Wednesday, February 1, 2012

We've moved!

As of February 1, 2012, come read us at our new, very own url:  So exciting, so pretty, so grown-up!

this is what i'm talking about

This, right here, is what I'm talking about.

An article about some Sausalito school children recording an album of world music in a studio owned by former member of [i refuse to use their name] is front-page news over here.  An album made by children gets more space than rail, an issue that affects not just Marin but also Sonoma Counties.

An album of world music, for heaven's sake.  Seriously?

Of course it doesn't surprise me one bit, having lived here for as long as I have.

But still, sheesh. So far in the 31 days of January, the Marin IJ managed only a 5-day consecutive run of no mention of the gd GD.  That was their record.  They'd sometimes get to 2 days, or maybe 3 or 4.  Five was truly exceptional.

And now, natch, they're back to zero as of yesterday's paper.  


Tuesday, January 31, 2012

free books: sign me up!

Turning the package over and over in my hands, I wondered what it was I'd ordered from Amazon that had just shown up, leaned against the front gate, left for me to discover upon my return from work.  I'm pretty good about ordering judiciously, keeping my huge book appetite in check so that I've only got a small To Read stack waiting for me here at home, while the mental stack remains miles high.  And since I just did re-stock my To Read stack thanks to Booksmith in San Anselmo, where I wiped out my trade-credit and then some, what on earth could this be?  I have been making a concerted effort to buy books in real stores, instead of just online, so what's in the package?

Delightfully, it wasn't a title I'd forgotten I'd ordered from Amazon, sitting at my laptop in my usual home-costume of bathrobe and slippers.  Which would seriously mean my mind was slipping, because if there's one area where I don't lose a detail, it's book-shopping.  Every moment between online order and receipt is spent in a state of almost-Christmas anticipation -- oh when when will I get to unwrap it, touch it, feast my eyes upon it?

Nope, not losing it. It was, instead, book #2 of my membership in the From Left to Write online blogger book club --  not an as-yet-unpublished book in galley form, but still a title I am interested in and 100% FREE.

That right there just makes me want to jump around!  Free books & the task of reading them and writing about them!  Seriously: my dream job, but I do this one for love not money.  And the free books.

I jumped right into the book last night, after an episode of Downton Abbey after an exhausting puppy class -- the television viewing being an essential part of my recovery from what was a truly stressful hour of Mr Burns not listening at all, being the worst dog in class.  For a Hermione like me, that's just the most awful situation.  I know it was just last night, that really he is such a good boy, but last night, honestly, he was such a jerk.  So anyway, post-Downton, I dove into the book.

So far, so good.  And I'm not just saying that because it was free.  I'm really looking forward to the entire process -- the reading, the annotating, the blogging.  While I'm doing it, honestly, I am perfectly true to what I am.  I'm doing exactly what I should be, what I'm designed for: words in, words out, stories in, stories out.

Just like breathing.  And also free.


Monday, January 30, 2012

Be awesome when your friend has cancer

"Don't Be a Jerk When Your Friend has Cancer," recently posted on Elephant Journal and re-shared by my friend and writing teacher, Susanna Harwood Rubin, provides 6 practical tips for friends of cancer patients, 6 tips to avoid jerkdom.  Danielle Foushee, the writer, is an artist and yoga teacher who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in November 2011.  Look at her art on her website.  She's seriously awesome.

But her friends are assholes.

While I really appreciated her post, it also made me a little uncomfortable and sad --  because it brought up unhappy memories and also because I wished less anger for Danielle and more comfort.  And much better friends.  From the sounds of it, her friends suck.

Her six tips are (and please don't use this as your excuse not to read the original piece.  Click through the link above and Like -- give her some support, pretty please.  After all, as above, her friends are jerks):

1. Never say "If there's anything I can to help..." and leave it open-ended.
2. Don't make empty promises.
3. Don't run for the hills.
4. Don't disappear.
5. Don't dwell on the negative.
6. It isn't all about you.

As my husband's caregiver when he went through the horrifying process of diagnosis with lymphoma, followed by chemo, I learned a ton about friendship and love.  The diagnosis rocked us to the core, exploded the life we thought we had and put us on a totally unexpected path, one we never, ever would have imagined ourselves on.  He is the healthiest, strongest, fittest person around (ok, except maybe for other guys on his cycling team, Iron Data Thirsty Bear).  WTF, right?  It took some getting used to.  It took some adaptation.  But we figured it out.

And here's the deal: our friends were AWESOME through the whole process.  Sure, not everyone knew what to do, and once I got the hang of it, it got a lot easier.

Cancer is code for death.  That freaks most people out.  So they may want to help but they also don't quite know what to do, how to react, how to be of service.  They need structured guidance.

It really helps to be specific about what you want.  It helps even more to have someone do that for you.  Someone like me, obvy, but that's a whole other topic.  I can't imagine how anyone gets through a serious illness, let alone cancer, without a clear-eyed advocate on the sidelines.  But even I had moments of making it about me.  

The problem with cancer though is that it doesn't color in the lines.  If you're near it, it gets on you.  It IS about you, even if you're not the one with the tumor, but you have to keep that in perspective. It's challenging.

Here's my list.

Be Awesome when Your Friend has Cancer

1.  Don't Wait to be Asked.  If you have an idea for something you want to do, no matter what it is, Do it.  If it's making an advent calendar marking every last day remaining til the end of treatment, like our sweet friend Nancy did for Joe, cutting out pictures from magazines to cheer him, finding words to inspire him, then do it. Handmade things are super meaningful all the time, but especially precious when someone is suffering and can see that you worked for weeks on your project, holding him or her in your heart in the entire time.  This was super awesome when Nancy did it because she had probably met Joe all of once, if at all, before she came over to deliver this beautiful gift.  Awesome, right?  But if you're handier with a credit card than scissors, go for it.  We were so grateful for certificates for catered meals or packages of the world's best mac and cheese from Seattle (props, Sheri and Hilary).  Don't hesitate. Do!

2. Offer to Set Up and Manage a Meal Calendar.  Bringing food is an essential expression of caring, something most people are capable of doing.  But a person who is undergoing chemo shouldn't have to coordinate the comings and goings.  There are plenty of websites that make it easy, so Google it and go.  Not only does this take pressure off the caregiver to shop and cook and fill the fridge, but it's just a really great thing for the patient to look forward to, plenty of variety to keep things a lot more interesting than they might otherwise be.

3.  Keep Your Stories to a Minimum.  It's human nature, as a way of empathizing, to tell your stories of cancer to the patient, to talk about all of your brushes with death, all of your hospitalizations and illnesses.  But check that impulse and keep your stories to a minimum.  Talk about other subjects, not just illness, and try to keep the focus on entertaining your sick friend, making him or her laugh or light up about something, a shared experience, a future plan.  Try not to talk excessively about yourself.  After all, right now you're not the one with no hair, with the sallow face and sunken eyes or the chemo hiccups.  Ask questions.  Listen.

4.  Pick Up the Phone.  Some people told us after the treatment, when Joe was up and back to his usual self, that they hesitated to phone while he was sick, having heard about his illness through mutual friends, because they didn't want to invade privacy or presume.  Just pick up the phone.  It means the world to know that people are in your corner, regardless of how they heard you were sick.  Those expressions of caring go a long way to buoy a person's spirits.

5.  Visit but Not Forever.  People who are sick are just that: sick.  Their stamina is less than yours.  Plan a visit that lasts 60 minutes, for example, and then LEAVE.  Don't hang around forever.  That becomes exhausting.  Really, it's better to have two shorter visits than one really long one.  Come back again!

6.  Do Your Crying At Home.  This is key, something Danielle is talking about under her #5, Don't Dwell on the Negative.  Cancer is super-scary and super-sad, but please try to come over with a happy face on, having cried your eyes out at home.  It is really hard for the patient to have to comfort others over his or her current state.  Please bring joy with you when you come.  There's enough darkness and fear as it is.

It's so crazy for me to think that it really was two whole years ago.  Behind me, in the office, Joe is doing his interminable exercises right now, part of his PT for a cycling accident last March when a car turned in front of him, leaving Joe with a totalled bike, 4 broken ribs, a broken scapula, a broken clavicle and a punctured lung.  It's hard to remember that it wasn't so long ago really that he was so wan in color, always with a hat on to cover his cold bald head, always nauseous.

But not totally miserable. Because he had friends around (and family, naturally, I'm not leaving you out).  Good friends who found ways to show their caring at a time when it was most essential.  Friends who were awesome.

Don't be a jerk.  Be awesome.  It's so easy!


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Day 17,912: Pretty kick-ass so far

What's crazy is that it's never too late to change things, never too late to make new habits, never too late to look around and say, hot damn, this is really great and let's make it even better.  After a night playing cards and laughing with friends, waking up in my own cozy bed with puppy and husband was never sweeter.  And then getting up, having lemon water, then coffee (with milk in it!) and now, finally, hours later, a smoothie in lieu of toast, I'm sitting pretty in the middle of my own life and just marveling at how good I feel today, how gorgeous it is outside, how great it is to be here.

Good to be here.  Click on the below and leave it playing in the background, then you'll hear the very same Digable Planets song that's running through my head on repeat this morning, running behind and under everything I see and think and hear.  It's good to be here.

Where I'm From

So, here on Day 17,912 of my existence, I'm feeling great.  I'm not eating toast for breakfast and I'm feeling great. 

It's totally possible to shift your habits, to make a break with the past, to start fresh, no matter what day you're on, #9 or #17,192.  We forget, heads down, just getting through day to day, working toward the weekend, toward vacation, toward freedom, but we have it all all the time, in every moment, this potential to shake off that false sense of bondage and revel in the kick-ass gift of being here, right here, right now.

It's good to be here.  Good to be here.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

So long Paramount, hello Del Rio

This must qualify as a rite of passage in a woman's life, that day when you realize that you can't rock the same super-intense shade of lipstick you've worn for almost sixteen years.  When you realize that that beloved shade that you've worn out and replaced countless times over the years, is no longer doing you any favors -- is making the lines around your lips a little more pronounced, making your teeth look dull.  If you're lucky or paying attention, then you can spare yourself the unattractive Havisham, by which really I mean scary old lady mouth -- wrong color, outside the lines and on the teeth.  Ay.

I like to think I've done so.

As a reward for completing my 7-day detox cleanse yesterday, sticking with it even when I was craving toast, and also just because I'm awesome, I decided to pay a visit to the Mac outlet at my nearby mall this morning.  I'd also just had a mammogram and then an eyebrow waxing, so it really felt like a treat was in order.

First, I feel I should say a few words about Paramount, out of respect.  It really, really has been about 16 years.  The first time I remember wearing this color was just before my youngest sister Carla's first wedding, which means it was 1996.  For whatever reason, maybe because Carla herself or maybe Martine was wearing that color that day and that's the day I fell in love with it, I can't not think of playing croquet in Golden Gate Park on a cold day, my sister's bridal shower.  I am not yet wearing the Paramount in the photo below, but Carla (center) clearly DOES have it on.  That day, August 17th, 1996, was the start of my long relationship with Paramount.

Paramount, center, on Carla,
Martine and I looking on

This morning, with the help of the sales girl, I tried on several shades, finally settling on Del Rio, which still pops but is a bit less on the red side than my former love.  Yes, Paramount, you're coming out of my purse and back into the drawer.  I just think I've gotten too old for your particular charms, and that my aged features need something softer, can't really do your intense dark reddish-brownness anymore.  You're beautiful, but I've changed. It's not you, it's me.  You're still the same shade, it's just that now you hag me so I've got to move on.

So, Del Rio it is.  For the foreseeable future, maybe for the next 16 years, until I turn another corner and have to switch it up again, working it at every age, always always looking good.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Day 7: almost there

Smoothie 7? Check!
OK, so as I mentioned elsewhere, this was a tough morning, one on which I nearly caved and made myself a delectable slice of toast.  Which would be completely absurd considering that I'm almost done, have almost completed this 7-day body cleanse de-tox that I embarked on last Saturday with the wonderful Dr. Kate Tenney, ND.  How silly would that be, to bail when the finish line is in sight?  It's really amazing how many rationalizations my little brain came up with, one after another, reasons why it really doesn't matter one way or the other which day it is, etc., etc., and you know you're just going back to the wheat-teat anyway, just get it over with.

Reminded me of this, by Peter Bregman, on why it's hard to keep resolutions.  It's not the motivation.  We generally have that in spades.  It's follow-through.  It's not letting our brains derail us.  Like mine almost did this morning.

I'm not going to lie. With the end so near, the oh-fuck-it voice was the loudest.  But instead of reaching for my beloved Dave's Killer Bread when I opened the freezer, instead it was the frozen mixed berries, of which I had just enough left for this morning's smoothie.  And because, honestly, at this point the taste of the so-called Medical Food is something I'm so over, yes, I threw a banana in there.  And then wondered, while drinking down its deliciousness, whether that was really so different after all than caving in to the bread.

Look, the list of things I've learned from this 7-day experience is long.  I think finally the whole food pH thing has really sunk in to a bone-level with me, something I've been resisting ever since Crazy Loretta (my former eyebrow technician) became its chief apostle about 10 years ago.  [Come to think of it, Crazy Loretta has been on the cusp on a lot of health issues, not just the pH, but she was the first person I ever heard talk about green juice, loaned me books years and years ago on the subject.   Hmmmm, crazy but prescient? Interesting.  But still crazy.]  Also, I have a new and deep appreciation for how sweet actual food can be, like aforementioned banana.  An apple?  Completely candy sweet.  So good.  And of all the things I've been craving -- toast, steak, toast, butter, cream in my  coffee -- note that sugar hasn't come up once.  No chocolate?  That's nuts!  I thought I couldn't live without it and now look at me, doing just fine.

I'm not sure what I will do tomorrow, how I will return to the Land of the Eating.  I do not, DO NOT, want to have become a fussy eater who says No to everything and has to bring her own food everywhere and is on some stringent impossible plan.  But I do want more greens on my plate and I want to stay plugged in to this awareness of how my food feels once I've eaten it.  That's just so precious.  And hard-won.

Oh, and I want some chicken.  Let's be clear about that.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Day 6: and nope, still not vegan

Crazy, I start a detox cleanse and promptly stop posting here.  Is blogging toxic?  Have I been eliminating it from my system along with all other accumulated crap that's been in there?

Truth is that I have been writing but not finishing things.  I felt pretty spacey the first three days, fine on Day 4, more focused on Day 5.  Oh, and on Day 5 I forgot to eat lunch -- just got too busy at my job -- so basically ate a salad and an apple all day. Except let's not forget that the salad had guacamole in it, since yes, an avocado is allowed if you feel you can't do without.  Thank goodness for that.  So glad to be able to eat one of my favorite foods on earth.

I'm sitting here, morning of Day 6, sipping lemon water, about to break one of my cardinal rules -- don't talk about your dreams the next morning -- except that I will be abiding by another one of my cardinal rules -- if you must, do it in 15 seconds or less, which requires the speaker to cut out any unnecessary chatter.  In short:

I dreamed I was eating.

And not just eating, but eating things that are in the Avoid column -- some weird (invented) fried Ethiopian spoon-shaped thing from a stand at the corner of Castro & Market, where no such thing exists, while walking along in a hassock, plotting my route up Noe back to Liberty Street so as to avoid bumping into too many people I knew who might not understand that my current get-up was all part of my plan to slim down and join, at LAST, the circus.

There, I've said it.  It's done.

The detox might be having the opposite effect on me that it's designed to have.  No, I'm not gaining weight, silly.  That would be impossible on a salad and an apple and some shakes in a day.  But instead of developing a hankering for greens, I am finding them all a little repugnant, having more of that "well, if that's eating, count me out" reaction from earlier this week.  I long for toast -- I'm not kidding -- I yearn for that taste of toasted wheat and seeds crunching between my teeth, for coffee with cream in it in the morning.  Yesterday, I had a temporary madness for steak.

But still, this is good.  I'm glad I'm doing it.  It is definitely making me look at my food differently, and repugnance aside, I do think it's going to permanently (for a while, anyway) change how I arrange things on my plate.  I do love my greens.

Joe said something I thought was so funny the other day.  Oh, and I should mention that I might not have laughed at this last week.  I do seem to have peed some of my reactivity out this week -- but it also could be the Martha Beck book I'm reading, too.  Anyway, I was talking about my food, and he stopped and considered, then asked, "Um, you're not going to go vegan, are you?  'Cause that would really be a problem for us."

Before all the vegans [I almost left my typo in --> vagens, hahaha, I am 12] get their knickers in a twist, know that we were vegan for years, YEARS I'm not kidding, long before you were even born and before there were any resources for this diet choice.  Seriously, for years.  So I get it.  But I know that for myself, I like to eat everything.  I think about everything I eat, try to keep it copacetic for me and the earth, but I like to eat everything.  Especially when I'm traveling.  Then I always want to eat the food of the place where I am, a way of eating the culture and history.

The good news (you may disagree) is that there's no way this cleanse marks the start of a return to veganism for me.  No way.  What it's done, so far, is restored to me a sense of hunger for the things that I find truly delicious, the perfect piece of toast, a cappuccino, a delicious colorful mixed salad, quinoa (dreaming of grains), and yes, meat.  I am doing without this week to re-set my system but with full intention to return to a varied, balanced, far-reaching diet.

One that won't mean divorce.

That's a joke.  Relax. But what I'm happy about this morning in particular is that I feel lighter in spirit.  I am letting things go much more easily this week and laughing where last week I might have scowled.  Such a good feeling.  One I want to keep, even after I return to the Land of the Eating.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

day 2: i signed up for this

It's Morning #2 of the 7-day cleanse I'm doing, and may I just say I am feeling super-weird. Day 1 was easier than I expected, especially since I had that Board meeting from 8am to 2pm, and some worry in the back of my head that I'd be excusing myself to the toilet every 5 minutes for cleanse-induced reasons. But no, it was completely fine. I didn't feel hungry, really, until around dinner, when the vegetable "soup" I made proved to be entirely unsatisfactory. I think my exact words were, setting down my spoon with finality, "if this is food, I think I'll pass." Yes, clearly this re-set is needed.

So today so far: super-weird. I've had my warm water with lemon and the three cleanse capsules. Now I'm working my way through the smoothie.

Now I know that yesterday's smoothie was delicious because of a mistake I made -- the ground flaxseed I so excitedly purchased on Friday when shopping for provisions also contained dried berries + sugar (yum). I corrected for that yesterday afternoon, and so this morning's sugar-free concoction is not nearly so delectable. I will definitely have to fiddle with the fruit I'm adding, punch it up a bit. Considering I eat my usual breakfast as slowly as possible but still quickly, trying to make it last because it's so good but also greedy to finish, taking 20 minutes to drink half this smoothie gives you some indication of the change in my ways.

In case you're wondering, the "super-weird" I'm feeling is a spacey-ness, a kind of unsettled, not totally comfortable in my skin. It also could be my grieving for toast. I've done the same morning routine for so many years, that it's honestly strange to do anything else. Coffee + toast, and lately toast of the very best bread I've ever found in a supermarket, Dave's Killer Bread, the Seed one, omg so delicious.  I don't like feeling fuzzy, but maybe things will pick up a bit for me this morning when I move on to the next thing on my list: the one cup of coffee I am permitted per day.

So, Day 2, morning: feeling weird. But still totally committed to completing this Cleanse, still totally excited about it, and wondering what I'll do on Day 8.  The first thing that jumps to mind is "eat toast," but that's today.  Let's see how it goes.


Saturday, January 21, 2012

oh you pretty things

Today is the first morning of the 7-day cleanse I'm doing.  My wrist-alarm woke me at 6, since I knew I'd need time to check off tasks associated with Aforementioned Cleanse (AC) before leaving for work at 7:30.  Sure, it's Saturday, but I have to be at a Board meeting at 8 this morning for my job, make a 5-minute presentation sometime between 9 and noon and then get back to the stuff weekends are made of.  And right now naturally I'm wishing I hadn't gone out last night, wishing I'd been in bed at 8:30 (the bedtime of my dreams) with my book and my notebook and my sweethearts instead of being out until 10 at a loud restaurant/bar in the city and in bed at 11.  But the party was fun, more on that later, and I'm glad I went.

Still, I am definitely going into this day underslept and a smidge crabby if I'm being honest, like a grumpy child dragging my feet about getting ready to go to something I don't want to go, poor pitiful me.



The line "a crack in the sky and a hand reaching down to me" floated across my sleepy awareness and then I Googled and then listened with my eyes to David Bowie singing one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite albums of all time.

Watch and feel instantly better.  Aaaaah, Bowie.

Lyrics | David Bowie lyrics - Oh You Pretty Things lyrics

Friday, January 20, 2012

Paying for what was once free :(

Well, I finally caved.  In a matter of hours, I managed to hit the limit of free articles on the New York Times website and so have now been forced to pay for what was once free.  Right now it's hard to complain about it -- 99 cents for 4 weeks -- but soon it will go up, in four weeks it will go up, to the equivalent of paper delivery.  But since I have been reading the Times for so long, delivered to my door in its blue plastic bag for years, then online when I wanted to save trees, I delayed and delayed but finally opened my wallet just now.

Why was that so hard?

Like pushers handing out free samples, they hooked me with endless clickable information so that now, now that I have to pay for it, even though I hesitated, I couldn't do without.  How to go without access to the Science section on Tuesdays or the article that forced me to pay, "You Can Fall Out of Bed and Look Good."


I suppose it was time to pony up, to grow up.  After all, last year I finally paid for annual infinite access to Pandora, since I routinely hit my limit there, streaming music in all sorts of wondrous, totally customized combinations to my desktop at my job, my absurd "Everett Junior High" mix getting me through all kinds of workaday blues.  Boogie fever forever.

Really when I think about it, though I held out for all of several days, it's not so bad to give my money to the New York Times online.  And I can afford it, which is something to be grateful for.  It reminds me of a meeting I had long ago with the Financial Aid advisor at The Kid's expensive Waldorf School, where we had benefited from scholarship assistance for several years.  She looked me in the eyes and said, in such a kind way that I instantly cried, "You really don't need this help from us anymore."  It was true.  I hadn't noticed that we'd emerged from the critical fundslessness of earlier years into a much better place where we could, actually, cover the cost.  But still, it was a change.

And change is like that.  It's change-y.

Takes getting used to.

But I'm over it.  Now I can go back to reading whatever the New York Times is serving up online, limitless.  There's something delightful about that.  I'm trying to stop repeating to myself that that part is not new, I had limitless before, without trading cash for it.  I'm trying to be in this moment, where the thing I had before is gone and now I have the thing I have now.

Enough talking.  Time to go read about the hottest beauty trend of 2012.  Time to feel all limitless and shit for my 25 cents a week.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Swinging from extremes

In the span of just one week, I'm going from this glistening tower of chocolatey goodness eaten at one of my three birthdays dinners this past weekend:

To this:

Yes, on Saturday, January 21st, I'm beginning a 7-day detox and body cleanse with the fabulous Dr. Kate Tenney, my friend and also a Naturopathic Doctor with a practice in Tiburon, CA.  

I've never done something like this, although years and years ago I did do a 10-day-long juice fast.  And just over a month ago, I had the experience of fasting before a medical procedure, and even though the fasting was in prep for a colonoscopy, I do have to say that I felt GREAT for days afterward.  Lighter.  More awake.

We're supposed to set an intention for the cleanse, something which is bound to help sustain me when I start to really crave eating something besides vegetables somewhere around Tuesday of next week.  I'm sure I'll come up with more as I get closer to the kick-off of the process Saturday morning.  Right now, it's just about hitting Re-Set in a big way for this year, examining some of my ingrained habits, and shaking things up.  I've been feeling like an overfed sloth since I've been unable to practice, so if nothing else, this will give me a different focus for 7 whole days.

One thing I asked my husband for as I do this, is a recess on snark about how useless such a thing really is, how unhealthy, [fill in the snarky blank]. Naturally, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but this is something I've been wanting to try for a long time, so right now is the time for negative opinions to get stowed in the overhead and taken down only after landing on Saturday, January 28th.  Think of it as an opportunity, I say, for him to eat all of the foods I normally can't share a kitchen with.  Kippered snacks come to mind.  Sardines.

I'll be sipping vegetable soup and eating salad and making smoothies out of kale and other pretty green foods, drinking my cleanse powder shakes and taking my detox capsules, and trying on this experience for one short week.  If nothing else, it'll be just that: a brief experience, a chance to feel my body in a different way, with probably a whole lot more awareness than I give it on a regular basis.  Sounds good to me!

For now, an end to towering chocolate desserts.  Their time will come again, I'm sure, but right now, satisfying myself with the memory and the prospect of a super-healthy and light week to come.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

keeping what you LOVE right in front of your nose

Fortunately the night-before-last was the coldest we've had all winter.  I say, fortunately because I forgot the tulips I'd bought in the back of my car where they spent the night, completely out of sight and mind, until I got to work yesterday morning.  And remembered my new resolve to have fresh flowers on my desk.

You see, I'm trying to make my environs as beautiful as possible this year, since it is, of course, The Year of Shri.  And since my environs, 40 hours a week, are at my job, the circle of said-shri extends that far.

Without bragging or exaggeration, I can safely say that mine is the most beautiful office space at my job.  There are people who've worked here for years who have not even a scrap of the personal around their work-area.  The whole place, when I first walked in, seemed so dingy and dark, funky in that way that non-profits can be funky -- free furniture, donated "art," sad leggy plants.  But not my space, no way.

From the beginning, I have had thriving plants in my little office which has a window onto the yard where the big trucks and vans of the business park.  And where I sometimes see feral cats skulking about.  I've had photos of my sweethearts, some rocks and seashells, from Day Two on the job, and atop the bookcase, a photo of birds which I still haven't hung a year later, since I'm still not sure where.

But I'm taking it up a notch.  I'm a simple creature, really.  I think we all are.  If I have something beautiful like purple tulips in front of my face all day, I am just happier.  They're pretty, they make my space pretty, they make my mood pretty.

And that's got to be good for everyone.

It's not as though I'm spending quite as much as Sir Elton (something like $460K over a 20-month period).  I think I upped the office-shri for about $6.99 this week, which is, what, the equivalent of two-three cups of coffee.  And well worth it.

Being happy and getting happier takes effort.  It's not hard work, just kind of constant effort, to make the little gestures that bring the happy quotient up.  For me, this week, that's the flowers.  And it's working. Every time I look up from a task, look away from the computer screen, they snag my attention. I am drawn in to their simple exquisite beauty and, bam, into my own: I am right back where I need to be, sitting squarely in the middle of my pretty little life, doing what needs doing to keep the lights on and the heart open.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

You! You! You!

I heard Martha Beck speak at an Oprah Winfrey event, O, in San Francisco in October 2008. Two of my dearest friends and I made a weekend out of it: we booked a hotel, got in Friday night, had a shopping blitz, dinner, drinks and amazing conversation with strangers at our downtown SF hotel, where we barely slept a wink thanks to the almost constant sound of sirens. It didn't matter. Those were the heady days pre-election 2008, when we were so excited about the possibility of Obama as our president, our eyes wide with excitement watching history unfold around us, being a part of a historic and momentous change. And we were going to see Oprah and all of the Oprah people speak, live, in the flesh.

I'd probably watched the Oprah show maybe five times at this point though one of our party is known to fill up her family TiVo with the show. I have nothing against Oprah, but went into this, not as a fan, but more like an eager passenger being taken to a place everyone had been many times. The excitement was palpable, as we walked in the door, the lines of chattering happy women waiting to check-in long but fast-moving. What would happen? I had no idea. I had a full dance-card, having signed up to hear all these different people speak. I was most excited to go see Stacy London of What Not To Wear, since that is a show I've been known to binge on, crying at the end of each one as a precious person's life is re-made thanks to Stacy and Clinton Kelly. It's such a simple formula and it gets me every time.

And of course, Stacy was wonderful, funny, lovely and transformative.

Transformative.  That was the point of the whole weekend, and so it was moving for me to look around at all these glowing female faces of all races, everyone hungry for and open to transformation.

Those were heady times, right?  We knew we were on the brink of an enormous national transformation.  We could feel it coming.  So how not to transform ourselves, too?

I had signed up to hear Martha Beck mostly because my girlfriends loved her and I wanted at least one session with them.  I had some skepticism about her as a "life coach," even though I'm a person who loves coaching, who did a 6-month professional coaching of my own once, a coaching that profoundly changed not just Professional me, but Me me.  Duh, since it's pretty much always Me me.  From the moment Martha Beck opened her mouth, I had goose bumps.  I cried.  I felt this insane recognition of her like I'd known her all my life, like I'd been missing her without even knowing I'd been missing her.

If that sounds crazy to you, consider that that's not the first time that's happened for me.  In fact, it has happened for me with greater frequency since I started yoga 9 years ago which gave me the opportunity to meet more people.  It doesn't mean I fall in love with each person I meet -- far from it.  But sometimes, sometimes, there's this prickle, there's this strong knowing within the first 15 seconds of meeting someone.  It doesn't matter where he or she is from, what they do for a living, what they wear or drive or do in their spare time.  There is a *something* about that person and we're fast-friends, true friends, locked together like magnets from the moment we meet.  It happened when I met Michelle, it happened when I met Kristin, it happened when I carpooled to John Friend with Trixie.  It happened with Martha Beck.  Unfortunately, I haven't had the chance to tell Martha this, until now, in this way, but I told the others.  I remember telling Kristin, within 10 minutes of meeting her, sitting in a tiny cafe in Oaxaca drinking cappuccinos with a bunch of other yogis, looking into her eyes and saying, "ohmygodiloveyousomuch."

I'm reading Martha's new book, Finding Your Way in a Wild New World, and the chapter I'm jumping around about the most so far is the one entitled, "You! You! You!"  She is describing the experience of meeting someone for the first time and hoping her expression "looks relatively normal.  Linky, beautiful and brilliant, sardonic and fierce, is not someone who seems easily disturbed, but if I showed what I'm feeling right now, it might alarm her."  Martha is having what she calls a strong bout of "You! You! You!" -- that feeling of "having inexplicably emotional reunions with dear friends I've never met before, who live all over the world and seem to have nothing in common with me."  Later on she says, "It's as if there's been a Linky Nkuna-shaped absence in my heart since I was born, a missing piece of my own soul's puzzle, and that piece is clicking deliciously into alignment."  It's that feeling of wanting to take that new person you've met by the shoulders, that person you feel you've always known and will never have to live without again, and delightedly exclaiming, "You! You! You!" Or, in my case, "ohmygodiloveyousomuch!"

This is, naturally, exactly what I've been experiencing, and what I hope you've been experiencing, too, along your way, making new friends you feel like you've always had, filling out the corners of your heart.  Martha calls it being part of the Team, meeting other Team members -- all of us on a mission, with our own role to play in saving our own lives and saving the planet.  When I heard her talk about this idea of the Team the first time, live, I got goosebumps all over.

You!  You!  You!

So anyway, that's all.  That's what I'm thinking about this morning in these spare moments before I have to get ready for work and another day of dealing with a sourpuss boss and tasks I'm not really crazy about, tasks that make me feel stupid, that bring me down from the high of the weekend until I'm standing about half my real height, which means I can barely see over the top of my desk.  I'm tucking this delicious feeling I'm having right now into my pockets, hoping I can reach in all day and remember, stay standing tall (that's a relative term, obvy), thinking of all the great friends I have, the way we are all part of something so great, the way we love each other so much even if we don't see each other enough, how we're changing the world by just being who we are and getting better at it all the time.

I'm girding for the job, but it's OK because I've got you in my corner.  You! You! You!  ohmygodiloveyousomuch!


Monday, January 16, 2012

Quiet! Can't you see I'm creating over here?

Our friend John has naturally very curly hair.  A parent in his kids' school always insists that John has a perm.  When John says, ‘No, my hair’s just like this,” the guy invariably retorts, “No. That’s a perm.”   They’ve had this exchange multiple times, and what makes us all laugh when we ask for the story to be re-told, is the guy’s certainty that he’s right about John’s hair and that John’s wrong.  Plus that John's just the nicest person on earth, and this guy's kind of a tool.  The guy’s not being funny.  He is convinced that he’s right.  And not just about John’s hair.  The same guy also asked another friend, upon hearing his thick accent, where he was from.  When the friend answered, “Boston,” the guy said, “No.  That can’t be right.”  There’s something inexhaustibly funny about these stories – that this guy has it wrong but is so convinced that he’s right.  Makes me laugh every time.

I wonder if we all have something like this, something about us that when we tell people about it, they argue to the contrary though probably less absurdly.  For me, it’s always when I tell people that, really, I’m terribly shy.  Unless I’m talking to another secret shy person (in which case the response is a relieved, “Me too!  Aren’t we such good fakers?”), the response is always an emphatic yet sympathetic, “No, you’re not,” as if being shy were something terrible, and then comes the list of things I do or have done that proves I’m really not shy at all.

But I swear it’s true: my hair’s just like this and I really am from Boston!

What I realize now, having had the opportunity to read Quiet by Susan Cain is that while “shy” is one way to describe my experience of being me – the me who would rather stay home and read a book than go to a party, the me who gets up at 4:30 am in order to have quiet time in which not to have to talk to another soul and just commune with my own thoughts, follow my curiosity around the interwebs – that me could be more accurately described as an introvert, and better yet as “a socially poised introvert.”  Introversion is about how much external stimulation you need or can stand – those of us who are introverts prefer less and require some degree of solitude to re-charge.  [If you’re interested in where you fall, take this test.  Yay, tests!] Introversion and extroversion have a biological basis, traits that manifest when we’re babies.  Introverts are physiologically more reactive, which manifests in such terrific ways as being bigger droolers than extroverts, for example; our systems are more sensitive and respond more intensely to outside stimuli like lemon juice on the tongue. That’s right, I’m shy *and* I drool.   How you like me now?

But really, how nice does socially poised introvert sound?  Everyone responds to “shy” likes it’s herpes, something you don’t want to have and certainly don’t want anyone to know you have.  But “socially poised introvert,” on the other hand, sounds good.  I can’t wait to hear the inevitable, “A wha’?” and then launch the explanation.

For those of you not attending that particular cocktail party at which I will hold forth about “socially poised introvert” while dreaming of being at home in my robe and slippers with puppy and book, here’s a section of Quiet that really zinged for me.

From 1956 to 1962, an era best remembered for its ethos of stultifying conformity, the Institute of Personality Assessment and Research at the University of California, Berkeley, conducted a series of studies on the nature of creativity.  The researchers sought to identify the most spectacularly creative people and then figure out what made them different from everybody else.  They assembled a list of architects, mathematicians, scientist, engineers, and writers, and invited them to Berkeley for a weekend of personality tests, problem-solving experiments, and probing questions.

Then the researchers did something similar with members of the same professions whose contributions were decidedly less groundbreaking.
One of the most interesting findings, echoed by later studies, was that the more creative people tended to be socially poised introverts.  They were interpersonally skilled but “not of an especially sociable or participative temperament.”  They described themselves as independent and individualistic.  As teens, many had been shy and solitary.
These findings don’t mean that introverts are always more creative than extroverts, but they do suggest that in a group of people who have been extremely creative throughout their lifetimes, you’re likely to find a lot of introverts.
… a less obvious yet surprisingly powerful explanation for introverts’ creative advantage – they prefer to work independently, and solitude is often crucial to creativity and productivity.  As the influential psychologist Hans Eysenck once observed, introversion “concentrates the mind on the tasks in hand, and prevents the dissipation of energy on social and sexual matters unrelated to  work.”  In other words, if you’re in the backyard sitting under a tree while everyone else is clinking glasses, you’re more likely to have an apple fall on your head.  (Newton was one of the world’s great introverts.  William Wordsworth described him as “A mind forever/Voyaging through strange seas of Thought alone.”) (74)
Nina (the brunette) undoubtedly spoke
not one word to Santa
On the socially poised part of this equation, I want to give thanks to my childhood friend, Nina, whose greater shyness than mine forced me to begin my lifelong process of faking it socially.  Nina was the kind of shy where she wouldn’t speak even one word.  Not one. Lips completely sealed.  I’m told that I served as her interpreter, spoke for her in situations where her input was needed, or at least so our mothers say.  [She grew out of this and is now one of the most gregarious people I know, worked as a park ranger, so clearly talks to strangers now.]  

As the oldest of three children, it also fell to me many times to set aside my own awkwardness and perform, for the benefit of my sisters, to “set a good example” as I was so often admonished.  This was complicated by the fact that my given name is difficult for English-only speakers, another factor making me want to evade notice.  Because of all of this, thanks to all of this, I learned to be a really good faker, to seem comfortable in situations I’d rather escape, to speak when I’d rather disappear.

But it all comes back to quiet, in the end.  In the end, when my time at the party has been served, then truly I get to come back to what I craved the whole time I was there – the comfort of the big chair in my office, with a book or my laptop (or best ever: both!), puppy, some tea, the gorgeous view out the window, and time to think and dream and consider the experience I just had, tell its story.

And guess what?  I’ve often wondered how I could be so terribly shy and private and yet be so bla-bla-bla online.  “Studies have shown that, indeed, introverts are more likely than extroverts to express intimate facts about themselves online that their family and friends would be surprised to read, to say that they can express the ‘real me’ online, and to spend more time in online discussions.  They welcome the chance to communicate digitally.  The same person who would never raise his hand in a lecture hall of two hundred might blog to two thousand, or two million, without thinking twice.  The same person who finds it difficult to introduce himself to strangers might establish a presence online and then extend these relationships into the real world.” Well, of course!

There’s so much more to Quiet, the book.  It comes out on January 28th and I’m recommending it highly, not just for introverts who want to feel less like weirdos in a culture that really places high value on extroverted traits, but for everyone who wants a chance to think about why some of us are the way we are and what we can learn from each other. And parents!  Parents should read this book, use the wisdom about introversion and extroversion to help their kids navigate.  Fortunately for me, my son and I are cut from the same cloth – we went together to an ice cream social at his school when he was in the 8th grade, got our ice cream and sat in a corner talking to each other, making that event, for ever more, the infamous Ice Cream Anti-Social (his words).  If we’d been of different dispositions, how helpful it would have been to me to know how to help him maximize his gifts to take his full and happy place at the table.

For a preview of some of the book, check out most of Chapter 3 republished in the New York Times as “The Rise of the New Groupthink." Or buy it.  Or hit me up and borrow my copy.  Just make sure you don’t mind my annotations, all my scribbled exclamations of recognition, Hey, there’s me.  There’s me again.  Such a good feeling that even when I’m sitting in my Quiet, I’m not alone.  A whole lot of other people are sitting here too, nodding their heads in acknowledgment of #9 below, avoiding chit chat in favor of dreaming big dreams in the quiet of their own heads.

Please note that as a contributor to From Left to Write, the virtual blogging bookclub, I received a free copy of the book for review -- so cool, right? Thanks, FLtW! Opinions are purely my own and are, like I said, opinions. Oh, and my hair is naturally wavy and I am not from Boston.  That part was lies.  The rest is all true.

Are you an introvert or extrovert?.Author Susan Cain explores how introverts can be powerful in a world where being an extrovert is highly valued. Join From Left to Write on January 19 as we discuss Quiet:The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain. We'll also be chatting live with Susan Cain at 9PM Eastern on January 26. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

by jove, i've got it: 2012 is the Year of ...

Apparently it's not enough to lay out a two-page Chart for each new year.  Maybe it used to be enough, but then it growed.  A few years ago a theme emerged when I reviewed all the items in each labeled section.  Then, thanks to Laura Christensen, the Chart grew a sutra, too, a short easily-memorized phrase that summed it all up for me, that when repeated would bring me back, in an instant, to the whole point of it all. So, last year's pithy little sutra, summing up The Year of Discernment, was Say No, Say Yes.  Easy-peasy and kept me on point.  So a two-page Chart and a theme and a sutra.

But now it seems the year has grown a goddess, too, something I was completely not expecting, something I would have resisted had I had the opportunity.

Two days ago, after days of working on this year's plans, thinking and waiting and watching it all take form, suddenly a realization bonked me frying pan-style on the head, leaving me like a cartoon, little spinny wheels in place of my eyes, stars dancing over my head. Boing-oing-oing.  I was in the woods, hiking with Mr Burns, in that place where I do my best thinking, surrounded by all that green and texture and the sounds of squirrels chattering in the trees.  Something clicked.  Oooooh, that's what that's all about?

Listen: if you think years of practicing yoga doesn't change you, you're mistaken.  It gets inside you and does its thing even when you're unaware of it, and then shows itself in unexpected and delightful ways. That's what makes it seem like magic.  For reals.

So, suddenly two days ago the lightbulb went on and I realized that I was entering Year Three of a three-year cycle.  I had absolutely no idea I was in a three-year cycle, but as soon as I knew what the theme of this year was going to be, then I remembered the Navaratri workshop with Douglas Brooks and Sianna Sherman last September, and boy oh boy, did it all fall into place.  [Navaratri is a 9-day Hindu festival dedicated, three days each, to the goddesses Kali/Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati, really one goddess fractalized into three, three ways of looking at reality, three stories that star you and me.]

Kind of spooky.  Check it out.

2010: Durga
2010 was the year of Durga for me, my self-proclaimed Year of Intention. I stuck a big image of her on my red Moleskin and carried her everywhere I went, riding her tiger, wielding her weapons to cut down obstacles and bullshit in my path, to free myself at last from a situation I had been stuck in too long.  It was a powerful and ferocious year, in which I said Yes to so much.  By the end I was exhausted, but also jubilant: I had found the courage to give up safety for something more beautiful.  And yes, I was exhausted, bone-tired and ready for the big change I'd created for myself, to a simpler, less crazy life.

2011: Lakshmi
2011 was for me, as above, the Year of Discernment.  My notebook bore the image of my favorite animal, the wolverine, symbol of wildness and innate strength, my signifier to myself that there was no more need to wield a bristling bundle of weapons 'cause I had it all built in.  All I had to do now, now that I'd cut the head off the demon, was get clear.  Where would I draw the lines?  Where would I devote my time, my energy, my passion?  Until two mornings ago, I hadn't thought of Lakshmi ever in connection to that year, because I hadn't realized yet the final piece, the theme for 2012.  But once 2012 popped into my head, I knew it.  I returned to my notes, I saw these words and breathed, "Lakshmi invites you to the greatness of your creative potential, to turn your klesas [wounds] into lakshmis [boons]." It was her all along -- the year in which I realized with a jolt that I am a creative person trapped in a barely-creative profession, the year I grew my writing, the year in which I simplified everything, eliminated everything unnecessary, washed away everything until only gleaming little nuggets were left in the pan.  And with these in hand, I step into 2012.

2012: Saraswati
In all my musings, my dreaming of the year and my constant interviewing of Joe, getting his input on our shared plans, asking him about his own goals and my own, what came up over and over again as an overarching theme for this year for me as for him is "making things nice, making things beautiful."  While it may seem like fixing up the office at the shop or upgrading the website or finally getting a cushion for the window seat at home are disparate To Do items, they all support a general theme of shri, or beauty, of making our lives more beautiful.    They share something essential with my goal of stepping more fully into my writing this year -- more self-expression this year, in short: more art.  And if it was intention and Durga in 2010, and discernment and Lakshmi in 2011, then boom, if it's shri then it's got to Saraswati in 2012-- and getting down to the business of knowing what our lives are for and making them as beautiful an expression of who we are as we can.  

2012: The Year of Shri!

With so much gratitude to all my teachers, to my sister and Yogateau, and to the countless friends who make my world shine with joy: get ready, this year is going to be SO good!  

The Sutra, you ask? 

Shri. It. Up!

Ego causes injury? Go thank yourself.

Before I say another word, I’d like to acknowledge my enormous debt of gratitude to Michelle Marchildon for her genius “Thank You is the new F* You.” Sister, deep pranams to you for the radical and instantaneous e-nlightment of that post.

Now, to the rest of you currently writing and expressing the opinion that injury is caused by ego, let me say, as an injured person, that you can all go Thank yourselves.

To those defending yoga from the perceived attack of the recent New York Times and other pieces, I’m not buying this line that Yoga doesn’t hurt people. Ego hurts people. Thank off.

Yes, sure, I know that I have a role to play in this piriformis syndrome – this poor piriformance -- that has had me off my mat since December. But really, is ego the only option?

I am suggesting two other explanations. Naturally, these are explanations that make me feel a whole lot better than the ego explanation does because, let’s face it, the ego explanation feels like shit, really does feel like, to me, someone wagging their high-and-mighty self-righteous yogic finger in my face. You did this to yourself, so shut up. The truth is always complicated, right? Sure, there’s ego in it; I’m human. But when I think about what landed me here, with an aching booty and radiating nerve pain down my left leg, dude, it’s not ego.

First, instead of ego, I’m saying bhakti. Yeah, that’s right: devotion. Suck on that. My piriformis has been murmuring its unhappiness at me for a long time, for probably a year. But my dog was dying and when I lost him in March, and then my husband had a really serious accident, I couldn’t imagine giving up my practice – doing without my teachers, without my kula, without the teachings in the midst of all that heartbreak and grief and anguish, so I worked with the murmuring, backed off, modified, took breaks. I had lost so much already. I couldn’t very well give yoga up too. Yoga was the thing keeping me together. So I kept at it, gingerly, listening.

And then came puppy. My shattered heart mended and I fell in love with Mr Burns, a rescued puppy who came to live with us 6 months to the day after we lost our beloved Jasper. Burns was four months old, adorable and exhausting. I had totally forgotten how much work a puppy is, after fourteen years with our Jas. And Burnsy, we discovered at the vet a few weeks later when we asked why he might be so reluctant to go for walks, had a broken toe. We were told to keep him from jumping on and off of furniture, in and out of the car. So, more bhakti: I would carry him like a baby, lift and place him carefully, lovingly, guarding his foot, wanting him to heal. A devotion which was easy in the beginning, when he was 26 pounds, and became more challenging, though I didn’t notice it, as he grew, as he was 35 pounds, then 43, then 52.

And all the time, I kept practicing, a little less because I had this new baby to care for, a baby I couldn’t bear to leave.

So it was that the week before Christmas, I sat up in bed one Saturday morning and my piriformis, finally, sick of not being heard, let out its big scream. Since then, I’ve had almost constant pain and have been 100% off my mat.

And second, on top of bhakti, I’m also crediting my adhikara for being where I am today, benched by an injury. That’s right: my studentship. Adhikara is an equal partner with devotion in this whole arc toward my current immobility. I love the study of yoga so much: I love being in class, I love learning through the practice and so I hung on to it, even when I was not feeling strong, because I love it so much -- the wanting to know, the thirst for knowledge, for making the connections in class, the delight of feeling a truly gifted teacher turn all the lights on in my heart. ALL the lights on in my heart!!  Do you even know how hard it is for me to be away, to not be receiving fresh input, to be outside the studio looking in? It’s like a weird exile, one I never wanted.

My injury began in yoga, began in a repetitive motion I was making in response to a verbal cue, a motion that I can re-create right now if I want to be in more pain. I take responsibility for the fact that my piriformis was getting involved where it didn’t belong, my big ass compensating for my quieter inner thighs.

You can say that ego is what injures us in yoga, but I know better. I know what happened to me: that my devotion and my studentship, my beloved bhakti and adhikara, helped me to land in this particular spot, this quiet place where I am not doing asana but still doing yoga with my mind. And this is exactly where I need to be right now, practicing other limbs of the path, being a devoted student in my own way, resting my poor sore butt. And marveling at the language flying by right now, at how our poor egos are being maligned and held responsible for situations to which they may contribute but which are, as is everything, so much more complicated than one single factor can explain.

So really, I mean it, Thank you all you people who keep blaming the ego for injury. If nothing else, you’ve given me a lot to think about while I remain at home, unable to do asana with my teachers and friends. If someday you have this same pain in the ass I have right now, you may think differently.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Days Without Incident: some rules

The thing about making up games is that you get to make up the rules.  I don't know about you, but when we were kids making up games, making up the rules took the most time and it generally seemed true that playing the game was less fun than that whole process of creating the construct of the game.

And it's still the same.

The rules might be the funnest part.

In my Days Without Incident 2012 count -- in which I'm counting the number of consecutive days that the Marin IJ can go without a mention of the god damn Grateful Dead -- the rules are coming along as we go, subject to change.  And subject to pressure. 

I started out counting only "news," meaning that there was some editorial decision made at the Marin IJ to put the opening of the gd GD music venue not only on the front page but above the fold, above an article about the shooting of an interrupted burglar by the home's 90-year-old retired police resident. I started out with the idea that the piece had to be something the staff of the Marin IJ had actually written, thereby letting them off the hook in case (could it ever happen?) the Associated Press had a wire-story about the gd GD that the IJ picked up.

My narrow definition of the rules means that I didn't count the letter to the editor three days ago about the new music venue or the blurb yesterday promoting a reading at a local bookstore by the author of a new collection of "highly colorful and fanciful" GD fan mail. My narrow definition means that the Current number of consecutive days was 4, breaking the previous record by 1.

But I have been convinced that printing the letter to the editor and choosing which reading to promote are both editorial decisions worthy of note and worthy of the count. Of course! So I am revising the score at right, from Current: 4 to Current: 0, leaving unchanged the Record so far for 2012 of 3 days.  Yes, so far in the Year 2012, out of twelve whole days, our local paper has been able not to print the words Grateful Dead three days in a row.  That's all.  
And come to think of it, maybe that makes the rules so much easier - no worry about editorial decision or who wrote it or whatever.  Just how many days in a row can I open the paper and *not* see the words.  That's a low bar, but can they do it?

Getting past three days?  That would be something to be grateful for.

two things I learned from heartbreak

Losing Jasper last year, may he rest in tremendous doggy peace, was the biggest heartbreak I have ever known. Even now writing about it, almost a year later, I can barely see the damn laptop screen through my own tears.  I have never ceased missing him, even as the charming and ridiculously cute Mr Burns has come along to fill the enormous void left by Jasper's passing.  And oh how Mr Burns does fill the void!  He is so wonderful.

In the shattering cataclysm of Jasper's death, I learned two things, two things that have changed me for the rest of my life.

The first is that I need somebody to love and care for, preferably a dog, or else I'm only part-living.  I probably should have had a dog always and can't believe I had that long break from age 12 to age 34 without a canine companion.  Of course I can understand all the reasons why that was best under all of the many circumstances, but it won't happen again.  Everything is better with a dog.  Everything.

But the bigger lesson is really the lesson that Jasper was teaching me every day, that I didn't really fathom until I kept waking up in a house empty of his sounds.  That if there's something you really want to do, then you should do it. Don't over-think -- such a silly human habit. Do. 

There were so many things I wanted to do to celebrate the great blessing of Jasper in my life, silly things really, things like having his portrait done or his photo with Santa or a fancy tag or a sweater, things that were truly ridiculous but also cute and sweet and fun.  I didn't do any of them.  Instead, two weeks after he left us so quickly, the fancy custom tag I'd finally ordered for him in what I didn't realize was his last week of incarnation, showed up in my mailbox but no collar to put it on. I wore it around my neck for months, rueing that I hadn't done even that simplest little thing.

Of course, Jasper didn't give a shit about what tag he wore.  He could care less, although he loved that collar of his, lovingly carrying around when we took it off him, "cleaning it" with his gooey tongue, but never biting through it although he could have, in the 10 years he had that thing, destroyed it in under a minute.  But it would have mattered to me, to make the goofy public expression of how struck dumb I was by my love for him, by his huge presence in my life, my life that became such a parched little desert after he left.

Into all of that, why resist the impulse to buy him a sweater or put a pair of antlers on him at Christmas or have his portrait done at least once?

Sure, I'm perfectly aware of the absurdity of it all, but who cares? Life is short, sometimes people you love, including dogs, are snatched from you with no notice at all. Every moment is a moment to celebrate, even when other people think it's silly, maybe even MORE SO when other people think it's silly.

The delightful Mr Burns is the beneficiary of this learning. So far he has only one little jacket -- adorable, reversible -- but there will be more. He has two costumes, neither of which he tolerates for long, but both of which make me laugh and laugh. He has my heart completely and I have his, and now I also have this gorgeous portrait of him.

So worth it. That Jasper was so right. The key to a life of happiness is following the happy impulses that come along, not thinking them right out of existence. Just following them, doing the little things that make me happy. Not overthinking. Doing.  Thanks, Jassie.  Love and miss you always.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

a lifetime of duncery

I have spent most of my life feeling stupid.  

I said, feeling stupid, so that means there's no point you arguing with me about it.  It's the worst feeling in the world for me.  Absolutely unbearable.  And also, unfortunately, super familiar.

Now instead of feeling stupid at school, which is where I perfected my early-life stupid, I feel stupid constantly at  my job.  It's pretty amazing.  I have actually never felt this professionally incompetent ever.  For someone like me who enjoys being of service and doing things well, this is a wholly unexpected excruciating torture.  The moment I think I am getting the hang of it, boom, something happens and I'm right back to the beginning.  Stupid.  

What's crazy is that I actually took a step down to take this position.  At my old job and the job before that and the job before that, I did way more, had way more responsibility, than I do now.  I was exhausted of it and thought that taking this scope- and pay-cut would mean I'd be more free, less owned by the job.  I thought it would be easier. 

I thought wrong. 


I had such a vivid memory today while sitting at my desk at my job feeling like I was just worthless, of being in Mrs Torlakson's English class at Lowell, when I was probably in 10th grade.  She was so severe, a skelelon with light blond hair cut in straight bangs across her forehead, monastic in her attire.  We were reading Crime and Punishment.  I was so unsuccessful in that class that as the semester passed my handwriting -- in those days we didn't type our work -- became smaller and smaller and smaller.  I was so afraid to be more wrong that I was quite literally making my thoughts, words, opinions so small that they were invisible to the naked human eye.  I've never forgotten how terrible that all felt to me.  I loved Crime and Punishment, such a great book, but I hated the feeling of not getting how the class worked, what the expectations were, what the judgment was about.

And that, my friends, is pretty precisely how I felt today.  Strange to be as old as I am -- and turning even older on Saturday -- and still to feel exactly the same, the present experience charged with old pain.

I know it's ridiculous.  I do not need to be convinced.  Of course I'm not stupid.  It's just that now, as then, I'm in the wrong place, I don't quite fit, they're speaking German and I speak everything else but that. It's so insanely painful and I just want to get away.  

I grit my teeth.  I put my head down and collect paycheck, as a friend's friend says, repeating to myself that feeling stupid doesn't make it so.  And I do my work and I do my best and then I leave.  I get in my car, pick up my dog and my husband and go home.  We have dinner and I read and write, and we watch Being Human and I make a hot water bottle and we curl up in our cozy bed and sleep.  I wake up the next day really early, with a little bit of dread about where I'm going to spend the day, but since I get up at 4:30, I have almost 4 hours to be me, to not be stupid, before I go to work and put that particular mantle on.

I keep thinking there is something about the situation I find myself in that requires someone to be stupid and that it just gets to be me for now.  I don't think it's personal, really -- although naturally it feels that way because it involves, well, my person -- it's just kind of part of the deal like Good Cop/Bad Cop except it's Smart and Stupid.  If I tell myself this story, then it's easier to bear, easier to separate it out so that it doesn't touch the rest of me, get everything all icky with its ickiness.

What's really stupid is the situation itself, and I know it.  I grit my teeth and feel my feelings and work and plan and wait.

It isn't forever.  Sometimes it just seems that way.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Piriformis Adventure

All things considered, I am not too unhappy to make the acquaintance of The Piriformis Syndrome.  Given I already know Herniated Disc quite well, having married and divorced that asshole about 13 years ago, after a fling with microsurgery, yes, Piriformis Syndrome is not too shabby.

If nothing else, it gives new meaning to having a pain in the ass and/or being a tight ass.   And makes me snicker more about the irony of wearing yoga pants labeled Hard Tail.  Yes, particularly hard, at right about the center of the left cheek.

I am truly grateful for the ministrations of Dr. Sara yesterday, a sports chiropractor my husband also sees.  I was bashful to go there, being of the not-sporty variety, but she was lovely.  And worked me. I definitely have bruises on my hip.  And am still feeling the fantastic release from the application of the Stim device, crazy electrical stimulation designed to relax that over-active piriformis.

Cheeky little monkey!

It's a relief that it's just that silly muscle and to confirm, for myself, that I know exactly how I did it, through incorrect and overzealous application of the principle of inner spiral.  Once I make it 7 days without pain, then I'm cleared to go back to yoga and start over, this time not using my booty to do what my thighs are really supposed to.  Hah, more easily said than done.

In the meantime, I'm doing my little stretches and eating Advil and waiting, trying to remain patient with being hurt.  And taking advantage of how much blissful time I have at home now that I'm not traipsing to class all over the Bay Area 4-5 times a week.  That part's truly great, something I will miss when I am back to my mat, front row and center.

Also gives me time to read "How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body," this New York Times article from last week that has all my yoga friends in a tizzy.

In my Hard Tail pants, snickering.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Resolutions, shared, more powerful

Woody Guthrie's resolutions for 1942 have been making the rounds for a few weeks. In case you didn't see them, they go like this.  I love that they're handwritten, along with doodles, at the middle of the book, and include beating fascism and wearing clean clothes.

It got me to thinking about how interesting it would be to see certain people's resolutions at key moments in their lives.  These people wouldn't necessarily know at the moment they wrote their resolutions that the coming year would turn out to be key, but with the benefit of hindsight, we'd all go, Duuuuuude, that was so prescient.  Like, for example, if Rosa Parks had it as a resolution in 1954 to change up her seat on the bus.  I'm making light of a huge thing she did, in fun, just to illustrate what I'm talking about.

I did a very fast search on Amazon and nothing turned up, so a book of resolutions hasn't been done yet.  Who wants to take that on?  Of course, it's now on my List of all the books I wish I had time to write, but until someone decides that they want to sponsor me so that I can devote myself 24/7 to this and other projects such as my field guide to the American Douche, then this blog is about it.

So, given my interest in reading other people's resolutions, natch I was very intrigued when I received email from Daily Candy earlier today, with the following tease:

It was definitely a let-down that clicking through just lands one on a slide-show of things the editors plan to buy this year to support their resolutions (although I won't lie: there are a couple of items that I fell immediately in love with, like the magnetic egg-cup train and the self-publishing kiosk and the espresso machine).  But still I liked this smidgen of insight.  Like I wrote elsewhere, I love hearing about other people's resolutions -- such a quick hit of what that person really cares about, really wants, like you're mainlining their essence for a sec.  

The Harvard Business Review blogger Peter Bregman had a really interesting bit in an interview that I listened to yesterday, about how most people don't keep their resolutions because  their fear of failure prevents them from making resolutions about the things they really, really care about.  Like you don't want to make a resolution that "this is the year I write my novel," because if you fail, then it means you're not really a writer.  And that scares you.  So you don't make that resolution; instead you resolve something that doesn't go straight to your heart, to your idea of who you really are, like the novel does.  Instead you resolve something about not biting your nails or being friendlier to strangers.  Something you don't really care about and which you can let go, in a few weeks, when your favorite show finally comes back on or whatever.

The key to success, Bregman says, is to make resolutions about things you really do care about.  And then to keep those resolutions right in front of your nose, integrating them into what you do every day, so that they don't exist in a separate dimension apart from your daily transactions.

For me, another key is sharing what your resolutions are, so that you're more accountable.  Saying them out loud makes them more powerful, give them form.  Volume gives them volume, ho ho ho.  But I'm kind of a weirdo who dreams of friendships in which we share things like this, things like our resolutions for the year, and then have lunch once a month and talk about how it's going.  That's my idea of dreamy: a Saturday lunch with friends and notebooks, maybe a glass of something sparkly and a tasty plate of food, listening and cheering and dreaming.  That would be sweet, indeed, and so real, so much better than catching up on details, details we can all read about on-line anyway.

As I'm completing my resolutions project for this year, I'm really taking Bregman's words into account -- really making sure that I am resolving about things that truly matter to me, that have the potential to be life-changing.  Sure, there's always the nest-egg resolution but what about the rest, the really juicy stuff?  What about the book?  What about getting paid to write?  

It's about keeping the map on the dashboard, just staying focused on what you really want.  And who doesn't need help with that?  By sometime in the middle of next week, I'll be posting my resolutions here, as a way of giving them volume.  And if you want to email me your list, I'm so your Resolution Buddy.  

Let's Go Big this year.  It's time.