Thursday, January 18, 2018

Timing is Everything

I'm leaving for my first trip to India in about 46 hours. I've been desperately, painfully anxious about leaving--- my family, the studio, my familiar daily habits. It's pretty obvious that I'm sort of losing it. Last night my friend (and student, and teacher) Erika emailed me a podcast that she thought might be of value during this tumultuous emotional time. The podcast, by Tara Brach, is called Remembering and Choosing Loving Presence.

This morning I had to drop my car off on Beacon Hill to get new brakes. I decided to walk to work and use this bonus time to listen to the podcast. I love walking and relished the rain free morning to be in the city. It was commuting time and the hustle and bustle was alive and well all around-- the buses, light rail commuters, the kids going to school. One of the things I've made a personal commitment to do in the last few years is to look at as many strangers as I can in the eyes-- to smile or say hi, to just make contact and feel like the world is still small enough that we see each other individually.

As I got to the bottom of Fourteenth Avenue to the base of the Jose Rizal Bridge, I noticed someone walking much faster than I was coming from behind to pass me. I turned to see his face and looked into his eyes and smiled. In reply, he said, "You nasty ass tramp......" (I couldn't hear the rest over my ear buds once he passed in front of me).

I was surprised, hurt, and a little bit scared. This comment came at the exact time that Tara Brach was guiding her listeners to contemplate how we want people to see us in the world. I got to a crosswalk just after the man passed and, though it was against the side of the street I would eventually need to be on, opted to wait for the light and cross the street. I needed to symbolically cross away from that sentiment in my life.

The timing of this was profound. I continued walking up Twelfth and felt some of my joy returning. The colors of the International District, the smells, the murals on the street cars and dragons hanging from the electrical poles all brought me back to that urban wonder I love so much. The podcast continued on about opening up, allowing for loving presence in our lives, not grasping for what we don't have, making space for what it here now.

As I got closer to work I felt good. The man who called me a tramp was just a glimmer. I stopped at Stumptown Coffee to get a tea. When I got to the front of the line and prepared to pay, the barista said, "Your drink is on Cole today." Cole, at the other end of the coffee bar is a regular SweatBox student. His generosity smiled on my whole being with that complimentary cup of tea and I felt like everything was going to be okay. I'm going to India and all will be well.

Sunday, January 14, 2018


Lucia has been wanting Instagram since she got a phone for her twelfth birthday. Now she's thirteen-and-a-half. I've known for a long time that eventually I will say yes to her request. Last night while shopping at Nordstrom Rack for sports bras, she asked me again if she could get Instagram. "Yes," I said. Her eyes bulged in excitement. "But," I continued, "give me a little time to think about it."

"To come up with a contract?" she asked.

"Yes." I said, "I want to think more about why I'm resisting it and make a plan with you about how and why to use it."

"Can I write you an essay?" Lucia shot back. "I want to write you an essay about why I want it."

"That would be perfect." I said, so relieved for this solution and temporary stay on the inevitable Instagram activation. Lucia is a great writer and fantastic arguer. I hope debate and/or a career in law are in her future because then her arguments will be against other people and not me. Expecting a more typical teenage rant about what an uptight mom I am, I was pleasantly surprised by Lucia's response. She's been patient. Most of her friends have Instagram and/or SnapChat or other social media. I get why she wants it, but I also get how it is the path of no return and I want to step really thoughtfully onto that path.

I use Instagram and FaceBook for marketing for the yoga studio and even as a business persona, it makes me incredibly insecure and I often feel inadequate after a scroll through those sites. The other day I told my partner Nancy that I think I want to have another career. "The yoga industry is too competitive," I whined. "I don't want to be in this game."

"You've been on social media" Nancy half-questioned/half-stated. "Don't do that Laura. It's really bad for you."

She was right. I had been on Instagram scrolling through all of the incredibly creative retreats and classes and videos that people in Yoga Land were promoting and it made me feel like a little old raisin in a rocking chair with zero cool factor. I am grateful for Nancy's reminder. It snapped me out of that tailspin and I remembered who I was. I am in this business because I love yoga. I love my community. I love my job. That's real. Instagram isn't.

So as I embark on this conversation about Instagram for Lucia, what do I want her to know?

  • Instagram isn't real. It's like a video game and an art project. People are creating ideas, constructing future worlds, managing images. 
  • Instagram isn't you. It's a veil of a part of you, but it's not your authentic self. It's the outfit you wear for going to a specific party or restaurant or play. It's not your cozies that you put on when you're hanging at home with your bestie. 
  • Instagram doesn't endure. It's short lived and fleeting. It doesn't help to build your character or internal compass as you move into adulthood. It doesn't remind you when you're acting petty or immature. It doesn't guide you on a path towards a creative, inspiring career or relationship. You get that from your friends, your family, not from your followers.

As I work through all of these things about Instagram I want to share with Lucia, I'm keenly aware of how relevant they are for me. I'm going to say yes to Instagram and it will be soon. I'm scared and I'm worried, but it will happen. My hope is that Lucia will be able to play and have fun with Instagram, to feel like she's a part of the big video game of life, but that she will also keep in mind what is good and true about herself, that she will always have people in her life who remind her what is real.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Tell More Stories

This New Year's Eve I spent with my family and another family-- four adults, two teens and a ten-year-old. Our dinner of black-eyed-peas and collards was the perfect meal after a long day of skiing. After dinner we all wrote down things we wanted to purge in 2018-- grudges, bad habits, dysfunctional patterns. The plan was to share these with our little community so we could have support in letting go of these things and staying on course in the new year. The final action would be burning papers in the fire pit on the front patio of our rental house.

In addition to the things we wanted to let go of, we also wrote down things we wanted to do more of in 2018. Among mine were eating less sugar and assuming best intentions of people in my life. Bea, the ten-year-old, wrote, "Tell more stories." This struck me as profound for many reasons. What does that mean? To tell more stories. Is it to share what happened at school during dinner with the family? Is it making up a fairy tale before bedtime?

Bea is a very articulate, incredibly creative ten-year-old and she tells amazing stories. I've tried to remember myself at that age, in the era of much less technology, a time when we spent so much more time talking to each other than talking to our phones and laptops. Sometimes before bed my daughter Lucia will ask me to tell a story of my childhood and I struggle to conjure one. I have a hard time recalling in detail how I was forty years ago, but I do remember how my sisters and I would make up scenarios all the time: imagining that we were the proprietors of a grocery store or the managers of a hotel, or movie stars or veterinarians or olympic swimmers.

I worry a lot about how technology is changing our world, how it is hindering the creativity and imagination of my child, but maybe I'm worrying unnecessarily. This morning Bea's older sister shared a virtual story of our family ski trip complete with photos, videos and a pop music soundtrack. It's a different kind of story, but it's still a story. It's creative and beautiful and it highlights the wonderful time our families shared.

I remember when my grandmother was 94, trying to explain email to her. I  remember showing her pictures on my laptop seeing the wonder in her face. This year I will turn 50. I got my AARP membership card in the mail yesterday. I'm getting older and the world around me is changing. But there are still stories. We might tell them differently now, but there are still here. There will always be stories to tell.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Love and Light

A few weeks ago my friends and I went on our annual trip to Portland. My partner Nancy calls this group of friends my "Bossy Posse." We go to Portland every year to do all of our holiday shopping in one efficient weekend. We also have a "YES" policy on this trip-- everything everyone wants to do gets a resounding "YES!" Last year that meant we ate three dinners one night.

This year there were six of us. We piled into my friend Jenna's Toyota minivan equipped with ample snacks, reusable shopping bags and comfortable walking shoes. We were ready to party (in the way only middle-aged women without their kids can party!)

We rented a gorgeous apartment in a turn of the century building in Nob Hill with a fantastic balcony, plenty of beds for all of us and a great living room with comfortable spaces for all of our middle aged bodies.

On Saturday morning we planned to go to Powells first, about a mile walk from our apartment. I am always the first one awake and ready to go. I was ready well before the rest of Bossy Posse so I told them I'd meet them outside. Even though it was raining, it wasn't cold and I wanted to get some fresh air. I walked down from the second story apartment through the small vestibule into the drizzle and noticed a woman draped in a piece of black cloth wearing red pajama pants with white hearts moving erratically on the sidewalk in front of the building. She was barefoot and moaning. Before I could figure out what was happening she looked up and saw me and started to make her way towards me. I panicked. As quickly as I could, I made a b-line for the little vestibule of our building.  I pulled out the keys to our VRBO and let myself in. The woman followed me into the vestibule and started banging on the glass door, pulling and pushing the doorknob, all the while screaming something I couldn't understand.

I scurried up the stairs to our apartment to talk to the posse, to figure out what to do. Among the six of us, three of us have Masters Degrees in Counseling or Social Work and another works for an organization specializing in grief and addiction services. We are all parents of teenagers. But in the face of this poor woman's plea for help, we all became momentarily lost. None of us knew what to do for this scared, cold, confused young woman.

Eventually Jenna opened the vestibule door and talked to the woman. She was still yelling and crying. She wanted water and socks. She was speaking nonsensically and the therapists in the group diagnosed psychosis, possibly drug induced. We got her some warm socks and food and water and called the non-emergency 911 service to come assess her further.

I thought about that woman all day. What had I been afraid of in that moment? Was I afraid that I couldn't help her? Was I afraid of how like her I am? How, without the support of my family and friends, without the benefits of my education and my privilege, I might have been like this woman? Was I just simply frightened of how out of control the situation felt?

As we wandered around Portland that Saturday I saw lots of people who needed dry clothes, food, water. The image of the barefoot, crying, yelling woman in the vestibule running like the baseline through all of these other images. I felt plagued. What happened to me? Why did I turn my back on that poor woman for even a moment?

And then this week we lost a student. A woman. Cece. She was just 40 years old. She died of a heart attack and when she did, the hearts of hundreds, maybe thousands, in our community cracked open a little bit. The outpouring of sadness, of love that flowed like a rushing river in the studio for one woman, one special beautiful woman, brought me back the image of the woman in the vestibule.  Who cries for her? Misses her? Everyone is special and perfect in her own way. Cece was that and more. All of us who knew her were touched by her goodness and her light.

And that woman in the vestibule, the one just like you, just like me, was special and perfect too. I'll never know what happened to her, if she got help, if she found a place to be held and loved and cared for the way we cared for Cece and she cared for so many of us. I wish I could have, would have done more for the woman in the vestibule. I take momentary comfort in the light and love that surround Cece in her end of life; in being a part of a community that is so full of generosity and goodness, but I still think about that woman in the vestibule every day.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

If at first you don't succeed...

Last Thursday when I picked Lucia up from school, she surprised me by launching right into conversation. Usually the first thing Lucia does is look in the glove compartment to see if I have the kind of bar she likes (I always keep a stash of granola bars in the glove compartment).  As soon as Lucia buckled herself in, instead of foraging, she turned towards me and said, "Mom, I have an ethical dilemma."

"I'm listening," I said.

"Well, we're trying out for solos in choir and I really want to try out but I don't think I should try out because Emma wants to try out too." Lucia explained.

"Why can't you both try out?" I probed, already worried about Lucia's long-term co-dependence issues.

Lucia went on, "I'm worried because the odds are that, between me and Emma, I'll probably get the solo, even though we probably both won't get the solo, but if one of us did, it would probably be me.... and I don't want Emma to feel bad for not getting the solo."

Now my hackles really went up. What the hell?! Instead of launching into the lecture about autonomy and self-preservation and healthy empathy, I stopped myself and presented Lucia with a question.

"If I were to tell you this same thing, that I didn't want to try out for a solo because I was worried about my friend feeling bad, what would you tell me?"

Lucia thought for a moment and then replied, "Well, I tried out for every single solo last year and I only got two. So I guess telling Emma that even if she fails, she has to try would be a good thing for her to know.  She'll probably fail just like me before she gets a solo."

We processed this a bit more, but the ethical dilemma felt solved for the most part. The solution felt clean and clear and perfect. And, Lucia had come to it on her own which made the outcome that much sweeter.

Being a parent is hard. Trying to shield your child from pain is a natural parental response. Last year when Lucia got the solos, she was so happy and I was so happy for her. But I didn't really think about the times she didn't get the solos. The failure was just part of the journey for her, part of getting to the success.

Too often I forget this, that failure is part of the journey. I fall into the trap of wanting things to just happen. For example, when I offer a new workshop at the studio and I don't get the enrollment I want, I feel like a failure and I resist offering it again. But that's not the answer. The answer is to get back on the horse and try again. Neither Lucia nor Emma got the solo this time, but I hope they'll both keep trying.

Friday, October 27, 2017

¡Solo Español!

My seventh grade daughter Lucia is taking her first year of Spanish. After a summer of worrying if she'd get Spanish (instead of French of Japanese), Lucia was thrilled to learn that she would be enrolled in her language of choice.

I took Spanish all four years of high school and majored in Spanish in college. I spent a year living in Spain. Sadly I rarely use Spanish in my day-to-day life, but now that Lucia has Spanish homework and quizzes and tests, I speak it much more than I have in the past twenty years.

Lucia is filled with questions about Spanish, "Is there a way to say 'high five' in Spanish?"; "How do people who speak Spanish say 'um'?"; "Why do they use upside down question marks and explanation points in Spanish?" It is so fun to have this new concept to talk about together.

Our neighbor Ella, also in first year Spanish often carpools to soccer with Lucia. At the beginning of the school year, hearing the girls talking about their new language, I implemented a new soccer carpool policy: ¡Solo Español! (Only Spanish).

With ¡Solo Español!, I speak to the girls only in Spanish and they have to try to figure out what I'm saying. I give them lots of hints, do as much hand gesticulating as possible while driving, and I put one of my old Spanish-English dictionaries in the back seat for them to reference (though they'd much rather use their phones.)

Last night after a late practice that finished close to 9pm, driving home I started speaking in Spanish. I talked about the leaves on the trees on Lake Washington turning yellow, red, and orange. Since they had learned colors, after several attempts they were able to deduce that I was talking about the trees. I asked if they were hungry and they could answer, "Sí.I asked if practice was fun and they could say, "Sí, muy bueno."

There were lots of things the girls didn't understand, but we still had a conversation. And, most important, we had fun. I often get so frustrated dealing with areas in my life I don't comprehend fully. I anticipated this feeling yesterday when I called my insurance carrier to figure out where my family will land with Trump's demolition of Obamacare. I went into the call with a sense of dread but I ended up spending an hour-and-a-half on the phone with three incredibly helpful customer service agents. One guy, Owen, said at the beginning of our conversation, "Good. You're asking questions. When you don't understand, keep asking me questions. That's what I'm here for."

We can't be experts in everything. We need each other to learn, especially new things. The idea that learning can be fun is something every parent hopes for their kids--that they are exposed to teachers who are creative and energetic and enthusiastic in ways that give kids joy when they are learning.  The idea that learning can be fun is important as an adult too. When I take a yoga class or training, I want to feel excited and engaged. When the teacher gives me enough information to feel like I know what I'm doing and room to be confused and a little bit lost, I am in a situation where I feel safe enough to try new things, to take risks, but also to fail as often as I succeed.

By the end of my talk with Owen, even though I was still a little bit confused when we hung up, I felt great. I felt confident that I'd learned enough (though not everything) and I felt certain that Owen had heard my concerns and given me as much help as he could. I had to send a few more emails and make a few more phone calls, but I wasn't cranky or distraught. I was in a surprisingly good mood.

Last night after soccer when we dropped Ella off around the corner, as she got out of the back seat, I yelled, "Hasta el Sabado," (see you Saturday), and she stammered, "uh, uh?"

Then I tried, "Buenas noches."

Ella looked back from her front walkway, ¿Qué? 

"Adios", Lucia and finally yelled together.

"Ohhhhh....Adios", Ella replied with a big fat smile on her face.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Pioneer Days

I have a binge TV watching habit. Currently I am on Season 3 of The Americans. I justify this habit by telling myself that everyone needs to check out sometimes. Nancy reverts to reading The New York Times and The Washington Post on her phone fifteen times a day. My friend Alia follows every detail of each victim of every disaster in the news. All three of us are spending time that could be spent elsewhere, doing other things, real life activities that would make us feel happier.

I love all things Prairie Days. I was a devotee of the whole Little House on the Prairie series (books and television) and I love Willa Cather. The wholesomeness and completeness of the lives of pioneers makes sense to me. I sometimes wonder if Laura Ingalls Wilder ever had "check out" time.  It's not that the lives of the pioneers were without struggle or drama, but the necessary tasks to make daily life function kept everyone on track and focused and in constant connection with each other.

Recently Nancy quit her news habit in preparation for a week-long retreat where she'd be without internet,  phone or any other kind of media. When she came back she stayed off her devices, especially the news sites. The day she got back she said to me, "Laura, my Lyft driver in California kept talking about Las Vegas. What happened in Las Vegas?" This was several days after the massacre. About a week later she started to tell me about a Tom Petty video a friend had emailed her. 

"It's so sad that Tom Petty died" I said.  

"Tom Petty died!!!!?" Nancy screamed in surprise from the couch.

The changes I've noticed with Nancy being mostly news free (she only reads it on Sunday now), are that she seems happier; she reports feeling better overall, more at ease and balanced. Nancy has replaced her news time with meditation, spending time with her family and friends, and reconnecting on the phone with other people she loves. This summer when I started a garden as a habit to counter my after-work screen tendencies, I too felt happier and more balanced. Being outside, seeing the fruits of my labor has given me a sense of joy and accomplishment. The shift from vacantly filling time (escaping into media) to engaging in something real is a choice that Laura Ingalls Wilder never had to make.

For many of us, the drive to escape from the intensity of life is strong. Most of us are inundated with details about news and other life issues even if we don't want to hear them. Living in a city, having a job, raising families, we have to be connected to function. There are tasks we need to be engaged with-- driving carpool, paying bills, cooking dinner, organizing work tasks. It's the modern day version of Laura Ingalls Wilder's family responsibilities-- sowing the wheat, building the barn, churning the butter, planning the church picnic.

The problem is that a lot of these current era daily functions bring us to our phones or laptops. Look up a recipe online, pay bills with online banking, text the parents from soccer carpool. We have too much connection. We're so used to this information overload that we fill our quiet time with more of it, exacerbating the problem and systematically destroying our ability to be without our devices.

The two times I am actually without my phone on a regular basis are in the yoga room and in my bed. I always plug my phone in downstairs in the kitchen when I go to sleep and we have a cell phone free yoga studio, so the phone stays quiet when I am practicing or teaching. I'm grateful for these few hours of each day that remind me that I don't need to be connected to my device to be connected to the world, the real world.  Divesting from our devices is a practice, just like quitting caffeine or meditating. I will still use my device to coordinate and plan and organize and get information, but I'm committed to being ever mindful of where my true connections are-- with myself, with other people, with real life.