Monday, September 27, 2010

Cougar of the month

Last week, my daughter, who is three-weeks into kindergarten, won "Cougar of the Month" at her school. Cougars are her school mascot. Lucia was bestowed the honor, her teacher said, "because 99.999 percent of the time, Lucia is doing what she is supposed to be doing in kindergarten." Was I proud? Extremely!!! The teacher also said other things like, "Lucia is friendly to everyone, she helps without being asked...." But, nestled within my radiant pride, I also carried a smidge of concern that Lucia might be a super-conformer. Is she a kindergarten automaton? Or, is she just good at following directions? I've been thinking a lot about this.

Here's what I figured out. Lucia loves school. She asked on Saturday why she had to have such a long vacation from school. "I wish Sunday was Monday," she whined. Like me, Lucia relaxes in structure. If I know the plan, I'm open to anything. If it is wide and vast and unformulated, I'm not my best self. Maybe this is why I stuck with competitive swimming for fourteen years and yoga for almost twenty. It's comfortable, familiar. Lucia in school. Me in my yoga practice. Sameness, structure, expectations. These things create and hold a form that allows each of us to relax into the experience and find newness, excitement, and ultimately joy.

I've experienced the gamut of physical sensations and emotional hills and valleys in my yoga practice, but I've never been bored. Really. Every practice I experience differently. For example, last night, I was worried about practicing because my class the day before had been really difficult. So last night, I set my intention to focus on that practice and try not to bring the previous practice baggage with me. I stood somewhere new in the room, really close to the teacher (Kristen). Her fabulous turquoise outfit was surely a distraction, but I managed to focus and work hard in spite of it. I followed every single thing she said. I always try to do this, but, like everyone, sometimes I get distracted. Last night was different. Word by word, step by step, I let myself be carried through the 90 minutes. I learned so much! Like Lucia and kindergarten, I could hardly wait to do it again.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Karaoke Heals the Soul

Tonight at dinner, after her twelfth day of kindergarten (but who's counting?), Lucia proudly told me that she knows the definition of "desperate." "Desperate", she said, "is when you really really really want something." Desperate isn't necessarily a negative thing. Sometimes it is exciting, thrilling, intoxicating. That's how I feel about singing Karaoke. Once I decide to do it, I'm desperate to sing my heart out.

About a month ago I found myself in a Karaoke Bar in the International District with my partner Nancy, my 27-year-old brother David and five of his law school buddies. I'm basically old enough to be their mother and have thankfully almost outgrown the self-conscious phase of young adulthood. I went through a phase in my early twenties where I did a lot of Karaoke. At that time I was crazy about any song that involved Dolly Parton. I loved to sing "Islands in the Stream", her fabulously uplifting duet with Kenny "The Gambler" Rogers.

The Karaoke Bar on this night was immediately my favorite place in the whole world. Everyone was so different (age, size, race, style) yet they were all the same. Karaoke does that. In Karaoke land, I've often gravitated to Stevie Nicks (fashion aside). Put a mike in my hand and I sound exactly like her. Almost. Kind of. Well, not really. Anyway, I wanted to sing "Stop Draggin My Heart Around" which as you should all know, is a duet between Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks. My sister Katherine and I almost won a Grammy singing that song at a divey bar in Chicago. I asked all of my brother's friends and my Nancy who boldly accompanied me on this mission to do the duet with me. They all declined. Repeatedly. So I asked the Karaoke host if he'd sing it with me. I mean, come on, the night was early so there wasn't a huge backlog of performers. I could be a great warm up act, a novice like me with the host.... He said no.

I watched a few acts. These crazy people were singing their hearts out and they were good. They were great. I loved each one of them profoundly. I was growing increasingly desperate, agitated. As I scanned the bar for someone who might sing with me, a humongous, crew-cutted man wearing a t-shirt that could fit a baby elephant got up and sang so beautifully I thought it was a joke. He was a regular. "Smoosh" was his name. Completely star struck and embarrassingly uninhibited in my desperation, I watched Smoosh exit the stage on which he barely fit. He lumbered to the back of the dark bar where he was surrounded by his friends (fans?) and sat down like a king holding court. Before losing my nerve, I marched back to him in my Value Village sundress and said, "Smoosh, will you be Tom Petty in 'Stop Draggin' My Heart Around'?" He said yes!!! What a gentleman. What a benevolent, kind man to say yes to this holly hobby looking Karaoke beginner. I was ecstatic.

I returned to my shy table of  attorneys and waited. Desperate. Finally, they called us, "Laura and Smoosh." Two mikes, one screen. His words in blue, mine in pink, our harmonies in yellow. Boom boom boom!!! We were on. My voice cracked in the beginning. I knew the only way to do this was to really be a rock star. Me and Smoosh. Stevie and Tom. One and the same. I actually have no idea how we really sounded or what was happening in the audience, but in my amped up, wanna be a rock star mind, we took down the house. I wanted to hug Smoosh. Kiss Smoosh. He was my partner in this Karaoke ecstasy. I didn't actually make physical contact with Smoosh, but I did make an internal note to self to go back the next Tuesday and sing with him again.

When I left the bar that night, I was joyous in a way that I rarely am. These people! Smoosh, the man in the pristine white suit and Frank Sinatra hat they all called "Uncle Bob", the librarian looking guy in the beret who belted out Nina Simone like a champ. They were fantastic. I felt connected to them. I felt hopeful, alive, part of something bigger (even if it was being a Karaoke singer in a bar in the I.D.). The next day I sent an email to five of my good friends. The subject line, "Karaoke Heals the Soul" and I invited them to come sing the next Tuesday. The response wasn't great. I didn't go sing that next Tuesday nor have I made time to go since then. But, as I write this, the moments on stage I had--giving it all up, channelling Steve Nicks, singing my heart out with Smoosh, being the same in all of the difference-- are clear as if I just finished my encore. Karaoke does heal the soul. And I'm desperate for more.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Break it down....

Ninety-five percent of the time I practice yoga I am deeply resistant at the beginning of class. I feel the weight of my life on my shoulders. I see the long dark hallway of physical exertion and mental focus stretching out in front of me, and I have the strong desire to run from the room. My beginning of class mantra is, "only 90 minutes." I remind myself that that's a blip in time when I consider that I was in labor with my daughter for 42 hours.

Pranayama feels interminable. How am I going to DO this? I feel a little bit more calm for a split second when the instructor say, "last two breaths." Then comes the half-moon series. Arms up. Straight spine. No. No. No. No. NO! I don't want to do this. And it is three parts. Half moon then backward bending then forward bending. And then, come ON, a second set?!

At some point during the half-moon series, I lose some of my resistance. I stop so actively fighting with myself. I still struggle, but it is different. I'm in relationship with the struggle. My body and mind seem to be in it together. Somehow, the fact that they are keeping one another company makes it easier. Like jogging with a friend. The physical and mental are a team, each carrying part of the heavy load.

By the end of the awkward series, I am just about committed to this craziness. I still have to push away my tendency to calculate how many more minutes I'll be in the room, how many more postures there are, but I'm not so actively in resistance. Something has shifted. Eagle pose comes next. I'm madly in love with eagle. It's so efficient. We're doing so much in just one posture and it's sufficiently hard and doable.

By the time the balancing on one leg series comes, I can't really remember why I balked at the idea of practicing. It's not that it's not hard. It is. Really hard. It's that suddenly I am lighter. I am no longer the lone Sherpa of resistance. Posture by posture, I have slowly discarded weight from the over-stuffed backpack I started with.

Once I hit the floor series for my first Savasana, I have actually let go. Any residual heaviness sinks into the floor below me and I feel lighter right away. Like everyone, I have ups and downs during the floor series but the mental heft is almost undetectable. Like a piece of hard clay that's eventually malleable after lots of kneading, I'm finally soft. I'm there, in the room, in my practice. And so it goes practice after practice. I start heavy, encumbered, resistant, questioning my ability and strength. Then I slowly break it all down. I leave lighter, carrying less, looking forward, ready for the next thing.

What am I worth?

For the first time in my adult life I am in the position of not having a "real job." I am on a chosen hiatus from being fully d...