Sunday, December 13, 2015

Guilt is Emotional Commerce

This blog post is a response to an article from the New York times called “White Debt,” by Eula Biss  In my response I miss the whole point and instead use this article to make another entirely.

Biss discusses her own new debt and pleasure at owning things: her new house, her furniture, her education. All these things, a direct reflection of our social status. Then goes on to discuss Nietzsche, particularly his philosophy that the system of cutting off body parts by the “creditors of antiquity” in order to satisfy a debt was pleasurable for a creditor. She compares this to the story of the white Texas trooper who beat a black woman while she asked, “You feelin’ good about yourself?”

My problem with both of these is the supposition that it is pleasurable for the person eking out punishment. I have no interest in the question of whether the punishment is just. It is not. In both situations it is an excess in force by the person in control. What I want to think about is the collateral collected by the severing of a person from their body part or by beating. I am not convinced it is pleasure, unless it is the pleasure in satisfying the urges that provocation creates. Systems are put in place to maintain a certain civic society, policemen are put in charge to keep the peace, but when do these measures of control go awry?  How do we train our front line of society, our officers, our teachers, our parents, to withstand the provocation so they don’t lose sight of themselves and the greater good that they are working towards? How do we inoculate ourselves from that particular out welling of anger that can bring us down to our most base level so that the monster of hate can be passed between us like a poltergeist? We have all been triggered, by our children, by our siblings, by our partners, by our bullies. Do you remember that singular moment where emotion takes over your system and the itch to lash out is bigger than the physical space your body inhabits? What is required is patience and practice.

The author tells of her intention to watch the shooting of Samuel DuBose on the Chicago Tribune website to mourn his death and how it is foiled by the intrusion of an Acura commercial. Before she makes it to the site, she turns away.

It is a hard and daring act to allow yourself to feel the loss of something. There are many sensations and thoughts that need to be tolerated. Biss could not, the commercial interruption brought up discomfort at her own privilege and she closed the window. My intention is not to discuss her privilege or even the validity of her observations. I’d rather discuss ways she could have responded differently. Could it be in that very moment of the Acura add, staying there despite the discomfort and seeing her intention all the way to the end could serve as payment in some way? Perhaps it matters less with an Acura ad and a video of a shooting than it did later when she and her son come upon an officer handcuffing a black man. She stops to watch. Perhaps if she had practiced earlier she could have been different when the cop is on the defensive. He asks what she is doing and proceeds to get angry. She tells him, “I am being a witness.” He could realize in that moment that a witness serves everyone if there is impartiality. But he does not. She could realize that he is vulnerable. That he fears her impartiality, in fact she isn’t impartial, she is watching on purpose to protect the black man. Perhaps he senses that and his hackles go up. He wants people to understand that he doing good work, that his intentions are to protect the public. What if in that situation, Biss had held her ground but also assuaged his heightened emotions. It would be hard. It would perhaps be superhuman. But if she could have convinced him that it was to his benefit that she was there watching. What if in that moment the witness, cop and handcuffed man all honored everything that it took to get to this moment in time, both the good things and the bad, and made some radical and different response to the stimuli. Could she  reassure the cop, reassure herself and her son until the situation comes to its conclusion with everyone the better for it?

Life serves up a million different Acura interruptions every day. Or the desire for your own house. Or a particular body, hair color, facial features. Or any of another million images that pop up on the Internet, or in your mind's eye, as we are on our way somewhere else. Our short attention spans and distractibility from real pain are the true road block to equality.

Our culture of whiteness, sameness, social advantages perpetuates itself by poking and prodding our triggers all day long until we spend our money, find that complacency, incur more debt.

This is a cycle that cannot be broken by declaring war on whitey, as long as he is someone else. Because his list of triggers may be just as long as yours. You need to see how the two triggers fire together. Or I guess the trigger and its finger, otherwise known as never the twain shall meet.

Our triggers are conditioned to be close to the surface in this culture. That is the debt that we have incurred.

Guilt is emotional commerce. It signals that it is time to pay attention, slow down, see what the situation is asking you to do, on an individual level first and foremost, and also remember what your goal is.

Do not ignore your guilt too long and let it get big and out of control.

That is when your triggers surface and even most tiny, most innocent fingers can scratch there.

Take care of yourself, take care of your teachers, take care of the kiddos, teach them how to take care of themselves.

Walk through this world as a peacekeeper.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Subvert the Status Quo

Abraham Joshua Heschel was an orthodox rabbi and philosopher, and a friend of Martin Luther King. He wrote The Sabbath among other books. He teaches about creating wealth in time rather than seeking to gain power in the realm of space. He advocated for a "cathedral in time."

I didn't always understand what this meant. Or I guess more accurately, I didn't understand how this felt. I got to know time in this way over a period of time from the regular Friday dates my husband and I would have. When he had the space in his schedule for free Friday afternoons, we set them aside to be together. And Fridays always looked the same. We would rush to get ready, preparing food, cleaning up, sending out final emails, making last phone calls and then once everything was in place. We stopped. We sat down. Time changed...

It slowed down and became liquid.

There was nothing we had to do, the only requirement was to be for the duration. We would wear our best clothes, take them off, splurge on the best food, listen to whatever music, open a fantastic beer, watch a daytime movie. There were no real rules except not to invite in the profane; phone, computer, answering the door. It included the kids after they came home from school, sometimes other plans couldn't be held at bay. But we always took a few hours. And then we would do it again the next week. Another break in the regularly scheduled programming, something to look forward to, that turned out to also nourish the soul, the relationship, life.

Yoga is like this too. There is nothing really to get done. I do believe it keeps all the working parts working. And it does change the body. But more importantly it is about having a date with yourself, an hour in which to flow, plant hands, step back, work at your full range of motion in enjoyment. Coordinate each inhale with intention, with sensation, with community and each exhale, let something go.

Note to self: Remember what you want from a class and teach to that. Subvert the status quo and find all kinds of time for yourself and your students.

Abraham Joshua Heschel: “To gain control of the world of space is certainly one of our tasks. The danger begins when, in gaining power in the realm of space, we forfeit all aspirations in the realm of time. There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord. Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern.”
― Abraham Joshua HeschelThe Sabbath

Thursday, April 16, 2015


You need to come to my yoga class. And you need to make it work so that you keep coming. And you need to send that email. You need to take out the recycling. You need to drive in your mini-van past the corner where the homeless guy asks for money. You need to decide whether to look at him or look away. Maybe just hand him money? Do you even have cash? You rifle through the contents of your bag. The deodorant you keep on hand in case of emergencies falls out of your ridiculously small Timbuk2 purse. You never have to smell, but this man is ripe with need. Out falls the green-fake-snakeskin-wallet almost impossible to clamp shut due to the plethora of pennies that are too insulting to put in the tip jar at Dunn Bros. Pennies. You could give this man the pennies. Then bouncing on your thighs is the nylon fabric bag conveniently bundled to the size of an egg, lying in wait for the next coop run. Too bad you hadn't already been or you could hand the man a head of organic broccoli. Or would he prefer the local, but not quite organic, whole milk? Desperate for the light to change, your eyes meet. You smile and will him to forgive your indecisive waspyness. Yet his eyes dart from yours and you are not sure who is willing (or unwilling) to see whom. You see selling-out as a pattern of self-hatred that began long before this moment.

The Bangles' disappointing Walk Like an Egyptian album.
Nicolas Cage after Valley Girl.
Violent Femmes after their eponymous album even though you totally appreciated the darkness of Hallowed Ground?
And the other things you might resemble:
Fargo. Which part? Both the good Francis McDormand character and the weak why-did-he-have-to-go-and-do-that William H. Macy. Everyday.
Granola? Yes. Punk Princess gone to the darkside.
Portlandia? We did eat Herman after all.
Helicopter parenting? Um, do you know how long you breastfed them?
On and on.
The things that you resist you also become.

You press the gas too hard, flinching again as you think of the waste and the exhaust and the poor man you are leaving in your dust without even giving him a handful of pennies or deodorant. You want so much to feel better. You are working so hard to love yourself. Ugh. Did I just say that?

I am good enough. I am smart enough. And gosh darn, people like me.

You will too. Come to my class.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Grandpa Was An Auctioneer (Grandma, a clerk.)

A picture is as good a place to begin as any.  A black and white photo. Grainy and at this point of unknown origins. My uncle took it most likely. My grandfather in the upper left corner, microphone in his hand, standing up in front of a crowd of people, at the auction house. My grandmother is there, sitting at his right hand, her clerk's books open in front of her. She looks in the direction of the photographer, as do many folks in the crowd. The boy in the letter jacket. Family friend Irma. The man at her side. The man in the fedora. The mother in the fur hat. And the daughter, carrying a matching purse and sucking her thumb. The rest of the folks, the slower to turn perhaps, remain facing my grandfather, who is in the midst of pointing his finger right at you, the viewer behind the lens, the one they turn to see. The one who perhaps just bid on some item. Blessed with his attention for the moment. Then he is singing again. He searches the faces of the others out there. What are you going to do? Do you want this? What is it that you want?

I pull my attention from my grandfather and wonder how my grandmother got up there to her perch, I seem to remember her crawling around the edge of the stage and climbing. She too will watch the crowd. Take down the number of the bidder. Making note of the sold price. But she does it quietly. They are a pair. They needed each other. I notice the broom behind her. The stuff hanging around on the walls. Things I never noticed as a child. Knowing her now, how she is lean and uncluttered in her current life, I wonder what her struggles were then, despite the romantic lens through which I see that stage in her life. What is reality and what is illusion? Does it matter now?

In this photo, circa 1975, my grandmother is nearly the same age as I am as I write this in 2015. She has approximately five more years with grandpa. Sometime in that period of time, the auction house will burn down and be rebuilt into something no longer cluttered and to my mind, never the same. It has also been about the same amount of years since my aunt Susie died at the age of nine, their youngest daughter, a loss too hard for me to imagine. This camera, our lens, held in some unknown hands, captured a moment by pure chance, a moment where my grandfather held the rapture of a group of people, enough so that with a point and a stutter of numbers, they all turn to see. And that was the moment that the shutter was triggered. By whom? Who knew I would need that photo? Could it really have been by chance?

I might have been there that Thursday night at the auction house. I often went to stay with my grandparents, "helping" get ready for the auction, traying up stuff and putting it along the loading docks for display. At least until I got bored with that and began chasing my sister through the items, climbing up and down the dirty palates and making coffee and fake creamer concoctions and then stirring them with a straw. It would have been a little cold in the room. I would have had a grape soda to drink and maybe a bag of Fritos. Irma would have hugged me when she arrived and given me an Eskimo kiss and I would have hugged her back and been enveloped in her unwashed polyester scent. And when the socializing stopped and the show began, Grampa's voice was so fast, singing numbers, in front of everyone, laughing and teasing the crowd. How could they keep from bidding, from becoming regulars?

Even though this moment was just an explosion of the flash cube long, it was known to me. Familiar in that I had an unquestioned role and a place. I knew that Grandma was looking out for me. I knew to be quiet. I knew to keep an eye out for Becka, my little sister. I knew Irma was as kind as anyone on the earth, smell or no smell. I knew there was a Salted Nut Roll waiting for me and that Grandma would pull me to her lap before bed, just to "love me up" and Grandpa would tuck the blankets all the way around me until I was like a mummy in the roll away. And the Grandfather clocks would be ticking away in my ears. Gathered from household auctions all over the Minnesota River Valley, they would pull on the tempo of my heart, all entraining, just a bit painfully, a bit comfortingly together. It is something I still have and yet I don't have, it has changed a million times over, over the 40 years or so since it was 'reality'. I could sit in my grandmother's lap today, or she could sit in mine. I just have to take the time to make it happen and hope there is some unknown shutter on some unknown lens ready to release and capture the moment forever. Or at least for long enough.

This is a link to a YouTube that is not my grandfather, but every auctioneer story deserves an audio!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Vacuuming! or How to be Fulfilled

I have to vacuum today. Not an exciting way to begin. It is a tedious job to lead into what could very well be a tedious post. But I have a lot to say about vacuuming. I have a personal history with vacuuming. A WRITING history with vacuuming. Everything that I do can be tied together by the simple act of vacuuming.

During my grad school years I wrote about vacuuming quite a lot. I wrote about the feeling I would get sometimes while pushing the thing to and fro, surrounded by the noise, the whirring and sucking air, the lifting/removing/spiraling of dust and debris. I was actually the vacuum, taking on all the detritus of the carpet and beyond, filling myself up with all the things around me, my family, the whole world. Full with everything and growing larger, so large that I would no longer be able to fit in the living room, so large that I was far away from everyone and all alone. These moments were both exhilarating and scary.

I have written plenty about my adulthood chores as well, the messy, tedious realities that created a home life worth living, for our toddler and for Josh and for me. Somehow this subject though was never good enough for me. These domestic experiences while my gradschool cohort were making connections, finding time to write and drink and cavort. I was feeling sorry for myself, and hooking into an old story told by my high school fiction teacher, I had technical skill but a propensity for the mundane.

At the end of grad school we were to perform a reading as our final graduation requirement. Even after much fretting, nothing I had written seemed good enough, complete enough with a beginning, a middle, and an end. After even still more confusion and struggle, I chose a cutting from several of my essays, and read the parts about vacuuming. I was thrilled to find this connective tissue running through everything I had written. And it was funny and sweet and real and barely manageable, the way my life had been those years of grad school and raising my first baby, the years of rushing to teach and rushing to pick up Henry. Breastfeeding and cloth diapers. I did it all. And held to my principals. But it was not pretty and hard as hell. When I wasn't writing. I'd dip into the corners of our tiny little dollhouse with the wand of my canister vac while 9-month-old Henry scooted along behind it. It was a moment of extreme effort, my joyful-faced-boy, the dog hair flying around us like confetti, paws skittering across the wood floor, my heart racing with exhilaration and fear. It was as if we were in a snow globe and this was it, all there was and ever would be.

I have regrets that I thought having the MFA degree would make me a writer. I now know, it was the vacuuming that made me the writer. The vacuuming, the kid, the teaching, the savoring of each moment good and bad that made me a writer. Every moment deserves my attention. Especially vacuuming.

Friday, January 23, 2015

this is what it looks like to win at yoga

Physically, I can get into a headstand relatively easy. My approach is from wide-legged forward fold and I have been able to do this for the last five years. It was a challenge for myself, that by the time I turned 40, I would be able to do it. I nailed it a few weeks prior and headstand has been in my practice ever since. Yet I have not progressed from headstand to other hand balances, and although my crow practice is strong at this point, I can't get from crow to headstand, even though I can get into it from a wide-legged stance.

Is my inability a geometry problem? Or is it that the muscles that tip my pelvis back in order to stack it above my shoulders don't quite have the oomph to do so? What I need to do is stay there, rear in the air and breathe and my intuition will tell me what to do next, as Baron Baptiste suggests in “Journey into Power.” But that is a hard place for me to be, ass in the air, head to the mat. The breathing I have down, but remaining right where everyone can best see my weakness - hard. The thing I want to do in that position is to give up, turn myself over and pretend it never happened. But I have been practicing, staying and breathing right there, where everyone can see.

So that is my current physical edge. But there is something else. When I am poised to lift my legs, there is a slight hesitation in my mind, a quick blip of thought that happens so fast that I can't really even hear what it tells me. I only feel it as a blank void. All I know is all my energy is zapped and I come down before I even get up.

I am beginning to see this moment as opportunity. My emotional edge. My practice is to stay there and listen, even as I want to run away. And practicing at this edge in yoga has opened up an awareness of the other places that I have only gotten as far as ass up and then quit and come back down again. Like right here, at this blog, whose title itself asks people to watch as I contort myself into vulnerable positions, or make mistakes, or tell you too much or nothing at all.

It's funny, I get to this point in posting, in finishing something and I have doubts about what I have to say. I feel confused and a void opens up inside of me. When I am writing it seems to be in my head. When I am going into handstand, it is right around the root chakra. And I have had these blanknesses in the past at different parts of my body during other parts of the process. During yoga teacher training, it was at my heart. While I practice taught I had panic attacks and again all I wanted was to run away. But I stuck with it because yoga teaching touches me on a visceral level. I feel as if I am coming late in life to something I was always meant to do. But it is also the thing that brings all my varied interests together. Something that brings the room together and makes students and me alike willing to try something that otherwise we wouldn't.

Here is where the spiritual work of yoga takes place: poise yourself ass over teacup and hold that feeling of emptiness. Breathe into that blip of space and time where a personal history of fear crosses with your current understanding of your abilities. Do this just good enough to learn from it for next time.

Last time I tried this in tri-pod, instinct told me to reach forward with my head, lengthen before I bring my head down, and I found a new geometry for lifting up. That is my plan for the blog too. I will let you know when it gets easier.

*This post was originally titled: Bringing it all together, or as Baron Baptiste says: “Yoga challenges your physical, emotional, spiritual edge." With blogging, as in yoga, I am always refining the posture.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Blog Statement

The use of this blog has been minimal over the past few years. I could not figure out how it was functioning for me, therefore I had no idea how to form appropriate thoughts and display them here. But from this blog's inception it was to be a practice blog and as such it has more than served its purpose. I have learned much owning and operating it. Met many people, some who I remain in contact with, most whom I do not. I've had to go away these recent years in order to grow a part of myself that was calling to me and having done that, my intention is to return. But not in the same ways.  I am not promising regularity, or perfection, or even interesting. I am promising communication. As much of it as I have time for. And if I can't find the time, I will communicate that.

Here is my promise to myself: blogging will not an obligation, it will be an opportunity and a privilege. It is a means to other ends. I will use it to share teaching, parenting, yoga, writing philosophies, classes, and things I am not yet able to foresee.

Here is a promise to you, dear reader: I will appreciate your presence in whatever ways make sense. Working with uncertainty here! Any and all feedback welcome! Thanks for showing up!