the Mount Madonna Meditation Center, Santa Cruz Mountains

Began Hannah Sward’s memoir yesterday (postponing the reading of Ling Ma’s Bliss Montage). The fragmentary, episodic narrative is told in a child-like voice — works! It is deeply enthralling. The story oscillates between a father/poet who, when not running off to ashrams, reads his poetry in bookstores (impressive, though self isn’t sure how he makes a living) and a free-spirited mother in Florida who cycles between lovers and makes a living by selling tie-dyed shirts.

Baba, the new guru with the knotted beard, has inspired my dad to move across the continent to the Santa Cruz Mountains to live at his meditation center, Mount Madonna.

In the middle of winter we arrive at San Francisco Airport dressed in fur hats and wool scarves. A lady in a sari meets us. I don’t know if there will be other fourteen-year-olds.

I am given a Sanskrit name, Sumitra. It means ‘friends of all.’ Dad is Jai Per Kash. Even Alina and Alex can’t pronounce their new names. We have a cabin with an outhouse up a trail. The first night I stepped on a slug the size of a banana. Now in the night I pee in the bushes. We eat tofu with brown rice, no spices, homemade unsalted granola. I want sugar and meat and to go home.

This first Sunday we go down the mountain to Watsonville to chant and do laundry.

Strip, a Memoir by Hannah Sward, p. 40

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