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.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Intuition. It's Real.

Last week Nancy and I went to Mexico for a grown up getaway. We'd both been burning it with work and life obligations and I was deperately feeling the need for a decompressing getaway. We went to Isla Holbox, a remote island in the Yucatan that neither of us had been to. To get there, we'd fly to Cancun, take a car two hours north, and then get on a ferry to the Holbox.

We'd hired a car with the hotel and were expecting to see a placard with our names on it when we exited the airport. It was a madhouse and we couldn't find anyone who looked like they were coming to get us. A nice man in a uniform asked me if he'd like me to call our hotel and find out where our car was. I speak Spanish which is always helpful when traveling in Mexico. I generally feel pretty confident in my communication. "That's strangely nice." I thought to myself as he started dialing. But then I felt a little tug in my belly and I had the thought, "This is weird."

That's where my suspicions started. "Let me see the phone screen," I said and he showed me the number he'd dialed. It matched that of our hotel. I heard the man talking in Spanish to someone on the other line. He was talking about our ride, where was it, what was happening. Then the nice man looked at us and said, "Your ride says the van broke down and you should take a cab."

"Let me talk to the person you're talking to," I said. My suspicions that this was a scam were mounting.

I talked to the person on the phone who confirmed that the van had broken down and that we should take a taxi and save the receipt. The hotel would pay once we arrived. The guy in the uniform waited patiently while I finished the phone call and then led us to an area where we would meet the "taxi." It seemed odd that he took us to a more secluded area of the airport parking lot where no one could see us. I asked him to call our hotel again. He did and I again confirmed the plan with the person on the end of the line.

Finally a van came and we got in. Nancy is much more easy-going than I am and she's very trusting. I, on the other hand and borderline clinically anxious and I'm a skeptic. As we climbed into the van, I felt a surge of panic. "Nancy!" I practically screamed as I half stood in the van, "this is not right. We need to get out of this van." At this point our luggage was in the back and we were getting ready to make our way to a cash machine to take out the $320 (!!!!) we'd need to pay the driver.

"Laura," Nancy coaxed in the voice she so often uses to calm me down, "It's okay. This is just a change." I took a deep breath, sat back in my seat, and hoped for the best.

We did make it to the ferry. When we got there I asked the driver to call our hotel and tell them were we catching the ferry to the other side. He called and then reported back to us in Spanish, "The hotel said they were waiting for you at the airport for two hours but you never showed up. I just wanted you to know that they're saying they sent a car."

It was a scam. When we finally got to our hotel, we confirmed it. Those guys at the airport had a fine-tuned, well-honed plan to "help" tourists like us. Once we settled in I had the realization that we were really lucky to have gotten to our destination at all. We had prepaid the $320 and they really didn't need to drive us 100 miles north. I also had the realization that I knew the whole time that we were being swindled and I didn't listen to my gut. I was mad at myself for ignoring that voice and I was mad at Nancy for shutting it down.

I spent a good 48 hours feeling really mad-- at Nancy. And at myself. Countless times, as I sat stewing in my lounge chair under a palapa in paradise, Nancy would lean over and say things like, "Laura, I am so sorry I didn't listen to your intuition." After about the tenth apology I was finally able to engage in a conversation.

Nancy and I are different. I operate on an almost purely gut level all the time. I very rarely make pros and cons lists, do cost-benefit analyses, or take time to really look at the rationale behind my decisions. Nancy, on the other hand, is very analytical, a thorough processor.  Neither way of being in the world is right or wrong or better or worse. They are just different ways of being in the world. The experience at the Cancun airport highlighted the importance of making space for all ways.  Because I'm so anxious, Nancy and I both dismissed the strong gut feelings I was having. If we'd listened, separated the anxiety from the intuition, the outcome would have been different. We would have slowed down, called the hotel on our own phones, gone back inside the airport and regrouped.

In the end we were safe. We had a wonderful vacation and an important conversation. I'm not mad anymore. The next time my intuition rears strongly like it did last week I'll listen to it. And I think Nancy will too.

Monday, April 2, 2018

It wasn't so bad.

A few years ago when I went to New Orleans for a week, the yoga studio sprinkler system went haywire and we had a flood. A big one. It took us two weeks of being closed with industrial sized fans to dry out the place.

Yesterday morning, while I was in Chicago celebrating Passover with stepmother, my four siblings and our families, I received a phone call in the middle of the night from the Seattle Police Department that someone had broken into The SweatBox. I didn't get the message until I woke up in the morning, four hours after the incident. The message said that someone had broken in and done damage. They needed someone to identify what items had been stolen. I was in Chicago, twelve hours away from my 8pm flight time that night.

I panicked right away because that's how I roll. Panic first, think later.  I called Nancy who was home in Seattle but she didn't answer. Then I called Seth who was teaching that morning and asked if he could go a bit early and assess the damage. I was deep into a melt down imagining the computer gone, our modest cash box depleted.  I didn't stop to think that there really wasn't much to steal from a yoga studio......

Eventually I got a hold of Nancy who met Seth and the police at the studio. Between the two of them they managed to get the full scoop from the police, clean up the place and get students ready for Seth's 8am class.

They assessed that the burglar, who the police actually caught, had taken nothing. He had, however caused significant damage. In addition to the front lobby window he broke through, he smashed one of our bathroom toilets and, in an attempt to escape police, actually kicked through a wall in the men's dressing room into the main area of our building.

Once I got the story from Nancy and talked to the officer on duty, I was able to take a breath. A patron at Neumos, the night club down the street had seen the guy break the window at 2:30am and called the cops which ultimately resulted in his arrest.

No one was hurt. Students checked in while the police took the report and classes would continue as normal all day long, despite the broken toilet and demolished wall.  I hung up the phone, took a deep breath and went on to enjoy my last hours with my siblings and their kids before flying back to Seattle.

When I arrived to the studio today, tired from a midnight arrival last night and very little sleep for the worry I was holding over the repairs to be done to the studio, I was pleasantly surprised. It was the same. Yes, the front window was boarded up, but as I walked in at 7:30am, greeting the 6am students who were leaving and the 8am students who were just arriving, it was as if none of it had happened. The energy was the same as it always is. People were laughing and chatting and sweating. I shared the bits and pieces of the burglar's escapades with people and we all laughed imagining someone escaping by kicking through an actual wall!!!

By the time I left today the toilet had been replaced, the men's dressing room wall had a preliminary sheetrock patch, and all of the glass shards were safely in the belly of the shop vac. The insurance claim was filed and it felt like business as usual. Just like that.  I felt actual happiness, joy even for the fact that it all worked out.

I'm not surprised that our studio was broken into. Times are desperate. So many people are struggling-- with poverty, addiction, anger and despair. Maybe the guy who did this was just pissed at the world and needed a place to rage. Maybe he really thought he'd get some cash from a little yoga studio. I'm not glad this happened. It will cost me money and it caused a great deal of stress for me and many other people, but it also renewed my sense of community, of gratitude for the connections we have in our little village of Capitol Hill in our growing city of Seattle. The SweatBox is open and ready to serve. All are welcome.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Where's your pool's edge?

I'm rereading the book Untangled by Lisa Damour. It's book designed to coach parents through some of the natural behaviors in their teenage girls. The author does a great job clarifying some of the ways teen girls treat their parents and demystifying the reasons behind these behaviors.

I lent the book to a friend and then, after a few days of really hard mother-daughter time, I hastily borrowed it back. As I was rereading it over the weekend I came across Damour's swimming pool analogy.

Teenagers are breaking out of childhood, basically taking a big plunge towards adulthood. It's like they are in a swimming pool, playing, splashing around, goofing off with their friends, treading water, trying to stay afloat. But every so often they have to come to the pool's edge and hang on. They have to catch their breath. When my daughter is splashing around in her pool she has no time for me. I frustrate her. I'm uncool and annoying. My rules about her phone and her chores have no place at her pool party. She wants to be with her friends, float on her raft, have underwater tea parties. But when she gets tired of splashing around, when she's done holding her breath and doing back flips she'll need some support. She'll need to hold onto the wall and take some deep breaths. We parents are the pool's edge. We represent the clear support and comfort that comes during childhood. Our poor teenagers are in the middle, neither kids not adults, so they toggle back and forth between the two worlds, never sure of where to settle.

For my daughter, she tends to hang onto the wall at bedtime, especially on the weekends after a long week of school, socializing and maintaining the expectations that come with being a seventh grader.  I'll lie in bed with her and she'll say, "Mom, let's not read tonight. Let's just chitty chat." She'll lie on her side with her arm over my belly and snuggle in close. We'll chat her about day, her week, or some random observation she's made about the world. It's like old times and it feels good for us both to have a break from the tumult of teenagehood.

We all grow out of adolescence but we'll always need a wall, a place to hold onto, a moment to catch our breath. None of us can be eternally splashing. In life the pool's edge might be represented by a person we love and trust, or a place that's safe and warm and familiar, or an activity that feels grounding. At this stage in my life I am the pool's edge for my daughter. It takes a lot of patience and strength. I need to replenish my energy coffers often. It's a work in progress. Sometimes the wall comes from a good cry on Nancy's shoulder. Sometimes it's from a run with Kate. Often it's my yoga practice.  Life is a great big swimming pool and we're all just figuring out what tricks will keep us afloat.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Suck it social media.

Over the weekend we had a family debate on Instagram. My friend Kate had the idea for the kids to argue our perspective and for the grown ups to argue the kids' perspective. Lucia's and her friend Oona argued against Instagram and Oona's parents Kate and Rupert and I argued for Instagram. Nancy, my partner and a lawyer organized the structure and acted as Chief Justice. My mother, Oona's little sister Bea and her friend Maya acted as the other justices on the bench.

It was a great opportunity for all of us to learn the other side of the story and build some empathy and understanding about how it feels to be a kid or a parent in the world of social media.

As the plaintiffs, Kate, Rupert and I (dressed like British Barristers) opened the proceedings with why Instagram should be granted. Then Oona and Lucia (dressed up like me and Kate) argued against it. The debate, scheduled to last about twenty minutes, lasted an hour-and-a-half.  Lucia and Oona argued well, ultimately winning the debate. Their arguments against Instagram and social media in general were compelling. The girls' main points against social media (Instagram specifically) were:

  • The negative elements of FOMO (fear of missing out)
  • The things posted on social media are not real; they are exaggerated, touched up and fake.
  • The occurrence of Anxiety and Depression with social media
  • Harassment on social media
  • The danger of child predators.
The parental arguments for Instagram were:

  • We're in the social media age and kids need to be exposed at some point; it's better to be exposed in the safety of their families instead of waiting until college when there is no support.
  • We also argued that giving kids Instagram provided opportunities for creativity and new community connections.

One of the most convincing arguments presented by Oona and Lucia was the idea that Instagram allows people to be indirect and this indirectness can really hurt people's feelings; it can contribute to anxiety, isolation and depression. Texting, calling on the phone or saying something to someone directly, they contended, are all better ways to communicate than a public forum where misinterpretation and group think are rampant.

Ultimately the girls won the trial. There arguments against Instagram convinced the judges that the app comes with significant risks and pitfalls. But the judges also decided that Oona and Lucia should both get Instagram accounts with certain parameters.

My personal experience having a professional Instagram profile has been complicated. When I look at other yoga teacher posts I invariably feel like I'm not doing enough, like I'm not creative or captivating or cool. But my mental health isn't compromised. I don't feel like anyone says anything unkind or cruel or excluding like what happens with middle school Instagram.

I share all of this in the midst of another social media experience I am having with a public forum that rates businesses. Recently I got a complaint about something at the studio. I immediately wrote the complainant back and committed to looking into her issue. I then granted this person a full refund, comped her a class and apologized for the inconvenience.  I invited her to call me directly and talk about her experience. A few days later one of our teachers noticed a review on the business rating page and let me know.

I was surprised by the review as I'd reached out to the reviewer just days before offering a remedy to the problem. I wondered why she felt the need to write publicly instead of contact me directly, especially after we'd exchanged several emails and I offered her a refund and free class in addition.  Why did she go public instead of calling me, connecting with me?

It got me thinking about Oona and Lucia's presentation of the pitfalls of Instagram. It's easy to be upset, to judge, to exclude when there's no direct contact, but is it satisfying? Does it make the individual who posts happier? I don't post on business review sites but I do regularly send emails to businesses where I have a good experience or a bad one. I'm old school. I believe that people generally mean well, even if I have a bad experience in their establishment. Mistakes happen. People have bad days. But most people are good and deserve a chance to be better. I want them to know directly, so I tell them.

I get it. Social media is the way of the modern world. We connect through it. We learn through it. But we are still human with hearts and minds and feelings and thoughts. As a parent I struggle to help my child navigate through this morass or messaging, posting, rating. I understand from my Instagram trial prep why people use social media, even why they love it.

As my daughter moves into this brave new world, I will encourage her to remember kindness, to practice forgiveness, to be open-hearted and assume best intentions. I know she'll be hurt, rejected, anxious and sad at different times because of what happens on Instagram. She'll have to find a way to shake that stuff off, to let it go. Like all of us, Lucia will also have conflict and feel hard feelings with actual humans face to face. But in those cases, she'll also be able to look the other person in the eyes, to listen, to offer or receive (or both) an apology, to get some kind closure.

As as I fumble my own way through the jungles of social media, I can see that I too will experience hurt, rejection, anxiety and sadness from social media.  I'm bummed about the interaction I had with the student who chose to use a public forum to talk about her experience at The SweatBox instead of reconciling with me directly which would have given us both a chance to feel closure, maybe even contentment. But that didn't happen so just like Lucia will have to do with negative experiences on Instagram, I'm letting this experience go. I'm shaking it off and moving on.