Monday, December 10, 2018

December 10th: The Only Reality TV Show I'd Appear In

Easy.  RuPaul's Drag Race.

Drag Race is sort of like Project Runway except for drag queens and watching it has truly changed my life in overwhelmingly beautiful ways.

I had a few friends who were into it from the get-go.  The premise always sounded fun enough to me but I had long ago ditched a cable package and so I only watched things that my antennae picked up (you heard me correctly) or that could be streamed on Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime.  That didn't include Drag Race, so I sort of shrugged and forgot about it until sometime in 2016 when I notice that the show was on Hulu, so I added it to my list, vowing to get to it "someday."

That "someday" came shortly after November 8th, 2016 when a racist, sociopathic, homophobic, sexual predator -- who also happened to be a former reality tv star -- was elected President of the United States. I was in shock -- I couldn't believe the country I lived in and loved would put this caliber of man in charge of our entire well-being as a nation.  I felt sick and lost and numb.

Somehow I knew this was the time to binge-watch Drag Race.

Initially, I think I went right to this solution because I thought it would be brainless and bubbly and silly and fun.  In all honesty, it is all of those things.  But what I didn't anticipate was how deeply impacted I would be by some of the drag queens' stories -- their lives outside of drag and inside of drag and how the world treated them....especially their family and friends.  Some of the stories were incredibly uplifting and renewed my faith in humanity and people's ability to be open and accepting and supportive of someone they love simply because they love them.  Some of the stories were completely heartbreaking -- about rejection and abandonment and refusal to accept someone as they were.  Some of the drag queens had experienced severe emotional and physical abuse, both for being gay or trans and for dressing as women.  Drag queens are a subculture of a subculture and what I learned was not even all LGBTQ+ people were accepting of this genre of queer culture.  There were so many episodes that triggered such strong emotions and I often found myself crying, both tears of joy and tears of understanding when one of the queens would share her story.  Even as a straight, white woman, I knew what it was like to be rejected by family members.  I knew what it was like to be told I didn't matter, wasn't loved, and was an embarrassment. Watching Drag Race in the days and weeks after the 2016 Presidential Election helped shape and refine my perspective about not only my place in the world but also the broader scheme of how all of our different approaches to life were scrambling to fit in somewhere -- here, specifically.

Watching Drag Race taught me about a subset of a minority culture and my takeaway was that I had so goddamn much to learn -- point me to the it open?

Some of you chuckled right there.

Since 2016, I have watched every subsequent season with my friends Elliott and Liam as well as Mo and Justin and a few other folks.  We gather, we drink wine, we try to remember which queen is which in the early episodes when there's a dozen of them vying for the crown.  As it's whittled down, we start to take sides and pick favorites and guess who'll be forced to "lip sync for their lives" this week -- and what song it might be and who will stay and who will sashay away.  Who's makeup is Michelle gonna clock this week, who might the guest judges be, when will Todrick Hall be on to choreograph an impossible dance number that even the queens with no rhythm will inevitably nail.  There's a ritual now to watching the show that makes it even that much more meaningful to me.

So if Ru asked me to be a squirrel friend for the week and sit on that panel or make a cameo in the werkroom, you best believe I'd answer that call.  Drag Race is a show that matters profoundly even if you don't know a single gay person (which, c'mon, of course you do).  Drag Race is a show about performers struggling to make a name for themselves and hoping this platform will launch them into the stratosphere, like it has for so many other queens.  It's the American Dream: work your ass off, get paid.  So many of the queens have infiltrated the mainstream -- I was powering through all of American Horror Story on Netflix and -- boom -- there's Trixie Mattel in Roanoke.  Last night I was watching The Kominsky Method on Netflix and I heard a voice and said, "Holy shit, that's Willam!"  Drag Race is helping to elevate the status of these performers and it's making life better, I swear it.

New season starts up again on December 14th on VH1.  Watch it so we can talk about it, OK?  It's All-Stars, baby!!  Team Latrice Royale all the way.

But, truly, may the best woman win.

Title by Nik Ricci

Sunday, December 9, 2018

December 9th: My Sugar Addiction

I once was an Elf named Buddy
who turned out to be human -- so cruddy
But I came to New York,
slurped s'ghetti without a fork
and danced in a mailroom for money

Title by Nik Ricci

Saturday, December 8, 2018

December 8th: I say please and thank you to Alexa, in hopes she will remember it when computers take over the world

We have a Nest thermostat at the yoga studio.  It's "smart" technology.  It can "learn." At least that's what I've been told.  I've seen little evidence of it doing anything besides what I program it to do.  That's not proof of smarts or learning.  That's not proof of anything.

My iPhone is supposed to be able to read my thumbprint but it fails about 70% of the time.  Of course, I wonder if there's just something wrong with my thumbprint because at Disney this summer, my thumbprint failed to scan correctly also about 70% of the time and held up our entry into the park de jour almost every time.  Even the children could scan and bop on through with no problem.  But not me.  

Maybe the technology just doesn't like me, specifically.  I'm sensing a pattern.

I am a late adaptor to most techie things.  I got my first cell phone when I was in college -- maybe sophomore year, that's when I got a car -- and its expressed purpose was to live in my glove box in case I got a flat.  It was the size of my thumb and had a rickety antennae and I think maybe two people had the actual number.  A few years later when I had to upgrade phones, I pshaw'd at the notion of a phone with a camera.  A camera??  What would I need that for?  Phones are for calling, maybe occasionally texting.  But what good would a picture taken on my phone do?  I remember asking the guy at the Verizon store if he had any without cameras.  He didn't.  So I caved.

I eventually found uses for the camera: I gave all of my contacts their own photos so I could not only see their names but see their faces (and in some cases, hear their personalized ringtones).  I guess you could say that once I did adapt to a new technology, I went all-in.  

Even so, I still resist "the next thing" for longer than someone with such an affinity for this sort of stuff probably should.  I didn't get my first smartphone until 2011 and that was only because my job at the time gave me a Blackberry as a bribe to keep me from walking out.  It worked.  And I learned to love having my email so easily accessible right in the palm of my hand.  When that job ended, I bought an Android phone (which I hated) and eventually switched to iPhone where I am on my second upgrade.  I hate that the newest iPhone has "facial recognition."  I do not want my phone to be able to do that.  I don't love the idea of my face being stored in a database.  

But probably that will feel like a silly, stubborn complaint in the not-too-distant-future.

I was a late adopter of social media, too -- and look at me now!!  I refused to join Friendster because (as I told my boyfriend at the time who was trying to get me to sign up) I didn't need shit about me on the internet.


I did join MySpace but only because my little brother did and he didn't live near me and we were good buddies so I said OK.  He'd also drunkenly friend requested all of my friends and I wanted to keep an eye on him...  I was also one of the last people to ditch the MySpace lifeboat and swim over to Facebook -- I hated that Facebook made you use your real name.  The horror.  But my friends Whitney and Tom insisted I join them in that social media sphere, so I did.  I think I had something like 130 connections on MySpace over the couple of years I used that site and I thought that was absurd.  I think I amassed 130 contacts on Facebook within the first week and that number steadily grew.  I guess using your real name made you easier to find.  And, yeah, I do want to know what Amy from summer camp is up to, so, yes, I'll accept her friend request.

Now people who refuse to use social media are just being difficult.  It's how we connect -- it's how we share everything.  And unless you're someone I see on the daily, there is no way I can keep you up to date with all of my content unless you follow me.

OK, that's pretty gross.

It's also entirely true.

On a recent episode of You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes, Pete and his guest comedian Emily Heller were talking about (wait, now I'm second guessing if it was the episode with Emily...anyway, it was a recent episode, I think the one with her....but I digress.  You can do that when it's on the internet and typing is FREE!) an episode of a Shark Tank-like show where the pitch was a watch that recorded everything you were saying all the time so in the event you said something funny, you'd be able to play it back.

Now, my mind went immediately nefarious things -- spying, blackmail, gotcha-ism -- but Pete and Emily talked about this item as if it were really only going to be used as the intention stated.  They went as far to say that playing back those "funny" moments probably wouldn't even be that funny.  And all I could think was, "DON'T YOU WATCH THE NEWS???"  If you had an intentional recording device as a goddamn accessory, you don't think that could land some people in some hot water?  You don't think that could solve crimes?  Are we really supposed to believe that someone invented this watch merely to record people's terrible spur of the moment puns?


But now we've got listening and recording devices on us at all times.  Raise your hand if you're someone with a bandaid or a piece of tape covering your laptop's camera (not it -- spy away, Russia, you'll never break me) or if you not only power down your phone before going into a meeting, you also leave your phone in a desk drawer three rooms away.  Big Brother is already listening and watching.

But behind all of that is something manmade: an actual man!  Or woman.  But probably a man.  I'm not that worried that Alexa will take over the world -- but the person gathering all the data on those who use an Alexa?  Now, that person is who I keep my eye on.

I say all this as I anticipate what my next Instagram post will be or what Tweet I'll compose next.  I say all this as I sit and write a blog that I will post on the internet for the entire interested world to read.  Who cares.  I'm not necessarily saying that this technology is used for evil 100% of the time.  I listened to an episode of Fresh Air once where a computer programmer lamented that, if privacy laws weren't so strict, Google could save people's lives if, let's say, someone searches for a list of related things that may be related to a disease.  Or to prevent suicide.  Or help someone get treatment for drug and alcohol abuse.  Or get out of an abusive relationship.  "If only we could contact them and say, 'Hey, we noticed you and we can help,'" these experts said.

Maybe someone will design an app for that and we can download it or attach it to our browser to give these people permission to contact us when they notice patterns in our search history.  Maybe the dream to save lives will be fulfilled.

In the meantime, I do think politeness matters and programmers would be wise to add that function to their Alexa-like systems if for no other reason than to make us all be a little kinder to each other.  If our machines will only do something when you say please, maybe that makes a stronger habit out of us saying please to flesh and blood humans.  Sure couldn't hurt.

Title by Nik Ricci

Friday, December 7, 2018

Thursday, December 6, 2018

December 6th: Just Let It Happen

I hear your name
and it's like electroshock,
voltage that gnarls 
my hands into knuckles
as I swallow back fear.
I check to see if anyone
has noticed this swift
change in my demeanor,
but at the same time,
I'm too busy looking
to see if somehow
you've been conjured.

It's not hard to Google,
so I do so casually:
recipes for rutabagas
and how to prepare 
celeriac and what's
your ex up to these days
and is your password
still the same and how's
the sound of the piano
factoring in with whatever
you're doing and I barely
dip a toe in before I feel
an odd blend of heartbreak
and complete boredom.

There's a cat in my life
now.  She loves me more
than seems reasonable,
especially since she's not
even mine.  She sits beside
me on my couch -- always
to my left -- and purrs so hard
she drools, her eyes barely
able to open through all
this adoration and I scratch
her ears and snap her photo
and am in wonder at how
she perches here, so in time
for any shaded blue that might
start to creep in.

I started to text a friend
last night to be vulnerable
about how I'd spent
my day but I didn't know
how to quantify it --
this nothing story --
so I erased at and set
my phone aside.

I went for years
without meeting anyone new
with your name and suddenly
in the last few months,
two have appeared.  
Seems appropriate they'd come
to me in pairs, just like women 
with my name come to you
and it's hard to form their name --
your name -- on my lips,
hard to pronounce it,
project it from the back
of my throat but I do it -- 
I make myself say out loud
my biggest phobia,
your name by any other rose,
pricked by defeat, slashed
to ribbons: one heart, still able
to beat but barely -- feel my wrist

for a pulse, I dare you.

Title by Shannon Robinson

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

December 5th: Monkey Woman

Her mind switches gears
Quick grab on what comes and goes
There's no stopping her

Title by Shannon Robinson

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

December 4th: I Watched the Jungle Breathe

Eyes are all there is
in the darkness,
cracks and moans
the give and take
of what could be,
what would be
if only human nature
mattered to Mother
Earth.  Spun up
as I am, I search
for a wall to press against,
for something to run
my hand along,
a cool comfort
in this vile place.
But there is nothing.
Only branches
and leaves and something
buzzing near my ear.
Only sweat and pain
coming from nowhere.
I gave up hope
so long ago, but now
I will it to fill my bones
like marrow to be donated
to deserving kin - I could
save so many lives,
just not my own.  My body
shakes, each piercing gaze
a bullet that strikes me,
arching my back as I writhe.
Surely, someday, the sun
will rise and end this
uncertainty.  Until then,
I find a tree to back into,
to clutch at the bark
and cling to it, as if somehow
this will prevent my drowning
on firm soil.  When did I become
this, pitiful and repentant,
fearful of a shadow I can't even
cast anymore?  When did I stop
commandeering the light?
I surrender control and crouch
in this spot.  All that will be left
when the morning comes
is where I scratched in the dirt
I watched the jungle breathe --

Title by Shannon Robinson

Monday, December 3, 2018

December 3rd: Don't Eat That

I firmly believe that dieting is dumb, so I have never done it, not for one minute of my life.

Now, that doesn't mean that I eat the world's most awful food and high five my way through the grocery store as I fill up my cart with garbage sustenance.  I like eating healthy things.  I simply don't adhere to any strict regiment of eat-this-not-that.  If I want ice cream, I dig in.  If I'm feeling over-sugared or over-salted, I drift heavy into the spinach.  I don't deny myself and as a result, I think I achieve a pretty well-balanced diet.  In fact, if you looked in my fridge right now, you'd probably think I was one of those crazy vegans.  

What am I saying.  I have the technological capabilities of showing you exactly what's in my fridge at this very moment:

Let's see...  Almond Milk, tofu, strawberry jelly behind a box of pinot grigio (life is about balance, y'all), some chocolate chips, a pasta dish I made last night (that's whole wheat pasta + red/green/yellow peppers + mushrooms + spinach + onions + garlic + some kind of flavored tofu squares that are called Toss'ables) with bbq sauce and pickles hiding behind there, another onion, some squash, pasta sauce and somewhere behind alla that stuff is some butter.  I'm planning to make "eggless salad" with the onion and tofu (plus some other shtuff) -- it's a recipe from VO2 Vegan Cafe, which is attached to O2 Yoga's Cambridge location (where I happen to work).  They don't really make it at the cafe that often, which is a bummer because I am obsessed.  So, fine.  I'll make it at home.  The squash will probably get cooked as is or I may dive into my roommate's box of root veggies from the Waltham Fields Farm where she works and see what kind of winter/fall delight I can whip up.

Look at me.  Who am I?  Since when do I "whip things up"?

Honestly, I get a little excited about cooking and having this big refrigerator to keep stuff in.  My last apartment, there were four of us sharing a refrigerator that was smaller than the one I share with one other person now, and so it made food storage really hard.  I had half of a shelf where I could guarantee to store my stuff.  Anything that might not fit in that space might not fit in the fridge.  I ate a lot of wraps and cottage cheese when I lived there.  I didn't have space to cook even a simple pasta dish like the one I've got stored in two tupperwear containers in my fridge now.  It meant multiple trips to the grocery store every week and no time cooking.  I also felt pretty unwelcome at that apartment most of the time (especially by the two younger roommates who had decided I was a bitch simply because I was busy and not around that much) so I never liked being in the kitchen for longer than five minutes.

It did weird things to my eating habits, I'm sure.

Where I live now, though, there is plenty of time to be in the kitchen.  There's no uncomfortable vibes or hostility, so I've started playing around with what I eat and will try to switch things up as often as possible.  I've been using my crockpot again -- heaven's to Betsy!!  Nobody knows the trouble I've seen.

Now that I've got all this space and opportunity to cook and store food, it opens my world as to what I buy at the grocery store and, as you can see from my current stock, I eat largely vegan and vegetarian at home.  I do sometimes have meat -- I am absolutely a meat eater -- but at home, I find that vegan and vegetarian products last longer (I'm only one person -- how fast am I supposed to plow through all this??) and they tend to be healthier for me.  I didn't show you my pantry shelves, but they also contain vegan and vegetarian staples and seasonings and baking supplies.  I had no intention of creating this kind of food supply at home.  I didn't set out to be strictly veg -- it's just sort of how it happened.  But the beauty of this sort of observation is that there's no guilt or pressure if I do buy some cheese or chicken or whatever else.  I would never claim to be vegan or vegetarian -- in fact, I would say that I am not either of those things -- but a quick scan of my kitchen might leave you scratching your head a bit over that.

I understand that many people's choice about their diet (or if they are dieting) is deeply personal and often triggering, I'd say especially for women but I'm sure for some men, too.  There's a lot of pressure to "eat right," not that anyone can really agree definitively about what that means.  Different body chemistries require different kinds of nutrients.  Some bodies are intolerant of certain foods.  There is no one-diet-fits-all remedy and anyone telling you there is probably deserves to watch you walk away.  Food consumption can be political and socio-economical and cultural and even merely practical.  Comedian Marc Maron has a joke about how being vegan is really just an elaborate eating disorder and when I look at how unrelentingly thin some of my vegan friends are, I can't help but add psychological to the list.  After all, vegan doesn't automatically mean healthy.  There's a lot to unpack when it comes to individual food choices.

It's one of the many reasons I decided long ago not to pick a side.  I eat cheese but I don't often buy it because it gets moldy before I can eat it all.  So I buy nutritional yeast instead because it gives my pasta dish a cheesy flavor while lasting quite a lot longer and being significantly healthier.  Sounds like a win.  Doesn't mean I refuse to eat cheese when I get the chance nor does it mean I carry my nutritional yeast around at dinner parties so I can "educate" others about why I prefer to stock this item at home.  Ultimately, people are going to eat what they want -- good information about healthy diet can be hard to suss out and so while I think many people do try to "be good," advertising and big business sometimes dilute the shared waters of fact and fiction.  Are eggs good for us today or not?  Hell if I know.  Depends on whose marketing budget is bigger this quarter.

Bottom line for me is that I want to feel free to eat what I want.  And so I do that.  I completely understand that others need more limits placed on them to keep them from binging or prevent them from starving themselves.  I understand that everyone approaches food in their own way.  So trust me -- I have no advice to give you.  I wouldn't dare try.  So all I can ask in return is you don't offer unsolicited advice to those in your life.  I always think about my boss Mimi, who is vegan and owns the vegan cafe at her yoga studio.  She plays it cool and educates those who ask about how she makes the vegan cheese taste so "real" or whatever the case might be.  She never gets in people's faces, asking if they're vegan, shoving pamphlets into their hands about environmental factors or animal cruelty linked to the "meat industry."  She's just friendly and confident in the quality of the food being served and, well, it just so happens to be vegan.  Isn't that somethin'?  I learn a lot from Mimi's approach and find her non-abrasive approach (plus how delicious everything on the menu is) to make tons of non-vegans regulars at VO2.  That's incredible.  I mean, there's a Domino's Pizza -- an eat in Domino's Pizza -- half a block from us.  But, no.  VO2 is hoppin' because it's just good quality food.

There's got to be a way to remove the stigma from food choices, but probably the easiest way to do that is not care that much about what other people are doing and just eat things that you like.  I will eat meat in front of my vegan friends -- but I will also choose a restaurant that looks like it has plenty of choices for them, not just the hummus platter or some boring salad.  We all set our boundaries in different ways for many aspects of our lives but I would venture to guess that setting boundaries around food consumption is perhaps less conscious than others for most people (and by that, I do not include vegans, especially, who have set probably the clearest most undeniable boundaries when it comes to food).  What seems to work well for me is being open to trying something I may not ordinarily eat while also refraining if it doesn't look appetizing.  We eat food for nutrition, of course, but we eat for pleasure, too.  A satisfying meal can be the highlight of many days -- and just think about how when you're traveling, where you're eating sets the agenda for the rest of your activities.

Clearly, I am just scratching the surface of this discussion.  Just pop over to Netflix and see how many goddamn food-related documentaries are on there.  Something like a billion.  All of them will terrify you.  So that's why I say fuck it.  Eat candy for dinner if that's what you want today.  Trust me, you won't do it every day -- it'll make you feel gross if you do.  Last night I ate one more chocolate chip cookie than I should have and, well, lesson learned.  You can't escape your body and fueling it well makes all the difference in the world when it comes to your outlook on life, your energy level, and your ability to focus.  So give it what it wants -- eventually it will lead you to learn how to give it what it needs.

Title by Shannon Robinson

Sunday, December 2, 2018

December 2nd: The Lost Sock

They went in a pair
Swirled in hot soapy water
Only one emerged

Title by Amanda Sindel-Keswick

Saturday, December 1, 2018

December 1st: Look At This Stuff, Isn't It Neat?

I used to know all the words
and could sing along

loud and uninterrupted
from the backseat
of some moving vehicle,
drowned in the blend
of sunshine and shadow

but still somehow
unheard and unseen

Drop me in the water
and I will swim.
It's just the way
I construct survival

with laughter
laced fear, true
confidence at the edge
of a shimmering something

Plastic dolls in heaps
on the screened in
back porch --
who has orange
and black carpet,
anyway, besides us?

Left to my own
devices, I burrowed

deep between the lines
and emerged eventually
with black ink

stained fingers,
eyes ravenous

to see more, be more,
devour more of life
beyond the pages

Night teases
the horizon and that means

lightening bugs emerge
to blip in
and out of focus,
so easily caught
and shoved in jars

we children sing,
such gentle captors --

Title by Amy McNamara

Friday, November 30, 2018

November 30th: Everybody Dance Now

This is a little love note to all my TT Class of 2012 sisters.  You ladies are just wonderful.

I've talked about it many times, how fabulous my experience was doing yoga teacher training about six and a half years ago.  There were nineteen of us glorious, shining souls, all joined together with this common goal of nerding way the fuck out about all things yoga.  All things O2 Yoga, to be specific.  It's hard to explain precisely what makes O2 different from other vinyasa styles until you've experienced both, but the easiest way for me to talk about it in this context is the O2-style is specific about its intention....but in a non-controlling way.  In other words, classes are designed for safety and so teachers are very strict about certain cues, but the takeaway is something very freeing.  It's like the old saying: "A parents job is to give their children two things: one is roots, the other is wings."  Mimi trains her teachers to give students roots -- an understanding of how and why we do a pose a certain way (not just do it my way or else) -- so they can then sprout the wings to take what they've learned off the mat.  O2 Yoga is empowering and inspiring and gives students a chance to grow by encouraging them to take the information and do what they want with it.

If you've done yoga with us, you know what I'm talking about.  If you haven't, well...  you're missing out.

When I did Mimi's teacher training back in 2012, it folded into one of the best years of my entire life, hands down, no contest.  In fact, it probably was the literal best year of my life, from start to finish.  It was a year I broke out of some negative patterns.  It was the first year of my entire working life that I broke away from a traditional retail job.  Creatively, I was on fire and personally I was take no prisoners -- I knew what I wanted and I got exactly that.  Everything just clicked that year.

But the best part about it was meeting my TT sisters.  I had no idea at the time that these women would become the support system and family that they did, but I am truly thankful for everything they have done for me and given to my life over these past six-plus years.  Now as a manager at O2 Yoga, a big part of my job is working with our Teacher Training program and every year, I love the new groups....but will always come back around to say -- in dead seriousness -- "Your group isn't better that TT2012.  Sorry."  Not sorry.

I had this moment with the TT Class of 2018 a few weeks ago when I joined them for a class they taught (which was awesome, by the way) and before practice even began, the TTs asked about my experience and when I said mine was the best group ever, they were like, "No, no...we are..." and even Mimi laughed and said, "I gotta admit, TT 2012 was a really special group."

It's not that hard to see why when you figure that one of their alums (that would be me) runs the studio and...let's see...Emily, Erika, Aileen, and Kate still teach at O2...and Kristen, Holland, Bora, Rebecca, and Shira all taught at the studio for many years.  That's 10 of the 19 people working at O2 and all but maybe three or four were regular students at the studio after TT was over.  Even though we were one of the bigger groups to do the training, we are probably the most close-knit (TT 2015 does give us a little run for our money -- they are almost as obsessively bonded as we are) and we certainly had the biggest long-reaching wave of contribution to the teaching staff.  Most TT groups are represented by somewhere between two and five teachers on the O2 staff at any given time.  TT2012 took up a little more space on the roster than that -- and I couldn't be more proud of the lasting impact the women from my Teacher Training have had on the studio.

Beyond all of that, though, the women from my TT crew came into my life just in time to save it.  While 2012 was an unbelievably wonderful year, 2013 was a confusing and turbulent year as my relationship with Tom got very tangled and unstable -- and of course, 2014 that tangled instability exploded and it took nearly that entire calendar year to get out of that mess for good.  I could not -- could not -- have had the strength to walk away from that unhealthy and manipulative relationship without the help of my sisters.  Especially Rebecca, Kristen, Kate, Shelby, Shira, and Aileen.  These women kept me afloat when I thought for sure drowning was the only possible outcome.  And without their steady guidance, love, and belief in me, I'm sure I would have drowned.  Or worse -- remained stuck.  It was these friends who reminded me that I deserved better and showed me the path towards that life.  I would be remiss not also to include my friend Lauren in this conversation -- she also was a huge saving grace (and continues to be so to this day) -- but there's a reason Lauren is one of the few from that old existence who remains a big part of my life now.  It's because of people like Lauren that I survived other very dark days in my relationship with Tom.  But it took this whole new community of people to spring me from that jail and keep me from trending backwards.  With their presence in my life, I had a safe space to retreat to, whereas in the past, the most viable option was to remain in that self-destructive circle.

Yoga saves lives, it truly does.

This week, I've seen so many of my sisters -- Thanksgiving (per usual) with Rebecca's family on the Cape and then a trip to visit Kristen's new house before Rebecca and I returned to Somerville to hang out with Kate.  There was texting with Erika because I'd made her the face of one of our promotions (internet fame!!) and Aileen was around over the weekend and into the start of the week teaching and Emily came for Second Series on Wednesday and Thursday it was coffee with Shira.  Everywhere I turned, one of these remarkable sources of love seemed to appear.  It overwhelmed me a little and so I had to write about it today.

We need these people in our lives, these people who are empowering and magical and positive influences.  Who make us laugh, who let us cry, who stand by us no matter what.  And whenever possible, you better believe we dance.  Our bodies move as our voices lift in song and no one cares if you've got shitty rhythm or are joinin' the chorus flat.  What's important is we've showed up and thrown our arms around each other and let ourselves be who we are.

It. is. awesome.

It is the residual effects of the power of O2 Yoga.

It's impossible to say thank you enough times but I sure do my best to work that gratitude in each and every time I see one of those beautiful faces.  I'd never really had a sister before I did Teacher Training and now I have so many -- many of them have gotten married and had kids since then, so I have these adopted nieces and nephews, too.  I love an expanding family!  It's fun to watch this next generation unfold.

We are a family -- I've got all my sisters with me.  Yeah, I'm just sitting here smiling like a dope.  And I could go on and on about them all, but, believe it or not, I've gotta get to the studio.  Maybe I'll see one of my sisters today -- you never know!!  But the odds are good, all the same.

Now it's time to put on my shoes and ease on down the road with that delighted pep in my step, all just from thinking about my sisters.  Imagine what it's like when I actually see one of them.  

It's love, true love, I say.  And aren't I thankful for it.

Title by Amy McNamara

Thursday, November 29, 2018

November 29th: Bird of Paradise

Last night I spent a good hour nerding out about yoga anatomy stuff with my friend Emily.  She's nearing graduation from the 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training program at O2 Yoga (a program of which I am a graduate and currently serve as administrator for) and what we were talking about, mostly, was chaturanga.  The yoga pushup.  There's a lot goin' on here.

For the purposes of my conversation with Emily, we were discussing this pose when entered via plank pose.  Some "advanced" students eliminate plank pose and hop straight back into their pushup (I use the air quotes because I am "advanced" and I opt not to hop back for a number of reasons -- and there are plenty of students who employ the hop back that really shouldn't.  But let's just say it's not a beginner move), but we were thinking about it both from the perspective of those new to yoga (whom she'd been teaching recently) versus students who'd been practicing this pose incorrectly for a long time (whom she is).  Recent shoulder problems have lead her down this rabbit hole of discovery that landed her at the conclusion she wasn't doing chaturanga correctly and her big revelation was that she wasn't engaging her chest.  When she engaged through her chest, the pose didn't make her shoulder click (in a bad way).  I could tell she thought this was a massive discovery but I didn't get it.  "How do you engage your chest in chaturanga?" I asked.  She stared at me for a moment and said, "I don't know."  So we soldiered on and how I finally understood her was thinking not about the chest but about the shoulders.  In a pose like chaturanga, you've got to align shoulders over wrists as you lower -- that's top priority.  But that's not all.  You also have to engage through your upper back to keep the shoulder blades apart, which keeps you from collapsing in.  If you don't engage through your upper back, then everything sort of sinks in towards the middle.  Really thinking about lifting through the upper back, then, broadens the chest (thus her discovery), which stabilizes all involved joints and prevents injury.

"So how do I tell my students to do that?" Emily asked.

Sometimes you can and sometimes you can't.  There's only so much a single instructor can do with a room full of yogis.  And often the desire to push beyond merely going through the motions to get to the point where you're thinking about that clicking in your shoulder and wondering what's causing it has to fall on the owner of the body.  That's one of the coolest parts about being highly committed to a yoga practice -- it's educational AF.

For me, I like to get nerdy about a pose like chaturanga because I can do it.  Not only can I do it, I understand how and why I can do it and can therefore work to improve it or modify it as needed.  A body like mine doesn't have limitless flexibilities and, as such, there are tons of poses I will likely never even come close to mastering.

Like Bird of Paradise.

If you're not familiar with this pose, here's a photo of my friend Jill doing it flawlessly.  I stole this from her 'gram (give her a follow @somerjill -- her Instagram legit should win awards, it's so excellent):

Her post was about how she achieved the bind in this pose (fingers around wrist, as seen above) for the first time that day.  It was in Bett's Power class on Saturday morning at O2 Yoga's Cambridge studio where Bett offered three different variations on this complex pose to allow students different ways in.  I was there and was so thrilled for Jill's "yoga breakthrough."  Those moments are incredible for yogis and so educational.  Like I said, give her a follow on Instagram to read everything she had to say about that breakthrough for her.

Meanwhile... Here's me doing the pose moments ago in my kitchen:

See how my leg is nowhere near straight and the bind is completely absent?  Yet, somehow, this version of Bird of Paradise is one I've worked hard to achieve over the past nearly-eleven years of almost daily yoga practice.  

But Jill just did a ninety minute Power class themed around this pose while you hopped up and threw yourself in your version, you might be saying.  I can promise you that even in Bett's class on Saturday, this would have been the height of my capabilities with this pose.  I have very massive, tight calves, which prevent my leg from going straight.  And I have maybe thicker than normal quads (coupled with maybe short arms?  Unsure) so binds that require looping under the thigh and around back aren't part of my practice.  Both Jill and I find Bird of Paradise to be a daunting posture full of challenges and we both work hard at mastering our best possible versions of it.  Hers is much closer to the poses' intention while mine is just the best my body will allow.

That's yoga, folks.  

As I was writing this, Emily sent me a message about the cover of a yoga book about "hot" yoga and Bikram and she wondered about the cover, which shows a scantily clad, six-packed yogini.  "It makes it seem like if you don't look like that, you ain't doin' it right," she wrote.  That, unfortunately, is a big message from "the yoga world."  Search Instagram and you'll easily find hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of accounts run by extremely fit men and women who will talk about their "flawed" bodies and how yoga has helped them.  Clearly, this is a popularized concept or there wouldn't be so many messages like that out there.

Personally, that's not what yoga is for me.  It's not what my practice is about.  It's not what I value about getting on my mat.  It's through injury and struggle that something like finally getting that bind or understanding key muscle engagement in chaturanga becomes revolutionary.  It's how our bodies teach us things about ourselves and about where we are in this precise moment.  It's one of the many (many many) reasons I love O2 Yoga, a place for all ages and body types and skill levels to join together under one, nonjudgemental roof.  Puts a smile on my face just thinking about it.

A pose like Bird of Paradise isn't for all bodies, at least not in its full expression.  Some version of it will work on most bodies.  It's all about finding a way to be thoughtful about what you can and cannot do and working towards your edge.  I may never know the joy of getting that bind, like Jill did, but I've known many other yoga joys and know there are countless more as I ease on down this road.  And as long as I've got my yoga nerdy friends somewhere nearby, I know it will all work out just fine.

At O2 Yoga we teach poses progressively for a reason.  Yoga isn't zero to sixty in three seconds flat.  It's a process.  It builds.  It's love.  And I'll take it, in all of its many forms.

Title by Kimberly O'Hagan 

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

November 28th: Strong Women

I'm told of my bravery,
my courage, my unwavering

spirit when what I feel
is awash inside --
fearful, broken, and lost.
I stare at the people, faceless

in their masses, praising
and prodding me to reveal
my secrets and what I have
is nothing to share.
It's this brand of silence
that pushes the myth

further under scrupulous
lights and is examined
by others who rise
and rise and rise
straight from what could be

ruins, a fated plight
aimed to teach and reaffirm
what could be held sacred.
I do not cry.  I do not beg.
I do not turn my face away.
I speak in clear, purposeful tones.
What's mine is left

at my feet for me to scoop up,
to cradle, to hold against
the heat of my body.
I stand before a mirror

and make eye contact.
I see the power conveyed
and it has the capacity to shock.
No hesitation,
I take a step forward,

I take a step up,
and nothing would
dare stop me.
Nothing would
stand in the way
of this power wielded

by that which gives me
breath, which gives me
grace, which gives me
voice to craft a battle cry:
swallowed sanity

given up in the face
of necessity to be
this extraordinary dawn
of a new day, brilliant
against a backdrop
of pure, natural beauty,

undefined feminity
nailed flesh to form
an unrelenting army,
a force unmistakable
from the outside,

and I will wade on in --

Title by Kimberly O'Hagan

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

November 27th: Sticky Fingers

Prints are left behind
Time spent in gross revelry
Washing will be next

Title by Erin Barsotti

Monday, November 26, 2018

November 26th: Is It REALLY That Hard to Return an Email in a Timely Fashion?

Communication is maddening.

It's also the starting and stopping place for most conflicts.

Let's talk about it, shall we?

You might say I communicate for a living.  I work with people, I work in sales, I work in branding and marketing.  The kinds of words I use and the tone in which those words are presented matter.  I've spent most of my adult life disappearing farther and farther down the rabbit hole of best ways to present x information and I always come back to something I learned on The West Wing.  Are you a fan of that show?  I hope so.  If you're not...start watchin'!

But, anyway...  There is an episode of The West Wing where White House Press Secretary CJ Cregg (played brilliantly by Allison Janney) is being prepped for a deposition by White House counsel and is asked the question, "Do you know what time it is?"  CJ's answer is, "It's 3:30" (or whatever) and the lawyer says, "Wrong answer.  I didn't ask what time it was, I asked if you knew what time it was." So he asks her again, "Do you know what time it is?" to which she deadpans, "Yes."  End of answer.

I think about this scene at least once a day, especially when I am communicating with someone in a professional or formal capacity.  It's not necessary to use fifty words when three will do it.  Less truly is more.  So that's how I approach most non-social correspondence.

At my last apartment, though, I lived with a couple of people who thought if ten words would do it, about five hundred would be used, and then when I would respond with the appropriate ten words, they thought I was a bitch.  Really, I was just conserving my energy and my trying to untangle all unnecessary burden from the discussion by cutting to the chase.  It's an effective way to deal with folks in a professional capacity but it never worked with these dipshits who wanted constantly to schedule "roommate meetings" to discuss dish washing and feelings.


Those people clearly needed to be spooning thick swallows of alphabet soup in order to make themselves feel heard and seen and valued.  They were extremely high maintenance humans.

Of course, then there are the other people -- the noncommunicators. These are the people who don't respond to emails in a timely fashion (or ever at all).  These are the people that you have to ask them ten times to do a task and they never apologize for being unresponsive, but, instead lash out about how busy they are or how unimportant your request might be (even if it is crucial, which it often is if you've bothered to email ten times).  The thing is, bad communicators are just that and always will be.  There aren't many I've ever come across who are lax about getting back to me but then have a come-to-jesus and are suddenly super easy to get in touch with.  

I frankly don't understand these people and that's largely because I am their extreme opposite.  I can't have an unanswered email in my inbox for more than a few hours unless I'm physically not able to respond right away.  I have to restrain myself from dealing with work emails when I've already put in my office hours for the day or have the day off.  Unless it's an emergency or very time sensitive, it's rarely necessary to jump on that reply, but I can't help it.  I'm efficient with my time and energy and if I have both in that moment, I will give it without question.

I would say most people aren't quite as fast draw about it as I am and I will also say that my eagerness to be responsive is as much an Achilles' Heel as it is a strength.  I have a co-worker who is also manager-level but is a notoriously slow replier and so a lot of admin stuff gets dumped on me because of it.  Over time, email that used to go to both of us started only to come to me and it quickly because frustrating.  It made me feel over-extended and a bit abused, both by staff and by him, that "no one wanted to deal with him" so they dropped it all at my feet.  What that's done is push me to re-evaluate my communication style with this particular staff and also hold firm that he needs to be included in these emails asking to update the online schedule or whatever the case might be -- sometimes he actually does get to their requests before I do and that's both good for them to see and good for him to know how many emails are landing in my inbox.

But that's also one of the great things about communication -- it evolves.  It's not a one-size-fits-all process and, as such, it's good to know how different people like to receive and share information.  Like with my co-worker who's not so great at email.  You know what he is great at?  Texting and, most of all, talking on the phone.  I always tell the staff, "If you need a response, call him."  And that works!  While it's annoying that some people don't respond quickly to email, it's also not doing yourself any favors if you don't attempt to find the way this person likes to communicate.  Didn't reply to your message in this format?  Try another.  There are so many options!  I downloaded Facebook Messenger to my phone because it's the most common way for my landlord to be in touch and since I don't have Facebook on my phone and am not always sitting at a computer, I just gave in and downloaded Messenger.  It's not worth it to try and force someone to communicate in the manner that you prefer -- if they are someone you need to be in touch with, figure out the method that works best and do it that way.

Successful communication is all about using words that are appropriate for the context and convey the tone you want.  Less is more is often best, especially in an email since people are often reading those on their phones while they walk down the hall from one meeting to the next.  Keeping things "to the point" often gets a quicker response.  And when one form of communication doesn't seem to be working, try another.

Email me with questions.  I'll get back to you right away.

Title by Kate Brigham