Thursday, April 28, 2011

Show me the money?

On Tuesday morning I woke up and said out loud, "I love my life...." And now it is Thursday and 800,576 things have filled the sixty-eight hours between that statement and this moment. Sometimes I experience the naive belief that life will calm down. I think, "I'll just get through this rough patch...." and things will be calmer, easier, lighter. But then it comes up again, a rough patch, a hard spell, a busy time. It keeps happening. On Tuesday after my seeing-the-sun-through-the-clouds euphoric moment, I met with my financial planner. I was supposed to go to his office on Mercer Island, but because the studio was recovering from a flood and I was getting the place ready to teach the first class after the disaster, I asked him to meet me on Capitol Hill at Cafe Vita.

Jim, my financial planner, is a severely clean cut guy. I trust him implicitly. There's just something about him. Either he's completely and utterly honest and trustworthy or he's as conniving as Bernie Madoff and, if that's the case, I might as well be in denial. Tuesday was our annual meeting to take stock of where I am in my personal financial goals. We sat down with our lattes and Jim pulled out his notes from our meeting last year. I had three priorities: 1) Lucia; 2) Financial security; 3) Happiness. He asked me if these were still my priorities. Yes, I said, and I want to make more money. "I should make more money" I proclaimed, like a good client. Jim is a really good listener. He nodded as I talked about wanting to be flush enough to not think about where I go out to dinner, to be able to send Lucia to private school if I want to, to be able to retire when I'm 58 (so random). I talked and talked and talked, and eventually Jim found a place to launch, "Laura, first of all, you don't want to stop working." Oh right. I love my work. "Second of all, money is not the only measure of success. Let's talk about your measures of success that aren't financial."

Just that morning before talking to Jim, I had recognized how happy I am, yet here I was, six hours later, plagued by the niggling need to have more, to be better. How ironic that my financial planner was the one telling me to stop spinning my wheels to make more money. "Laura," Jim said, "You thrive on the excitement of challenge." He's right. "Even if you had all the money in the world, you'd still want, you'd still need that challenge." And so it was that my financial planner became my therapist.

As I write this, I realize that I have lots of room to explore this advise from my financial planner/therapist. What can I say? I'm still stuck on the idea that having more money would make life easier, maybe better. It's the American way. But my lens is a little broader in this moment. I get that money is just a symbol; something I can measure. The things that bring me the most joy-- teaching Yoga, being a mom, writing a blog-- hardly pay the bills. These low-ticket items are the challenges that keep me motivated. It would be nice if the things that challenged me brought home a little bit more bacon, and maybe someday they will, but I wouldn't trade any of them for a job that made more money. I sure do love my life, but maybe I need a new financial planner....

Monday, April 25, 2011

"I like the struggle"


My partner Nancy was born and raised in New Orleans. She has tons of friends and family there and is deeply identified with the food, culture, music and weather. I just returned from visiting New Orleans for the first time. The architecture alone makes you feel like you're in a different country, but it's the energy--slow, humid, debauched-- that makes you feel like you're in a different world. Utterly refreshing. Old men with no teeth sauntering beside frat-boys in Bermuda shorts, both drinking from forty-ounce cans of beer in paper bags.... at eleven o'clock in the morning. Two hundred Catholic Bishops marching beside raggedy street musicians and a lone cop wearing a tight-fitting Village People-esque uniform. I never thought an uptight native Chicagoan like myself could enjoy the jello-paced lifestyle of New Orleans. I was worried it would drive me mad, but I'm happy to report that I loved it. All of it.

Nancy gave me the royal New Orleans treatment. She took me places no tourist would normally go, places I wouldn't have ventured to on my own.  One night Nancy and I went with our friends Simon and Nadine to a bar called Bullets (see image) in the 7th Ward. A man named Bingo set up a huge BBQ in the "neutral-ground" (basically a median strip) and his wife, Miss Fanny, decorated a long card table with vinyl linens, fake grapes and plastic wine glasses. We dined there before heading in to see the music. While Bingo prepared pork chops for Simon, Nancy and Nadine, and a massive barbecued turkey leg for me, Miss Fanny offered us some Chardonnay and then told us about her experience during Hurricane Katrina.

Miss Fanny's former husband had recently died and she was staying with some friends in Lakeview, an area of town horribly hit by the flooding. Miss Fanny and all the people she was with waited on the roof of their house in Lakeview for two days. They were finally transported to the a freeway overpass where they stayed for three more days. "The media", she said, "flew over us like we were animals in the zoo" ignoring the reality that those stranded on the freeway lacked food, water, clothes and places to sleep. After five days, Miss Fanny was taken to Lafayette where her information was processed and her family was able to locate her. She then ended up in Washington D.C. for close to a year before returning to New Orleans. Two of the three people I was with that night had also been displaced during the hurricane, but they sat with me, jaws dropped to hear Miss Fanny share the struggle she endured during the storm and its aftermath.

While we ate and talked, Miss Fanny, Nancy, Simon and Nadine (all who had lived through Katrina) nodded and smiled, non-verbally expressing a profound love and a pride for their city. Miss Fanny told us how her life has changed in the five years since Hurricane Katrina. Cocking her head and raising her eyebrows above her glasses frames, Miss Fanny told us, "I was doing pretty well before Katrina." Now Miss Fanny works six nights a week in a sports bar trying to catch back up to her pre-Katrina status. "But I like the struggle" Miss Fanny mused. "I like the struggle. Once I get some extra time, Bingo and me are thinking about getting a dog." After dinner, Nancy, Nadine, Simon and I went into the wall-to-wall people-packed Bullets to listen to music by local trumpet legend Kermit Ruffins. During Kermit's break between sets, one of the waitresses stuck her chewing gum on to the back of her hand and the audience whooped and hollered as she did a five-minute rap about Hurricane Katrina.

The day I returned home from New Orleans, I got a frantic text from Frankie telling me that a water main had broken at The SweatBox and the fire department was there breaking down doors and managing the flood of water. "A full-blown crisis" Frankie called it. Technically still on vacation, I did my best to let Frankie and the others on the scene take care of it. And they did. I stayed calm and rode the wave. Maybe this calmness came from my time in New Orleans--my exposure to the slower-pace, the absence of structure, the stories of rebuilding at every turn. Two days after our "full-blown crisis", things are almost back to normal for me and my little yoga studio. I can't imagine what it might have been like to live through a crisis like Hurricane Katrina, to have my life torn up like Miss Fanny. But, as I get ready to go in and finish cleaning up the studio, putting the pieces back together again, I picture Miss Fanny's gorgeous card table set up on the neutral ground in the 7th ward outside of Bullets Bar. Miss Fanny made something beautiful out of her struggle. And so will I.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Robe Life

Last month I went for four nights to a fancy schmancy hotel in Palm Springs. The Parker is the loveliest place in the world. For realsie. It has everything you need. If you are walking through the gorgeous, finely coiffed grounds and you feel a tinge of hunger, oh look, there's a humongous bowl of ripe green granny smith apples. There is a fire pit with lush chairs (no camping crap here) where they bring you the fixings for s'mores.

I call my time at The Parker, "Robe Life." At The Parker, there was no reason to wear anything but a robe. Take off your robe to dive into the pool or get a facial. Take off your robe to soak in the jacuzzi or to slip on shorts for a game of Petanque (french version of Bocce Ball).

Per usual, as soon as I got back from my stay at The Parker, the grayness of Seattle descended upon me. I went back to work, back to motherhood, back to life, back to reality. I didn't feel like working hard. I didn't feel like leaving my "Robe Life." I felt cranky and resentful and generally pissed off.

I got back to work on a Tuesday. After teaching the 9:30am class at Capitol Hill, a student said to me, "You know what I love about this place? The SweatBox offers a place for people to work hard. People are afraid to work hard." His timing couldn't have been more imperfect. "Screw that," I thought to myself, "this working hard crap is over-rated." I was still hanging on to my robe life images.

And now, here I am, in the throes of recreating The Capitol Hill SweatBox. I have been working non-stop for ten days. I have to recharge my phone three times a day because I am coordinating so many details with so many different people. I am wearing clothes in public that are absolutely not okay. Today I put together five pieces of IKEA furniture by myself with no help. I'm working my ass off. And I feel great. Tired, but great. Anxious, but great. Unfashionable and dirty, but great.

It's like the 30-Day Challenge, when you feel like you can't practice one more day. You do, and you feel like the mouse who took down the big old fat cat. Today, when I didn't think I could haul another thing, I single-handedly maneuvered a 50-gallon hot water heater outside, drained it and moved it back in. You know I'm bad!

Next week after we open, I'm going on vacation to New Orleans, the land of slow, relaxed folks. I'll likely work my butt off until the moment I get on the plane, but then I'll relax. My relaxation will feel so much better for having worked so hard. Just like Savasana. The harder we work, the better we feel when we finally relax.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Pa has a happy heart

I don't have a TV for many reasons, one being that most shows are complete drivel and my child gets enough of that from me. Another big reason is that I am utterly in love with TV. Television is one of my favorite things; I'm moderately addicted. Like many people who can't control their sugar or alcohol intake, I have to maintain a primarily abstinent relationship with TV. At this point I'm too disconnected from TV to really even miss it, but I do have one lingering indulgence that I share with my daughter Lucia. On her 8-inch portable DVD player that I bought for long airplane trips, we watch vintage Little House on the Prairie episodes (I bought all of Season 1,2 and 3 from Amazon).

A few weeks ago we were watching a scary episode where a mean man tried to drown little puppies in the river. After asking if I was sure Little House on the Prairie is rated G, Lucia buried her head in my armpit and told me to tell her when the scene was over. Ultimately, the brave and wise Laura and Mary (respectively) dove into the river and rescued the puppies. Later in the episode, Pa railed on Laura and Mary for bringing home three puppies that would need to be cared for and fed. Lucia started to bury her head in my chest again, fearing what Pa might do with the puppies, but then she stopped herself and refocused on the DVD player. "Pa would never drown puppies in the river" Lucia said assuredly, "because he has a happy heart." I asked Lucia how she could tell that Pa had a happy heart, "Because look at him Mommy," she chirped in her 6-year-old, know-it-all voice, "He's happy." For the record, Pa did not end up drowning the puppies.

When the Dalai Lama came to speak several years ago, some of the neuroscientists on a panel I watched talked about the intelligence of the heart. They suggested that the heart, like the brain, has intelligence. This idea begs the question: How do you nurture and develop that muscle? We can't practice algebra with the heart or read the classics. But these scientists reasoned that decisions we make, actions we take, are influenced, not just by our minds, but by our hearts. My knowledge of the topic is minimal, but when I think about my own life, I know that decisions I make when I am operating from a more connected place feel different. I can tell the difference between a heart-motivated move and one that is more isolated to just the brain because, regardless of outcome, when I am connected with my own feelings, I feel happier.

For example, in this remodel I'm doing at The SweatBox, there are a million decisions to be made-- where to put walls, what fixtures to use, what color to paint, how to negotiate with the landlord. Some days, I just barrel through, checking things off my list. And, regardless of what I've accomplished, at the end of the day, I feel scatter-brained, depleted. Other times, I slow down, get connected to what I am feeling, and make a decision. It's remarkable, but there's a difference. I feel lighter, happier. Today, for example, I encountered a potentially disastrous hurdle. Before I made any moves, I took some time to feel what I was feeling- scared, pissed, annoyed, exhausted-- and then I approached the relevant parties in the conflict and we worked it out. Going into the negotiations, I was calmer because I was more clearly connected to my own feelings about the conflict, so I was operating from the head and the heart. I felt happy not just to have solved the problem, but with how the problem was solved.

In many ways today I felt like Pa in that puppy episode. Pa could have drowned the puppies. I could have screamed and threatened and turned blue in the face, and alienated the very people who were doing work I needed done. But we each found a different way, a way that was motivated by the heart-- away that left each of us feeling happier.