Diary of a Reluctant Vegan (Essay)

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Labels don’t interest me usually because they feeling limiting and often dangerous, like crossing over a threshold into unfamiliar territory. And when we slap on labels we are most likely seeking confirmation or validation from a group. This leads me to think that we wear labels because we have issues with self-approval.

So, I am reluctant to wear the vegan badge even though I am on board with the vegan practice, for the most part. But I also know that becoming vegan is not as easy as removing animal food products from one’s diet. And it goes beyond watching animal abuse documentaries, which are torture for me. Guilt is a horrible motivator that never leads to self-empowerment. And this is not to say that we wallow in ignorance either. However, I feel that if we inspire people to eat a vegan diet out of health reasons, and many people switch to a vegan diet, then the industries that abuse animals will need to change their tune (and draconian practices) or go bankrupt.

I feel that the idea of the perfect vegan (who doesn’t eat any animal products, not even honey and does not wear any animal products) is impossible for most people. Vegan and organic food, especially if it is also gluten-free are expensive. I spend over $300 a month on these types of food and supplements a month. So, this leaves me with only enough money to purchase my shoes and clothing at thrift stores and that means I wear leather, wool, and other used or recycled animal products. Since I wear leather shoes, I repair or replace my soles instead of purchasing new shoes. And I’ve worn shoes up to a decade or more.

However, when an idealistic vegan sees me wearing leather shoes, they have no idea that I’ve replaced the soles twice on those shoes and got those shoes at a thrift store. They have no idea how much I spend on food either. While, it is a good practice to discern and educate ourselves about where our food and other goods come from and how it was raised, treated, or produced, we’re never going to show up perfectly in our quests. We have many things to weigh. For instance, vegans say that it is better for the environment to go vegan, but not if you are wearing clothing and shoes made from petrochemicals which also cause damage to the environment.

Now, as far as health benefits, I have seen many vegans glow with radiant health after changing their diets. I have met people who have reversed diabetes, prevented heart disease and other illnesses. I have also met people who have suffered from digestion issues on the vegan diet (I’m among this group). If I eat goat yogurt once in a while, it reverses some of the digestion issues and then I eat a mostly vegan diet.

So, having said all that, the vegan diet has potential to improve health and well-being, create more sustainable lifestyles that benefit the planet, stop animal abuse and cruelty (although it takes some socio-political action too), provide food in greater abundance, create culinary opportunities for businesses, heal cognitive dissonance, etc…

Get educated. Find out where your food comes from. Stop living in denial. And then find the best path for you based on your core values and beliefs. Walk your talk to the best of your ability. And make improvements in increments.

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Day of the Dead Literature

FSCN3164From 2000 to 2005, I was a member of the Latino literary troupe, Los Nortenos in Seattle. For the Day of the Dead, we hosted and produced literary events. I read this poem at one of the events.

Phoenix Rising from the Ashes

Death comes in shades; Grim Reaper’s many faces.

Secrets are revealed in the stars leaving traces.

True identities sought in the mad rush of the times.

Once we were tribal and we have left that behind.

Buried somewhere in a desert, mountain or stream.

Until the day destiny calls in a whisper, in a scream.

 

The rocks breathe our names; the river sings our songs.

They grab our attention and we feel something is wrong.

Illusions bend our faces back to us in tricked mirrors

And we choose not to listen, we recoil in horror.

We are not the names or identities given to us.

Like a phoenix, we rise from the proverbial ashes.

 

Death is an illusion and life is magically unreal.

We peel back the layers to see the truth revealed.

We reflect on our persecuted chromosomes.

We forget our ancestor spirits in our skeletons.

And the fires that burned in ancient times.

Shielded by preoccupations and factual lies.

 

We rise from our burial and kiss the galaxies.

We gather in pyramids beneath cosmologies.

Red, yellow, black and white, we are one.

Tribes returning to gather the moon and sun.

Someday we will see we are not alone.

And we will hear the speech of our bones.

 

We will crossover and sneak past the reaper.

The gods and goddesses of the past appear,

Smiling and laughing at our remembrance.

We wash paint from our faces and dance.

Around the fires, ignited by tribal drums.

Twilight gazes on us as we return home.

By Patricia Herlevi, All Rights Reserved

 

From Lincoln Logs to Social Media (50th Year Anniversary)

Photo taken in my 20s

(This article was originally posted on my blog PNW Author. The essay is now 3 years old.) When I find myself starting a conversation with, “Back when we used typewriters…” I feel old.  I come from a generation who started out playing with Lincoln logs, Easy-Bake ovens and whose mothers made Shake & Bake chicken for dinner, that is, if we weren’t stuck with Hamburger Helper (yuck) or tuna casserole.

We watched reruns of “Bewitch” and then later graduated to “Charlie’s Angels” as preteens.  But turning 50 goes beyond pop culture icons or midlife crisis myths.  I don’t know many men my age wearing toupees or racing around in red sports cars.  The word out on the street is “50 is the new 30” and with the help of supplements, natural hair tints and a healthy vegan or raw foods diet, it’s possible to look 35 at 50.  The old cliche goes, if I had a dime for every time someone exclaimed, “You don’t look 49 or 50,” I could retire and live comfortably on the money by age 55.

You won’t find me wearing spinster’s black or lamenting that I wasted the first 50 years of my life.  People might ask, “Where’s the husband or how old are your children?” and I can only respond with a shrug. I had other things to do and other worlds to conquer, including dealing with a myriad of inner gremlins and a long bout with depression, in which the only way to emerge was to develop self-love.  My greatest accomplishment isn’t ten years as a professional musician, producing a compilation of Seattle bands that receives acclaim two decades later, or the completion of four novels and 4 screenplays.  No, my greatest accomplishment thus far is to love myself.

When we glance back at the origins of that journey we either cringe or experience goosebumps.  I recall two episodes of self-loathing at this time.  The first incident involved an art professor who took slides of each student and asked us to draw a self-portrait.  Easy enough, right? I experienced trauma doing this and I cried while I stared at my face enlarged.  I focused on faults and chastised myself for not resembling the super models in magazines or the movie stars on the big screen. What a painful experience! I despised the art professor during those moments and also when he showed the slide to the other art students, who thankfully were too busy critiquing their own faces, to critique mine.

Another incident happened in therapy.  A psychoanalyst told me to talk to an empty chair with my jacket draped around it, a conversation with myself.  I cried and resisted this exercise.  I felt so horrified having a dialogue with the part of me that constantly hurt.  After all, if I had landed in therapy then there was definitely something wrong with me and wonder if I couldn’t fix it.  This happened in my late 20s.  And during my late 20s, I spent my nights exorcising my inner gremlins on stage as a musical performer or a poet.  Sylvia Plath was my idol during those  years, if you can imagine.

I didn’t breeze through my 30s, but I grew in wisdom as I read every popular self-help book, enrolled in self-development workshops and wondered why the Dark Night of the Soul wouldn’t just disappear. In my imagination I walked El Camino with Paul Coelho, went on medicine women journeys with Lynn V. Andrews, and learned to talk with animal spirits.  I discovered shamanic journey work, but none of this work led me to developing self-love which goes along with self-empowerment.

I celebrated my 40th birthday in a public venue by hosting a poetry and music event dedicated to compassion and kindness.  Gathering with other artists gave me a boost and set me forth on the next part of my journey.  In my 40s, I relocated twice, returned to college at the age of 45 to learn new computer technology, I landed a contract job with a newspaper and then lost the job 14 months later.  But most important in the past five years, I confronted the frightened woman inside me and learned how to love her back to health.  And I’m not alone in this.  I hear women my age saying the same thing when they phone into spiritual radio shows or join live streams.  Our crisis doesn’t involve dumping the husband in favor of the college co-ed (no Mrs, Robinson here), but our crisis does involve questioning our liberation in a world that wishes to brainwash and enslave us.

Things I learned in the past year include, drinking an unsweetened smoothie is healthier than drinking fruit juice, that yoga, breathing and meditation takes years off, and that we don’t require to go gray like our baby boomer elders and can use natural hair tints that won’t give us brain tumors.  If we choose, we can unplug, and engage on a journey to self-discovery.  We can dress anyway we choose, even buying clothes in the young adult section or wearing natural fibers.  We can opt out of fake patriotism and stop playing games to fit in with a mad society.  With new supplements on the market to build collagen, we can avoid Botox or face lifts.  Finally, we have worldwide access to women our age so we can compare notes and share wisdom.

Why do we focus so heavily on physical appearance? Is this part of self-love or self-loathing? I know that kindness to ourselves means that we stop finding fault with our bodies as they age.  I know that it’s frightening to watch people age around me.  I know that I feel tempted to turn back the clock one or two decades, and if only I could bring the ones I lost back into the fold.

age 50
age 50

I’m fortunate to sit here typing this post on my 50th birthday.  I know at least two friends who never experienced this milestone.  The first friend died before her 18th birthday when she was injured in a car accident, two weeks prior to high school graduation.  The second friend died at 34 from heart failure, 2 weeks before her 35th birthday.  So on this rainy Sunday, I won’t lament the passing of years.  I’m darn lucky to have survived and I give myself permission to thrive this second half of my life.  And for all of you turning 50 this year, many happy returns.

Did you know that life actually begins at 50?

 

 

Story–for the Day of the Dead

Since we are approaching Halloween, All Souls Day and The Day of the Dead, I’m posting work that I wrote when I was with the Latino literary troupe, Los Nortenos (2000-05). I wrote this piece for a performance that we gave at Elliott Bay Books in Seattle.

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Wearing the Bones of My Ancestors

Recently when I suffered a reoccurring problem with my spine, I recalled a doctor who offered to remove two extra ribs.  Of course, I declined his offer and chose to live with the pain of pinched nerves rather than remove bones from my body.  As time went on, I realized that I wear the bones of my ancestors.  These are the bones that never quite disintegrated into ashes and these are the bones that refused to burn for carrying shamanic influences.  And these bones derive from my mixed ancestry, which includes Philippine, Puerto Rican, Spanish, Finnish and Sami blood.

Long, long time ago, there lived a primitive people called the Finns, first discovered by the Romans around 10 AD in the region we now call Finland.  The Finns, now called Sami were pushed closer to the Arctic Circle as other tribes moved into the area, but for the most part, the Sami practiced their earth-based spirituality, including sorcery.  However when the Christians arrived, the church banned the earth-based spirituality, burning the shamans and their drums.  The magic never left us and the ancestors have returned.

In the past few years, I discovered my shamanic gifts.  I began hearing the call of the trees, animals and stones.  I had no idea why the nature spirits were calling to me, but I kept an open mind and heart.  Soon, an ancestor reconnected me with my Sami lineage, despite the fact that I grew up in middle-class America and was unaware of my Sami ancestors.

After awhile I began working with stones and I was told that the Sami people also work with stones.  I began connecting with animal and other spirits through chants.  Then I learned that the Sami people had been doing that from the onset and they call their chants yoiks.  Often they say that the spirit of the yoik finds the yoiker.  And eventually, the spirit that resides in my bones taught me this magical form of vocalization.

The Sami believe that their real home exists beyond the stars.  I don’t see this as heaven, but as a parallel dimension where our ancestors reside.  All my life I have been staring up at the stars wondering what exists behind their twinkling lights.  And all my life I have collected stones that for some mysterious reason called out to me.  I have felt like an outsider looking in among my relatives, friends and strangers as that part of me chose to live in an enchanted world.  I never could understand the stranger that exists in my bones until now and she is Sami, but she also answers to Spain, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Finland.  She is the call of the crow, the howl of the wolf, the silence of the jaguar and the whisper of stones.

Some day my bones will turn back into soil, but my spirit will never die for it knows that death is but an illusion and life is just a dream.

written for the Day of the Dead 2003. Copyright Patricia Herlevi, All Rights Reserved

 

Glittering Guns–Violence & Adrenaline High in the US

DSCN2331During late September of 1986, I arrived at a theater class in Saint Catharines, Ontario. I wore a fringe leather jacket and ripped Levis. Since I had boarded the wrong bus, I arrived a half-hour late for class. I felt self-conscious arriving at my first class in a foreign country where I didn’t know anyone. And the first thing the students said after the professor announced that I was an American exchange student was, “Where is your gun?”

True enough, the US has had (as long as I’ve been alive) an obsession with guns and violence. And the Canadian students who questioned me preferred watching the news out of Buffalo, New York as opposed to Toronto because it was more exciting with the latest shooting or other crimes south of the border. I just felt embarrassed by the violence in the news and I avoided watching the news from either country.

Fast forward to the summer of 1991 when I was in London hanging out with musicians in a club. Again, the topic of American guns and violence came up with the Londoners grilling me about the topic. They asked if all Americans had guns when they knew well that we did not all have guns. And many English people preferred American TV shows (cops and criminals) to their own television shows.

I remember going to a jam session in London where the two musicians watched episodes of Starsky and Hutch while I sat in the background trying to write a melody to a song they gave me on tape. True, I had grown up watching cop shows but by the time I was performing music, I had stopped watching violent shows because I had lost interests in them in favor of spiritual pursuits.

And today, as another tragedy involving guns appears in the US media (with replays to induce adrenaline rushes in viewers), I question why more Americans aren’t researching post-trauma and how this condition is the cause root of violent crimes, addictions, etc along with the poisons we call food, the electric magnetic energy we expose ourselves to constantly, heavy metals in vaccines, and so on.

And the answer that comes to me is that violence in the news sells too. It sells big pharma drugs; it sells insurance. It sells products to make us feel numb or high so we don’t have to face the real demon which is our own shadow. People say they want peace and then they sit in front of a computer or TV set absorbing the violence in the media. They either numb or pump up their energy with the substance of their choice while few people are dealing with their triggers for post-trauma. And don’t we all suffer from this condition by now? Why aren’t we taking PTSD more seriously?

Because if we did take it more seriously, we would not send more soldiers to war. We would banish violence from movies and TV shows. We would research the real effects of GMO foods, air pollution, electromagnetic energy, and come clean with experiments done on the human race by HAARP, Monsanto, big pharma, etc…We’re smart enough to do this but where is the will to come clean? When will we dig our heads out of denial and admit that our hearts have been shattered and require mending?

I tell you now it doesn’t matter how many yoga poses you learn at a retreat or the number of hours you find yourself in meditation. You can sing mantras for weeks on end and say your affirmations in front of a mirror each morning, but until we deal with the trauma that lies at the root of each of us and as a collective, we will not experience world peace–I guarantee it.

I thought I only needed to take a spiritual approach to everything and ascend over this madness in the world until I realized that I’m part of the madness. We all are. It is our egos that separates us from the perpetuators of crimes and yet these so-called criminals are projections of our own darkness even if we’re not the ones who pulled the trigger or ignited the bomb. We still played a part in our denial, our silence, and our inability to question the media, Hollywood, big pharma and every other component in our convenient lives that poison the well of humanity. And this includes our choice of words and communication styles with the people we’re supposed to love.

We can label people criminals and toss shame their way. We can toss people into prison or send them to the electric chair and that won’t heal the violence in the world. In fact, it will only perpetuate this morphogenetic field that is filled with genocide and other atrocities of our ancestors that is in each of your DNA. None of us gets off the hook. None of us are saints. And even the saints had dark ancestors if you know what I mean.

I’m not going to sit in front of a television set and trigger trauma. I refuse to watch violent images on constant replay nor will I tune into those videos on YouTube. I simply don’t want to see it. And I’m not going to punish myself with violent images. I don’t get high on that sort of thing even if others, less conscious do.

For my own country, I recommend free therapy for every individual living in the US that focuses on healing trauma in whatever form it shows up. I recommend more funding go towards neurological and brain research, including alternative modalities that heal neuropathways in the brain. I recommend ending all wars today and to stop sending people to countries to protect poppy fields (heroin) or oil or other addictive substances. And I recommend we get real with ourselves and each other and stop pretending like we don’t know what’s going on.

I’ve spoken with people on the bus from various walks of life and from various educational backgrounds (people with little education to people with post-doctorate degrees), and people know what’s going on in the world. But all this talk isn’t solving the problem even if some bonding occurs, even from the heart to heart.

So, today, I want you to take a deep breath and get centered. Then ask yourself how you contribute to both violence and peace on the planet. Then come up with a next step to heal your part of it. I’ll do the same. Thank you.

Excerpt from Enter 5-D

I wrote Enter 5-D as an urban fantasy but it also fits into commercial and general fiction.

cropped-dscn3701.jpgChapter Five

Across Seattle, Eurydice scrambled down the cobblestone alleyway to the mouth of the Oracle grotto. When she reached the theater entrance, she stood under the marquee and waited for the jay to appear. Soon she heard a fluttering of wings in the background and then the bird landed in front of her on his perch.

“Oh, it’s you. Where have you been keeping yourself these days?”

Eurydice pushed back her hair from her face and wiped perspiration from her forehead. “You know well where I’ve been because you’re the one who revealed my future to me. Remember you said that I would make a sacrifice but not to worry?”

“I said that?”

Eurydice nodded.

“Oh, yes, you’re the one who sang in the opera house. I heard the news. What a shame that the great opera house will be empty these days. What was the governor thinking?”

“That’s a good question for you to answer.”

“So now, you’re out of work and your life has fallen completely apart, am I correct?”

Eurydice nodded.

“For a singer, you’re a woman with little words.”

“What do you want me to say?”

“Let’s talk about your dreams. There’s a man in your dreams who wants to help you. But if you keep ignoring him then he’s not much help, is he?”

“I’m not ignoring him. He comes and goes.”

“This is the way of Orpheus.”

“Who’s Orpheus?”

The jay lit from his perch and flew in three circles and then landed back on the perch pushing back the crown on his head with his foot. “My dear, Orpheus is the son of a muse and probably was the greatest musician Seattle ever had.”

“What do you mean by ever had?”

“He’s no longer with us.”

“He died? This man that’s supposed to help me is dead?”

“Not exactly–he ascended to another dimension.”

Eurydice found a wood and iron bench and plopped down on it. “You’ll have to explain that one. Talking to you is exhausting. Don’t you believe in linear communication?”

The jay shook his head. “Talk to Persephone and Demeter about the dimensions. Or you could find your answers underground.”

Just as the jay delivered his last word, he vaporized leaving Eurydice gasping with astonishment and exasperation. Her mind seemed more confused now as it did before consulting with the crazy jay.

Meanwhile, Demeter and Persephone rifled through Eurydice drawers and papers on her desk looking for a suicide note or some kind of sign.

Demeter grimaced. “Why is my intuition failing me now?”

Persephone pushed aside clothing that had piled up on Eurydice’s couch and she took a seat. She rubbed her temples and placed her hand on her heart and then she closed her eyes.

“She’s not dead. And in fact, she’s on her way home so we had better clean up this mess or we’ll have explaining to do.”

Demeter picked up the empty bottle of pills resting on the counter and she read the label. She pointed at the bottle.

“My mind is also playing tricks on me. This is allergy medicine and Eurydice probably was rifling through her purse looking for any remaining pills. Looking at the date on the bottle, she would have run out by now.”

Persephone sighed with relief. “We had better clean this mess. How are we going to explain our actions to Eurydice?”

Just as she mentioned Eurydice name, the women heard the key turning in the door and then Eurydice entered her cottage. She gawked when she saw her friends standing in a pile of her clothing and papers scattered on the wood floors she had polished earlier.
Demeter began picking up the papers and placing them in a neat pile on the kitchen table while Persephone folded the clothes on the couch. Demeter chuckled with embarrassment.

“We have some explaining to do.

Eurydice nodded, chuckling. “Go on…”

We caught wind of Pluto’s latest law and rushed to your cottage to warn you. We noticed the empty bottle of pills next to your purse on the floor and we jumped to conclusions.”

“You thought I overdosed on allergy pills and then disappeared?”

The women nodded in unison.

Eurydice cleared papers from the floor and couch, and then she sat on the couch next to Persephone.

“Wow, am I coming off as desperate?”

Persephone caressed Eurydice’s shoulder. “It’s not so much that, but we read of other musicians committing suicide thanks to Pluto’s new laws.”

“And you thought that I would take my own life?”

Demeter grabbed a wicker chair and sat across from the other women. She nodded. “I guess we were thinking that if we were in your shoes, we would probably consider such an act.”

Eurydice chuckled. “I can see it now dramatic diva takes her life to avenge Pluto’s draconian laws. The newspaper would love that.”

Demeter picked up a stray piece of paper and read the contents. She realized it was the deed for the cottage. She picked up another paper announcing the final mortgage payment.

“Eurydice, you didn’t tell us that you had only one payment left on your mortgage.”

Eurydice shrugged. “What’s to celebrate now? According to Pluto’s new law, which I did read about in the newspaper today, I have three months to vacate my home.”

Demeter sighed. “This is unfair. What did musicians do that caused Pluto to bring out his iron fist?”

“We took attention away from him and you know better than anyone else that the man is a megalomaniac.”

**

Meanwhile, on his way to the Underground, Marcus got a sense that someone was tailing him, but when he looked behind and around himself, the streets appeared empty except for a stray kid passing by on a bicycle.

In any case, he picked up his pace and headed to the main entrance to what was formerly known as Pioneer Square and now went by the name Styx Center. From the corner of his eye, he saw a whirl of something feminine. Next thing he knew Pandora strode towards him–her jade eyes sparkling with curiosity. When she caught up with Marcus she grabbed his left wrist.

She teased Marcus, “Where do you think you’re going Mister Plutocrat?”

Marcus feigned ignorance even though he stood only ten feet away from the entrance to Hades. “I was exploring this area of town. Do you know where this door leads?”

Pandora smirked. “I know where you’ve been. Olav is a good friend of mine and I’ve done some work for him. Woodworkers and locksmiths are like pardon the cliché, peas in a pod.”

Marcus blushed and he struggled to find his voice now caught in his throat. Pandora looked him up and down until her probing eyes landed on his face.

“What are you going to do if Pluto catches up with you? And you do know about his prison on San Juan Island, right?”

“At least there’s no death penalty.”

“That’s the point because from what I’ve heard, the prisoners pray for death as they languish in that surreal place.”

“I know what I’m doing. It’s true that my colleagues suspect something’s wrong with me, but I’ve managed to allude them.”

“Really–and you’ve alluded Pluto’s hidden cameras too?”

“What hidden cameras?”

“You think Pluto doesn’t keep his eyes on his employees? If I were you I would censor your phone calls by using code words and take a different route each time you venture to the Underground and that sort of thing. You need to be sneakier than Pluto or he’ll catch you.”

Marcus shuddered and hesitated. Then his hand reached for the handle of the door. He glanced at Pandora over his shoulder as she stood a few feet away with her arms crossed defiantly across her ample bosom.

“Good luck, Marcus.”

Marcus swung the door open and squeezed inside the damp entrance before changing his mind. As he descended the stairs, his feet sunk into the moss. He pulled out a flashlight. When he turned it on, he noticed a camera swiveling above his head.

“Oh, darn! Look, you’re on Pluto’s Candid Camera.”=

Moments later, he heard the door open behind him and two pairs of booted feet land heavily on the stairs and flashlights arcing towards him. The next thing he knew, someone had grabbed both of his hands and placed them in handcuffs.

“So Marcus, how’s the weather in the Underground?”

The two men dragged Marcus up the stairs and out into the sparkling sunlight.

**

Meanwhile, Pandora strode on Fifth Avenue towards the old Public Market. Moments later, she negotiated the cobblestone alleyway in her wedged sandals. She approached the grotto and waited for the jay to appear. It seemed like the eternity until the bird arrived so Pandora took a seat on the wood and iron bench in the meantime.

Suddenly, Pandora heard a fluttering of wings coming from behind her. The Oracle flew above her head and landed on his perch. With one foot, he fluffed his crown.

Pandora smirked. “So, you finally showed up.”

The jay ruffled his feathers and began preening them. Pandora waited for the bird to speak but instead sat through the bird’s morning grooming routine. Finally, the bird’s shiny eyes gazed at Pandora’s face.

“Ah Pandora, what can I do for you?”

“I’ve been waiting so long I’ve almost forgotten my questions for you.”

“Even if you had forgotten, don’t you think I would know?”