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Category Archives: teaching

The Lion and the Angel

What does it mean to “hold space”?

In the mid-nineties, I was assigned by my department chair to teach Advanced Expository Writing, a class designated for honors students with perhaps the least alluring title of any class in the curriculum. Each semester I taught that class, I would introduce the syllabus by quoting my thesis advisor who said, “Expository Writing sounds like something you’d purchase at a drug store.” This usually elicited a chuckle from at least a few of the students and launched a discussion of just what we might be up to in the class.

To compliment their extensive writing assignments, the students considered a number of literary models. As a capstone to becoming thoughtful, analytical readers, they were assigned to focus on one of the essayists in our anthology of brilliant writers. Each student would pick a writer and an essay by that writer, assign the essay to the class, and then present information about the author to supplement class discussion about the essay.

Nearly every semester in every class, the speech-like requirements of my syllabus would send a student spiraling into my office hours, panicked. “Professor Robin,” the student, most often a young woman, would say, “I can’t get up in front of your class and talk.”

This particular semester that student was a woman I’ll call “Leona.” Leona had delicate features, a small face, and a trim figure. She wore her long hair in a tight braid down her back. I hadn’t yet seen any writing from students in the class when she arrived at my office hours, hugging her books close to her body and looking scared.

When Leona sat timidly in my conference chair, I could see that she was a non-traditional student, closer to thirty than twenty. I sensed a story; even the most traditional students tended to enroll in community college because of their stories. Leona was no exception—married young to a man from a country where women had few rights, she was in a custody fight for her daughters who, in the same vein as the movie that was popular in the early nineties, were taken from her to live with their father’s family in his homeland.

“You have a lot to write about,” it was an understatement.

Leona looked hopeful, “I really do. But … do I have to speak to the class? I really don’t think I can do that.”

“Have you chosen an author yet?”

Leona had, Nancy Mairs. I smiled in recognition. The poet turned essayist struggled from her twenties on with depression and multiple sclerosis. She was confined to a wheelchair in her thirties, but wrote intense, wry, brilliant essays. “I think that’s a good fit. You’ll like her work.”

That day I struck a bargain with Leona that she’d go ahead and do the research on Mairs, we’d meet again before her date to present, and if she was still anxious about presenting, we’d come up with a solution together.

Leona submitted tightly written essay drafts that scratched the surface of a number of difficult narratives from her life. We had our work cut out for us as I coaxed her to move into and explore the stories more fully. In the class I encouraged peer review with lots of coaching, and Leona slowly opened up to her classmates as she did to me. Her writing started to grow in expression and emotion.

It was mid-semester by the time we were getting close to her Mairs presentation. Leona walked into my office, braid swinging, a huge smile lighting up her face. “I did it.” I looked up, wondering. “I called her.”

“Called who?” Perhaps I was thinking of her daughters.

“I called Nancy Mairs. In Tucson. Last night. I can’t believe it, but I did it! She talked to me for almost an hour.”

Leona’s brave dialing translated into a new willingness to present to her classmates—she had a story to share. When Leona arrived armed with her biographical information, direct from the author herself, she wore her hair in a shining tumble to her waist, the stunning mane of confidence. She spoke effortlessly, with an air of authority, about the author, her work, and the essay she had chosen for her classmates to read. Her presentation assignment was an unqualified success.

The myriad of challenges that Advanced Expository Writing offered to Leona gave her a measure of support combined with room to grow and—in her case—the impetus to take a giant leap toward the kind of academic success she wanted. As Leona’s teacher, it was my honor to create and hold the space where she could thrive. It is a critical component of teaching, but one I wouldn’t have been able to put into words in quite this way when I was an English professor in my twenties. I’ve learned that holding space for personal growth is a large part of what I do—whether on the page or on the yoga mat. More recently, it’s a phrase I’ve come to use in other scenarios as well—I can hold space for someone afar who is grieving. I can invite a friend to stay in my house and hold space for her to rest, to heal. I can hold space for my children to grow as I witness their accomplishments and failures too. When we carve out parameters and then give each other wiggle room, isn’t it possible we nurture and encourage growth into the next, more amazing iterations of ourselves, our talents, our relationships? Holding space for one another—family member, student, friend, stranger—is the best way I know to live organically and respectfully, to ease tension and stress, to sponsor buoyancy and breadth.IMG_9398

Leona’s story has two postscripts. The first is that several years later, after she had gone on to a four-year school and completed her bachelor’s degree, Leona came to see me to tell me that she had, in fact, retrieved her daughters from their father and had them at home with her full time. When she stopped by my office, she wore her hair loose and her mane sparkled. She was happy. The second postscript came when, shortly before I moved away from New York, I attended a conference where Nancy Mairs was the keynote speaker. After her talk, I introduced myself and was then able to tell her what a difference she had made in accepting a phone call from one troubled, scared young woman. She nodded at the memory, the stage lights illuminating a shiny angelic circle in her hair.

Once every twenty years, February has no full moon. Tonight’s new moon launches the Asian year of the Earth Dog, but it has no full counterpart in the western 2018 calendar. Sometimes called a black moon, this new moon in my imagination moves us a little closer to the coming change of seasons. Keeping the faith that spring will spring, as ever, thank you for you, Rxo

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For Whom the Bell Tolls

What are your bells?

The semicolon won my heart as my very favorite punctuation mark when I learned, first studying ancient Greek as an undergraduate and then in pithy usage from essayist-physician Lewis Thomas, that it originated as the Greek question mark. “The semicolon,” Mr. Thomas explains in “Notes on Punctuation,” “tells you that there is still some question about the preceding full sentence; something needs to be added; it reminds you sometimes of the Greek usage. It is almost always a greater pleasure to come across a semicolon than a period. The period tells you that that is that; if you didn’t get all the meaning you wanted or expected, anyway you got all the writer intended to parcel out and now you have to move along. But with a semicolon there you get a pleasant little feeling of expectancy; there is more to come; to read on; it will get clearer.” The semicolon invites the reader to pause in anticipation; what’s not to love?

In recent years I became fond, too, of the ampersand. I feared it might edge out the semicolon in the run for favorite; but in a wonderful save it turns out—as savvy readers will already know—that the ampersand is in a league of its own; it’s a logogram or written character understood to have evolved from the handwritten letters “e” and “t,” or et, Latin for and. English has other logograms and, one author argues, is cultivating countless more from the shorthand arising on our mobile devices. However, it’s unlikely any will replace the ampersand in my heart.

As a proofreader, I am often given the opportunity to do far more than pause when I encounter semicolons and ampersands. In spite of my delight in the latter, I do not believe they belong in running text. As a writer, I’m likely to overuse the former; it’s so much fun to craft the phrase following that so nearly always illuminates the phrase in the fore. But whether writing or proofreading, it’s the act of considering that I have set out to address. When I stop to look up a word, consider the usage of a punctuation mark or logogram, check a subject’s name in the photo cutline against the spelling in the text, or rifle through pages checking the table of contents against the page numbers, I am fully present. I can’t do this work and think about something else. (If I get to a point where I realize I don’t know what I’m reading, then I’ve lost touch with the process, the words, line spaces, punctuation marks, and logograms. It’s time to pause and regroup.) As proofreader especially, I am both fully present and not lost in the flow.

Coming back to the present moment resonated for me as the central tenant of life in Buddhist Monk’s Thich Naht Hahn’s Plum Village as its portrayed in the documentary Walk With Me. A fan of Hahn’s writing, when I had a chance to be the captain for a local screening of the film, I thought, “why not?” Sitting in the dark theater with 100 beautiful spirits who chose to spend a rainy Monday night in September experiencing the movie, I was stunned by what is a cinemagraphic meditation. In discussions after, several people said they’re ready to pack their bags for a visit to Plum Village. Did I want to go asked one?

“Not really,” I surprised myself as well as my questioner. “The bells would drive me crazy.”

In the film every time a bell rings—every fifteen minutes and then some—everyone is expected to become still. To come back to the present. To breathe. While I love that idea—we can all use regular timeouts to breathe deeply and with intention—I value flow as well. If the words are pouring out of my fingers onto the keyboard or I’m lost in a drawing or spooning cake batter into a pan, I don’t want to be interrupted because someone else has decided that it’s time for me to pay attention. There’s so much jangly interruption in our world already. That said, I do believe it’s important to pause and pay attention; so I recognize that I have scores of personal bells.IMG_9054

As Eighteen noticed this summer, I brake for butterflies when they flutter past my car. I will pause and be utterly charmed by a flight of grackles, reporting on them later to Ninety-Three. I watch the clouds roll by and change shape. I rarely have a moon sighting without pointing it out to Fifteen. When the sky is drenched in color at sunset, I’m at the window marveling. If I hear the whistle of a train in the distance, I consider hard whatever I was thinking or saying at that moment, certain the whistle is meant as an underscore. There are work bells, too. Along with the aforementioned proofreading pauses to consider usage, a misplaced foot or a knee out of alignment can cause me to shift the entire focus of a yoga practice I’m leading. A room full of beautiful poses can take my breath away. The collection of smiles and hugs after class routinely keeps me from mentally racing on to the next task or worry.

These days, there are serious bells—for most of my life I was discomforted deeply by sirens. News stories of hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, disasters, protests and political upheavals shock and startle. I am learning to take a breath here, too, to send a silent “blessings” in the direction of the retreating ambulance or fire truck, to imagine and honor the light within the individuals whose deeds may seem so very counterproductive to my own philosophy. Being present is only a platform from which to begin; however, it is the platform, the only platform, on which I can safely stand. Some days that’s the best I can do.

What are your bells, dear reader? With gratitude & love & best wishes for the new moon, Rxo

Salon Ninety-Two

How do you know what to teach?

I am lying on my mother’s bed, a deceptively bright triangle of blue sky visible from the window to my left. It’s cold outside, but in the warm cocoon of her respite apartment I’ve shed all of my outer layers. My eyes play between the sky and the nubbly stucco ceiling. She’s stretched out, too, under a fuzzy blanket. We’ve been exchanging news—she of the curiosities of finding herself living a new chapter at ninety-two, me of my peeps and my own comings and goings, including the day’s yoga classes. I look over at Mom and I can see she’s forming a question, her own eyes reviewing the texture of the ceiling.

“How do you know what to teach?”

I stall my answer a bit, taking time to roll up onto my elbow to face her, realizing that’s distinctly uncomfortable, bunching a pillow under my ear, and finally giving up and sitting all the way up. On the way, I’ve found the analogy I needed.

“It’s like teaching someone to ride a horse.”

Ninety-Two grew up in western Nebraska, her family moving to California in the thirties. She rode her pony to high school, moved a horse across the country to Washington, DC, in her early twenties, and kept as many as five horses at any given time on the farm where I grew up. She preferred English to Western, did jumping, dressage, and trail riding. She put lots of people, from the writers filtering through the workshop in Iowa City to neighboring children on horseback for the very first time. Nobody learned from a book—whether they came outfitted in designer riding duds or jeans and sneakers—she showed them how to catch the horse with a piece of a carrot extended on a flat hand, place a halter gently around the horses nose to lead it to the barn, clean its hooves, curry its hair, add a saddle and bridle, lead the horse out, step into the stirrup, and swing a leg up and over.

My mother is nodding as I say these steps, “And then sometimes you’d have to make them go before they were ready—trot before they learned to walk, canter before they’d learned to trot.”

We smile, complicitous. “Yes, sometimes that’s true in yoga, too.”

I remember, then, a student who walked into the door of my studio, a referral from another teacher suspending her classes for the summer. “I love yoga,” she told me, filling in her registration form, “but I don’t ever want to go upside down. No headstand for me.”

“Okay,” I assured her—in all likelihood a smile playing on my face—and we chatted about her practice and the class she was joining. She went inside and unrolled her mat front and center, a position she would occupy each Wednesday morning for at least a year.

What the curly haired beauty in front of me couldn’t have known is that each yoga community and every class becomes a Sangha—even as people come and go—and has an energy of its own. That Wednesday group, whose numbers included any number of women living with multiple joint-replacements, loved headstand. So it was inevitable that the pose would arise in our rotation. The woman, I’ll call her Shakti, after the female principle of divine energy and power, would smile contentedly and settle back, taking whatever alternate pose I offered in lieu of standing on her head or even working on headstand prep. Chairs set up against the wall offered yoginis who didn’t want to take weight on their heads the opportunity to invert in “headless” headstand.

One day I noticed her watching the line of women using the chairs. I invited her to try and her community quickly chorused, “Come on over, Shakti.” “It’s easy.” “You’ll love it.” “But,” I assured her, remembering the ferocity with which she had declared she wouldn’t invert, “no pressure.” Sometimes you can see someone considering the possibilities, the thoughts playing in the air over their heads—this was one of those moments and the whole room went still as Shakti considered her options. She stood, a tiny powerhouse, “Okay? Maybe I’ll try it.”

Those waiting to use the chairs cleared a path and Shakti walked over. I showed her where to put her hands, adjusted the chairs closer to fit her, and invited her to settle her shoulders onto the blankets cushioning the chairs. That’s really the scariest part of the pose because the first time out it feels a little like you’re putting your neck in a guillotine (headless headstand is a perfect Halloween pose). “Which leg feels like it wants to go up first?”

Shakti lifted her leg and I positioned myself to guide that leg to the wall. “When you’re ready, push into your hands and give a little kick.”

She backed off, lifting her head and looking at me, nervous. “It’s okay. If not today, another time.” Again, I could see her considering the matter. Then she fitted her head back into the space between the chairs and started to swing her leg. Before either of us knew what happened, she kicked up and stuck a beautifully aligned headless headstand. The burst of cheer on her face was met with applause from the watching crowd. As so often happens, the surprise of it all brought her down sooner and more quickly than she intended. To my delight, she lifted right back up. “This. Is. Amazing.”

It wasn’t long before Shakti put weight on her head in headstand prep, stood fully in the pose against the wall, and then asked me how to balance in the middle of the room. She became one of the regulars who requested headstand in class, and she practiced it on her own at home. We often joked about the first thing she had ever said to me as her headstand practice evolved.

A short time later she walked in on a Wednesday morning with the bittersweet news that she was moving back east. “At least you’re taking your headstand with you!” I hugged her hard.

“You’ll always be the one who taught me to stand on my head when I didn’t want to.”

“You did that yourself,” I told her, not for the first time.

“I couldn’t have done it without you,” she said simply.

I roll back onto my back, once again considering the ceiling of my mother’s room. The summer I was ten, a young woman taught riding on our farm and we were up and on horseback each morning before the heat of the day. At the end of the season, we held an exhibition for our parents and my mother awarded us trophies, a statue of a horse with a plaque showing our names and the phrase, “Riding According to Susie Farrell.” Maybe it’s only now that I begin to understand that phrase. Yoga isn’t mine, but the way I share the practice is. If I could, I might give Shakti a trophy of herself in headstand according to Robin Bourjaily. This is how I might best define the oral tradition of teaching the practice that I love.IMG_7912

So many memories of horses and riders on our farm seem to be swirling through the air around my mother and me. I know my yoga life is an oddity to her, in spite of her insistence I go out the door to practice when my peeps were really little, but maybe the comparison to riding has helped her align her passion just a little more closely with mine. I stretch, shifting my attention back to the sky outside her window. “You know,” I tell her, “I think it’s probably really good for me to come lie on your bed for an hour every day. It’s relaxing.” This sentiment is mirrored by my dear friend who comes to visit often, leaving behind her burgeoning real estate practice to spend a little time chatting pleasantly. In finding this space, a place where Mom’s care requirements have shifted to the people who work in the facility, I have received an incomparable gift—these are precious moments where we are simply together, mother and daughter.

May this March full moon find you getting ready to welcome spring, in spite of the cold and snow. Thank you for the journey, Rxo

Feet First

Whose footprints are those?

In December 1983 I bought a pair of high heels in a tiny alcove of a store on Wisconsin Avenue, the Georgetown shopping district steps from my university. I was a freshman, out selecting Christmas gifts with money I had earned in my work-study job driving a bus to take home to my family. The shoes, grey and navy blue, incidentally my school colors, were not leather—I couldn’t afford leather—but they were the highest heels I had ever owned. I paired them with a grey wool skirt, a cream silk shirt, stockings, my dark blue wool dress coat, the cashmere muffler I swiped from my father, and mirrored aviator sunglasses—it was the eighties after all.

I felt remarkably grown up flying home and perhaps was disproportionately ridiculous wobbling off the plane in Iowa, where we still walked down stairs and across the tarmac, in those heels on two inches of ice in temperatures sixteen below before the wind chill. But of course, the airline misdirected my luggage for several days. To stay warm, my brother loaned me a V-neck sweater and I wore my mother’s boots.

The most amazing part of that memory to me, all these years later, is that I stayed upright in a pair of shoes that were nothing like the shape of my feet and pinching horribly. I have wide, flat feet—the feet of a platypus. For years I bemoaned my feet—without arches I couldn’t run fast or comfortably or jump well at all. Most shoes were not designed to fit me. Dress shoes were even less available. I was never able to be a shoe girl—generally speaking I’ve owned at any one time: a pair of sneakers, perhaps some boot for staying warm, a pair of flats, and a pair of impractical shoes that seemed like just maybe they fit in the store.

When I started practicing yoga it was a toss-up whether my teachers would zero in on my feet or my knees first (they hyperextend). Iyengar yoga teachers are renown for their observations of their students’ body parts and not necessarily in a way that makes the student feel blessed. What they will do is help you overcome your irregular parts, propping you this way and that way, cautioning you to lift your inner ankles or otherwise adjust the realities of your body for comfort and integration in yoga poses.

Most types of yoga teachers will talk about the four corners of your feet, the inner and outer heel, the big toe mound and the little toe mound. They may talk about three bindi, or light points, a triumvirate from which we lift upwards. They may remind practicing yogis that there are 26 bones in each foot, 250,000 sweat glands, and toes that take half the body’s weight when we step forward. They will—or at least I will—invariably remind you to lift those toes, root down through the four corners of your feet, even when the feet or foot may not be on solid ground, and spread the toes wide and enthusiastically.

I had been studying yoga for about four years when a family vacation took us to the Delaware shore. While everyone slept, I tiptoed out for a sunrise walk on the beach. I walked along the deserted shoreline, the waves curling at my toes, the sun glinting up over the horizon. When I had walked as far down the beach as I dared, I turned around and started back, crisscrossing footprints headed in the other direction. The footprints puzzled me because I was alone on the beach and yet they didn’t look like mine. These footprints reflected feet that had shape and an arch even, not the ovals my feet marked in the sand. And then I looked behind me: to my astonishment the footprints that lead right up to my feet were the same. For the first time I could remember, I had made foot-shaped prints. They were mine!

One of my early teachers had sparked fear in me when she opined: Will yoga make your feet wider? Yes, but you’ll also learn to wear more comfortable shoes. When I heard that, I worried. I didn’t want wider feet. To be fair, in my case I don’t know that yoga has made my feet any larger than, say, two pregnancies did, but yoga has given my feet two things: arches and love. Sixteen years of practice have taught me to love my improbable feet.

I still have, in my closet, one pair of ridiculously high heels that “fit” in the store. They were five dollars. I have two pair with more realistic heels that I wear for dressy occasions, one pair of professional clogs, one pair of winter Merrills, and a pair of fancy ergonomic flip-flops. I keep my sneakers in the basement next to the treadmill, and I have a pair of winter boots I wear for shoveling snow. I’m not a fan of socks because I end up peeling them off all day long, but I like legwarmers. And now I look forward during yoga practice to seeing my feet.

My toes lift and move in many directions, somewhat independently from one another. My feet are still technically flat, but I can draw arches into them at will and propel myself forward reliably. I can stand on one foot more easily than the other, but my balance continues to get steadier, not worse. My feet are capable and I connect easily to both the four grounding corners and three lift-off points of light. They rarely hurt and tire long after my brain is begging for sleep. Yoga offers many gifts, not the least of which is how it changes your relationship with your body. I haven’t learned unequivocal love for all of my body’s quirky parts, but those platypus feet are two of my all-time favorites.

My feet, toes spread enthusiastically, on one of my favorite yoga mats.

My feet, toes spread enthusiastically, on one of my favorite yoga mats.

The new moon ushers in the Chinese New Year of the Wood Sheep. It’s another super moon, too, close to the earth in its orbit. The universe keeps offering us opportunities to get clear and ride the energy to whatever’s next. Feeling grounded by these feet of mine and flying high on the sales of my book (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/516628), I’m excited for whatever the next chapter might be. Thank you for traveling along with me, Rxo

Linked In

Linked In

What kind of yoga do you teach?

I spent the night of September 23, 2011, with a team of volunteers unpacking more than 400 two-foot square three-eighth-inch thick brown puzzle-pieces. This was the flooring I found for my yoga studio after an exhaustive search for something that would separate yogis on their mats from the cement subflooring, cushion their restorative poses, and still be firm enough for balance work. In the newly repaired and painted room, with a ceiling that soars to a peak of some twenty-two feet, it took us six hours to piece the floor together, starting in one corner and working in rows. I would not let anyone cut-to-fit the exterior pieces—that was a job I came back to a couple of days later and completed all on my own. The floor is one of the most remarked upon aspects of the space, where people have been coming to practice nearly every day for three years.

Indeed, Radiant Om Yoga, ROY, turns three on Sunday. Every three-year-old enjoys a party, and ROY will celebrate all weekend with free classes and new tank tops and discounts for fall. And Sunday after special morning classes, we’ll share a bite and toast where we have been and where we are going.

The studio space really is lovely, but what makes the studio spectacular is the people who find their way through the doors, both to teach and to practice. Each class has a crowd of regulars such that in my mind Monday at 5:30 pm is quite different from Thursday at six in the morning, gently shaped by the energies and expectations of the people who arrive. The entire studio is on a drop-in basis; however, and that means we have new encounters just about every day, and it’s delightful to experience the studio and the practice through fresh eyes.

New people often ask questions like how long we’ve been open. I get phone messages on the answering machine asking if our yoga is heated or whether we offer Pilates. It’s when I meet people for the first time, because they’ve stopped by to check out ROY or we’ve met in another venue and they find out I’m a yoga instructor that they ask: What kind of yoga do you teach?

Teaching for eight years, my answers have ranged from the standard, “Hatha or Asana-based yoga with an emphasis on alignment,” to a longer-winded, “I started as an Iyengar yogi, trained with an Anusara-inspired teacher and then did my 200-hour RYT (registered yoga teacher training) in Power yoga,” to the sassy, “boutique yoga.” None of these are wrong, but nor do they adequately describe what I do: I cull from a number of sources, influences, and yoga experiences, from teachers I trust, from articles and books that I read, from living in my almost fifty-year-old body, and I run all of that through a filtering process and offer this ancient practice, of which I consider myself to be a custodian, as a tool for living in the twenty-first century. While I may be late to the buzz, may be picking up on the tail end of a naming trend that is over-used and thus has lost its luster, in thinking today about all things Radiant Om Yoga, I came to a new conclusion. What I teach, what all of the amazing, wonderful, talented teachers at ROY offer, is artisan yoga. (And, of course, artisan Nia, taught by the lovely Moira who is due back at the studio in time for our birthday weekend with a brand new black belt, the next step in her amazing Nia journey.)

Yoga has been around for upwards of 5000 years. It’s only in recent history that yogis could learn yoga via printed text, the Internet, magazines … long before there was spandex, yoga was passed from teacher to student. In the practice we honor lineages, so my teachers and their teachers are my students’ teachers too. It’s one of the longest chain letters on the planet, and while some modern practices and contemporary clothing might make historical yoga gurus gasp, my Dharma (duty/nature/purpose) is to be a link in the chain, a link that both understands where yoga comes from and pulls it where it will do the most for the people who practice with me. That means every class, every private session, every time I practice, I am crafting an experience that draws upon the tools of yoga without being tethered by them.

I am very fortunate that I get to do this work at ROY. Four years ago, if you had told me there would be days when I would miss driving myself around to six different teaching sites, I might have looked at you like you were crazy. I wanted to land once and for all in a studio home. Teaching is the part of the whole enchilada that I like the best. But as a teacher I was a journey(wo)man, not challenged to be an artisan in the medieval sense of one who owns a business. So even on the days when owning a brick and mortar is really, really hard, I can remember that Radiant Om Yoga is a labor of love, a small batch of yoga hand-crafted and delivered with gratitude, creativity, and joy.

Thanks ever-so for joining me on this journey. We launch year four with a new season, a new moon, and a renewed appreciation for all things yoga. Happy Birthday to the whole ROY community, Rxo3

Write to My Heart

Have you written about Zephyr yet?

Writing partners who know how to put their heads down and write, the tip-tap of the keyboard blending into the rush of cars, natural sounds and conversation snippets on the Starbucks patio, are treasures. I’m lucky to have several delightful companions; I got especially lucky this summer when my peeps and I spent time together every week, writing.

Earbuds in his ears, Fifteen writes with a focused intensity that belies any writer’s block or other stalling, although from conversation I know he has experienced great pauses in his production. Nevertheless, he started out in March writing a short story in honor of his sister’s spelling challenge victory. After six years of getting every word right in her elementary school’s spelling challenge, Twelve faced her final year with the hardest list available. Learning the list in just two weeks, she correctly spelled all fifty of her words and earned pledge dollars for her school. Her reward from her brother was the promise of a story, featuring all of the words she had to learn to spell.

What he didn’t count on is that the compelling characters he would invent to use such unrelated words as cordillera, multiculturalism, and pancreas would take off on an adventure that includes time travel across 200 years, a small town in Minnesota, and colonizing alien creatures. He also didn’t know that the story would grow and grow and grow until it morphed into a novella.

But morph it did and with it came a number of lessons about writing. The first is that writing quickly becomes something of an addiction. When it’s going well, it calls to you. Come. Sit down. Put words on the page. Ignore whatever requires doing because the next idea, the one that’s swirling just out of focus in your brain, will be the one. It’ll be the idea that moves the story, that cinches the plot, that lets you know your work is the most lively, engaging, creative piece ever.

He learned, too, that writing can offer intense challenges; he kept at it in spite of the frustrations. He learned that time spent in the chair is the best way to overcome the times when the plot doesn’t turn as the writer intended or, worse, something simply doesn’t work.

My son learned the value of working with an editor, even if she is his mother. With my support, he was able to navigate the distance from first draft through developmental editing through line editing, to see the importance of each of these stages, and to understand that a part of writing well is incorporating distance into the process. Each successive draft gained in authority, even as the cuts both benefitted the plot and made the author cringe.

Fifteen, the author, learned that he could invent a life for his fictitious characters in a real town, and with a fait accompli, visit the town himself and see that his imagination hadn’t been far off, and the town as it actually exists fits nicely with his imagined form. Our summer stop in Milaca, Minnesota, was an unexpected joy. The cover of Fifteen’s book is fashioned from a photo he took outside the town’s history museum.

Of course, he’s not the only one who learned things. I learned, from watching him, that I can be every bit as proud of something he writes as I can of things I write. I learned that it’s not hard to format a book for Smashwords and that I really ought to bite the bullet and put my book out in the eworld too. I learned that an afternoon spent together, side-by-side, formatting his book and proofreading the line-edits and finding the discrepancies (when is a truck a car? in this book, after editing, never), was one of my favorite days of the summer.

And so I learned something else: My peeps are easy to promote. They’re clever and academic, funny and attractive. They can move, dance, sing, laugh and hold forth a conversation; they are emotive and swiftly empathetic. We go through a lot together every day, and I have nothing but the best intentions and wishes for them. Their successes are theirs, while I have the privilege of watching them thrive. As their mother, I understand something about mothers, that unquestioning, unwavering support my mother always gave me, even if she didn’t always understand my choices. Props are something I can give my peeps easily and frequently and whole-heartedly. And I do. Just like this:

Twelve’s Garnet Granola, delicious homemade granola she sells at my yoga studio, will be featured (spoiler alert) at the third birthday brunch for the studio at the end of September. Most days you can stop by and purchase a bag, and I bet she would do a batch mail order if someone were interested. She also makes and occasionally caters delicious brownies and the family chocodot pumpkin cake recipe. I feel certain future forays into entrepreneurial adventures are in her future and thus, yours. Fifteen is available in our neighborhood for watering and pet sitting jobs. He’s responsible and reliable. And then there’s this: Today, I’m delighted to suggest that you purchase his book. Right now. Go to Smashwords and download Zephyr’s Crossing.

Purchase your very own copy of Zephyr's Crossing at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/468461

Purchase your very own copy of Zephyr’s Crossing at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/468461

If enough people do (like 100,000), he’ll be able to put himself through four years of college. But when even a few people do (at post time he had sold 16), I can see the light in his eyes and the wheels turning—how many more sales until he receives his first-ever royalty check? That’s up to you.

The last of the summer super moons shines over this week. Enjoy the full moon energy. Enjoy Zephyr’s Crossing. Enjoy the spectacular young people in your world. As ever, you have my love & gratitude, Rxo

Tingsha Fairies

What would you wish for?

“Mommy,” Twelve is in the backseat, “it sounds like two fairies are duking it out in the trunk.”

I laugh, “Oh, it’s probably my tingsha. I had them out separately from my yoga mat bag today. They’re chiming with each bump on the road.” I strain to listen. She hears them; I don’t.tingsha

“No,” her will for whimsy makes me happy, “I’m pretty sure it’s two fairies duking it out.”

“Should I stop the car and break up their fight?”

“If you do, maybe they’ll grant you wishes. Two fairies, so six wishes. What would you wish for Mama?”

“Six, huh, that’s an awful lot of wishes.”

“And you can’t share them.” Twelve is so generous, “they’re all for you.” This from the child who’s liable to hand me a twenty when she owes me twelve and say, “keep the change and buy yourself a chai.”

I take a deep breath.

“Okay …”

  1. I wish my book would be published and would be optioned for a lucrative movie deal.

“Wanna go to Hollywood with me?” I am checking for her reaction. “Wait, is that one wish or two?” I don’t want to seem greedy.

“Nope,” she rules. “That’s just one.”

Wow. I still have five to go. I am surprised I can’t just rattle off wishes—I’m taking this whole thing very seriously.

  1. Okay, I wish for a roof and new windows for our house. And new carpet. And new paint.

Later I’ll wonder why I didn’t wish for the addition I’ve always I thought would make my house a pearl. Or why didn’t I wish for the mortgage to be paid off? Or why didn’t I wish for a castle in Scotland, a beach house in Delaware, and a getaway in British Columbia? I’m in practical place today and that practicality merely compounds with wishes three and four.

  1. I’d like new tires for this car. Really good safe-in-all-weather ones. And …
  2. I’d like to do whatever the PT Cruiser needs so it keeps running well for a long time.

She doesn’t remark about these wishes, just waits, hands folded in her lap, looking at the back of my head expectantly from the back seat. I’m stretching now (even though later I’ll think of lots more wishes, like full-ride scholarships to great colleges for both kids—then realize that she would have said those weren’t for me, but of course they are).

  1. I’d like to lose thirty pounds.

This frequently chatty, tangentially minded child barely blinks after this one. She always tells me I look perfect. Now it’s out there and we drive for a few blocks in silence.

“And the sixth,” she says calmly from the backseat, “let me guess, world peace?”

I laugh because she knows me so well. Then I surprise us both:

  1. World Understanding. I wish for world understanding.

In response to the tilt of her head, questioning without asking, I say, “I think maybe understanding needs to come before peace. And maybe we’ll never get entirely to peace, but understanding could go along way to smoothing out a lot of bad situations.”

I pull up in front of her dance studio and she gathers her bag and pointe shoes. “Good wishes, Mama.” She bounces out of the car and waves. “Bye, love you.”

“Love you, too,” I call after her retreating back.

As I drive toward the yoga studio, I sort over my wishes and ponder. One through five are all about me; but, I give myself a break, they’re all about ways to help me be a better me. They are also all within my power to accomplish if I really set my focus and make them my goals. Are these my actual goals? The first one is, to be sure. The others are about living well, pieces of a whole picture that I want to move toward.

I think about how I can do what I want to when I’m not overwhelmed. Overwhelmed, I go toward my worst weaknesses, sliding into bad eating habits, sleeping poorly, not exercising, and spending money thoughtlessly. When I’m not overwhelmed, I’m upbeat, powerful, happy. I’m also content, even without six wishes; I have the strength and determination to take small steps toward fixing the inevitable problems that are a part of every day living. I have patience, knowing maybe even not one thing can be entirely accomplished and put behind me in one move.

And world understanding? I can’t wish that to happen by myself. What I can do is my part. If I figure out how to be my best self, if I teach my children how and live by example, if I learn how to hold tight to center even when the overwhelming wheel spins, then I can look up once in a while from the day-to-day worries. I can reach out to try to understand one other person, one situation, one issue. I can lift the energetic vibration I cast out and know there’s a ripple effect, not unlike the lasting vibration the tingshas make when they ring, purposefully at the end of practice or surprisingly in the trunk of my car.

I used to say that if everyone in the world stretched their hamstrings every day, we’d have world peace. Knowing more about yoga and the body now, I currently believe it’s the quadriceps. Get me the world’s leaders in a room, put ‘em all on yoga mats, and let’s stretch those quads. Boom. World Peace. Until I can teach UN Yoga, I’ll keep working on my little corner of the world. This very day I’m joyfully teaching at the Summer Writing Festival in Iowa City. Thanks for joining me for the journey under the full thunder moon, xoR

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