Thursday, March 28, 2013

Office furniture, rainbow regurge and a sage 9-year-old

So, My Inside Voices might be hitting a springtime slump. Sorry mom! 

I've cut back on my home improvement Facebooking, but picked up some extra blogging about used office furniture (I know. I'm living the dream) so I'm having trouble finding time to write non-furniture-related material. 

However, if you want to learn about how to dispose of old office furniture or get tips for planning your home office, check out Arnolds Office Furniture (based in Pennsylvania! Hollah at the commonwealth!). 

Moving on. I don't know why, but I feel compelled to share about a really impressive pukecident that happened this afternoon. Poor Jovie finished her dinner (a little cheese, some pear-blueberry-purple Carrot puree, and some peach-banana-kale smoothie*) then promptly regurgitated it. All over our white living room carpet. 

The scope of the spew was so impressive I just stood staring at it for a what seemed like forever as I figured out how I would both comfort Jovie and clean up the mess. I was actually hoping the dog would charge on to scene and offer some assistance, but for once in his life he was not in the way.

I considered taking a photo of it. Something you can thank me for not doing, because you'd be looking at it right now.

The thing is, it wasn't really unattractive. It was kind of like purple and green splatter art. 

And it kind of served as a Rorshach Test for how I was feeling this afternoon. You see giant pile of technicolor vomit, I see proof in favor of my theory that when I'm making dinner, the incidence of dramatic and thorough messes increases and that my life is really just an ever-expanding pile of partially digested food. 

OK, maybe I'm being overdramatic. I think life with an 11-month-old and a 2-year-old who both share an affinity for removing all the books off the shelf, taking all the clothes out of the dresser and dumping all the Mega Blocks onto the floor means that I just need to accept messes in order to preserve some sanity.

And now that I'm re-reading that I'm laughing. Maybe more mothers should defend their messy houses on the basis that they're helping preserve an uncluttered mind. It's all about balance!

Of course, I think, just like desk clutter, that brain clutter is useful. Case in point this video I came across on Facebook.

According to the 1.6 million views this video has, it's pretty popular. So you've probably already seen it. As usual I'm late to trendy things (are people still saying totes? As in that's "totes awesome"? For that matter, is it OK to say awesome?).

Regardless of my perpetual unhipness, this video of a 9-year-old sharing his thoughts about the universe and the meaning of life is timeless and amazing. And I love Robert Krulwich's commentary. (Robert Krulwich is one of the host of RadioLab, an NPR show my totes awesome friend Melissa told me about years ago and one that you should definitely tune into if you aren't already.)

Now I want to hang out with this kid's parents. Because if they can raise a kid who's this thoughtful, inquisitive and humble, then they have plenty to teach me about parenting.

 I wonder what they're thoughts are on cleanliness? 

*I feel a little pretentious sharing about the smoothie. I'm not a health food nut or anything, but with Lily's near outright refusal to eat vegetables I've had to resort to adding them to non-vegetable concoctions. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Unquiet Mind (and toddler)

So it seemed no small coincidence* that I've been thinking a lot about mental health the past few weeks and while driving home from a visit with family in Virginia today there was a show on NPR's TED Radio Hour called "The Unquiet Mind."

On the show, various TED speakers shared stories of straddling the line between madness and sanity. 

These days, I feel blessed to have a very wide line to walk between madness and sanity. Two-year-old Lily does her best to wheedle away at that line. She has this thus-far unproven theory that I'm a servant capable of fulfilling multiple, dissimilar requests instantaneously. If said requests aren't met with speed and enthusiasm, then obviously, she wasn't clear, and the only way to be clear is to repeat herself. Again and again and again and again. 

"Mom, I want chocolate milk in my Dora cup."
"OK, Lily, one minute."
 "Mom, I want chocolate milk in my Dora cup."
"I said I'd get it for you, two seconds."
 "Mom, I want chocolate milk in my Dora cup. ... Mom, I want to read 'Bambi and the Butterfly.' "
"OK Lily, I have to get your milk first."
"Mom, I want to wear purple dress."
"Here's your milk."
"Mom, I want 'Bambi and the Butterfly and purple dress.'"

I share this partially in jest. 

My logical brain knows that all Lily really wants is my attention and that if I just stopped whatever I'm doing and focus on her, the endless stream of requests would stop. 

But the part of me that can't see past the mountain of dirty dishes in the sink feels the anxiety creeping into my stomach and the tension grinding my jaw with each demand. If it's at the end of the week or I haven't gotten enough sleep I actually do begin to feel desperate and a bit manic. And sometimes I yell at her. 

"LILY! What did I say? I said I would get it for you. Just wait a minute." And then I tell my 2-year-old the most ridiculous thing ever:

"You need to be PATIENT!"

I'll pause now to give the veteran parents out there a chance to recover from their eye-rolling laughter.

I bring this up not because Lily is any sort of toddler savant at testing the limits of my patience (I'm pretty sure she has a large network of other 2-year-olds who chat online during naptime ala the E*Trade baby about all the different ways they mess with their parents) but that because in the thick of the moment I do feel a bit crazy. 

And it's in those boiling-point episodes that all moms have that I think we all connect with that more feral part of our brains -- even if it's just for an instant.

One fascinating segment of the show tells the story of Elyn Saks, a USC law professor who also has schizophrenia. Does anybody ever hear stories about someone with schizophrenia going on to become a respected academic and be happily married? 

I feel like the more common narrative is that the person is diagnosed and goes on to live a difficult life, going on and off their medication, going in and out of psychiatric care, and leaving family members to pick up the pieces of their psychosis until they die. 

At least, this was the case with my aunt. 

But Saks does have schizophrenia. And she is a professor of law. And she is married. She wrote a book about her experiences called "The Center Cannot Hold." 

After graduating from Yale Law Saks had a mental breakdown. One of her friends came to visit and found her living in a pitch black room, unbathed, gaunt, delusional. He sat next to her in that dark room in silence for hours then took her on a walk to get fresh air. Eventually the episode ended. 

I love this image. Whether we're mentally ill or not, we've all all sat in the darkness of our minds at one time or another -- after a bad day or work or for prolonged periods of depression ... or whatever. And we've all needed someone to sit quietly with us and guide us gently back into the light. 

Saks also talks about being in and out of psychiatric care and how she resisted taking medication for a long time for the same reasons many mentally ill people do -- they don't like the side effects and they want to prove that they can be healthy without it. She eventually came to the conclusion that the medication (in conjunction with intensive therapy that continues to this day) helped restore her to her true, authentic self. 

Her friend said he never doubted that she would make it out of the darkness. He said she had a tremendous life force and the will and intelligence to do anything she wanted to do.

Saks is courageous to share her story. And even she admits that she waited to share it until later in life because she was scared about how those around her would react. But I hope that we as a society can get to a day when telling the story about surviving with a mental illness doesn't require courage. That it's as accepted as telling the story of surviving cancer or a shark attack. 

"We celebrate and venerate athletes and public figures who overcome cancer and other diseases, we don't really talk about the people who overcome mental illnesses," the producer says in the story. He described keeping the secret of being mentally ill as "a terrible burden on top of another terrible burden."

We need to shift our view of the mentally ill; they are not the one-dimension of whatever disease they have. We have to nurture their life forces, strip the stigma and allow them to live out in the healing light with the rest of us. 

Saks offerd some final words of wisdom:

"The humanity we all share is more important than the illness we do not."


* If you'd listened to to the This American Life show on Coincidences a couple weeks ago, you'd know that stories about coincidences tend to be self-centered affairs ... one academic study found that we have an ego-centric bias to our own coincidences; we find coincidences that happen to us much more surprising than those that happen to other people. So maybe the whole thing wasn't a coincidence, afterall. But I still think it is.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A bear in squirrels clothing? (And a veritable link-feast)

First, Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Acorns Go Bragh! 
I've noticed that the Squirrel Ladies have also taken to accessorizing the wooden deer they have in their front yard. At first, I thought it was just a one-time thing, but it's wearing ribbon for St. Patrick's Day. I know, I know, I should've gotten a picture. Hopefully, there will be more a-deer-nment (hehehe).

Not to be outdone, my mom sent this picture of her wooden porch bear (who often wears Penn State gear).

I could go form some squirrel and a jug-o-moonshine.
I've come across a lot of interesting things on the web in the past week or two (mostly thanks to friends on Facebook). Thought I'd share to get your creative juices flowing. 

One of my former colleagues wrote this post about her time working in Disney World teaching a drawing class to park visitors. She writes about getting back into the habit of keeping a sketchbook and trying to sketch for 30 minutes a day.
"Having drawing in my daily art practice really was such good practice. I got to the point where my right hand, my dominate hand, would need a break so I’d sketch with my left hand instead. Not only was this a preventive measure against carpal tunnel for my dominate hand, but it was a great workout for my brain as well. I had to concentrate and really think about what I was seeing and what I was sketching in order to translate what I saw in front of me onto my sketchpad."
For me, writing fiction is the equivalent of drawing with my left hand. I think it even prevents carpal tunnel (what with the amount of time I spend staring a the screen instead of actually typing). But I like Carrie's prescription of 30 minutes a day. It seems doable -- and as I've found with essays/column/personal narrative writing -- will no doubt get easier and generate more ideas the more I do it. 

Speaking of personal essays, here are two examples of how powerful vulnerability is -- capturing moments of shame, regret, fear, sadness, anger -- those parts of your brain that you're often too scared to share with others.

1. A personal essay by a deaf woman who writes about lipreading. It's fascinating to learn about the challenges and mental gymnastics she faces daily (like trying to lipread when the lighting is bad or how impossible it is to lipread when someone has an accent) and the guilt she feels about lipreading when so many in the Deaf community refuse to accommodate the hearing world (courtesy of Tell Me a Story -- a great place to find great writing*). 

2. And this excerpt from an Associated Press article about an Army psychologist who helped hundreds and hundreds of men and women he served with in Iraq, but couldn't escape his own demons. The following was written by Capt. Peter Linnerooth about a female soldier whose Humvee had been struck by bomb. 

"I stood at her head and considered her hair, for Christsakes. The blast had mussed her hair. Removed her foot, cleaved her abdomen, but mussed her hair. For whatever reason I looked at it and longed to smooth it back from her forehead. Like I do for my children. It was reddish-blond, curly, almost kinky, and in disarray. I looked around me to see if anyone would notice this gesture, if anyone would mind. Hell, I don't know what to do in an abattoir of human suffering, it's not my job. I deal with easy things, like the paranoid, the personality disordered, and those without hope. All I wanted to do was smooth her hair, perhaps compose her for the next stage of her journey. But I never did it, and regret it to this day."

Linnerooth killed himself in January. Read the whole story. As citizens of this country, the very least we can do for the men and women who've served on our behalf is to attempt to understand the battleground they face at home. Read it and then write your state, and national representatives and plead with them to provide more resources to our service people suffering from the mental traumas of Vietnam,** Iraq and Afghanistan.  

On a lighter note, take a look at this visual representation of Kurt Vonnegut's theory about story archetypes (sorry ... that sounds a little too tweed-and-leather-elbow-patchy ... it's just a graphic that shows the most common story plots. There.)

* There you can also find a really compelling piece from the New York Times magazine about the changing face of story narrators and how it reflects a cultural shift. Here's an excerpt: 
"I have since come to believe that these manuscripts reflect a more fundamental cultural shift. In evolving from readers to viewers, we’ve lost our grip on the essential virtues embodied by a narrator: the capacity to make sense of the world, both around and inside us."
This piece actually helped me figure out why I've been feeling like my novel doesn't feel very ... fresh or modern in writing style compared with what I've read lately that's new. I think it has to do with the fact that I'm using an omniscient voice rather than writing first-person. I kind of feel better about my choice now. 

** Yes, even a war that's 40 years old. As evidenced by the Vietnam Vet I met last fall, they're still fighting demons, too. I could see it in his eyes.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

When hoarding pays off

So, I'm a bit of a sentimental pack rat. There's a closet in my basement that has at least three shoeboxes filled with correspondence I've received over the years -- everything from birthday cards to notes I passed in class in high school. 

I've also saved copies of articles I've written, magazines I've edited and pages I've designed, dating back to my high school newspaper (you know because I'm sure during my next job interview I'll be busting out copies of The Purple Tide's controversial underwear issue* circa 2000 as part of my portfolio). 

My personal archives also include a file box of schoolwork from elementary school -- mostly art projects and writing assignments my past self saved in an attempt to amuse my future self. 

As it turns out, little Susie** Haller was on to something. 

I thought it'd be fun to revisit my creative past recently (OK, I was actually just looking for easy blog fodder) and I came across a collection of stories and poems I wrote when I was in fourth grade.

Here's the picture from the front of the book: 

Hmmm. Where do we begin...
So yes, as evidenced by the green pants, green shirt and green handkerchief in my hair, young Susie loved green as much as grown-up Sue does (just ask my green purse, phone cover, brand new yoga mat, sofa slipcovers, and various articles of clothing). Also, young Susie's hair demonstrates the start of a long history of resistance taming. 

And finally, the elephant in the room, why was I wearing such a festive poncho/cloak/vest? As I recall, the photo was taken on some sort of cultural awareness day. I think the poncho/cloak/vest was my grandmother's ... or maybe it was one of my sister's? Either way it was culturally significant.

But the real gem comes after the world culture's day/pumpkin patch portrait -- a timeline of sorts marking things that had occurred in my life in the past and things I expected to happen in the future:

Look! I even drew myself in green PJs!
I know what you're thinking. How was it that with such early promise I did not pursue a career in art? 

Well here's the sad thing about it, according to fourth-grade my projections, I'd thought I'd be an artist by the time I was 30. See:

Such stunning tree portraiture!
It's a shame it's about to be beamed up.
Now, I realize that a fourth grader whose career goal is to be an artist isn't very original or unusual. It probably ranks up there with veterinarian (my other career choice for years and years), astronaut, firefighter or ballerina. But it got me to thinking about being a kid and why we selected the jobs we did when we were little. It wasn't because they were practical or financially responsible, it's because we thought they'd be fun to do. 

And what person doesn't want to make a living doing something they love? Of course, the older we become, the louder the outside world gets -- drowning out the little voices of the person we were. The artist. The astronaut. The firefighter. The ballerina. 

I don't think that's to say that the majority of us who don't pursue our fourth-grade career goals are not having fun. I'm not an artist, but I've been able to make a part of my living writing, which is rewarding on so many levels. 

But I do think we should all try to remember what it was we loved doing as a kid -- what brought you joy or fascinated you? What did you think you were the best at? What could you spend hours and hours doing and not get bored? 

Those are the things we should all do from time to time to reconnect with our inner-child. I think the contentment we find there can be contagious. 

As far as the rest of my little timeline, well, I wasn't far off the mark.

The following is still true:

Sarah is the one wearing green.
And I while I gave myself a few more years of being single, I was, at least married by the time I turned 31:

I did not, however, look like Miss Havisham. 

* We did a centerspread on underwear trends including a sidebar on this history of undergarments. Grownup me is cringing.
** That's right, long before I was "mom," "Sue" or "Susan" I was "Susie," a shy, soft,*** shaggy-headed kid with big dreams and bad pants. 
*** My childhood word for "fat"

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A bowl full of jelly(fish) and opening up your right brain

We went back to the aquarium this weekend -- braving the Saturday crowds so that Lily could watch her beloved dolphins jump up and down and 'pash* in the water. Brad's parents joined us on our excursion -- a tremendous help in a place where strollers are banned and babies feel heavier by the exhibit. (Not to mention, I thought they'd enjoy watching Lily watch the dolphins. And for added adorable-ness, 10-month-old Jovie just figured out how to clap, like, yesterday, so she, too, clapped, for Chesapeake, Bailey, Noni and the rest. I know. Cuteness overload.)

As it turns out the aquarium is great place to find inspiration. After our last visit I blogged about vulnerability and this time around it's lead me to Inner Calm (with a small detour through Anxietyville). 

Here's what happened -- after stopping by the dolphins and finding out that there might not be a chance to see the dolphins 'pash and play, I was a bit stressed. For weeks we've been talking about going back the visit the dolphins so that she could clap for them. Watching them swim around underwater wasn't doing it for her. She wanted a show. And she asked about it over and over again. And that was just 10 minutes into our visit. 

We headed over to the jellyfish exhibit with a promise to Lily that we'd go visit the seahorses afterward (she spent the entirety of our time with the jellies telling Brad she wanted to see the seahorses ... her grasp on sequences of events is limited, at best). 

And it was with the jellies that I got a glimpse at Inner Peace: Gelatinous, floating blobs.

Moon Jellyfish
Seriously, I could've spent the day watching the jellies pulse and drift through the water. They were beautiful and alien and uncomplicated. 

(OK, as evidenced by the name of the exhibit, "Jellies Invasion: Oceans Out of Balancenot everyone is happy about the jellies. Massive swarms of jellies with voracious eating habits have threatened the entire oceanic ecosystem. So, that's a problem.) 

But if you can forgive them their appetites and stinging tentacles (and by the way, we humans are partly to blame for the jelly boom -- surprise, surprise) they are rather mesmerizing. 

And watching them causes your thoughts to drift in nowhere in particular. Which is better than your thoughts drifting to "I hope Lily doesn't lose her shit if we don't get to see the dolphins 'pash in the water later on." Or "What am I going to do when Jovie decides she doesn't want to be contained in the carrier anymore?" Or "Crap, I forgot to call the preschool back about my application." Or "What if the world hates me and I'm a failure at life?"

You know, those sorts of thoughts. The Jellies just float into your field of vision and wrap those thoughts into their stingy tentacles, paralyzing them and carrying them away. 

A Pacific Seat Nettle
(I think my anxiety is ensnared in the blobby white bits).
Which is why I think I need an aquarium of jellyfish in my house, because lord knows I have enough self-defeating, resentful, dark, angry, anxious and otherwise unproductive thoughts throughout the day. The thing wouldn't starve. And you know, I only have two kids under three, a dog and three cats ... what's an extra Cnidaria or two?)

I think maybe if everyone had jellyfish in their house that we'd help put a dent into those dangerous swarms and also we'd all feel a little more peaceful and maybe less prone to wearing our judgy pants). 

The jellyfish reminded me of an interview I did a couple years ago with Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroscientist who wrote about her experiences during and recovering from a stroke in the book "My Stroke of Insight."** 

One of the things she talked about during the interview (well and in the book and in her famous Ted Talk  and the presentation I saw her give at Penn State York) was how the stroke affected the function of her analytical left brain and opened up the door to her creative right brain. She had none of the "past emotional baggage, perceived limitations and critical judgments." She was able to live in the present moment and embrace her oneness with the universe.***

She said that when she wants to access that place again she tries to connect with nature. Getting outside for a walk or watching a light breeze shake the leaves on a tree. 

And I think if she went to the jellyfish exhibit, she could add that to her list of pathways to her right brain. 

Here's where I'm going to make a stretch to other thoughts plaguing me lately. In "My Stroke of Insight" Taylor writes:
“When we are being compassionate, we consider another's circumstance with love rather than judgement... To be compassionate is to move into the right here, right now with an open heart consciousness and a willingness to be supportive.” 
Honoring our creative mind allows us to connect with others and to love others, in part because it helps us be more at peace with ourselves. 

I thought about this as I read this column about the hidden poor by one of my former colleagues, Mike Argento.

He writes:
"We are turning into a coarser nation, a more unfeeling nation, a nation where 'empathy' is viewed by some to be a pejorative term. We are turning into a nation where we say we simply can't afford to assist people who need assistance just to get by, but we can afford to give huge tax breaks to the wealthiest. We stigmatize the poor to the point where it's acceptable for pols to rail about welfare recipients, but unacceptable to suggest that the wealthy contribute more to the country that enabled their wealth. Suggest that poor people are moochers and you get your own show on Fox News. Suggest that the wealthy pay slightly more in taxes and you're called a socialist and compared to Hitler." 
And it also reminded me of This American Life's excellent two-part show on a violence-plagued high school in Chicago. Listen to Part 1 and Part 2.

It is not enough to be compassionate toward the people who look like us or think like us. Compassion should be equal opportunity -- shared in even quantities with the parents of those murdered first graders and the children at inner city schools who can't catch their breath between the acts of violence they witness every day. They are all of us and we are all them.

And as Taylor points out, the power to shut down preconceptions in favor of open heartedness is within each of us. We're already wired for it. 

On days when it seems like the world just keeps getting uglier, I try to remind myself of this. 

It'd be easier if I had a jellyfish or two though.

* As evidenced by 'parkly deer and 'pashing, Lily has trouble with words that start with "st" or "sp" 

** Read this book. It's really interesting and you'll be grateful for the insight you'll get on how to take control of your negative emotional cycles for a more positive life. And it's sciencey, not new agey (for those of you concerned about such things) ... but really they're all connected.

*** OK, yes, this sounds new agey. And it is. But, again, I remind you she's a neuroscientist. And anyway, don't get hung up on preconceptions. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Live! From a parking lot (plus lost mittens)

So far, Saturn's looking like a nonevent in our neck of the woods.

Brad set up a parking lot cam at the York Daily Record to live stream the snow. Apparently there are parking lot shenanigans planned throughout the day if live video of snow falling outside of an office building won't keep you glued to your screen. Watch here:

The Beetle meets the digital age.
He also outfitted the Beetle with a dashboard camera to capture his morning commute. Who knows what perils he encountered on the way to work? (My guess is limited perils because it only took him the usual 15 minutes to get to work -- I know this because I watched his car pull into the parking lot on the snowcam -- he waved on his way in the door. This is strangely addictive.)

Actually, Brad just informed me via Twitter that we will not be seeing anything from the dashboard cam. Sigh. It could've been great: 

In related news, the squirrels are ready for some sloppy snow skiing.

I even put a bow on my skis!
I got this photo yesterday during the longest walk ever. 

I bundled up the girls and loaded them into the wagon and set out on our usual route only to discover during the last leg of the journey that Jovie was missing a mitten. So I had to backtrack. A lot. 

The sun was getting low. Jovie was starting to fuss. Lily reminded me over and over at increasing volumes about how hungry she was. "Mama, I'm very hungry!" she cried. "Mama! Mommy! Mommy! I'm hungry"

We eventually located the mitten -- abandoned in the middle of the street almost at the beginning of the walk. (Apparently Jovie's left hand got too hot early on).

We made it home and Lily promptly locked herself in her room while hanging up her coat. There was more crying and me fumbling with the little thingermajigger that unlocks old bedroom doors for, like 15 minutes. "Get me outta here!" Lily cried.

I slid some fruit snacks under the door for nourishment. Jovie helped by holding the flashlight (then chewing on the flashlight).

I was about to call my neighbor for help when I did some weird lock twisty move and the door opened.

The in-house livestream would've been eventful yesterday.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

My first yoga class (with falls and fashion faux pas!)

Namaste. (This was a re-created scene.
I'm pretty sure picture-taking
is not accepted as part of the practice.
Photo courtesy of Sarah)
I took my first yoga class yesterday.

Here's a list of things that were painful to do today: 
  • Putting on my pants
  • Bending down to pick up Jovie
  • Squatting down to clean up toys
  • Sitting on the floor
  • Running "weely, weely fast" around the house with Lily
  • Reaching for things on the top shelf in the kitchen
  • Taking off my sweatshirt
  • Lying on the couch while Lily jumped on me in an attempt to evade bedtime
For the past couple months, my sister Sarah has been telling me all about the yoga classes she's been taking and how awesome they are. Our conversations have gone something like this:

"Sue, you have to come with me," she said.

"But I've never taken a yoga class before," I said.

"It doesn't matter," she said. "There are beginners in the classes."

"I'll think about it," I said.

"You should do it," she said. "You have to see the hot guys doing yoga."

"I don't want to do yoga for the first time in front of hot guys," I said. "I'd be self-conscious."

"No you wouldn't! You'll be fine," she said.

"And it'll be with fancy people," I said. (She lives down in the D.C. area -- a much more style-conscious place than where I live).

"But you'll have me! And there are other people like us," she said (meaning other people who would laugh inappropriately and giggle about the super hip). 

"I don't know," I said.

"You should do it," she said.

Obviously, I relented. 

Brad gave me the afternoon off yesterday and I drove down to Maryland in my beloved bug, footloose and fancy free. 

I got to listen to NPR* instead of Lily's beloved "Disney princess" music. I drank a little Dark Chocolate coffee from Dunkin' Donuts. I didn't have to reach blindly in the backseat to locate missing toys or hand out fruit snacks.


I was a bit less carefree when we actually got to the studio -- Down Dog Yoga in Bethesda. I checked in, stuffed my coat and backpack into a cubby, picked up my borrowed mat and followed Sarah into a super hot room.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention we were doing hot yoga. Heated vinyasa flow to be precise.  I'm not really sure what any of that means except for the heated part. 

We settled in and she demonstrated some basic moves (positions?). I asked Sarah if I should spit out my gum. She told me she kept hers during the class because of all the breathing out ... she wanted to ensure maximum minty freshness. I shrugged and kept chewing. This decision comes back to bite me (so to speak). 

I watched the other students file in. 

"Sarah! They're all wearing stretch pants! I should've worn stretch pants."

In selecting my outfit for the class, I opted for a tank top and a pair of yoga pants I'd received for Christmas. I hadn't requested the pants because I had plans to do yoga, but rather because, as a stay-at-home mom, I felt they were a required addition to my wardrobe -- perfect for sporty trips to the grocery store and laundry day housework. 

Anyway, what with it being a yoga class, I felt like the yoga pants were an appropriate selection. It would seem I was wrong.** 

So there I was a first-timer with my bell-bottoms, chomping away on my gum waiting for the class to begin when something else unsettling happened:

The cute guy with nice arms unrolled his mat next to me.

Now, I'm a very happily married mother of two. That being said, I still would prefer not to doing my first hot yoga class next to the cute guy with nice arms.

Of course, I realize that all of my self-conscious and superficial concerns are really not the stuff of yoga. It's not about fashion or good breath or wanting to feel even slightly MILFish, it's about being part of a "supportive and loving community that uplifts, inspires and empowers every individual through the practice of yoga to live into their own greatness" (at least that's what the studio's mission statement says).

I tried to remind myself of that as the instructor welcomed us to the class. 

"Any first timers?" she asked and I waved. Wanting to make sure that everyone knew this was my first time so that when I fell on my ass, it would be OK (I know, I know. It would've been OK if it had been my 100th class ... we're all uplifting and empowering each other! I get it. Still. Not falling on my ass is preferred).

Class begins. 

Here are some highlights:
  • I kick the girl behind me in the head.
  • I take a sip of water during what I thought was a quick water break and the instructor looks over at me and reminds the class not to drink too much water because we're getting to the "twisty parts."
  • During a downward dog the instructor comes over to me holding out a paper towel in which I'm supposed to spit my gum. Much like I'm in elementary school. 
  • I close my eyes when they're supposed to be open. Failing to be present in the position ... or something.
  • I open my eyes when they're supposed to be closed. Failing to be appropriately grateful for the practice ... or something.
  • And the piece de resistance: I fall on my face causing me, my sister and the cute guy with the nice arms to snicker. I fall on my face because I was attempting to do crow position. A position, that because it was my first class, I had no idea was maybe one I shouldn't be attempting because I'm not a member of the Shanghai Circus. 
But ... (there's always a but with me isn't there?) ... despite all the embarrassment I'd definitely go back.

I was able to do a lot more of the positions (albeit not very gracefully or steadily) then I thought I'd be able to do. 

The atmosphere was supportive and uplifting (or at least, I was so busy feeling hot and trying not to fall down that I didn't feel any judgment. Well, except for the fact that the cute guy with the nice arms brought up my face plant several times after the fact, remarking how funny it was ... but not in a mean spirited sort of way). 

The instructor was half drill instructor / half zen-cheerleader -- demanding that we all believe in our own strength. She stopped by my mat frequently ... adjusting my feet or legs, challenging me to try something more difficult (but at the same time making it seem easy), answering questions. 

I think the next time I'd feel more confident. And when I did inevitably fall on my face (or ass) I'd just remind myself that it's OK (and that, because the class is in Maryland, I'd probably never see these people again). 

And in regards to my big fall, it was nice not knowing what I couldn't do (or wasn't ready to do). Not knowing my limits meant I tested them. The second you know what the limit is, is the second you start telling yourself that you can't do something. Which is exactly what I did right after I fell on my face. I didn't try again. I decided it wasn't meant to be. But I actually think I could do crow position sometime. I'm just not eager to attempt it again at the front of a class of 30 (or more?).

I liked doing something that helped connect my mind, body and spirit with a larger community (even if I didn't get that connection until the end of class when we were all breathing in synch. Together we sounded like ocean waves, it was peaceful and relaxing and something I wouldn't have experienced lying in a room, breathing by myself***). 

It's easy for me to neglect my spirit in favor of more tangible things (like feeding my body or strengthening my muscles or catering to my neuroses). I can see how practicing yoga helps unite all those parts of you. And how important it is to just let yourself go rather than worrying about everything happening around you. Maybe that's why it's called "practicing yoga" -- because it's never a completed project, there's always room for growth for everyone from newbies to oldbies.

I'm grateful to Sarah for browbeating me into joining her. I loved having the chance to see how strong and graceful she is (and to be able to giggle with her about our various missteps). 

I'm not as grateful about the prospect of getting up off the couch right now though. Cuz that's gonna hurt.

* As much as I love "The Splendid Table," I the day's discussion on city smellscapes, homemade tofu and soy sauce were like being handed parody on a platter. For example, here was part of the answer to the question, "how do you make tofu?":

"First, get good non-GMO organic soybeans. Then add good water. The kind you would want to drink -- not just any old water."

Thank you for clarifying that I shouldn't siphon water out of the toilet or head down to my local drainage pond to make my non-GMO organic tofu. I wonder if this excludes tap water, which I would classify as "any old water" but would also classify as the kind I want to drink? So confused!

** At least they were a safer choice then what has always been my go-to workout wear -- soccer shorts. (Having rejoined the gym-going community in the past month I've had the realization that I'm not fashion-forward at all when it comes to workout wear. In fact, I never knew there were trends in workout wear ... but now women wear cropped, stretchy pants to workout in (or skin-tight shorts) -- there's nary a soccer short to be found. You know, it's hard enough to try to stay on top of style for my everyday clothes, now I'm supposed to don form-fitting "performance" wear on the elliptical. It's exhausting.)

*** Ha! Jokes on you. I'm never lying in a room by myself. We have two kids, three cats and a dog. Someone's always around.