy. So, I wasn’t surprised at her reaction to my story about my newly acquired shark.

“You don’t know where that shark has been!” My mother exclaimed.

I immediately had flashes of my shark stumbling in the back alleys behind some London pub cavorting with shady octopi and questionable clownfish. I laughed at the image. My mother though was not amused. She went into a diatribe about germs and bacteria and dust mites and all such creatures of tiny proportions, hoping I’d return the shark to the garbage room where she felt he belonged. Of course, you know there was no way that was going to happen. The shark and I had bonded and that was that.

If my mother was ever going to visit me again though, I knew that the shark would have to be relocated. But where to? If I brought him to the office, the kids would adopt him and then I’d never get him back. (I may be an adult but there are some things that I don’t like to share—unique stuffed animals are included in this group.) And I didn’t have some posh summer home to set my shark up in. There was only one other option. He’d have to live in the trunk of my car.

So I cleared some space in my trunk for my 4-foot long aquatic friend and he’s been living there ever since. Fondly known as “Trunk Shark” he’s been on many journeys with me and occasionally he’s let out to attend parties, usually those with an “Under the Sea” theme. He is always a surprise to anyone who helps me pack my groceries in my trunk. I do warn them. “Mind the shark,” I say. But no one gets it until it’s too late. He’s a good shark though. No fatalities…yet.

tall penguin

So, what next?

My recent fifteen minutes of fame has got me thinking about my book again. You know, THE BOOK I keep talking about writing. About me. About my life. Well, all of you new readers and your comments and your private emails to me have inspired me deeply. I see a real need here. More than ever I see that this penguin's journey from God believer to humanist is a journey that needs to be shared.

In previous posts (here, here and here) I talked about reading Harris' The End of Faith and Dawkin's The God Delusion and how I felt that perhaps atheists were asking too much of believers, or rather that they didn't seem to understand the turmoil that one enters when abandoning long-held beliefs, whatever they may be. But particularly belief in a God and the surrounding structure of religion and its community. For those of us raised in cults or high-control religious groups, the leap into rational thinking is a leap into the great unknown, a darkness so vast it threatens everything you've come to believe not only about the universe, but about yourself and your place in it. It catapulted me into a long, dark tunnel of depression--one which I thought I would never emerge from. Sadly, many ex-jws commit suicide before they reach the other side. The losses, the change, the reality of life are just too much.

So, what if I wrote my book about the experience of leaving, what it meant to leave, how it changed me, what it took every day to confront every belief I held dear for so long. A book about facing your own mortality once the eternal life carrot has been wrought from your hands; about losing your social network because of cult-enforced shunning; about living every day with the feeling that you're a stranger to a strange land. Would people read this book?

And then there is the fear. To write such a book (although let's be honest here, so much of it is written on this blog and in my journals and in the secret world behind every tear I've shed over the past 3 years) would mean the very real possibility of finally alienating my still-jw parents. They have not yet taken the hardline with the shunning practice. In that, I am one of the lucky ones. But it is very possible that if I write this book, it will confirm once and for all that I am an "apostate" and the pressure will be great on my parents to cut off contact with me completely.

So here I am, at yet another crossroads in my life. Tough choices once again. But really, is there any other choice? When I finally saw the man behind the curtain 3 years ago, there was no other choice but to leave the faith I'd been raised with. I could no longer live a lie. There was no going back. The reality: Kansas is no longer on the map, there's no ruby slippers and there really is no place like home; in fact, there's no home at all.

So, what next?

tall penguin

Co-inky-dink...

I have a fascination with coincidences. I think we all do. Random chance events lend a seemingly mystic quality to our lives. While I don't subscribe to placing elaborate meaning on coincidences I do notice them when they happen and they make me smile, if for no other reason than how utterly random things can be.

Case in point: this past Saturday (yes, the same day as what will come to be known as Bible Re-shelving Day...which incidentally, or coincidentally, was not a day I was supposed to be working...I don't usually work Saturdays) I woke with thoughts of people from my past life as a jw. I often think of the friends I left behind. But this was different. Into my brain popped one of the elders from my earliest jw congregation, a man I haven't seen in over a decade and have barely thought about. I remembered that he was an adult convert and that he was a pretty decent guy. I wondered about where he was now and how he was doing.

So, later Saturday night, after all the Bibles had been safely returned to their nesting place, I'm walking the floor and who comes strolling up the escalator? This elder. At first I do a double-take because I'm really stunned. Then, when I realize it is indeed him; same face, just a lot more grey hair, I smile. I'm tempted to say something, ask him how he is, what he's doing now. Really I just want to ask him if he's still in the cult. But I don't. No matter how much distance I get from the whole jw experience there is still the glaring realization that anyone still a jw will shun me once they find out I'm no longer one of them. And I know that inevitably the conversation will roll around to that.

So, what can I say? I'm a coward who doesn't feel like getting rejected in the middle of her workday. So, I said nothing.

Now, the rational part of me realizes that I think of lots of people each day and they don't all turn up at my workplace. If they did, I'd be spending a lot less time thinking of the ex and a lot more time thinking about Harrison Ford. But the intuitive parts of myself really wonder about this kind of stuff. I mean, what are the odds of him appearing on my life's stage on the same day I thought of him, in a city of over 4 million people, on a night I wasn't supposed to be working? Oh well, it is what it is.

tall penguin

Aftermath...

My manager is slowly being able to laugh at this whole fiasco. It's become the talk of the store as we continue to find Bibles out of section. I found a few weaved into "New Age" today.

Now I'm beginning to wonder about the odd single Bible that goes MIA pretty regularly. Maybe it's not always theft. Maybe they've just been "re-shelved" by customers with their own agenda. It's a pretty large bookstore and you could conceivably slip a title into the wrong section and it could go unnoticed for a few days. Eventually though, it would be found and returned to its "proper" place.

Things that make ya go hmmm...

tall penguin

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Bible--Most Stolen Book?

A reader just emailed me asking about my comment on The Bible being the most stolen book. In my bookstore experience, this is true. We have copies go MIA every week. Not sure if there's any hard data to back it up, but it's a well-discussed anomaly in the book industry.

Why could this be the case? Lots of people read it or want to, and perhaps they feel justified in stealing something they think should be accessible to everyone for free. Just a guess.

Other books that go missing quite regularly where I work? Anything by Kurt Vonnegut. And most of the fiction classics. Methinks many High School students either can't afford to buy them for essays or have lost their library's copy and need to replace it.

And yes, the irony of a Bible reader stealing their own copy is not lost on me. Ten Commandments begone.

tall penguin

Re-shelved...

So, that bookstore prank I blogged about over the weekend has gotten some attention. Apparently the pranksters claimed responsibility by sending a photo of their handiwork to science blogger, PZ Myers, over at his blog, "Pharyngula".

Seems the culprits were fundies of a different sort--atheists who thought relocating a bunch of Bibles and leaving behind a copy of Sam Harris' "Letter to a Christian Nation" (which was gone by the time I got there), was a testament to atheism everywhere. Interesting intention. Not so crazy about the delivery. But hey, I was one of those people that knocked on your doors on a Saturday morning peddling religion, so who am I to judge?

This has all worked out well for me though. My blog has never seen so much traffic! My thanks to PZ, the pranksters and anon (or shall I say "tabularasa"?).

Well, I'm off to the bookstore. You all now know where I work, so if you're ever in Toronto, stop by and say hello. I'm the tall penguin. Oh ya, you know that now don't you?

tall penguin

Monday, May 19, 2008

Into the fire...

My brother and I have these conversations about how to properly dispose of the items associated with past relationships. His way, and it seems to be the way of many males I've spoken to, has been to gather up all old letters and photos and have a giant bonfire. I struggle with this idea. For a few reasons.

First of all, I'm not a fan of fire, although I've made greater peace with it in recent years. I grew up quite pyrophobic. Thanks to pyromaniac boyfriends though, I've been slowly initiated into the realm of fire-lovers, or at least fire-admirers.

Secondly, is it entirely necessary to obliterate all outward signs of a past relationship? In my experience, you can burn up all the old mementos you like; the experiences you share with people in relationship do not disappear so easily.

A few months back I went through and deleted a ton of email/msn correspondence and photos off my computer from past relationships, both romantic ones and friendships from the jw life I no longer have. It was cathartic. But really, the memories remain.

I am thinking about a summer bonfire for the more tangible leftovers. Perhaps it will be a symbol of release of the past into the great wide ether. Or, at least, a foundation for roasted marshmallows.

tall penguin

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Spreadin' the Word...

In my bookstore job, I walk the floor for hours, helping customers find books. As I walk through my department I tidy up the shelves and clean up the messes the dear customers leave behind. As I was walking through the Religion department late yesterday afternoon, I noticed that two whole shelves of Bibles were missing. I immediately called my manager to see if perhaps they'd been moved or someone was working on this; unlikely considering it was a Saturday and we do nothing but sell on a Saturday. He said that it seemed likely they were stolen.

Loss Prevention was alerted and the three of us surveyed the empty shelves, wondering how someone could walk off with 40 bibles without our noticing. We each went back to our respective jobs, feeling a little dismayed that this theft had happened. And Bibles even. Granted, it is the most stolen book.

So, I'm walking through the Cooking department, and there on the shelf where the books on cocktails and alcoholic beverages are, are 3 Bibles. I smile. I tell loss prevention and the scavenger hunt begins. I put on my fundie thinking cap and set out to all the areas in the store that a Bible-thumper would think were in need of the Good Word. And sure enough, there they were. Bibles were found in Sexuality, Erotica, the Teen section, War and Sci Fi/Fantasy.

My manager was happy that we'd recovered the merchandise but was understandably a little peeved at someone's thinking that they were doing a good thing. Whether this was a fundie Christian or just someone out to play a little game, we'll never know. But it made for a very interesting night.

Edited to add:
PZ Myers' cover of this story over at Pharyngula
The pranksters side of the story

tall penguin

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Vicarious Pleasure...

I have recently had a number of people tell me that they live vicariously through me. Apparently, my stories of life, both those shared here publicly as well as those I share privately, thrill people in a way that they are quite enjoying. It's funny to me because I never thought I'd have a life that other people would envy. I never imagined leading the life I'm leading. I'm not even sure what this life I'm leading is. Most days, I feel like it's leading me. I just show up and go along for the ride.

Sometimes, I think I am living vicariously through myself as well. That there is still this other version of myself that stands in awe of what the tall penguin experiences each day. It's a very cool thing to be the watcher and the watched all at the same time.

tall penguin

Self-love

“Don't knock masturbation; it's sex with someone I love.”
~~ Woody Allen


In a previous post, I spoke of my first experience with masturbation at the age of 25. As a Jehovah’s Witness, masturbation was forbidden. And as a good little jw, I abstained, until I met that suicidal darkness that drew me into a state of “what if”. As I blogged, this experience changed me forever. I believe it was a pivotal turning point in my relationship with the cult, in my relationship with myself.

And I get to thinking about the world we live in and how many people are walking the planet with these fundamental religionist ideas that don’t allow for self-pleasure. And I wonder how much energy is being consumed suppressing this most natural desire. I would suspect that many of the religious zealots are indeed masturbating in secret, but without a sense of freedom and self-love, their actions can only be tainted with guilt and self-deprecation. I know these plagued me for years as a masturbating jw and caused me much cognitive dissonance, attempting to understand how God could make my body with such a capacity for pleasure and not want me to enjoy it.

Masturbation has become, not just a tool for release, but a tool for self-exploration, an inner leap into my own soul, into who I’ve taken myself to be all these years and what it is that brings me joy. Masturbation, and by extension, sex with a partner, have become these glimpses into what it means to be human; what it means to feel, to sense, to experience, to love.

I think of all the energy I used most of my life suppressing this most basic of desires. No wonder I was so damn tired all the time. And I wonder how this raw sexual energy gets transferred onto other things for the fundamentalist thinker. Is the suicide bomber just in need of a really good self-loving session? Is his suppression of his most base desires being projected onto the world at large? Is the penitent churchgoer’s disconnect from herself, from her deepest core, keeping her not only from loving herself, but from knowing the love of others that she secretly wants the most?

I don’t know. But I wonder.

tall penguin

tall penguin meets Mr. Rhino...

I went to the opera tonight. Saw Rossini's "The Barber of Seville". Loved it, but couldn't stop the old Bugs Bunny cartoon from running alongside the performance. Made me laugh out loud at times that probably weren't appropriate.

Anyhow, afterwards my friends and I went for sushi. Our usual haunt was closed, (who closes at 11pm on a Friday night?!) so we went across the street to somewhere new. I'm all about the atmosphere of a restaurant and prefer low-key as much as possible. All the usual signs of being a sushi bar were in place: large Sapporo blow-up, posing Geisha with fan, and random fish figurines. And then, there is a rhino.

Perched on one of the ledges just to the right of the cash register there is a plastic rhino. So, of course, I am both confused and intrigued. What is a rhino doing in a sushi bar? Since when did African mammals infiltrate the world of Japanese cuisine?

At the end of the meal, my friend decides to ask the restaurant owner what the deal is with the rhino. I'm all ears. Apparently, a customer left it behind one day and it's been perched there ever since. Not sure if this was a sin of omission or commission. Did some child drop ole Rhiney off the side of his stroller? Is he out there now crying himself to sleep in the hopes of Rhino's safe return? Or was this someone's idea of fun--placing an obviously out-of-place creature into the decor? I'll never know.

Owner man sees my clear interest in the rhino and says, "Do you want it?"

"Hell ya," I say, without hesitation. So he walks over, removes Mr. Rhino from his perch and gingerly slides him into my awaiting palm. And so it was that tall penguin met Mr. Rhino.

Mr. Rhino will join tall penguin on many adventures. Being purse-sized, he will be my traveling companion, much like Trunk Shark was back in my VW-driving days. What? You don't know about Trunk Shark? How could we get this far into our relationship without your hearing of Trunk Shark? Well then, I'll be diggin' through the archives and I'll pull that story for ya. Stay tuned.

tall penguin

Friday, May 16, 2008

Wallpaper...

I remember wallpaper. The wallpaper that lined the walls of my childhood home is etched into my memory like wrinkles on the face of time.

One of my earliest memories is at age 5. I wander into my parents room to find my mother sprawled across the bed, crying into her pillow. The air is heavy. The walls are covered with white wallpaper smattered with red velvet fountain-like images. They look like Rorschach blots made in blood. I am filled with a sense of helplessness. Or is it hopelessness? Is there a difference?

My brother's room has wallpaper with beige geometric patterns on it. I love lying across his bed staring into the patterns, letting them wrap around me. I am filled with wonder.

The hallway and living room is papered with trees. Painted birch trees on a white paper background. I am filled with peace.

I'm 8, sitting at the kitchen table. It must be close to 9 pm. I've been sitting there for hours with a plate of Salisbury Steak in front of me. It's cold now. I am alone staring at the walls; geometric patterns in 70's green and brown. My mother says I can't leave the table until I finish every last bite. I learn about the gag reflex. I am filled with rage.

I don't remember the bathroom wallpaper; maybe there wasn't any. But I do remember the shower curtain. Deep fuchsia pink with green fleur-de-lis blooms. Heavy plastic. Had a bit of a sheen to it. I pull it across as I'm playing in the tub. It gives the water a pink tinge. I imagine I'm on a private lagoon. I am filled with quiet.

My room. White paper with one idyllic scene repeated: a girl on a swing under a tree. She looks happy. I always wanted to be that girl.

tall penguin

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Invitation...

I can't believe I've never posted this here. It's been on my fridge for years and is still one of my favourite pieces.

The Invitation
by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for
and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon...
I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,
“Yes.”

It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like the company you keep
in the empty moments.

Down and In...

Over the past few months of great transformation and a settling into my own skin, I have reached a place of awakening. I have attempted to find the words for my experience, but most of what I've read has been from a male perspective of enlightenment. Teachers like Tolle and the Buddha have their brand of awakening, but I was hard pressed to find women teachers I could relate to. I came across something today that has finally given me some words for my experience.

The article entitled "The Feminine Face of Awakening" , by Rita Marie Robinson, M.A., makes these comments:

"The feminine is characterized by a natural movement towards down-and-in, in contrast to the masculine orientation of up-and-out. The masculine movement could be called transcendence; the feminine, embodiment. I want to emphasize that this distinction is not about men and women because there are notable male teachers like Adyashanti who embrace the feminine movement of embodiment, and female teachers who lean towards transcendence. But in general, I have found that women teachers have a natural understanding of the human journey. They are not afraid to talk about divorce, sex, illness, fear, anger, all the ups-and-downs of ordinary life."

YES!!! It dawned on me a few weeks ago that my experience of going "down and in" was perfectly natural for me. This concept of embodiment resonates so deeply. I like going deep into my feelings, into my sensations, into all the muck that resides in my soul. The awakening is the beauty of being able to embody and also to transcend; to be able to get down into the muck and detach from the muck all at the same time. To be one with all that is, without being defined by all that is. Language, finally language. I've been waiting a very long time to be able to express this in words. Wow. Very wow.

The article then goes on to share the experiences of various women and their sense of awakening.

"Sharon sees no separation between the spiritual and the mundane. “How does it work as you’re doing dishes, being with a friend, driving, as you’re cleaning your house? It’s the Mystery, the revealing, the liberation, the love—all of that is totally present in the most ordinary events.”"

I recall reading so many books by self-help gurus and spiritual teachers, as well as attending workshops in the past with different people seeking self, seeking enlightenment and wondering where the humanity was in everything. How did these people practice their mantras on a daily basis? Had it made them better people? Often they seemed like cardboard cutouts, parroting the latest teachings of someone else. What did they think? Who were they really? Didn't they get depressed, angry, jealous, fearful? How did they deal with that? I wondered.

I didn't want to be like those people. I still don't. I don't want to be anyone's disciple. I don't want to be anyone's teacher. I just want to be me, being me. If you want to come hang out with me being me, that's cool. Just be you being you with me being me and it'll all be good. :)

And then there's this incredible example of awakening in the face of illness. I had once thought that as long as I was still ill physically, as long as there was still pain in this body, that there was still junk in me that needed to be fixed. We have these concepts of enlightenment and awakening and what that's supposed to look like, just like we have these ideas of what life is supposed to look like. We make these unspoken demands of life and of ourselves and we wonder why we're miserable.

"Dorothy Hunt (who was also asked by Adyashanti to teach) described her experience as she faced the fact that she had breast cancer. “We apparently want a human experience, right? We often say we are humans looking for the divine, but the divine is here having a human experience, not just for the good part but the whole of it.” As she lay waiting for the surgery to begin, she described how there was no fear, just a complete curiosity. “This is the Mystery having a human experience and everything is OK and everything is present.” Afterwards, when it’s time for her check-ups, she explains “that there is anxiety at times waiting for results of the tests, but the freedom is in not wanting the anxiety to be different.”"

Yes, yes and yes again. The great mystery that is life is always unfolding, doing its life thing. This is the human experience. Why try to be anything but a human having a human experience? Why not surrender to the beauty of the human experience as it is? It's crazy, ugly and entirely beautiful. How can we be anything other than what we are? So simple. Why'd it take me so damn long to figure it out?! :)

These are women having a woman's experience of awakening, enlightenment or whatever you want to call it. These are real women. Women who feel anger and anxiety and joy and bliss; who make love and care for their kids and careers and live life. These are not some far-removed yogis sitting in caves. I can relate to these women. I am these women. And dammit, it's pretty fucking cool.

tall penguin

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Beneath...

"Don't turn away.
Keep your gaze on the bandaged place.
That's where the light enters you."

~~Rumi

As a young child I had a fascination with my wounds. I was always curious to know what was going on under the bandaid. I would often take peeks to see the healing taking place. My curiosity later turned into a strange form of self-mutilation where I'd pick off scabs long before they were healed to see if they were "done" yet. I've blogged about this here.

In my ongoing acceptance of myself, I no longer rip off the scab to see if it's healed. I trust that whatever is taking place under the cosmic bandaid is necessary and that when it's ready, the new will emerge.

Almost a year ago, unbeknownst to me at the time, I was about to enter what would become the deepest, darkest depression I would ever encounter in my young life. My heart became riddled with holes that I thought would never heal. A year later, what I have found is the truth of Rumi's words, the wound let more light come through me. My heart expanded more than I could have ever imagined. The grief made way for a joy that is more complete than I have ever experienced. Just when I thought my capacity for love had been all but quashed, I found within my soul an ever-growing ability to love and be loved.

I have once again returned to that young girl who looked at her wounds with curiosity and implicit trust. I know that magical things are taking place just under the surface and that all is indeed well.

tall penguin

Ode to an Avocado

My apologies ahead of time for the cheese factor, but it made me smile as I wrote it. :)

I caress your round ebony body
I smell the ripeness of your core,
Your soft skin brushes my cheek.
I reach inside your soul
And lose myself in your smooth centre.
Your flesh lingers on my tongue
Melting, melting.
I close my eyes
Savoring every last bit of you;
Heaven, thy name is avocado.

tall penguin

Monday, May 12, 2008

Rich...

I'd rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck.
~~Emma Goldman

My girlfriend and I are sitting at Starbuck's on a Wednesday afternoon. Stern business types drift in and out, as this corporate corner of our city bustles around us. We are talking about love, life, dreams and all the things we are grateful for. We laugh. We cry. We sit back and breathe deeply.

And it hits me, here we are, two women living independently on less than $15,000 a year, sipping lattes in the middle of the afternoon, enjoying life, laughing and wondering what all the fuss is about; all the money-making commotion in the office towers around us, the deadlines, the stress, what's the point? And I realize, I've never been happier.

Over the past year, I have found a deep contentment and joy with very little in a financial way. I work to support myself, but I also create enough money and time to have coffee with friends at least three or four times a week. I buy tulips when they're in season. I buy myself vintage jewelry when a piece catches my eye. I have new clothes. I eat out pretty often.

I have come to appreciate the simple pleasures of life. I have learned to sink deep into a cup of tea or a plate of sushi. I have found the beauty in seeing the richness of life that surrounds me every moment of every day. The smiles of friends. The tears of children. The new buds on the tree outside my window as I type this.

I am rich beyond measure. Who knew? Not me. For a very long time.

tall penguin

The Woman Who Can't Forget...

He says, son, can you play me a memory?
I'm not really sure how it goes
But it's sad and it's sweet and I knew it complete
When I wore a younger man's clothes
~~"Piano Man", Billy Joel

I was out one night to dinner with my brother a few months back. We went to a restaurant in the neighbourhood I last lived in, when I was still a Jehovah's Witness. As we walked into the restaurant, I immediately had this flash of one of the many times I and a bunch of my jw friends went there after one of our religious meetings. I could see us sitting at the tables. I could see the faces of each of my friends. I could see their hand gestures as they talked and hear their laughter.

I remembered the little girl who sat on my knee as we had dinner, a girl who was one of my Bible students at the time, not yet a jw. And I remembered the glances of my friend J who would later become the man I left the cult with. I looked around at all of these people and how happy we were to have each other in a religion that often left us alienated from the outside and even on the inside. I remembered and smiled.

All this flooded back in an instant. I shared what I was recalling with my brother, along with the subsequent grief I felt in knowing that these people are no longer part of my life, because of the shunning constraints of their belief system.

I said, "It's like this for me all the time. Every where I go, there are these flashes of memory. And I feel them as if I'm there living it right now."

"Sounds awful," my brother replied. I laughed, wiping the tears that were now falling.

"Sometimes it is. But it's also beautiful," I said.

As I get older I am seeing this as a gift rather than a curse. Perhaps it is because I am having more and more memories added to my collection that are completely sublime, rather than the often traumatic ones I experienced for the greater part of my past.

Most serendipitously, a new book has been released entitled, "The Woman Who Can't Forget." It is by Jill Price, a woman who has flawless recall of every event that has happened to her since she was 14. As well, she can tell you what was happening in the world on any given day if she had heard about it at the time. She is the first known case of a condition that has been termed "hyperthymestic syndrome."

I am fascinated by this woman, for obvious reasons. While my recall isn't anywhere near hers in strength or in depth, I can relate to her struggle in living with a mind that can call up a memory out of nowhere along with all the related sensory and emotional information.

She says:

"The emotional intensity of my memories, combined with the random nature in which they're always flashing through my mind, has, on and off through the course of my life, nearly driven me mad. As I grew older and more and more memories accumulated in my mind, my memory became not only a horrible distraction in trying to live my life today, but also the cause of my terrible struggle to come to terms with my feelings about the past."

There have been no words to describe what life is like for me each day; the challenges of having these flashes, sometimes without any obvious trigger, intrude on my daily existence. When they are pleasant memories, it is great. When they are not so pleasant, it can be hell. I had one flash a few weeks back that had me crying in the bathroom for thirty minutes. I ended up leaving work that day because I just couldn't get the train back on the tracks.

Now, though, I don't blame myself or beat myself up for this thing my brain does. It is what it is. For better or for worse, it's the way I'm wired. And it allows me a marvelous sense of empathy and a heightened experience of life. So, I'm grateful.

If you're curious to test out your own emotional recall, Price suggests this exercise. Quickly describe twenty highly emotional memories. According to memory researchers, most people have a hard time coming up with a few. Price was able to list hundreds without stopping to think. I was able to come up with the twenty very quickly and could easily have kept going. One memory lead to another and on and on it went. Complete with sensations of how I felt that day, what I was thinking, even sometimes what I was wearing or the song that was playing in the background.

Once more, the three pound universe continues to astonish and amaze me. Now, if only I could remember where I put my keys.

tall penguin

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Bein' Green...

When green is all there is to be
It could make you wonder why
But why wonder, why wonder?
I am green and it'll do fine
It's beautiful!
And I think it's what I want to be.
~Kermit the Frog, "It's Not Easy Bein' Green

When you spend a lifetime fighting with who you are, feeling not good enough and generally loathing your own humanity, it comes as a quiet sigh of relief to sink into your own skin and just breathe.

tall penguin

Meet me in Montauk...

Since my teens, I have had some bizarre sleep/wake experiences. I recall one morning back in High School, having woken up from a dream where I saw Bill Clinton assassinated. As I was getting ready for school I put on the television to see what the news was saying about the event. Nothing.

I walked to school with one foot in dreamland, seeing the event play out in my mind. I was convinced it had happened in real life. I walked into my first period class and sat down at the desk in front of my History teacher.

"Did Bill Clinton get assassinated last night?" I asked. He looked at me like I had ten heads.

"Umm...no he didn't." Oddly, he didn't ask where this idea had come from. I think he'd known me long enough to know that my brain was doing some strange things of late and this was just part of the process.

As I mentioned the other day on my post about my five-year marriage, I remember very little of that time. It's like I was in a some kind of amnesiac stupor. Due to the Chronic Fatigue/Fibromyalgia stuff, I was sleeping a lot. Sometimes seventeen or eighteen hours a day. And even when I was awake, I felt out of my body. The day of my wedding was a particularly out-of-body day. I have occasional foggy flashes of what transpired, but overall it's a blur. Can you imagine having a wedding day that you barely remember?

To this day, there are conversations people tell me we had during those five years that I cannot recall. If I was there, I definitely wasn't awake.

On certain occasions, I've even been able to dream myself awake. I usually turn off my phone when I go to sleep at night so I can wake up on my own without being interrupted awake. A few days ago though, I'd left my phone on for an important call. When the call came, I was knee deep in a very vivid dream, the details of which I won't go into here (not sure blogspot is wired for erotica). I could hear the phone ringing in my dream and reached out to grab my dream phone and answer it. I said hello and no one responded. Instead the phone just kept ringing.

At that point, I realized that it was the phone in real life that was ringing. The dream conversation went something like this:

Awake me: "Okay, the phone is ringing in real life. You have to wake up to answer it."

Dream me: "You have to wake up. Wake up. Wake up. Wake up. Answer the phone."

It took about five real time rings before I could snap myself out of the dream and answer the phone. Bizarre.

I have done some research into lucid dreaming and I'm hoping that one day I'll be able to move about in my dreams more consciously. I've heard of people who coordinate their dreams, even arranging to meet at various locations as a group. I've said it before and I'll say it again, the three pound universe is vast.

tall penguin