Friday, September 28, 2012


Maybe it's the change of weather, maybe it's imaginary, but I have felt zonked recently.  I already want to hibernate & September has yet to draw to a close.  On Sunday I knew I needed to rest & recollect.  My default was to drag the laptop into the living room, lay on the couch, & watch movies on Netflix.  That's OK.  But...  We have a few hand-me-down laptops & none function in all the ways we'd like them to.  The laptop that can run Netflix was currently updating Kevin's podcasts.  So I elected to read instead.

I started digging into my book, snuggling under a blanket, & finding myself happy.  & more restful.  I looked up and saw inviting sunshine.  I dragged the blanket into a sunny patch in the front yard & read there.

Laz joined me.  He's featured there behind the lemon balm.  I napped in the sun, relished the breezes, & then read some more.  When I became too hot I went back inside.

I'm addicted to vegging on the couch every now & then & watching Netflix.  I grew up that way.  But it's not terribly restful.  Every now & then, by choice or chance I stumble upon what truly serves me.  A lot of it I completely know & yet still resist.  I know that my energy is optimal, my skin glows, my muscles are stronger, my teeth whiter if I eat an all raw food diet. But I don't.  I eat as much raw food as I can, but I don't even eat only raw for one day a week anymore.  I know that reading is easier on my eyes than screen watching.  I know it's more soothing.  & yet.

When I ride my bike commuting I'm constantly excited by how preferable cycling is to driving.  & yet, I don't do it nearly enough.  I'm hanging my laundry to dry exclusively only because my dryer broke.  I know the habits & behaviors that serve me best, & yet still often resist them.

In yoga, the same premise applies.  What I know to be safest & healthiest for my body often feels hard.  Sometimes, rather than doing the work, toning, & becoming more familiar with optimal alignment, I want to just do something easier, more readily available.

Gradually, what serves me best hopefully will become my practice.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


I'm still considering what we deem "nature" & "natural."  Big, big question, which many folks have grappled with.  I have seen a more forceful impetus towards fighting against development in areas like the Pacific Northwest or the Amazon, where the impact of devastating ecosystems is seen so dramatically & quickly.  Having grown up in very developed Philadelphia 'burbs, & living the majority of my life on the urban & suburban eastern seaboard, there does seem to be a relative callousness about this natural world.  A lot of folks who live their whole lives in urban &/or suburban lives never know a deep connection to undeveloped land, plants, & animals.

But, some do.

Even within suburbia as a kid I found my "thinking place."  It was more private, kind of buried between a few backyards, & that's where I went.  I remember a forsythia bush on a neighbor's yard that somehow we were able to inhabit.  Within the folds of branches it became our own hidden house.  Looking at the forsythia in my yard now I have no idea how it seemed so hollow in the middle, but I know it's the same plant given the foliage.  I remember being surrounded in vibrant yellow.

We had a HUGE old maple at the end of the cul de sac.  All the kids called it "the purple tree" given the leaves' & bark's color.  The foliage here certainly did create a large orb.  When you ducked below the leaves & entered into the inner circumference it felt like a home.  There were huge long branches that were low and smooth-- perfect to sit on and read, or create imaginary homes & schools.

When we got a little older we were allowed to walk to the library, which bordered on a park.  I remember one summer my friend & I created a huge fictional world in the woods behind the library.  We threaded branches together to create a little home.  We spent hours out there.  I miss that sense of contentment so much when now I'm so sensitive to mosquito bites & poison ivy.  I honestly think that I was just so calm & happy that those annoyances didn't have the same impact on me.  I feel like I react more neurotically & am trying to apply more equanimity so I'm not lured away from the outdoors.

Much of my project of "knowing" nature, fighting for unimpacted spaces, is not in learning anything new but trying to get back.  & maybe trying to get back to attitudes & sentiments that predate my tenure on this planet.  This type of uncovering is exactly the project of yoga.  The idea is you're never necessarily introducing new strength or ideas but rather uncovering what's existing, but buried.

I've been feeling this sense of emergence in tadasana, mountain pose.  For someone who didn't grow up in mountains, & maybe only skied in the winter, & hiked in them in the summer, I generally recognized mountains as static figures.

I'm currently reading Chris Hedges' & Joe Sacco's Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt.  The collaborating authors travel to several "sacrifice zones" in the United States-- places where unchecked & unregulated abusive industry has gutted & destroyed regions.  They begin in Lakota Indian Reservation, Pine Hills, South Dakota; then research in Camden, New Jersey; then onto Coal mined West Virginia; & finally onto Florida farmlands worked by undocumented immigrants.  This book is invaluable, & I plan to reflect on it further in future posts.  The section on West Virginia returns to me every time I practice mountain pose. The chapter opens up with an introduction to Larry Gibson, a long-time activist against coal mining and mountain-top removal.  He said, "A mountain is a live vessel, man; it's life itself.  You walk through the woods here and you're gonna hear the critters moving, scampering around, that's what a mountain is.  Try to imagine what it would be like for a mountain when it's getting blowed up, fifteen times a day, blowed up, every day, what that mountain must feel like as far as pain, as life."

Now, when I move into tadasana, mountain pose, I try to get a better sense of a mountain.  A mountain that is constantly growing, reforming, reshaping, just as I am.  A mountain that fills in some instances with hot lava energy.  A mountain stabilized and fortified by coal seams.  A mountain solid of granite or marble.  A mountain with fissures, homes for animal life.  A mountain covered with rich earth, an ecosystem of plants, animals, insects.  A mountain that breaks wind, is shaped by water, that grows, stretches, reaches, & crumbles.

I want to feel that.  I want to know as best I can how to inhabit myself and the planet.  I want to spend more time on mountains and learn the place of each of them.  One of Kevin's professor's, Ralph, lives in western Virginia, near the border with West Virginia.  He rarely travels, but knows that place intimately & deeply.  His meditation is hiking through the mountains, watching the shift of seasons and life cycles.

Ultimately, me knowing my own body & experience, having hopefully a bit more sympathy or sensitivity for the natural world around me needs to be motivation to carry on campaigns like that of Larry Gibson.  I appreciate the experiential depth of yoga but also the danger of self-indulgence.

That symmetry between body & land is never accidental.  It is a huge privilege to have time & space to know myself better & know where I am in the world.  In thanks to the world for holding me, I challenge rampant development and industrialization.  While I value and respect individual consumer choices as acts of environmentalism, ultimately advocating for land & animals involves challenging industry.  I'm thankful that so many are strong enough to make that challenge.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Locating Nature

A friend of mine & I have been swapping book reccomendations & thoughts about living, eating, & growing food.  He's been curious as to whether or not Kevin & I will stay in South Jersey.  I answered that we plan to.  If we have children we'd love for them to become fluent in Spanish, & may try to live in Central America with them if we can rent our home & manage the logistics, but a part from that we have no plans to move.

He suggested that we might want to be nearer "nature."  This reminded me of Kevin's professor Eva & her thoughts on locating nature.  She lives in South Philly but is constantly doing wild plant identification.  She finds wilderness, wildness, everywhere.  As an environmentalist, she believes in people living more conscientiously in cities to consolidate resources while leaving more land uninhabited & free.

As a pretty confirmed suburbanite, I take comfort in that vision.  I certainly resent sprawl, but feel more able to confront that trend within it.  We have a good bit of land even within the confines of the 'burbs.  I like to think that our presence shines a little light on the vastness of how we can lead our lives.  I've certainly noticed our neighbors taking interest.  My well-hidden hope had been to orchard our neighborhood.  A neighbor invited me to plant fruit trees on her property, as long as she could have some fruit, when I ran out of land (which will happen)!  She was excited by the fresh food on our block, that her granddaughter was more interested in healthy foods when she watched them grow, & now she's involved in a community garden at our library.  Another neighbor installed a raised bed next-door.  I value this proximity & community.

We technically have the space for bees but there are some restrictive policies in our town.  I know we can't legally have chickens.  When we're ready for bees, we'd like to invite over our neighbors, be sure no one has a lethal allergy, & present our case on why bees should live amongst us.  With their blessing we then hope to change policies at our Borough Hall.

Kevin's Aunt lives in a progressive community where we wouldn't have to fight these fights.  But, if no one fights them at the source these policies tend to spread.  It feels valuable to be here & remind people that just about all of us are only a generation or two removed (if at all) from people with dirt under their nails & try to gradually work back.

The day we found the tomato horn bug was awesome.  Kevin was sure he was a baby dragon.
I remember reading a passage in one of Derrick Jensen's books years ago where he described his practice of lying on the grass and watching.  He watched for hours.  It became a meditation but also a way to much more deeply see & experience the soil breathing, ants working, grass waving, & be reminded that we're of this whole.  I went in my yard and watched.  Given that I live in suburbia, this was a more public display than I imagine Jensen's.  No matter.  It's still nature.  It's still living, breathing, growing interconnected systems.  I see it in weeds breaking up sidewalks.  I remember hearing an inmate say he saw it, and took hope, in a spider crawling through his cell.  There is always life.  

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Time: The Sequel

There's a lot of directions to pull yesterday's post.  One point I'd like to clarify is this idea that time could be, perhaps should be, a right.  I mentioned that Eva provoked this contemplation of time & the amount we, historically & culturally, devote to work.  I linked to Take Back Your Time, an organization devoted to Labor Struggles prioritizing issues around over-time, full-time work, & benefits.

Given that I practice a ton of yoga & teach, I often consider these issues "yogic-ally."  I'm not entirely sure what that is.  Here's some broad brush strokes: larger theories governing yoga invite the practitioner to liberate themselves first.  There's attention to your own health & well-being & cultivating it as a spiritual act.  Ultimately, I think true practitioners are urged towards addressing the same needs in the larger world.  However, it's pretty easy to stay in a stage of self-care.

My prior orientation was activist struggle, of which I'm still involved.  As an activist, we usually take a larger glance at collective challenge & solution.  This issue of time is a labor issue, but it also impacts each of us on individual, & perhaps spiritual levels.  I try to stay rooted in both approaches.  For one, taking individual agency over some of these issues can provide inspiration to others.  It is also a way to potentially live our larger political goals.  However, the activist orientation continually reasserts that we don't all have the same access nor choice, which is why larger campaigns challenging labor laws can often be crucial.  If we can individually disengage from the rat race, fantastic.  Knowing many of us can't, we collectively move towards removing those institutional impediments.

I brought up these two vantage points in conversation with a dear friend.  We were swapping stories about activist campaigns that are important to both of us, as well as some activism we see within the yoga community.  She said, "I think it's a matter of intention.  You can be opposed to Fracking because it lowers the value of your home or you can oppose it out of principle."  As the conversation unfolded, we both began to consider how the latter approach usually wound these beliefs deeply within the individual & compelled them to take this cause into the larger world.

The issue of time-- how we value it, create it, cede it-- is the same.  It's entirely possible to make this an individual quest or it's possible to consider how the more deeply seeded intentions of yoga ask each practitioner to include the well-being of all others in their own practice.  One of my favorite yoga mantras is "Lokah Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu"-- "May all beings be happy & free.  May my thoughts, words, & actions contribute to the happiness of all."

This is my political premise.  This is my yoga.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


In the past few months I've been able to create more time in my life & I'm so grateful.  & I feel guilty.

For years I worked fairly long hours at a few jobs-- or maybe just comparative hours for someone in their late twenties-early thirties in the eastern seaboard.  This winter Kevin made his case that I could teach yoga, Officiate weddings & baptisms on some weekends, plan a few trips a year, & work with him on landscaping.  The idea is that slowly we can self-create our schedule & prioritize more time at home growing food, baking bread from scratch, doing renovations ourselves, along with our creative & social justice pursuits.  After some negotiations I agreed, leaving a waitressing job that had been very good to me with gratitude & trepidation.

At first I bugged.  It felt really weird to be accountable to myself.  It felt weird to have these hours that I was responsible for shaping.  I worried (& worry) about bills "in this economy" & feel guilt that I was able to leave a job when so many are losing theirs.

Now I feel freaking spoiled.  So many projects that had been filed under "when I have time" are now possible to realize.  That's scary.  It felt frightening to approach projects that felt more deeply bound to my passions-- like writing or knowing plants.  It took a few months but I've given each week a general shape & approach each activity as a practice with the priority being to stay consistent.  & I'm truly grateful for this time & really hope that Kevin's right-- that we can indeed do this!

While at Goddard we took a workshop with one of his favorite professors.  Eva is a historian who gave a general overview towards time devoted to work, historically, in the Western world.  While painting broad brush strokes she offered the sales pitch that modern technology drives convenience & saves time.  Obviously, that idea is beginning to be contested.  She offered some data on the hours most people in the Western world work today & contrasted it with medieval serfs.  Today, most of us work far more hours than medieval serfs.  While medieval serfs were often engaged in back-breaking, exploitative labor, they also had religious holidays throughout the year when all work stopped.  Today, given that smartphones can reach us wherever, whenever, that convenience trumps ideas of health & well-being, & that workaholism is applauded, there is very little real rest.

Therein lies some of my guilt.  I know many people who have to work incredibly strenuously to survive.  Much of my activism is directed towards all of us having health-- access to shelter, food, rest, & some notion of freedom.  I also know people who don't have to work long hours, but do, out of addiction, some deep drive, competition, & because it's generally respected.  People who sacrifice themselves to work are often congratulated as self-less.  Unfortunately, in most employments working in this way will eradicate a sense of self.

A group of friends has begun to gather occasionally & play games in the park.  I was remembering that my grandparents used to play in softball leagues.  Certainly, some of these hobbies still exist but they're far less common.  No one has time.  My grandfather was an engineer-- the guys he played with did all types of work.  Some were mechanics, some were doctors.  They had more sense of community because they had more time to create it, together, after they worked reasonable hours.

They were also fairly multidimensional people.  Some of them specialized, certainly if it helped them offer more in their field, but they often developed hobbies & talents well away from their work lives.  Lawyers played music in bands, welders painted on the weekends.

When I was working more hours pieces of myself had to fall away.  An early, coveted love of writing & the practice of it became filed under, "when I have time."  I had to pay bills, survive, & build a life.  I'm so grateful to still be in that process while also having the time to live it.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Towards Strong & Free

Snoozy Sunday afternoon.  Burying my head in the stinky neck of a cat who was skunk-sprayed two nights ago.  Warm after-glow of finishing a good book.  Listening to Kevin play guitar, shifting range & approach towards his own voice in that old Folk chestnut, "John Henry."

That good book is bound intimately to this dreamy feeling-- "The Good Life" by Scott & Helen Nearing.  I mentioned the book in an earlier post.  It landed, literally, on our doorstep, thanks to the consideration of a good friend.  We're paying it forward by mailing it to other friends, so they too can receive surprise inspiration, & maybe the postal service will stay alive for a few more years.

The Nearings consider health.  Not only how to attain it, but what it is!  Aptly, they describe that it's often defined in relief-- what it isn't.  They seek a definition but they also seek its realization.  Health becomes built into their life along with soil under nails from long hours growing garden-fresh food, placing stones in the walls to create shelter, and words on paper to offer their experience to others.  Health is attended to the way my parents suggest I cultivate a retirement fund or a presence on the stock market.  (I think my attention to health could potentially supplant at least the latter if not ease the former.)  Offered as evidence, the Nearings cite a trip they took to China.  They describe the practice common in this region, at that time, of paying doctors regularly until someone became ill.  Then the doctor's fees were stopped until health was returned.  Obviously, health was incentivized and disease treated as abnormal.

I would never want to suggest to judge or diminish the importance of treating troubling symptoms.  I do love the idea of placing value & priority on enabling health.  Thus, Chinese doctors often prescribed food, rest, or activity to prevent future bouts of illness (& loss of income).  The Nearings juxtapose this versus the US system.

I also found myself highlighting the Nearings' description of visitors to their various farms.  They write, "People wanted freedom at all levels-- freedom from work, from discipline, from community responsibility."  I really respect their bravery in this characterization.  Of course, they offer that they too were far from perfect.  I've heard multiple visitors describe Scott, especially, as rigid & the dynamic between Scott & Helen as pretty paternalistic.  They were also of a different age-- Scott was born before the dawn of the Twentieth Century.  Most of the visitors they're referring to came into the 60s & beyond.  I've often found within myself a sense of entitlement & laziness that I would love to excise.  I'm seeking that fine line of self-respect coupled with a willingness to work my fair share & only consume my fair share.  & I see within myself as well a longing for freedom, but not the counterweight, a longing to actively create & work for my freedom.

Scott & Helen write of finding a good deal of freedom by relinquishing a lot of materialism & living off of what they could grow, find, & re-create.  All of this freedom cost a lot of consistent work & attention.  Their visitors often wanted the fruits of the labor, without the labor.

From my vantage some of that sense of entitlement is generational & a lot of it is linked to class.  I remember telling my grandmother that I chose to dry my clothes on a clothes line instead of using a dryer.  She said, "But your grandfather & I worked hard so you wouldn't have to do that sort of thing."  I responded, "I think your way was better."

The next time I visited her she held my hand.  "Your hand is so rough!"  She exclaimed.  "Well," I answered, "I guess it's a few things.  I wash my floors with a rag, squatting on the floor.  & I've begun doing pull-ups at the playground across the street.  I think both these things have caused calluses."

She wanted me to be her conception of a lady.  I want to be strong.  I want to be free.  & I want to earn it.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Story Telling

When I was in high school I went with a school group to Johnson City, Tennessee for their annual story-telling festival.  Come to find out, my maternal grandmother had attended Tennessee State Teacher's College in Johnson City as a young woman.

Arriving at the festival, I realized story telling was a folk art form.  Now, my most dearly held art tends to be folk and self-taught.  I love that these art forms often narrate histories, locate place, & build community.  I love the sense that we can self-direct and hone our skills.  All my various loves of poetry, performance, & literature were being voiced while I sat on straw bales & heard people spin their yarns.

There were so many other adventures too.  I was sixteen & good at finding some dude I had no business finding.  This particular guy was a spiritual seeker.  He had spent time with a Shaker community in Maine, Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn, Hare Krisnas, and was currently Pentecostal, living in Appalachia.  He played me tapes of his religious community speaking in tongues and taming snakes.

These story-tellers reminded me there is art in speech.  My friend, Yvonne, is a Texan.  She & I collect Southern colloquialisms.  We both love creative speech.  Her Texan finds tend to feature lots of fence posts & horses.  What I recall of my grandmother's self-described "hill-billy" drawl was a lot of exclamations-- "hell's bells" & "mah stars!"  & a lot of warmth: "sit raht-cheer" (AKA "sit right here").  Because of her pronunciation her lap felt cheerier.

My grandfather grew up in Alabama, but lived his adult life with my grandmother in Atlanta.  I remember something from him about a frog bumping his ass but that's about as far as I get.  All these witticisms were told dryly-- a sly look in his eye but no curl of a smile.  His face almost mirrored an Irish dancer who's movement is isolated to the feet, keeping the torso still.  His lively eyes gauged your response while the deadpan delivery gave away no interest either way.

This festival reminded me about the vastness of creativity.  At any moment, we can learn to create music.  At any moment we can pull out a story, write it, speak it, share it, & find that creative spark.  Art can be in our voice, in our hands, enacted in our bodies.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


This month at Yogawood we're considering the first Sutra, "Now begins the practice of Yoga," or the Jivamukti translation, "Now this is yoga as I have perceived it in the natural world."  I kept drawing back to "now" in my classes.  I'm thankful for this attention to mindfulness, but it's also the quality of invocation.  It reminded me of a conversation I had with my friend, Monserrate awhile back.  We were sharing stories-- the stories that inform yoga asanas or poses, as well as stories that have become salient for us within our bodies.

Monserrate recently moved outside of Cusco, Peru.  He mentioned that he'd developed a Surya Namaskar sequence narrated to the story of Pacha Mama, the holy mother world.  This sparked my curiousity.  Earlier this week I began reading creation stories from a variety of traditions-- Judeo-Christian, because this was the first story I was told, Yoruba, Vedic, Norse, Hopi, & others.  In all of the listed (except the Norse) the first being was sculpted from earth.  The inert form lay dormant until the Divine breathed life & animation into the clay, creating human.  The Norse story isn't far off-- instead of sculpting man he is carved from wood.  Breath is the same animating force.

This feels like yoga to me.  As I begin my practice I often cling to the mat, feeling dormant, but possible.  Slowly breath gathers within me, heat, & I begin to take shape.  That breath is the invocation-- "now."

About a year ago another friend told me a story from the Upanishads where a young man asked his father how to know the Self, the Divine, that sense of connectedness to all things.  His father first said, "Eat food."  He ate, and over time he saw that food rebuilt him, recreated him.  Food came from earth & in this way he continued to be built by earth.  He asked his father again, how could he know the Self.  Now his father said, "Meditate."  His meditation took him to his breath & he began to see how he was also composed of energy, the same energy in all things.  Still unsatisfied, he asked again.  As he continued asking, his father continued responding, "Meditate."  The story illustrates the boy's journey through the kosas, these layers of our being. I love that first it reminds us that we are of earth, earth is of us.  Breath, the next layer, animates.

Now I am created.  Now I create.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Sunday was an unusually cool day for Philly events.  Bartram Garden's hosted a Honey Festival & GreenPhilly had a fair on South Street.  We hit the open fields of Bartram's first.  Kevin was hobbling around on a bruised up hip after having fallen skate-boarding in the middle of the night.  I kept forgetting to wait for his slow limping when I caught a glimpse of another hard to find native plant for sale or saw dripping scoops of Little Baby's Ice Cream.

We went to a demonstration of one of their hives.  I felt calm & comfortable until about a half hour in.  Then I was itchy & nervous.  It made me want to leave because my understanding is the bees sense this restlessness & become agitated themselves.  We walked a little away under an Osage Orange tree to relax.  Kevin asked, "How will we have bees?"  I thought about it, & responded, "There won't be a crowd & I'll have to work to stay calm."  

Our ultimate hope is for chickens & bees in our small backyard farm, but we both think it's wisest to wait.  For one, we want to be sure none of our neighbors have severe allergies.  Also, we'll have to push the township to change some of their codes.  But all things seem possible.

An awesome friend, Mike, sent Kevin & I Helen & Scott Nearing's, "The Good Life."  The authors were Lefty school teachers in NYC in the 1930s.  Watching the financial meltdown that lead to the Great Depression, & growing fascist strains internationally, they methodically began considering an alternative life.  Ultimately, they elected to become as self-sufficient as possible in the wilds of Vermont.  

You should read the book.  Especially if you're curious about how they arrived at this conclusion-- read the book.  The early pages gripped me immediately.  This book was intended for Kevin & he hasn't gotten a whiff of it yet.  Reading their description of the financial crisis feels incredibly current.  Change a few names & their analysis of global unrest is pertinent.  Not only were they radicals, environmentalists, but they were animal rights advocates who ate vegan & wouldn't have domesticated animals used on their land.  They composted!  They had a composting toilet!  At each chapter head they quote their inspirations-- most of the authors cited wrote centuries ago.

I feel so uplifted orienting myself in this way.  They quote authors from the 1500s questioning common diet & urging the reader towards whole fruits & vegetables for optimal health.  They quote vegetarians advocating for animals centuries ago!  

This reading evokes so many responses within me-- one, I consider my own grandparents who were so formed by the Great Depression.  In some ways, I always deeply respected how this had oriented them.  They were frugal & cautious.  Realizing that I've come of age in a time of uncertainty, in some ways I'm grateful for that shifted perspective.  Like the Nearings I don't feel secure linking all my earnings to a single career, or stocks, or many other prescribed methods of financial health-- no more than I feel physically healthy by relying solely on pharmaceutical medication.  I feel increasingly secure linking my physical & financial security to land. 

What I mean by this is I'm trying to diversify my skills & my sources of sustenance.  I work jobs for money (because the mortgage company doesn't barter) but I'm also learning to grow more food so I have to buy less.  When I had strep throat last spring I went to a doctor & took antibiotics.  However, as often as possible I try to practice preventative medicine in the form of a healthy, plant-based diet & active lifestyle.  I try to be outside often for my physical health and mental well-being.

So much of this is unfamiliar to me.  However, all things are possible.

The Nearings began living this way when they were in their 50s!  They learned on the ground as well.  They write extensively about building in stone.  They found it creatively satisfying, physically demanding, & beneficial towards each individual project.  They encourage the reader to begin developing habits that will enable each of us to build in stone.  During the description of one project, a stone garden wall they built in Maine, they casually mentioned that it took twelve years to finish!  & that at it's finish Scott was almost 90!  

I freaking love it.  I love that my timeline can be expansive.  I love that this reminds me to reset my expectations.  I love that this reminds me to use my whole life to pursue the life that feels worthwhile.  & I love that I can potentially be vibrant, active, & engaged until I move back to soil.

I think Kevin & I can have chickens and bees.  As long as we move steadily & attentively, we're creating the possibility.  If we tried to plow through, hurry & install chicken coops, we could easily be cited by the township, be embroiled in a big, discouraging battle, & ultimately give up the entire project.  Nope.  I want to be 90, tending my bees, building my stone wall.

Friday, September 7, 2012


I wrote earlier about a friend urging me to revisit & expand on ideas from the "Labor" blog posted Monday. A few other friends echoed that nudge, one including an article by George Lakey a long-time peace activist currently teaching at Swarthmore College.  The article, Opening ourselves to the realities of Class related an alliance of working-class long-shoremen & activists of a variety of class backgrounds all preventing Nixon from shipping weapons to Pakistan in the 1970s.  It was a powerful, well-orchestrated action that taught many of the participants how to recognize their varied backgrounds & inclinations when working towards a shared goal.  The process generated poems articulating class orientation.  Three poems are shared: one from the perspective of a member of the "Owning" class, the second a middle-class voice, & the third a working-class orientation.

Each poet reflects on aspects of their upbringing they value, such as a willingness to be direct from the working-class poet or a sense of the worth of their own voice by the owning class poet.  As the members of this project began to better understand the impact class had on each of their individual outlooks & sense of strategy, they were able to better merge towards their common goal.

I really respect any environment that facilitates open discussion of class.  Class discussion generates consciousness around the varied levels of access & mobility any of us might possess in any given moment.  It also helps each of us understand how distinct our personal vision of the world might be.  Also, I think money can be demystified in this larger class consciousness.  I was raised in a household where money and class were certainly not discussed directly.  Based on the Lakey's framework, I'd say I was raised in an owning class house and culture.  I often asked my Dad how much money we had not out of greediness but out of curiousity about life & its details.  I wanted to know how and why we paid taxes.  I was always given really opaque answers to these questions.  Implicitly, I began to understand that I better either earn enough to pay someone else to handle this business, or marry someone who could.

Given this personal orientation, it's important to me to speak openly about class and money.  It's important to me that we each have a level of financial literacy so that we each can work towards as much stability as the global economy will afford.  Also, in the conversation of money, I think we get to learn what money means to any one of us.

A few years ago I read a book that made a huge impact on me: "Your Money or Your Life".  Early on the book reads like a money management course.  As it progresses this approach softens to an urging for less consumption, less work-for-pay, & opening up to our true passions & purpose.  The book introduces the idea of what money may mean to any one of us.  For those who scoff that money has a hard & fast universal definition, they offer as evidence money being so potentially combustible in relationships, partnerships, and taboo in general conversation.  Depending on our class orientation or family life money could potentially signify security, status, or conversely bondage.

To the embarassment of many close to me, I'm trying to speak more openly about money.  I want to understand my own relationship to it.  Hopefully, this is not to become more interested or dependent on money, but to better understand how I can relate to it simply as energy exchange & feel balanced and stable in that knowledge.

Similarly, I've tried to chose a working-class life.  My husband & I are comfortable, all our needs are met, but we're hoping to live off of less money.  We love to be rich in resources of home-grown food, our health, community, & trade, but less dependent on a high income stream.  Given our backgrounds we have some say in opting towards one class or another, which for most of the world is not an option.  Our hope is to exercise this choice towards consciously consuming less & contributing as much as we're able.  We'd like to use fewer resources & hopefully free up our time towards the projects that are most in line with our beliefs.

Working in our bodies, Kevin as landscaper and construction worker, me as waitress and landscaper, gives us a better sense of the coordinated intelligence between physical and mental faculties.  I certainly have a greater appreciation for working-class work than I did as a child.

Lakey's article reminded me that self-reflection encompasses the true whole of each of our personal experiences.  As we get personally clearer, potentially we can develop vocabulary to communicate with those of differing origins.  The call to an examined life perhaps can extend to the wider world around us-- not only know our own selves but striving as best we can to know the array of human experience.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Effin' Technology

In August, my cell phone died.  Last week, my ITouch died.  I had already replaced the phone with another cheap-o cell phone that got the job done.  The ITouch was a little rough.  I have about 25 playlists on there that I use when I teach my 6 yoga classes each week.  Plus, there's solitaire.  Love that game.  The ITouch was nice when we travelled because I could pick up a Wifi signal in most hostels & check in at home without worrying about insane roaming fees.

I've been thinking for about a year of upgrading to either an IPhone or an IPad.  It would be useful for Kevin's landscaping business.  We could get the piece that allows you to take credit payments, which some customers would certainly appreciate.  Also, we could coordinate calendars, emails, & directions even while out on jobs (where Wifi is notoriously unreliable).  However, it involves getting a data plan, which I have fought vigorously for years.

Financially, Kevin & I are fairly conservative.  We try to keep our monthly expenses as low as possible.  Most of our furnishings, clothes, & stuff is hand-me-down.  We don't drink alcohol or have cable.  Our biggest luxury is the annual international trip, but even that is very low-budget.  We stay at little family run inns or hostels.  The biggest expense is usually the flight.  The rest of the year we probably spend most of our  discretionary budget on gas to drive to fun beaches, trails to hike on, visit friends, or go out to eat vegetarian junk food.

So I don't like to introduce new bills into our lives.  But, the music thing has become pretty important.

Kevin & I did some research, talked about it, & ultimately decided I would get an IPhone.  I got it Monday. It's so unsatisfying.

I had some excitement about all my music & communication being consolidated, & long-lusted after apps like "Shazam" & maybe something (don't know if it exists!) that would help me with plant identification.  Instead, all I can think about is that this machine was created from materials robbed from the earth & there's no good way to put it back in once it dies.  It adds another bill to my credit card & $20 to my Sprint bill each month.  It will make me more distracted & technology-dependent-- both things I fight little but resent a lot.  In principle, I think it, Apple, & the whole craze stink.  However, like most people, I'm attracted to bright, shiny things that talk to me.

Atsion Lake
My take away?  Atsion Lake, nature, life, is satisfying.

An Iphone?  Not so much.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Learn how to learn

This morning a friend encouraged me to continue developing some of the ideas in Monday's post, "Labor."  While I love the feedback, & will do it (promise!), the conversation wound in a different & especially timely direction-- towards education.  Our discussion of what work is valued & why back-tracked to how we learn & which aptitudes are most valued in schools & in workplaces.

Thoughts of school & thoughts of fall
I tend to favor unschooling, a method of self-directed learning.  Rather than home-schooling a child, where you still follow a school curriculum at home instead of school, unschoolers support children's passions.  This isn't to say that the breadth & scope of education isn't met, or that children aren't challenged, but usually it's met at a different timeline.  For example, one of Kevin's professors unschools her daughter.  Kevin's professor has several degrees, is incredibly bright, & married to a man who is equally smart & also an educator.  Their daughter didn't want to learn to read until she was 10.  Developmentally, kids do any number of things at any number of ages.  I crawled late but walked early.  There is nothing written in nature saying children learn to read at age 5 or 6.  In fact, many children fight & find enormous stress when they're forced to read before they're ready.  Knowing this, though it tried their patience, the family educated their daughter, nurtured her interests & growth, & waited to help her with reading skills until she showed the inclination.  One day she did.  Once she was ready she learned to read incredibly quickly & now is devouring books.

Obviously this is anecdotal evidence in favor of this method.  I'd be happy to research more hard data.  My sense is that hard data would confirm that children do develop on an individual timeline.  Certainly we can read general developmental trends but a variety of factors will point to each of our individual aptitudes & appetites.

A systematized, universally implemented educational model would be seriously challenged in addressing the nuances of each child.  This is why I tend to favor unschooling, home-schooling with a lot of awareness of each child's strengths & pace, or alternative educational models such as free schools.  However, that said, I have plenty of friends who are current or former teachers.  One of my friends, whom I respect greatly, is very much in favor of supporting the public sector.  Her belief in the public sphere helped me piece together some of my emerging ideas on how to keep learning & educational spaces vibrant.

Here's the deal: I totally concur with her or anyone else who feels that the public sector needs to be refunded.  Tax money should be divested from the military & reinvested in schools (specifically some of the gutted programs like arts).  However, to continue the conversation on how to teach, learn, & create space that truly recognizes each student, I very much believe in parallel structures.  A year ago I heard Chris Dixon offer a talk on "Taking Ourselves Seriously" addressed to those in the left engaged in creating parallel structures like Free Schools, Housing Cooperatives, Community Gardens, DIY Bike Shops & Shares, & other collaborative community building that challenges corporatocracy.  The conversation circled back to this same place & the consensus among those present returned to holding the public sphere accountable while creating viable alternatives.  It shouldn't be either/or but both.

Obviously not all parents want to nor are able to home-school or unschool their children.  Not all children thrive best in that environment.  There should be public education that is solid, safe, & stimulating.  Likewise, alternative educational models in community or in homes should exist to challenge normalization of standardized testing & other controversial practices which certainly do not serve all students nor all communities.

It's interesting trying to hold simultaneous space.  Chris Dixon referred to a friend's idea of pragmatically living in the world that exists while keeping one foot in the potential world of what could be.  Allowing ourselves to hold space for both so our imaginations can encompass & strive towards what truly serves us best.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Music Alive

The gang gathered back together last Tuesday night.  Kevin had dropped Gailanne off at the home of Pete Peterson, a musician and song-catcher in the tradition of Alan Lomax.  He has a vast library among his scattered guitars, fiddles, & banjos.  Gailanne is staying there as she researches the origins of several songs.

Kevin immediately took a liking to Pete and his musician-wife, Kellie.  We were invited back for dinner along with Shameka, another Goddard student visiting with us, and two other musician friends, Jane and Alan.

Cerro Ancon, Panama reminded me of wild US
As our bellies filled with delicious dinner we inevitably drifted towards music.  Shameka, Kevin, & I framed the quartet of Alan on stand-up bass, Gailanne on fiddle, Kellie on guitar, Jane on fiddle, and Pete on banjo. They offered the folk explanation on the difference between bluegrass, and the Old Time music they played-- "Blue grass musicians play the song to highlight their solos, Old Time musicians highlight the song."  Jane shared that an integral piece of this music is that the musicians generally all know the same songs that have travelled through generations and geography.  They come together and play them-- often as strangers-- and develop language.  As much as there is creation and contribution each member listens.

In his Scottish brogue Alan told us that some nights he plays a G chord for four hours.  In that process he never again plays nor hears that chord the same.

A night like this makes me want to burn my IPod and only hear music live.  I'm thankful that Kevin serenades me frequently.  It's so lovely to hear music in community.

Pete leaned over to Shameka between songs and asked if she liked the music.  She affirmed that she'd always appreciated banjo music because her grandfather was a blues banjo man out of New Orleans.  Pete asked his name and she answered, "Johnny St. Cyr."  He blew a low whistle, picked up his banjo, and got to pickin'.

As Shameka & I walked into the starry night filled with crickets, I asked, "What is this life?  How are we having such vast & big experiences?"  She giggled and said, "I know.  It's great."

Monday, September 3, 2012


This morning I had my Sunday ritual of coffee, a bagel, a few moments reading, & reviewing my yoga class plan before going to teach my weekly Sunday morning class.  On my way to the coffee shop I heard a few minutes of Krista Tippett's On Being, which is always a bonus of waking early on Sundays.  She was airing an interview with Mike Rose.  I was so happy to hear his voice again.  I'd heard him interviewed previously on a different NPR program after the release of a prior book.  His work largely examines & reaffirms the intelligence in various types of work.  He traces historically emphasis placed on intellectual work & this myth of physical work connoting a mental dimness.  During the interview he mentioned even in ancient Greece writing about physical work dulling the intellect.

Rose actually studied the processes farmers, construction workers, waitresses, cosmotologists, factory workers, & others use in their day to day functioning.  He also studied highly esteemed careers such as surgeons, lawyers, and engineers.  No matter the field he found that those who had a well-blended & utilized background in both study & real life experience rose to the top of their field.  & that contrary to common belief, whether articulated directly or implied through diminished recognition of vocational programs or slights in language, working-class work employs highly functioning & complicated mental processes.

My husband & I were really excited hearing this interview.  At the time my primary wage employment was waiting tables while he landscapes.  We'd long talked about the efficiency necessary for this type of work.  Every movement becomes economic & you constantly are retaining and reprioritizing information.  This was a confirmation of what we'd long thought, but never systematically studied.

It also resurfaced a memory I had as a child.  I was raised in an upper-middle-class household where the implicit messages were that I would study, attend a "good" college, and marry a well-to-do man where I would be a good conversationalist & entertain his bosses & partners.  Given that this was the never directly communicated, but implied path, I wasn't expected to do many (if any!) chores.  I wasn't expected to work a job.  However, given that I wasn't doing these things I felt an enormous dependency on others.  I wasn't comfortable with this.  I remember going to restaurants and diners, watching wait-staff move so quickly & purposefully, & feeling that I didn't have whatever they had.  I didn't have the common sense, nor clarity, to care for my space and environment.  It made me feel insecure.  My existence would be predicated on money I didn't earn & I wasn't entirely certain I would gain the skill-set to earn or do my share.

Eventually this became in equal parts a personal uneasiness & a political unwillingness to be unable to contribute in equal share to my consumption.  I first got a job at age 14 working at a Farmer's Market fruit & vegetable stand.  My co-workers were working class adults who woke up probably around 3 am, commuted from rural Pennsylvania, to the farmstand, & then put in a 9 hour day.  They had little patience for me.  Confirming my earlier fears, I had no common sense nor aptitude for this type of work.  I consistently had discrepancies in my cash till.

At age 19, the summer between first & second year of college, I found an internship at the Union of Legal Aid Attorneys.  This is a fantastic union of public defenders in New York.  At that time I was helping assemble a database of police brutality.  The attorneys constantly had clients coming in, obviously having been beaten severely.  We were assembling the badge numbers, injuries, dates, sites of arrest, and other information to develop a case against then Mayor Giuliani & the NYPD.  ULAA couldn't pay me, so I had a stipend from Mount Holyoke, and at nights I worked as a cashier at Integral Yoga Natural Foods.  Once again, every night my till was off.  I was always brutally honest at these jobs, but I had no sense.  I was making mistakes that caused my managers to have to perpetually stay late & account for my errors.

After some momentous shifts in my personal life & a new-found political consciousness, I decided I wanted to work full-time in grassroots, which by design is unpaid.  I would have to earn to cover my rent and expenses elsewhere.  I began waiting tables.  For at least six months I was horrendous.  Thankfully, at a certain point, I caught the rhythm, I developed my own short-hand, I learned how to move through a double almost the way a yogi meditates.  You just flow.  You waste no movement, no breath.

I waited tables full-time for about a decade. I liked work that kept me on my feet and in my body.  Rose went on to say in his conversation with Krista Tippett that work utilizing our highest intellect usually resides in equal parts in the physical body as well as our minds.  Strictly mental work is limited.  Work that integrates these various aspects of our being tends to stretch our conceptions and functioning.

I'm grateful for work.  I say that also being human and often resenting obligations.  However, I'm grateful for work that enables me to feel part of the whole.  I'm thankful to work in my body & now have the confidence that I can earn, contribute, support myself & my community.  I'm happy to know the value of various types of work.  I'm now hoping to learn more well-rounded work.  I work in my garden & get a better sense of the conversation with plants, soil, weather, & food.  I work in my body through the practice of yoga, running, swimming, & breathing.  I work at landscaping & again am in that first six month stage of feeling like an imbecile.  But learning nonetheless, & acknowledging the value of process.

& I'm thankful for unions, for people who value workers, for immigrants of today & generations before who followed resources & remind us that borders are ultimately arbitrary & that we owe one another respect & consideration.