On and off the mat

I know I’m supposed to settle zen-like into any spot, but every Wednesday, I subtly scan the studio while getting my mats and blocks and the strap I hate, trying to ascertain which of the remaining openings will best allow me to work and breathe and flow.

Mouth breathers and moaners try my nerves as do the chatterbugs. Except for the teacher’s even voice and some swishing as positions are adjusted, yoga should be silent. That is one reason I go. To work hard and practice mindfulness and revel in some damn peace and quiet.

I choose the spot near the door and under the fire alarm, stacking my props neatly behind me in the space between mat and wall. When I’ve acclimated to the warmer room, I bunch my socks into a tiny parcel, and tuck them under the folded-four-times blanket.

I find, in yoga, that different moods during different weeks draw me to different blanket colors. Today I choose the festive new orange and green one, both shades bright but not obnoxious. Happy and soothing like fiesta decor or sun-kissed Greek facades.

I brought some fiery red angst into class with me this morning. Fresh off of a Facebook joust with an acquaintance of my sister, I’d gone through Trump’s proposed budget cuts and stood up for the arts, LGBTQ rights at the federal versus state levels, public transportation, and effective anti-poverty measures before 9am. The acquaintance values none of those things and cares not if they are tossed out with the bathwater.

I cannot see how we can be in community with others who only wish to support and fund the exact things THEY care for while refusing space for any other values or passions to enter the mix. That is not community. That is a bunch of exclusionary islands, all sharp angles and squared corners, bashing into each other before settling at cool distances, no unity in sight. 

I am ten minutes early to class and so, after unrolling my two mats-two because of my bony back body-I lie down and shut my eyes, exhaling the ugly parry and inhaling Om. The sizzle in my chest is quieting when my hair is brushed aside by the ungainly tossing down of mats, blocks, straps, and Grip-Itz next door: that last spot has been claimed by someone with a generous array of accoutrements.

The intrusion into my limited rectangle of personal space continues for the next 75 minutes. I take this as a yogic challenge. 24" x 68" plus change is plenty, isn’t it? Is it?

My minds sweeps back to a book I first read more than a decade ago: Appetites. It is profound in many ways, changing and helping me evolve each and every time I make my way through the now worn, notated, fading pages. In it the author, Caroline Knapp, discusses how we, especially women, do not feel our appetites, our desires, are worthy. And so we rein them in, mashing and folding and constraining them into the tiniest boxes possible, regardless of the costs of doing so. Which are usually great.

I think about how I’ve so neatly and thoughtfully tucked my props behind me, not wanting to intrude into or steal from my wing-women’s spaces. And yet the mate on my port side does just that. Does she notice? Care? Should I applaud her? I don’t. I’m annoyed. And as class unfolds, I casually, gently, forcefully push her strap off of my mat, her blankets away from my thigh, her panoply of blocks away, away, away.

Should I then applaud myself? For claiming my meager space in this studio? For having stood up to a white guy who hates the arts and thinks the EPA and the Department of Ed should be abolished and who’s irritated by funding public transportation (because “no one subsidizes my commute”) but supports the building of a huge fucking wall on our southern border? Why should I subsidize his fear and bigotry?

Class is underway, and I square my hips toward the front wall as I am instructed. I think about how often I so neatly and thoughtfully tuck myself around others and what they want and need, most always leaving the bitty leftovers to fill in my own contours. I am hypermobile and must balance my Gumby tendencies with more demure positions that “protect and further” my stability. This irritates me, and I consider it a second yogic challenge: how can I be so open and flexible in some respects while so rigid in others?

I consider again my body, front and back, the boundaries, the extent of my skin, my breath, my arms in various positions: robot, cactus, T (for which there is no space today). Are my ribs constrained by my hands taking in their extension and shrinkage? Or are they limited by fascia and physiology over which I have no dominion? Or both?

Can I feel as if I’m lying flat on the mat but still melt more? Like butter through a grate? Can I extend beyond my bit of space without shrugging into what I want versus what I deserve? Is it worth sternal friction to try in some way, any way, to stand up for the values I think are right for this country?  For myself? Those that are most inclusionary and expansive? Those that feel selfish but are anything but?

On Friday, I am taking my boys to my homeland: Louisiana. Door to door, from my house to my parents’, it’s about eight hours and includes two plane rides. The kids are great travelers, but we are leaving the house well before 6am, and this week has been many things. Easy is not one of them.

I am tired. My interest in Minecraft and made-up story lines is waning, but I am forever the literal, rule-oriented mother aware of both optimal screen time and the direction towards which my toes and knees should be pointing. This elicits what could be called yogic challenge 3: the degrees to which my borders and boundaries should be malleable and are versus aren't.

Being a hypermobile person, I have experienced rubber band ligaments as well as silly putty bounds. I have learned that while both feel quite nice, neither is actually too healthy. I consider that consistently stable positionality is a worthy goal. Even when it pushes the tide against my bow and is uncomfortable and frustrating. It is possible that more stringent limits might actually lead to greater liberation. Of self. In life.

And perhaps that’s really the constraint and emancipation offered by the mat. What seems to be a bounded bit of rubber is in fact only the launch pad. But before lift-off, you must stand up for but question yourself, set boundaries but accept some overreach and erosion of them, stretch but focus on a stable core. Otherwise? The noise muffles the peace, and the middle doesn't hold.


1. To the neighbor who left your dog's poop in my yard, and let's just say it's not that of a chihuahua, shame on you. That is straight-up rude.

2. What have I been missing by not watching C-SPAN live? I was riveted today by the couple hours (and I NEVER watch TV) of the Comey hearing I caught. The Trump admin is as dirty as they come. They have their filthy tentacles in everything. We, most ALL of us, have let this happen, and it's up to us to #resist. Have you called your reps today? I have. Please do.

3. This is a really powerful essay. Published a week ago on Ms. magazine's blog, Body Politic makes my short-list of must-reads this week. As does this essay on the meaning of The Handmaid's Tale in the time of Trump by Margaret Atwood in yesterday's (Sunday) New York Times Book Review. 
Also, I highly recommend you read In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi (brilliant discussion of identity, many forms of) as well as Evicted (tremendous study and discussion of poverty and exploitation of the poor) by Matthew Desmond.
Lastly, it seems the Oxford comma debate may finally be settled. Grammar nerds, this one's for you.

4. Tom started his new job today. It has, in many ways, been wonderful having him home for the past three weeks, but it is also nice to reorient ourselves into a more normal-for-our-age life.

5. On Friday, I am taking the boys to Louisiana for spring break. Having not left DC since before the election, I am exceedingly keen on getting out of town. I cannot wait for a break, cannot wait to sit in a white wooden rocking chair on a generous porch as a warm breeze blows across my bare legs. Cannot wait to watch the bayou glide by and the Spanish moss wave from oak boughs. Cannot wait to watch my boys run and get dirty and leave the tub ringed with scum each night. Cannot wait to sit with my parents and just be.

6. I have, lately, felt myself somewhat stifled by shoulds and perceived expectations. No more. I am who I am, folks, and I'll write and be what and who I want. Shoulds are a bully, as are living for other's needs, expectations, or hopes. Compromise is grand. Muzzling yourself and others is not. 

7. Two photos that make me happy:

Happy 8th Birthday, Ol!

Eight years ago today, my darling Oliver was born. Two weeks early! It was a Tuesday, and as Jack was not yet three and so only had school three days a week, he and I were snuggling on the couch reading. My water broke, and Jack looked at me with some wonder and asked, "Mama, did you tee-tee on me?"

From the mouths of babes.

Despite the early, surprise "I'm coming!" Ol then took his sweet time and finally emerged at 4:16 that afternoon. A St. Patty's baby (to join his July 4 brother; we are so festive)! I've always liked that his birth time is the date of my birthday. 

Oliver has been an absolute delight ever since. Truly, his light shines so bright, and we are all made better by his being a member of our family.

He is a sensitive child, deeply attuned to people and circumstances around him. Once, when he was very little-maybe 2?-and we were in Lake Charles visiting Nanny, we placed him on her hospital bed so she could see him better, and he sat there, quietly and presently, for a long while. It seemed unlike a reaction most young tots would have.

Not the same but very similar and indicative.

Not the same but very similar and indicative.

Oliver is an innately empathic person with a wise soul and a creative vision that makes our lives more beautiful, purposeful, and joy-filled. Recently, I had my feelings hurt, and because I trust his judgment so much, I said, "Ol, what would you do if a friend hurt your feelings?" "Well, mama," he replied, "I think I'd go play with someone else." Indeed.

He's also funny as get out, sure footed as they come, and I have long said that based on its festive, bacchanal spirit, there's really no better day than St. Patrick's Day on which he could have been born.

I mean, one of the things he most pined for this year was this set of three enormous, glittery nesting eggs. When Tom asked him this morning, "Ol, why did you want those eggs?" he replied, "Why wouldn't I?"

The giant egg with other eggs inside.

The giant egg with other eggs inside.

I am a better person for getting to be Oliver's mother. It is my complete fortune and joy, even if this birthday focuses on his Minecraft obsession which I don't really understand or much care about. At least it's not Pokemon! At least this little boy is mine.

The cutest big brother!

The cutest big brother!

The Minecraft cupcake toppers I made out of fondant. These went to Ol's classroom for that celebration. Now working on his actual cake.

The Minecraft cupcake toppers I made out of fondant. These went to Ol's classroom for that celebration. Now working on his actual cake.