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Vertical Hold

What are you reading these days?

[[Author’s note: This is probably more essay than blog post. Posting here anyhow … with thanks to my writing circle who challenged me to write into this more. We’ll see, for now here’s Part II, or thoughts to follow “The Door to Everywhere.”]]

When I was little we had an enormous color television set that stood on the floor. You had to cross the floor to change the channel, adjust the color, or turn the volume up. There were four channels and occasionally reception through an enormous antenna on the roof caused a snowy picture or rapid scrolling, black lines crossing the screen, necessitating adjustment of the vertical hold.

My mother gave my brother and me a television account, seven hours a week each. We had to read the TV Guide and select what we would watch ahead of time. I liked Captain Kangaroo in the mornings and when I snuck a peek in the evening, I thought perhaps he was also Walter Cronkite, no longer dressed in his signature red coat, back to deliver the evening news my parents consumed along with their cocktails every night.

Saturday mornings we must have somehow combined our hours, because I remember settling in with cereal bowls to watch cartoons. I liked the antics of Bugs Bunny the best, but it is the misadventures of Wile E Coyote I remember—how he would freeze in midair, eyes enormous before dropping legions down a canyon or look with sudden awareness at the item he was holding, something explosive, then look at the camera with full knowledge of what was about to happen. His ears might droop a little, but powerless to do anything about it, we’d wait for the inevitable, boom. It always made sense to my trusting mind that in the next frame, or maybe the one after that, he would return unscathed.

There are moments in life that feel just like that. Once I was navigating the overcrowded evening streets of Taipei, a metropolis that truly never sleeps, with a friend who had been living in Asia after college. We started across a street just as a car started barreling toward us. Maybe she was across faster than I was, but I jumped in the air, alarm on my face, my feet peddling while I hovered without moving forward—just like the Coyote right before he would be smacked by an oncoming Mack truck. Somehow I started to move (cue a whoosh sound with a little puff of cartoon smoke behind me) and made it safely to the other side of the busy street. When I got there, breathlessly, I said, “I felt like a character in a cartoon just then.” My friend laughed, “You looked just like one.”

More recently an ice storm coated the streets, sidewalks and trees of our community. I was on my way home from a late meeting, one of the only cars on the road. I got to my street, a one-block suburban circle that leads up the hill to my house, turned, and fifteen feet up the hill stopped, sliding sideways. Backing down and making a run for it netted me a whole twenty feet, and I determined that I wasn’t going to make it up the hill until the city had treated my street.

I slid back onto the more mainly road where traction was somewhat possible and saw a treatment truck go by. I thought to go and see if other circles in the neighborhood were being treated, figuring I could wait until they did mine, and found the truck two streets over. I pulled over to the curb to watch him start up the street and stop, wheels spinning. As soon as the driver took his foot off the gas the truck paused, totally still, and then started to slide at an angle right back down the hill. I watched him try and try again, getting no further than I had in his enormous six-wheeled truck with flashing lights and a bed full of ice melt.

It was no more successful when he turned around and tried backing up the hill, spreading his treatment mixture ahead of his own back tires. I couldn’t see the driver’s face, but the whole truck, each time momentum stopped and before it started to slide, had that Coyote-like expression, in the dark, the icy rain still falling and freezing all around us.

That night I ended up parking my car a solid half-mile from my house and navigating the icy pavements by walking on yoga blankets I had in my trunk. I’d put one down, walk across it, spread the second one as best I could, step onto it, turn around pick up the last one, and inch forward. I could walk safely on the grassy surfaces, but my trek crossed a parking lot, a slew of driveways, and one major street. By the time I reached the bottom of my circle, I had ice coated on my glasses and in my hair and I was exhausted. I thought, if I’m going to fall, it’s going to happen up this hill close to home. I tried to redouble my care.

Years of yoga and I fall well. That night one tiny misstep, my foot half on the blanket half on the icy pavement, and I went down fast—no time to look helplessly at the camera—curling into myself and landing on my right hip and shoulder. Normally I would stay down after a fall, allowing the adrenaline to subside, but heart pumping I got up knowing it was too cold to stay on the ground. I was two driveways away from my own safe house.

The next day’s weather wasn’t much better. Eleven and Fourteen had delayed openings at school, the people I was supposed to meet with opted to stay home, and I inched my way downtown to see my chiropractor who brought mobility to my stiffening shoulder. That evening, on the sofa enjoying a fire and the surety of having everyone at home, I thought it might be nice to read a book.

I don’t remember learning to read, but I remember reading just about every book in my junior high’s library, some of them many times. I consumed books, like my children do, opting to read over just about any other activity, even sometimes those seven hours of television. My appetite continued through college, when I would use reading to relax, especially during finals week. Then in graduate school I spent three years not finishing books because there was always more to read. But I regained my reading pace as a professor, surrounded in various English departments by colleagues who always were reading and recommending something new.

Novels, memoirs, and academic treatises gave way to Moo, Baa, La La La and Goodnight Gorilla when Fourteen was born. I read to him constantly and it wasn’t long before he would toddle his way to me, a book offered with a beseeching look. We would stop everything and read, one book over and over or a stack that seemed to appear as he crawled into my lap. My own reading pace slowed considerably, not to a dead stop but to an agonizingly slow pace, maybe a book every month or two. Television and Internet screen time took over as my drugs of choice.

Today I read a lot—editing materials and email messages and business-related items—and I don’t read much at all. I still have the habit of buying books—I’m rarely able to finish a library book in the three weeks allotted for me—and starting them. They tend to lie around with a torn scrap of paper marking the first chapter or, worse, open, their spines creasing to keep my place. Momentum lost, I’ll clean them up two or three or eight weeks after I’ve started reading them and put them on the shelf next to all of the other “must reads.”

The hankering to read that started on the sofa the day I was resting has turned into a full-blown impetus. As a part of this year’s visualization process, I kept coming up against this image of books not just organized and waiting to be read, although that’s a part of it, but actually reading books, consuming them like I used to, like I watch my children do every day after school, without a thought.

At the same time, I kept seeing explosions and fireworks, alarm and beauty, cartoon character style. Cartoon characters have a plan, often foolhardy, but they set about it with resolve. I drew a picture—order written in the cursive fuse of a rocket, a stick-person rendering of me hanging onto the rocket called chaos, the ascent, explosion, and subsequent fireworks lighting up the sky. Such events can be beautiful, breathtaking, and damaging; there’s a chance of getting scalded by falling embers or dirtied by ashes as they tumble, not to mention the perilous fall back to earth. When I looked at my drawing, what I could see was an image of me coping through the ups and downs. It’s a start but not ultimately a good visualization because it doesn’t promote the life that I want.

What I crave right now is ordered space, a concept that in my mind means I’ll be able to pick up those waiting books and read, put them down to attend to the next thing—or hold on as the inevitable chaos explodes, like I did just this week when the hydraulic system in my car’s transmission failed—but come back to the books sooner and read some more. Ordered space means that although life is chaotic and sometimes explosive, there will be a firmament that’s truly firm for me to stand on, manage the chaos, shelter through the explosions, and settle back without too much lingering ash or danger from falling embers. Ordered space is my visualization for this new year, represented by a line-drawing box, the inside a place to find order, the outside chaos held mostly at bay. Ordered space equals organized time and organized time includes time in my account to indulge in activities that give me joy, like reading on the sofa with my peeps.visualization

Makes sense, doesn’t it, that I’m reading Everything That Remains, a memoir by Minimalists Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus. Happy New Moon, Happy Wood Horse Year (Eleven’s year), Happy Groundhog Day, a day that marks my eighth anniversary as a yoga teacher. Wishing you warmth and the solid belief that spring will spring wherever you may be. With love, as always, Rxo


The Door to Everywhere

The Door to Everywhere

What will my visualization be for this year?

A few years ago I would have been panicked when January First arrived before I’d had opportunity to evaluate my world and make New Year’s Resolutions. That’s no longer a problem and not simply because I’ve given up resolutions in favor of visualizations. It’s no longer a problem because I now see the time from the Solstice to the Chinese New Year as a period of transition, an easing through the end of one period and the beginning of new energies.

This year, as happens once every nineteen years, the first of January was also a new moon. The new moon is an auspicious time for beginning anew. This January will lengthen under two new moons, and not just any two new moons, two supermoons.

Supermoons, my friends at Earth & Sky explain patiently, are the moments when the moon in its orbit is closest to the earth. There will be three full supermoons this year in June, July and August, and two new supermoons, both in January. The scientific name is perigee new or full moon, with perigee meaning “near earth.” To the gentle observer, supermoons look really big and close and, as with all moons, that’s true wherever on our planet you are.

In wonderful contrast, the full moon this month, falling on January 15, will be a micro moon, as far away in its orbit as it can be.

Bringing the question back to earth, what shall be done with this whoosh of new beginnings energy?

I’m just starting to see. Of course, there are the standards: lose-weight-exercise-more-eat-better-save-money-cultivate-less-stress-be-an-attentive-mommy-shrewd-business-owner-happy-yogini. I might add that sleeping regular hours would help immeasurably. Each of these is a given alongside writing more and worrying less. Still I know better than to make resolutions around basic quality of life improvements most of us can embrace.

Last’s year’s visualization was an open door. Most days I drew the icon in the steam on my shower door before I stepped through into the towel waiting on the other side. That my shower door swings both ways is a perfect metaphor for the door I visualized—sometimes it opened to the way home, sometimes into my business, sometimes into the world.

Doors ended up being a very big part of 2013: in January, I financed my house in my own name, so for the very first time I now own some 54 interior and exterior doors and doorways, including garage, pantry, and closets. A short while later I added a four-door car to my fleet, making Eleven and Fourteen more independent as they leap from the car to head off to the bus, dance, or Taekwondo.

Some interesting personal and professional doors opened for me as well, but the one that is most significant for me came along sometime in mid-December. It started with a very real need to invent a door—an interior door that could be closed to cats but open at the same time. I considered a basic screen door, but at least one of my cats climbs screens and would ruin a screen door in record time. The problem lies in wanting to keep the cats out of my bedroom—there is a mysterious spot on the carpet only in my room where they seem to feel they need to pee—but wanting cool air in summer and warm air in winter to circulate through the door. With the solid door closed, my room rarely gets above 60 degrees in winter and is often colder.

I found metal cutouts at Menards, on sale in the garden department and thought—if I could build a door, I could use those as panels. Then I thought of my friend David, a creative carpenter, and challenged him to the task.

I also asked him if he could solve a problem with my oven, and he gave me the name of a talented electrician. As is so often the case, I had a laundry list of small chores for an electrician, so we met and went through the list and he gave me a most reasonable estimate and we set a date for the work.

It’s no surprise that the one item on the list that wasn’t truly a repair, but rather an opportunity to fix a gross mistake in the original wiring of my house, had to do with doors. Both three-way switches for the dining room light were behind dining room doors. That meant to turn the lights on or off or to access the dimmer, you had to walk all the way into the dining room, swing the door away from the wall, and activate the switch. The talented electrician moved the switches to the stairwells that hug either side of the dining room, and now the lights can be accessed without hassle. It’s one of those things that has bugged me since the day I moved in here (nine—gasp—years ago), and now every time I need to turn on or off a light, it is with both ease and the total delight of having fixed something that was all wrong.

The novelty of the accessible switches hasn’t worn off one morning when we are hustling out the door to the bus and the world beckoning beyond. I reach over Eleven, sprawled on the stairs to put on her shoes, to click the switch for the dining room light off and smile to myself, “I made that happen. I did that.” Surveying the out-the-door-to-the-day scene in front of me, I find the thought expanding, “I am doing this, all of it.” I look up at my new door, a piece of art that makes me smile every time I see it, and the feeling deepens, “I can do this …  yes, not always perfectly, but I can do this. I can do precisely what I’m doing.” Peeps in tow, I walk through the door to contentment, ready for the everywhere that lies beyond.

The micro full moon rises over us tomorrow, 1.15. I hope you are warm and enjoying cozy winter activities. Part II of this post, along soon, aims to answer the question about my visualization for 2014. See you soon, with much love, Rxo

ps. I’m so enamored of my new door, I can’t stop adding pictures of it. It’s hard to photograph well, but it’s beautiful!

The Door to Everywhere

The Door to Everywhere

Shall I make you a list?

One day in November of 2011, I suddenly became very concerned that I would lock my keys inside somewhere and myself out. Or in. Or something. My mother had recently given up driving and there wasn’t another adult who who could come to my rescue in the event that my keys and I became separated. The often frantic Where-Are-My-Keys dance that I routinely do, made all the more frenetic in direct proportion to how late I am leaving, took on new urgency.

For a week or more, I was fried by the problem. With a keypad for the garage, it logically should be possible for me to get into the house. But what if I was at the studio? What if arriving at the studio I set my keys down, as I have done, gathered an armload from the front seat, and flung the car door closed, the keys within? I would be standing with studio laundry or a bale of paper towels or new yoga props, no keys, no purse, no cell phone, outside a locked studio door. I could see the whole thing play out in my mind and the more I noodled the issue, the more the problem loomed.

Ultimately the answer wasn’t very hard. I calmed down and set about collecting several complete sets of keys. There’s one set that never leaves my house and another, including a key that miraculously bypasses the electronic features of the car, stored with a dear friend who would rescue me in a heartbeat. I divided out the other keys and carry only the ones that I need. Upon arriving home, I stash the keys on a hook near the door to the garage or in the key drawer; out in the world I endeavor to put them in the same pocket in my purse whenever I get out of the car. These systems in place, I felt much better. For a while.

Shortly after I found my key solution, an old friend, now a beading artist, sent me this beauty.

Shortly after I found my key solution, an old friend, now a beading artist, sent me this beauty.

This year my visualization practice brought me to a door, one that opens in or out. It leads into home, into the studio, and swinging either direction also into the world. The door to everywhere is the icon I now draw on the shower glass each morning. In meditation and visualization, twenty-thirteen presented itself as the year doors would open for me. In contrast, the very real doors in my life started to act up.

Here’s the list:

  • The door latch between the garage and the house became stripped and stopped closing.
  • The screen door that I painstakingly rescreened myself tore right out, the spline staying
    put but the screen ripping
  • The lock in the studio door handle mysteriously began locking itself at random moments
  • The garage door keypad malfunctioned for the last time rendering the garage door
    operable only with an actual opener
  • The freezer door developed the new unfortunate habit of not easily sliding all the way closed, warming the contents within
  • The driver’s side door on my brand new car started to discolor, turning into an unripe tangerine in contrast to the rich color of the rest of the car

On the same car, the new car I’ve been driving less than three months, the rear left tire started getting squishy. New cars tell you, among other things, the air pressure in the tires. Four times the warning light came on urging me to add air to the rear left tire. After the car sat for five days in the garage, the pressure was down to just over half. I put air in it for the fifth time since I’ve owned the car and called the dealer.

Just like malfunctioning doors, that’s not the only squishy tire in my fleet. All three tires on my recumbent trike, the front tires on the lawn tractor, and a mis-installed new tire on the convertible have been flat or low during the last six months. I can’t make a move without checking tire pressure and adding air.

I love metaphors, live by them and the meanings they impart. And so I ask another question: new and old, why are the doors and tires—the openings and the ability to move—so flawed in my world?

Taking a page from dream interpretation, squishy tires are easy—they represent something going wrong when the dreamer is trying to make progress. True enough. Even if it’s simply taking time to pump up the tires before using the vehicle, it slows progress to add air. It’s an extra step that can be ignored only if one is willing to risk the lasting working order of the equipment. Late again? The car tire needs air before you can go.

A door in a dream is the road to opportunity. A broken door is more complicated—it isn’t exactly impassable, most of the time, and there isn’t anything preventing you from fixing the door or having it fixed. But if you have to stop and consider the door, perhaps use it more carefully or turn to close it gently behind you, it’s one more step you must take before moving to the next level. You might understand that there’s an opportunity through that door you’re keen to pursue, but you might not be able to make it there because too many obstacles get in the way. The broken door is a gatekeeper, a sign you may have to wait before you can explore the new opportunity.

Dream doors and tires can be dusted away along with sleep when the alarm goes off. My door and tire issues are all too real—and so in waking hours I attend to them, taking my car to the dealership for first one repair, then the other. As it turned out there was a nail in the tire of the Dart, and it’s repaired, holding pressure beautifully. The mechanic worked it in on a hot and busy Tuesday, fixing it for free, and I was driving safely again by the end of the day. Teased apart from the other things on my to do list, it got done. The discolored door has been a longer process, but the car has an appointment to be repainted, courtesy of the manufacturer, in August. All in good time. Divine right time, actually.

As it is with most things, I need to learn the lesson again. There’s a moment when the universe presents opportunity. If we don’t take it, the opportunity will come back in a bigger, better and often more challenging way. So too, opportunity may appear to be out there, behind door number one, but the path may slow us down. Those are signs I need to look for and learn to trust—trust that my attention is needed locally, on the individual details close at hand. If the opportunity I thought I was looking through the door toward goes away, it wasn’t the right one. If it’s meant to be, I’ll get there.

Happy Full Thunder Moon! Eleven, Fourteen and I are going to head out for a few days early next month, so I’ll skip celebrating the new moon with you here in August—but like always, we’ll be under the very same moon. The peeps and I are headed for Northern California—maybe we’ll go look at the redwoods, a place where it’s good to see both the forest and the trees. Namaste, with my love & thanks for reading, Rxo 

New Year’s Visualizations

What’s the difference between a resolution and a visualization?

Annie Dillard instructed her graduate creative writing students to visualize success. She told them any time they were in a bookstore to find the section where their book might be and put an index finger in the exact spot, making room for a spine that would show their title, alpha by last name.

I do this now when I go to bookstores, libraries too. I note how often the company I’m in shifts. If there’s enough room on the shelf, I imagine pushing my neighbors to the right and left and my book displayed full cover forward—but I understand my publisher-to-be will have to pay extra for this promotion.

There’s something about the act of imagining that helps me feel like my book belongs. I know there’s hard work ahead in getting it into the hands of just the right agent, just the right editor, just the right publisher, but I see its place on the shelf and the possibility becomes more real. It gives me courage to extend toward that goal.

Knowing what to do tomorrow is straightforward—we follow the established daily routine, rinse and repeat. As creatures of habit, this is a comforting necessity. But knowing what to do to alter that routine, to move in a new desired direction, generally requires having a sense of what that direction is. It is often not easy to name.

My first year in graduate school at the University of Iowa, I was enrolled in the Master’s in the Art of Teaching/English program. The courses required included a mix of pedagogy and literature courses. For years I’d been hearing that education courses were faulty, basic, banal. My experience was entirely different—in these courses about the theory of education I came face-to-face with the diverse philosophical backgrounds that had informed my experiences in nine different schools between kindergarten and twelfth grade. I was fascinated and I was hooked. When I had students of my own, I vowed, would care deeply for them, figure out precisely what they needed, and work hard to teach them.

What I didn’t know was that the following semester, as much as my classes engaged me, I would literally run, tears streaming down my face, from the meeting for potential student teachers, unable to imagine having anything further to do with the program. Was it the pedantic presenters, the women who ruled placements and made certain schools and mentor teachers sound punishing? Or was it the recent graduates who shared their hair-raising stories of being lobbed unprepared into classrooms of hormone-enraged junior high students? Was I not meant to be a teacher after all? Lost, I went to see my program director during his office hours. He looked neither perturbed nor alarmed, and he asked me the best “what about your future” question anyone ever had: Where do you see yourself in five years?

I spent a few weeks figuring it out, and I found that the question took the angst out of the “what am I going to do with the rest of my life” feeling the potential student teacher meeting had installed. I started to think what my life picture might look like. I made a list.

In five years, my list declared, I felt I wanted to be: Twenty-seven (I started with something fairly safe); geographically flexible; financially stable; doing work that I loved; free to travel; and out of school long enough that I missed it. I found three programs to which I was eligible to apply for lateral transfer: a straight master’s in English, a master’s in academic counseling, and a master’s in writing creative nonfiction.

But which one? Where did I fit? With the time to apply ticking away, I created a survey, complete with return postcards, inquiring of thirty of my closest family and friends which program, given my goals, I should transfer to. I got 29 responses (the thirtieth rarely answered her mail) over the next several days. The verdict was unanimous: All 29 people, for different reasons, agreed I should go for the writing program.

I pictured my life, I applied for and received a transfer, and by the time I turned twenty-seven I was living on Long Island, teaching college English, heading to Taiwan for ten days, and taking graduate credits in philosophy. But it would be another sixteen years before I would understand that what I had done was not set goals so much as create a vision of what I wanted my life to look like and then figure out a path for getting there. And in the interim, like so many, I made and broke resolutions, and not even just at the new year. I wanted (and still want) to be thinner, wealthier, more successful, to give up bad habits and cultivate good ones. One year I even made the resolution to drink more, thinking that would be an easy one to keep and a way to have more fun. Believe it or not, I failed at that one too.

Like so many rich thoughts, I came to visualizations instead of resolutions after a walk on my treadmill and a brief yoga practice. I was in the shower and like a kid I started drawing on the condensation on the shower door. It started as a way to practice drawing Reiki symbols; then I drew pictures of the people and things I wanted to send Reiki healing to. Each time I drew a picture, I place my hand, flat palm, against the glass and wished the right energy to the object of my intentions. On the first of the year, 2010, I thought: I should draw pictures of what I want this year to look like. So I sketched my ideas—a healthy body, peaceful engaged children, my book between hard covers, work that involved both poses and prose, and sunsets in interesting places with interesting people around the world. I placed both hand against the glass, fingers splayed, hot water running down my bare body.

Just a few showers later, the drawings had turned into icons, quick line sketches I could reproduce even on mornings I was rushing. And those icons, I realized, were the vision I had for my new year, for my life ahead.

In the time since, I have realized some of the visions, am still reaching for others. The drawings have shifted a bit, but they flow easily in my watery medium and symbolize for me some of what lies ahead. I can see which of the things that I do in my daily activities support my vision for what life will be and which I should leave off doing if in any way possible. I do not feel mired in a to-do list nor do I worry that I am not living toward my visualizations. It is at once powerful and comforting.


Cheers to YOU

In graduate school I had the sense to know I needed a vast sounding board—it felt like I was making one decision that would shape my entire professional future. I know now that was clearly not true. I also know that community is still one of the most important components of my life. As I start to find new images for this new year, keeping those from the old year that make sense and shifting or changing altogether those that need to be up-to-date, I have added one important image. It’s a long stemmed funnel shaped glass and I’m lifting it with friends. In the cleansing warmth of the shower I have the courage to ask for what I know I need—to continue to find and encourage and enjoy the companionship and community of the many remarkable people in my life. So it looks like everything old is new again. This year I’ll be visualizing that published book, more yoga, more writing, happy, growing, engaged children, and yes, more martinis or cups of tea or delicious bites of chocolate, so long as there are friends to enjoy them with.

It’s almost the Solstice and we get a New Moon for Christmas Eve. We’re in the midst of Hanukkah—we’re all celebrating and welcoming the light, the New Year, and new beginnings. Thank you for being a part of my journey through 2011—feeling that the best is yet to come for all. Wishing you every last joy, Namaste, Rxo

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