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Once in a Blue Moon

Once in a Blue Moon

Who says “Pookie?”

Over the course of three days, in conversation, I hear three riveting lines:

“The only way out is through,” says the wise, compassionate woman who has hired me to teach a workshop in her yoga teacher training. We are curled up on her sofa sipping tea after the workshop and dinner, talking about yoga and business, next steps and life’s knots. It was, she tells me, something she herself heard from three different sources in just one week’s time. I play the phrase over a few times, liking how it sounds as I say the words aloud, “the only way out is through.” My hostess nods.

“Repetition is the only form of permanence nature can achieve.” This one rocks me back on my heels, in part because it’s delivered with alacrity by a woman I’ve been lucky enough to practice with for years. She’s just coming in for class on Monday morning.

“Run that by me again?”

“Repetition is the only form of permanence nature can achieve,” she says more slowly. I write it down.

“Is that original?”

“No,” she says easily—it’s from a group to which she belongs where it’s said with such regularity that she’s not used to it being received with surprise. “I say it all the time there,” her soulful voice intones, “but I guess I have never said it to you.”

“I’m glad you did today. I’m going to think about that.”

A few minutes later the pre-practice chatter has shifted to songbirds. We are weary of the winter cold, and the first bird sightings suggest the spring may not be so impossible to believe in. I realize this is a group with a depth of knowledge in local birdlife and, trying my hardest to sound like a bird, I pose a question to them I’ve been living with for years, “Who says ‘Pooookieeee’?”

There are a few bewildered looks, a tentative suggestion that it’s a mourning dove, and then comes the certain voice of a newer student in the class, “It’s the Black-capped Chickadee saying, ‘Sweet Day’.”

“Pookie” is one of the first birdcalls I hear in January. Even with the blast of the furnace fan and the windows closed against the winter winds, “Pookie” whistles through, the call beginning before the sun is fully up and sounding periodically through the day. In the spring the call sounds perky to me, full of promise. As the summer wears on, it begins to seem a little doleful. Once a friend and I made up a clichéd story that she was on the nest and he had flown off across the lake to hang with the boys, leaving her with all of the nestling care. “Pooooookie,” she called and called, “Poooookie.” She was using his pet name, we decided, when what she really wanted to say is, “Where are you?”

Pookie’s call while I’m proofreading a few mornings later reminds me to search for a sound file. I google “Black-capped Chickadee” and sure enough, the “typical” song on allaboutbirds.org is precisely what I’ve been hearing. Now I know that Pookie is a charming little bird named for one of its other songs, it’s mating call chickadee dee that my mother says changes to Chickadee dee dee when the weather warms. (The website suggests more dees mean danger, but I like my mother’s version better.)

I learn, too, that the Chickadee survives the cold by lowering its body temperature. That it enjoys peanuts and sunflower seeds and doesn’t mind if a feeder or food source is moving in the wind. The nestlings hiss and slap the side of their nest if an intruder looks in, and Chickadees in general aren’t afraid of birds and predators much larger than they. Airborne, the Chickadee is one of the most curious of songbirds, some even consenting to land on an outstretched human hand.

In Animal Speak, Ted Andrews guides me to the energetic implications of the courageous, joyful bird. Chickadees inspire cheerfulness, gentle truth, balance, and open perception to the world at large as well as the inner mind. These are attributes worth cultivating.

Mostly, though, I am happy all day because the bird has been identified. It is, I think, one of those “once in a blue moon” moments, when something you’ve wondered about for a long time resolves. When you have a solid answer rather than a question. It’s comfortable to know something, to know the truth of the dear little Chickadee who greets me and the world each morning.

Dear Chickadee

Chickadee1

Poem & sketch by me … Once in a blue moon I enjoy trying alternate means of expression. 


You sing it’s a “Sweet Day,”
I hear “Pookie.”
Brave, curious, a teller of truth,
Distinctive, tiny, tough,
You remind:
The only way out of winter,
of any bind,
is through.
Resilient bird,
as mysterious as any,
You return, each year, and
spring replenishes your song.

Wishing you a wonderful full-blue-eclipse moon and the unraveling of one or more mysteries. Namaste, Rxo

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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

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

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