Three Things, Issue Forty-Six

ONE: BROTHER

Have you ever prayed for someone to die?

I was a young adolescent when I began to pray regularly for my brother to die. It’s not something I’m proud of and I’d usually send up a petition for forgiveness at the same time, just for good measure. Life with my brother was a living hell, with regular threats lobbed my way along with his perpetual sneer and general, unpredictable rage. In the summer months, he and his buddies would venture up into the mountains to camp for a few days at a time and I’d pray he’d never return, entertaining fantasies of him taking a quick tumble off a high cliff to a quick and painless death. He always returned, though, along with more threats and the accompanying fear I’d learned to live with.

It was my brother’s birthday last week. He would have been sixty-one years old.

As a young girl, I prayed for my brother to like me. When we were very young, there were days where he’d let me join in on his Lego-building ventures or an occasional battle with his little green army men. Playing beside my older brother made me feel important, as if I had been let into an exclusive, grown-up club. It didn’t last long. His potent outbursts and conflicts with my parents began while he was still in elementary school and only intensified as he grew older.

I don’t remember the date of my brother’s death, but I always remember his birthday. I have his birthday written on the calendar pinned to my yellow kitchen wall. June 5th.

Once we became adults, I didn’t see him for years at a time. This was intentional. I worried about him finding out where I lived and coming to kill me and my family. Regular nightmares of this scenario peppered my sleep and I’d awaken with a jolt in a cold sweat, chest heaving in fear. As years passed, he started showing up at Thanksgiving or other family gatherings—even my wedding. He was pleasant but distant and my fear of him existed on a deep, cellular level. Whenever he left, my insides unclenched and I felt my breath drop from high up in my shallow chest back into my low belly.

Each June, I’d think of my brother on his birthday and imagine him spending it alone with his dog. I feared him and loved him and wanted nothing to do with him, but still felt pangs of sadness over the disconnected rubble of a life he had built. Undiagnosed mental illness, learning disabilities. I often wondered if he had regrets.

I was busy raising my two young kids when he was diagnosed with lung cancer. The diagnosis came after months of strange symptoms when he would often call me and ask for help in researching his ailments. He was my brother and I loved him as such, but he still scared the hell out of me. I helped as much as I could, always feeling the seize in my belly and the catch in my breath with each phone call.

My phone rang on a rainy evening just before New Years. My brother had been in hospice for a short time, my other siblings taking turns tending to him in his final days. Just one year prior, I had sat with my mother as she took her last breath and I didn’t think I possessed the fortitude to do the same for my brother.

The first thought in my head after hearing the news that he had died was, well, Tracie–your prayer was answered. I thought of all the hours I had spent praying that he would die so that I could live a life free of the terror his presence instilled in me. A wave of guilt washed up and over me, flooding my chest and throat, taking me under. Then, grief. Huge, sneaker waves of grief, pummeling me with sucker punches at my solar plexus, over and over and over again. I sat on my bed and sobbed.

I had been planning to see him the following day, but he went ahead and died before I was able to. I grieved over the opportunities lost, the loss of the brother that I might have had. The one I fantasized about having instead of the one who haunted my nightmares. I imagined me sitting at his bedside and hearing him whisper a deathbed apology. A plea for forgiveness and understanding. Taking responsibility.

When someone you love dies, your heart breaks. When someone with whom you have a conflicted, complex and unresolved relationship dies, the path of mourning is riddled with detours and potholes.

A close childhood friend of my brother’s hosted a memorial service for him a month after his death. My siblings and I piled into our cars and drove down, wondering who–if anyone–would be in attendance. The brother we knew was a bitter loner. We assumed it would be just us–his siblings–and a smattering of others.

The house where the service was held was packed with mourners. Most were strangers to me, but I recognized a few from our old neighborhood as they came up to give me a hug and called me by my name. I wondered if they knew about his years of threats and attacks. We filled paper plates with casseroles and salads and an informal remembrance of my brother began. One by one, his friends spoke glowingly of my brother’s kindness and love of animals. Of how he would drop everything to help a friend out. How he loved the outdoors and made a point to spend his birthdays in nature with his dog and perhaps a close friend or two or three. They used words like gentle and sensitive and loyal to describe him.

My siblings and I exchanged stunned glances with each other and said nothing.

The brother I knew had not existed outside the boundaries of our large, complicated family. I immediately felt silly for all the years I spent pitying him and the sad life I assumed he was living. I felt resentful that all these other people had known the brother I had forever dreamed of having. I felt cheated and duped and completely dumbfounded.

Family dynamics are fluid, tricky and tough to rise above.

TWO: FATHER

I always felt like I was my father’s last chance for a do-over.

Twenty years separate me from my oldest sibling. An entire generation. It’s safe to say that I had a much different father than the rest of my six siblings. Same man, same name, but an entirely different dad.

By the time I came along, my father had transitioned from his first career in the clergy to his second wind as a college sociology professor. Office hours, more or less. He still played the organ and directed the church choir each Sunday, but life was a bit more predictable than when he was a minister. Because of that, I reaped the benefits. Extra time to play catch with me, summer evenings spent kicking a soccer ball around the back lawn, holding onto my bike seat until he wasn’t anymore and I caught my balance and pedaled off into the sunset on my own.

I loved my dad, but I was no daddy’s girl.

He wouldn’t hear of that. Both of my parents valued education and raised strong, independent women. But I always felt as though I was my father’s last hope.

Professional challenges. Hectic life with seven children and aging parents. Struggles with his youngest son. Conflicted relationships with a few of his other children. A marriage that was rarely easy. Dashed hopes and dreams.

My father developed psoriasis early in my life. Crimson, scaly skin covered most of his body, except for his face. We had four bathrooms in the house I grew up in and one was designated as his. My father’s bathroom was always covered in a light layer of dead skin flakes that perpetually sloughed off his angry body. I hated using that bathroom and having to navigate around the piles of flakes. It was as if he was a snake, shedding, continually. Every few years, he’d spend a week or two in the local hospital receiving “tar treatments”–an event he seemed to look forward to. Whether it was the prospect of being tended to by young, attractive nurses or the opportunity to rest, unbothered by the demands of a large family, my dad thoroughly enjoyed his respite covered in tar. He usually came home with improved skin that would last until the next flare-up.

As I got older, he took me to soccer games and watched Wimbledon with me. When my school had an open house, he came and talked to my instructors and returned home boasting of the glowing reports they had given me. She can do anything she puts her mind to! he exclaimed proudly, parroting back the words he had heard from my teachers. And when I finally got up the nerve to move away from home for the very first time, he helped me find my way around Portland and rent my first apartment. We ate pastrami sandwiches at Rose’s Deli on 23rd as he regaled me with stories of living in New York City as a young man starting out on his own.

I felt like my dad was proud of me. Like I was his shining star after so much strife.

My father loved the sound of his own voice–his chosen vocations as a pastor and professor not by chance–and was always game for a lively debate. Politics, religion, social justice. My dad could speak confidently on nearly any topic, but rarely spoke of his feelings. I don’t remember him ever telling me that he loved me, although I never doubted that he did.

I often wondered if his psoriasis was his body’s way of shedding all the pent-up emotions he was never able to express.

The day that my father died, I went back to the small apartment he and my mom shared at my sister’s home in Redmond. I found his hat–he always wore a hat–and pulled it to my nose. Stale cigarette smoke and the unmistakable scent of old, dead skin. My dad’s skin. Familiar, just like I remembered. I took the hat home with me that afternoon and zipped it up in a plastic bag. It sits on a shelf in my bedroom closet.

After he died, the church where he spent most of my childhood as the choir director held a memorial service. Strangers I had never seen before stood up to speak of my father–Pastor Jansen they called him. They told stories of playing games with him during summers at vacation bible school and Camp Lutherwood. How he helped them through their struggles with faith as a young person. How his stories and sense of humor in his sermons made the gospel come alive for them.

Later that afternoon, my siblings and I sat around my sister’s backyard and ate egg salad sandwiches. I couldn’t believe what some of those people said about Dad, one of my sisters commented. It was as if they were talking about someone else. That wasn’t the dad I knew. A tinge of sadness and envy played around the edges of her words. A lost opportunity to have the dad she imagined.

Family dynamics are fluid, tricky and tough to navigate and I never took for granted the do-over dad I was lucky enough to have.

Happy Father’s Day.

THREE: FAMILY

She said it as matter-of-factly as if she was commenting on the weather. No one in the family really thinks of you as a writer. The words stopped me in my tracks, but then I nodded as I digested what she just said and pretended like I understood and accepted her explanation.

Family dynamics are tricky. Insidious and sneaky.

I had been struggling with finding my voice in my writing again and was looking for affirmation from my family. Hinting for an “atta girl” or a word of encouragement. Her words stung at first, like the pinch of a thin needle into a vein, but then spread out through my bones as I sat with them. No one really thinks of you as a writer. 

Well, okay.

As the youngest of seven children, I have spent most of my life looking up to everyone. Deferring. Taking advice. Assuming that I couldn’t possibly know because I wasn’t old enough.

I think I’m old enough now.

A friend recently let out a loud chuckle and asked me, incredulous, who are you? when I described to her how I’ve always tended to automatically defer to my older siblings. She went on to tell me, everything I know you to be flies in the face of you being deferential and passive! You’re a grown-ass adult! Why do you allow yourself to be that way?

Why, indeed.

I had no answer for her other than family dynamics can be a motherfucker. If we’re lucky, we successfully build a life away from the constraints of what our families think we should be. That’s not to say our families can’t be closely-knit, wonderful and supportive and they often are. But if we’re not careful, the dynamics we grow up in can prove to be limiting. Those tender, formative years where we learn how to interact with others. Where we begin to define ourselves as we are in relationship with others. It’s heady stuff and easy to fall into our prescribed roles, even when we’re old enough to know better.

The smart one. The emotional one. The baby. The responsible one. The skinny one. The leader. The shy one. The difficult one. 

I don’t know why my brother felt compelled and safe enough to create an completely alternative life with his friends rather than with us, his biological brothers and sisters. Maybe there was too much water under the bridge and he couldn’t find his way back. I can’t tell you why my father created memories of summer camp and kick ball with kids in his congregation more than the ones he went home to at night. I can tell you that family dynamics can be a slick and slippery slope.

No one really thinks of you as a writer, she said to me.

That’s okay, because I’m plenty old enough now to know that I am.

 

 

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Forty-Five

ONE: JUNE

It’s the third of June, issue 45. Nearly halfway through 2018. So many words written in just under a year. Far more words than I wrote in the previous three years. But no submissions. Zero.

It was back in January when I published this post and publicly proclaimed that 2018 was going to be my year of submission. I had steeled myself to receive a litany of rejections throughout the year, knowing rejections are inevitable on the path to acceptance in a writer’s world. And yet.

I haven’t submitted a thing. I entered a writing contest and then didn’t win, if that counts. Does that count? I have several essays that are waiting in the wings to be nipped and tucked and embellished into something worthy of submission. I have ideas for two books that are just chomping at the bit to be fleshed out and proposed. And yet.

Writing my Three Things blog has been fantastic for honing the discipline of my craft. It’s made me write, which is exactly what it was intended for. But it takes up a lot of my time and takes me away from focusing on other stuff.

Like submissions. And book proposals. I’ve even been conjuring up ideas for another yoga retreat.

My original intention was to take Three Things out for a full year–52 weeks–and then reduce it down to either twice a month or a once-monthly installment. I still need the discipline of a looming deadline to keep me moving forward, so I’m not throwing in the towel completely. Three Things has become a part of me, one that I would miss and mourn if it died. So, this isn’t goodbye, but I may be scaling it down a bit in the weeks to come. Rest assured, I’m still knee-deep in recipes that I’ll be posting once I’ve got them developed to delicious perfection. Music, too, as we dive into the festivals and concerts and new releases of summer.

My yoga practice has taught me the importance of living life intentionally. It’s so easy to get swept up in the clatter and din of the world and lose focus of the kind of life I’m hoping to build. June is a terrific time to press pause, take inventory and readjust the trajectory of our energy if we’ve drifted off course.

How ’bout you? Does your life GPS need a bit of recalculation?

TWO: TRIGGERS

There’s this thing I do whenever I’m in a big group setting and things are being handed out–it could be papers or pencils or slices of birthday cake at a party–and I’m the only one who didn’t get one. I start to spiral downward. I feel my face get hot as I try to swallow my embarrassment and look blithely around the room in an attempt to masquerade my reaction. It’s usually an innocent oversight, with no personal attack intended. But it doesn’t matter.

Being overlooked and forgotten is a trigger of mine.

I know it stems, in part, from my place in my family of origin. The youngest by far in a family of seven. I cried a lot when I was a little girl, always needing my mother’s attention. Her exasperated sighs and tired eyes and wishing I wasn’t so clingy. My neediness embarrassed her and me. Youngest child, middle child, oldest of the pack–we all carry with us emotional baggage from our youth. And this is just one of mine–I have a whole cast of triggers from life with my violent brother, years of disordered eating, body dysmorphia and compulsive exercise.

What’s yours?

Being forgotten is the trigger of mine that happened to raise its ugly head recently when I was inadvertently left off a group email for an upcoming event. There was no malice intended, no ulterior motive, just simple forgetfulness. I laughed it off at first, but then noticed the familiar sink of my heart and the sharp sting of feeling less than. Unseen. I sat with my sad soup of emotion for a bit, stirred it around and let it simmer. And then I put it in its place and moved on. No one needed to manage my trigger but me.

I belong to a very active Facebook group for fans of a particular podcast and several times a week, someone within the group will post a story with what seems to be a mile of cautionary “trigger warning!” preamble.

Trigger warning: talking about doctor appointments! Trigger warning: lost kittens! Trigger warning: visits with the in-laws! Trigger warning: thunder and lightning! Trigger warning: spiders!

I’m not even kidding. I roll my eyes and scroll on past.

It makes me sad to think we’ve all become so hypersensitive that we look to others to curate a trigger-free world for us. I’d like to believe that we’re self-aware and responsible enough to know and deal with the tough stuff that comes our way. Because it will. Because that’s life. We don’t have control over what anyone else says or does, but we always have control over our reactions.

I can control my reactions. And if I can’t, that’s my issue, not yours.

Expecting trigger warnings for every little thing that holds potential for upsetting someone diminishes the importance of recognizing those who struggle with serious issues of trauma and PTSD. Victims of violent crime, combat veterans, abuse survivors. If my innocuous Facebook post about my dog reminded you of Buster the bulldog from your childhood and propelled you into a tailspin of pent-up grief and mourning, I’m sorry. But your reaction is yours to deal with.

Becoming more self-aware and accountable for our actions and reactions makes everyone’s life a bit easier. And yeah, it takes time and effort, maybe a bit of counseling or therapy. Develop a meditation practice or another mode of self-inquiry. Get quiet and painfully honest with yourself.

Take your finger off the trigger.

THREE: NO APOLOGY NECESSARY

She was a petite woman in my chair-based yoga class, asking where some of the older chairs had disappeared to. We had recently updated our stash of chairs and the shiny, new ones had seats that were at least an inch or two higher. It’s important that the yogis are able to easily place their feet on the floor while seated all the way back in the chair. The woman lowered her voice and whispered, “I’m sorry I’m so short. I’m embarrassed to have to ask.”

“First of all,” I replied, looking her squarely in the eyes, “don’t ever, ever, ever apologize for your body! Secondly, I’ll find you those chairs and finally, you’re not the only one who has asked me about them.” A look of relief washed across her face as she flashed a shy smile and sighed.

Don’t apologize for your body.

I was nearing the end of a first-aid training at a local YMCA when the instructor had us take a break before the final exam. The private, single-use bathroom nearby was occupied, so I stood in the hallway, waiting my turn. Soon, the door swung open and a young woman in her early twenties emerged. She saw me waiting in the hallway and sheepishly gasped, “Oh, sorry!” as she slipped out of the bathroom.

What are you apologizing for? I wanted to ask her. For using the bathroom and making me wait? For taking up space? Or are you apologizing out of habit because this is what you’ve learned to do as a woman?

Don’t apologize for taking up space. Ever. Ever, ever, ever.

My friend was telling me about her trip to Disneyland, grousing about the distracted crowds, faces in phones, everyone so unaware of their bodies in space. I loved how she talked about making herself bigger to withstand the bumper-car-barrage of clueless bodies constantly coming her way. Shoulders back, elbows out, chin high. I loved how she showed her daughter how to do it, too.

How many women do you see striding confidently through a crowd? How many men do you see trying to shrink and become less-than? It’s a man’s world–or at least it has been, historically. I think it’s time we begin to change that up.

For so long, I strived to make myself as small as possible. To take up less space, be less of a bother to anyone. It was as if I walked through my days apologizing for my existence. Oh, sorry I’m herewhoops.

I’m happy to say I don’t do that anymore and neither should you. Take up space. Make some noise. Turn some heads with your loud, infectious laugh. Tell the yoga teacher you’re gonna need a different chair to better fit your remarkable body. Make your way through the weight room at the gym, shoulder-to-shoulder with all the muscle-y, preening men and high school boys and take your rightful place with the barbells and deadlifts.

Apologies are great and necessary for lots of things: stealing, betraying trust, lying, deliberately hurting someone, making a mistake. But your existence, your body and what you need requires no apology at all.

“I ain’t sorry.” ~ Beyoncé

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Forty-Four

ONE:SUMMER

It’s still officially spring, but isn’t Memorial Day the unofficial start of summer? I guess we can start wearing white now. Just kidding–you know you can wear white wherever and whenever the hell you want to, right? And anyone who lives in the Pacific Northwest knows that summer doesn’t truly begin until sometime in late July. (Thankfully.)

I hate the heat, but I love the warmth and promise that arrives between late May and early July. Before the firecrackers are launched and the dog days set in, when the grass is still green and the gardens lush with blooms. It is a heady time, the air full of fragrance–warm dirt and berries, barbecue and cocoa butter.

It wasn’t long ago that I had been searching for a photo that had been downloaded onto our desktop’s library and got swept up in a wave of memories as I scrolled into the summer of 2016. A kaleidoscopic photo diary of that summer–beaches and cities and sunsets and art fairs stretched out before me. A summer rich with experiences. I grew nostalgic and even a bit envious of the summer I had that year. Last summer–2017–had felt different and I wondered why.

A torn meniscus and the resulting pain and limited mobility. A crushed spirit. Lost mojo. Energy drained. I told my friend I didn’t want to go to the drag races last summer because it would be “too hot and too loud” and then regretted missing the heat and roar and the dusty parking lot where we’d wait out the lengthy line of exiting race fans, sitting on the open hatch of my Prius with cool drinks, limp sandwiches and deep conversation.

I closed my photo library on the desktop and immediately messaged my friend, instructing him to write up a wish list of things to do this summer. Concerts, fairs, day trips, restaurants, hikes–bring it on. I told him I would be doing the same and we’d meet up and commit to a calendar of events. We made plans to meet for brunch on a rainy Sunday in March and hatch our summer agenda.

We never made it to brunch that day because I spent the afternoon with the Mister and my daughter in a hospital room in Tacoma, holding the warm hand of an unconscious young woman on life support. A brilliant young woman whom we loved, who–for whatever reason–couldn’t face the future. Her sister, bustling about, taking care of everyone and their sadness, her plans for the future immediately paused and altered in the chaos of life and death.

It is such a privilege to be able to plan. It is a gift to be able to look forward.

This summer, I am not taking that privilege for granted. I now have two knees sporting torn meniscus but my spirit is strong and my mojo is back in town. There will be concerts outdoors and crowded art fairs where I will grouse about the “too many people” and then laugh at my crabby, judgmental self. Ferry rides, just because. Sunsets over water and back fences and forests. Sunrises on those early Thursday mornings when I rise before dawn to teach yoga. Sunrises that I will pause for and notice how very sweet the early morning summer air smells. Snakes on trails. A chorus of frogs at dusk. Showing more skin and caring less. Sunscreen.

Next summer is not guaranteed. Living fully through this summer–through tomorrow and the next day–is a privilege I will not take for granted.

Now, tell me your plans for this one wild and precious summer.

TWO: LETTERS

Twenty years from now, will you hold that heartfelt text from your best friend in your hands and smile at their handwriting and feel their presence?

Probably not. That makes me sad.

I hold the same nostalgic romanticism about letter writing as I do about baking one’s own bread or the musty bouquet between the pages of an old book or bellying up to the bar in the diviest watering hole in town, if you can still find one.

When people tell stories about finding a stack of letters bound by string or elastic, I feel a tingle down my spine. Words and paper, handwriting and emotion, all bundled together for someone to hold up to their nose and inhale. Tangible and real, an exchange of communication between humans that you can touch and feel and hold in your hands. I love it so much.

I’ve always been a letter-writer. I juggled a constant stream of pen pals as I was growing up and still keep in touch with a few via social media. I keep a ziplock bag of cards in an office drawer that I pull out when I think of someone and scrawl out a greeting and slide it into the mail. Whose heart doesn’t leap a little at the sight of a real postage stamp on the top right corner of a hand-addressed card or letter tucked into the monotonous stack of bills and solicitations found in most mailboxes these days?

The Mister and I met through a letter I wrote to the management company of the rock and roll band he worked with. Even then, letter writing was beginning to fade and few twenty-somethings took the time and effort to do so. I like to think it was the novelty of it that got the Mister’s attention, or perhaps it was my witty way with words or clever ideas. I wish he had kept that letter, but when you’re young and immortal you throw things away without much thought to the future.

I don’t save every birthday and Christmas card, but I do have a file folder where I stuff the ones that are covered with handwritten sentiments and love. I have a letter from my mom, sent to me when I was living on my own for the first time in Portland. She writes about going to The Sizzler with my dad and what TV shows she’s watching and how the house is too quiet without me. The sight of her meticulous, small handwriting fills me with love. I have a little note from my father, his rangy script thanking me for helping him grade a stack of college finals when he was overwhelmed with work. And if you’ve ever handed me a note or letter or a card expressing how yoga has impacted your life, that’s tucked in there, too. I take those out and read them again on days that feel hard and dark, those times when I wonder if I’m doing anything right.

I love the immediacy and efficiency of texting. I love how it keeps us in touch with each other, even with a simple kissy-face emoji when we’re too busy or tired to write more. Email is great to make plans and do business with. But you can’t hold any of it in your hands. You can’t see the familiar handwriting of your loved ones. It’s not the same and it shouldn’t replace the art and intimacy of letter writing.

So, write someone a letter today. It doesn’t have to be pages long. Tell them what they mean to you. Bring up a memory that makes you smile and write it down and share it with them. Send a birthday card, a thank-you note, a love letter. Doodle in the margins and sign your name with a flourish that feels right.

I’ll send you one, too, if you want. Message me your mailing address and I promise to put something in the mail for you.

A little something, a happy surprise for you to find in your stack of bills, to hold in your hands and maybe tuck away in a file to pull out again on your darkest days.

THREE: FLOW

I’ve been watching you lately.

You who come to my class with your head tangled up in your worries and fears. I see you.

For the first eternity after beginning to teach yoga, I never looked up. I practiced in the front of the class, on my mat, breathing and cueing and moving and sweating just like the rest of you. My need to prove myself to you. Like you wouldn’t believe me or take me seriously as a yoga teacher if I didn’t show you that I could do everything I was asking you to.

I missed out on a lot.

I missed your triumphs when you caught your first millisecond of balance in Crow Pose. I missed seeing half the class drop to their knees because I was so intent on challenging everyone–on proving something to someone, mostly myself–that I forgot about who was actually in the class and what they came for. I missed seeing your cheeky t-shirts as you rose up into that first Mountain Pose that read “mama needs a cocktail” or “made of star stuff” that would have made me smile, or even laugh and get to know you a bit better.

In teacher training, my teacher would often cue us through Sun Salutation after Sun Salutation until my shoulders burned with the fire of effort and rivers of sweat streamed down my legs. She was looking for something from us. Not grit, not endurance, not mettle.

But flow. Dropping. Releasing. Getting out of our own way. Flow, baby, flow.

That moment–that magical moment when a class collectively drops into the rhythm of their breath and gets out of themselves is stunning. You stop tugging at your top, so worried that your beautiful belly which bears the evidence of the human you built there might show. You rise to standing at the top of your mat, strands of hair plastered willy-nilly across your face with an expression of utter peace and contentment. You don’t bother to wipe the hair out of your eyes because you don’t care and your lack of caring makes me smile. There’s no hurry up or keep up or fuck up because you are being far more than doing.

It gives me chills every single time. It makes me remember why I love my job.

Recently, I had read an article about Pattabhi Jois, the father of Ashtanga yoga, which made a claim about Jois prescribing twelve Sun Salutations a day as a cure for insanity. First of all, Pattabhi Jois was not a doctor and probably should not have been prescribing anything for anybody. Secondly, I was never able to locate that article again, so I cannot vouch for its validity. But I can vouch for the medicine that yoga has the potential to be. Yoga, in its purest sense, not yoga in its commercialized and commodified form. Not the perfected postures in color coordinated outfits Photoshopped to highlight the young, thin, white model’s muscle definition. But yoga as a means of dropping ego and self and diving into the depths of breath and presence. Getting out of your manic mind and into something greater.

Meditation in motion.

I see it during Locust when you gather energy into your core and allow your breath to lift you up, almost effortlessly. I see it as you pause, taking time to find your roots and stability and then kick back and stretch forward into the balance of Dancer’s Pose. I see it in your soft, steady gaze as we hold Warrior 2 and you realize how fierce and grounded you truly are. I see it as you lower to your knees and bow to the floor in Child’s Pose, honoring the reality and truth of your body today.

In my second eternity of teaching yoga, my practice is paying attention. Watching, guiding and reminding until I see you drop the noise of yourself and flow into something greater.

I see you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Forty-Three

It’s back to basics this week, dear readers. I have a bit of Seattle music to share with you, a brand-new yoga streaming site that is wonderfully inclusive and long-overdue in the yoga world, PLUS the absolute best thing I’ve cooked in recent memory. Music, yoga and tacos. It doesn’t get much better than that, does it?

ONE: LA LUZ 

How tired was I Thursday night? After two consecutive nights filled with dystopian nightmares, I was tired enough to threaten to leave early from the La Luz show at The Crocodile before it even started. But something wonderful happens when you put a bit of intention, a dash of energy, a smidgen of forward momentum and your best friend waiting for you downtown that propels even the weariest of bodies into action.

You just do it.

It was nearly three years ago that I first caught La Luz at The Sunset in Ballard. Born in Seattle in 2012, this quartet led by lead singer and guitarist Shana Cleveland had been stirring up a buzz of excitement ever since their inception. The show at The Sunset was a celebration of their 2015 release, Weirdo Shrine, and I floated out of that sold-out show, their catchy melodies ear-wormed into my brain and me, a confirmed La Luz fan. Earlier this year when they announced an international tour to support their newest release, my ticket was promptly purchased.

Surf rock meets doo-wap meets fuzzy-wuzzy reverb harmonies. Welcome to La Luz.

I had been listening to their newest release, Floating Features, all week and although I love their signature happy-woozy-dreamlike sound, I worried that I’d be wishing I was barefoot and swinging in my hammock in the sun rather than standing in my Fluevogs until midnight at The Croc. Apparently, this is what getting older feels like.

Turns out, I had nothing to be worried about. In addition to the capacity crowd, La Luz hit the stage with energy to spare, thank you very much. Although leaning heavily on tracks from their most recent release, La Luz also brought out earlier material for their diehard, hometown Seattle fans. Complete with a Soul Train-esque dance-off down the middle of the venue and a bit of good-natured crowd surfing at the end, I walked out of The Croc feeling surprisingly energized and so grateful that I had dragged my sad, sleepy self downtown to see them.

These formidable four women call Los Angeles home now, but Seattle has claimed them for life. Summer’s just around the corner, kids, and I can’t think of a better musical backdrop to your lazy, hazy poolside afternoons in the sun than Floating Features.

And maybe it’s just a happy coincidence, but I haven’t had a single nightmare since.

TWO: DANA FALSETTI

It was 2005 and I had just bought my first Prius, the Seahawks were playing in their first Super Bowl, Yoga Journal was still a respected yoga publication and Lululemon was barely a blip on the yoga pants screen. I took my first yoga teacher training that year, too, and didn’t see anyone in the class who looked like me.

Matter of fact, nearly every class I took during my initial whirlwind love affair with yoga was filled with not me’s. Slender, lithe women, able to effortlessly wrap their foot behind their head and always–always–that one show-offy dude with a ponytail sticking handstands before class in the front row of every workshop I took.

I pretended not to care.

I loved yoga and my body did, too. I became stronger and more flexible and most importantly, more confident and comfortable in my own skin for the first time in my life. I became a yoga teacher but I always knew I didn’t fit the “norm” of what people expected a yoga teacher to look like.

Enter Dana Falsetti.

I had the pleasure of taking a restorative class with Dana last summer in Seattle and will admit to being a bit skeptical of this Instagram “yogalebrity”. Decades younger than me, I was curious to experience what she had to offer as a teacher. What I discovered was a woman whose wisdom belied her age–an old soul in every sense of the word–and I left the two-hour practice blissfully relaxed and duly impressed. The studio was full of women of all ages, bodies and ethnicities engaged in a body-positive practice that connected them to themselves in the most affirming way. I felt excited to see where her vision would take her. And lest you think that Dana only teaches restorative and beginner yoga, you only need one glimpse of her Instagram page to see that she is the queen of inversions and arm balances as well.

The yoga world desperately needs this vibrant, young woman who is blazing her trail on her own terms and creating a world where yoga is an inclusive practice, rather than one reserved for bendy, skinny women willing and able to afford a wardrobe of $100 yoga pants. After a tenuous legal battle with an yoga apparel company, Dana has gathered her resources together and launched her first streaming website. Although the content is still a bit limited after its debut just a week ago, the production quality is excellent and the focus of the classes is promising. Presently, Dana features a nice selection of beginner yoga tutorials, as well as several classes on philosophy and much more to come very soon. With a sliding, pay-what-you-can subscription rate, the value is unparalleled.

Dana Falsetti is one remarkable, bad-ass yogi who is leading the charge of showing the world that yoga is for every body. I suggest you subscribe to her website today.

I already have.

THREE: TACOS

I cook a lot but every once in awhile, I blow my own mind.

With Cinco de Mayo just in my rearview mirror, I had been craving tacos. I threw together my trusty fish tacos with a cabbage salsa and zingy chipotle sauce that were respectable, but didn’t quite quench my taco thirst. One week later, I stumbled across this recipe for Spicy Chorizo and Potato Tacos and knew I needed to give it a try.

First off–who knew I could make my own chorizo? Okay, so maybe you did, but making my own chorizo had never, ever crossed my mind. I am lucky enough to be close to several grocery stores with a good selection of respectable chorizo, but I couldn’t resist the urge to experiment with making my own. You must make your own. Just do it and thank me later.

The aroma of the melange of spices being toasted together in a bit of olive oil is enough to send the whole house swooning. You do not want to miss out on that. And it’s relatively simple, providing you already have most of the spices on hand. Once the spice blend has bloomed in the oil, the sausage is added along with some already steamed Yukon Gold potatoes.

It is exquisite.

You might want to stop there, but I’m going to insist you go one step further and make the delicious and piquant green sauce from tomatillos and avocado. It’s super duper easy–all whirled together in your blender or food processor into the dreamiest shade of green. It is the perfect, tangy foil to the decadent, rich filling of chorizo and potatoes. You can find the recipe for this necessary green sauce right here.

Go pick yourself up some of the very best corn tortillas you can buy, dice up a bit of white onion, a few sprigs of cilantro, take a bite and watch the eyes roll back in your head. Okay, so that’s probably not actually physically possible, but you’ll definitely feel it. And then say a few prayers of thanksgiving to the taco gods and goddesses.

Happy vigésimo de mayo, friends!

 

 

Three Things, Issue Forty-Two

ONE: MOTHER

My mother was my first reader. Standing in the doorway of her bedroom, I’d clear my throat, take a deep breath and read to her my latest writing with all the necessary vocal inflection and emphasis. She would sit, appropriately attentive and listen, smiling and nodding and often give a happy clap at the end.

My mother was an artist and her favored medium was paint. Watercolors and oils, some hung on the walls of our home but most stuffed in closets and portfolios from her days as an art major at the University of Washington. Later on, she created bowls and mugs and vases from coiled and patterned clay, each one glazed and fired in a kiln kept in a musty furnace room in our house. During her pottery days, the entire house seemed to be covered in a thin film of clay dust. Jars upon jars of milky glaze lined up along her work space–a spare bedroom converted as her studio–just waiting to be painted onto these gray clay creations. I loved how the nondescript, matte glazes would magically transform into shiny, colorful shades of blue and green and yellow with a little time spent in the intense heat of the kiln. I never minded the dust, because when my mother was immersed in her art, she was happy.

It always amazed me what beauty would be born from the union of desire, vision, passion and heat.

I knew better than to choose an art form that my mother was already proficient at. She could be a blunt and ruthless critic of many things. As a young girl, I drew and doodled, too, but could never match my mother’s talent. Timidly, I would share my drawings with her and she would cock her head to the left while studying my work, instinctively pick up a pencil or piece of charcoal and with a few well-placed strokes, add dimension and depth to my simple lines. Like magic.

So I wrote.

I wrote prolifically as a young girl. Poems and essays and short stories, then earnest starts of novels filled with girls named Kimberly and Lindsey who rode horses and had the names and lives I dreamed of having. I’d spend entire summers lost in my writing, my stories like an imaginary friend. Once adolescence descended, I turned to the privacy of my personal journals and stopped reading aloud to my mother. Whatever essays I wrote were for school, rather than myself. I’ve always felt like a writer, but the self-consciousness of growing up and the dysfunction in my home pulled me away from my words and into brooding musicians and backstage passes and the distraction of desire.

Why did you stop painting? I’d ask my mother. Oh, I just wasn’t good enough, she’d say.

My siblings and I unearthed her university portfolios in the storage locker we had moved her furniture into when she was no longer able to live on her own. We gathered around, each clutching our number that we had drawn to see who got to choose first, gasping over and in awe of the talent our mother had as my brother pulled out sketch after sketch, canvas after canvas. Her work like an illustrated diary of her progression as an artist. As a woman. It was breathtaking.

Why did she stop? we wondered wistfully.

Through a long and circuitous route, I found my way back to writing. It was hard to begin again, awkwardly laying down words and paragraphs, thoughts and feelings. It was scary to be honest and bare and vulnerable. As I write, I often remember my mother and how her demeanor transformed when she would immerse herself in her art. It was as if somewhere deep within she became shades lighter, her eyes brighter. I think of her as I finish a piece of writing and feel a palpable change of energy and find a deeper, easier exhale.

I still read aloud everything I write before posting it for public consumption. It’s important for me to hear myself say the words I write, to feel their cadence and rhythm. My words need to sound and feel natural, as if they were coming from me in conversation with whomever is reading.

And more often than not, I imagine myself standing in the doorway of my mother’s bedroom, reading and sharing my words with just the right inflection, waiting for her delighted clap and bravo at the end.

TWO: IN-LAW

My mother-in-law, Dorothy, is one hundred years old.

One of the things The Mister and I shared was older parents. His mom was in the same generation as mine and there was a camaraderie formed that came from an understanding of what it felt like to have grown up with parents that were older than everyone else’s. But the similarities stopped there.

Dorothy was spry and lively when I met her on Mother’s Day in 1985, a stark contrast to my own parents whose health had already begun to decline. Closing in on seventy years old at the time, she was still planning adventurous backpacking trips around Europe and practiced yoga with her daughter. The Mister had invited his mother and his sister for a Mother’s Day brunch that year, the table set with a pitcher of fresh-squeezed orange juice and a platter of sourdough pancakes. And me.

I was a nervous wreck when I met my boyfriend’s family and barely said a word. His sister, opinionated and loud, overshadowed everyone. I went mute and then worried about what everyone thought of me.

Over the ensuing years, I managed to find my voice again and Dorothy and I forged a warm friendship. The relationship between mothers and daughters-in-law is one of the trickiest ones around and I was grateful to Dorothy for making it less so.

Once my kids were born, Dorothy became the grandparent that my own parents were unable to be. She saved my sanity countless times as I struggled as a new mom, taking care of my son for an hour or two while I enjoyed the quiet luxury of a haircut alone. She was the grandparent showing up for baseball games and gymnastic meets, the one at Grandparent’s Day at the elementary school, the one who got down on the rug and played My Little Pony and Thomas The Tank Engine for hours on end. It’s often said that being a grandparent gives us the opportunity for a do-over, to be better than the parent we were on the first go-round. Having lived a messy, imperfect life, I always sensed Dorothy knew this.

She is the grandparent that my children remember and with whom they share the most meaningful relationship.

Today, Dorothy is one hundred years old and although she is still in this world physically, she is rarely with us in the here and now. Unlike my own mother, who became unfiltered and bitter as her mental acuity declined, Dorothy has remained kind and good-natured. She still recognizes us as her family, even though she might confuse us with others from her past.

And today–even at one hundred years old–Dorothy is still a remarkable role model for me, showing me what grace and grit, unconditional love and a life of beautiful imperfection looks like.

Happy Mother’s Day, Dorothy.

THREE: ME

I didn’t think you even wanted kids my friend commented when I told him the news of my first pregnancy. Wait. What? Did I really say that? Or was that just the impression I gave off?

I grew up as the youngest in a family of seven siblings, an appropriately chubby caboose of a child. My oldest sister had her first baby when I was only ten years old and I remember her tentativeness around my holding her precious cargo. So I didn’t.

Babies were weird, foreign beings. They still are, in a way.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want kids. It was just that domestication and all it entailed was never on my radar. Until suddenly it was.

I got pregnant right away, the swiftness of conception leaving me stunned and unprepared. I had assumed I would have months–maybe a year or more–to get comfortable with the idea of becoming a parent. Instead, I had nine short months to prepare for the reality of it. I read books and took classes. I did all the right things, made sure I had all the right gear. Two weeks before my due date, my sister hosted a barbecue-slash-babyshower for me at her home. Her neighbor had just given birth and she wanted me to have at least one experience of holding a real, live baby before I was holding my own.

Squirmy and soft but startlingly strong. Warm and gurgly. Like a little pink alien without an instruction book. Her head smelled nice. I was happy to hand her back when she started to fuss.

I went home that night more scared than ever.

I cried when I had to leave the hospital after delivering my son. We had stayed an extra night due to him turning blue and not breathing when I nursed him. The worry that I would kill my baby doing the one thing that was supposed to keep him alive didn’t do much for my confidence. How could they allow us to leave? There would be no nurse at our house to reassure me that I was doing things right. No one to help us stop him from crying. No one to help me stop me from crying.

Nothing prepares you for motherhood but motherhood. Into the fire. Sink and swim.

The Mister had changed every diaper on our son for the first ten days until he had to leave and go out of town for work. I cried as he drove away, leaving me framed in our living room window, clutching this squirmy, gurgly alien of an infant. Later that evening, my brother’s wife called me to see how things were going. Oh, fine I reassured her and then hung up and burst into tears. My sister came to visit and insisted I leave the house for some time by myself. I drove off in my sporty, white Acura with the carseat now strapped in the back and wondered if I’d ever come back. I stopped at RiteAid and stumbled around the aisles, not looking for anything but searching for something.

I parked in an empty lot and cried some more and came back.

I came back and one day at a time I figured it out. Two months into my son’s life, the depression began to lift and I managed to get both of us out of the house in time to attend a support group for new moms and their babies at the hospital where I had delivered. All forty of us and our babies, sitting in a large oval on the floor of a hospital conference room, each of us with the same, withered expression on our face. The facilitator had us introduce ourselves and our baby, encouraging us to check in and share with the group how things were going. One after another, the moms started talking and one after another they’d dissolve into tears. Through the snot and sniffle, each one choked out familiar stories of sore nipples and leaking milk, of not sleeping or showering for days, of how hard–so very hard–it all was. And how much they loved these little, strange alien baby beings, more than they thought was humanly possible.

Dumbstruck and suddenly comforted by the unity of us all, I gazed around the group and saw every woman sitting and nodding in empathy. Some crying, just because. Because sometimes you do that.

Everyone tells you it will be the hardest job you will ever have, but nothing will prepare you. Sink and swim, sink and swim, sink and swim.

Messy, breathtaking, heartbreaking, transformational motherhood.

It is amazing what stunning beauty can be born from the union of desire, vision, passion and heat.