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I’m loving exploring this idea from different angles. When does a grid stop being a grid? What is it then? The tension between the formal rules of the grid and the movement that arises through and in spite of that form evoke all sorts of other tensions in my mind. To what extent are our lives ordered or chaotic, regimented or free, communal or individual?

Both of these are about 4″x6″, drawn with ink in a pocket sketchbook. The light and camera available distort the colors, but you can get the idea.

Certain songs pop up completely against my will when certain prompts come along.

When I hear the name of the town Tlacolula (a bit east of Oaxaca), I sing, “Hey Tlacolula, she’s my baby.”

When I see a sign for a “Comida Corrida” (prix fixe meal), I sing, “Comida Corrida, girl you’re on my mind.”

And when my computer game prompts me, “Do you really want to exit?” I am sure it’s singing it to the tune of “Do you really want to hurt me?” and I join in.

I have written very little here about the things we’re doing in Oaxaca. In between art, Spanish, and writing projects, there’s lots of time to just be and enjoy this city. I’m going back through our months here to fill in some of the stuff we’ve done.

Only a few weeks after our arrival, we had the terrific experience of getting together with someone we know very well from home. J. is a member of our church, has traveled here with her family before, and if I recall correctly has had a teenager from Oaxaca come stay with her and her family in Palo Alto. In June, she came to Oaxaca on her own and lived with a family here awhile. We asked her for recommendations of places to go that she’d like to see again, and she suggested we meet at the Museum of Philately (MUFI). I’m really glad she did, because I probably would have delayed going there for months, maybe skipped it entirely. I mean, philately? But it’s a lovely museum. The building itself is a treat–like so many buildings in Oaxaca, it’s built around patios and courtyards–and the exhibits were interesting. For example, in connection with the release of a stamp about corn, the museum invited artists to submit pieces about Mexico and corn. Most took the form of a stamp (not actual size, but a good 30 x 60 cm or more, the way the designers of stamps draw their originals) and the themes ranged from transgenic corn, which is an economic and environmental controversy in Mexico, to the corn-husk dolls that are common folk art here.

Then we all went to Café Brújula, also at J’s recommendation, where I drank her hot chocolate and she drank my mocha for quite some time before we realized we’d swapped. I hope the caffeine didn’t keep her up all night. The café is in an indoor shopping center and office building that had an absolutely spectacular arrangement overhead of papel picado, cut paper, for the upcoming Guelaguetza.


photo by Joy Morgenstern

Spending the day with J. was really special. When I arrived at UUCPA she was three years old; I’ve watched her grow up and into roles like Sunday School teacher and Worship Associate, and to see her negotiating another culture, be shown around by her, and just chat together outside from the context of church and family is like being on a time machine and watching the years whiz by. She’s such an intelligent and independent person–it’s a treat to hang out with her for a while.

And of course, she’s known Mookie since Mookie was a bump in my belly. When I have a long Sunday at church, Mookie often goes over to their house–I call it babysitting and pay J. and her sister, but as far as Mookie’s concerned it’s a playdate at the house with the best climbing tree in the world–and there has never been a time that J. and her family haven’t been in her life. Here the two of them are in the museum courtyard, surrounded by illustrations from children’s books (I never did figure out the stamp connection), and looking uncharacteristically serious.


photo by Joy Morgenstern


In my struggles with procrastination, I’ve tried inner appeals to duty and responsibility, organizational systems, you name it. I’ve gotten better over the years but it’s still hard. Then, some months ago, I had an insight that seems to be helping.

I was in a hurry to leave, and grabbed my sneakers out of the closet. I often pull my sneakers off without untying them, a minor but real act of procrastination that means that the next time I wear them, I have to undo the double knots before I can put them on my feet. But this time I found the laces untied and ready to go. It was as if someone had left me a small, thoughtful present. That someone was myself.

When I took my shoes off later that day, I remembered that feeling. I wanted to give a gift to my future self. I’d give her sneakers that were ready to wear. So instead of saving my current self a few seconds by pulling the shoes off still tied, I untied them.

I’ve been remembering this and building it up to more significant acts of just-do-it-now, for lack of a better antonym for procrastination. I dislike the task of putting my clothes away each evening, but my future self is grateful not to have a pile to sort through after ten days. I have a goal of finishing the first draft of three sections of a writing project before the end of the weekend (i.e., tonight); last night, even though I was disinclined to work on it, I did a chunk rather than leave it all for today. The feeling of having received a gift that eases my way is a better motivator than duty or any other I’ve tried.

Have you struggled with procrastinating? What has helped you?

As I shared in a 2013 post, the Unitarian Universalist ritual of Water Communion can be more than a recitation of where people spent their summer vacations, if we give it careful attention. Dozens of comments on that post and responses in other forums have revealed that many congregational leaders are doing just that. Another change we’ve made in our Water Communion in Palo Alto is the timing, and I’m wondering if other congregations have made a similar change.

As in most Unitarian Universalist congregations, our Water Communion service is also our Ingathering service: the official start of the church year. (We have services every Sunday–no “summer off”–but there is still a rhythm to the liturgical year; the circle of the year has a beginning and a closing.) A few years ago, our Minister of Religious Education, Dan Harper, noted that due to changes in the local school districts’ schedules, our church year was no longer in sync with the school year, and proposed that we re-align it. We have done so ever since, and this year’s Water Communion will be August 21, the first Sunday after the beginning of the school year for most of the children in the area.

In most Unitarian Universalist congregations, the church year has long aligned with the academic year. That in itself might reveal an upper-class bias if it were only about post-high-school education. But in U.S. secular life, there are two major beginning-times: January and the start of the school year. Not surprisingly, therefore, these are some of the peak times for visitors to check out a new church.

People move house most often in the summer. Children begin new routines such as extracurricular activities when they settle in to the new school year. If a parent is contemplating introducing a child to religious education, the chances are they think about it in coordination with secular school. So the first few weeks of school are a natural time for church-shopping. In Palo Alto and neighboring towns, that no longer means the week after Labor Day as it once did, but mid-August. Until we made the switch, our church year, including the Sunday School year, began almost a month after the first day of school.

If you have an Ingathering service, is it timed to coincide with the beginning of the church year? Is your Ingathering service a Water Communion Sunday, or are they different days? Do you have an Water Sunday at all?

I was pleased to discover or re-discover a blog by my distinguished predecessor at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, Ken Collier. He writes with profundity and clarity about matters from death to the nature of time to whether Donald Trump is fit to be president. I recommend The Colliery highly.

It’s always fun to discover brand names and other marketing artifacts that don’t translate well. One of the most notorious cases was Chevrolet’s attempt to bring its Nova, so successful in the United States, to Mexico. Apparently no one on the marketing team knew a lick of Spanish, so it wasn’t until the car utterly flopped in Mexico that the company learned that “No va” means “It doesn’t go.”

If a certain shampoo sold in Mexico wants to make it in the U.S. market, I hope they do better than Chevy and change the name. Here in Mexico it is “Grisi.”

We went to the Guelaguetza last night! The festival actually lasts officially for a week and unofficially for several weeks beforehand, since Mexico doesn’t hold a week-long party when a month-long party will do. Oaxaca has the highest percentage and variety of indigenous people of any state in the country, and the Guelaguetza celebrates the many local traditions from all over the state: handcrafts, food, music, dance, religious rituals. So we have been going to parades and artisans’ booths and so on, but the cherry on top is the three-hour performance of traditional dances at the beautiful stadium designed specifically for the festival.

After each group performs, the dancers throw bread, bananas, chocolate, baskets, whisk brooms, etc. into the crowd. Munchkin scored one of the tortillas used for tlayudas. They are the driest, most boring tortillas I’ve ever tasted, and it turns out they grow on you after a while. Maybe I’ll even order a tlayuda now.


The entire crowd sings along when the group from La Mixteca comes on. “Canción Mixteca” is a love song to one’s native land, wherever that might be–wave a hat and join in! “Quisiera llorar, quisiera morir, de sentimiento” (I want to cry, I want to die, of emotion).

I encountered an unwanted export today: big-box customer service (that really should be in scare quotes). In contrast to the generally helpful-but-not-pushy attitude one gets in small shops, the big chains have clearly absorbed the business model of most of their U.S. counterparts: training your staff to be knowledgeable and helpful about your products is a waste of money.

Chadraui is a big supermarket with a bit of everything else, like Kmart or Target would be if their main focus were groceries. I popped in this morning to get aluminum foil and a nail brush. I roved up and down the “health and beauty” section for a while, then went to the counter, where three young women had nothing to do, 9:15 a.m. being a pretty quiet time. There are a couple of words for brush and I don’t know which one is correct, so in Spanish, I said, “I’m looking for a brush”–using the word for hairbrush or toothbrush–“for cleaning your fingernails . . . ,” and mimed the act. She cut me off with a nod, saying “lima.”

“Una lima?” I said, to make sure I had it right.

She nodded.

“Dónde están?” I asked.

She pointed over a few aisles and said “Acesorios.” I couldn’t tell what aisle she meant and they weren’t numbered, so I asked if she meant where a man was standing, and she said yes.

Over to the man, who was stocking shelves. Nothing much there except shampoo. I waved at her, and she came around the counter and over to me with a faint air of being where she shouldn’t be–do you suppose they are penalized for leaving their post? I followed her to the next aisle over, where she pointed down the aisle about three meters, said, “Acesorios,” and beat it back to the counter.

It was true, there were about 150 accessories there; I’d bypassed them because they all looked hair-related. A few weren’t, but none of them appeared to be a nail brush, and none of the empty hooks, as far as I could tell, said “lima.” Even though I was exasperated that she couldn’t be bothered to come a few feet farther and show me the item I was looking for, I was determined to look thoroughly, which took awhile. I did find a faux-Frozen “Juego de Manicura” with a tiny little brush. It looked like a good scrubbing would break it in two, so I passed. Fortunately, I could find the aluminum foil all by myself.

When I got home, I looked up lima and it is not a nail brush. It’s a nail file.

I suppose it’s expensive to train bored, minimally-paid, non-career-track employees about where everything is. It’s cheaper to have the bare minimum of staff at the cash registers and drum into their heads that they should not leave to show a customer a product than to train them to walk the customer to the exact location, go find someone else if they can’t find it, follow up with the customer to ask if it was the right item, and give a friendly “I’m so sorry!” if they come up empty. But I’ll go to a nail salon later today, where I’ll get a friendly greeting from someone who is probably the owner, she’ll listen to my description properly, and if she can’t sell me a whatever-it’s-called, she will tell me three places that can, with detailed directions about how to get there.


My wife Joy is also blogging about Oaxaca. She takes great photos and is very funny. Check it out!

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