Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Watch me...
When I'm elated, I explode.
When I'm livid, I implode.
When I'm afraid, I collapse.
When I'm justified, I inflate.
When I'm sensuous, I dance.
When I'm bored, I pace.
When I'm in love, I make love.
When I love, I embrace.

Saying what I mean is harder than writing it to you,
so let me move around you.

Something in the Water

I both love and am terrified of the ocean. Everyday people ask me, "Have you gone for a swim yet?" and I'm afraid to admit that I'm scared of the water, that when I can't touch the sandy bottom anymore I panic and I'm sure I will drown. Not seeing the bottom, feeling my toes wrap and twist in deep beds of kelp, being pulled unaware further out to sea until I'm within the grips of something much more powerful than my sense of control. All of this frightens me. 

On the way home from work, locals stop to take a swim to wash the dirt and stress of the office out of them before going home. You leave it at the shore and let the ocean demolish it. Just like leaving your shoes at the door, you leave your angst and worry at the threshold between land and sea. I go there for clarity. I go for peace. I go to remember things. I find that now when I approach the edge and let the tide swirl around my ankles I am overcome with the need to strip and jump in. I mostly watch and wait. I see other swimmers throw down their flip flops and shirts, and walk with familiarity and grace into the waves. They are going into the womb. They are going into the Mother to lie flat on their backs and watch the clouds pass over, to be cradled between land and sea and sea and sky. They dolphin flip down deep into the water and come up with treasures from the bottom. They swim dozens of yards out to sea and then they pray or they scream or they cry or they laugh. They just... release. And then they go home. 

People tell me, I must swim at least once everyday. The island is a waste unless I do. So when I'm up to it, or when I'm curious about what the water will make me feel today, I go to the shore and remember Ocean Beach with my mom. When I was little we would walk next to the surf on foggy days. My mom liked teasing me by running closer and closer to the waves until the rolled cuffs at her knees were in the water and then run back. I became so frightened once that I started crying. She couldn't swim and I was too afraid of the water to go out there after her. I was so afraid to have her out of my grasp, to give her over to something so unpredictable. She was teaching me how to lose control. 

I look at the waves now, knowing that JAWS has already begun to return to the north shore. JAWS is a swell of water that makes the waves larger than the Mavericks at Half Moon Bay.  JAWS is what you see when these waves curl over you 50 feet in the air. It has already started to change the anatomy of the local beach by shifting the sand up closer to the trees. The waves are much bigger and much closer. Farther out you can see even larger ones breaking where the ocean bottom drops down two thousand feet. The rip tide and the undertow are the strongest they've been since I arrived and are getting stronger. No one is swimming. Only bodysurfers and boogie boarders bob between the crests. The surfers will come when the waves are even bigger. I watch in the tide, sinking in the sand. It's not a good idea. But I still want to and I might. I'll keep watching. I'll keep waiting. Slowly i'll find ease in giving myself over to everything less predictable than myself.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Abundance in Maui

The Garden
I'm into my fourth week on Maui and though the pace, the people, and the weather are still new to me, they've all become a little more comfortable, a little more homey. I live in a community of people who are mostly Krishna devotees with their own individual eclectic beliefs tossed in. Mostly these people believe in constant compassion for other beings - human, vegetable and animal - gratitude, and joy. They talk to me with an intimacy that still catches me off guard and made me uncomfortable for about a week. When speaking we look each other in the eye. When greeting and parting, we embrace, always. When we ask each other how we are doing, we really want to know. I live in a house with Angelina (aka Prama which means love), Gaia, Kalia, and his daughter Luna. Angelina went with me to the emergency room last week in the middle of the night. Kalia makes me eat right and invites me to come swim with him and his daughter at Ho'okipa Beach when I feel lonely or homesick. Keone, whose on the mainland right now, does bodywork and massage therapy. He works in the garden. He showed me how miraculous plants are. He took me to the basil bush and showed me how to harvest the seeds before collecting them and placing four into the palm of my hand. He said one seed produced that huge overflowing basil bush that feeds us everyday and now there are hundreds of seeds which came from that one. So together we planted the four new basil bushes which will make hundreds of thousands seeds more. Everyone here has there own story too. Angelina is here to reunite her family. Kalia is here to kick start a super food product called "Maui Peace Bar" that comes in 24 different flavors (they're really good!). Gaia is here for healing and to do peace work, which involves combing the knots out of bright red fluffy microphone covers. Keone is here to heal others.

The living is simple here, and yet it is abundant! The garden is overflowing with spinach, kale, basil, onions, lettuce, papayas, peppers, mint, avocado, lilikoi and more. Everyday I find a new musical instrument hidden in an outdoor shed, under a couch, on the bottom shelf of a bookshelf. When I moved into my room I found a hammer dulcimer under my bed! If you know anything about me, you know that this is personal heaven for me. Outside of the house I live in (there are two houses with several rooms and a few studio units) there is a car port area made for creating and baking pottery. In front there is a large porch with Christmas lights hanging all around. Shell dangly bits and wind chimes hang everywhere among dozens of massive spider webs that no one will knock down. Buddha and Krishna and Shakti statues sit at the bases of trees and on the banisters of the porch with offerings of beads and quartzes and seashells beneath them. There is a cotton tree. There is a tree that looks like a dancer, and there is a tree that has been carved into a totem pole

There are animals everywhere. We had several chickens when I first moved here. There was Sita and her 13 chicks which the mongoose have trimmed down to a slim five. Today they were taken to a bird sanctuary because we couldn't keep them out of the garden but caging them wasn't an option. There's a rabbit, and several cats. One follows me around like a dog. There are the wild chickens that come in early in the morning which I have to chase off the property most mornings. There are the dogs that chase them. There are toads, and geckos, and lizards, and cane spiders. There are giant-leafed plants with leaves so big you think you could just sprawl out on top of them.

New Life
I like this little nook of people that I have landed into almost by accident. I think about why I am here. Why I left everything behind to come to a place where I know no one when I had everything and everyone before. I think about the struggle to get here and wonder if it was really worth it, if I'll make it here or leave in a couple of months. I think about the dreams I have and the pains I still feel. I think about the words I still want to write. I think and acknowledge that out of anywhere on this island that I could've landed that I couldn't have come anyplace better. What better place to infuse clarity, confidence, and self-love than in a community where compassion and support is abundant and where my creativity will have room to grow? I think about the dozens of reasons that I gave my family and friends for why I absolutely had to come to Maui. I was told I was being rash, even reckless. Maybe so. Now I'm here and I can barely remember half of those reasons. I believe I needed to go somewhere where I could just be. I needed to be somewhere quiet so that my self could take center stage in my life. Now she's here. I'm here, watching and waiting for whatever is next. Now, I want to have a job that doesn't define me so that my words can freely flow when I come home at night. I want to plan my trip to the next destination now, because I acknowledge and accept my inherent need to move freely and lightly between places. I want to make my own individual path towards saving the world. I want to help others write down their truths the way I have always striven to write down mine. Today, this is all I want.
Mama Sita and Five

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Grandaddy's Hands

My mom wrote this poem as a type of elegy after her father passed away. I wanted to put it up here as a remembrance for him and because it is a really beautiful poem.

Daddy's Hands
baseball mitt palms
and plump sausage fingers
dirtied and hardened by
construction labor;
a hard day's work
born of necessity

extentions of a creative mind -
for crafts, repairs and gardens that
needed plowing and tending

rarely raised in anger;
not for disciplining,
those hands

In loving memory: 
George Ashley (1930 - 2009)

Copyright Brenda DeRamus 2009

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Michael Cunningham Visits The University of Puget Sound

I ended last week by attending a performance of Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours, reading the prologue of the acclaimed novel to the music that inspired its creation. Cunningham thrust us into the experience of listening to literature to a soundtrack. Mozart and Schubert best captured the general tone of what he thought his novel would be. He described listening to the classical compositions over and over again until the lives of his both fictive and historical characters came into fruition. So he read to us his written incarnation of Virginia Woolf while the Northwest Sinfonietta String Quartet played Schubert's "Death and the Maiden" live to the cadence of his voice. To sum it all up, he completed his reading of the prologue, the intimate scene depicting his vision of Virginia Woolf's suicide, to the music from the motion picture composed by Philip Glass. From second row center, I closed my eyes and listened to Mrs. Woolf being engulfed by eddies of water through the unsettling trills of two violins, the deep current of the pulsating bass and the swift arpeggios of the piano that insistently pulled her along the river bottom. That night I got a book signed, purchased my first Philip Glass album, went home, listened and read.

Cunningham did me a favor really. I realize now how to use music to benefit my writing. Picking a tone is like picking the color of a certain day or feeling. Now something that seemed intrusive to my writing process can take part in getting some of those blasted words down onto some paper, or into the screen, for a change. As a musician myself I can only leap for joy at the joining of these two art forms, and I have to say, I've come away from it all with some new ideas.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Sephia Day

The day Grandma Banks died, people congregated in one space, brought dining chairs into the living room, sat on the floor, laid on each others' laps, laughed and quietly brushed at watery eyes for the first time in years. They let their hair down again. They loved and remembered. She had passed away and so we all came together, out of the woodwork, for her. The cousins I had grown up with, who I had not seen for over seven years were suddenly all together as familiar strangers and adults. I was ecstatic and solemn, feelings so far apart that they hardly made any sense at all.

I can't really describe what it was like, experiencing death among loved ones for the first time, finally grasping that my step-mother's family was mine too, had been all along, and being sad too. But that day I remember in sephia because it was like living in a memory. Because my emotions were polar opposites, black and white, like an old photograph. Then and now. Before and after. We were girls in white dresses and lace socks, we are grown women, independent, working, maybe in love, and confused because we are still young. And one day we'll be gone too. The sensation is too fresh to get now, but sephia describes it and makes a home of it for me.

In Loving Memory of Idella Cavit Banks (May 16, 1925 - March 19, 2009).

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Hoshi Kashiwagi and American Autobiography

Today, memoirist Hoshi Kashiwagi spoke to my Genre: Nonfiction class about autobiography, family, secrets, and what it means to own your own story. But we can't really own our own stories can we? As I "write down my own bones" I find that every single one of them has touched or is attached deeply to someone else. While Dr. Kashiwagi talked about Japanese internment during the second World War, the useless feeling to which he succumbed while imprisoned, "no-no boys," half-owned half memories, and theatre art in a veritable jail, I thought about my mother, half siblings, our fathers, Alabama, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Can I morally tell my story when more than half of it belongs to someone else? Memoirists debate over the need to be true to their familial allegiances and there indescribable need to tell a true story, their story. Some have insurance to deal with the discrepancies, some take their chances, others have severed ties. There is no easy answer, no way to compromise desire with sometimes flimsy obligations. So I will try to write the truth. I will try not to hurt your feelings. I will try not to hurt my own feelings.  But tell the truth, tell the truth.

In the spirit of autobiography, which I've been working with a lot of lately, I picked a neat prompt to motivate some writing. In a week or so I'll post my own response to the prompt. Please feel free to post your own response in a comment which I can put up if you like, or just share your experience in a comment if you decide to write something. (I found this prompt in the article "Writing the Memoir: A Practical Guide to the Craft, the Personal Challenges, the Ethical Dilemmas of Writing Your True Stories," by Judith Barrington.)

Pick a day or part of a day from your memory and assign it a color. Describe that time, returning to, and developing, the theme of color and showing the reader why you think of it as a "yellow day" or a "purple afternoon."

Remember to pick a strong memory...

Swimming in the American: A Memoir and Selected Writings

By Hoshi Kashiwagi