Sunday, September 23, 2007

What if You're Already There?

What if there was
No other shoe?
Instead, just
The sun splash on my cheek,
Perfect grapes,
Good grooving tunes,
Happy, basking smiles,
Long, warm hugs,
Clothes that fit,
Deep, heavy sleep,
All things in their place,
Wide, expansive time.
And disruptions were

-Jonna Hensley

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Finer Points of Breathing and Booty-Building

Yesterday in my yoga immersion class*, after a long discussion of energy channels and muscle alignment, and a hard practice using muscles I didn't know I had, Denise said:

"When your gluteus medius are strong, they act like a Wonderbra for your butt."

Now, I don't have a lot of back. And I would like some more. So this was music to my ears. Additionally, Denise said, "Now those for you who are thinking, well, I just don't have a butt, I will tell you something. Your butt is just depressed. You work these muscles, and you will have a butt."
There's hope for me after all! "Thank you, Denise!" I said. It was sort of like a hallelujah moment. (Not to mention comic relief after the above-mentioned activities.)
Later, my other teacher, Rainey, demonstrated uddiyana bandha - it's this crazy thing you do with your abs and diaphragm, while leaning over, holding an expelled breath, and moving your stomach muscles around in a circle like a revolving door. It's freaky. On her, since she is pierced and tatooed and gorgeous, the act looked freaky and sexual. After she was finished and the rest of us were blindsided with awe (especially me, since I had been kneeling directly below her to get a good view) fellow student Jodi said,

"I can hook you up with some people and you could make a lot of money with that."

This is why I love my studio.

*The Anusara yoga immersion is a series of weekend workshops I'm taking to prepare for teacher training.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Stretching Your Sympathetic Imagination, Exercise 7

Here is the last exercise from Susan O'Dohery's book Getting Unstuck that I'm going to post. This one is about expanding beyond your comfort zone in what you read, so you can stop being so snobby and judgmental about other kinds of writing. The idea is you might actually grow as a writer this way. Even if only a leetle tiny bit.

So I'm a big ol' snoot-snot about most kinds of "genre" books. Partly because I haven't been made to read many of them, partly because they come in ugly fat supermarket-style book forms, partly because all the biggest nerds I know (including my man) have bookshelves crammed with them, and this turns me off like a mouthful of bad teeth. Whatever, I'm a nightmare, whatever.

I asked my husband to recommend a good genre book written by a woman. He piled about five of them on me, a few in that tattered-flimsy-yellowed form, and a few nice hardbacks. I chose Thus Was Adonis Murdered by Sarah Caudwell, one of the former kinds. It's crime/mystery novel written in wordy British. (As opposed to American, an entirely different language by contrast.) Funny that I should choose this considering my aversion to bad teeth.

My response upon finishing it: huh. Nice little read. I do not feel changed, I did not learn anything new about myself or humanity. I may have learned a few things about arcane British tax law. I was not transported in any way. The writing was witty, taking place almost entirely in conversation. But there were no evocative images, nor much in the way of appealing to the senses. It was a murder mystery wrapped in a play of manners with English attorneys as the central players. I suppose you could say that is also true of the movie "Gosford Park," but GP at least delved into the culture clash of Americans, English upper classes and their servants. Adonis did not.

In any case, I wasn’t moved by this book. But I had fun with it.

I did appreciate how, in a mystery, every detail matters. Something I can stand to work on in my fiction is how certain objects or small behaviors of characters can tilt things one way or another. Nothing can be there for fluff, it all has to be considered a part of the storytelling. What if I wrote my Oly novel* as a murder mystery? The murderer is whatever kills the relationship. And it will seem almost preordained. I think it was preordained.

God, could I really take up that novel again?

I liked that the language was an important part of the story in Adonis. It's not what I expected for a genre novel. The conversations were hilarious in their circumvention of saying anything outright. Crazy flippin' Brits.

The other interesting thing is that one never knows whether the narrator is male or female. It’s interesting how that disturbed things for me. When I wanted to decide whether another character was treating the narrator properly, it mattered. I couldn’t tell.

I’m glad I did this and I think I may move on to something sci-fi. That’s an area where I have a real prejudice. And it’s too bad because lots of smart people who I respect read sci-fi. I need to get over myself. Maybe this will help.

* "My Oly novel" is a novel I wrote two years ago in 30 days as a part of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. Every now and then I take it out and move things around and masturbate with it a little (in a figuritive sense, of course), decide it's juicy and decide it's all fucked, and then I don't look at it again for awhile.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

SAHM Juror

I took this photo across from the federal courthouse, where I do grand jury duty four times per month for the rest of my natural born life.

Or maybe it's only the next 18 months.

Anyway, whenever people ask me why I didn't try to get out of this rather lengthy commitment to public service, I tell them that I didn't want to get out of it. I love it. Four times a month, I ride the bus downtown during rush hour and feel of a piece with the rest of the world. There is no kid hanging on me, wiping body fluids on me, or asking me questions about the cranes and the tractors outside the window. On those days, I feel like an adult.

Nay, a civilian.

Over a bowl of udon at Red Fin, a fellow juror/SAHM and I shared revelations about our jury experience.

"It's like a mini-vacation from the house," she said.

"I know," I said, slurping my steaming, fat noodles. "And I get to have tofu udon for lunch!"

"Right, like, if I was at home, my kids and I would be eating something with melted cheese on it." She paused. "Though I do realize that maybe it's time to get some new clothes. I think I've been wearing the same stuff since I had my kids. I look at all these other women down here in their fancy little pencil skirts, and I feel like a slob."

I shared that I had recently been bitten by a bit of a clothes bug. I mused it may be that for the first time in five years, I'm not lactating, pregnant, flabby, or constantly being peed on. We looked at each other for a moment, feeling a little happy and proud. Then she rolled her eyes.

"Of course, this might not work out for me for much longer." She described the complicated tag-team game she and her husband play with caring for the children on her JD weeks, for which she has to travel by ferry and long distance and be gone for nearly three whole days.

Well, there's that. For me, though, it's not a hardship because I live right up the hill and I don't have regular paid employment anyway. I am, in fact, a perfect candidate for grand jury service. I cost them very little. I don't have a lot of onerous jury-service forms to be processed like other people do, for their employers, hotel expenses, and mileage.

My only complaint is that they don't pay for child care. I can see how doing so would quickly become a tangled web of liability and fraud, but still it digs a little when out-of-towners get to stay at the Max Hotel, and my per diem doesn't cover the price of a baby sitter. For many women, this would be a major hardship.

And that's too bad, because we all deserve the right to indict pimps and child pornographers.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

sweet man tricks

I was sneering over the popularity of "life lists" the other day, and describing how making artificial lists like that only causes tension and disappointment and also causes us to put things on them that we don't really want, just to fill them up, etc., when my husband interrupted.

"The other day you said Clive Owen was on your list," he reminded me.

"Oh, ha ha! I meant THE list, you know, the one where we get a free pass to sleep with the celebrities on our list if we ever get the chance."

"Yeah, except that there is no such list," he said dryly.

"Oh, come on, it's it's a fun idea. It's not for real. Like there's any way I'm ever going to get the chance to sleep with Clive Owen! Ha!"

He walked toward me, deadly serious. "Clive Owen would like you." He wrapped his arms around my waist. "I'm not going to agree to any list."

Sigh. I guess the next time I'm at a premier at Cannes and a gorgeous international superstar wants to get into my pants, I'm just going to have to say no.

Life is so unfair.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

To Keep Your Side of the Deal

In Seattle, a huge music and arts festival called Bumbershoot heralds the end of summer every Labor Day weekend. It takes over the sprawling facility surrounding the Space Needle and draws 40,000 people per day for three days.

When I was childless, whether or not I should go to Bumbershoot was a no-brainer. I took the bus, paid my money, and stayed all day. I'd hear six or seven bands. I'd drop in on some book readings. I'd wander through the galleries. When I felt like resting, I'd sprawl out on the grass somewhere until I felt like getting up again. I'd come back the next day and repeat.

Everything's different now that I have little kids. If a kid is involved at a big event like this, the time is fractured and focused on food and potty issues. If I go without the family, I'm required to negotiate times and chores with my husband, weigh this activity against other upcoming things I might want to cash in my child care chips for, and shoulder some guilt.

This year the timing wasn't right. It was a busy weekend. I was suffering some kind of mental/physical sickness. It all just seemed like too much of a pain. I decided to forget it.

I was okay with this decision, mostly.

I was okay with it until the last night of the festival, when, while I stirred a pot of Thai curry on the stove at home, a Steve Earle song came over the radio. I rushed to the nearest speaker.

"I love Steve Earle," I sighed to my husband. I turned the volume up, went back to the kitchen, and continued to swoon.

"Never heard of him," said Matt.

"He is a great songwriter. In the 80's he - wait, is this LIVE?"

Matt, sitting in the living room with his laptop, offered to look it up on the KEXP website. "Yep, it's live," he said. "Some private KEXP thing at Bumbershoot."

Motherfucker. I sunk down into a chair beside him. My heart had started to bleed a bit. I got up and turned off the pot of rice. I assembled the kid's quesadillas.

It's okay, I told myself.

We all sat down to dinner. Steve Earle continued to play this intimate show where I was not present. My heart started to bleed more. It was no longer okay.

I dropped my spoon with a clatter. "I really want to go see The Frames and Steve Earle tonight," I blurted.

The bus dumped me at Seattle Center just in time to see The Frames. I nosed my way past casual onlookers into the part of the crowd where people were screaming requests at the band and standing shoulder to shoulder with one another. All I had to carry was my own bag. All I had to listen to was the music. A great tree canopy overhead released a few drying leaves on our heads to memorialize the last day of summer. The sky grew steadily darker.

Glen Hansard, the tall red-headed Irishman capturing our attention onstage, sang about how hard it is to keep your side of the deal. I knew what he meant. I'd been trying all weekend.

Watching Hansard's lanky body jerk and shimmy, hearing him cry "you'll see how hard it can be," gratified about nineteen different desires, and brought to mind the fundemental struggle that is always mine to manage: how do I keep my side of the deal and keep myself at the same time?

Sometimes it can feel as if feeding any need or desire I have will take something away from my babies or husband. It can feel as if wanting to be lost in pure pleasure - like music - is somehow aberrant. This is especially so since my husband and I follow different passions. It feels like if it's purely mine, it can't be good.

I tore myself away to catch Mr. Earle on another stage. He sang of a woman ("Whatsername, wherever the hell she is") who ran wild and disappeared into the sunset on a motorcycle.

I took a cab home, helped with last-minute bedtime water cups and pee-pee trips, and slept beside my domestic husband just like millions of other women were doing that night. I fell asleep thinking about the Whatsername-like woman inside me. She shimmers below the surface most of the time. At times she's so close I think she might take me over. Just noticing her makes me feel aberrant.

Well, I thought, snuggling in for the night, here's one more day she stayed put. Meanwhile, I'm still here keeping my side of the deal.

(Photo by joshc off Frames website. See more here.)

Monday, September 03, 2007

Claiming Creative Time, Exercise 5

The title of the chapter this exercise comes from is, "The Impossible Position: Managing Motherhood and Creativity."

It took me two years and a hard second pregnancy to hire a regular babysitter.

It took a major breakdown for me to use the time for writing.

There is always something else to do.

This exercise from Susan O'Doherty's book, Getting Unstuck Without Coming Unglued, has only one directive: take the time you would be using for something else (such as an exercise) and make some art. Do whatever you have to do to get someone to watch your kids. Pretend you're sick, whatever.

Then repeat as often as necessary.

Because I have learned to do what the exercise suggested, I wanted to take this idea a step further. I wanted to see what it would be like to live the whole cycle of a day totally around writing. I needed at least a full 24 hours.

My family and I took a short vacation to the beach condo of a friend. Matt and the kids stayed for two nights. I kicked them out the third morning, at a hair before 9.

Then I promptly applied my iPod and walked on the beach.

That day, the tide was out very far. The sky was clear and I could see the Olympic Mountains across the Sound. Fog sat on the horizon, just off the water. I was the only soul on the beach. I scrambled over piles of rocks. I walked on the trunks of fallen trees.

I sang to the seagulls, the sandy bluffs, the mountains, the fishing boat passing out into the Pacific. I felt divine and whole and free. Like my natural self.

Denise, my beloved yoga teacher, uses that term every now and then. Natural self. She lets us decide what it means. I try not to dwell on it too much. ("First thought, best thought," is another Denise mantra.) First thought says this is the real me, this freedom, this open heart.

Three years ago I would never have been able to feel this way walking on the beach. I could never just appreciate something for what it was. My head was too full of what I should be feeling. I was disappointed that I couldn’t get outside myself enough to feel the air, smell the drying seaweed, be happy that the mountains were out. I was burdened with thoughts about the person who was waiting for me back at the beach camp. And if someone were with me, I was burdened by trying not to annoy them, or hoping they were having a good time, or letting it be known that I was having a good time.

(Are there women who do not engage in this kind of behavior? I would like to meet one.)

Now...ah! The sky! The fishing boats! The dead crabs on the beach! I love it all!

After my walk, I spent the day eating, writing, cooking, and reading. I left my laptop and notebooks open on the table and went back to them whenever I needed to. I didn't have to divide my time the way I normally do. Like, now is writing time, now is kid care time, now is the time on Sprockets when we must dance.

It was the way I would always live if left to my own devices.

The following morning, I drank my coffee while watching a Presto log burn in the fireplace. Fog was so thick on the water, all I could see outside was white. I wrote some more. After awhile, I put my notebook down and looked around the place: I'd left shit lying around everywhere. It was still all there. I had to clean. I had to leave.

How could I possibly leave?