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.

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.