Friday, February 10, 2017

Beautiful Christmas, Phana, days into days, a day on Mount Tamalpais, Esalen couples massage, How to Survive a Plague, Book About Love, Massage class notes

Jean on Mount Tamalpais
It was a beautiful Christmas with Jean, David, and Charles, despite a death in the family. This Christmas was a time to enjoy and to savor vs. endure as in the previous year (and previous six for Jean). Jean gave me an art coat and a book on love and I gave her a lithograph and a book. A time to be born. I flew to Dallas Christmas afternoon (see below) and Jean flew in a few days later and we celebrated the New Year together. Though we were a little under the weather it was a good time.  

Amidst the joy, sadness. I got the call two days before Christmas that Phana had passed away. We spent a lot of time together over the past one and a half years – long, long days of chemotherapy, hospitals and doctor’s offices in Houston and Dallas, endless hours in the car. Phana was young and in some ways, unfulfilled, yet she went through illness and death with bravery and equanimity – and so fulfilled that last thing: an honorable death.
David and Jake, CK, Phana - Ocean Beach, August 2015

David and I flew to Dallas on Christmas day for the funeral the next day. He spoke at the service. A sad day.

Back in Berkeley, back home, we were in a time of transition, which can be difficult. But that’s the nature of things – changes, changes. (Looking out of the bus window going past the Berkeley Art Museum I see a young man holding an older man sagging in his arms.)

Days rolling into days. These are the days… of the endless summer… days upon days in Paradise. Magical mornings – waking sometime between 6 and 7, coffee in bed, watching the astounding changes of colors and clouds in the sky through the double doors with the Bay below and Mt. Tamalpais in the distance, and out of bed around the crack of 9. A bowl of fruit and yogurt with toast and almond butter for breakfast.

Grateful Dead Night at Ashkanaz - where we go dancing
Most days I go into the City to see David: Number 7 bus to downtown Berkeley, BART to Embarcadero, MUNI to Castro, walking the stairs of Harvey Milk Plaza past the rainbow escalator to the corner of Market and Castro. Walking down the avenue to meet David for lunch (Starbelly, Harvey’s, the Vietnamese place, Kasa, the usual places). Life unfolding – ahhhh – so beautiful!

Today coming up out of the subway with Bombay Calling (It’s a Beautiful Day) on my headphones flashing back to being in a little room in the Bombay airport with Leslie very sick and there was nothing to do but give her water and watch the cockroaches crawling on the wall… when you’re in a dream, time passes so slowly, time passes so slowly, open up your heart…

Back to MUNI, BART, Berkeley bus, home to Jean's house hanging high above the San Francisco Bay.
Sunset over the Golden Gate (from deck)

(In the past months I’ve spent more time looking at the sky than ever before in my life.)

In the evening, sunset, a glass of wine before dinner, and after dinner, tea and a bowl. Last night we “made hand love” – just hand to hand – for an hour or more. These are the days!!!

Two-three times/week we have dinner or otherwise meet up with some of Jean’s group (tribe?) of friends.

Mt. Tam., Pacific Ocean
On a beautiful January day (1/31) we drove to the Pacific side of Mount Tamalpais. We walked along the Bolinas Ridge Trail, then on unnamed trails along the sensuous rounded hills rolling off the mountain to a place in the sun and trees overlooking the sea on one side and the hills on the other side. In the sun, in the wind, in the golden afternoon, on the soft hilltop talking of love, of people we love, of regrets, now dancing in the sun, embracing. Oh! As the sun began to set and the cool rolled in we walked – a long walk – back to the car. San Francisco rising like Atlantis in the far distance. Hail Atlantis! It was an epic drive home. Neither of us felt like eating, so we took a long deep bath together in the warm candle-lit bathroom.
Charles and Jean 

“The best days are the ones when I look around at all these people in my life, these people in my heart, and I think, This is it.” 

We got a massage table for Christmas and have each been getting a long massage at least once every week. We spent last weekend (2/4-5) in little hippie town in Marin County at a Esalen couples massage workshop. There were two other couples signed up, but both cancelled, so it was just Jean and me with the instructor, Nora. Somewhere along the line we both realized Nora is a master teacher. We had a beautiful and very valuable experience, learning and practicing some basics of Esalen massage.

Saturday night (after the first day of class), we went to a dinner party at Linda and Frank’s art house. To me, the dinner/gathering was an installation within an installation. Someone at the party asked why we took the course/what is this massage about (those were more or less the questions). Good question:

San Francisco in the far distance from Mt. Tam
  • Esalen massage is about the connection between the person giving and the person getting the massage… loving, expressing love, receiving love, uniting.
  • It’s about feeling good deep inside, a sense of well-being.
  • Relaxing.
  • Esalen massage is about opening to self, connecting, experiencing one’s own (and another’s) body and mind.

Notes from the class are at the end of this post.

I’ve read two books in the past month. How to Survive a Plague by David France is an account of the AIDS epidemic and the appalling lack of response on the part of the government, healthcare system, and society to the suffering and death of gay men – and the magnificent efforts of AIDS activists such as the ACT-UP group to force a response.

The book is a triumph of love and strength.

I lived in the Castro for about two years, first with Leslie and then alone. I loved it. I was surrounded by people hated and attacked for being – and their individual and community response? They take the word “gay” to describe themselves and their culture. They dance. They hold together. They create. They BE. We be. 
The Castro

Michael Callen (one of the early AIDS activists), on Christmas day, 1993:

“… just repeats like a mantra: life is good. Life is good.”

“I realize some people could look at my life and say, ‘Oh it was so sad. He died of AIDS and isn’t that tragic.’ But what I want to come through is that even after all the pain and all the torture, and even having AIDS, I can honestly say that being gay is the greatest gift I was ever given. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

When all his friends had spoken their farewells that afternoon, Callen signed his last will and testament and then turned up the dial on his morphine drip, sliding into a deep and lasting sleep.

The other book is A Book About Love by Jonah Lehrer, given to me by Jean. It started out as kind of a feel-good book, then turned into something deeper. Ultimately it was an extravagant affirmation of living life and loving to the fullest. Loving in the face of joy, suffering, work, getting tired of it all, in the face of death, in need, in strength and weakness, for better, for worse, in life.

Meeting of minds: Marcia and Jean in Marcia's garden
“The best days are the ones when I look around at all these people in my life, these people in my heart, and I think, This is it.”  

Esalen couples massage notes, taken at Nora Matten’s class, 2/4-5/2017 

Have supplies ready, warm room, music, lighting.

Begin with talking about intentions, connecting with the other person, dancing each part of the body, mindfulness meditation.

Start – back

Bolster under ankles.

From beginning, work to relax the person.

LEs and UEs, use deeper strokes except with varicosities, injuries, etc.

Up-strokes are more invigorating (increased force) and down-strokes are more calming (decreased force).

Avoid surprises, be intentional re everything. Commit to the stroke.

Work with one foot back (sometimes), heart open, 

Come into myself, including awareness of pain, discomfort…

3-fold towel under shoulders diagonally

Introducing myself… Slowly lower hands to lower back and behind the heart. Not doing, just being. Breathe. Breathe with the person.

There is a beginning (pause, rocking, long strokes), middle (detail work), end (long strokes, pause).

Jean: Push - rocking.

Now “long, flowing strokes… signature of Esalen massage” – entire body, including head. SLOW. Always come back to this – integrating.

Pause, still integrating.

Stay comfortable.

After long and slow, pull sheet partially down, then fold to center of body.

Oil hands and arms – will use both.

Start shoulders, back… three dimensional, circular… follow the 3-D landscape. Reach over and pull up on side. Commit to the stroke – complete, e.g., off toes and fingers. Go slow. Use forearms – for increased weight.

Sit with sheet over leg to work on shoulder.

Hands, inclu ROM

Then bring arm forward to rest on stool.
Photo from the showers at Esalen, beside massage rooms

Always come back to the long strokes.

Head now or after pulling sheet up.

LEs, inclu toes. ROM.

Draw sheet slowly up. Stroke on top of sheet.

Come to child’s pose. Lift sheet so can turn over.

Face up

Adjust bolster to under knees, towel under head.

Long and slow.

Work on shoulder and chest.


Go under shoulder, embracing.

Arms, hands (interlock fingers), rotate wrist.

Long and slow



Finish long and slow all the way off feet

Head last

Roll with hands

Face, brows, easy on temple, ears, occiput, scalp

Use towel to roll head side to side – towel over eyes.

Finish long and slow all the way off feet.