Friday, December 21, 2012

Whole Light

When I traveled in Guatemala two years ago, I vowed to not return anywhere near the supposed end of times.  In fact, I purposefully scheduled the yoga retreat I'll bring to Lake Atitlan for 2014.  I had conversations with Mayan Kakchiquel while in Guatemala about their understanding of this cycle.  They all felt their belief system signifies this time as one of transition-- & that of the doomsday prophecies were nonsense.

Then I woke this morning to the floods.  I worried I wouldn't make it to my 6 am yoga class while the car swam through high water by Cooper River.  I started scanning for swarms of locusts.  Rings of fire.

By 8 am the sun shone.

The other day Kevin heard an anthropologist explain his understanding of some Mayan foundational beliefs.  Mayans believe they were crafted in maize and sacred blood.  They understand themselves to be whole.  The contrast is against Judeo-Christian belief in original sin.  Apocalyptic beliefs are atonement-- the day of Reckoning for original sin.  If we're fundamentally sacred there is no need for atonement.  There is no beginning & no end.  Just cycles.  Transitions.

This belief system is markedly similar to the beliefs being reflected in the early records of yogic teachings, Hinduism, and Buddhism.  We are understood to be fundamentally holy beings, complete, and sacred.  Our flaws are superficial, and meant to be transcended to return to our true state.  There is no atoning-- just restoration.

Mayan Kakchiquel crabber at sunset in holy Lake Atitlan
As the solstice invites us to turn in, find light in dark, fold and reconnect, I'm hunting for that primal seed.  A kernal, inkling of True Self.  Allowing it to be illuminated in Darkness-- to shine brighter as the world tilts.

Thursday, December 20, 2012


I woke at 4:40 am & completed 108 sun salutations.

There are a few more details to include.

I woke with several nagging anxieties.  & carrying others unconsciously.

Walking in the studio, one miscommunication was resolved easily & readily.  Sweet relief, as it was with someone I care about deeply.  I sank onto my mat, into my community, and nearer my body.

This photo was taken after I led a mala during the summer solstice.  My friends said I looked like The Fonz.
Moving repetitively becomes meditation.  Meditation allows so much to surface.  The practice was process.  Like running a Half Marathon there were moments when it felt impossible and moments when it felt surprisingly easy.  Given that we're nearing the Solstice & a moment on the Mayan calendar, my sweet teacher had included several End of the World songs on the playlist. A cover of "Ring of Fire"!  I felt burnished and cleansed.  While I giggled.  (An aside about the Mayan Calendar that also makes me very, very happy-- the following Facebook status from Kevin's Uncle Bill: "Contrary to popular internet misconceptions, the Mayans are not dead and gone but alive and well in Central America.  In fact, I work with a Mayan woman everyday at St. Gregs.  She assures me that A: the world is not going to end on Dec. 21st and B: that white people are crazy.")

The practice revealed my body more fully to me.  There are areas in my body that tell me they are tight or unavailable.  However, in this repetition I could find other asymmetries.  I've had a growing suspicion that tightness in the front of my right hip might be linked to some other point on the right side of my body.  I've begun to notice that I place my hands unevenly-- the right hand nearer & the left hand further.  This impacts my shoulders, my back... my hips.  I tried to steadily even my alignment, even though that felt odd.  Making what's most healthy feel normal.

My practice has given me what I needed to stay steady through the final sun salutations.  They did feel apocalyptic.  Last night, Kevin told me about a practice he's recently begun of pretending it's the last time you'll do any task.  Even in mundane situations, you imagine you'll never again find yourself in this place.  When he was caught in traffic he imagined this would be his last opportunity to be in traffic.  From that vantage, he watched the trees more closely.  He was comfortable being present to that moment.

In the same way, knowing I was finishing this momentous practice, I took joy in the last few flows.  If only I could do that every time!  It's proof that I am sufficiently strong.  I just need to stay present to strength.  To joy.

Afterwards I met a friend for breakfast.  The conversation wandered between us, but I wound up sharing a lot about work I'm trying to do with my family of origin.  She had lovely ideas for me & generously offered her thoughts & own experiences.  I left, ran around doing holiday errands, & found my way back home.  I was faced with another piece from my parents: the boxes they continue to deposit in my home.  In the last few years my Mom has tried to clear out her house.  I understand wanting to rid oneself of clutter.  She does have a lot of room, though.  She's continually gifting me my childhood.  I receive boxes of old trophies, photos, clothes, crafts I made.  I've gone through boxes like this before when someone died.  My parents are still living.

After the mala, I'm realizing that it feels as though I'm being purged.  My parents & I don't have a close relationship.  I love them & I love what they've done for me, but there are still many unresolved issues.  I know that they're not trying to hurt me.  I don't think it's occurred to them what it might feel like to give me back my childhood.

I guess I want them to treasure these items.  I want them to hold these items & hold me.  But this process doesn't have to speak of anything than them cleaning their house.

I'm holding these feelings... & then working towards release.  I'm going through these boxes, throwing out what's dusty, ripped, & beyond repair.  Putting much towards Good Will.  Figuring out how to hold onto my own past in a way that isn't stagnating.  I might take photos of some of the artwork I did as a kid.  & let it go.

I woke at 4:40 & by noon I feel nearer to myself.  Move, breathe, repeat.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Grow Into

Kevin looked through my CDs, exclaiming, "You have Pharaohe Monch?"  Yup.  But I am absolutely not that hip.

I had that CD, Talib Kweli, and so many others in my early 20s when I also wore big hoop earrings.  My friend, Kieu, gave me several hand-me-downs when we were roommates in Cuba, so I had some of her legitimate hip hop gear on my legitimately suburban self.  Kevin & I met when I was 21, just returned from Cuba, & living in West Philadelphia.  I knew I wanted to be in radical community doing social justice organizing.  It was important to me to have race consciousness and accountability.  Most of the folks I knew who were like-minded honestly loved hip hop as an art form.

So... I respect it!  But most doesn't really resonate with me.  I have been to some great hip hop shows-- Dead Prez and the OK Player tour were super fun.  I love the poetry & conscience of artists like Common and Mos Def.  For whatever reason, Latin Alternative resonates with me on a deeper level.  Play some Manu Chao or go back to old school Nueva Trova like Mercedes Sosa & Silvio Rodriguez-- I will freak out!

Kevin began ribbing me for posing with the backpack rap.  In all honesty, I just didn't know myself well. 

I was joking about this with my friend Sonora this morning.  She also went through a phase of adopting a culture that she also really respected, but didn't truly relate to.  In her instance, she was a biker chick!  Custom made leather jacket!  Holy cow! 

Both of us glanced at our current attire (in that moment yoga wear), our current musical preferences, & other assorted likes and affiliations.  We both feel a bit more honest in our inclinations.

I had to grow into myself a good bit.  Moving from West Philly to South Jersey ultimately comforted me.  I relate much better to the suburbs than urban centers or rural areas.  Over time I've found that my body responds best to early rising, lots of time outdoors, and a vegetarian diet. 

I'm trying to assess why there was so much distance between the life I was leading in my early 20s & my true aptitudes & inclinations.  I guess in large part I came from a fairly homogenous culture.  I grew up in a predominantly white upper-middle-class suburb where most folks did sedentary white collar work.  The plan was to go to school & get a "good" job where you were paid well to stay indoors and think, write, and talk.  I can absolutely pass in that environment, but it doesn't bring out my greatest strengths nor joys.  On a larger level I think that way of living isn't terribly sustainable nor beneficial for communities and environment.

Part of why I have to wake early and be active is to quell anxiety.  When I woke up later and went to a desk for school I had too much bound energy that spun its way into worry.   Kevin & I are now learning to recognize our food as it grows in our garden, to shift our behaviors and diet towards optimal health, & be attentive to our surroundings.  This way of living feels good to me & inspiring.  Interestingly, my grandfather knew most of what Kevin & I now research in books!  It was really only lost on one generation!  My Mom was interested in more sustainable living, but met an intractable force with my father. 

Coming from that fairly rigid way of living, I had to explore a bit.  I tried on an urban identity.  I lived abroad.  Eventually, coming home I found my way back to suburbia, but suburbs inhabited by multi-racial working class families.  & a little more access to land.  & ultimately, a little more access to my own true self.

Friday, December 7, 2012


Recently I've been toying with my next moves in my yoga education.  I completed my 200 hour vinyasa teaching certification in 2010.  At that time, I was incredibly clear on my intention to study and teach yoga.  My relationship with yoga had largely shaped my life-- my Mom taught yoga while she was pregnant with me. As a child I was always peripherally aware of yoga, though I didn't attend my first class until I was 16.  I remember the lesson of breathing with movement-- exhaling when contracting and inhaling with expanding-- informed all my subsequent actions.  

I began practicing more consistently in my 20s to cope with the pressures of non-profit and grassroots work.  When my grandmother passed away, she left me a small inheritance.  I decided to use the money to cover tuition for a 200 hour teacher training program.  In this way, every time I taught would be thanks to my grandmother.  Also, I knew that teaching would offer me more practice because teachers can often practice for free in their home studios.  I hoped to teach yoga to others involved in social justice work so we could collectively sustain against burn-out.

In the last two and half years I have offered yoga seva, or yoga service classes.  I offered a free series of yoga classes at the A-Space, one of my activist homes, in West Philadelphia to activists and social workers. From that experience I offered on-site yoga at the Philadelphia Refugee and Resettlement Organization, through Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers at Northgate II, and beyond.  I still want to mindfully connect yoga with my organizing work, but I haven't figured out exactly how to do that.  Most of my organizing colleagues are time-starved.  Furthermore, there are a range of mobility levels and interest in yoga.  I'm holding the intention of creating space for health & sustenance.

Meanwhile, I continue to offer vinyasa classes at my home studio and to work with clients privately.  To grow as an instructor I pursue on-going education.  Last year I focused on adjusting and assisting training.  This year I've focused on anatomy and alignment.  

Part of my journey is in assessing where to take my training. I was absolutely clear on my purpose with 200 hour teacher training. That process made my life feel truly boundless. I'm continually surprised by the opportunities I've found as a certified, insured yoga instructor. I love yoga-- studying it, and sharing it with such a lovely community. But my 200 hour certification is kind of like an undergrad degree. Many yoga instructors go on to pursue a 500 hour certification, in which you specialize, as in a PhD. Here are some of the paths I've considered:

I attended one workshop with Ana Forrest a few years ago. I really loved learning from her. I could go on for Advanced certification with her method. The Forrest method is always practiced in a heated studio, emphasizing physical strength to work towards emotional health. That certification is usually a 9 day intensive. For more time learning from her, I would spend a month doing another 200 hour certification process.

To teach Jivamukti yoga I would have to take another 200 hour teacher training with Sharon Gannon and David Life, living at Omega or another training center for a month. They don't recognize other certifications. To then grow as a Jivamukti teacher I would need to find an instructor in NY to take me on as an apprentice. Plus, the training is one of the most expensive-- about $8,000! I'm continually drawn to the Jivamukti practice because of the soul-stirring joy. I would love to learn with Sharon & David. However, I'm unclear on how I would use that investment to best serve my students and my purpose.

I'm not all that versed in Anusara, but this past fall I've taken a few workshops on Anusara Therapeutics, a method of using yoga asana to help heal and prevent injury. There's some controversy with Anusara because it's founder, John Friend, was caught having affairs with married instructors and smoking pot. In my mind, his actions don't discredit the whole method of alignment-centric practice.

I don't have sufficient exposure to Anusara classes, but I have found a highly reputable studio in Philly that offers a 500 hour Anusara training. I'm not sure the costs, but it's close to home, & offers students the chance to specialize. I'm leaning in this direction because I love using yoga to heal. It feels consistent with my first goals of allowing yoga to sustain social justice work. So many social justice organizers have hard-won compassion stemming from trauma. I would love to have more to offer my colleagues.

Philadelphia is lucky to be home to a Senior-level Iyengar instructor, Joan White. Joan spent years studying with BKS Iyengar in Pune, India. I've been lucky enough to study with her this past semester. I plan to continue learning from Joan. Every class feels like a workshop-- I get to systematically understand each asana much more intimately.

Iyengar is the method that informed Anusara. Anusara is distinct in that it's a more flow-based practice whereas Iyengar tends to spotlight each pose. They share a heightened interest in anatomy, alignment, and rehabilitation.

I plan to continue studying with Joan, but from what I understand, there's a really stringent process of certifying Iyengar teachers through a national body. It's a little daunting!

I think the bottom line is clarifying my intention. Based on what I've written here I think pursuing the Anusara 500 hour training makes best sense. Of course, I have to clarify dates, cost, and ensure that the studio feels like a good fit.

I always joke that if I had a Sugar Daddy I would do all of these trainings! I'm a little saddened to think that I might never do the Jivamukti training with David Life & Sharon Gannon. However, if I did every training I might never apply what I learned. & I might never consider what motivated me toward each training. While I love how Jivamukti feeds my soul, I have to know exactly how I would utilize that training in my own teaching practice. I'm pretty clear on how I would utilize Anusara 500 hour training-- offering healing and practice to others involved in social justice organizing. I think I need to continue following my intention & as my primary teacher, Beth Filla, instructed me, “let this all be an offering.”

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Looking for romance in the earth

Kevin & I are currently in a Rutgers class called "Soil & Plant Relationships."  Rutgers has a solid extension program on agriculture, landscaping, & horticulture.  Last year we took a native tree identification class, which was really wonderful.  Lots of time spent wandering the New Brunswick campus & assessing alternating and opposite leaves.

This class is really helpful, but I am craving poetry!  Monday, we had morning lectures with a chemist and afternoon lectures on soil and plant biology.  Both were useful.  Because I never see myself as relating well to science, or grasping the content fully, I have to stay really present and focused to the subject and my ability to comprehend.  I find myself constantly wishing for Wendell Barry poems, or a folk-tale on the earthy depths.  I love thinking of soil and plants in relationship.  As land stewards we're being taught to facilitate the healthiest balance possible-- & find increasing awareness for both the plants' needs & the soil's response to human interference.  Ultimately, it's a project in hospitable environment.

In terms of real content, I took away the practice of regularly testing soil Ph levels & feeding compost to soil.  Perhaps the real-world application offers the most romance.  In the real world I get to know more intimately silty loam and sandy, draining soil.  My own friendships to plants and their needs deepen.

Dark, moving rich soil makes me feel lush, resourceful, and creative.  I'm more mindful of balance and support when considering the layers of humus and geology beneath my feet.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Take Shape

It's taking shape.

For years now I've felt the project of making our yard arable & our home more environmentally-sustainable to be Sisyphean.  There were so many steps before progress felt visibly measurable.  Somewhere, the scales have tipped.  Yvonne pointed out it may have been when the mighty trees were felled this summer.  I'm beginning to see our vision become real!

Already, logs from the felled trees are outlining future raised beds.  We have a new clothes line that can hold three loads of laundry!  Three!  (I tried to understand why Kevin & I create so much laundry.  A part from our physical & often messy jobs I clean almost exclusively with rags, and not throw-away materials.  It means more washing, which is OK.)  We've carved out spaces where fruit trees will be planted.  I'm watching the patterns of light to understand where crops will find their homes.

We're pulling down the previous owner's chain linked fence.  We've elected to forgo replacing the fencing for the foreseeable future.  We're bounding the property with corn, sunflowers, and cords of firewood further back at the edge of the property.  The other night we sat on a log watching a fire burning safely in an outdoor pit.  I looked happily at the cords of wood (which will only really take us through one winter.  Chopping wood is a life-long love affair).  Beyond the stacks I could see the trees emerging from the tract of wood across the dry creek bed from our property.  I felt like I had traveled somewhere fantastic.  I felt how I often do when I find myself in some magical corner of the world that is offering me new information on how to live.  I felt like the mundane had hidden vibrancy.  That we can live our lives like works of art, constantly creating, editing, retouching, learning.

So many of the fears I've gathered over these past few months are dissipating.  I've felt like I was in a strange race with money-- we want to lower our living expenses so our income needs are lower.  However, to set up the internal infrastructure that supports us, allows us to pay for all expenses in cash, & feel secure even in an untenable economy has caused me serious anxiety.  But it's happening.  Our expenses are lower.  Over the past few months many of our appliances have given up & we haven't had to replace them.  We're still not where we want to be, but we're fine.

It's all taking shape.

Friday, November 30, 2012


Every year I struggle to balance expressing joy & gratitude to those in my life while working away from consumerism.  Tricky tricky.  For most of us, gifts are attention.  We feel seen & cared for.  Plus, I'm not a fan of the holidays.  I try really hard to not be scrooge-y, even though I keep the mantra "come on Jan" running through my brain.

I try to manage myself & stay positive (especially for Kevin who LOVES this season).  I also hope to offer attention to those whose presence enriches my life.  I feel like the best solution is creating experiential gifts.  In this way, we create tradition, spend time together, feel mutually uplifted, & yet hopefully purchase and consume less.  Kevin & I have pretty much nixed any gift giving between us.  We always recognize holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries with experiences.  Our Christmas gift to one another is our annual international trip.  On my birthday I usually want to find a massage and a good meal.  On Kevin's birthday we often go to a concert or a baseball game.  On our anniversary we always go to the beach & take a photo together in our favorite photo booth.
My silly god-daughter

Our god-daughter is only 6, but her mother actually asked to stop exchanging gifts to save money.  We're game!  Instead, we recognize Christmas by inviting our god-daughter, her siblings, & parents over to decorate a gingerbread house & cookies.  Kevin is making the gingerbread from scratch this year!  The kids are creative so they love making a sugary mess.  We try to make some nice food for the parents, our friends, and give them a chance to let the kids play while someone else cleans up the mess!  Inevitably, Kevin plays guitar, the kids sing and dance, & we do some impromptu yoga.  It's one of my favorite traditions.

I've shaved down my list of gift-exchangers pretty significantly.  Eventually, I'd love to only make things for people in my life, cook for them, or invite them to something fun.  I'd love to hear about traditions or creative, non-consumptive exchanges others have invented!  Please add your thoughts in the comments below.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Sun dried

Years ago friends encouraged us to line dry our clothes in the summer.  So crazy, but I remember feeling like the practice would be a big imposition.  We put up some clothes lines & I began periodically drying my clothes outdoors.  Man, was I hooked!  I quickly discovered that sweet starchiness & no-iron convenience of letting clothes hang.  Sheets smell like sunshine.  Walking the line with our cat Laz at my heels feels soothing-- not like the familiar monotony of folding laundry in front of the TV.  Every time I go outside to hang clothes or retrieve them I'm greeted with some reward for living outdoors.  There's a new bird's nest.  Squirrels are upto something.  The clouds have created a new mosaic.

We kept our ancient dryer for years so that I could easily launder during the winter & dry comforters.  The comforters were probably that machine's demise.  A few months ago the dryer died for real.  (Prior to the end I usually had to put loads in for about three cycles before they were truly dry!  What a waste of energy.) This came at about the same moment that our oven decided to go kaput and a few other unexpected expenses arrived.  Kevin is a baker so the oven had to be replaced.  We decided to experiment with how long we could live without the dryer.  The experiment is still in motion given this is our first winter without a dryer.  Yet, here we are in November & everything is fine!

I bought two wooden clothes horses to dry clothes when it's raining outside.  However, there have been plenty of times when I haven't gotten the clothes off the line before a storm.  I leave them until the storm passes & the sun returns.  Usually, I find the most effectively spun clean laundry!  I've never lost an item & my clothes are in better shape without the wear & tear of tossing in a dryer.

We do need more space though.  I can fit about one load of laundry indoors and one load outdoors.  We both landscape, work in our yard, & I teach yoga.  We need to do a fair amount of laundry.  Kevin is revamping our clothes line as we begin putting in new raised beds for food.

I've been hesitant to publicize our "in progress" yard.  I've taken a few photos mainly to save for when we realize that magical "done" time.  I'm realizing that nothing is ever done & I've got nothing to prove.  Here is our work in progress.

The posts are from the old clothes line.  Too much metal!
Kevin's leg in the hole for the posts
Making it yoga
Bird's eye view: a whole lotta potential.  The woods begin on the otherside of a dry creek bed.  Our property line actually extends as far right as the edge of the photo.  The old fence is coming down!  All the stacked wood is from the trees we had to take down this past summer.  They're becoming the boundaries for our raised beds & firewood.
The new clothes line!  After a lot of research we elected this model.  Most practical!  All the soil underneath is from levelling the ground.  We're going to plant a steppable groundcover-- maybe vinca?  Something hearty & pretty to sort of designate this area.  All the area beyond, where there's currently wood stacked, will be raised beds, and fruit trees.
In use!  Two loads of laundry with a third ready to join!  Kevin's framing out a raised bed a few feet behind.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Plant Rights

Part of the reason I am excited to travel to Ecuador this winter is to better gauge what it's like to live within a Constitution that recognizes rights of the natural world.  Ecuador's Constitution changed in 2008 to offer rights to plant life and acknowledge other aspects of the natural world, like rivers and soil.  I've experienced some of a cultural shift towards greater ecology in Costa Rica, where so much of public life is dominated by ideas on sustainable stewardship of land.  National parks close at least one day per week to allow plant and animal life to live unimpeded by human interruption.

Recently I came across an NPR piece profiling the plant's rights movement.  Early in the piece, the author described a debate between a plant's rights advocate and a dissenter, who described plant's rights as a challenge to the animal rights' movement.  The logic is that by acknowledging that plants feel and sense similarly to sentient life, complicates animal advocates urge towards plant-based diets.  I hear that, but I also have a hard time with how quick like-minded people are to argue.  I'm not saying that exploring ideas and controversy shouldn't be encouraged.  However, it seems that similarly-minded people are quick to define boundaries and areas of conflict.

I've been a vegetarian since I was 18 for both moral and health reasons.  I do eat a plant-based diet, but I will eat eggs and dairy, especially if I'm traveling in a part of the world where a strictly plant-based diet is challenging to realize.  I absolutely believe that plants feel.  Certainly they may not feel to the extent a pig or a human does.  There is evidence of human-like behavior in plants ranging from responses to music or chemically responding to other plants living nearby.  I don't think that respecting plants means I won't or can't eat them.  I have complicated feelings around eating eggs and cheese, mainly because of my absolute opposition to the meat and dairy industry in the US.  Ideally, I'd like to either grow or know the source of all my food.  Knowing that my food feels and lives as I do inspires in me a desire to show more reverence and respect for what I eat.  & to advocate just as strenuously for both animal and plant life.

Examining our role in the food cycle doesn't mean we'll arrive at purity.  In my mind, paying attention to consumption and the lives of what (& who) we eat is perhaps a spiritual act.  A reminder that we're all connected within the larger realm of life, that we really are comprised of soil and earth, and to perhaps show greatest gratitude for sustenance by offering rights and respect for all plants, animals, and living forces.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Memory, Appropriation, and Gratitude

Listening to the Carolina Chocolate Drops, I've heard this band cover songs ranging from traditional Haitian  folks songs to Gaelic ballads.  They're primarily known as an African American Old Time string band, but their musical reach is far more expansive.  There are a few things happening with them that make me super excited.

Old Time musicians seem to always be historians.  I love that they are so invested in lineage.  It reminds me of yoga-- you can identify various practitioners by their teachers & trace everyone back to the same source.  Two of the Chocolate Drops identify Joe Thompson as a primary teacher, educating not just on traditional songs and styles of performance, but on each song's lineage and history.  Through oral telling and scholarship, the banjo relates its long voyage from Africa to the Americas.

Another piece that sets me alight-- the music they play encompasses the whole of their heritage.  As Americans of mixed descent-- African, Irish, and Caribbean ancestry (though I'm sure that's not a complete list)-- the musical strains are a composite of their background.  The last time I heard such a complete telling of lineage was studying abroad in Cuba.  I went to a ballet folklorico performance in Havana.  The performers danced ballet, acknowledging Western European influence, Flamenco nodding to Spanish heritage, West African dance forms, traditional Indigenous movement, and culminating in exploratory modern pieces.  It was so lovely to encounter such an embracing remembrance.

There has been a lot of controversy over white musicians appropriating Black music.  Elvis Presley garnered attention for taking Blues songs and bringing them to white audiences, often without acknowledgment of the source.  White hip hop artists are often asked for accountability in working within a traditionally Black musical realm.  The issue is often one of recognition for the musical trajectory as well as disproportionate access.  In the United States, white people have access to most neighborhoods, physical spaces, as well as artistic mediums.  There is still institutional racism, meaning people of color often do not share that same movement between physical and cultural spheres.  For white people to also adopt traditionally Black music can feel assuming, at the most innocent characterization.  (My friend Kieu used to term appropriators "culture vultures.")

These musicians, primarily identifying as African American, are playing a range of music encompassed within their own heritage.  Within that primary identifier as African American, they also play traditional Gaelic songs.  I can't think of another African American group or artist playing traditionally white-identified music.  The music is beautiful & the Carolina Chocolate Drops perform it masterfully.  It's so beautiful to hear the resonance of these performers sharing music that is a part of their heritage alongside strains from their other forebearers as far south as Haiti.  The music feels powerful and grounded because it's offered with historical knowledge, musical expertise, & creative feeling.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops know and study the history of the music they share.  They share minstrel music and offer what it meant to various communities and how it allowed Black artists to perform when they were otherwise excluded from public art.

As much as their music moves me, it also excites me to understand how we can respectfully honor and exult cultural tradition.  I think the key piece is they acknowledge lineage.  They acknowledge history.  They tell the stories of who could perform what music at what time.  What type of personal cost some of these musicians suffered.  The Carolina Chocolate Drops offer music in full context, with full story, and then add the flavor and swagger of today's experience.  The end result isn't a melting pot where identities are blurred or lost.  Rather, a full-bodied acknowledgment and passionate reply to generations and regions of sound.

Their music is helping me acknowledge Thanksgiving.  I often struggle with this holiday.  I love sharing gratitude and a meal with family.  I love tradition-- when it binds together.  However, I have a hard time embracing a tradition that white-washes the historical encounter between Indigenous and European colonizers.  The romantic story of sharing obscures the larger historical reality of a genocide of Indigenous people in the Americas.  The music of the Carolina Chocolate Drops reminds me to both acknowledge history, to recognize the experience of Indigenous people today, and to hold onto the gratitude and community of a Thanksgiving gathering.  Rather than allowing the nostalgia of the day wipe away historical memory, let that knowledge mingle with the positive pieces of building family, connection, & awareness.

Monday, November 19, 2012

My first Half Marathon!

Last year Kevin, myself, & three friends joined Team Vegan in running the Hahnemann 8K as part of the Philadelphia Marathon.  Our fundraising benefited the Humane League's animal rights campaigns.  We had a blast, so we added more folks onto our 8K group, & Kevin & I joined the Philadelphia Half Marathon.

We trained together (though I didn't train nearly as much as I'd hoped to!).  Maria & Tina had never run these distances before-- but did so incredibly well!

These were the only two finishing photos that came in clearly.  Finishing strong!

Last year, Josh, second from left, came in first for his age group.  This year he ran the 5 miles in 28 minutes!

The following day Kevin & I ran the Half Marathon.  I couldn't photograph Kevin (because I was behind him) but Maria took this photo of me:

I hadn't trained nearly as much as I'd hoped to & I had a cold-- but I did it!  Erica had written me to meditate on Ganesh & Ogum, & that she would send me light legs.  That thought actually helped tremendously.  Everytime I felt overwhelmed I silently chanted "Om gam ganapatye namah," a chant to Ganesh I often offer during my yoga practice.  One of my teachers, Beth, taught me that chanting Sanskrit is said to impart the meaning on various layers of your being.  The internal vibrations help create a similar clarity to that of meditation.  Maybe I was highly suggestible but it worked!

The crowds cheering & waving signs were also so encouraging.  On Front St in South Philly I ran past a sign that read, "If you were Paul Ryan you would have been here an hour ago."  Ha!  

At the end of the race the loudspeakers were blaring Sinatra's "New York, New York," to welcome home marathoners from the Sandy-cancelled NY Marathon.  The huge cheering crowds, big swaying song, & my own exhaustion made me teary.  It was so surreal.  I honestly thought I might cry.  Then I saw the finish line! I know you have to finish strong.  I pulled some reserve out from somewhere and gunned it to the end.  Felt like I might pass out as I crossed the line & slowed to a walk-- usually I feel like I'll throw up.  I guess it's an indication that I'm pushing, right?

My time wasn't as good as I'd hoped (2 hours 34 minutes), but no matter.  Next year I'll train more and improve.  Kevin did really well!  He finished his first Half Marathon in Norfolk years ago at 2 hours.  This year he came in at 2 hours and 4 minutes-- after running the first four miles slowly with me & also not having trained.  He's a really strong runner.

I'm so glad to have run & to do so with people I love.  Onto next year's races!


Recently I was approached to share my story on The Yoga Diaries.  It was lovely to receive an invitation, and a treat to discover this resource of reflections on yoga's restorative power.  My contribution, Held by the Whole, was recently published.

So many of us have found yoga to regroup during tenuous times.  I began remembering other stories of what "saved" those that I love.  There were stories of specific teachers, activities, an illuminating trip, a relationship.  The common thread was overcoming struggle.

I'm only 31.  My personal narrative has involved a transformation through struggle for more than a decade now.  I hope my life is long... which means I've formed identity around this journey in what might ultimately be a small percentage of the scope of my life.  Others have described epic struggles at younger ages.  I'm hard-pressed to find someone who can't describe a shaping encounter with obstacle.  Maybe I run in specific circles?

Does this make us each the hero of our own stories?  Does this make us a more understandable protagonist?  Is this what provides meaning?  It certainly has given my life meaning.  My encounters with struggle have grown my capacity for empathy.  They're what help me understand why I should be involved in social justice work, what life can feel like in various circumstances, what our roles are to one another.  During my darkest moments, I felt purposeless.  My voyage to the other side was in finding a role to play.

Perhaps what's offering me pause is the heroic aspect.  Why does life have to feel like a linear narrative?  Does it not to some?  I have a knee-jerk hesitation around admiring "heroes."  I love super-hero movies with the rest of them.  They're understandable, fantastic, and fun.  However, in real life, I hope to embrace the whole of each of us-- that we rise in certain moments, perhaps heroically, and we struggle in others.

Does our own self-image of starring in our own show cast equal light on personal evolution?  Full fallibility?  Perhaps the meaty journey is arriving sufficiently formed to question ourselves.  If yoga, a teacher, an event, become catalyst to stabilize us, we have reached a victory.  For so many, lives can be consumed with the art of survival.  It's a rare privilege to probe meaning.

Friday, November 16, 2012


I'm grateful to feel close to friends whose experiences diverge greatly from mine.  Years ago Kevin visited an independent bookstore in rural New England, with a friend of ours whose family largely hailed from the Bronx.  Our friend found few children's books featuring children of color.  She asked the proprietor why a wider selection wasn't available.  She wasn't angry or confrontational, but her voice grew louder during the exchange.  The proprietor became wide-eyed and defensive.  Later, she said to Kevin, "I forget that you can't talk to folks around here the way you do in my family or community.  In my community, people would respond as assertively.  Here, they shut down."

The exchange was so illuminating to me.  I shared this with another mutual friend.  This second friend grew up in a predominantly white environment, as did I, but she grew up in a poorer community.  However, we both grew up with volume signifying similar information.  Volume-- yelling or shouting-- was pretty violent.  It was reserved for really intense moments of conflict.  It generally shut down communication.

Since those formative years, both my friend & I have found ourselves in communities and relationships where  expression varies greatly.  We have friends that we hold near & dear who communicate loudly, quickly, almost explosively.  Yelling doesn't signify anything more than passion, or strong feelings.

Similarly, in these instances conflict is generally more public.  I remember my parents fighting when I grew up, but they would quickly shut a door and resolve their dispute in private.  I never saw resolution.  That was perhaps a little more upsetting than witnessing a fight.  My parents had money to afford privacy, rooms with doors to shut, and had come from a culture where conflict was frowned upon.

Many of my friends who grew up in poor or working class communities couldn't afford the same level of privacy.  In some instances, class played a lesser role, & culturally there was a tradition of being more open about conflict and resolution.  Conflict was viewed as an inevitability of relationships, nothing to judge nor sequester.  Therefore, when it emerged, it was brought quickly to the surface and dealt with.

In some ways, I feel like this approach makes conflict less scary.  Both Kevin & I come from cultural norms of stifling a fair amount of interpersonal conflict.  We're both working to be a little more transparent.  A lot of what drives me towards greater levels of openness is the acknowledgment that I need help!  I don't know how to resolve plenty of issues.  I know I have problems and that they emerge.  Even though it can be uncomfortable, I think the more my issues and disagreements are visible, the more I'll receive advice and aid when it's needed.  If I feed the tendency towards closeting conflict, there's a strong likelihood that I won't be able to resolve it.

I'm not necessarily an advocate for yelling.  A friend of mine described a workplace encounter where she was yelled at.  She matched volume in her response.  As the behavior was mirrored, the yelling diminished.  However, I think that understanding better why yelling is acceptable in some communities can be instructive. Sometimes, yelling is acceptable in tandem with abusive behavior.  I wouldn't want to be naive about the possible implications.  Similarly, environments with level, calm voices are not always entirely healthy.

As I travel, I'm listening to the patterns of speech.  In Vietnam, people spoke very quickly to one another.  Especially in the north, it almost seemed like folks yelled in normal conversation.  Often, this was paired with a smile, helping me understand that the volume and staccato patterns didn't correspond to aggression.  In Guatemala, I spent time with Kakchiquel Mayans, speaking Spanish with them though it was my second language & their's, after Kakchiquel.  Kakchiquel invited in a soft lulling rhythm.  Their voices ebbed along an almost Swedish musicality.  I saw physical stances-- hands on hips, tightened brows-- signifying tension even when whispering this sing-song Spanish.  The softness of their speech often didn't change when the content swayed from peaceful to contentious.

In yoga there's this idea that nothing is inherently good nor bad.  Yelling is not inherently good nor bad.  Our responses assign value or judgment.  This is helpful for me to remember as I work to clarify my own communication, stop clinging to or hiding my issues, and listen.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Finding your path in Costa Rica

Five years ago Kevin & I bypassed Tofurkeys and chose Thanksgiving in Costa Rica.  Best decision ever.  We remembered it was Thanksgiving in the United States while watching the sun descend over the ocean.  I've since sent friends and clients to Costa Rica.  It's a great place to travel-- Costa Rica implemented one of the first sustainable tourism models.  Not without its kinks, it's still a fantastic effort towards protecting land and resources while reinvesting tourism dollars into the host economy.

Here are a few of my tips for Costa Rica travel:

San Jose
Most international flights will take you to the capital.  You can fly to Liberia, on the West Coast, but it is more expensive.  San Jose is a nice place to live & work, but it's not that exciting for a traveler.  A gem is Hotel Grano de Oro.  It is more costly than many of the hotels I frequent, but in this case I think it's worth it. The hotel's cafe is probably the best restaurant in San Jose.  You'll need slightly formal wear for dinner-- jackets for guys, skirts for ladies.  Again, I rarely even pack this type of attire, but it's worth it for Grano de Oro.  We punctuated the beginning and end of our Costa Rican journey with the sweet sophistication of the open courtyard and high mountain air.

This artsy town on the Nicoya Peninsula is my favorite spot in Costa Rica.  We were drawn to this small village because it's nestled between ocean and protected jungle.  Given these conditions, the town cannot grow much.  Instead, this three street stop overflows with artists, farmers, environmental conscience, and local life.  This town is also home to one of Costa Rica's top restaurants: Playa de Los Artistas.  (Can you tell I pay a lot of attention to food when traveling?)

Oso Peninsula
It's hard to reach, but that's part of its charm.  I've been reccomended away from this region during the euphemistically termed "green season" (read "rainy season").  Roads can wash out completely.  Check into conditions.  It's worth the trip!

Last stop on the Caribbean coast before Panama.  We haven't made it there yet, but it's on my short list for our next jaunt to Costa Rica.  I feel a little kinship to the area, having spent time on the opposite side of the border.  A few years ago Kevin & I stayed in Bocas del Toro, Panama, an archipelago directly across the border from this town in Costa Rica.  It's a breath-taking region.  It's also a rain forest, and there is rain most of the year.  This means the area is verdant and fresh, but if you're looking for sunny days you probably want to head to the Pacific side.

Last Bits
It's easy to be vegetarian in Costa Rica and possible to be vegan.  (It may mean making friends with lots of beans and rice.)

There are tons of vacation homes to rent with groups.  Costa Rica is a really approachable destination for groups of people-- this can also be a great way to cut costs.

Consider supporting community efforts and environmental work while traveling.  There are great ways to be involved and know the land more intimately.

We loved spending November in Costa Rica.  You're at the tail end of the green season, so plant life is lush and verdant after several months of hydration.  Prices are still lowered and don't begin rising until December.  Tourist crowds are also lower.  It was truly ideal.

I hear some people complain that Costa Rica has less of a cultural presence than neighbors like Nicaragua or Panama.  It's debatable.  Admittedly, I tend to be pretty polly-anna-ish about any opportunity to travel, & therefore become enthusiastic of some aspect of my host location.  Decide why you're going to any destination.  Some of the enticing features of Costa Rica are the land itself.  Let its presence speak most loudly-- and respect the inclinations of Costa Ricans to offer it time, privacy, shelter, and space.

Wanna go?  I'd be happy to help with the logistics.  Email

Monday, November 12, 2012

Bewildered Love

Beth urged Kevin to read Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.  Kevin mandated I read it.  I absolutely love the writing, the atmosphere, and scope of Middlesex.  It's also weighed by the protagonist's reconciliation of an ambiguous sexual and gender identity in a world with little room for that indeterminacy.  There are many moments of levity as I'm speedily moving through this grand tale.  This morning, my mind continues to return to the protagonist's absolute knowledge that his parents love him.  They're sad, somewhat confused, and struggling, but completely in love and connected to their child.

I'm gradually opening my eyes wider to the simultaneous distance and nearness between parents and children.  I am not a parent, but at age 31, I'm beginning to identify more with that end of the spectrum.  With greater sympathy, I'm considering the experience of raising a child away from your own home culture and watching children's quick identification with their surroundings.  What is it like to birth a child who speaks a different language, pronounces a different accent, or can't comprehend you, their parent?

On paper, my lineage is pretty linear.  My grandparents and parents have all inhabited the eastern seaboard of the United States for a few generations.  Interestingly, that geography means less when considering the huge economic and cultural shifts on this land during that time.  My Dad and I certainly have inhabited different planets while coexisting in the same house.  Born in the 1930s as a white man he is to this day absolutely baffled by my politics and lifestyle.  However, I know he loves me.

Reading Middlesex, I came to a passage where the protagonist exposes her heartbreak over not knowing who he was, where he belonged, or what his life looked like, in the company of his parents.  Their sympathy and tenderness was compelling, and touching, as Eugenides illuminated their own longing to understand and truly comfort their child.  I remembered being the protagonist's age, about 15, and visiting my paternal grandmother in her nursing home.  I always loved her, because she was my grandmother and kind.  I never understood her.  She was raised in Arlington, VA by a judge and a mother prone to fainting spells.  Her mother thought it would be cute to raise her and her sister, a year and a half her senior, as twins.  For that reason, my grandmother entered school much earlier than reccommended.  From then on she was considered the "pretty one" while her older sister was deemed the "smart one."

From that world of crossed ankles, isolation, and a woman's sphere, she birthed my father.  My father always said the US in the 1950s worked for him-- I guess so.  He was a white man with access to an undergrad degree at Princeton and a law degree from Harvard, where he was classmates with Ralph Nader. At age 48, he unexpectedly fathered me.  Ha.

Back to age 15, visiting my grandmother.  The previous summer I had pierced my nose while visiting Scotland.  When I returned home my mother literally pulled the earring out of my nose and hid it.  When she went out that night I blasted Ani DiFranco's then-new album, "Little Plastic Castles," through my headphones, cleaned the piercing, sterilized a safety pin, and used that to keep the hole open.  The nose ring ultimately lasted throughout high school.

During that time my long hair was a rainbow.  It was mainly "My So-Called Life" red, but there had been purple streaks, there would be a bleaching, and at one moment cotton candy pink locks.  After careful consideration I had elected to shed it all.  At a friend's house chunks of my hair were released around me until my friends shaved my head.  I went to school the following Monday and was called "Bald-i-locks."  My Mom thought I looked like a cancer patient.  I also was shaving only my head at that point.  My Dad opened the door for me one day and said, "Ladies first."  As a feminist, I glared and replied, "I'm not a lady!"  "No," he answered, "I guess not."

Despite all of that.  Despite a bald, nose-ringed grand-daughter.  Despite a bald, nose-ringed granddaughter in 1996, when all of this was less common than it is now.  Despite.  I remember my grandmother gazing at me and I knew she loved me.  I knew she didn't understand.  She was pretty baffled by the statement I was so obviously making.  She didn't understand my motivations nor what I was communicating to her and the rest of the world.  But she really loved me.

I always think of this when I remember her.  She didn't understand me, but she was capable of loving what she didn't understand.  I find that same comfort watching friends of parents who emigrated, or immigrant friends rearing their children here.  I find that same comfort in friends whose experiences diverged from that of their caregivers for any number of reasons.  We often don't understand, but somehow we can still reach out of our bewilderment and love.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Running with Teenagers

I'm thankful to have some teenagers in my life.  They're wonderful.  Passionate, opinionated, energetic, sweet, hopeful, and often bothersome.  Recently, two of these teenagers, a 15 & 17 year-old girl, have begun running earnestly.  Today the three of us did a 5 mile loop through West Philly.  This was my second run with them.

They are so strong.

They are so capable.

I love it!  I love running with young women, as they grow into their bodies with full awareness of their strength.  As we looped away from the Spring Garden bridge and headed south through Drexel's campus I remembered my own relationship with my body at their age.  I guess a more apt characterization would be lack of relationship.  My body felt foreign, misrepresentative, uncooperative, & challenging.  I can't speculate what either of these young women feels, but I know what I see.  They're running with increased confidence and consistency.  They support each other and themselves.  They walk tall.  They're building respect-- for themselves, one another, the land they run on.

Sometimes I wonder if running, yoga, swimming, all of it is indulgent.  It certainly can be.  It's easy to get lost in your own time and mileage and forget about the wider world.  But if tread with balance all physical work can be utterly transformative.  I'm so impressed by these young women and invigorated by the way they're walking through the world.  Advocacy for animals is crucial.  Challenging the prison industrial complex is essential.  Running with teenage girls, supporting and loving young people, is just as imperative.  I'm so thankful to watch them grow.

My god-daughter, her cousin, one of my teenage running partners, & me

Finishing the Hanneman 8K with the Humane League's Team Vegan in 2011

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Another friend has emerged with limited power and stories to tell of an experiment with fractured infrastructure.  Mike is near New York City.  We all acknowledge how different these experiences are from those affected in the Caribbean, or living in an impoverished community before Sandy hit.  For him, and many like him, he described this experience as a little taste and a type of academic sampling of how to live when there's no gas, power, or water.  He's smartly rationing water for himself and his animals.  He asked himself and me how we would get water if a weather event, or any event for that matter, was more long-term?

The million dollar question.

Kevin and I are slowly trying to live more sustainably.  We grow more food, don't own a clothes dryer (though I've yet to cede other appliances; like the washer or oven), go to bed early (less electricity), and generally are trying to simplify our consumption.  Water is tricky.  We actually do live up against a dry creek bed.  In Sandy's wake, it's no longer dry.  In fact, years ago when I first moved in there was usually about three feet of water.

Mike knows of creeks near his house.  He's hypothesizing how long he could treat the water to make it potable.  What about when you run out of tablets?  What about when you run out of propane to boil water? It's really hard to bring water to a boil with a wood-burning fire.

This conversation is reminding me of Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower.  This novel is one of the most realistic dystopias I've encountered.  Infrastructure has imploded and those surviving are living communally off land.  They're studying Indigenous recipes to make flour from acorns and seed-saving.  The novel is dark, but also hopeful and beautiful.

The beautiful irony-- when there's so much water-- but can you drink it?
My hope is that none of us are asked to answer these questions.  However, so many people in the world have no choice but to answer them.  In communities already devastated from decades of colonial exploitation and resource devastation, like Haiti, severe weather is quickly brutal.  Creative solutions are emerging-- or maybe more accurately resurfacing.  Implementing sustainability before we have to helps us build muscle and capacity.  Paying attention to how people to cope might be most instructive.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Forget to Die

Mike sent me another great article about longevity.  You know those stories of clusters of centarians?  Apparently, this is often a case of a community of folks without birth certificates or other records to verify their ages thinking they're older than they actually are.  Many communities who thought they'd discovered keys to long life may have found other treasures-- like greater health into old age-- but weren't necessarily living longer on average.

The communities where people were verifiably living significantly longer than the rest of us are geographically far and culturally distinct.  The common factor is that folks are happy.  The researchers were curious to discover the underpinning of happiness.  A few trends emerged-- these folks all slept as much as they wanted.  People woke naturally and spent a few hours in their garden.  They took another nap in the afternoon, and then stayed up well into the evening spending time with friends.  Sufficient, naturally dictated rest greatly aided health.  The diets in all regions varied, but were mainly plant-based and locally sourced.  Even though unemployment was as high as 40% in some of these regions, most had access to natural resources, like land to garden.  This kept people outside, moving, and purposeful.  None of these communities exercised in any contrived way, but rather had plenty of movement integrated into their days.

All asked also reported healthy, regular sex lives.  (Kevin has some great stories of 70 year old guys making the same claims.  It always makes me laugh though-- "honey, I need sex.  It's important for my health!")  There were also strong cultural ties that created intact communities.  Most people lived inter-generationally allowing elders to play a role and younger generations to have stronger familial ties.  People had community, tradition, and a sense of belonging.

The reporters found that part of why these communities maintained these factors on a whole was due to isolation.  The Greek island was subject to winds that made it undesirable as a shipping port.  I think there was a similar condition in Japan.  Given that these communities were slightly isolated, larger trends to schedule, seek "convenience," and change diet weren't encountered.  If any one factor was removed, the whole disintegrated.  However, because diet, schedule, movement, and community continued to be reinforced, community members enjoyed greater health and well-being without even noticing how much their lives contrast to those of much of the rest of the planet.

Writing this I immediately think of the Nearings.  They too lived to be centarians and they lived very similarly to these communities experiencing collective longevity.  This reminds me that none of us has to live on an enchanted island.  It may be slightly more challenging, but we can realize some of these same benefits by appropriating these behaviors wherever we are.

I feel like it's important to make a distinction here-- I have never been interested in long life for long life's sake.  My greatest interest is a purposeful life.  If quality of life is great, than I adore the possibility to experience more of that satisfaction.  This is exactly the mutually enforcing parallel of these centarians-- they continue to live because living continues to be pleasurable.

I ran through the list for longevity-- I'd like to get some more rest but a part from that I think I'm well on my way to fruitful golden years!  Here's to years of happiness!

Thursday, November 1, 2012


I don't follow a ton of traditions, but those I have adopted are dearly held.  When Amya became my God-daughter we began the tradition of making gingerbread houses together every winter.  Usually the frosting-fueled madness evolves into dancing while Kevin plays guitar, doing some impromptu yoga, and sending the sugar-frenzied kids home to their mother, my friend, Pixie.

Yeah.  I'm going to pay for all that one day.

Another tradition I adore is Day of the Dead.  I never really understood the meaning of this day until I came across an explanation by Barbara Kingsolver in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  Kingsolver writes, "I'm drawn to this celebration, I'm sure, because I live in a culture that allows almost no room for dead people.  I celebrated Dia de los Muertos in the homes of friends from a different background, with their deceased relatives, for years before I caught on.  But I think I understand now.  When I cultivate my garden I'm spending time with my grandfather, sometimes recalling deeply buried memories of him, decades after his death.  While shaking beans from an envelope I have been overwhelmed by a vision of my Pappaw's speckled beans and flat corn seeds in peanut butter jars in his garage, lined up in rows, curated as carefully as a museum collection.  That's Xantolo, a memory space opened before my eyes, which has no name in my language."

This passage continues to move me, in part because my own experience of gardening is so infused with love and remembrance of my grandparents.  They were the first example I saw of people eating what they grow.  They had such a sweet rhythm, after passing over 60 years in one another's company.  Without many words, they erected trellis for grapes, painted the trunk of the pear tree, harvested tomatoes for my grandmother to can, fry, or serve fresh.  I don't think I would be drawn to soil the way that I am if my grandfather hadn't shown me it's richness as a child.

Even though I wasn't attentive to learning directly from them, their example was imprinted on me.  My grandmother gave birth to my mother when she was 28-- late for her generation.  My mother birthed me at 39-- late for hers!  I'm grateful that my grandparents lived into their 90s so that I was able to have a relationship with them.  However, if there hadn't been so many years between us I would have loved to have learned more from them.

That memory space of xantolo sometimes also becomes apparent to me in yoga.  I feel things in my body that seem remniscent of who I come from.  I remember experiences of my family members and feel the impact in my own body.  The linear nature of time feels a bit untethered-- in some ways yoga makes me feel younger than years ago, when I began practicing.

To honor xantolo, the imprint of those we love in us and upon us, I usually read the longer section on Day of the Dead from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle to my yoga students.  I put them somewhere where most people are happy-- like legs up the wall-- and gradually tell this story.  Some of them are intimately familiar with this tradition.  To others, it's brand new.  While describing lush feasts to share at gravestones my students may walk their feet, knees bent, to the left to feel a twist.  Approaching the next paragraph their feet migrate right.  We gradually move, and let these stories deepen in our joints.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


I've been thinking & writing a good bit on Sandy-- just not here.  Check out the following for some ruminations on environment, community, and action:

After the Storm on Yoganonymous

Kissing Bill McKibben on Elephant Journal

Being in Sandy on Yogawood's Blog

Yoga During a Time of Crisis on MindBodyGreen

Here are some of the relief efforts working in affected areas:

Food Not Bombs does important on-going work against poverty & homelessness, and is responding to the additional need of the current crisis.

Those on the Lower East Side of Manhattan can connect here to exchange resources.

I have friends working in Atlantic City and along the shoreline, but as of today, Halloween, no one can access those areas.  I believe donations can be sent through the Red Cross and other relief organizations.

Stay safe.

Happy Halloween!

OK, generally I only post images that Kevin or I have created.  I have no idea where this is from.  My friend Julia posted it on Facebook & I think it is AMAZING.  I would be a parent just to create this Halloween Ensemble.  Yup, great impetus towards parenting.  

Anyway, get wild, & enjoy Halloween!

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Prayer for American Chestnuts

Another goodie from Mike:

"Nature teaches more than she preaches. There are no sermons in stones. It is easier to get a spark out of a stone than a moral.

How beautiful the leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days.

To learn something new, take the path that you took yesterday."

- John Burroughs

I'm trying to figure out how to express on the page my hands clapping wildly, and big full throated cheers. Those. & a grateful smile.

This quote reminds me of a story related to me by Kevin about his first Goddard advisor, Ralph. Ralph lives somewhere in the vicinity of Shenandoah. He loves place, being in it, of it, located.  Awhile back he invited some other fabulous Goddard faculty, his friends, all world travelers, to spend time with him near his home.  One morning he excitedly invited them on a hike.  As they passed hours in these mountains that he knows so intimately, one after another they began questioning Ralph about the surprise, how long it would take, when they would reach it.  Finally Ralph stopped, pointed to a small sapling, and exclaimed, "Look!"  His friends asked him the significance.  "It's an American Chestnut!  They were nearly obliterated by the great Chestnut Blight of 1904."  Imported Chinese Chestnuts brought a blight that took out nearly all American Chestnuts throughout the East Coast.  Slowly, over time, a few Chesnuts have been found.

Barbara Kingsolver's "Prodigal Summer" involves a subplot of nurturing these trees & seeking to protect them from this blight still plaguing trees.  

Learn something new-- take the path you took yesterday.  

There's a skunk eating our fall crops.  I've learned that squirrels like to eat tomatoes.  Or at least they do this season.  In down dog every day I feel my spine breathe longer.  In sirsasana everyday I feel my body accept balance.  

Take the path you took yesterday.  When I look at Kevin's face I see the face I met when he was 18.  I see years together, and years ahead.  I see his first silver hairs & I love them.  I can't wait to see more gather.

Somedays my meditation is chopping wood.  Somedays my prayer is for American Chestnuts.  Right now my wish is to know my body like I know land, to step lightly, not be reluctant to receive rain, and cherish earth.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Remain Imperfect

I miss my grandmother.  My maternal grandmother gave me my real name, Margaret, twice baked potatoes, her warm lap, & a Southern sensibility.  She was raised in Tennessee, attended Tennessee State Teacher's College in the 1930s, was an orphan by her first year in college after her mother committed suicide and her father had a heart attack.  She gave birth to my mother while living with her Aunt Izzy in Chattanooga, TN.  My grandfather remained in the South Pacific during World War II for two years.  Upon his return they raised both my mother & uncle in Atlanta, GA.

She was pretty great.

& kind of a mess.

I always felt closest to her.  She loved literature like I did.  When she caught me staying up past my bedtime to read she told me that she used to hide in the barn to sneak novels.  She read "Gone with the Wind" staying up one entire night.  In her later years she read crate fulls of Harlequin romances.  Upon completion she donated them to her church.  I heard her tell my Mom that if she'd discovered them 50 years earlier she would have given my grandfather "a much better time of it."

Because I wanted her to be a pure link to a family that didn't always know how to hold close it's own, I often ascribed qualities and values to her, without sufficient knowledge about her true feeling and inclinations.  Towards the end of her life I wanted to know her a bit better and asked more questions.  Truthfully, her own sensibilities were pretty divergent from mine.  It makes sense.  She was raised in an entirely different era. During the Great Depression she became an orphan and watched her four younger siblings be sent to family members throughout the country.  She married my grandfather, who had a pretty severe, though undiagnosed, struggle with bipolar disorder.

I miss her.  Recently, I find myself reminiscing about her & once more casting her in a nostalgic mold of the woman I wanted her to be.  & I find that to be such a disservice.  It's not true that she was an infallible role model for me.  It's not true that she always loved & supported me fully-- she wasn't loved & supported fully by those nearest to her either.  She loved & supported me as best she was able.  She was truly smart, funny, & curious about the world.  She was also ambitious for her children and grandchildren.  She was honestly mystified that I would want to grow food, limit my interactions with technology, and not seek an exorbitant income.  She cared greatly for status and public perception.  But she also grabbed Kevin's ass (literally!) when the mood took her at age 90.  Kevin had to pry her off.

Her sister Lillian died tragically while honeymooning at Niagara Falls.  She said her mother passed from the "change," meaning menopause, but as I aged she shared that her mother hung herself in the barn.  She told me her family were farmers, but I learned later that her Dad was on the board of the local bank & the farm was worked by white sharecroppers.  They tried to hire "help" from the nearby Black community, but no one would work for them given that there was still a slave auction block stone on their property.  It was said that when it rained you could see slaves' blood staining the stone.  The family instead hired poor whites as domestic help.

Her story is richer because it's messy.  I'd rather know honestly who I am, and honestly where I come from, than create fiction.  She told me her grandfather didn't much acknowledge her or any of his grandkids.  She didn't know whether her knew her name because he called them all "Cracker."  She remembered him and the other men digging up sasparilla root to make sodas and tea.  She and her sister, Katherine, remained close.  They would cook sugar over an open flame to make caramel, and then eat it out of the pan.

She never told me much about her mother, other than that she too loved reading and music.  She played the piano in the barn so the kids could dance.  She remembered her father fondly.  She tried to help him sow the potato crop one year.  She incorrectly sliced the potatoes, dissecting the eyes, and waited for him to return home so she could proudly show her work.  Effectively, she had cost him a lot of money, time, and food by her mistake.  He never scolded nor chastised her.  Quietly, with a smile, and by example, he showed her how to do it correctly, and thanked her for her efforts.

This photo was taken soon after my grandmother passed.  Kevin & I flew to Atlanta to help close her apartment.  Afterwards we drove her car to Savannah, where this photo was taken.
I want to be a woman who can smile, 70 years later, at learning from her own mistakes.  I want to be a woman who is flawed, emerging from muddied history, and reaching towards clarity.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


My friend Erika & I have been mirroring back & forth & it is so freaking fruitful.  Areas of her life where she feels a bit hazy or unsure she brings to me.  I ask her what she would tell me.  & then she knows.  Ditto for me.

I'm so grateful for this clarity.  It's so interesting how others see you.  I've always felt like that vision was so far removed from how I see myself.  I remember a friend in high school telling me that in middle school she never approached me because I seemed so "cool & independent, like I had it together & didn't need anymore friends."  Man was I fronting!  I was completely insecure & lonely.  I had no idea what I was projecting.

Likewise, Erika has been telling me that in my yoga classes I create a safe space for others.  I'm so glad that this is her experience in my classes.  She was describing this to another friend & the insightful friend asked if I create safe spaces for myself.  Based on something I was grappling with at the time, Erika said, most of the time, but not always.  Totally true.  Again, if Erika described a situation where she felt unsafe I would be so quick to figure out a way to make it feel whole.  I don't always have that clarity with myself.

I went on to explain a pattern I have of befriending folks who are pretty badass.  I was saying that I've never understood this-- I'm not at all someone who hits clubs or lives hard.  I supposed that maybe I'm the straight man to their nuttiness.  Erika started laughing.  She responded, "You're totally badass!  I would not want to cross you!"  Incredulous, I replied, "Well, Kevin says he gets scared of me."

I think that badass-ness is somewhere on a spectrum.  I've never taken a bat to a dude who needed to be threatened with a bat.  Unlike some badasses I know...

This whole relationship made me think of the Velvet Underground song, "I'll be your mirror."  It's such a sweetly creepy song.  I looked at the lyrics.  Without any heroin-infused droning, they're so whole & lovely.

I'll be your mirror
Reflect what you are, in case you don't know
I'll be the wind, the rain and the sunset
The light on your door to show that you're home

When you think the night has seen your mind
That inside you're twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show that you are blind
Please put down your hands
'Cause I see you

I find it hard to believe you don't know
The beauty you are
But if you don't let me be your eyes
A hand in your darkness, so you won't be afraid

When you think the night has seen your mind
That inside you're twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show that you are blind
Please put down your hands
'Cause I see you

I'll be your mirror
(reflect what you are)