There is something better about wearing fewer clothes. (If you are confused, see Goulashesinhawaii.blogspot.com.) The idea of wearing most of my Portland adornments – scarves, necklaces, rings, layers – seems silly here, because bodies are enough. I imagine most bodies would unfurl in this place. Hawaii is the land equivalent of that amazing weightlessness of water that can make any one of us feel lithe and supple.
Experiencing this buoyant feeling means that an unexpected glance in a mirror or at a recently taken photo has the power to shock. Moving around this place, I am a lanky, tanned, strong island woman – until reality asserts itself. This is not a new phenomenon for a person to notice – being brought up short by the contrast between our felt sense and our outer image – but I’m not sure what to do with it.
It makes me think of the first time someone tried to explain Taoism to me. I was maybe 13 at the time. The Explainer may have been my brother, who would have been 14 and studying Ancient China at Yorktown Heights High School. He said, “It’s like if you dream you’re a butterfly, and then you wake up as a human – who’s not to say you aren’t actually the butterfly dreaming you’re a person?”
We put more stock than we ought to in appearances and the way we appear to others. We all know this. How can we move through the world more as the person we feel we are? If we feel we are a butterfly, what should it matter that someone else might not see us that way? I believe this is what my professional and personal life are about: wanting us all to dare to be the butterflies we are.
First of all, I find myself with my family in Hawaii. Kaua’i, to be precise. If you’d like to check out pictures et al. we are blogging at goulashesinhawaii.blogspot.com.
One of the first things I read after arriving was a Ms. Magazine we brought with us, and it talked about how the current food trend a la Michael Pollen and Barbara Kingsolver (in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle) is largely white and affluent-ish – and perhaps suggests women need to get back in the kitchen to boot (apparently Michael Pollen took on Betty Friedan for contributing to the erosion of women’s contentment with the kitchen).
As far as the latter goes, I mostly haven’t thought the food trends were presented as if they only applied to women. But here on Kaua’i, I am thinking about the former charge. Food here is really expensive. And I don’t just mean organic hemp milk and its ilk. A half gallon of regular whole milk costs almost $7.00. So, we are shopping with the regular folk here in Kaua’i, which has me realizing two things. The first thing is that this food movement – or whatever we want to call it – has to do better at addressing the needs (the financial needs) of working and middle class people. I think Mark Bittman is doing a great job in this area but more would be better.
The second thing I realized is how much I insulate myself in Portland. I know it so well I never have to go anywhere I am not familiar with. And though I think it’s pretty human to prefer the familiar, it means, for example, that I only see the other people who can afford to shop at New Seasons and they do not a representative sample of Portlanders make. I am woefully and willfully out of touch, and I might explore that topic another time here if I can do so without feeling too painfully sheepish about it.
This all puts me in mind of that saying about having to go halfway around the world to come face-to-face with oneself, except I only had to travel for 6 hours.
A few days ago, I left work around dusk. As I climbed the hill beside the hospital, I noticed two people on the sidewalk, walking arm-in-arm, their long white canes swishing before them. I had a twinge of concern: I tend to think of blind people as perhaps a bit more vulnerable than us sighted folk, and here it was getting dark. How would they find their way around? After all, they’re blind.
A beat later, I realized that, whether it’s day or nighttime, what helps these folks get around is not the presence of daylight, but rather those trusty canes. It didn’t matter that it was getting dark. They’d navigate Portland just as easily as they had before the sun went down.
There is something about coming up against my assumptions that I find delightful.
I go past the St. Francis of Assisi Church on my way to work about once every two weeks. It has a soup kitchen and other outreach services for homeless folks, and so there are always a few of Portland’s homeless milling about.
There’s a guy who has been building quite the structure a few yards from the church right on the sidewalk. If I’d encountered his home in the forest, it would be a clever, cozy home carved out of a tree or into the side of a knoll – there is that look about it, though it is largely made of materials more easily found in a city. Large branches create some of the structure, and a dramatic larger piece that looks like ancient driftwood is stood on its end near the doorway. This piece of wood arches up and away from his structure.
As I went by the other day, I noticed the man had added something to the high tip of the driftwood. I noticed its tell-tale bright red liquid first, then realized what I was seeing. The man had hung a hummingbird feeder. I hope he gets some visitors.