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martin luther king’s legacy


One of my favorite MLK books

Here is a powerful piece
published in 2011 by Hamden Rice,
about what his father urged him to see
as Dr. King’s greatest legacy:

not the big speeches and marches,
nor the integration of schools, lunch counters, and buses
nor even the fact that he inspired many white folks
to play “nicer and fairer.”

No, for Hamden Rice and his father,
Martin Luther King’s greatest legacy
was to “end the terror of living as a black person”
in a country where random acts of brutal and sadistic violence
(in the form of lynching, rape, or savage beating)
could be committed against you, any time,
and you had to live with that terrifying possibility,
every day.

What did liberation from this type of terror require?
I can’t do justice to Hamden Rice’s eloquence,
so I invite you to read his words directly,
and feel what he is saying.
It’s real, sobering, and heart-opening.

January 21, 2014
Martin Luther King’s day.

Hamden Rice’s original post
was published in Daily Kos,
on August 29, 2011

Lynching Map


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The dream behind the screen

The founder of the Cape Ann Community Cinema, has a big vision.  In this era of big blockbuster movies and corporate theaters buried in busy commercial malls, Robert Newton sees the possibility of cozy community cinemas flourishing on main streets, bringing people together around conversations that matter, and becoming lively hubs for building local community.  His 3-year experiment with the Cape Ann Community Cinema, in Gloucester, Massachusetts, offers plentiful evidence that the idea of a Community Cinema is not only viable but can succeed beyond all expectations.  Robert Newton is one of the most dedicated and passionate community builders I have ever met, and has many fans on Cape Ann.  Reading through the comments on the cinema’s facebook page will give you a sense of how much social capital and good energy he has helped generate in that community.  I had interviewed Robert on December 18, 2008, when the Cape Ann Community Cinema was only three months old, and still located at the Gloucester Stage Theater.   Three years later to the month (December 2011), I interviewed Robert again, on a skype call from Bali, to ask for an update which you can find at the end of the interview.  I was delighted to hear that the cinema is thriving in its main street location, and Robert is well on his way to realizing his dreams.


Interview with Robert Newton (November 2008)

Tesa: So, Robert, where did this passion for Community Cinema come from?

Robert Newton, Photo by Good Morning Gloucester

Robert: It all started with my love of movies, film, cinema, as well as my love of story-telling.  All the best films have a great story at their core.  My first real job was in a video store in Hamilton.  I eventually purchased it with my college tuition, much to the chagrin of my parents and family!   My favorite part of this experiment, beside being in business for myself and being my own boss, was my interactions with customers.  Our connection usually started with a discussion about the movies.  I knew all the films in the store.  This was a time when 1000 movies was a big library.  Eventually, I built one with 25,000 movies in Worcester.  The point is that I got to know a lot of my customers personally.  They would often invite me to visit, or bring dinner to me.  This is how I first got to try fiddle head ferns!  And it’s that kind of connection that made things special for all of us.  I was not just a guy making money at $2.50 cents a pop.  It was a lot more than that.

Tesa: And what inspired you to build a Community Cinema here in Gloucester?

Robert: I was born in Worcester but my mother’s parents are from Gloucester and I spent most of my summers here.   So coming here wasn’t just putting a thumb tack on a map at random.  I knew this place, and the fact that it was an island made me feel like it was the perfect place to incubate this concept.   Plus nothing beats waking up to the smell of the ocean.

Tesa:  Oh, could you say a little bit more about Gloucester being the perfect place!  As you know, that’s a favorite conversation, amongst locals!

Robert: It’s a self-contained community.  The physical boundaries are not blurred and although we are only a bridge away from the mainland, that bridge is a big psychological barrier for a lot of folks.  There are people here who have never left the island and would not leave it for anything.  The more time one spends here, the more reasons one finds to stay.  Driving over the bridge is something that many people avoid doing, if they don’t have to.   The idea of keeping these entertainment dollars local stems from that.  Why send our local dollars into another town or state as happens with most of those corporate cinemas?  We are sending our voice and votes away.   I say, let’s keep them at home and get to know our neighbors at the same time.

Tesa:  And how does this connect with your larger vision for a nation wide movement of community cinemas?

Robert: The internet was created as a defense network and it was designed in such a way that if any part of the network was attacked or failed, the rest of the network could continue to function without it.   So, this concept of not depending entirely on outside sources for food, water, and entertainment comes from that same idea that we could go on by our own means.  I’m not wanting to spin off a larger movement of community cinemas, as much as I’m wanting to teach people how to fish.  I want to provide others with the tools they need to create something like this wherever they happen to be.  I would rather provide a good example, and some tools, rather than directly catalyze something which would be dependent upon my own organization to grow.

Tesa:  So, you want to create the conditions for community cinemas to emerge anywhere, in a self-organized manner.

Robert: Yes, anywhere in the world.  And the plan is very elastic.  I don’t want to offer a bible by which anyone must do things.   I can offer a lose framework, meant for community improvisation which is key to make this kind of cinema work anywhere.

Tesa: What do you see as the core ingredients of this OurTown Cinema idea?

Robert: In one word, passion.  People have to want this, and if they do, then we can then give them tools to focus that passion and apply it to very real situations and conditions in their own communities.  It’s not so much about passion for film, as it is about passion for change.  Movies are just a means by which we can bring people together to talk about the issues they care about, light as well as serious.  What’s most important is that people are talking.  It is through talking and making personal or business connections that other things get done.

Tesa: So, it’s like creating the relationship web that can support meaningful change?

Robert: Right.  Big ideas are founded on people not things.

Tesa: I would like to go back to what you see as core elements of success for a cinema, and for a movement of cinemas.  

Robert: You need a catalyst.  And I would recommend that you have two able lieutenants to step up should you need to take any kind of break for whatever reason.  My plan was and still is to train someone to do what I do.  It of course would not be exactly what I do, because I like to make myself irreplaceable in some way!  (He smiles)  You just don’t train someone to do your job for less money!   It’s important to have that one catalyst, but part of what we can offer is a way to bring more of those leadership qualities out in the community.  It would be great if every community had someone ready to take this on.  The movies are almost peripheral in this model.

Tesa: What is central then?

Robert Newton, Photo by Gloucester Daily Times

Robert: That there be a community-builder.  That’s more important than to have a movie buff, because building community is something that’s more accessible than a wide and deep knowledge of film.

Tesa: And what kind of tools would you want to make available?

Robert: Concise HOW TO guides based on knowledge and experience.  These will be available to anyone who wants to attempt to seed a community cinema where they live.   In the short term, that’s what we will offer.  We can give them the keys to the car.  If they want us to provide actual fuel for the engine, we could provide that as well.  That could include programming films that we can recommend, and that we can also provide.  Since not everyone can be a film expert, that’s where we could avail ourselves as needed.  One of the aspects of Community Cinema is that the programming reflects the needs and the interests of the community.  There is a film for virtually every need and interest there is and that’s one of the ways that we can be valuable to these community cinemas in the long term.

Tesa: Could you say more about how you build community around the Community Cinema?

Robert: There are two major ways to build community through community cinema.  One is reaching out to all the community groups in the area and letting them know that you have a community space, and that you have an interest in making it available to them, to support their work.   And the other is reaching out to local businesses in the area and including them in a variety of ways.  You can have a free movie night sponsored by a local restaurant, or a prominent local business.   You can actively advertise that business on your pre-show advertising roll on your website etc.

Tesa:  And in your dream outcome, Robert, what would be happening?

Robert: I’d like to see every community in America, that needs something like this, be able to stage it.

Tesa: And here on Cape Ann?   What would happen if this became successful beyond your wildest dreams?

Robert: The cinema would become a self-sustaining entity that can go on without me.   I want to be able to impart what I know and what I have learned in my 20 years in business, so that my experience can live on, even if I were no longer in the picture.

I’d also like the recognition of the concept.  Ideally, when someone hears the name Cape Ann Community Cinema, they wouldn’t be asking “what’s that?”  I chose the name because it says who we are, what we do, and where we are.  It’s on Cape Ann.  It fosters community, and it’s a cinema.  I want people to know who we are and what we do.   When we get to a point where we are doing less awareness building than we are programming, that will be a mark of success.   The biggest deal is to get people aware of you.

Being open seven days a week would be another mark of success, because everyone wants access.  The week end is pay-the-bills time.  As a self-sustaining company, we need to pay the rent, lights, heat and licensing on the film., but the rest of the week, like  Wednesdays and Thursdays, are days we hold open for more socially relevant film offerings, local films, private get together.  The whole idea of having time for mothers and children and their young children to gather arose from a need that wasn’t being met by larger cinemas and community houses.  We were able to provide a low cost alternative to packing the kids in the car and taking them to movies.  This is a great first experience for children who had never gone to the movies before. We had a bunch of 2 and 3 years old who had their first experience here.  That was pretty amazing to see.

Tesa:  That’s really sweet!  What are some other community needs that are not well met by standard theaters but that you have the capacity to handle?

Robert: We have much greater latitude with programming because our decisions are made locally and without a lot of contractual obligations to movie studios.  If a community wants to show big Hollywood movies, that’s fine.  We can do that too.   There are very few films that we can’t get.  One of the most important thing a community cinema needs to offer is outstanding customer service.  You can’t just be a place that shows movies.  You have to be able to engage customers regarding what they have experienced in your cinema.  You need to be able to determine what they want to see, and what they would to do with the space you provided them.  They need to know that it is their place too, and that they have access to it, that they can contribute their input, host an event here, volunteer, or have a more formal role, like being a board member.

Tesa: What have been your most exciting and inspiring experiences here so far?

Robert: Even though we are a community cinema and we service primarily a local area, we sometimes show films that will inspire people to go at huge length to attend.  We showed a beautiful movie, during our first month, called the Singing Revolution.  Some people drove from Boston and the South Shore and Portsmouth in New Hampshire just to experience this film, and we gave them a nice comfortable place in which to experience this story.  Watching movie should be an experience.   That’s something that you can’t duplicate at home.  And that’s the power we are interested in tapping.   And, of course, seeing people in wonderment about the fact that someone took a chance to deliver something like this.  That’s always very satisfying for me!

Tesa:  Well, I’m definitely one of those people!  Your  willingness to do whatever it takes to bring your vision into reality despite the many challenges you face as a new organization is really inspiring.  What are the things you are doing to build awareness about the cinema now?

Robert: We have a email blast every week that goes to five dozen local news and community groups.  And then we have a growing list of close to a thousand customers from the area. We also have a weekly press release, noting issues that are important to local folks.  In February, we’ll be showing “One More Dead Fish.”  That will command a full house, but we can’t do that unless the public knows about it.   So we do our part in getting the local press aware of what we are showing, far in advance.   We also have partnerships with businesses that are now promoting us.

Tesa: And what do you feel you most need to succeed, Robert?  How can people in the community help you?

Robert:  It’s really as simple as people coming to the movies.  We sell discount tickets for as low as $5, if you purchase them in advance.  Bringing friends is another great help, and even more valuable than when you just tell them to come.   I have seen community cinemas fail because people assume that it will always be around for them to experience when they are ready.

Tesa: Is there anything else I haven’t asked you about, that you would like to address?

Robert:  Yes, we talked about many of the non-physical aspect of what a successful Community Cinema, but I also want to point out that the physical elements are really important.  You need the physical tools with which to do the job, a good wide projector and decent sound, a screen and comfortable seats.   I won’t go to small cinemas if I know that I’ll be aching when I get up!

Tesa: I think many people are with you on this one!   Thanks for making the time to talk, Robert.   And best wishes with everything!


Three years later  – December 30, 2011

Tesa: It’s been a little over three years since we last talked.  And as I reviewed our last conversation, I was struck by how many of your dreams have already come true, Robert.  That’s pretty remarkable!  The cinema is now on main street.   You have just celebrated its third birthday, and it has become a thriving community hub here on Cape Ann.   You now have a lot of local partners and fans all over town.   You are open seven days a week, and regularly run a full house.   Are you happy with what you have accomplished so far?

Robert: Yes, I am very happy.   This project was a largely crickets and tumble weeds during the first season, but the dream has now become reality.    We had 160 people here on a Wednesday night this week for the screening of Amigo by John Sayles.   And he was actually there for the screening!  Two days ago, we hosted Chris Cooper, our first oscar winning actor.  He starred in American Beauty, Adaptation and Lone Star.   The best part is that we did not book him.  He just showed up.   We have really widened our geographical reach.  We now have people coming in from as far as New Hampshire and Maine for certain presentations.  When we hosted Liv Ulman, we had people in attendance from eight states.   She said of our cinema that “Bergman would have loved this place.”

Tesa:  That must have felt really good!   What about the community-building focus of the Cinema?   What has been happening on that front?

Robert: We now have various groups renting the place regularly for meetings.  Some of them have stepped up and curated film series.  We have a new group called Artists After Hours.  The local Occupy Movement is also doing a film series here.   We are starting to do regular dinner and movie events.   We have done potlucks and catered meals.   In February, we will be hosting the filmmaker of a film called the Red Machine, a spy thriller that takes place in the late 30s, and so we are planning to have a Great Depression potluck!  The meals will be entirely made of budget foods like spam, craft macaroni and cheese, and green bean casserole made with Bird’s Eye frozen vegetables, made in Gloucester obviously.  Food is a very important part of the Community Cinema experience, and we have a very generous BYO policy.

Tesa:  What a contrast with the big commercial theaters’ draconian approach!   One of my favorite memories at the new main street location was sitting on one of the big comfortable sofas at the back of the cinema, eating take out sushi from Latitude 43 while watching a movie.   I don’t even remember what movie it was.  I just remember feeling really at home!

Robert:   There is a reason why big commercial theaters have a very strict outside food policy.  The mall theaters have 20 screens and 20 rooms to heat.  The projectors require a lot of electricity and the only way they can stay in business is by selling snacks at an enormous mark up.   Forbidding outside food is basically designed to keep them in business.   We are able to have a very different food policy because we don’t have the same prohibitive financial constraints that these other theaters have.  The nature of our programming results in much lower royalty fees.   The studios charge the big commercial theaters a lot more because the films they show cost more to produce and more to market.  A film that costs 20 million dollars to make costs 30 million dollars to promote.   The films we show, on the other hand, rely more on words of mouth and positive reviews for marketing, the same way that our Cinema does.   This means that we can charge less for our snacks and can afford to let people bring their dinner provided that it meets our three S rules.

Tesa:  Oh, and what are these?

Robert:  You must mind the sound, the smell and the slop!   Although we are right on the harbor, one of the foods we do not actually allow is seafood because, well, it smells like seafood!   And of course, no open flames!   You must also mind the fact that you have to get your food from your plate to your mouth in the dark while looking at something in the distance!

Tesa: Yes, you definitely need to mind your fork!   So, what are you cooking up now?  What’s next?

Robert: We are expanding.  We now have an annex across the street.   We had a need for classroom space for screen writing and other tv and film-related classes.  I’m working on a summer festival of short films produced on the North Shore.   We have festivals every two to three months now.   We will have the 4th annual Cape Ann Jewish Film Festival in April.  That month, we will also have the 4th annual Green Days eco-film festival which takes place annually on the Earth day week end.   We do a documentary film festival every october called the Doctober Fest.   The Cape Ann Film Festival is held every November.   Essentially, we are the film festival that never ends!   And that is actually our philosophy.   We are continually hosting film makers, either live here at the cinema or by skype.   We usually have a Q and A after the screenings.  We did one earlier this month with Tom Shadyac, the director of I Am.  This film is a bit of a phenomenon and it was our highest grossing film ever until Midnight in Paris, the new Woody Allen movie, came out.  We have also just gotten permission to use our retired brand of local origin called the Movie Loft.   It used to be a very progressive movie show hosted on a local UHF station (Channel 38), in New England.  We will soon be branding our flagship location in Gloucester with the Movie Loft logo.

Tesa:  That all sounds very exciting.   Are you facing any challenges in moving those various projects forward?

Robert: Financially, it’s still pretty tight and so I am always pursuing new partnerships with local organizations and businesses.   We are still fighting not so much indifference as much as ignorance as to who we are, where we are and what we do.   We don’t have much of a marketing budget.  The money I would spend on radio or print advertising goes into producing and printing our bimonthly program which is a four page color newsprint mini-paper.  We run 5000 copies every two months.   Other than that, we primarily rely on positive word of mouth.  We stay focused on putting on a great show, offering an unparalleled presentation each and every time, and creating an atmosphere that people want to experience.

Tesa: And how are you personally doing?  Last time we talked, you were working so hard that I was getting a little concerned about how long you would last.   You’ve clearly pulled through the hurdles of the start-up phase, but are you now able to take a bit more time off, and is the Cinema supporting you as much as you are supporting it?

Robert:  There is still a lot more giving that receiving, but it always has to be that way.   Still, I do have six employees now!   I have an office, interns, and a lot of community support.    I’ll also be officially taking on an assistant next month.

Tesa:  Does this actually mean you will be able to take it a little easier?

Robert:  Well, that’s always a nice theory!  I usually take time off in order to do more work!   I think I’m about a year away from my original goal of having the Cinema be able to live without me.   It will soon become self-sufficient enough to run for a month at a time without me.  At the moment, it can do so for about a week.

Tesa: What do you most need to take your vision to the next level, Robert?  And how can the community best support you?

Robert: Positive reviews in local papers, and online sites like facebook or yelp really help to spread the word in the community and beyond.  And financial support from patrons, sponsors or benefactors make a huge difference.  We need more funds to develop the essential infrastructure that is needed to expand this vision.  I started the Community Cinema with no money.  Everything I had went into the purchase of hardware, and most of the revenue goes toward rent and procuring high quality programming which are all considerable expenses.  Locally, we are always looking to bring partners into the mix, so anyone with a local business is always invited to sit down with me and work out a way that we can promote each other mutually.

Tesa: And what could you do with more philanthropic support?

Robert: We could establish a full time office with a support staff to help develop other community cinemas around the world.    I started writing a blueprint of the community cinema concept based on the vision document I had drafted at your suggestion three years ago, and my experience these past three years.  I’m now gearing up to start sharing that blueprint with other communities.  With more funds, we could be working with both upstarts as well as established cinemas that want to create more of a focus in their communities.   I have been thinking of launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds needed to support this part of our mission.

Tesa:  Kickstarter is a great way to mobilize community support while letting people see how their contributions add up to making something bigger possible.  I hope you move forward with that idea.   Anything else you are dreaming about?

Robert: Yes, I would like to open a multi-screen cinema pub.  I’m looking at Danvers and Ipswich.   I need to find a high ceiling space.  We are in a small space at the moment.  We are basically an 88 seats living room.  I would not abandon our flagship location, but would like to explore expanding into a variety of other spaces.   This said, part of the cinema’s appeal for a lot of patrons is that they know that every night but Sunday, they can come to the Cinema and find me there.   I’ve been a film critic since I’ve been a teenager so I know how to talk about movies with people, and that is part of the alchemy.   And I certainly get my hug quota filled by being there… many of them are completely uninitiated.  And I will never go hungry because I’m always being brought dinner.

Tesa:  And besides getting generously hugged and abundantly fed, what are a couple of things that have been especially fun and fulfilling for you these past few months?

Robert:  Our third birthday!  That was a sold-out night.  We  had comedian Jimmy Tingle there, who is running for President!   I’d actually like to do stand up comedies monthly.   I bet you don’t know that I used to do competitive stand up comedies in the 1990s!   I get nostalgic for the time that I spent being funny on a nightly basis.  I try to bring some of that to the cinema in my pre-show presentations both on the screen and on the stage.  Cape Ann has no comedy club, so my plan is to launch a comedy night once a month, starting in the Spring.  Another highlight for me this year was the opportunity to produce a film.  I got a small grant from SEARTS and produced a short documentary on some of the local public art murals that were produced during the great depression.   It debuted last May.  It’s called “No More Gloomy Sundays.”   I’m also really looking forward to teaching Film criticism this year.   I will be teaching a course on the films of Clint Eastwood, called from Macho to Mature.

Tesa:  Your energy and passion continue to amaze me!   Thank you so much for all you do, Robert.  Cape Ann is lucky to have you.   Although I no longer live here, and I am asking you these questions from the other side of the planet, here in Bali, I always enjoy reading your newsletters, and hearing about all that is happening and blossoming around the Cinema.   I wish we had one like this here in Ubud where I currently reside.  If someone here ever comes up with a similar idea, I will know where to direct them for inspiration and support!   I wish you a very happy New Year, and I look forward to checking in again a little further down the line!


Support the Community Cinema

June 8, 2013: The Cape Ann Community Cinema is currently running an Indiegogo fundraising campaign to secure a new projector.  If you wish to support Robert’s work, please go to Indiegogo to learn more, or email him directly at



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tragic games of tag

Violence anywhere,
born of despotism or despair,
begs us to face our own darkness
and learn to befriend ourselves:
our fears, rage, distress,
unmet needs and hopelessness,
double standards and numbness,
our deep disconnectedness.

Who are the peacemakers
prepared to pay attention
to all we seek to keep hidden
behind prison bars,
and runaway
mass consumption?

Who’s brave enough
to face and feel
the cold-blooded hatred
we humans hurl at strangers
in Boston and Pakistan,
Iraq, and Afghanistan?

It’s easy to point fingers,
or just focus on the helpers,
but can we support each other
to discover what’s required
to unwind the kinks and knots
inside our minds and hearts?

Our tragic games of tag
are fueled by fear and frustration,
injustice and confusion,
and speak volumes
about the depth
of our disconnection.

So, what’s the solution?

I’m tuning into
my broken heart
to find out.

Cartoon by Dharma Comics.  "If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?" - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Cartoon by Leah Pearlman from Dharma Comics.  “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn




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jane, the flamingseed

Jane Brunette

Jane Brunette is a meditation teacher, writer and poet, the publisher of Flamingseed Press, a contributor to the Huffington post, as well as the founder of an international network of “free writers” called Writing from the Soul. She teaches and writes about spiritual practices for turning challenging times into opportunities to develop a more soulful and meaningful approach to life, both individually and collectively.

I first met Jane through one of her blog posts which a friend posted on facebook. It was called Blossoming through Shared Suffering, and was about inspiring acts of generosity taking place in Japan in the wake of the nuclear disaster. I was so moved by her writing that I started exploring her blog (Flamingseed) and was immediately taken by her opening words:

Some seeds only germinate in a forest fire. This is an invitation to become a flaming seed: one who uses challenging conditions to blossom rather than burn. For inspiration, I comb the streets — not to mention the forests and villages, as well as the contemplative and mystic traditions — for insights, spiritual practices and visionary ideas on cultivating a loving, generative world view regardless of circumstances. And I doggedly question cultural and spiritual assumptions so that we can open fresh to these changing times with curiosity, innocence and a sense of adventure.


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5 love notes to my grand-mother

I originally posted this story on the Help Others website in June of 2007.   It received a lot of touching comments over the following few months, and then I forgot all about it.   So imagine my surprise when four years later, out of the blue, on October 11, 2011, I noticed that the headline of the Smile Newsletter which had just landed in my inbox was ‘5 Love Notes to My Grand-mother.”   I clicked on the link out of curiosity, and was really moved to discover that the story had been read by over 7,000 thousand people.


Madeleine Bault (1911-2009)

June 2007.  I was just in France to visit my grand-mother who is very dear to me.  I don’t get to cross the Atlantic very often, and she’s now 96 year old, so every time I visit, the two of us are very aware that it might be the last time we see each other.  Last time I visited her in December of 2004, I did a series of short video interviews about her life. I asked her what it was like to grow up with her father in the 1910s (her mother died during labor), to live through the German occupation alone with two young children and a husband away in a prisoner’s camp in Germany. I asked her about her greatest memories and life learnings so far, her favorite books, foods, stories. I also asked her about her spirituality and her thoughts about death. I learned a lot of amazing new things about her I never knew before. These were very intimate conversations and a very special time for both of us.

This year, I did not really have questions, only a great urge for her to know how loved she is. I cooked for her, and read her stories. I gave her a foot massage, which I was amazed to discover was her first ever!  As the time to part approached, I started looking for a way to leave something meaningful behind besides the memory of our time together. I ended up writing her five different love and gratitude notes to let her know how much she means to me, and hid them in different places where I knew she would eventually find them. One under the sheets, on her pillow; another one hanging from the lamp shade by which she reads in the evening; another one by her toothbrush; one in her mailbox which she eagerly checks every day; and a last one on her car’s steering wheel (she still drives to the nearby village a couple of times a week to run errands).  I left feeling really joyous knowing that these cards would surely cheer her up after I left, as she lives by herself.  She called me as I was traveling back to Paris to catch my plane back to the US and said (in French of course): “I found your three cards! By the time I discovered the third, I was laughing out loud! They did me so much good. Thank you so much!” I smiled to myself, knowing she still had two more to go! It was Sunday, so my guess is that she had not checked her mailbox and had not yet driven her car!


At 96 Year Old

June 2009 – My grand-mother passed away on April 18, 2009. She had just turned 98 year old. I was unfortunately thousands of miles away when she left, but in our last phone conversation, 5 days before her death, we had a last chance to tell one another all the things that matter. I wrote my final love note to my grand-mother for her funeral. I know she would have liked it.  She came to me in a dream a few days after she died.  She was sitting right next to me at her funeral.  She looked at the coffin then turned to me and smiled, somehow letting me know that she was still around even though she had physically moved on.  She comes to my awareness regularly, and we remain connected through the heart.

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what I really want to write about…

What I really want to write about is what it feels like to follow life, what happens when we stop controlling, strategizing, planning or directing, when we open to listening, risking and experimenting, when we are willing to embrace our fear of not knowing, and allow what comes next, by letting our energy guide our steps.

What I want to write about is my body, and the wild ride I have been on since I have let go of my ideas of what I thought was good for me, since I started tracking and trusting my sensations and intuitions, and how life wants to move through me.  I want to write about the challenge of letting life guide me toward whatever it wants me to feel and see… how exciting and how scary.

What I want to write about is possibility, how the potential of everything I see feels very real to me; and how frustrating and challenging it is to live in this gap between what is and what could be.

What I want to write about is my long pregnancy with poetry, the yearning to translate light and darkness into words that create alchemy, to find ways to move the chi, and open the heart, to all the life and wonders we refuse to see, whales and mountains, mushrooms and trees.  I want to bring nature back to life in my consciousness, so I can recover from years of autism and numbness, and connect with the world’s magic and aliveness.  In one of his poems, poet Drew Dellinger says he’s got teams of scientists feeding him data daily, and pleading he immediately turns it into poetry.  I want to be part of this army.

What I want to write about is the trash that washes every day over the shores of my awareness, how I spend hours feeling the junk that comes out of our collective unconsciousness.  I want to write about my nightmares about slavery and the Nazis, Rwanda and Yugoslavia, and how I am learning to partner with the long lines of ancestors that live in every cell of my body.

Bali, May 2011

This was my first free write, using Jane Brunette’s prompt “What I really want to write about…” prompts.   You can read more about free writing in the golden threads section of this website.  

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a hammock made of golden threads

In October of 2011, I had a beautiful 3-way skype conversation with my friends Jane Brunette, who founded Writing from the Soul, and Clare Dakin who started Tree Sisters.  The three of us were spanning three continents, and many time zones, that day.  Jane had just woken up in her forest cabin in the mountains of Ecuador.  Clare was taking a break from a roller coaster work day in the hills of Gloucestershire in Western England.  And I was enjoying the quiet of the night in my little Balinese nest, perched on the top floor of a little house located between a rice field and a tropical garden in a village near Ubud.  As the three of us relaxed into a meditative exploration, allowing our words and conversation to naturally rise out of deep listening and nourishing  silence, we marveled that this call could take place at all, and that we could experience such deep connection across such long distances.  At some point, Clare sighed and commented that this time together felt like “resting in a hammock made of golden threads.” When we decided to free write together for a few minutes toward the end of our call, we looked back at our conversation for a writing prompt, and unanimously settled on Clare’s words.   Here is my five minute free write below.


A hammock made of golden thread,
a place to rest beyond conventional reality,
a place where magic can be born,
effortlessly, without all the striving
we’ve been taught is necessary
for wonders and miracles to show up.

Oh, to lounge in a hammock made of golden thread,
a thread that connects us to more and more women
who are willing to stop running around,
so that we can rest together,
rest in our awareness of what becomes possible
when we are able to deeply relax,
when we feel supported,
when we feel “golden.”

And when we experience that level of support,
when we experience that level of magic,
we could take on anything.

We might even try tight rope walking!

I had a vision of that a few weeks ago, in meditation.
I saw myself walking a tight rope.
I was surrounded by darkness, as if in the middle of the cosmos.
And I could feel the blackness calling me from all sides,
and inviting me to jump.

And in that moment, I realized how much I had been hanging on,
hanging on to the thread I had been following.
I suddenly felt a great fear of letting go of that thread, that rope,
and let myself free fall,
not knowing where I might go.

I faced my fear of death, feeling terrified of jumping.
Then I had an inner knowing I didn’t need to jump before I was ready.
It was enough to feel the invitation and the fear.

But now, I can see that if I were to rest in that golden hammock long enough,
I might find the courage and strength to let go of the rope
and discover what is possible
if I jump.

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yude andiko

Yude Andiko

I love watching him play guitar, and hearing him sing.  His hands move gracefully up and down the fretboard like spiders, while his beautiful voice vibrates people’s heart strings.  Yude is a magical being, with a wise soul, and a wicked sense of humor.   It would be hard not to love him.  He just walks straight into your heart, smiles, and settles in.  A bit of a nomad, originally from Java in Indonesia, he could probably be happy anywhere, as long as he can keep moving.  He was 19 year-old when he left his native island to work on a cruise ship and see the world.  He eventually settled in New Jersey and spent five happy years playing music in New York City until September 11 put an untimely end to his North American adventures…and his marriage.  Post 9/11 America was not a particular friendly country to be for anyone from a Muslim country.   Yude was deported overnight back to Indonesia.  That was a traumatic episode, but he is a resilient soul, and got back on his feet quickly.  He now lives between Java and Bali, patiently awaiting for the stars to align and give him the green light to take off again.  Enchanting the world through song and music.  That’s his life long dream.

He speaks fluent English and Indonesian, but loves to hum and sing wordless sounds.  I like that about him.  If you just tune in and listen with your heart, you will sense what he’s really saying.  I feel his dreams dancing between the sounds and the strings, his soul’s longing for belonging.   Yude reminds me of St Exupery’s Little Prince.  He loves to ask questions, wants to see everything, does not get flustered easily, smiles and laughs often, and opens your heart without even trying.

My regular guitar next to a Yudelele

He also makes small traveling guitars, which he manufactures in Java.  The Yudelele, as he named it, is as small as a Yukulele, but has six strings, like a regular guitar.  He designed it with a few Javanese Lute makers whose help he enlisted because he was tired of carrying his big guitar everywhere.  That was  back in the days when he was working as a tour guide in Bali and Java, spending most of his time in planes and buses.  And it is that little guitar which first brought us together.  Being a nomad myself, I loved the idea of traveling lighter.  A friend had told me about Yude, and so I called him out of the blue one day, in August of 2011.  He was getting ready to fly to Java to make a new batch of guitars, and ended up stopping by my house in Ubud to let me try his, and see if I wanted to have one of his “babies”!  Meeting him was enchanting.  He first played his Yudelele for a while, but noticed my native american flute, and invited me to play along.   I had only played solo before, so I felt a bit intimidated, but Yude has this way of making everything feel like no big deal, and so I relaxed into this new duo thing quickly.  Half an hour after he walked in, he and I had become good friends, and were having the best time making music together.   The yudelele and the flute, as it turns out, sound really great together.   I also love reciting poetry.  So Yude sometimes picks up his guitar and just says: “speak, Tesa, just say something!” and, of course, he’s so charming, you cannot say no to him.  So I just let words come out and dance with his strings.

We enjoy combining singing and poetry.   It all began one sunny afternoon that we were sitting in the shade on a hill in Kintamani, enjoying the breeze and the view of volcano Batur towering over the black lava sea.  He played for a bit, while I spoke a few words in English, then he sung them in Indonesian, and we went back and forth, like that.  Last winter, he asked me to come along to Northern Bali with him.  He was going to visit a friend of his who was serving time in a Balinese jail in Singa Raja.  Yude somehow managed to charm the guards into letting us visit after hours.  As it turned out, his friend Agus is a fantastic drummer, and Yude, wouldn’t you know, had brought a drum along for him!  I had my flute and he had his guitar, and so we all started playing.  No need to say, we drew quite a bit of attention in that prison.   There was something really moving about creating improvised music together and watching the guards begin to move their bodies to the beat we were keeping.  Serious faces started melting into spontaneous smiles.  At some point, I invited one of the guards to give my flute a try.  And we all enjoyed watching him light up like a Christmas tree as he started playing!  For a moment, it seemed that the visible and invisible walls between us cracked, and the light came in. We were just sharing the present moment. We had gone to jail to cheer up his friend but we left there feeling like he had given us a huge gift.   On the way back to Ubud, I could not help wondering what the world would be like with a little bit more poetry, music and heart.   And then it struck me that it would feel a little bit like hanging out with Yude!

Chapter 83

Elizabeth Gilbert said of him that “he’s got a complicated life story for someone so young.”  And if you take a few minutes to read that story, you will immediately understand why she felt inspired to write it.  Chapter 83 of Eat, Pray, Love is all about him.  She calls him “Yudhi, pronounced ‘You-Day'”, and paints a wonderfully endearing picture of him.  I especially loved the way she nailed his musical gift and style:

The guy has a musical ear like maybe nobody I’ve ever met.  He’s beautiful with the guitar, never had lessons but understands melody and harmony like they were the kid sisters he grew up with.  He makes these East-West blends of music that combine classical Indonesian lullabies with reggae grove and early-days Stevie Wonder funk-it’s hard to explain but he should be famous.   I never knew anybody who heard Yudhi’s music who didn’t think he should be famous.

I agree, and I have no doubt he will be.  I had a few conversations with him about what he’s needing to come out of hiding, and it’s really not much.  He needs a bit of financial support to build a website where he can sell his music and guitars online, and he needs the financial freedom to devote the next six months of his life to recording two albums which are ready to be born.  He already found a great producer who offered to cover all production costs, and so he now just needs to find a way to fund his own living expenses while he is recording.  We figured that $10,000 would take care of everything.   So, he’s contemplating starting a kickstarter fundraiser to invite his fans and friends to chip in, to help him realize his dreams.  If you too feel inspired to help him, anything you want to give would be a beautiful thing.  You can hear Yude on Soundcloud, and watch a short youtube video of his singing below.

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