New York Times
I met him on the bus. The No. 9 was my daily commute from the University District of Seattle to the Rainier Valley, where I worked in an overcrowded elementary school. Because I got on early in the route, I always settled in the back, a prime people-watching spot as we traveled through Seattle’s varied neighborhoods.
I was in the middle of a short-lived crafty period and usually spent the 30-minute ride crocheting hats. But my crocheting patience was limited, and each hat emerged hastily, too small to fit anyone but a newborn.
I knew few people in Seattle, and none with young children, so the hats accumulated in a teetering stack in my bedroom corner. I was always on the lookout for random babies to whom I could give them. When I wasn’t looking for babies, I would stare at the back of the guy who regularly sat mid-bus on the left-hand side. I never saw him get on, so I didn’t know his face, but I had become acquainted with the narrow swath of neck between his Carhartt jacket and wool hat.
One day I looked up as he was getting off and caught a glimpse of him. He was gazing at me with an open, interested look that made me warm. I glanced away and went back to my crocheting.
A couple of days later, the bus broke down. The driver got off and began pacing the length of the bus, arms crossed. Some passengers gathered their belongings and left, while others barely looked up from their reading. The guy with the Carhartt jacket and I crossed paths mid-aisle. He smiled, revealing even, white teeth. I smiled back.
“What are you going to do?” he asked.
I was still 20 minutes from my stop. “I think I’ll wait,” I said. “I’ve still got a ways. What about you?”
“I’m going to walk,” he said. “I’m not going far.”
We chatted for another minute, and then he gave me a casual “see you” nod and got off. From the window, I watched his easy slouch to see if he would turn around and wave, but he didn’t. I went back to my crocheting.
The next week was my school’s spring break, and I visited family. When I returned to work and my usual commute, the guy with the nice neck was not in his usual place. Nor was he there the next day or the next. I never saw him on the bus again.
A month passed. My bus rides continued. My stack of tiny hats was reaching epic proportions. One morning when there was a break in Seattle’s spring rains, I walked to the corner cafe. Taking my place in the back of a long line, I picked up a copy of The Stranger, Seattle’s free weekly newspaper known for its literary personal ads. The local custom, which I diligently followed, was to start reading the newspaper from the back.
There, four ads down in the “I Saw U” section, was this: “Stranded on #9 to Rainier Valley one morning. You have short dark hair, a green hat, brown eyes and work at an elementary school. I was late to work in Mt. Baker. We spoke briefly. Haven’t seen you since. Would like to meet again. Box #7901.”
I snorted in surprise, looked around to see if anyone had noticed, then read the ad three more times. I gathered two copies under my arm and went home, coffee forgotten. That evening I called the voice-mail box and left a message with my phone number.
His name was Jason. We met two nights later for dessert. When I walked in, the place was empty except for an old couple at a back table and a young guy with spiky brown hair drawing on a napkin. Without his wool hat, he looked barely old enough to have finished high school. I hovered, not sure if I had made a mistake. Then he smiled.
I recognized that smile. I sat down and he blushed, putting me at ease. We each ate a large chocolate mousse and then went for a walk in the nearby park. The talk was light and the night was warm, but I was impatient. I wanted to get the talking over with and finally get a chance to kiss the back of his neck.
At the edge of the park, we paused by my car.
“Where are you going now?” he asked.
“Home,” I said. Another pause. “Want to come?”
He took my hand and there was no more talking, even in the car on the way back to my house, even in my room, even when night threatened to turn into dawn and we finally fell asleep. In the morning, I had to rush to work and our goodbye was short.
“I’ll call you,” he said, and I nodded.
As I walked to the bus stop, I found myself skipping every few steps. I didn’t know if we would see each other again, but it had been a good night.
A few nights later, we met again. On top of a small knoll at an abandoned gas factory converted into a park, we had a conversation I’d had a few times before.
“I like you,” I said, “but I’m not ready for a relationship.” This was my standard pain-prevention opening line.
“Me either,” Jason said. “Let’s just have fun.”
“O.K.,” I said. “Good.”
We stared out at the black water of Lake Union, our fingers casually interlaced.
And we did have fun. A child of a brutal divorce, I had decided early on that avoiding marriage would be a way to avoid at least some of the pain. So we kept everything light.
I moved, and then he moved, from Seattle to New York, where we shared a big place in Brooklyn with a bunch of other people. We didn’t think of ourselves as living together, just really good roommates. To pay the bills, he built sets for music videos and I edited during the day and worked as a hostess at night.
BEFORE LONG we had been together, casually, for 10 years. I was 30 and wanted to have a child, so we did. Nearly four years later, we wanted to have another, so we did.
By then we were living in Oakland, Calif., where we had joined with another couple to buy a house, each of us owning a quarter-share. Jason and I were doing just about everything married couples do, but committing to each other in marriage still seemed too scary and, we felt, unnecessary.
More time passed as we supported each other through illness, the deaths of loved ones and financial stress, and somehow we stuck to our agreement to keep it fun, if not always easy. Even when we were tired, broke and cranky parents of small children, being together seemed preferable to the alternative.
Around us, though, things were changing. Couples we had known for years were splitting up. Our daughters were old enough to fly across the country by themselves, barely glancing back as they boarded the plane. Though Jason still looked like a teenager, there were white hairs sprouting in his beard.
A few months ago, as we were walking around Lake Merritt just blocks from our home, we paused to sit on the damp grass.
Jason pulled a newspaper from his backpack for us to sit on. “Look what I found,” he said, “all the way from Seattle.”
It was a copy of The Stranger. I turned to the “I Saw U” section, and there, in the center of the page, was a large boxed ad: “I saw you 20 years ago on the bus to Rainier Valley. We spoke briefly. Will you marry me?”
I read it again. While I should have hugged him or burst into happy tears, instead I was silent, filled with something like dread. After two decades of a relationship founded on serendipity, a public long-term commitment seemed like tempting fate.
When Jason and I met, we stayed together because we kept waking up in the morning wanting to be together another day. But now the stakes were a lot higher. There was no way at this point to cut my losses without cutting off a huge part of myself.
A fat Canada goose waddled over to us, nosing at my legs for a handout. Holding the newspaper, I looked at Jason. He smiled at me, patient and easy, his teeth as white as the day we met, despite his drinking coffee every day. Such is his luck.
“O.K.,” I said, reaching for his hand. “Yes.”
Because maybe he is right. Maybe committing to each other, in public, is finally worth risking and worth planning. After all, we’ve been good together for 20 years, three moves and two children. We ought to be able to survive a wedding.
Committing to Impermanence
Americans in Paris
Empty Graves and Empty Boats
Thirty four years ago, when I was ten, I stood in a wooded field, far from
a crowd of children and adults who had come to celebrate a birthday, and made two vows: I would have a daughter, at least one, and I would never get married....
Though the climb was steep, the view was expansive. Rachel Neumann on being hot, hungry, thirsty, and tired, but still having a perfect day.
Read the article here.
There are as many different kinds of anger as there are waves in the ocean. When my older daughter gets angry, there is a deluge of tears. As I watch, she goes limp and sobs into the floor with the unfairness of it all. My younger daughter’s anger is a tornado of hits, kicks, and screams. She can’t be comforted, reasoned, or carried out of the storm until it has run its course. My partner’s anger is quiet and sullen, thick as the southern Mississippi air. Only a slam of the door or a fist on the table occasionally punctuates the silence. Me? I shake with a blaming, seething anger, full of my own righteousness and ready to enumerate the faults of everyone around me....
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I was four the first time I saw a woman give birth. It was
early evening, at a commune deep in the Siskiyou Mountains of
California. I remember straining on my tiptoes and the jostling
of elbows as we children, barefoot and half-dressed, peered in
through the window of a one-room cottage. The grown-ups huddled
around the birthing woman on the bed. My mother, one of
two midwives on the commune, was somewhere in that huddle.
My memory is colored yellow by the candles in the room
and infused with the smell of the wood-burning stove and the
urgency of the assembly.
I heard murmurs and songs from inside, the gurgle of the nearby creek,
hoots and rustling from the woods, and the whispering of children
as we fought for prime viewing space at the window. Then, without warning,
our jostling was silenced by an infant’s sharp squall. We stared
at each other, unable to fully understand where that sound
could be coming from.
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Rachel Neumann uses Christmas as a celebratory day to notice bravery, honor darkness, and celebrate light.
The Best Prince of My Life
Making Peace with Christmas
Unemployed and On the Verge of Losing Everything
Ask Auntie Establishment
The worst of the eighties came back first – acid wash jeans, bright blue eyeliner, leg warmers, and excessive consumption. The hip diner down the street started playing General Public and I couldn't go to a party without hearing "Dancing in the Streets." But just when I thought I would have to live in a shelter until after we'd finished reviving those tortured years, Prince comes out with a new album. A real new album, not the synthesized stuff that came out in those limbo nameless years. Musicology is an album of songs worth dancing to ("Life 'O' the Party") worth making love to ("On the Couch"), and worth singing aloud to out the car window ("Musicology").
Wish eye had a dollar
4 every time u say
Don't u miss the feeling
Music gave ya
Back in the day?
He almost makes it sound good, but back in the day I was an awkward miserable adolescent who would speed read romance novels in the hopes I would be eighteen and somewhere else by the time I looked up from the book. I had both braces and glasses, no butt to speak of, and a psychotic step-mom who was convinced that I was a full-blown slut even though I had still never really been kissed. Two things kept me from giving up completely. The first was my mother's solemn promise that although junior high was, objectively, hell, life did get better. The second was Prince. I remember bringing my bedroom boom box into the kitchen and forcing my mother to sit down and listen to "When Doves Cry" over and over again. After the fourth rewind, she said she could tell he was a deep and thoughtful man....
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Sometime around mid-November, without any provocation on our part, our kids start a campaign to become like the Joneses. Not the Rosenswags, the Joneses. There’s no "Happy Holidays," no “Festival of Lights,” no “Kwanzmaskah” for them; it’s all Christmas, all the time. They long to adorn our front yard in mad energy-gobbling holiday lights, to get a 7-foot-tall Christmas tree you can see from the window, and to craft elaborate Christmas decorations out of recycled tin. They get up early each morning to make cards with pictures of trees and Santa. They squirrel away pieces of chalk and write “MERRY CHRISTMAS” in all caps on the sidewalk. Luna changes her braces' elastics to red and green and is only wearing red and green hair ties. Plum, who was happy to inform the other kids in Bridge-Kindergarten that Santa isn’t real, has this elaborate rationalization:
“Even though Santa isn’t real and is just a person dressed up, the guy who dresses up and rides the sleigh and has reindeer is STILL going to come down my chimney and give me presents.”...
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Outside Oakland, it's summer and finally warm without being too hot. U.S. troops have withdrawn from Iraq. The kids are sleeping. It's the perfect time to just relax and enjoy the sunny weekends. Unless, of course, one is a part of the 50 percent of working Americans who said they are too "stressed" about losing their jobs to relax. The Bureau of Labor Statistics just released their report that 467,000 people lost their jobs in June. Those jobs came from every major industry sector, with the largest declines occurring in "manufacturing, professional and business services, and construction.
The closer one looks at the numbers, the worse they look. In June 2007, the official U.S. unemployment rate was 4.5%. The just-released official unemployment rate for June 2009, is 9.5%, for blacks it's 14.7 percent, for Hispanics, 12.2 percent. When that number is adjusted to include those who have given up looking for work and the underemployed -- those people who can only find a part-time job and other "marginally-attached" workers, the actual unemployment rate is 16.5%, pretty high numbers for a country that has spent an additional $14.5 billion (of the $787 billion dedicated since Obama's election) to putting people "back to work.” Additionally, the amount of people out of work for over four months has grown significantly. People who are being laid off are being laid off permanently, not temporarily "let go” until the situation improves.
When Luz Guerra had to leave her last job because she needed to care for her ailing mother, she always assumed she could find other work. After all, she'd been supporting herself since she was 16 and had over 30 years experience as an organizer and adult educator. She has designed curriculum and conducted trainings on U.S.-Central America issues, multicultural awareness, and popular economics for women. Luz wrote a report on technical assistance and people of color organizations, and as a consultant provided technical assistance and capacity building for a wide range of organizations.
Read the rest of the article here.
Find the archived column here.
Cutting Out the Pattern, June 2001
Despite curtains blocking out the sun, the shop on Eldridge Street is bright. Fluorescent lights covering the low ceiling shine on Chinese women, maybe 30 in all, at work on a long row of sewing machines. All the women are silent, curved over their humming stations. Many wear glasses. Their hands move constantly. Piles of fabric gather on the floor. At each woman's side, a little dried orange, green stem still intact. When I ask one what the oranges are for, she answers without looking up or slowing her hands: "For luck."...
Read the rest of the story here.
Not Quite Nirvana
"Neumann has written the real deal, in which the enlightenment seeker’s life involves hollering at rude drivers and agonizing over what to do when you forget your plastic bags at the grocery store."--Publishers Weekly
"What do you get when you cross a Zen master and a cynical, exhausted, new mother? This lovely book--which will make you laugh, remind you to yell at your kids a little less often, and inspire you to find more moments of grace in your daily life."—Ayelet Waldman, author of Bad Mother
"This is a fresh, lively, warm, interesting and valuable book! You will be happy to add it to your library." —Sylvia Boorstein, author of Happiness Is An Inside Job: Practicing for a Joyful Life
"With great humor and a talent for anecdote, Rachel Neumann has compiled honest and homespun autobiographical essays, with snippets from her unusual childhood, on how she tripped into mindfulness practice...Neumann is everywoman. We can all identify with her foiled attempts at mindfulness and compassion, as well as with her moments of true awareness." -- Mindfulness Bell, Autumn 2012
"Neumann's book is a practical exploration of what mindfulness practice can mean if you're a normal, busy person with life, work and family responsibilities. It's a gritty and inspiring story of how to engage with mindfulness wherever you are-at the office desk or on the floor drawing with tired toddlers." --Elephant Journal
"This is down to earth Dharma, from a life story that is honest, practical, charming, and helpful." --Jack Kornfield, author of A Path With Heart"
Rachel Neumann brings wonderful insights to the practice of meditation and what it means to weave it into our everyday lives. This is a great book, one that can help us find balance as well as a sense of peace and clarity in the midst of it all." -- Sharon Salzberg, author of Real Happiness and Lovingkindness "
“Over the past ten years, Rachel Neumann has edited more than twenty of my books. Thanks to her profound understanding of my teachings, style, and voice, my message has been communicated clearly, correctly, and authentically to thousands of readers. I am deeply grateful for her skillful work and dedication.” —Thich Nhat Hanh
With humor, passion, and joy, Rachel Neumann translates century-old Buddhist wisdom into useful tools for busy people today. This is mindfulness for the modern moment.""--Marci Shimoff, New York Times bestselling author of Happy for No Reason.
Not Quite Nirvana will resonate with anyone who has ever tried to juggle more than two things at once. It’s an important and joyful book, one that left me comforted, refreshed, and inspired to go out and add more kindness to the world. --Tirien Steinbach, Faculty, Berkeley Initiative for Mindfulness in Law
One of the reasons I’ve been so reluctant all these years to close my eyes is because I can’t bear to miss out on anything. I’m often rushing late to something and leaving early to get to the next thing. I want to arrive, as Thay says, in the present moment, and I’d like to look put together when I get there. But the hazard of being everywhere is that in the process my shirt gets stained, my hair falls out of its clip, and my coat matches nothing but my underwear. Even when I get home, I often forget to “come home.” I keep jumping up to look around and make sure I haven’t missed something that’s happening outside the window. It’s not material greed. I don’t need to have it all; I just want to be at it all.
It’s true that I want to approach life eyes open and arms wide, but to do this right I also need to be able to close my eyes. Other people will still be there. Coming home to myself doesn’t mean that I am alone.
When I come back from Deer Park, winter has settled into a gray fog over the Bay Area. We take the kids to Muir Beach for winter solstice. My daughter puts on her pajamas at three in the afternoon and is determined to stay in them for the rest of the day. The rest of us follow suit because being warm and cozy and drinking hot chocolate is our winter solstice family tradition.
We settle in to ourselves and our home, burrowing into the early darkness. We wrap ourselves in blankets and listen to the wind and the waves and talk about the Earth tilting away from the sun here in the Northern Hemisphere. Jason jumps up to make a model that shows how in the upper reaches of Alaska, where his cousins live, this is a day without light, yet our friends in New Zealand will be allowed to play until late in the evening because this is their sunniest day. And although we can’t feel the Earth’s tilt, I believe in it and can picture it in my mind. The darkness of the night is indisputable. The need for friends, warm food, and light is elemental. The orange circles the grapefruit in the makeshift solar system that we've created on the floor and I know that, starting tomorrow, each day will be a little longer and a little lighter.
Read more here.
The Empire Strikes Back
A Summit of Their Own
The ZapaTour—a caravan of the Zapatista Army for National Liberation (EZLN) and several thousand Mexican and international supporters—is a unique event in both Mexican and international history: a cross between a rock concert tour, an evangelical revival, and the Freedom Rides of the American South. After seven hard years in the mountains of the Mexican southeast, 24 Zapatista rebel leaders set out on a two-week march to press the Mexican congress to pass constitutional recognition of indigenous rights and autonomy. Accompanying them were more than 35 brightly painted buses and 40 trucks filled with 1500 international and national supporters....
Read more of the story here.
First, there was the explosion, then the collapse. Then words rushed in: vermin, cowards. Posters promised, respectively, that Jesus, Peace, and War were the answer. As Bush and his posse wage retaliation, we think not just of what has happened, but what will happen next. For a response, the Voice turned to the griots, teachers, and critics whose words have helped us keep on keeping on. The question: Is there an alternative to a military response to the events of September 11? If so, what might it be?...
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I arrived on the cracked brown earth of southeastern South Africa after travelling for more than 36 hours. It took a few hours to find our "holiday flat"—a sagging, skinny brown building with four security gates squeezed tight between two 24-hour bars. Thus far, the NGO (nongovernmental organization) Forum of the World Conference Against Racism has been very conference-like. You would think an international summit on racism and xenophobia might be volatile, but so far everyone agrees that racism is bad and we must all work together. It's been up to the young people and the Palestinians to create some excitement, which they've done pretty well—shouting down speakers and waving signs....
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