the original kStyle blog.

Saturday, April 30, 2005


Birthday Haiku #1

The cherry tree blooms
With thirty blossoms today
In honor of you.

Birthday Haiku #2

The cherry tree blooms
With thirty blossoms today
It might fall over.

Friday, April 29, 2005

A Link List

Currently Reading

Just Saw

Still Really Love

Eager For

Dreaming About

Wednesday, April 27, 2005


Remember my friend who graduated from a coma to a "persistent vegetative state"? Remember how her brain was supposedly hopelessly scrambled? She said a word today. A nurse asked her a question and she opened her mouth and said, "yes".

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Wardrobe Warrior II

After retreating wounded from TJ Maxx, I meditated on my clothing dilemma, a warrior drawing upon her Higher Self to find resources for battle. The Buddha appeared in a golden cloud and handed me a fine woven cotton scroll of wardrobe truth: Seek your True Desire from its True Source.

Of course.

The tunic shirt was a fine and beautiful cut, but the mass-produced American version looked garish, cheap. My quest was to uncover Funky Ethnic Clothing in a Funky Ethnic Store. I needed Tibet Arts. My next free day, on a Saturday afternoon, I eagerly dug through the colorful silks and cottons lining their racks. Soon I banished Boyfriend and His Friend from the store--we were en route to dinner so they tagged along, but their impatient foot-tapping gnawed at my centered warrior qi. Once the males were properly disposed of (no offense, sweetie, if you're reading) I could focus my intention and achieve harmony.

Harmony looked like three cotton tunic shirts. One is a clear, deep blue with intrincate silver embroidery at the cuffs and neckline, with just enough blue sequins to add a subtle sparkle; the second, the same pattern in green with red embroidery and sequins (I feel like a gorgeous parrot in it!); and the third, a $10 steal in black with white embroidery.

oh my god it's only tuesday

Sunday, April 24, 2005

What if Siamese cats are born conjoined?

(courtesy of Greg)

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Wardrobe Philosophy

Below, Ann asked whether I have a wardrobe philosophy. I don't. Do you? I open the forum for discussion.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Two Churches

The thing is, in summary, that there are two Catholic Churches. There is the Church of the papacy and official doctrine, and there is the Church lived day-to-day in millions of parishes, and each, really, has little bearing on the other.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

And Now, a Brief Frivolity Break

Things have gotten heavy lately here in the Village of Float. Things are a little heavy in my life right now. (Anyone ever had a complex ovarian cyst? Turns out that's what my severe abdominal pain was last month...Goody.) So, let's talk about clothes.

I opened my closet the other day, and my clothes stretched before me like a giant bruise: purple and black. And I said to myself, "kStyle! You have more style than to look like a giant bruise every day. What's with that, girlfriend?" And so I made it my mission to acquire some non-bruised clothing.

My first stop, natch, was TJ Maxx, where "you get the max for the minimum, minimum price", as the entirely true jingle goes. I reminded myself with a sort of Fashion Tough Love that I really like colors outside of my dichromatic wardrobe, especially red, pink, blue, green, and white. (Yellow makes me look a trifle jaundiced, so I stay away.) I made a pact with myself to try on several items of clothing in new colors.

How I rued that pact when I entered the store! Solids are out! Colors drawn from the Skittles bag are in! The only white to be found was the background to pink-orange-green flowers on flaring skirts. No red anywhere. I took a deep breath and marched toward the racks. Soon I jammed into the dressing room with several pieces in this year's cuts and colors. You know what? They all looked like shit. The greens and pinks, flattering to me in forests and roses, were all wrong in kelly and salmon. (The aforementioned jaundice problem.) The cuts committed atrocities against the female form such as ruffled sleeves. The one shirt that fit me and looked halfway decent was a pale blue tunic shirt, but OH! I felt self-conscious in baby blue and sequins!

And so, battle lost but war not over, I returned home to my bruise-colored clothes. Some strategizing was required.

More later.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Things That Confuse Me

1. Not being able to keep quiet
2. Emotional puking
(I suspect these first two are related)
3. Seldom going outdoors
4. Not liking cats
5. Pushiness

These are the five things I cannot understand about some people. What's your list?

Friday, April 15, 2005


Anger is not my usual vice. Yesterday tried all my nerves, however, a barrage of mishaps jarring me like those old drills the dentists once used to plow through teeth, when they made that extra nasty buzz upon hitting a raw nerve.

Several colleagues were being idiots. Acting incompetent. Heat rose up through the crown of my skull and my feet became cramped. After 3 or 4 such instances, I found I couldn't bring myself back down from the anger ledge. I went to bed tense and pissy and woke up tense and pissy. My pissy tenseness was out of proportion with anything that had actually transpired.

And then, in the steamy relief of a shower, I realized that I am angry with cancer. It took another young life from my friends this week. And now it's starting to make me blindly mad.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Emotional Puking

These days everyone is expected to projectile vomit emotions all over everyone else. It displeases me.

There's an Important Woman at work whose constant displays of aggression/panic are terribly gauche and unprofessional. I found out just this week that she initially didn't like me working on her projects, because I didn't seem "concerned" enough with the company's Big Important Product, on which I was a major player and she was the main player. (She told my boss this. A few weeks ago she went to my boss unbidden and apologized for her earlier remarks, saying that she could see I took my work seriously--and did it well, might I add--after all. I'd say something like "what a ho" here, but that would be terribly gauche and unprofessional of me.) Other coworkers have had the same gripe about me: You seem too calm. And my thought about each of these lovely people has been, CONTROL YOURSELF! YOU'RE EMBARRASSING! Isn't it better to keep one's (apparent) cool so that issues can be resolved with clear thinking and minimal blame? Isn't it best to do one's work well, with a minimum of fuss and drama?

Last night I was watching America's Next Top Model, my favorite guilty pleasure. In a surprise twist, two girls were kicked off in one episode! One began weeping; the other coped with humor. Tyra screamed at the wisecracker, saying she apparently did NOT take the competition seriously even though everyone was rooting for her (what with her troubled background), and that she needed to get her head on straight, and--get this--"I have NEVER yelled at a girl like this. I'm yelling at you like my momma yelled at me because she LOVES me." As Wisecracker With Troubled Background tearily packed her bags, she said she could tell that Tyra really did love her because she cared enough to yell at her like that.

Say what?

So, if I can get this straight:
1. Wisecracker was accused of not taking anything seriously because she did not projectile vomit emotions all over everyone.
2. Tyra yelled and screamed at Wisecracker because she really loves her like a daughter.
3. Wisecracker understood finally how much Tyra cares because Tyra projectile vomited emotions all over her.

Conclusion: Will another culture please adopt me? Something a little more dry.

Ann already has written about emotional demonstrativeness/lack thereof from a different angle. Go read hers, too.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Case of the Missing Painting

This story is entirely true, but names and titles have been changed to protect the innocent. I feel like a real sleuth.

Email #1: kStyle to Artist (artist's contact info found by the miracle of Google)

Dear Ms. Jones:

I recently came across a lovely painting on wood. The back is signed with
what looks like either "Mary" or "Marylin" Jones, as follows:

(c) Mary(-ilyn?) Jones
Portland Oregon

"Birds on Branch Overlooking Quarry"

I was wondering whether you were the artist.

Best regards,

Email 2: Artist to kStyle

Hello kStyle,
Yes, that is me and thank you for the kind comments.

Some of my work, such as that piece, are placed in galleries by one of my dealers. If you are interested in purchasing it, you would need to go through the gallery where you saw it. I'd love to know which gallery you saw it in.

My Best,

Email #3: kStyle to Artist

Dear Marylin,

Thanks for letting me know! I love the piece.

To be honest...and I hate to tell you this...I was out for a walk when I
saw it by the side of a busy road. A whole computer was down the road a
few yards, so I can only imagine that some things fell out of a vehicle
that someone was using to move. I rescued the piece and brought it home,
dusted it off, and then did some research. While I would be delighted to
keep the painting, I felt I should tell you this in case its rightful
owner is missing it.


Email #4: Artist to kStyle

WOW! Thank you SO much for passing this on. This is very very upsetting! I will be in touch with you on this. I can't even begin to speculate on what might have happened. If it had been at a gallery, they would need to be contacted. Please hold onto it and take good care of it. if it does belong to someone, and it does, I will somehow reward you with something, I promise.

I will be in touch as soon as I hear anything.

Skip a few emails that are just me reiterating that I like the painting and I'm sorry it was orphaned, and Artist again thanking me. Cut to next day.

Email #5: "Found painting, with thanks"

Hi kStyle-

My name is So-and-So and I work at XY Art. We are art wholesalers and publishers. We represent our artists’ artwork to our clients on a corporate and retail level. We own the painting that you found. How exciting it was to have the mystery of the missing painting resolved! The owner of the Company (my boss) Mr. XY was visiting one of our clients, River Gallery, near where you found the painting. It was the last visit of the day. He noticed the piece was missing and called River Gallery thinking he had left it there. They searched but could not find it. So he thinks it may have fallen out of the box he had it stored in when he was reloading all the portfolios into the car. It was a blessing to hear you have the piece. Would you be able to return the piece to River Gallery OR mail it back to our gallery in Buffalo.

Please enclose the bill for the envelope and postage so we can reimburse you. The piece is 12" x 12" so it should not cost very much to ship. We would also like to send you a gift for all your trouble and honesty in returning the piece. Would you please provide your phone number and address so we could discuss this further with you.

Thank you sooo much for the trouble you have taken to return the painting.

Sincere regards and appreciation,

XY Art
Jacob XY
Phone Number

Emails #6 and 7, kStyle to XY Art

Dear So-and-So,

I live directly across the street from River Gallery (actually having a
painting framed there now!), so I will bring it to them. Have they been
alerted? I had suspected, actually, that the lost piece's proximity to the
gallery was not a coincidence.

It was exciting to participate in the Case of The Missing Painting. I'm
glad I could help it find its proper home, and that I got to enjoy it for
a few days.


P.S. I thank you for your generous offer of a gift. And while the detective
in a storybook mystery would turn such a thing down, I am not above
accepting one! And so, my address and number are:

Across the Street from River Gallery
Somewhere, MA

So Long, Taras

We're saddened by your sudden departure, and we wish we could have gotten to know you better.

Sunday, April 10, 2005


Wow, I don't write anything on this here jounral thing for a while, and then I vomit all over the page. How unpleasant of me.

Evolving Perception

Few things cause more environmental damage than nonnative species. They invade an area, use up its resources, kick native species out of their habitats, and throw the entire food chain out of whack. They destroy the harmony of well-established ecosystems, often attacking biodiversity in the process. The Nature Conservancy works tirelessly to educate people on the threat of invasive species and to route the invaders out where possible.

In her essay "Infernal Paradise", which can be found in the delicious book High Tide in Tucson*, Barbara Kingsolver writes about the ecosystem of the Haleakala Crater (in Hawaii) and the danger it faces from invasive species:

Haleakala Crater is fortified against invasion, because of its protected status as a national park, and because its landscape is hostile ground for pineapples
and orchids. The endemics had millennia to adapt to their difficult niche, but the balance of such a fine-tuned ecosystem is precarious, easily thrown into chaos: the plants fall prey to feral pigs and rats, and are rendered infertile by insect invaders like Argentine ants and yellow jacket wasps, which destroy the native pollinators.
But Ms. Kingsolver** writes earlier in the same essay:

To learn about the natural history of Hawaii is to understand a story of unceasing invasion. These islands, when they first lifted their heads out of the waves a million years ago, were naked, defiant rock--the most isolated archipelago in the world. Life, when it landed here, arrived only through powerful stamina or spectacular accident: a fern's spore drifting on the trade wind, a seed in the craw of a bird, the bird itself. [...] Over the course of a million years, hundreds of creatures [...] evolved from the few stray immigrants. Now they are endemic species, living nowhere on earth but here. For many quiet eons they thrived in their sequestered home.

The essay goes on to say that humans settlers brought in nonnative species, and as a result, "More species have now become extinct in Hawaii than in all of North America."

But didn't Ms. Kingsolver say that invasion part of the evolutionary process? Why should we stop further invasion, when it was invasion which created a unique, diverse ecosystem in the first place? I picture conservationists in hardhats stopping wasps at the border of the island: I'm sorry, but we stopped accepting new species after those birds came in 200 years ago. Well, they were spurring evolution in this environment; you will destroy the environment they helped create. It strikes me a short-sighted to weed out nonnative species in the interest of preserving an ecosystem exactly as it is. What about the glaciers that drifted across North America once upon a time, doubtless killing many species while carving out beautiful lakes? What about when they melted, killing snow-loving creatures but giving form to our continent as we now know it? While we must act as stewards to the Earth, treading upon in gently***, we must also trust her to evolve as needed, with a wisdom greater than ours, perhaps creating even greater beauty and diversity.

Lest it seem like I'm picking on one of my favorite authors and one of my favorite nonprofit organizations, let me write about parrots for a while. Last night I viewed a touching, fresh documentary, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. Yes, there is a flock of wild parrots in San Francisco! (Wild parrots are roosting in several states, including Connecticut.) Humans captured these tropical birds from South America and brought them to the U.S. to sell as pets. The pets were either too loud and therefore freed, or too wild and therefore escaped, or flew off the boat en route, or...well, the film recounts several urban legends as to how a flock of parrots escaped their confines to nest in the San Francisco wilds. Go see it.

Through the eyes of Mark Bittner, who began feeding the parrots seeds and, with patient observation, learned the tales of the individual parrots in the flock, we meet a cast of distinct bird characters: Sophie, coquettish like a little French girl; her mate, Picasso; Mingus, who dislikes the wild, preferring to live indoors; and Olive, the only mitred conure in this flock of cherry heads. A curious thing happened. Olive mated with two of the cherry heads, Gibson and Pushkin, in different seasons, and they produced little baby hybrid parrots, who were healthy and fertile, and eventually reproduced themselves. In the wild, mitred conures would never encounter cherry heads, their habitat separated by hundreds of miles of jungle. Now, however, there is a unique San Francisco breed of parrot. And, according to Mr. Bittner, many conservationists would be terribly afraid of such a thing, and would rally to destroy it.

Towards the end of this quirky film, the City of San Francisco holds hearings to determine whether any action should be taken in regards to its flock of wild parrots. An official reports that some conservation groups called to request that these nonnative birds be captured and euthanized, a request that seems both cruel and hysterical in regards to this joyful flock of chattering birds.

One last word in favor of nonnative species. I learned from my herbal teacher that a thriving invasive species makes excellent medicine for the people living in its adopted home--clearly, the plant is well-suited for the challenges of its environment, and can teach us to deal with them, too.

*Thanks, Ann!
**Who is an fascinating, thoughtful author and intellectual, heaven help me craft sentences half as well as she does, forthcoming argument notwithstanding.
***For example, we should try not to pave over the whole thing.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Je suis enthralled

Did anyone else hear about this group on NPR?

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Check It Out

Did you see the Pope Commemorative Issue of NEWSWEEK? Someone very smart wrote a letter to the editor. (third one down, page 20)

Witty Remarks

"That Marco Polo was a great guy. Not only did he invent that pool game, but he brought us macaroni."
--Witty Coworker

"Argentina's just like, GOD, SHUT UP!"
--Witty Friend, during a discussion about how all the Brazilians we've lived near (and there are many) are very nice, but very NOISY.

Monday, April 04, 2005

My 2 Cents on the Passing of the Pope

My great-grandmother (“Vovo”) lived in a little apartment in my grandparents’ house, if I remember correctly. I’d step into her little kitchen for malassadas, where she would scold me for starting to eat mine as soon as it was placed before me. I’m still not sure why that was rude. Pope John Paul II watched over us from his frame on the wall.

The Pope died this week, as anyone near a news source was bound to know before it happened. It seemed a little rude to me that they kept eulogizing him before he was gone. I’d be pissed if they did that to me, but likely I’m not as patient as the Pope was.

I’ve heard that lots of young Catholics adored this Pope. He was a sort of hero, a rockstar, to them. It struck me as strange, being myself a refugee from the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. He was way off the mark on women’s rights. He was most hetero-normative in his worldview. I believe the Vatican even advised against practicing yoga during his papacy. All of which conspired to give me a view of a man out-of-touch with “real life” in our world.

Listening to the countless biographies this week, a new Pope John Paul II emerged from that frame on the wall. He opposed Communism vehemently because he believed it focused too much on the material world; it was not that Capitalism was great, but rather that the Communists were barking up the wrong tree. He certainly believed in charity and caring for the poor. He was almost a pacifist and spoke often of fostering a “culture of life”, which to him included freedom from war and the death penalty as well as abortion. (American conservatives often want one without the other two.) He strove for ecumenism, particularly among the People of the Book, and was the very first pope to reach out to the Jewish and Muslim people. Against the backdrop of the arch-conservatism of the Church, he was practically a hippie.

And yet, his own conservatism: women could not be priests and priests could not be married. Contraception was out of the question. PBS taught me this week that Pope John Paul II did not hate women, as I'd suspected, but rather the opposite: he loved them too reverently. He believed that the Virgin Mary had saved his life from that would-be assassin. He adored her; he adored Woman; and in adoring, he felt he had to protect the Sanctity of Women. Childbearing was, to him, the essential, holy quality that set women apart from men. It must be protected. There is always this danger of idealizing a gender, a race, a creed, and thereby doing its people injustice. To me, however, the intention does matter, and I feel differently about this pope’s stance on women, knowing that it came from a place of misguided love rather than anger.

What can I say? The pope was human and could not have been perfect. I respect him more now that I know he was, above all, an idealist, and I wish him peace in the journey to the next life.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Frivilous: Me, Too!

With props to Emma. (Scroll down. There? See. It looked like fun.)

If I were a month, I would be: May
If I were a day of the week, I would be: Wednesday or Saturday. (Sunday is the most depressing day.)
If I were a time of day, I would be: 10 AM or 7 PM. Definitely NOT 3-5 PM.
If I were a planet, I would be: Neptune. (dare I claim such a cool planet? I also like Saturn, but it seems so serious and slightly defensive.)
If I were a sea animal, I would be: sea otter
If I were a direction, I would be: center
If I were a piece of furniture, I would be: a bed for stretching out and daydreaming.
If I were a sin, I would be: worry, a sin insomuch as it indicates a lack of trust in life/god/fate/others/myself/the universe
If I were a liquid, I would be: water
If I were a body of water, I would be: a river, who knows which.
If I were a stone, I would be: malachite
If I were a tree, I would be: olive
If I were a bird, I would be: hawk or chickadee, depending on the day
If I were a flower/plant, I would be: chamomile
If I were a musical instrument, I would be: classical guitar
If I were an animal, I would be: housecat or otter, though my family would say bear
If I were a color, I would be: bluegreen, white, or purple
If I were an emotion, I would be: calm
If I were a vegetable, I would be: can corn be a vegetable for our purposes?
If I were a sound, I would be: thunder or babbling brook or wind in leaves, must I choose?
If I were an element, I would be: water (but also earthy and airy...)
If I were a car, I would be: fuel-efficient and modest but shiny
If I were a song, I would be: "Aguas de Marco"
If I were a movie, I would be directed by: pass
If I were a book, I would be written by: Isabel Allende with Barbara Kingsolver
If I were a food, I would be: going on the "you are what you eat" principle, chocolate.
If I were a place, I would be: a lake in the high desert or in mountainous woods, or an island
If I were a material, I would be: cotton
If I were a taste, I would be: dill
If I were a scent, I would be: frankincense or seabreeze
If I were a word, I would be: seek
If I were an object, I would be: a marble or dental floss
If I were a body part, I would be: spine
If I were a facial expression, I would be: wink
If I were a subject in school, I would be: social studies
If I were a dog, I would be: do I have to be a dog? I don't enjoy smelling poop. I'm not much of a dog person. OK, fine...beagle with a golden retriever tail.
If I were a cat, I would be: sleepy and WAY better than a dog
If I were a number, I would be: 8

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Part Five in a Five-Part Series

Five Element Theory (or Five Phases Theory) is an important aspect of many schools of Eastern medicine. Although Mao et al (you know, the Communists) diminished its importance when codifying TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), it remains a vital part of many schools of Classical Chinese Medicine, Shiatsu, and so forth. Every week for the next five weeks I will be contemplating an element and writing a brief essay about it for class--how it acts in nature, how it applies to the human. I direct the curious to an overview or two of Five Element Theory.

The Water Cycle

Life began in water and gradually squirmed its way onto land. We begin our individual lives swimming in the womb, looking much like fish. Thus the Water element is associated with the Jing, the foundation of life. Water, maybe like life itself, never ends; it only transforms: rain to lake to river to ocean to vapor to cloud to snow to ice to stream. The water element is associated with the time of death as well as the moment of conception in the life cycle, as both are merely transformations. Life on Earth depends on water, and so all energies in the body depend upon the original qi from the water element.

Although water can be contained, it can’t be contained permanently. It will burst the dam or evaporate from the glass, or freeze and expand, bursting its container, but it’s in no rush to do so. Some might say that water is full of illusion, one moment reflecting back the viewer’s own image, another clear to its very depths, and then turning opaque black, or sky blue, or green. I would say that no, these myriad appearances are not illusory, but rather the very nature of water: Water has great depth and infinite faces. Which explains why no text I’ve read on Five Element Theory (not that I’ve read a great many) satisfactorily describes the water element. There’s always something about fear, and something about the nervous system, maybe something about its primordial nature, but the books never reveal as much about water as they do about the other phases. Metal is solid and easy to see. Fire is bright. Earth is central, solid (in its nothingness). Wood will not be ignored. But water doesn’t care whether or not you’re looking, and would just assume reflect your soul back at you. Seeing water requires softening the gaze.

Water goes with the flow, tending to move downwards for a time, but then it will bounce upwards through evaporation or a spring. Fluids in the body move downwards to the Kidneys and Bladder for purification and elimination, but then the Kidneys mist clean fluids back up again. Although water does not possess the steely determination of metal, given enough time, it will wear the sharpest stone smooth and carve canyons. Water is patient, and often wields its power with subtlety, just as the Kidneys rule the body without fuss, letting the Liver think it’s in charge. It is perhaps the most adaptable element, the magician of the bunch, easily transforming between states of matter and qi. Cold is dangerous to the Kidneys, I think, because of the risk that they will freeze up and be unable to thaw, remaining stuck in one state. Conversely, there lies the risk of evaporating Kidney Yin and floating right off the planet. Because water is everywhere, in all states, it seems that it would be highly intuitive, especially when it is still and reflective. And just as water can take many forms, water energy is the basis for all other energies in the body.

The kidneys open to the ears, letting us hear babbling brooks, drumming rain, the pounding of the surf, and frozen winter silence. In hot climates, summer—not winter—brings deadly quiet, when heat dries the earth’s waters. Whether water flows again in spring or fall, its chattering heralds the joy of renewed life. And the riverbank talks of the waters of March, It's the end of the strain, it's the joy in your heart. Although Tom Jobim, the great Brazilian songwriter, penned those lyrics about the end of summer in Rio, they are perfect for the end of winter in Boston.

According to Masunaga, the Kidneys and Bladder control “purification and impetus”. Water is the great purifier, as are the Kidneys to the body. We tend to think of water purifying other things—us, the dishes, the earth—but water even purifies itself. The most polluted river system can cleanse itself once we stop adding more pollutants to it, even if we do nothing to clean it up. Rivers are the very embodiment of homeo-dynamic balance. We should take heart that perhaps the Kidneys can purify the system as long as no further pollutants are added for a time. “Impetus” refers to the fight-or-flight adrenal reaction to stress, and to the will to survive housed in the Prenatal Jing. The concept of impetus connects directly with water in two ways. First, water is forever flowing and changing. Second, water has a very definite direction. Woe to the canoeists trying to paddle against a tidal current, but if they paddle with it, how easy will their voyage be.

I can think of quite a few water people, most given away by a groaning voice. I hypothesize, based on Masunaga’s meridian functions and my own observation, that there are two types of water people: Impetus people and Purification people. Impetus people are always on the go, unable to sit still for fear of what they might find. I know two women who are avid runners. (They do not know each other.) Both run a few miles every day and go out many nights; both are running a sleep deficit; both have painfully groaning voices. One wears nothing but black; the other shuns black in favor of bright pastels, a suspicious lack of black. Interestingly, both had anorexia as teenagers. Their anorexia was probably caused by insufficient Jing, a lack of will to survive.

The Purification person, on the other hand, is more likely to be meditating than running. He just wants to relax; maybe in stressful moments he’s tempted to run away and become a monk. He hopes to affect the physical realm through the spiritual, to avoid confronting difficulties head-on. The person who wrote all those passages in the I Ching about retreating into reflection and letting the Sage resolve difficulties was a Water/Purification person. The Purification type often lacks in impetus and can get into what my mother calls “a funk”. The Impetus person often lacks the ability to purify and is tossed about by unresolved emotions. I suspect that Impetus-types have primarily KD-yin insufficiency, and that Purification-types have primarily KD-yang insufficiency. In my observation, Impetus people have no desire for sweets, but Purification people would dive into a vat of liquid chocolate if they could, which correlates with insufficient Spleen-yang arising from insufficient KD-yang.

Many water people are constantly asserting: This is who I am! Look! This is me! I think they are confused by their own watery shape-shifting and are struggling to find and project a solid, unified self. Some watery people have blocked their intuitions by projecting their insecure egos onto every situation, however little it has to do with them: What did she mean by that? What does that say about me? How should I feel about this? If they could find still reflectiveness, they would unlock great knowing, but they are like a choppy opaque harbor blown by winds. In balance, water is adaptable, multi-dimensional, intuitive, easygoing, flowing, still, purifying, patient, and comfortable with its own myriad manifestations.

Part Four in a Five-Part Series

Five Element Theory (or Five Phases Theory) is an important aspect of many schools of Eastern medicine. Although Mao et al (you know, the Communists) diminished its importance when codifying TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), it remains a vital part of many schools of Classical Chinese Medicine, Shiatsu, and so forth. Every week for the next five weeks I will be contemplating an element and writing a brief essay about it for class--how it acts in nature, how it applies to the human. I direct the curious to an overview or two of Five Element Theory.

The Virtue of Metal

Anthropologists classify cultures according to their relationships with metal. First comes the Stone Age: no metal. Tools are made of stone, wood, or clay. Stone is usually followed by Iron, once a people learn to mine ore and manipulate it with heat and tools. The Bronze Age represents a culture’s mastery of metal, when the culture has learned to create strong alloys from various pure metals. Even the ancient Trojans, despite their advanced, wealthy civilization, used spears made of ash wood and had not invented metal coins. In many ancient cultures, the people wealthy enough to afford some metal--maybe gold jewelry and a few coins--took that metal with them into their grave.

We live in the Silicon Age.

We are surrounded by metal everywhere we turn, and we no longer take all of it back into the earth at death. (I picture gaping holes in the planet where ore once sat.) Cell phones jam the airwaves, cars jam highways lined with metal signs and guardrails, and jewelry jams bureau drawers. We slide coins or tokens into metal slots in order to travel on (metal) subway cars or buses to offices where we manipulate computers run by (metal) microchips, and then go to the gym to lift (metal) weights and run on (metal) machines, and then home, to cook dinner on (metal) pots and eat it off (metal) utensils. Sometimes we turn on the (metal) radio or television. I have metal permanently in my mouth where a cavity one was.

Our culture runs on metal.

And yet, for all the metal surrounding us, how well do we know Metal Qi? We relegate into the background and take it for granted; or, perhaps it is metal’s nature to fill its role quietly, to appear non-substantive despite its solidity controlling the structure of our days. This quiet importance of Metal fits nicely with Lung—the very first organ of the circadian day, it takes in invisible air to sustain life. Air is our first need for survival. We can survive for a few days without taking in water and a few weeks without taking in food, but only for minutes without taking in air.

The Lung and Large Intestine are classically metal. Metal conducts heat and electricity. The Lungs “conduct” air, qi, and mist throughout the Upper Burner and to the skin. Large Intestine conducts food waste out of the body. The Lung also directs fluids downwards to the Kidneys, rather like the gutters on a house. Like a lightning rod, the Lungs take qi from the air and send it downwards to the Kidneys for grounding.

I learned sometime around sixth grade that metal is malleable and ductile. Although metal is very strong and naturally keeps its shape, with deliberate action, we can hammer it into flat sheets or draw it into long, thin wires. Add heat, and metal can be transformed into almost any shape. This paradox of strength and malleability is perhaps my favorite thing about metal; it allows us to build steel bridges! It allows the Lung to maintain its shape even while expanding and contracting to breathe; it allows the Large Intestine to coil through the abdomen and create peristalsis without losing its form. It allows human skin to move and bend, grow and change, while still remaining a protective coating, holding everything inside. This strong malleability allows our emotional borders to shift as needed. To dig into Masunaga, it is the flexible structure of Metal that creates the barrier separating self from other, allowing exchange between self and the outside world (just like coins do!), and, I will add, allowing self to interact with the outside world. (I feel a special kinship with this aspect of metal, because my last name comes from the Latin ferrous, meaning iron. My clan were smiths. Or swordsmen. I’m not sure which, but it brings me to my next point.)

Another aspect of the border formed by Metal is defense. We build fences, armor, swords, spears, and missiles from metal. Likewise, the Lungs are in charge of wei chi. A good sign of Metal imbalance is either too much defense, such as people who have difficulty interacting with others, taking in deep breaths, or allergies. On the other hand, insufficient defense will make for a very vulnerable person, emotionally and physically. (As Robert Frost wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.”) And so we must seek the proper balance between defense and exchange, which calls to mind a set of metal scales, tipping back and forth to rebalance.

Metal is so quiet and resolute (yet malleable) that I have trouble thinking of a specific person I know with a Metal nature. I suspect, however, that we are suffering from a cultural metal imbalance. Much has been made of the loneliness of modern American society, and I’ve long thought that, if this loneliness exists, it has to do with cars, the metal barriers we use to fly through space in isolation. Depression has increased—or at least been recognized more—in the last few decades. Putting aside Big-Pharma conspiracy theories, American lives have become more isolated, more defensively metallic, over the past few decades (cubicles, cars, suburban flight), and sadness is the emotion corresponding to Metal.

My prescription for our culture’s Metal imbalance:
1. Tonify the Kidneys to reduce fear leading to excess defensiveness.
2. Turn off the cell phones (which are often an excuse to avoid face-to-face connection with others).
3. Allow for quality alone time (no TV!).
4. Eat spicy/pungent foods with people you like. Maybe European-style cafes would help.
5. Appreciate the value of metal’s positive qualities.
6. Reduce bling-bling. Bury some of it.