Mentally checking off items on my grocery list, I made my way to the area of Whole Foods with the vegan dips I like. A middle-aged man was looking at the dip that I planned to grab. I waited patiently behind him. I saw he was contemplating, as he touched the various dips (French Onion, Queso, what’ll be?). I offered: “They are really good!” Perhaps a tad enthusiastic. The dip he was hovering over, the Queso, is a slightly spicy vegan cheese dip that I am addicted to. Yum.

He looked a bit taken aback. I nodded my head and smiled to further assure him. I wasn’t in a rush and trying to move him along; I was genuinely inspired to share my love of the Queso. He mumbled, “I’ve never tried it,” his eyes and face hardening, as he backed away. He was looking at me, suspiciously, like I was a sales rep for Kite Hill … or like I was stranger danger. Did I come on too strong? Did my love for the Queso make you uncomfortable? I pictured him telling his wife or a friend later, “This weird lady tried to pick me up at Whole Foods.”

I used to be shy, and more than shy, I was disconnected from myself and others; I walked around in a kind of haze, not really noticing my surroundings. I certainly would not have struck up a conversation with a stranger in the supermarket, something my mom did all the time when I was a kid (although people never seemed weirded out by her, I must say). I am more open and present now and, as a result, more apt to talk to people I don’t know, and for the most part people are kind and friendly. But not this guy; I must have rubbed him the wrong way. I wanted to shout after him, I am not trying to pick you up! Really! I don’t even think you’re cute!

When I sit for meditation, my mind resists for a time, bouncing from one topic to the next. On a good day, my mind eventually settles and stills. I begin to feel grounded in my body, connected to a world beyond my meandering thoughts and ‘small self,’ i.e., the self that is only concerned with details, issues and problems. In this more expansive state of mind, rebel thoughts pop in to test me, but the space around them is bigger now and I am at peace, i.e., the thoughts no longer have a grip on me and I am not as invested in them.

When I sit down to write, I am purging my thoughts and feeling (sorry, computer screen). It feels messy at first. I am not always sure where, if anywhere, the writing is headed and, in some cases, what it is even about on a universal or bigger picture level. As I continue to write and craft my piece, I begin to see something that wasn’t there before, like an etching. I am connecting the dots; the life experiences I write about begin to make more sense and take on a deeper meaning. This process of organizing my thoughts and feelings helps me to get in touch with the big emotions stirring in me; in the Astrology world, I am a Scorpio Ascendant and if you know anything about this sign you know we feel deeply but tend to keep our feelings inside, hesitant to express them. Writing feels like a safe place to express.

As I move into the polishing stage, I feel a writing “high,” like the space that opens when I meditate. The writing process creates objectivity around a situation or experience that I was enmeshed in. As I complete a piece of writing, it is a ceremony of freeing stuff I was holding onto that was, undoubtedly, creating holding patterns in my mind and body.

Like a fire ritual, with each essay I write, I throw my emotional baggage into the flames and watch it burn.

The operating system of my Mac, the tech told me, did not have enough internal space. It was stuck. It could not go back to the old operating system but it also could not go forward. My only option was to delete the old operating system, with all the rows of folders, full of e-papers, and everything else the laptop had accumulated over the years. My heart sped up. I took off my sweater. I thought of all the essays I had been working on and various documents and the photographs … all the stuff.

I had no choice if I wanted a working computer, so I calmly said, “Yes, let’s go ahead and do that.”

It started a week ago. I began a Kundalini yoga practice to clear out “stuck” emotions and the past. I have been working on this, on and off, for years. I’ve cleaned out my closets and simplified my life, and although I have made progress and significant changes, I’ve been holding onto the past in a few forms, such as relationships with unavailable people and overeating/overindulging, which started when I was young. Food and gifts and goodies got wired together in my brain with, you guessed it, love (and, I think, security and safety). I developed an insatiable need for more … more delicious food (even though I was stuffed), more sweets (one dessert at night was never enough, even though my body was telling me it could not handle the sugar), more nice things, like expensive clothing (even if my bank account was in a precarious place). In a nut shell, dysfunctional behavior. It was all in an unconscious attempt to connect to a feeling of being loved and not alone (in the lonely sense), which starts with feeling that L-word for yourself (that’s Chiron in Taurus in my Astrology chart, for those who care :)).

I was able to transform many of my self-defeating habits, like spending on clothing and things I didn’t need. After some time with a consistent yoga/meditative practice, it became clear that shopping and constantly searching for something to fill the void wasn’t bringing me joy and, if anything, was making me unhappy. Instead, I focused on practices that were nourishing me, like yoga and walks/hikes in nature and connecting genuinely with people on a similar path (for so many years, I was in hiding, disconnected from myself, others, and the world).

So, last summer, motivated by my mother’s death, I took a look at some of the habits I was still holding onto and how they keep me stuck in patterns that stunt forward movement in a positive direction.

After the devastating experience of witnessing my mom become sicker and sicker due to tumors in her liver and all the chemicals to try to slow down the process, I decided to “get serious” about my health. I have, for most of my life, been fortunate to eat well, to enjoy fresh food, starting with my grandparents’ big vegetable garden in our backyard (my childhood roots), and I care about my health (hell, I have certifications in Ayurveda Counseling and Yoga), but I also have the aforementioned overindulgent gene, plus a mean sweet tooth that comes out at night. The witching hour.

Last June, the month of my mother’s birthday, I finally changed my eating habits. Most important was putting an end to the late-night eating/over-indulging and taxing my poor liver. I began eating dinner earlier, so my body has time to digest before bed, and I try to eat smaller dinners, making lunch the bigger meal when I can (mid-day is the time when digestion is strongest hence the best time to eat a bigger meal). The biggest change, and also the hardest one, was cutting out dessert. Cakes, cookies, donuts, cupcakes, oh my. Like a drug addict, one donut leads to two and a slice of cake – yum (it is a wonder that I have always been thin; but that has, in large part, to do with my constitution/body-type). I cut out refined sugar (besides the obvious, you must read labels carefully and eat out less to do this) and gluten (which has chemicals, if not organic, and is hard on my system). I also cut way back on meat and dairy, due to chemicals and the heavy qualities of these foods (even if it’s organic, we don’t know for sure, unfortunately, that the label fully reflects the organic process). Most importantly, I am eating more fresh and less processed foods.

In the Ayurvedic system, your individual constitution, or body-type, determines which foods and daily practices are most supportive and balancing for you, so what works for me may not be the exact right fit for you. Traditionally, the Vata (or air element) Dosha, which is one of my primary Doshas, does well with a little meat and dairy, but as mentioned above, due to our chemical-laden commercial food system and, also, for ethical reasons (how animals are treated and the effect on the environment) I cut way down; I tried to cut them out entirely, but when I have too many dietary restrictions I feel confined and start to rebel, so I settled for having meat and dairy every once in a while and doing my best to eat organic, grass-fed, etc. when I do.

The most important take-away in all this is consuming fresh, non-processed, food (if/when possible). As the Medical Medium (Anthony Williams) writes in his book, The Liver Rescue, the liver loves fruits and vegetables. I will add, for the Vata/air constitution, vegetables generally need to be cooked and warm, especially in the winter. Please keep in mind, raw food and juicing are not everyone; they can be very hard on a Vata constitution’s stomach, due to a weaker digestive system, however the pitta/fire constitution usually reaps the full benefits of this type of diet due to their naturally strong digestion. The Kapha (water/earth elements) constitution tends do well with fruits and vegetables, too.

The dietary and lifestyle changes I’ve made have lead to happier mornings. I used to say “I am not a morning person,” but that was in large part due to abusing my body the night before; I was depleted, fatigued and unfocused, from all the refined sugar and also eating more than my poor system could handle. In the practice of Ayurveda, eating when you are not hungry is one of the worst things you can do. I have more energy now than I’ve had in a very long time — maybe ever. I slip up, now and again, and go back to my old ways, but, mostly, it just serves as a reminder that I don’t want to feel stuffed and heavy, anymore. I am done with that state of being. Being stuffed is a way to not feel, to avoid and numb out … the same as a drug. These days, I’d rather feel clear and light enough to do a meditation before bed, or at least feel good/balanced when I go to sleep.

About a week into my kundalini program, which is, basically, intensive breath-work along with movement, I was feeling a shift — brighter. Then stuff starting coming to the surface. Old stuff. Rejection. I had a dream about waiting in line for coffee; I was last in line and got the last, not even full, cup of cruddy, muddy looking coffee. I stared it, wondering, what the heck happened to that poor cup o’ Joe. I accepted the coffee, after waiting so long for it, even though I wasn’t sure I could drink it. In the same dream, I became aware that I was purposely not invited to a party, or gathering, that my friends were having; I felt excluded and betrayed. I am conjuring up one of my favorite childhood books here, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible Very bad, No Good, Very Bad Day). Next, I was at work, at a store; customers had come behind the counter, in my space, without asking; they were blow-drying their hair and putting on makeup, and being loud and disrespectful, even though they knew I was trying to work and that they didn’t belong there. I asked them to leave and said there was a bathroom down the hall where they could do their primping. All of these strange, seemingly disjointed events seem to be pointing to getting the raw end of the deal or short end of the stick, as they say, and a need to value myself and affirm stronger boundaries (the root cause of the self-defeating habits and my Taurus/Chiron combo, which is also connected to my moon and sun, by the way.).

Simultaneously, and for the last several months, my website was under attack. I was receiving multiple emails, weekly, from my website security app. that indicated someone or something was attempting to log into my site from various IP addresses; they’d try, over and over, and get locked out and then try again the next day or week. They’d been at it for many months, determined to “break the code.” I mostly ignored it because I didn’t want to spend extra money for a website I wasn’t utilizing, but I changed my password frequently in hopes that I was a few steps ahead of the hackers.

The day before my operating system deletion, I decided to strengthen my website security once in for all; be gone with you, pesky hackers. I had started writing blogs again and I have been working hard on them, so I didn’t want some a-holes holding my writing for ransom. I called Go Daddy and added a firewall. Take that.

The operating system, the tech told me, did not have enough internal space. “You mean the only way is to delete everything on my computer?”

“Yes, I’m very sorry, she replied, her voice was small and quiet, as if someone had died.

The only way out was a new system. A wipe-out.

I assumed I had lost everything and wasn’t able to fully comprehend in the moment what that meant, and even though I was anxious and knew I might be devastated later in the day, I also felt, weirdly, excited and ready.

My prior desktop was filled with rows of folders, many of them filled with documents I had not opened in many years. Now I stared at a blank and unfamiliar screen. I opened icloud and discovered that most of my essays and important documents were saved there. I pressed my hand to chest. Whew. All of that work on so many essays, over many years, had not vanished. My apps were gone, however, including my Astrology app. that I use to create natal charts (after two inquiries to the company I still haven’t been able to retrieve it, but that is “a small price” compared to what I thought I had lost).

I have the sense of a clean slate when I look at my new blank desktop, and I am hesitant to save anything to it; I like the look of it.

My next project is to go through my documents on icloud and, slowly but surely, delete everything I no longer need.

My mother died of liver cancer in October of 2020; needless to say, it was a deeply painful and difficult period of my life. A few months after, I watched a documentary about “the other side,” called Surviving Death, and read the book,  Signs: The Secret Language of the Universe by Laura Lynn Jackson. It was comforting to listen to stories about the spiritual world and consider that maybe my mom hadn’t died at all, that I just couldn’t see her anymore.

In her book, Signs, Jackson. a well-known Clairvoyant, claims that you can communicate with your deceased loved one. She jokes that she and her father have a better relationship now that he is dead; they communicate often and he sends her meaningful and funny messages. Jackson also relays stories of people she has worked with who have received poignant messages from their loved ones on the other side.

Besides my persistent iphone autocorrect typos, which I began to think might be a sign from my mother (mom, is that you telling me to work on my abs?), I hadn’t felt her presence strongly … well, other than a few days after she died, when my cat stood up in his bed for a long time and stared with wide eyes at something in the room that I could not see. I was watching the Netflix series, Anne with an E, which my mother and I watched together when she became too sick to leave her bed. I had the last episode on that evening, which we didn’t get to see together.

I have an open-mind and, also, a cynical side; I waffle between believing that her essence has not died and thinking that I am only seeing “signs” because they are in my mind or awareness. According to The Frequency Illusion, or Baader-Meinhof effect, when you become aware of something, you start seeing or hearing it, like a new vocabulary word you have learned. Although the incident with my cat was unusual; I have never seen him stand in his bed like that (he is more of a lounging sort of guy), and I want to believe her spirit was with us that night, my practical side tells me otherwise.

In the days after my mom’s passing, my brother and sister-in-law had a frequent visitor: a ladybug … in my niece’s room in their new home, on my baby nephew. My mom, her sister, first cousins, and close friend called themselves the ladybugs. It was their dear friend, Jeannie who coined the friendship name and when she died of breast cancer they all got ladybug tattoos. My mom’s little red and black friendship badge was on her ankle. I saw a few ladybugs around me, too, after my mom died, but nothing as synchronistic as my brother and sister-in-law’s sightings … until last November, that is (will get to that later.)

My big sign came on my birthday, three months after my mom had died. The first birthday without her, the person who brought me into this world. It was also during the height of Covid. To say I was feeling untethered and alone is an understatement. I drove upstate and went on a hike by myself that day and stared at the water, but it didn’t bring me much comfort. The following day, I went to dinner with my aunt and cousins, I opened a card from my cousin, Fabiana, and smiled. I couldn’t take my eyes off the glittery pink bicycle with the banana seat and basket. It read “Happy Birthday” in pink letters. I kept talking about the bike. “I just love this card … isn’t it so cute?”

“Yes, it really is,” everyone agreed, humoring me after the third time I said it.

When I got home that evening, I looked at the card again. My mouth opened and I pressed my hand to my chest.

In my mother’s eulogy, I opened with a childhood memory: learning to ride my first two-wheel bicycle with her by my side, for many tedious hours, as I wobbled to and fro but did not catch my balance … until finally, miraculously, I did. I remember the feeling of freedom when I was able to ride my pink bike on my own, without my mother holding the back of the banana seat, and mostly how happy she was for me.

The birthday card was from my mother. I just knew it. It was my pink bicycle on the card with the banana seat and basket, as I had described in the eulogy. Fabiana was not at the lunch after the funeral service, when I read the eulogy, so she knew nothing of my pink bicycle. No amount of cynicism could convince me otherwise; my mother, who never missed a birthday and loved giving cards and gifts, was saying happy birthday. I felt her presence so strongly when I looked at the card; it was a knowing beyond words.

I displayed the card in my bedroom (and now on my refrigerator) and every time I see it, it really and truly feels like my mom is saying hello. It looks like the type of card she would pick – sparkly and festive.

Next, I met up with my friend, Geanina, at a farmer’s market last summer. In the days prior, I was going through the last of my mom’s belongings – small, special items I had packed in a few boxes. I told Geanina I was bringing something for her: three of my mom’s handheld folding fans. They are colorful and lace-y and delicate and, like my mother, Geanina is drawn to antique decor.

At the farmer’s market, Geanina got out of her car and we hugged hello. I was excited to give her the fans. Then I saw her pants.

“Your pants!”

She looked down at them and laughed, not fully understanding my big reaction. She told me she bought them during her recent trip to Colorado from a woman who hand-makes them. They had little pink and yellow bicycles with baskets all over them. “Hi mom” I said aloud. “Hi Helen,” Geanina chimed in. “I will take good care of your fans.”

Last but not least, this past November, I was visiting my mother’s best friend, Aunt Denise (I call her). Her daughter invited me to spend Thanksgiving with them; it was, in fact, a week prior to Thanksgiving because Aunt Denise was having a major surgery the day before Thanksgiving. Aunt Denise and I were talking in the kitchen; she was reminiscing about the days of her and my mother’s youth; they grew up together in Washington Heights. When my mother died, Aunt Denise posted on Facebook: “A lifetime of friendship.” Those simple words make me cry every time I read them. It’s rare to have a friend for nearly your entire life.

As Aunt Denise and I were talking and laughing about their childhood antics, Sammantha, Aunt Denise’s daughter, walked into the kitchen and announced that a ladybug landed on her in the living room. The ladybug was parked on her shoulder and it wasn’t budging. Sammantha didn’t know about the “ladybugs,” but Aunt Denise understood the reference immediately. We laughed about having the ladybug join us for dinner, and my heart felt lighter.

My cynical side hasn’t completely disappeared and some days I think the “signs” are just the mind attaching to what it wants to see and believe and, like the fatalistic existentialist French lady in I Heart Huckabees (do you know what character I’m talking about?), I think there is no spiritual world and the signs are merely coincidences (I can hear her voice as I write this), but then I see my pink bicycle on the frig.

This is nothing new, but what the Sam Hill, Autocorrect?! Why do you insist on changing common words in my text threads, like “about,” and “for” to  less used words like “snout,” and “fir?” I don’t think I have ever used the word snout in a text thread, or fir for that matter.

That said, on a more esoteric level, I sometimes think spirit is trying to talk to me through autocorrect — Yes, I really do.

About a month after my mother passed in 2020, I was texting a friend. I don’t remember what I was writing but when I looked at my text after I had sent it, it read “Rest Firstborn.”

I gasped.

Never have I ever used that phrase, and my text was not even vaguely related to those words.

I am the firstborn: I have a younger brother. Just a month prior, I experienced the most intense and prolonged crisis of my life; I took care of my mother in the two month’s before she died of liver cancer. Physically and emotionally drained does not even touch on what I was feeling; it was as if my nerves had short-circuited … which is weird because autocorrect, after her passing, was also changing common words in my text messages to “fire.” I started to worry that I should be on alert for a fire.

The other correction that happened consistently and for so many months that I finally paid attention to it, was: “and” to “abs.” I sighed, Ok spirit guide or mom or whoever you are, What are you trying to tell me? Do I need to work on my abs?

But seriously, I did.

In the chakra system, the 3rd one, or the solar plexus, is connected to personal power/empowerment and manifesting goals (and dreams) on the physical plane — two themes that have alluded me in my life. I am working on this now with a deeper yoga practice that focuses on pranayama (breath exercises) and core work: kundalini.

My mom, I believe, had trapped emotions in this region of her body that she was unable to clear out and release; she held onto anger and shame, I believe. She didn’t have an outlet for expressing emotions, which I think she had learned at a young age were inappropriate or could get you in big trouble.

Like mother like daughter, as they say, but fortunately I have the practices of creative writing and yoga that help me to connect with my emotions. I am working (as noted above) on the clearing part.

As I do inner work to free up unresolved emotions and energetic “stuff” that keeps me stuck, I feel that I am doing it for both of us — if you read me, mom, send a sign (via autocorrect). 🙂

So my dear autocorrect, even though, I admit, they irritate me, if you have any other “corrections” send them on through. I am listening.

But can you cool it on “fir” please?

Do you ever wonder why it is considered appropriate to ask a stranger if they have kids? Or, worse yet, why they don’t have kids? Imagine asking someone you have just met if she or he has caught their spouse cheating recently? You wouldn’t do it because that’s considered personal. I am here to tell you that so is asking a stranger if they are a mother.

Consider this: you ask someone who has lost a child, had a miscarriage or abortion, or someone who desperately wants to have children but can’t. I recognize that if we become too cautious about asking questions it might be hard to “make conversation,” since many topics can hit on sensitive or vulnerable spots … but can we all agree that small talk is the pits anyway?

I think: 1. we can get more creative if we want to strike up a conversation, and 2. If obliged to talk and you don’t know what to say, just stick with the trusty ole’ weather. Yeah, it’s a terrible topic but it beats being asked an intrusive question by someone you don’t know. Also, as Bex Main expresses in her article, “Please, please stop asking: “Do you have children?”, someone who has a child will generally bring that up early in the conversation anyway, so the question, in many cases, is unnecessary.

A young woman with a baby came into a shop I was working at. I typically enjoy chatting with people but the dynamic between us felt slightly off, for whatever reason … we didn’t hit it off. As I was ringing up her sale, she randomly asked, “Do you have kids?” I paused, thinking where did that come from? We weren’t talking about children or anything related to children, so the question wasn’t natural or at all necessary in terms of our interaction. It felt a little like a jab.

Instead of saying “No,” which often leads to an awkward moment of silence, I answered that I have a niece and nephews. When people ask me about my child-bearing status, I like to use it as an opportunity to whip out photos of my fur babies (sorry ya asked now, aren’t ya?) — in a few cases, the question asker looked at me like I had just shared a photo of my private parts (not an animal lover, I see). I digress.

The Millennial with her baby replied, in a high pitched voice, “That’s the best!” perhaps, recognizing that it wasn’t “the best” question to ask. My niece and nephews ARE the best (no prejudice here). They love me a lot and I them. That said, the “kids” question can be a sensitive one, and in that moment it was for me.

The thing is: I am not heartbroken over not having children … but I am not, let’s say, in the place I imagined I’d be at “this age.” I’m in my 40s (Gasp. I think I might be in denial), unmarried, and in a career transition/crisis. Lately, I feel like the odd man out wherever I go, not quite fitting into any situation. I lost my work and community during Covid, as well as my mother to cancer. Some of friendships faded while other older friendships have grown stale. I feel isolated and unsure of my next steps, so I am in a somewhat vulnerable situation, emotionally speaking. And the thought has crossed my mind that if I had been able to get my life together, so to speak, maybe I would have loved being a mom, and that makes me a little sad … but, then, another part of me thinks, pretty resolutely, that motherhood is not my destiny in this lifetime and I even cringe a little at the idea of domestic life (my Astrology chart seems to agree), and believe I can enjoy and connect with little people, in a more fulfilling way (for me), by teaching them yoga and mindfulness.

This is all to say that the kids question usually rolls off me, especially if the person asks in a kind or interested way, which I’d say the majority of people do, but on this day it did not feel that way. The question felt intrusive and a little judgmental. To give the benefit of the doubt (which is always a nice thing to do) maybe she really was just trying to make conversation and it came across the wrong way; either way, the irritation I felt in that moment caused me to write a Facebook post that generated some heartfelt, insightful, and humorous responses, causing me to reflect on the bigger picture of women’s roles/identities and why we (and probably men too) are constantly and indiscriminately asked this question when we reach a “certain age,” as well as other inappropriate status questions.

A man I went to high school with, who recently got married, responded to my facebook post. He said, before he got engaged it was: “When are you getting married?” When he got married, in came: “What took you so long?” Now that he is married, he is interrogated by the baby police.

We all put the proverbial foot in the mouth at times, and, god knows, I am no exception to this rule. I tend to get nervous when I’m “on the spot” and sometimes blurt out strange or awkward things that don’t quite make sense, so I don’t mean to sound judgmental or criticize someone who is just trying to make an honest connection. Words are not always easy to string together and sometimes they don’t adequately reflect what we want or are trying to say. I get that. Here comes the big “that said” … That said, there are also simply nosey parker people asking nosey parker questions, and to these people I say, stop that! As I said to my mom once, who asked my friend who had recently gotten married when the babies were due to arrive, get a hobby! I understand that it can be “a generational thing;” my friend loved my mom, who did mean well (as we like to say), but I could tell she was also uncomfortable and didn’t know how to respond; her husband was tentative about having kids, so it was absolutely a personal subject that she probably did not even have the answer to. Let us leave behind these “conversation starters” and  nosey questions with the yesteryear. After all, how would the same person feel if you asked him or her, “Are you divorced?”, “When are you getting divorced?” or “What took you so long?”

And if all else fails, when someone asks if you have kids or why you don’t have them, you can take a line from The Onion and answer, “It’s not child-bearing season.”

I resurrected this one from my email archive. I was working at a mind-numbing temp job and I was wearing a colorful plaid button-down top that flared at the bottom, not unlike a maternity top (it was the style), and it may have resembled pajamas. I usually dressed more appropriately and conservatively but that morning, as I was choosing my outfit, I thought who cares what I look like since I am sequestered within a maze of cubicles; the only time anyone sees me is if I walk to the bathroom … except for this day! I was asked to join a morning meeting; when I walked into the conference room everyone was already seated around a big table, wearing suits. I sheepishly slid into my seat wishing that I had not opted for the brightly colored pajama top that day.

The new retail payment systems guilt you into giving a tip every time you purchase a dang coffee, water, protein bar, etc. from an already over-priced cafe or food shop – you are prompted, at checkout, to add an 18% or 20% tip, for example. Gone are the days of giving change or a couple of bucks at your digression, if it’s a place you frequent where you like the workers.

I also work in customer service, but my job (since it is not in the food industry) does not qualify for tips and yet I am giving the same type of service and, in most cases, more of my attention and time. I am, admittedly, not as busy; I have also worked in the food industry, so I know how stressful it can be and I don’t begrudge tips by any means, but I do begrudge this system that makes you click “no tip” with each dang purchase. Why, for the love of God, can’t there just be a place to click if you do want to give a tip but let everyone else just pay their bill and be on their way? I feel awkward each time I hit “no tip.” The employee is standing right across from you, on the other side of the computer, and now you have to smile and say thank you when you have just denied him or her a tip. It feels like the walk of shame.

I always want to give an explanation: sorry, I work at the shop next door, also for an hourly wage, and can’t afford to supplement your salary (and, while we are on the topic, since I am working next door maybe you want to give me a small discount?), which brings me to my next point: if business owners paid a more fair wage, patrons would not be faced with this awkward situation.

We need an overhaul in this area of service workers and tips, me thinks.

This is an old email, I resurrected, to my friend Aimee. I was working at a mind-numbing temp job in a finance office and my only source of inspiration and connection was emailing with Aimee. I walked by a man’s cubicle and saw a picture of a rainbow taped on his cubicle wall. The Crayola words read something like, “Dear Daddy, You and Mommy are the best parents in the whole world.”   I recalled my own love notes to my mom when I was a kid and all the resentment I now harbored toward my parents. But at the time it was, “I love you so so so much” and “I can’t wait to see you and our baby (my brother) after school.” That got me thinking: today it’s the rainbow and tomorrow (or in several years) it’s “Dear Daddy, you and Mommy ruined my life.  I hate you!”

When you’re a kid your parents walk on water. Whether or not they deserve it, you idealize them until you slowly understand what the heck really went down. I don’t have kids but I thought about how hard that must be for parents, especially ones that earnestly tried to be supportive and loving parents … one day it’s all over and they hate your guts, or at the very least they are painfully embarrassed of you. If things weren’t too dysfunctional, give it another ten or so years and you will hopefully be back in the good graces.

Deep thoughts. You’re welcome. 🙂

For the love of god, will men on Bumble PLEASE stop asking: “How is/was your day/Tuesday/Wednesday. etc.?” How about this? My day just got a little worse because you are so painfully boring (or just lazy?) that you can’t think of anything to say besides, How was your day?  Just take a glance at the profile and, voila, there is a world full of conversation starters in there. If you truly cannot think of anything else to say consider taking a course in interpersonal skills. That is all.

Addendum: There is also a tendency on dating apps to scratch out the face of another person in the photo; while I understand the privacy concern, consider that the black e-marker haphazardly scribbled over a person’s face looks creepy. The better bet is to crop the photo (or I have seen emojjis in place of faces, which is cute and slightly less creepy). Just sayin’. 🙂

Let me start by saying that I am mostly a dutiful “How are you-er,” especially when it’s an opening to more meaningful conversation, or if I’m in a situation, like work, that simply requires it. I am generally polite and kind and I do the thing: “I’m good, I’m good. How are you?” It’s a part of life. No one really wants to be asking the question or answering it, but we do it out of habit, for lack of a better greeting, etc.

But ya know when the way someone says or asks something just rubs you the wrong way and makes you want to punch them in the face? Yeah that.

I hadn’t seen this person in a long time — a friend’s younger sister. She came into the store I was working at. Now let’s just say that I am not exactly winning in my life story – picture Annie from the movie Bridesmaids, working at the jewelry store, and you have a good idea of where I am at. I think it’s safe to say this person is aware of this – let’s call her a smug married (who just had a baby), in Bridget Jones’ language (wow, I haven’t thought of that one in a long time – dating myself). So when she asked me, in a snide sort of way, how I was for the second time, even though I had dutifully answered at the start of our ‘small talk,’ I heard my voice rise a few octaves. “Good!” Then I shot back, “How are you?” in my too high voice, even though I had already asked her on our first go around. It felt like the conversation came to a screeching halt after that.

It was like a battle of the “How are you’s?” (I’m conjuring up Seinfeld here).

When I was around 12 years old my best friend, Allison, and I had a prank calling side gig, a passion project if you will. We set up shop in my brother’s bedroom — he was the only one with two phone jacks in his room. With two phones, we could both listen in (these were the days of telephones with wires).

One of our favorite pranks was telling people they were a part of a nation-wide Baskin Robbins contest: if they could list all 31 flavors in something like 60 seconds they would win the contest.  The prank callee would start calling out flavors frantically, at which point we could not hold in our howls and they would usually catch on and angrily hang up, but one time someone successfully listed all the flavors and Allison announced, “You are the proud new owner of a matching shower curtain and shower cap!” I have no idea how she came up with that one but, because it was so random, we thought it was hilarious — it still makes me laugh, I admit.

After the booby prize notification, I think the “poor devil” (as my mom used to say) probably hung up. I can’t recall, but I do remember that we devoted many a weekend to our hobby of annoying people. #prankcalls

Random thought of the day: Do you ever get confused by the “love” feature on Facebook? For example, you “love” a few comments on a post you wrote but then as you are “loving away” you pause, unsure if you should love or like the next comment, which may be more in the “liking” realm and you don’t want to use “love” in vain (or be creepy for that matter), but you also do not want the commenter to feel unloved and only liked … what a dilemma. #sensitivepeopleproblems

Addendum: I was recently part of an online community and one of the founders “loved” most comments and questions, seemingly indiscriminately, so on the rare occasion he “liked’ a post I wondered if something was wrong.

Too drained to climb the stairs to my apartment, I walk toward the old-fashion wooden elevator. I pause to glance at my cell phone and the elevator floats upward with a ding. I sigh.

A few minutes later, the elevator lands back in the lobby, and a little girl with light hair and bright eyes bops out. She looks to be 5 or 6 years old. A pretty woman, her mother I imagine, walks behind her. I recognize them: we rode the elevator together a few weeks back. We exchange a neighborly greeting and begin to go our separate ways when the little girl swings around: “What’s your name?”

“Nicole,” I tell her. “What’s yours?” Her mother and I smile at each other.

“Isabella,” she says softly, suddenly shy.

Isabella. That’s right,” I say. “I remember now.” And she perks up, a smile forming.

“Do you have a kid?” Isabella questions, brow creases appearing as she tries to place me. Her mother winces at her personal inquiry and I laugh at her brash innocence, sweet boldness, and use of the word “kid.”

“No, but I have a kitty cat,” I offer. Isabella studies me for a moment, then requests my cat’s name.

I tell her, “Jespa.”

“Jessica?” she asks, uncertainly. I repeat the name and spell it for her, pointing out that it’s an unusual name. She smiles grandly and announces that she will come visit me and the cat. I tell her that sounds great. She asks if my cat is friendly, and I explain that he can be shy with strangers but once he gets comfortable he usually comes out of his shell. I wonder if she understands “comes out of his shell,” but she seems pleased to hear this.

“Let’s make a play date!”

I am amused that I have been deemed a suitable playmate. This does not completely surprise me since I joke that I am aging backward–emotionally speaking. I am more in touch now with the child-like qualities of playfulness, creativity and spontaneity than I was when I was a child.

“Sure!” I say, trying to match her enthusiasm, and add which floor I live on. She reports that Fridays are good for her (her mom explains that they are only here on weekends), and I say that’s perfect.

As I get into the elevator, I hear: “Have a great day!”

And she has, most certainly, made my day.

 

An excerpt from an essay in The Sun Magazine (I love this magazine with all my heart): “Looking back, I don’t know how I got through the anxiety and shame of early recovery. Sometimes the pain was so great it felt physical, and I sat twisting and moaning as if cloven feet were stamping through the chambers of my heart. But as the tiny pieces of my detonated life slowly drifted back to earth, I began working as a home-health aide, helping the elderly and caring for kids on occasion. A peaceful, sane existence began to take shape. The only problem was, I could no longer write. Somehow in sobriety I just didn’t have the juice to pump out pages and judge them as good or bad. Forced to acknowledge that I was a failure as a writer, I learned to live with my dashed dreams. That’s when it occurred to me that I didn’t have to write to prove to the world that I was a worthwhile human being or that all my pain and turmoil had a purpose. I wasn’t special – or, no more so that anyone else. It was time, finally, to grow up.” -Sybil Smith

I like these last lines very much. They feel wise and earned in a very real way. I have also thought that if I publish a book or attain some worldly success that all the “pain and turmoil” will then finally make sense, will, as Smith writes, have a purpose. But it seems that when we let go of the need to transform pain and turmoil into something that looks good from the outside, then the real healing and work can begin. I checked out Sybil Smith’s author website and saw that she in fact has numerous publications, and so it seems that by releasing her desire to prove something she did in fact reach her initial goals. I imagine in that “peaceful, sane existence” she discovered in life after addiction, that her work became deeper, more authentic and carefree (maybe she stopped caring so much about what other people thought) and that that shift, that “growing up,” enabled her to enjoy the success she had been chasing in her earlier life. I never liked the term “grow up,” because it tends to connote judgment, as in “grow up, already.” Maybe that’s because I did not want to grow up myself, to take on the responsibilities of adult life. As a child, I was acutely in tune to my parents’ pain and turmoil. Growing up did not seem fun.

J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, certainly did not value the idea of growing up. His preoccupation with youth stemmed, it seems, from a very sad, tragic past, and he did not seem to have the ability to “grow up” due to deep childhood wounds (and, interestingly, did not physically grow past the height of a child). I am realizing that we are privileged if we get to “grow up,” to experience (or earn) the sweetness of a “peaceful, sane existence.” Pixie dust is pretty and all but, in the end, it’s just an illusion.

Today, a quote: “The primary distinction of the artist is that he must actively cultivate that state which most men, necessarily, must avoid: the state of being alone. – James Baldwin

 

Today I taught yoga classes for kids at a school carnival. These little people were so eager to listen and sing, and bring their hands together at their hearts. They also love barking in Downward Facing Dog, howling at the moon in Upward Facing Dog and hopping like bunny rabbits. They are pure joy. Pure love. They reminded me tonight, after a mundane day (the grey, damp weather reflecting the blah-ness of the day), of the joy in simple moments.

Last night, I was reading an article on Happiness in The Sun Magazine. The author, Mihaly Csiksgentmihalyi, writes: “Happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random chance. It is not something that money can buy or power command. It does not depend on outside events, but, rather, on how we interpret them. Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person. People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us come to being happy.”

I feel, on some days, when the stars are aligned, hugely grateful for what I have in my life and, yet, on other days the things I do not have seem to be obstacles to my happiness. When I look around (especially in Facebook land) everyone my age seems to have basic external markers that I do not yet have and I wonder what the heck happened to me and sink into a state of lack and despair. It does not feel good there. It seems in these moments that those missing pieces will provide me with the happiness I seek, If I can just meet the right guy etc. And yet I know, on a deeper level, that external circumstances will never change the way I feel about myself, and will never make me truly happy if I am not already – at least not for long.

Csiksgentmihalyi (not even going to even try pronouncing that) reflects that happiness does not occur only when “external conditions are favorable” and, actually, seems to occur more when they are not (or at least when we have moved outside of comfort). He writes that those “who have lived through near-fatal physical dangers often recall that in the midst of their ordeal they experienced extraordinarily rich epiphanies in response to such simple events as hearing the song of a bird in the forest, completing a hard task, or sharing a crust of bread with a friend.”

I had once partially filled out a questionnaire for a website; the question I’d left off on was “Are you happy?” This question kept popping up in my inbox, a reminder that I had yet to complete the questionnaire. “Are you happy?” it chided me.

I finally filled the damn thing out. I checked “Yes”, knowing that I have the power to be happy right now, in each moment that I choose to be present. Maybe all I have to do is howl at the moon in Upward Facing Dog. Awwoooo!

Now that makes me happy.

Rain. The soothing tapping sound. The cleansing feel of it on my face, like lots of teardrops (no umbrella). Some days I love the gloominess of the rain.

Morning cuddles with my kitty cat. A few scratches thrown in the mix, of course (I am accustomed to having scratched up arms).

Peeling a big red “violation” sticker off my side window (I parked in a 2-hour visitor’s parking spot all day because I didn’t have my work parking permit). The rain helped.

Making progress on a work “to-do” list.

Early evening yoga practice with some core work … the feeling of building strength.

“Nonna’s pizza” from local pizza place. Pretty tasty.

A photo of my friend’s new puppy. Scrumptious.

A caring text from a friend.

My cat sticking his nose in my drink and then attempting to stick his paw into it. He likes ice cubes. Needless to say, it is now his drink.

 

 

I picked up an old issue of The Sun Magazine, realizing I had never read it, and am engrossed in the advice columns from Cary Tennis’ book, Citizens of the Dream: Advice on Writing, Painting, Playing, Acting, and Being.

A jazz pianist wrote to Cary for advice on his career/life path, explaining that he’s heading for his fifties and just sneaking by on his musician’s income. He writes, “We always hear heartwarming stories of people who followed their dream and never gave up and succeeded, but what of the people who followed their dream and failed?” He says that he once thought staying true to his art was everything but that now he yearns to know the satisfaction of earning a living. He’s sick of driving many miles for crappy gigs and money, and is concerned about his future.

The jazz pianist’s dilemma struck a chord with me (no pun intended).  I recently took on a part time office job that is unrelated to anything I am interested in but will enable me to make a living. When I was attempting to teach yoga full- time I felt stressed and pressured. I was ‘running around’ from class to class and subbing whenever I could, but it did not add up to a full-time salary. Subbing cannot be counted on for income and even permanent classes are subject to change, so there is little stability. And ‘god forbid’ I taught a class that was less than great; it sent me into a downward spiral of despair and doubt, questioning whether I was any good at teaching and if I could continue on this path at all.

Cary tells the jazz musician that when he first sat down to write to him he was at a loss; he had no words. He took some time away from the computer to clear his head but still no words came. But then he noticed a bumper sticker on a car that read “Real musicians have day jobs!” Cary writes, “… it was a needed reminder: Your music does not have to support you. In fact, your music might be happier if you were supporting it.” He encourages him to find part-time work to supplement his musical career or to even change paths completely if he chooses and play his music on the side. I found this oddly comforting.

The next question to Cary comes from a young woman who has had no worldly success with her writing, no tangible results to prove that her writing is worth pursuing. She wants to know when she should give up in terms of making a career of writing. Cary reminds her that writing is not only about “displaying one’s talent” but that writing is a “spiritual practice and mode of self-discovery.” He continues on to discuss the “practice,” the notion of putting in the work each day to improve one’s craft.

The universe has been sending lots of messages my way about practicing with consistency and love for the craft, and finding the grace to detach from the results. Practice is not about getting to an end point. I have been practicing every day (my writing, my yoga) and I feeling fuller, nourished, and more stable … those feelings I’d been looking for when I was  practicing erratically and praying I would get my big break at some point. It would still be great to get the big break but what is really great is simply feeling the effects of my practice in my body, mind and soul.

A dream: I had been shot twice in the area around my heart. I didn’t realize at first that I’d been shot, didn’t feel anything, but then I looked down at my chest and saw that I had two bloody wounds. I felt a tingling sensation, a quiet pain. It wasn’t the pain that concerned me but the knowledge that the wounds were much deeper and more severe than the pain indicated, and that I just couldn’t feel the full intensity of them yet. I didn’t know if the wounds were fatal so I asked a police officer for his assessment; he seemed to reassure me that I would be okay.

The wounds, I suspect, are symbolic of my father’s death and the slow process of connecting to such big emotions. I was, for a long time, disconnected from my emotions (a defense mechanism); my yoga and writing practices have helped to sync up my mind and body so I can feel what I am feeling, but, still, it is a slow process for me. I randomly cry in the car in response to a story on NPR (often one that seems, on the surface, unrelated) or a song.

Lately, what triggers me to feel are beings that are helpless or in pain. Since I was a little girl, I’ve had a soft spot for animals. Books like Where the Red Fern Grows were almost too much for me to handle; I cried like I had lost my own family member. As I grew older, I hardened and closed my heart and didn’t feel with the intensity I once had. I guess I learned that it wasn’t safe to be that vulnerable. A consistent yoga practice has helped me to re-open in the places I closed down, which brings connection and love and, also, vulnerability and pain. Recently, posts and petitions on social media about animals that are suffering hit me at the deepest places in my core and heart. I want to save them all. I want for them to be safe and comfortable and loved. I can’t stand the idea of them being alone and scared.

My brother’s recent decision to give up the dog he adopted, a dog who has anxiety and abandonment issues that affect his behavior and make it too difficult to have him in a small apartment, sent me into a tear fest. I couldn’t speak when I heard the news because my throat was so full of emotion. I cried for days. My words to my brother, just weeks before he made the decision, were: “Don’t give up on him!” I had sensed it.

My brother said something recently that surprised me: he said his dog’s face reminds him of our dad. We laughed and my brother’s wife asked what he meant but I knew immediately. It had occurred to me that my reaction to the news about the dog was connected to my father. My father was in pain for a long time, ever since I can remember, trapped by his addictions, and suffering immensely. He was also kind and big-hearted and cared deeply about other people, especially his family. He couldn’t show us in the same way a father who is “available” and “well” might, but I always felt his love.

We could not help my father. I watched him slowly devolve and deteriorate. I was in high school when I began to understand that something was very wrong. About a year before he died, I had little contact with him. There had been so many ups and downs (homeless shelters and veteran’s rehab and finally recovery and a period of health, but not for long) and I understood he would never change. I didn’t make a conscious effort to withdraw but it happened naturally (on both sides; he didn’t contact me often either) and I felt sad and guilty when I thought about him but every time I picked up the phone to call, or thought about visiting him, I could not do it.

I recently read in an interview (I think also in The Sun) that grieving is not a linear process  … like in my dream, it may take time to get to the depth of the real wound.

 

Seinfeld does a funny skit about “day guy” and “night guy.” Night guy, he says, sabotages day guy. Night guy is not at all concerned with day guy’s wake up time: day guy has to get up in 5 hours; oh well.

I think this skit is hilarious because I have a day guy/night guy personality. My “day guy” wants to get everything right, accomplish all the tasks on my “to do” list, eat healthy, exercise, and get to bed early, but by the time evening rolls around day guy is a goner and night guy is ready to parteeee (I’m thinking of the line from Bridesmaids–from the scene on the airplane), and by party I mostly mean staying up late to read, peruse the internet, or watch TV. Okay, okay, and eating way more than my body needs (this is where my dessert addiction comes in) and sometimes drinking vino. Before I know it, it’s way past day guy’s bedtime and I know day guy will be miserable in the morning (day guy is sensitive and needs beauty sleep), but it’s too late. The damage is done. Night guy has struck again.

How to integrate the day and night guys? Where do these disparate souls meet?

Day guy is great and all, always getting stuff done, but can become rigid and serious, consumed by the mundane details, whereas night guy is more about the big picture (he or she, as it were, enjoys reading Astrology and Mythology blogs at midnight) and couldn’t care less about the tasks on the “to do” list.

In order to honor both the night and day aspects of my personality I think I have to find equal time for being responsible and for being carefree, working hard and dancing in pajamas, accomplishing tasks and doing nothing. I think night guy is akin to the loose-y goose-y right brain hemisphere and day guy is aligned with the business-like left brain.

PS. I am in night guy mode at the moment and don’t feel like doing anything but sitting on the couch with a glass of vino and my kitty cat, which I will go do now. I will do my best to keep him in check, so that day guy can thrive tomorrow.

This is night guy signing off.

Tonight while I was teaching my yoga class I was present, fully present. There is a rhythmic flow that you can step inside of when you leave the thinking mind and teach from that higher, connected place; a dance between teacher and students ensues and it can feel magical. The sequence, the words, the technical aspects of the class fall into the background–they are there but it is the energy of the class that buoys everyone, that leaves both students and teacher feeling light and whole.

Unfortunately, there are also those classes that feel “off,” when you just can’t, for whatever reason, click in, find the beat. My voice, my words, my movements feel awkward and foreign to me and I struggle through the class like I was doing hard manual labor.

These “off” classes are, thankfully, more rare now but when I began teaching they happened a lot, probably due to old, deep fears of being “seen” and “heard.”

I wondered if it was a good idea to share this on my blog since I teach yoga for a living, but we all have “off” classes or days and to share these truths reveals our humanity and connects us to others. I am learning to move on more quickly from the classes or experiences in life that don’t go as well as I would have liked, and to keep in mind that it is all practice. The more I practice my craft the stronger and more experienced I become.

So instead of failing … how about falling. Falling is a part of the practice. I say this to students when they’re in Tree Pose because it can be so frustrating to feel unbalanced, but by the very nature of it one’s balance varies day to day, and there will always be some wobbling and, sometimes, falling.

The question is, can you fall gracefully? That is an art, too.

 

Day 15 of my 30-day writing challenge. Halfway there. I was talking to a friend today about her new health plan; for the first 30 days it’s very structured and after that she will be more lenient but will stick to the overall nutritional plan because she feels great. I’m thinking of this writing challenge in the same way. It will feel like an accomplishment to hit day 30, but the point is to continue.

It’s said that it takes a minimum of 21 days to form a habit and, usually, for most people, between two to eight months. It’s not about 21 days or 66 days; it’s about forming a habit and then staying with it. No matter how long it takes. And, no, missing a day here and there will not doom you. We don’t have to be perfect. In fact, it’s not healthy.

I like this habit forming notion when it comes to writing. I’m exercising my writing muscle every day and it is starting to feel more natural. Some days I meet the screen with blank eyes and mind; I feel that I have nothing to write about but once I begin I’m surprised that I actually do. I am practicing. The biggest obstacle is letting go of the need for it be perfect.

It dawned on me last night, as I was scrounging for words, that I was having a hard time because I felt I had to put a cherry on top of each piece, to make it sweet and palatable and then I realized that no one wants to read that shit. I’m aiming, for the next 15 days (and more), to write truthfully and fearlessly, to be less afraid of sharing the real stuff.

In a past issue of The Sun Magazine (here’s some honesty: I am reading this 2012 issue for the first time; it has been hanging out on my book shelf since then. Interestingly enough, it came at the prefect time), Ran Ortner, an artist, is interviewed by Ariane Conrad. Conrad inquires: “I notice you don’t ever mention talent, something innate, a gift you have been granted”, and Ortner replies: “Talent is just the inner need. There is the Christian saying ‘Seek and ye shall find,’ but this does not convey the intensity. I think of the zen passage that says you should seek as if your hair is on fire and you’re looking for water. Intensity plays a huge role in the creative process. The deep need summons the resources required to achieve a breakthrough” (p.8).

Ortner goes on to discuss a period of his life when his work did not feel authentic and he lost his way, his sense of what art was. He stopped his art and began reading; he read not only the biographies of well-known artists but about many different fields, including psychology, spirituality and science, and what he surmised was that creativity is more closely linked to science than spirituality. Ortner tells Conrad: “Patterns emerged. A scientist and a monk and an artist are all looking for the same thing: some deeper reality outside themselves, or inside themselves. They are all involved in the same process: they have an inkling of possibility and are working to realize that potential. And there’s a process to finding it. You have to build up a practice, a system of approach, a set of resources – and from there you can confront the mystery. Everything I read pointed to deep research and arduous work – and then, in a relaxed moment, the aha. The epiphany comes from the concentrated endeavor, not despite it (p.9).

This message of hard, consistent, structured work is coming at me from all angles these days. It’s everywhere. In the wind. The sun (the real one and the magazine). The stars. Everything I read seems to contain this message. A couple of days ago, I picked up a Young Living (a company that makes essential oils) newsletter I’d been meaning to read for weeks and it contained the same message. I guess this is how the universe communicates with us. I am listening, universe. I read you loud and clear.

Ah, today. What can I say about today? I started the first day of my new job and like all first days it was a little (or a lot) chaotic, confusing, unsettling.  I felt the familiar pressure on my chest, that ‘uh-oh, what have I gotten myself into?’ feeling. I know that feeling well enough by now to know that it is just that, a feeling, and that it will pass.

So, how do we get through things that are difficult or uncomfortable or frustrating? Step by step. Breath by breath. One foot in front of the other.

My cat has a clothing addiction. He loves to eat soft material, especially cashmere – what can I say, he has good taste. I have learned my lesson and keep all closets securely shut these days. A chair now serves as a barricade to my closet door after he broke in and had his way with a few sweaters. Sweaters, shirts, a few yoga pants and even a coat fell victim to the clothes addict.

I used to have a clothing addiction myself. No, I didn’t take bites of shirts and sweaters like my furry friend does, but I loved to buy new things to wear. I worked in retail, on and off, for years and I think I spent more money than I made on the merchandise. When I lived in San Francisco and worked in Finance, I bought a new garment regularly.

The outfits, the stuff, didn’t ever make me happy (for more than a few minutes) and now seem to me like armor, insulation, a way to not feel. A metaphor for a closed heart. My cat, Jespa, has taught me how to love again. Animals are pure; they teach unconditional love. Jespa has, literally and figuratively, bitten through my armor, the defenses that keep me hidden away from love and real emotions.

Who needs new clothes when you can have a little tiger friend?

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An excerpt from Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing:

“When it comes to storytelling (and it’s all storytelling) I often tell my students that we need to be dumb like animals. Storytelling itself is primal. It’s the way we’ve always come to understand the world around us–whether recited around a campfire, or read aloud in an east village bar. And so it stands to reason that in order to tell our stories, we tap into something beyond the intellect –an understanding deeper than anything we can willfully engage. Overthink and our minds scramble, wondering: Should we go in this direction? Or that one? . . . But when we feel our way through a story, we are following a deep internal logic. The words precede us. We hear them. We sense their rightness. How did I do that, we ask ourselves, once we’ve finished, once the paint has dried, once we’ve worked through draft after draft after draft. . . . We are animals, our ears pricked, our eyes wide open. We put one hoof down, then another, on the soft and pliant earth. The rustle of a leaf. The crack of a branch. A passing breeze. We do no stop to ponder, What’s around the corner? We don’t know. There is only this: the bird’s nest, the fawn, the snake curled beneath the gnarled root of an ancient tree. There is only the sound of our own breath. Our pulsing bodies. We are here. Alive, alert, quivering. We are cave dwellers. With a sharpened arrowhead we make a picture. A boy. A bear. The moon” (150).

Did you ever notice in writing workshops that the students who were the best at critiquing others’ pieces weren’t always the strongest storytellers? I’m not saying that they were not strong writers–they were– but that there was sometimes something missing in their stories? The emotions we feel when we connect to a story has to do with the essence of you and me, which you cannot reach through the thinking brain. In my yoga & journaling workshop, we’ll use the yoga practice (i.e., meditative movement) to shift from the hustle bustle of the left brain hemisphere to the freedom of the right brain–to tap into something beyond intellect. It is in this more spacious state of being that we can connect to ourselves and the world around us: the rustle of a leaf. The crack of a branch, as Shapiro writes. From this centered place, we can express ourselves more authentically and create with our “sharpened arrowheads,” or whatever writing utensil you choose. 🙂 A Boy. A bear. The Moon. I

 

Today, on his birthday, a tribute to my father.

I’ve been reading books about the other side. I teeter between believing that my father is around me, watching me and helping me navigate this tricky earth plane to thinking he is simply, gone.

After he died, I saw cardinals on a walking trail near my home. My father loved the outdoors and I felt like the birds were a message from him or a sign that he was around. A few weeks later, I read a post on Facebook that said just that.

One day, some time after the cardinal spotting, I was planning my yoga class for later that day. I wanted to read a poem but wasn’t sure which one and so randomly opened the page to, you guessed it, a poem about a cardinal. I read the poem at the end of class that day. I wasn’t sure if anyone was listening.

A week or two later, I was feeling down in the dumps at the yoga studio I teach at. I was about to teach an evening class, which was unexpectedly big that evening; now on top of feeling depleted I felt a rush of the old anxiety around being seen and heard, surging through my body – I wanted to run away. That’s when I said the Hail Achilles (that’s my dad’s name) — Dad, I try not to ask for your help that often; I know you’re busy on the other side, doing your work, but I really need you right now.

Just then a student (one of my favorite students for her kind nature) with long, thick red wavy hair waved to me. She said she had something for me and so I walked out of the studio with her, into the hallway, already feeling a slight shift in my anxiety; I was glad to be out of the studio where students were piling in. I felt like she had rescued me. She handed me a gift bag; I reached inside and pulled out a string of red paper birds; a mobile. I gasped. She had been touched by the poem I’d read in class, she said, and was inspired to make me these origami birds. As I held the birds in my hand, I felt a surge of energy, like being filled with bright light. I was suddenly on top of the world. I walked back into the studio, confident and whole. I was ready to begin class and it wound up being a lovely class filled with good energy, which I attribute as much to the students/the collective ‘energy’ as my own teaching and energy and, of course, the contribution of those I couldn’t see that night (thank you, Dad).

Cardinal calls me from the                       IMG_1519

Railing of the desk. “Turn

your world red,” he says,

insistent, beckoning. “Risk

life outside your hard-earned

walls and windows. Cast

aside caution, propriety,

and your too small sense

of what you can and cannot

do. Fly! I tell you that the

sky knows no constraints.

All you are or can be comes

clear in the near approach of

clouds. Fly! That which you

fear the most holds your

deepest teaching. Let your

spirit be the bridge between

safety and release. Soar to

the far end of what is known

from dawn to twilight, then

throw yourself at the whim

of the wild night winds.

Turn your world red, and

live with no regrets. Fly!

And if you are blown off

course, just change your

destination. Choose to

land wherever your two

feet are standing.

-Danna Faulds

Today, I took a yoga class today at the studio I teach at. It was a full class and as we were about to begin one last student made her way in. She paused, yoga mat, handbag, and water bottle in hand. There was a good-sized space between two mats in front of me, and a student next to the space waved her over.

The woman didn’t budge.

When F., our teacher, spotted her he walked over and stood in the space, smiling and motioning her to settle here. She moved tentatively, her body stiff, and unrolled her mat, plopping her giant handbag and other belongings onto the floor beside it. She stood awkwardly on her mat, as though she didn’t know why she was here, and looked around suspiciously at the grey folding chairs that were surrounding everyone’s mats; F. had asked each student to take a chair for today’s practice. The room had lots of stuff in it.

Although I didn’t have a full view of this woman’s face (I could see her only from the side), I had the distinct feeling that she was not amenable to the chair situation, maybe downright pissed about it. She made a face and asked the student next to her a question, ostensibly about the chairs and when the student answered and pointed to the extra chairs at the side of room, she seemed to answer curtly. The other student’s eyes widened and she took a step back on her mat.

F. approached (let’s call her) grumpy pants, handing her a chair and the necessary props for the practice. She begrudgingly accepted them. I wondered why, in a room full of students, my energy had propelled toward the one person who had woken up on the wrong side of the bed. I felt my heart rate quicken and that old, familiar sense of unease, of something not being right.

I breathed a little deeper as we reached our arms skyward. My gaze traveled through the window that was directly in my line of view, meeting the Hudson river. Hello water. I did my best not to notice when Grumpy P, in the middle of the pose, reached into her handbag and took her phone out. In her defense, she may have been turning it on silent.

As the class progressed, my focus moved away from my chair-hating friend and I didn’t think about her again. At the end of class, after a long Savasana (the resting pose) and a sweet serenade by F., we were all feeling pretty good. I had almost dozed off I was so relaxed.  I glanced at Grumpy P and saw that she had lightened, her face visibly softer, and I’d wondered if I’d imagined the whole thing. Maybe she had not been in a bad mood after all.

Or maybe the yoga practice had worked its magic.

We all come to the mat feeling wretched some days. These are the days we most need our practice and the days it’s hardest to get there. I was reminded in that moment all over again of the profound healing potential of the practice.

Showing up for day 3 of my writing challenge (write every day, even if it’s for 10 minutes). Today may be a 10 minute kind of day. White is floating around in the sky.

This morning I drove to an interview for a summer yoga teacher position, teaching kids. The interview was in the same city I live in and yet I got lost for a few minutes (not a surprise to those who know me and my spatial challenges): my GPS lead me astray –recalculating, recalculating, GPS lady bellowed.

Recalculate is now one of my least favorite words.

I realized on the way home from the interview that, although I enjoyed the conversation with the man who interviewed me, the position wasn’t right for me. I feel disappointed and other deeper feelings about my wayward career path and purpose in life have come to the fore.

Do your yoga now, my higher self (the wiser self) pipes in. I shrug. And feel my clenched jaw. My constricted throat. I try to breathe into those places but it feels half-assed. It’s interesting: when we most need the tools at our disposal we don’t want to reach for them.

With each sentence I write a bit of tension is released. My heart softens. I regain my sense of humor.

Recalculating.

The little snowflakes are hustling to reach the ground now. They went from meandering around to being on a mission.

The act of writing, formulating sentences, pinpointing feelings and releasing them to the page (or screen as it were) is healing for me. It’s like having a conversation with yourself; it creates space between you and your bad mood, or whatever event is causing you to feel stressed.

I am thinking about writing at the same time every day, in the morning. Sy Safransky shares his rituals around his writing practice in the February issue of The Sun. He wakes every morning (or most mornings), before the sun comes up, to write. I write at different times each day; erratic even within the consistency. I understand how the ritual of waking each morning to write can put you into a rhythm, a forward motion, which is easier to step inside of. I want to step inside of that.

I am not a morning person. I avoid mornings, sleeping until the last possible minute, yet feel a sense of loss at having missed the sacred morning hours, having rushed through them to get to where I need to be, and then feeling plagued all day with a need to “catch up,” to fit in everything I want to accomplish.

It’s time to face the morning. What am I so scared of anyway? The sunshine?