Monday, September 10, 2018

Puzzle Time

I'm in a constant battle with technology in my life. I live everyday trying to be more conscious of when I'm using it, how I'm using it, the number of minutes I'm using it. I even have an app that keeps track of all of this and reports back to me. Technology feels like a vortex that I will fall into and never emerge from if I am not constantly vigilant.

To watch a young person experience this is frightening. As a parent, I have to toggle the line between being a full-time anti-screen-time nag and having a good relationship with my daughter. I can only lecture and lay down the line so much. I have to find other ways to connect and be together as a family, to make being off the screen engaging and fun. Going out of town to remote places together, with lack of wifi is always a good way to decrease technology's grip on our brains. Swimming for long periods of time works too. And of course, doing yoga is a solid solution to reclaiming a technology free hour for our bodies and brains.

At the beginning of the summer I had the idea to bring home a puzzle to engage my family in a non-competitive, technology-free activity. The puzzle home is our dining room table. During the summer this hasn't been a problem because mostly we eat outside, but as I look outside today at the grey sky and clouds I realize those days are over. And the 2000 piece puzzle, only 75% complete, has been on our dining room for five weeks.  I'll need to find another home for future puzzles if we're going to eat meals sitting down.

The first puzzle we did as a family was 500 pieces. It had a lot of color and writing, things I now know make puzzle-making easier. It was mostly my daughter Lucia and I that did it. My partner Nancy hadn't quite embraced the passion for puzzles but she'd hang around chatting, cooking, puttering while Lu and I did the puzzle. That first one was easy. We did in in a day.  The second one was 1000 pieces and was a bit more challenging but we finished that one as well. My plan was working. We were spending time together, slowing down, engaging and connecting without the distractions of screens.

This most recent puzzle is 2000 pieces. The image is of three hot air balloons floating above a lake with trees and mountains in the background. Each of the balloons has a reflection in the lake and their are vast swaths of solid green and blue. This puzzle is a beast. One night Nancy and I were home alone and I was working on the puzzle. "Do you want to try this with me?" I asked her.

"Sure. I'll try it" she said, surprising me. I was so excited to have her on board.  We spent a couple of hours and managed to finished to frame of the puzzle. We felt like geniuses, puzzle masters,  incredibly psyched and proud of our accomplishment. The next day we went out of town and our friends Simon and Nadine came from New Orleans to stay at our house. We left a note, "Work on me" sitting on top of the puzzle with the hope that they would know to at least not put the puzzle away. When we got home, there was significant progress on the puzzle. They shared that, every night for the four nights in Seattle, after eating at a great restaurant, instead of going out to hear music or have a drink at a bar, they'd come home and work on the puzzle. When they left, they laughed, pointing out the huge piles of solid green and blue that they'd avoided during their puzzle-time.

Simon and Nadine left over a week ago and we are now finally inching our way through the solid greens and blues. Yesterday, home alone, I spent three hours on the puzzle. Three hours I could have been planting bulbs, taking a walk, riding my bike, doing yoga, having coffee with a friend, cleaning my desk, binge watching Shameless. Several times, I really wanted to abandon the puzzle, to storm away from the table and yell in frustration, but no one was home and my dramatic outcry would just echo back to me, amplifying my angst.

So I stayed seated, tethered to the puzzle by some invisible, unbreakable puzzle force. I sat in front of the spread out pieces-- solid blues on one side, solid greens on the other. And as I looked at the pieces, minute after minute, I slowly began to notice the details that I hadn't noticed before. The tiny spot of red on the corner of an otherwise totally green piece. The unusual jagged cut out of another piece. The thin, almost undetectable white strip in the center of a blue piece. I sat there, moving only my arms and my eyes for three hours. When I finally got up it looked like I'd made no progress at all. But it didn't matter. I felt like the static on on my mental TV had finally been tuned. My mind felt dialed in, focused, and clear. The app on my phone that I use to record my screen time said I'd used 7 minutes for the day.



Friday, August 17, 2018

Forgiveness

Last week I was talking to a student at the front desk, something I do everyday when I teach. Sometimes we talk about the weather. Sometimes it's relationships. Sometimes it's even about yoga. On this day, this student, who's been practicing at The SweatBox for close to twelve years, said to me, "You know, I was really mad at you guys a few years ago when you kept talking about gratitude."

This was a compelling thought in itself, but even more so because I have been thinking about the overuse of the concept of gratitude in social media, in mainstream advertising, on t-shirts.  "Tell me more," I said to the student. "Well, " she explained, "it seemed for a while that teachers were just talking on and on about gratitude, but what about forgiveness?"

Forgiveness. The act of letting something go, of absolving, granting mercy, releasing, allowing. I got it. To forgive is to be able to make space for gratitude. If we are mired in the anger or holding on, being unforgiving, it is virtually impossible to have gratitude for what is there. The things to be grateful for are blurred by the static that comes from the energy it takes to hold on to anger or judgement or pain or whatever is in the way of forgiveness.

For the last several years, in my little village of Capitol Hill, I have watched the housing prices sky rocket. I have witnessed countless people-- customers, colleagues, friends--- being displaced into neighborhoods further north and south. I have seen everyday the proliferation of people literally sleeping on the streets. The same young man sleeps in front of our studio every night. We walk by him to get to our yoga mats. When we leave class, we walk by him, wondering what we can do. I've called the social service agencies the city tells me to call, but alas, the man still sleeps on the sidewalk night after night. I worry about the summer ending. Where will he go? How will he stay warm?

As a result, I have been really PISSED off at the City of Seattle. I am mad. How has a city so rich  and so smart allowed for our housing crisis to reach such a catastrophically shameful state? I am judgemental, frustrated, and ashamed. Last week the Seattle was electric with the buzz of Pearl Jam's two concerts- The Home Shows. I'm not in that scene. I'm a lifelong nerd.  I like quiet music. Big concerts give me anxiety. Then I started hearing about how twelve million dollars was raised from two concerts. At first I felt cynical. "Oooh. Great marketing for them." I thought to myself. "Seattle shouldn't be depending on concerts to house our homeless."

And then my wise student came into my mind. "What about forgiveness?" I thought to myself. And I tried it. I made an earnest attempt to forgive the City of Seattle. I talked myself through it. Bureaucracy is a bitch. Durkan is a brand new mayor. Amazon is a megaforce. Our city is growing  really fast. I let go of some of my anger and judgement and I forgave the City of Seattle. It worked. I was able to truly celebrate the gift of Pearl Jam, the gift of raising twelve million dollars to help people who need homes, rent subsidies, utility assistance, mental health care. Twelve million dollars isn't enough, but it's a damn good start. Thank you Pearl Jam and everyone who supported the Home Shows.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

The Man with The Duffels

There’s a man who lives in Seward Park. I’ve seen him for years. He’s very quiet. He walks very slowly and he always carries two duffel bags. He wears a dark parka all year long that looks navy but is shiny with grime and age so it's hard to tell the actual color. I often see him walking the south end of Lake Washington. I've seen him as far as Leschi but mostly I see him around Seward Park and inside the park. I often run the inner trails with my friend Kate and her dog Tucker and we've crossed this mans path multiple times.

This morning as I was walking around the Seward Park outer loop, I saw him walking in front of me. He was about 100 yards ahead and I could tell it was him from his distinctive gate and the two duffels. I’ve always assumed that this man lives in the inner sanctum of the park. There are arterials all around the loop that feed into the park. It's easy to get lost among the arterial paths. The inner sanctum is a wonderful, peaceful sanctuary from the chaos of the city. The old growth forest is magical and lush with centuries-old Douglas Firs, nurse logs and ferns. I never go on the inner trails on my own because I worry about getting lost. I also fear the mystery of the vast, beautiful, unknown park.

This morning, the man with duffels turned off to go up one of the trails. I was still about 50 yards behind and as I approached the trailhead I could no longer see him, but I heard screaming inside of the forest. It was angry, aggressive. The voice was swearing. I stopped. I took out my earbuds so I could hear more clearly.  It was early, not even 7am and there was no one else around. I walked to the other side of the path, away from the lake so I could hear better. I heard the voice again, "Fuck you!" and then something unintelligible. There was only one voice. No one was responding to the angry outbursts.  I felt stuck, unwilling to go into the park to investigate and no one around to help me discern the origin or meaning of the yelling.

Finally, I yelled into the tree line of the inner sanctum, "Are you okay in there?" I waited. I heard nothing. I waited a few more minutes and a woman on bike came by. "Did you hear yelling?" I asked. "Yes" she said,  "I think he was yelling for his dog. There's a lot of bunnies in there and it's easy to lose your dog to the chase."

I knew there was no dog. I had seen the man turn in and I was pretty sure it was this quiet man's voice I'd heard. But I didn't say anything to the woman. I just nodded and she continued riding. After the woman rode on I waited a few minutes more and when I heard nothing else from the woods, I continued on my own loop. I kept my earbuds out so I could hear if there were any more voices.

What was this man's story? Maybe he was a person with demons who found solace in the woods. Did I interrupt his private experience by yelling into the trees. Maybe the woods is his home, his sanctuary and I witnessed a private moment that was supposed to be his alone.

We never really know a person's story, their emotional experiences, their inner demons. I wonder what kind of home the man with the duffels has made inside the park. Has he found a way to create a place where he can be who he truly is, sometimes quiet, and sometimes angry and loud.

As I walked on, I thought about my decision to not follow those yells this morning, to stay on my safe, paved path on the outskirts of the forest. I'm a city kid. I grew up on the South Side of Chicago. My mom warned us about which train stations were safe. I knew what bus stop I should get off to avoid danger.  When my little sister was held up at gun point while sitting in a car a block from our house, I waited with my parents and sisters for the all-night locksmith to come change our locks. Sometimes when I'm walking and I'm alone on the path and I feel unsafe for some reason, I know it's my city dweller voice resurfacing. When I'm walking around the park and there's no one around or I get a weird vibe off of someone I pass, I think to myself, "I can always run into the water. I'm a great swimmer. Most people wouldn't follow me into the water. That will be my escape."

But I don't feel that way in the forest. For me going into the woods is not an escape. I'm scared of it. It's dark and closed. There are secret hiding places for the boogie man all over the forest. But maybe for the man with the duffels, the forest is a safe place. The darkness, the canopy cover, the mystery and the hiding places are his comfort. I'll never know what made the man with the duffels angry or if his yelling was even out of anger. I hope I didn't interrupt something that made him feel less safe in his home. I feel a little bit like I invaded his privacy, his safety zone.

When I think of the man with the duffels, I feel a sense of reverence for him, for his life in the forest. I love the beauty of the woods, the smells, the sounds of the birds, the variant greens, but he is a part of the forest. When I heard him yelling, I knew somehow that he had entered his home. In his yelling, he was letting something out that he doesn't when he's outside of the woods. We all need a place where we can feel safe and at peace. I often find that place near the water, on the periphery of the trees. I hope the man with the duffels finds his peace in the forest.





Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Triangle Then. Triangle Now.

Circa 2006
I started practicing yoga almost twenty-five years ago. I was twenty-four years old, ten years older than my daughter is now. I cannot remember what my body felt like that many years ago. I can't imagine not feeling a little something in my shoulder or a tiny kink in my hip, the chicken bone snaps in my knees.

During practice recently I've been modifying triangle pose. Sometimes I skip it altogether. Triangle pose is not the only yoga posture that's changed for me, but it's definitely the pose that's changed the most significantly-- I really notice how my body is a different body.

When my daughter was born almost fourteen years ago, my labor was long, 42 hours. I had multiple midwives during the course of my labor. The last one, Kelly, had to really push me. If I didn't progress, a C-section would be in my future. During hour 36, after putting some kind of gel on my cervix and walking the stairs of Group Health Cooperative for 90 minutes straight, Kelly told me to do triangle pose. And I did. Nine months pregnant, awake for almost two days, laboring for most of it, I dropped into triangle like it was no big thing.

The other day in class that image popped into my mind as I struggled to get my left leg into position. In days past, my left hip would just slide into place, but now it behaves like a rusty car door in a junk yard. It's not an injury. I'm just getting older and my body is the messenger. Sometimes my left hip feels more lubricated and cooperative and I catch a glimpse of my triangle from days past.

At the end of summer, my friend Kate and I are hosting a Yoga and Menopause Retreat. We're calling it Put Some Claws in Your Pause. Our goal is to find the power in this next phase, to step into menopause with fierce grace. To prepare for the retreat, I've been doing a lot of reading about menopause and peri-menopause. There's a lot of negative bullshit written about menopause but there are also realities about how our bodies change. It got me thinking about the comparison of my triangle pose during my young, fertile phase, literally when I was giving birth, and my triangle pose during this time in my life where I am recalibrating, physically slowing down a little. I've earned this time to put on the brakes and take some breaks. My body needs it and my soul needs it.

I'm not convinced that my triangle will stay as it is, but it is like this right now and I think I can learn from it. This incarnation of triangle, the more limited, creaky version is not worse than the badass hips down and open version of the triangle of my thirties. It's a reminder, an affirmation, that I'm entering a new phase. 

I'm excited about what's next. It's a reality that I as I get older, I will experience more limited hip mobility and likely other physical changes, but it's okay because I also get the wisdom that comes with age. In my thirties I would have fought hard against a sticky hip, but these days I have the wisdom to see these physical changes for what they can teach me, to embrace them as medals of honor for living a half-century. My triangle might look a little different, but I'm still doing triangle.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Counting days is not the answer.

Most mornings when I wake up Nancy and I talk about something that's happening either in our city, in our country or our world. Yesterday it was the 114  families in Ohio who were rounded up by ICE and separated from each other, the new American standard. When driving home from Fremont on Tuesday, coming off of my exit onto Rainier, I drove by a man with a sign that said, "My name is Brandon. I need your help." Before class yesterday, one of my students almost started crying when we talked about the current state of the American South. Two weeks ago a 17-year old getting ready to graduate from Franklin High School was shot and killed in one of my favorite parks a mile from my house. There is a mini-billboard hanging on a porch a few miles from my house that the homeowners hung after the 2016 elections. They change it every day to show how many days we have left.

We talk a lot about just getting through this. Waiting until this terrible darkness is over. We can see what's happening. It's happening in plain sight, before our eyes. We are no longer in denial. We can't be. There is too much and it is too big. We find ways to talk about it, to make ourselves feel better. I walk the Seward Park loop and smile at the different faces, taking pleasure in connecting with strangers. I cherish my time at the studio. I often say, "We're so lucky to have this community." I try to give what I can by contributing to my little circle, by making a kinder, more gentler world for people in my orbit, but when I look from the outside in, my influence is tiny. It's not enough.

My sister Katherine has dedicated her life to social justice. She works relentlessly, constantly for her cause, which is truly all of our cause. I used to feel sad, rejected because she never had time for me, but now I see that she's compelled. She's driven because her eyes are wide open. Our limited time connecting is not about me. It's about creating a better world. I've gone from being resentful to being grateful.

It's not that I do nothing. I volunteer. I contribute money. I hold fundraisers. I promote specific issues through the studio to raise awareness. I am raising a feminist daughter with extreme left-leaning tendencies. But it's not enough. I woke up today feeling stressed about my little work problems--personnel disagreements, retreat enrollment, summer class attrition. But when I sat down to my computer to write, a luxury I give myself in the early morning hours whenever I can, all I could think about was that I'm not doing enough.

What's stopping me? Is it the hours in the day? The fear of seeing more? Seeing too much? Knowing more about the bad in the world makes my breath catch. I am afraid. When Nancy was sharing the details from the article she read about the Ohio ICE raid, I said, "Honey, we have to make our home available to harbor people." We have to do more. I texted my friend Michelle who does pro bono immigration counseling at El Centro de La Raza and said, "Tell me what to do!"

It's not okay, the world right now. It's not enough to just be grateful for what I have, for the freedoms I experience. Right now my chest is tight. I can feel the fear that I will fail, that I'll never be able to make a difference. And then I think about these families who are being separated and deported. I imagine the fear they must experience. It must be beyond fear-- terror, trauma.  It's true--"No one is free when others are oppressed." I might feel the freedom because I am financially secure and an American citizen, but I'm not free. This tightness in my chest tells me as much. I don't have the perfect answer for what I should do. I don't really have any answers right now,  but I know that counting the days is not it.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Cranky is temporary

Why was I so flipping cranky? All week long I've felt so happy. I've been joyful even. I've been like a Hawaii vacation commercial with myself. I walk around and randomly pause to smell the flowers. A few days ago when I was taking a walk and it started to rain on me I thought, "Oh goodie! Now the pavement will have that amazing just-rained-on smell that I love so much." I have tried new recipes, cheerily done all the laundry, made my daughter's lunch for her when she ran out of time, all with a twinkle in my eye and not a hint of a grudge.

And then yesterday afternoon it suddenly switched. Crankiness took over like bald tires on black ice and I spent most of the day trying to crawl my way out of this swamp I somehow landed in. I tried a long walk. I saw a group of senior citizens dancing to Polka music in a picnic shelter and even that only boosted my spirits for split second. The gloom came right back. I tried meditating. I tried watching an episode of Broad City. I bought a succulent and some basil to plant. The crank held on like a tick.

I could feel the ooze of negativity seeping out of me. Who had I become? And why? Was there no boundary to this negativity? Would I ever come back to my joy? As I parked my car to sub a night class at the studio I thought, "Laura, you have got to get your shit together or you are going to ruin the Friday evening of every person who walks through The SweatBox doors."

Unable to explain or shop or walk or think away my mood, I had the momentary burst of thought that maybe this could be hormonal. And suddenly I could breathe. Maybe I hadn't turned into a terrible, cranky old lady. Maybe this was a temporary hormonal state. I texted my friend Kate and told her about my hideous mood. She shot back with the offer to drive by my house and have a ten minute swear off. Since I was already at work, I declined, but the camaraderie of the gesture made me feel better.

Isolation is a terrible feeling. It's insidious in that once you're in an isolated state it's very hard to ask for help to get out of it. Kate and many other women in my life are dealing with hormonal shifts that, for lack of a better term, "fuck your shit up" at unpredictable moments. It's not unlike puberty when I hid in my room for no other reason than, if my mother told me it was time for dinner, I would jump out of my second story window. We all need to feel like we can be understood, like we belong somewhere and fit in.

I did end up getting myself together to teach last night. It was a beautiful group of humans and by the end of the class my heart was swollen with love and gratitude for all of them. I'm lucky that I have peers who are going through these hormonal shifts at the same time that I am. And I'm grateful for my yoga community who reminds me that being cranky is temporary.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Middle Schoolers on a Rampage


This past weekend I chaperoned 49 seventh and eighth graders to San Francisco for a choir competition. It was an epic weekend for the kids, but for the parents too. There were six of us chaperones and one teacher. I got my share of eye rolls and a few nasty talk-backs, but mostly I left the weekend filled with pure joy.

Remember when you didn't know things? Like that dancing on the pier with wild abandon in the wind was kind of crazy? Like that wearing shorts in 55 degree windy weather was going to be uncomfortable?

Remember when you didn't know if you had to take your shoes off at security? When you weren't sure how or what to order in a restaurant? When budgeting $80 felt like a possibly insurmountable task?

Remember the first time you went on a boat? A plane? Remember the first time you stayed in a hotel? When you stayed in a hotel or anywhere without your parents?

Remember when you made a new friend, an intensely close new friend that felt like a forever bestie in the period of thirty-six hours? When you could stay up way beyond exhaustion just for the challenge of it? Just to spend a few more moments talking to that new bestie?

I didn't have any of those experiences over the weekend, but I soaked up the glow of that energy for three days straight and it made me ecstatically happy. It was magnificent to watch the excitement of these kids as they celebrated their independence on the streets of San Francisco. It was heart-wrenching to see them bite their nails and cross their arms with nerves as they waited to be called up to perform their set. And it brought me close to tears to see the pure joy that coursed through the veins and out through the limbs of forty-nine 12, 13 and 14 year-olds when the heard the announcement that they'd won first place for their performance.

We forget as we move into adulthood, then middle age, then older age, what it felt like to be so excited and surprised by the new-ness of life. It's one of the great joys of being a parent--- the reminder of those days past. Being a witness of that time in life reminds me to make room for what's new and different and exciting, even as I approach 50.

There's no going back to middle school. Those days are gone and I'm happy to be where I am now. But I can't get those forty-nine faces out of my mind. It was a true gift I received-- to see the joy, the excitement, and the thrill of these kids doing so many things for the first time. I'll cherish it and I think it will keep me giddy for a good long while.

When I drove my daughter Lucia to school this morning she said, "Mom, that was the best experience I've had in my entire life." Do you remember when you had the best experience of your entire life? I don't. There are so many experiences wandering around in my tired, old brain; I couldn't begin to find that one magical moment.  But right now I am keenly aware of the importance of finding moments of wonder and discovery in my own life. In the meantime, I'll revel in the slideshow of images from watching my daughter's middle school choir live it up in the city by the bay.