I Don’t Know, But I’m Open To It

I don’t know, but I’m open to it…
In the bathroom of one of the yoga studios at which I teach, is a chalkboard where anyone can scribble something – hopefully after they have washed their hands.
A few weeks back, someone had cleaned off the board – wiped away all the usual platitudes that end up written there, like “I love yoga!” and “Namaste!” and “om mani padme hum.” This time, after the board was cleaned, someone had written a prompt of sorts: “What would love do now?”
I wrote down my answer early on, and then each time I went back to the studio, I watched the board being filled up with the latest batch of wise answers: “create equality,” “forgive,” “release,” and “hold space” showed up. And then “let grace abound” appeared.
Every time I read these, I feel like the true cynical, existential GenXer that I am. “Let grace abound?” I mean really. Who talks like this. All these people have drunk the KoolAid of the pop culture phenomenon that has become known as yoga.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that love really can do all these great things. And I am a true optimist deep down. Honest I am. But when you throw these concepts around on a chalkboard in a bathroom, it just feels like they lose all real meaning. I’m super glad that so many people have a skip in their step and a twinkle in their eye and believe that grace truly does abound. But it’s like saying the same word word out loud over and over again. After a while it begins to sound really weird and you start questioning what it really means.
One person did write “I don’t know, but I’m open to it” and I thought that was the coolest response of all. I bow down and offer that person a Sun Salutation.
Do you want to know what I added to the board?
“Buy me a sandwich.”

Chair Yoga at the retirement home
I am in the middle of receiving an additional 300 hours of yoga teacher training. Not so I can let grace abound (however if this is a natural side-effect, I’m ok with that), and not because I want everyone to do handstands. Rather, I want to learn the subtle art of assisting people in getting back in touch with themselves on a physical level. Because I believe connecting with your self on a physical level can be a gateway for connecting with many other levels of your being-ness. Hey does that sound like I should put it up on the chalkboard? Damn, I just can’t escape the platitudes when talking about yoga. But fortunately, I do know some people who can.
Part of my training is to work with a mentor, so I chose my friend Sonia. She teaches chair yoga twice a week at a local retirement home, and when she went on vacation last week, I got to teach the class for her.
There are about 6-8 regulars that come to chair yoga. They are varying ages – from early 60s to early 90s. Each of them has a different degree of ability and/or disability. It’s fascinating to see what can happen to the body as it ages. And I tell you what, these people are great. They are funny, feisty, and don’t take any shit from anyone. They know what they like, and they know what they don’t like, and they definitely don’t have time to mess with what they don’t like. One of them has a little trouble focusing and paying attention, but once you get him physically engaged, he can stay in the present moment and keep up pretty well.
At the end of class, they all lay in Savasana (final relaxation) for a few minutes, and we put a lavender-scented cloth across their eyes to help them relax. When Savasana is over, they sit up, and we bring hands to heart-center and say our Namaste. But every single time, they start tossing their eye cloths at the teacher as soon as they sit up. They aren’t going to wait around to give it back after class, they just throw it at you and get going. There is something about this that I find hilarious and life-affirming. Especially when I got hit with a few eye cloths last week.
I hope I am that awesome when I am 90.
Usually, Sonia starts the class with a quote from a well-known restorative yoga teacher. The quotes are about mindfulness, relaxing, being kind to yourself, and they are very good. But I don’t have a good book of quotes. So I started each class with a joke. This was Thursday’s joke:
What did the snail say when it was riding on top of the turtle?
I think they liked it. I think I’m in.

Till next time, much love to you and yours.









Learning Like Cardinals

Mr. and Mrs. C, from March 2017

When I moved into this house, I stuck a long metal pole in the ground outside the kitchen window, and hung a bird feeder on a hook at the end of it. I had every intention of keeping it full, but that didn’t work out so well. Mostly for the birds.

Earlier this year, that feeder finally fell apart from years of being in the rain, snow, and sun. So I bought a new one, and told myself that this time, I would keep this one full, without exception.

I brought it home, and filled it up with birdseed and some old pecans and almond slivers because I think Cardinals like that stuff. Soon a gang of sparrows started showing up, and not long after that, a pair of Cardinals. But then I discovered I had another problem.

The new bird feeder had a very narrow ledge. The sparrows could land on it, and still get to the birdseed. But the Cardinals would have to practically land sideways on the thing, and couldn’t reach the birdseed because they were sitting too close to it. I pointed this problem out to Marcus, who thought about it and then took the bird feeder to the shop. It came back with some Mercedes parts and two pieces of a wooden dowel added on. Voila! Perches that sat several inches away from the birdseed. The feeder was now Cardinal friendly. And they came back and have been very happy ever since.

I make every effort to keep the feeder full of tasty birdseed for anyone who wants to show up. So far we’ve had sparrows, the occasional finch, wrens, even a few catbirds have done a quick flyby. But the cutest visitors are Mr. and Mrs. C. Did you know Cardinals mate for life? Curious behavior, if you ask me.

A few weeks ago, Mr. C started bringing Junior with him. Junior is an awkward teenage Cardinal. Kind of gangly, a little unsure of his footing. He makes the trip to the feeder, but stays on the fence or on the ground, fluttering his wings and squeaking incessantly, waiting for Dad to bring him something good.

The young bird is old enough to fly to the feeder, and he’s even tried to land on the metal pole, and the bush next to the feeder. But he hasn’t yet figured out how to land on the feeder itself and scoop all the unwanted seeds onto the ground in search for sunflower seeds or pecans. He still waits for Dad to take care of that part.

Some days, I feel like Junior. There are people in my life, or things that happen, that lead me right up to that metaphorical bird feeder, but I can’t quite figure out how to make the jump onto the perch and get to the good stuff.

This also brings to mind that old proverb about leading a horse to water. But I don’t have horses in my yard so you get the bird version.

I’m grateful that I’ve had good teachers and good role models throughout my life, and I’ve come across great things to read and do and see. But sometimes it feels like there’s still a huge disconnect between intellectually understanding how something works, and the actual doing of it, or the actual feeling of it. It’s like feeling smart and stupid at the same time. Or being in a state of perpetual awkward teenage-dom.

How will Junior Cardinal make that leap, that physical and proverbial leap, onto the feeder and become totally self-sufficient? What light switch needs to be flipped before he gets it? Is it learned behavior? Instinct? Intuition? Does he just watch Dad enough times to eventually understand he needs to just take one more jump from the fence to the feeder, and freedom is finally his? I don’t think he’ll “understand” it until he “experiences” it.

What will it take for me to make that leap, for me to get that I am a fully capable human being, and that I can accomplish great things? Or at the very least, that I can take care of my own body, all my stuff and my wonderful, (often over-active) mind?

I don’t know where Mrs. C has been. Maybe she took a much needed girls trip to the seaside.


Stuff From The Beach

Caution: This Post Contains Sentimental Drivel

It’s my last full day at Sunset Beach, and as well as still feeling a little meh from Saturday evening’s food poisoning extravaganza, I find myself also feeling melancholy. This always happens when I get ready to leave.

Earlier today, I went over to Rose Park Roasters for what may be my second-to-last coffee there (not that I’m counting, because that number would make me even more sad). The route takes me up PCH into Long Beach, to 7th Street, then left on Redondo, right on 4th. I was already feeling a little sentimental before I left, but as I drove I became almost maudlin.

Very few things elicit deep emotions from me – after years and years of practice, and a few good role models, I’m a true expert at stuffing feelings. Fear? Stuff it. Anger? Cram that way down there. Love? Grief? That all goes in there, too. Happiness? Some days I’m not sure what that is, but maybe that’s somewhere in there too. So it takes something close to a tsunami or other internal or external natural disaster for me to notice what I’m feeling. But when I drove down Pacific Coast Highway today, yeah, I almost started crying.

There is something about the stretch of PCH from Sunset Beach, through Seal Beach, towards Long Beach, that perfectly sums up my relationship with Southern California. There is a lot of history along that drive. My Dad grew up in Sunset Beach, I stay in his mother’s house when I am here. And I spent lots of time with my Grandma here when I was little. My parents lived in the apartment above the garage for a while, and when they were expecting me, they rented a house in Seal Beach. So that is the first “home” I went home to. I was born in Long Beach.

I always feel sentimental when I drive that stretch of road, but today there was a whole new layer of feeling to it. It was as if I finally figured out what about it makes me so teary-eyed. It’s probably obvious to everyone else, I am usually the last one to the Feelings Party after all.

It’s as if every time I drive that stretch of road, I search for connections along the route. I try to reach back to a time that was supposed to be happy and fun and carefree. Maybe I wish that I could have a do-over, or maybe I am just stuck in the past. I wish I could say that was a happy  time, and while I know there were definitely happy moments, overall it doesn’t feel happy to me.

Other than what kind of cookies are in the kitchen, and maybe having to do a little math homework, you’re not supposed to worry about stuff as a kid. And maybe that’s all I did worry about back then, but I have a feeling that there were heavier things on my mind, things that weren’t so kid-like, things that would be better forgotten. I’m not saying anything BAD happened to me – at least I don’t think so – I think it was more a case of having to grow up and start adulting a little before I should have. To be honest, I have forgotten most of it. Or rather, stuffed it all.

When I drive down this stretch of road, I associate this place with home. I connect with the place, my physical body connecting with the memories and feelings still tied to this stretch of the California coast. Maybe one day, I can let go of it all. Which is different from pushing it down, down, and still further down.

It is hard to even write this, it’s like, feelings and stuff, you know? Who cares about that? Repressing it all has worked great so far, right? So for now, I’ll push it away again, and think about what I could have for dinner that won’t hurt my stomach. Because after pushing feelings down for so long, they’ve all ended up there, and most days, they don’t like food. Maybe one day, I can let go of it all.

Today’s Rose Park Roasters cappuccino. Fraught with emotions but still delicious.

The Muse on Vacation

this is a photo of the oregon coast. it is not a photo of my novel.

I am currently on vacation. That’s right, this blog post is comin’ atcha straight from the SB – more popularly known as Sunset Beach, California.

I am having a great time on vacation. And when I get back, I’ll write up another blog post that will tell you all about it. It will undoubtedly be a fantastically interesting rundown on all the coffee I have consumed, and all the old friends I’ve caught up with. This post, however, is a quick shoutout to my Muse, whom I was smart enough to bring on vacation with me. It has come in very handy, since part of my objective for this trip was to work on a novel.

If you plan on writing a novel, might I suggest you  have your muse handy, too.

The first leg of my trip took me to Portland, Oregon, where I was in full-on tourist mode, so I didn’t have time to do any writing other than short journal entries on my phone. From Portland, I flew to Los Angeles, where I hung out with my dad for a few days. That was full-on family mode. It was good to see my Dad, his wife, and my step-sister Tanya and her insanely energetic toddler (she tried to tell me “he’s usually not like this” but we all know that toddlers are ALWAYS like that and she wasn’t fooling anyone). So I didn’t have time to do any writing there, either. And after attending a gentle yoga class with my Dad at the Y (during which I almost fell asleep three times – I think it was a little too gentle for me), I rolled on out of there in my free-to-me 2000 Ford Focus station wagon pimp-mobile and headed for the beach. Where I have done hardly anything except write.

I think the Muse likes the beach a lot. After three days of eating, sleeping, and more eating, watching “Bosch” on Amazon Video, and a little writing, I am now almost 9,000 words into this novel thing. My goal for the project is 70,000 words, which I probably won’t finish by next Tuesday – but I will have gotten a pretty good start on it by the time I leave this little slice of heaven and head back to my Dad’s (which is not a little slice of heaven but more like a little slice of vegan black-bean chocolate coffee cake) and then back to Tulsa (which is a slice of WTF am I doing here).

They say you are either a “planner” or a “pantser” when it comes to novel writing. A “planner” plans the whole damn thing out before starting – character sketches, chapter outline, research notes, marketing plan, Oscar speech for best screenplay, etc). While a “pantser” flies by the seat of their pants and makes everything up as they go along. I guess I’m somewhere in between because I have a half-assed plot outline and some almost-done character sketches. And one photo of Titus Welliver. Then I was like, “this planning stuff is BORING” and I just started writing.

I wonder how people actually get entire novels written. I wonder how they get agents. I also wonder how they can have faith that when they are done writing their novel, when they are done spending ALL THAT TIME creating their masterpiece, they don’t just end up with a big pile of word poop instead of a bestseller.

Some people do in fact end up with a big pile of word poop instead of a novel. I have read a few of those. But many people end up with a coherent, clever, emotionally-inspiring, thought-provoking story. Me? I am not so sure yet. My novel might be word poop.

But if I work really hard, and finish this thing, and it ends up with what seems to me to be a coherent plot, compelling characters and good dialogue… well, it will be word poop that I can be proud of. It will be my creation, my labor of love. It will be my very own story.

We all have a story to tell. Isn’t that great? We can tell it exactly how we want to, every time. And we can give it whatever happy, romantic, schlocky, feel-good, closure-inducing,  Emmy-award winning, Hallmark Channel ending we want. And that is the important part – the realization that we create our own story, and then the realization of that story.

A book deal would be pretty freakin’ great though.


Meeting the Muse

The Muses were the nine Greek goddesses who presided over the arts (including music) and literature. A shrine to the Muses was called in Latin a museum. An artist or poet about to begin work would call on his particular Muse to inspire him, and a poem itself might begin with such a call; thus, Homer’s Odyssey begins, “Sing to me of the man, Muse” (that is, of Odysseus). Today a muse may be one’s special creative spirit, but some artists and writers have also chosen living human beings to serve as their muses.
-From www.merriam-webster.com

A muse. Different from amuse, but that’s just mincing words.

I believe that everyone has a muse at least once in their lives, that not just “creative people” have a muse to inspire them. Just like I don’t buy it when someone says to me “Oh, I’m not creative.” Everyone is creative. So everyone has a muse.

I would be a much different person today if I hadn’t found mine. My thinking would be different. My writing would be different. My personality would definitely be different.

Whether it’s in spirit form, flesh and bone, or existing in some as-of-yet undiscovered dimension or parallel universe, muses are real, and a necessary part of the human experience.

The muse is the entity to which our creation is dedicated. The person or energy blob or ray of light that inspires us to externalize what’s inside. They give us courage, strength and guidance. They are our audience.

We love our muse, whatever form they are in. We adore them, we know them, understand them, and revere them because they adore us, know us, understand us, and revere us. Whether they exist in human form or not, the lines between fantasy and reality get blurred, and this is the one of the few times when this type of behavior is ok.

If your muse is a person, however, and you’ve attributed them with traits or skills or superpowers they may not actually possess, and you  approach them in real life as if they do possess these wondrous abilities, trouble could ensue. Just saying.

You can give your muse whatever endearing personality quirks you want. You can imagine your muse having the perfect body, the perfect skull housing the most perfect brain that understands you perfectly. All of this is OK – whatever gets you through the long dark night of the creative soul. But if you call up your muse and assume they actually do know your every thought, and actually do love every single ridiculous word that comes out of your mouth, even more trouble could ensue.

Having a muse is a great way to focus creative energy. It is a great way to love something or someone, a great way to express emotion, and it is always a perfect receiver of your creative genius. I write to my muse all the time. I feel the energy of my muse, I let it wash over me, and as the waves recede, small pearls are left on the shore. I walk along the shore and pick up these pearls, and I collect them. And when I have enough, I string them together and create something bigger and more beautiful than they could have been by themselves.

Isn’t that what it’s all about? Making life beautiful? It’s nice to have help.

Mude Music