Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Back to Back

Last night in Adaptive Yoga we were volunteer heavy. Adaptive yoga is a class specifically designed for students with significant mobility issues. Volunteers assist in helping the students to move their bodies into poses and act as props or supports to facilitate certain postures.

Since there were a lot of volunteers, I opted to just observe. It had been a few weeks since I was at class and I wanted to get back in the groove. About halfway into the class, an additional student, Carl, came and we were suddenly in need of my volunteer support.

Carl arrived just as the class was getting ready to transition from chairs to the floor. This process takes a bit of time because volunteers have to transfer each student from their wheelchair to the floor mats. Once Carl was transferred, Joan, another volunteer, and I worked with Carl. Carl is maybe 30 years old, about 6'2" with a strong, athletic build. Carl is paralyzed almost entirely from his neck down with some very specific and limited movement in his arms.

The first exercise on the floor was to go back to back and work on forward and back bends and then side to side flexion. Because Carl and I are both tall, I volunteered to be back to back with him for this exercise. The teacher Kelly and volunteer Joan helped support Carl while I shimmied in behind him and found a comfortable place where we could both balance. Kelly and Joan helped us to hook our arms with each other  and we began moving forward and back and side to side with Nicole's (another teacher) cues.

"I don't have much control", Carl said,  as I folded forward supporting the length of his torso on my back. Then I pushed him back up and laid my upper body weight onto the length of his back. Back and forth we went.

I've done this posture before. About a year ago, I taught a room of couples for a Valentine's Day Yin workshop and was surprised by how challenging it was, even for couples, to let go of control and give in to the posture. I noticed right away how comfortable and relaxed I was doing this posture with Carl. Was it me knowing of his inability to control his body that gave me permission to let go of my grip on the posture?  Was it the vulnerability he modeled when he said, "I don't have much control?"

I think it was both, and I consider the experience a moment of grace, one of those magical moments where I both learn something profound and feel an overwhelming surge of gratitude. In Yin today, I shared this story with my students."Try releasing some of your own control in these postures," I said. I wanted them to feel what I felt, to energetically receive the release that came from really letting go.

I don't know if it worked. I really hope it did.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017


On Sunday Lucia and Nan and I took Amtrak down to Salem to stay with my aunt Gretchen and see the total eclipse. Nan had reserved train tickets months before in preparation, but at the last minute I resisted going because I was two days away from finishing The SweatBox upgrades and I felt stressed about managing the final stages remotely. I rationalized that the eclipse in Seattle would be at 92% of totality and that seemed good enough.

But Lucia and Nan convinced me that seeing a total solar eclipse was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I could manage The SweatBox from afar. We'd avoid traffic because we'd be on the train. We had a place to sleep, a place to watch the eclipse, and my favorite aunt waiting for us with eclipse glasses. Nancy even looked up a couple of eclipse rituals: One, to put water in jars and expose it to the two minutes of totality, and save it for times when we might need some extra energy or support.  A second idea we all did was to treat the eclipse like a time of renewal. The idea was to set intentions for what we wanted to let go of or release from our lives as well as things we hoped to manifest. For me, one of the things I struggle to release is control, especially while traveling. I included this in my eclipse renewal list.

Our trip down on the train was uneventful. We played four hours of gin rummy, hearts, and solitaire in the club car and ate a steady stream of alternating salty and sweet snacks.

The next morning we filled our eclipse water bottles and set up to watch the eclipse in a huge open field behind Auntie Gretchen's house. It was just us and one other family in a vast stretch of prairie. We started seeing the moon cross over the sun at a little after 9am and the events that followed were nothing short of miraculous.  Perhaps more than seeing the moon pass in front of the sun, what affected me most were the shifts in our immediate environment. When we started watching the sun through our eclipse glasses, the air was hot and the sky was bright. As soon as the moon covered about 70 percent of the sun, we noticed the light around us starting to change. It got chilly and, as the eclipse reached totality, it got REALLY cold and the light turned eerie, like we were on a movie set with no natural light. And the animals started to react. Lucia said she heard owls. We saw three bats racing overhead. Birds of all kinds chirped maniacially. Dogs barked at random. And then, just was quickly, the world came back to normal. The temperature started rising, the light got warmer. We shifted back to regular life, but I felt kind of funny--tired, weak, borderline nauseous.

I told Nancy that I felt like I'd had a physiological shift from the eclipse. I'm inclined towards high woo woo and Nancy is a die hard pragmatist. "Laura," she said, "you had a lot of coffee and there was a lot of build up to the eclipse. Maybe that's what you're feeling."  But I felt like it was something more. I'm not a physicist and I don't understand much about the earth's magnetic pull, but if felt related to that, like my own equilibrium was off, something had shifted.

A few hours later it was time to get back on the train and make our way north to Seattle. As predicted, the train depot was mobbed and our northbound train was late. True to my anxious nature, I was managing an imminent panic response. There were so many people. I was sure if we got seats at all,  they'd be crappy seats; surely we wouldn't be able to sit together.  We waited in the massive line to board the train and got assigned three seats, two together and one directly across the aisle that looked occupied. I circled back to talk to the conductor, a petite raspy-voiced woman in her late fifties (I soon learned her name was Maureen). "My seat looks occupied by an employee," I told her. "Aw, don't worry about that, just push my stuff over" she croaked.

So Nancy and Lu sat on one side and I sat next to Maureen's pig pen.  Somehow I became Maureen's assistant. As the train pulled out of the Salem station, Maureen handed me a dirty piece of paper with wrinkled tape with the wifi password. "Anyone who needs help with the wifi, just talk to Laura here in seat # 37", Maureen yelled to the whole car and then heavily patted me on my head three times before marching towards the dining car.

Throughout the five hour ride, Maureen would stop by and ask me to get her something from her pile of papers, "Go in my purse," she'd say, "and hand me some more of those cafe vouchers" or "Find me my cherries. I need some cherries." Nancy and Lucia laughed from the other side of the aisle every time Maureen came by with a request.  But all I could think about was, "Why did I land in this seat?"

Surprisingly, I wasn't bothered by Maureen. When she woke me up from a little snooze to have me grab something, I was happy to see her, thrilled for the distraction from the monotony of a long train ride. Maybe the shift in my equilibrium from the eclipse drew Maureen to me or me to her. Maybe my intention to relinquish a little bit of control actually worked.

I'm still riding high from seeing the eclipse in totality. I didn't think it would affect me like it did. I didn't think seeing a natural phenomenon would mean this much to me. But it did. It changed my perspective. I got a gift, a beautiful two-minute lifetime within a lifetime that gave me a different lens. At the end of the trip Maureen actually made me leave my seat and find another so she could get her stuff together.  When we disembarked Maureen stepped off the train to ask a passenger walking by for for a puff off of her vape!!! The train ride being Maureen's assistant could have been bad, real bad, but it wasn't. It was hilarious, and fun, and light, even great. The total eclipse of the sun rocked my world. So far, the aftermath has been pretty great too.

Monday, August 14, 2017

4 planes, 3 airports, 28 hours, a flood warning, a bunch of squished frogs, and one really good friend

Tomorrow my good friend Vanessa officially turns 50 years old. She's about a year and a half ahead of me and about a year and a half behind my partner Nancy. Last summer when we were in New York, Vanessa told us to save the date for her 50th- August 2017.

A few months ago when Vanessa finally let us know that the official date of her party would be August 12th, I had to tell her that I couldn't come. Because of existing summer travel, I couldn't leave until Friday and The SweatBox was starting a big renovation the following Monday so I had to be back by Sunday. Vanessa lives in Manhattan and her party would be at her weekend house in upstate New York. It was just too far and convoluted to figure out a way to get there and go to the party leaving Friday and returning Sunday.

Since I don't really feel inclined to have a big party for my 50th, I felt okay telling Vanessa that I couldn't go, but it quickly became apparent that this was not a big party and she really only wanted a handful of good, old friends to come. So, at the last minute we decided that I would surprise Vanessa and go. Nancy used her ridiculously good travel planning skills and got me a ticket. We'd fly via Detroit into Newburgh and rent a car to Vanessa's, only about 45 minutes from Newburgh. I thought it was perfect. We'd avoid New York City traffic and airports and be in and out for the party with no trouble.

Our flight on Friday left at 6am and we planned that I'd park my car at the airport so I could go straight to the studio on Sunday night when I landed (Nancy would stay an extra day). On Friday, we got up at 3:45am and made it through parking and security with no problems. Our flight from Seattle to Detroit took off without a hitch. So far so good.

Once we got to Detroit, we learned that our flight to Newburgh would be an hour late (that's after the planned 2 hour layover). That delay went from one to two to three hours, leaving us in the Detroit airport for 5 1/2 hours. We made the best of it. We wandered, ate snacks, drank Prosecco, people watched. Nancy spoke to Vanessa multiple times, pretending she was traveling alone, stranded solo in Detroit.

By the time we landed in Newburgh there was a full on rainstorm and our phones were sending out emergency warnings for a flash flood. We'd planned to be at Vanessa's by 6pm but by now it was already after 9pm. We followed the Google Maps voice until we were a mile away, at which point I climbed in the back seat to hide for our arrival and we lost service all together. Nancy kept screaming because she was running over errant frogs hopping across the wet country roads. I, prone to motion sickness, was lying on the suitcase with my windows rolled down, offering very little help to poor Nancy. Exhausted, hungry, driving in unfamiliar territory without street lights or cell service, we basically guessed the last one thousand yards to Vanessa's driveway. But we finally made it. Nancy got out first and went into the house and I stumbled in five minutes after, a rumpled, wet, nauseated surprise.

We stayed up late that first night catching up, grateful and excited to be together. We woke up early the next day to set up for the party. It was so great to be there, and Vanessa was so happy! The party was an all day affair around the pool, then the dining room table on the deck, then the pool again, then the fire pit and back inside for second dinner at 1am. It was an epic party.

The next morning, fully sated from the day of fun and eager to get to the studio to set up,  I took our rental car back to Newburgh for a 2pm flight. Mechanical problems turned the 2pm flight turned into 5pm. I missed my connection in Detroit and my 7pm arrival to Seattle turned into midnight. This morning when I went to the studio at 5am with 4 hours of sleep and airplane hair, I calculated my time traveling to Vanessa's party-- 28 hours- 14 there, 14 back. The time I was actually at Vanessa's house was about 38 hours and I slept 12 of those. I can't believe I'm saying this, but it was totally worth it.

Happy Birthday Vanessa!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Crashing waves

My two sisters and I are less than two years apart. Katherine and I are twins and Amy is twenty-one months younger. When we were kids we rotated in different duos within our trio. Although we each had our own bedrooms, we often migrated for periods of time to one of our sister's rooms. Sometimes Katherine and I would share a bedroom, sometimes me and Amy, and sometimes Katherine and Amy. Though we fought like all siblings, I remember more good times than bad with my sisters. We grew up in the 1970s when grown ups, at least our grown ups, were sowing their wild oats, finding themselves, letting us kids figure out how to entertain ourselves with minimal adult supervision.

We ran in a neighborhood pack on the South side of Chicago. Our posse-- Christa, Regan, Joby, Frouwkje--with the periodic inclusion of other neighborhood kids, had a regular weekend garage sale on the corner of 57th and Harper in front of Powell's  Bookstore. We'd take the books out of the free box and label them with nickel, dime and quarter price tags and add that to old sheets, kitchen utensils and toys from our respective houses. The police once gave us a warning for selling pillow cases with block labeling "PROPERTY OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO" that we'd grabbed from our linen closet.

In many ways our childhood was fantastic. I have great sadness that my daughter doesn't have the freedom to be wild and unaccounted for in the ways I was. But those years were also chaotic and sometimes unsafe and my sisters and I developed a tight bond, one that has lasted into adulthood. But just like our room swapping as kids, we've gone through lots of different relational incarnations with each other.

There have been times when Katherine and I were really close and Amy wasn't deep in the mix. Katherine and Amy have had times of connection and I've been on the outside and Amy and I bond deeply one month and find more distance others. We all live in different states now, so there are very few times when the three of us are all together in one room. Our interactions are mostly via phone calls, email and text.

But every summer we all get together. The sisters, our parents, and the grandkids. Those are amazing times, uproariously funny times. And because we're not familiar with the intensity anymore, they almost always make us a little bit crazy. A few weeks ago we all gathered in Michigan for a reunion. Toward the end of the seven days, I was feeling the familiar frustration that comes from being together intensely. I think Katherine and Amy were feeling it too. Right before dinner when the Lake Michigan waves are high and strong, Katherine and Amy said they were going down to the lake. At the last minute I decided to join them.

Riding the energy of an intense day, we walked down to the lake in relative silence. I felt tense, a familiar upset feeling from finding myself back in that hijacked anxious state that I get when I see myself repeating old familial patterns. I felt like throwing a tantrum or beating the shit out of someone. As we crested the dunes to the lake, we could see that the waves were higher than they'd been all week. There were only two other people on the whole beach.

Within seconds we had all dropped our towels and were running into the waves. We've been diving into those waves our whole lives and the joy we felt as we plunged headfirst into them was visceral. We emerged, bathing suits askew from the force of the water, hair wildly placed in ridiculous sandy combovers, laughing hysterically at ourselves and each other. It was the laughter that I only have with my sisters. The waves beat the shit out of us. For twenty minutes we dove in and the lake spit us out. And then, as if in silent agreement, Katherine walked towards the shore and Amy and I followed. We gathered ourselves into our towels, slipped on our sandals and, bathing suit bottoms filled with sand, walked home for dinner.

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