Food = Happy and Why I Want You to Sponsor Me in the Kashi Atlanta Yogathon

I just ate some noodles. If we have interacted for more than five minutes, this shouldn’t surprise you, noodles are my favorite food group. Noodles = Happy.

In a way, Food = Happy, doesn’t it? When my sister and I go out to eat we can’t wiggle into the booth at Mellow Mushroom fast enough. Of course, that’s for pizza, so perhaps Carbs = Happy. We love to eat.

Conversely, when I’m hungry I get this sorrowful feeling I usually inflict on those around me. You know, the grumpy and tense mental landscape we’ve all experienced when we waited too long to eat. Welcome to the twenty-first century, where you’ll probably get so distracted you’ll forget lunch. Those Snicker’s commercials didn’t come out of nowhere, “You’re not yourself when you’re hungry.” But what if you hadn’t eaten because you forgot, but because you didn’t have any food or anyplace to cook it?

When I was in Atlanta over the summer, seeing Swami, standing in front of a life size bust of Sekhmet, Egypt’s golden Lioness whose breath created the desert, sleeping in an ashram and eating delicious food at Yeah! Burger – I also had the opportunity to participate in the Street Meals program. Every Tuesday evening volunteers go to Kashi Atlanta and prepare food and every Wednesday volunteers deliver and serve the food at a homeless shelter.

When I arrive with the other volunteers on Wednesday I feel comfortable because I serve food for a living. I deliver countless plates of twenty dollar spaghetti, high-end meat balls, extra-terrestrial sausage and, ironically, all the free salad you could ever want. At the shelter, my first job was to put napkins and plastic forks on the tables while people come in. It is a large space with circular tables arranged for maximum occupancy. Women and men came in almost as eager to put down the burden of their packs and cargo with which they walk the streets as they were to eat. Everyone was friendly and glad to be inside; it was a hot Georgia day and the sun was relentless. Inside the shelter, they have cups of cool water and air-conditioning.

Everyone was seated before we started serving the food. I’d been waiting on that moment my whole life, trained like a samurai in the art of food service, my skillz honed to a razor sharp edge; I knew they’d need a water re-fill without even looking in the cup, I balanced three plates of pasta salad like a Zen koan poised at the pinnacle of my perfectly still mind, its solution as reasonable as the lady who asked for more bread so she could take some with her for later. She had pencil thin legs sticking out of frayed denim shorts and plugged into dirty white high-top tennis shoes. She looped the plastic bag containing the bread through a belt loop so the baguettes knocked against her leg like a gun holster when she walked.

There is one man who stands out in my mind, the friendliest face of the day. He came in late, his duffel on the chair beside him at the empty table in the back, near the water cooler. We were already offering seconds and chocolates to the children who were there with their mother, seated at the front in a row of chairs near the window.

He has black hair that stands up from his head like long, thick sprouts of grass. He is about my size with an ambling gate that makes me think he likes to dance or he studies kung fu. He has on a drab green collared shirt and loose fitting khaki pants with boots that are scuffed and worn. His shirt is tucked neatly into his wrinkled khakis. His face is round with high cheek bones like my friend from the Philippines. I hand him his plate and his smile turns his eyes into deep creases, so that they look like window blinds closed to the bright afternoon sun, only dark glimmering joy revealed through his sparse eyelashes.

Because I’m a good waitress, I ask him if he is alright. He looks up at me and curls his lips to speak in broken English, “I was hungry!” His smile adheres to his face while he chews. The exclamation is one of pure relief. Absent from his demeanor was any bitterness, sadness, or  shame. He was just so happy, and it was a happiness that was contagious.

I wondered about him after I left. I still see him so clearly in my mind. I wondered how he ended up there, what kind of work he might have done, what his dreams are. I wonder about him when it rains and I remember him when I wait too long to eat and then feel the elation of a delicious bowl of pasta or a veggie burger from Red Robbin.

Before I went to Street Meals, I wanted you to sponsor me in the Yoga-Thon Fundraisers because I love Kashi Atlanta and believe in the work they do. Kashi just had its twenty year anniversary, and in that time they have  fed countless homeless people and created who knows how many kids’ art projects in hospitals. Kashi Atlanta is my spiritual home and where I go to see my beloved Teacher, Swami Jaya Devi. It is where I go for yoga training and to refill my emotional well. But now this fundraising feels personal and more imperative because I got to experience the benefit of it through that man’s eyes.

The money you donate buys food the volunteers prepare on Tuesday. It’s the bread that that woman takes with her when she goes back to her home on the street, and it’s the pasta salad that made that man so happy. We were able to offer second plates of food and pieces of chocolate to children because of the donations Kashi receives. This is the time of year most of the money that sustains the service programs comes in. As a yoga and meditation teacher who studies at Kashi Atlanta, this is an opportunity for you to show through your support that you benefit from my continued studies and training with my Teacher.

If we are fortunate enough to have everything we need, then it’s our gift to share what we have. Please follow this link to donate. Your gift is 100% tax deductible and you will receive a letter from Kashi Atalanta for your tax records. Thank you, thank you, thank you. https://kashiatlanta.ejoinme.org/MyEvents/KashiAtlanta2018Yogathon/Fundraising/tabid/1000163/Default.aspx?joinme=173207

 

 

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Lightning Bug Lessons

I like twilight noises. I especially like the raspy lilting of cicadas and the throaty welp of frogs happy at night fall. As I sit in a quiet house on a quiet street in Atlanta, I can hear the steady cacophony of creatures beneath a twinkling urban sky; it’s early for night creatures but all the day walkers on the street seem to be sleeping. It’s just me and the alley cats, the crickets and rain.

After I arrived and unpacked, I went to the front porch to watch the day fade into that time when the landscape is in sharper focus because it doesn’t have to compete with the brilliant light of the sun. With my journal on my lap, I write a page about the marvel of a room in which I’m staying at the ashram during my trip to see my Teacher. I am in the room of a long time resident who is not currently home and the blessing of this is the photos, art and sacred objects in this cozy space. If I don’t have a dream about Jesus in this room, I can give it up forever, I’m just saying.

While I twirl the pen around my ear, a message winks at me from my phone. A car passes. A bird lands on the sidewalk then walks across the narrow, car lined street. I love this street and I love this ashram. As the stars come out and quiet descends, I feel the pangs of homesickness, like the twinge in leaving a lover at the airport.

To my left there is a twinkle in the bushes. It is a slow pulsation of light in midair.  I’m not ready to start having visions, yet I see it again; a yellow light, hovering and blinking on – off – on – and I see the silhouette of the bug it belongs to.

A lightning bug. I’d forgotten all about those. They are a relic from childhood, a legend like dinosaurs. We know they existed once, but don’t think about them so much unless they’re in a book we read or show up in a memory. But there it is, like a velociraptor tiptoeing down the street, like coffee with a dodo.

My phone blinks less artfully than the bulbous butt of this bug, and without thinking I open the screen and reply. While I text touchscreen letters onto a sleek mirrored screen the lightning bug maneuvers over to the porch, blinks again, then disappears into the magnolia bush. I look for him, my phone screen face down on the wood planks. There’s a twinge of regret that I might have missed befriending him while I was screwing around with my phone. As the shadows lengthen around me and streetlights come on, I know reality is never found on technology. It is in the myths of nature, the turning of time, and the breath of light we must pay attention to.

I stare at the street. I think of my cats, of getting to see Swami tomorrow, the novel I intend to finish editing and who I might con into reading it. I contemplate the Cats of Ancient Egypt exhibit at Emory I’ll see while I’m here and delicious vegan hotdogs with my friend. There is no order of importance to the catalog of my mind, it is ambling like the lightning bug in the bushes. Twilight turns darker and the night creatures grow louder. These sounds are comforting, like the noise from an air-filter while I sleep. The buzz and chirp of the street relaxes my mind.

I gather my journal and phone, but before I lift myself from the stoop I see that yellow breath of the lightning bug, brightly floating and friendly. He is the only one I see, and I wonder romantically if he is the last of his kind and what he does with himself. How long will he live, how will he carry on his lineage?

I’m in my comfortable, borrowed lair still thinking of that lightning bug. He offers the message not to become distracted from what is real by the murmurings and winks of the modern world; otherwise we might miss the sudden flash in the magnolia bush, the spark of realization in the heart. The lightning bug says we don’t have to flash too quickly, a slow steady pulse will do. And if someone isn’t giving you the attention you want or need, pass on by and keep doing your own thing.

I looked up the symbolism of the lightning bug. I figure if an animal crosses your path suddenly after a 30 year absence or repeatedly in a short span of time, it’s interesting to investigate what they’re trying to tell you. That sparky little guy brings tidings of illumination and the message not to underestimate marvels and miracles just because  they may have an uninspiring appearance during daytime hours. The breath is intrinsically linked with Light – the lighting bugs flash bulbs are created by a chemical reaction between certain enzymes in the presence of magnesium ion, ATP and oxygen. This is not very different from humans; deeper breaths = more Light.

“That which is night for all sentient beings is like day for one whose senses are controlled. That which is the time of awakening for a sentient being is like the night for the introspective sage who sees.” The Bhagavad Gita chapter 2.69

 

Practical Magic

queen of cups

This New Year’s day happens to fall on the very same day in which the moon, our luminous satellite, is full in the night sky.

This is very auspicious.

Since getting on Instagram and enjoying all of the belly dance, tarot card and cat picture posts by resident witches, pagans and gypsies from around the world, I’ve discovered that everyone on the planet is an authority on astrology. I’ll be scrolling and see a long, emoji peppered post by a yoga teacher talking about how the moon is in Virgo so we better watch out, because it ain’t exalted there – or whatever.

I’m always like, “How do y’all know that? Where do you get your information?” Because I’m over here with my We’moon calendar trying to figure out what the symbol with the squiggly lines and horned dots is supposed to mean while the rest of y’all are planning your month around Pluto’s transits and solar flares.

The moon, on the other hand, is less foreign to me. The moon changes signs once about every two and a half days, so if you eff up a perfectly decent Moon in Libra by fighting with your spouse, you’ll get a re-do in about twenty eight days.

The new moon is a time for starting new projects and for setting intentions for what we would like to see increase in our lives. Think setting goals, re-aligning with your dreams, growing a business plan. Intention is something like a resolution, of which there are plenty at the New Year. Start a diet, get fit, finish the book, start the book, become a yoga celebrity, start college, ditch the loser, find a partner, quit drinking, quit smoking… you know what I’m talking about.

This is thinking in terms of, “I’m gonna do.” Not bad, but let’s turn it around.

The full moon is a good time to start thinking about what you would like to let go of, what you would like to see decrease in your life, what no longer upholds your dreams and aspirations or supports your work, whether that’s spiritually, mentally or physically. Think about what holds you back or enables procrastination. Y’all, the cosmos has set us up to do exactly that right here at the new year.

Turn your powers of discernment towards your day to day habits, contemplate what you want for your life and see where the two points are at odds. Question what you have set in place that keeps you from it. Instead of making a list of resolutions that you’re gonna start doing, decipher how you can get out of your own way and focus on that.

 

Now we’ve gotten around to the point of this post – your practice, should you choose to accept it. First, let me tell you that I have learned the fine art of using index cards in my spiritual practice from my beloved Teacher, Swami Jaya Devi. She has us write stuff on index cards all the time.

So here we go, starting right now, start thinking about habits that get in the way of what you really want to be doing with your life. Immediately one or two might come to you, but stay with it and see if there is anything beneath the surface. You can even take this into your meditation and sit with a nice, slow fire breath for about a minute and then sit in the stillness to see what comes up.

There may be one big hurdle that you want to focus all of your energy and upon which you wish all of the moon’s brilliant rays to shine. However, there may be a lot of small ways in which you sabotage yourself, so just write that stuff down, too. Now is a good time to remind you to approach this practice without judgement or criticism of yourself. Just remember that you’re trying to make a little room in your life to start a flower bed but you have to shovel out some dirt, first. Full moon is for excavation, new moon is for planting.

On New Year’s eve or day build yourself a nice little bonfire. Invite the kids and get some marshmallows and vegan hot dogs. Invite your family and friends and have plenty of index cards. Say a sweet prayer for guidance and protection to whomever you entrust your path and practice then invite everyone to write on their index card. No one needs to read anyone else’s, but between bites of s’mores place your card in the flames.

You may not be set up for a bonfire. Don’t worry about it. A fireplace or a coffee can in the driveway works nicely, too. But let me tell you something, this practice doesn’t have to be so woo woo. You can write, think, text, email your list to yourself and then delete it, recycle it, bury it. What you’re going for is awareness of self-limiting habits and then a method in which to transform it.

Don’t expect overnight magic, though we can hope, can’t we? We’ll have to work at it and remain mindful, but this is deeply symbolic to the human psyche and a powerful method of solidifying your intentions. Consider what you put in the fire to be an offering to your highest Self and to the inspiration you wish to have and to be. I wish you all the luck and all the space to express your creativity, compassion and genius in the new year. Remember to work with fire responsibly, make an effort on behalf of the good and share your stories with me if you’d like.

* Image “Queen of Cups” from Danielle Noel’s forthcoming tarot deck Moon Child, shadow deck to the Star Child Tarot. @moonchildtarot starchildtarot.com

No Show November – On The Other Side of the Up-Side-Down

I like to get into the Halloween spirit just like any other witchy thirty something, but wanted to watch something besides Hocus Pocus for the hundredth time. Just because I watched every single Saw movie doesn’t mean I like them. I prefer a whimsical Halloween; I like my Halloween movies to have a certain amount of glitter, humor, romance (Practical Magic, anyone?) or be old enough to be considered a classic – Carrie.

Netflix has been telling me for a year that I need to watch Stranger Things, but I wouldn’t listen. I was too caught up in The Adventures of Merlin and Frasier reruns to take a gamble on something new. That, and the preview for it looked like a spin-off of TheTwilight Zone and X Files, neither of which I like to watch after dark or alone.

Well, about two weeks ago, smack dab in the middle of October, I took a chance on episode one of Stanger Things. Oh, goodbye forever! I felt myself getting sucked into the television like that kid in Poltergeist. The first night I watched three episodes.

I am not a t.v. person on the regular. I have been known to quit dating a guy whose idea of a good time was watching the director’s cut with extras and cast interviews. I hate that. That’ll damn the relationship like Akasha and her vampire offspring in Queen of the Damned.  Boy, bye!

After two nights of Stranger Things season one, I dreamed I was in Atlanta desperately trying to find an Eckerd Drugs because I needed a special make-up kit. In this dream, I faced all manner of dangers, a monster I never actually saw, a dark alley and a Walgreens, but no Eckerd Drugs, which was a popular pharmacy in the eighties.

After I woke up and figured out I was at home and still without the much coveted make-up bag, I resolved I’d give myself a few days away from Stranger Things. That night while I was watching episode seven, I gave up. A week later I was driving home from work and saw a man walking his dog and the first thought that came to mind was “Demigorgon” (for those of you not bitten by this venus fly trap, that’s the name of the show’s monster). I was in deep.

By the time season two was released on October 27th I did manage to go to work, but beyond coming home and feeding myself, that’s about it. I watched three episodes unapologetically. Y’all I went off the rails with this show like at Thanksgiving when I have the pumpkin, pecan and sweet potato pie all on the same plate and look around waiting on someone to say something. I went off the rails like on my birthday when I get out the soup tureen so I have a bowl big enough for my cake plus ice cream.

During this haze of consumption I felt conflicted, not unlike when my sister and I would get our hands on the newest season of True Blood on DVD and succumb to the hilarity, humanity and gore that show produced. I’d think of all the things I ought to be doing, like knotting that super amazing jade mala I put on yellow cord, for instance, or doing something – anything – with the third draft of my novel.

I just didn’t feel conflicted enough to do anything about it. Finally, by the seventh episode of season two, I convinced myself that this show is so good it’s like doing research on good story telling and that binge watching it is, in fact, going to help my writing career. Yeah, I had it that bad.

Now I’ve seen every single episode and am content and satiated with a subtle longing for more – exactly what I hope to offer my readers one day, so maybe it was good for my writing career, like studying character development in Witches of Eastwick. 

While I was wondering what in the hell I am going to do with my life now that I’ve seen all the episodes, contemplating even getting back to relative normality, I considered the looming NaNoWriMo fast approaching. “National Novel Writing Month” is the entire month of November where writers are challenged to compose a fifty thousand word masterpiece in thirty days.

I have no intention of hopping on the NaNoWriMo bandwagon this year, I have enough problems of my own right now with the third draft of a very not bad novel looking forlornly from the corner of my big ‘ole desk. I don’t need the drama of two novels fighting, it would be like Freddy Versus Jason around here!

NaNoWriMo did give me an idea, though more related to No Shave November; by the way, this year I’m participating. By mid-month it’ll look like I’m wearing cashmere leggings.

No Show November is a challenge to not watch a show any night of the week. No new shows, nothing hot off the press from Netflix, nothing I’ve got on DVD, not even the news. This also includes YouTube, Instagram videos and infomercials unless you must watch any of the above specifically for work or study. For instance, if Sahdia teaches the hagala shimmy in belly dance class and I manage to forget how to do it before I get all the way home, then bet your bum I’m going to find it on YouTube, however, this does not mean I’m supposed to watch two hours of Belly Dance Superstars Live at the Pyramids.

So I’m going to start No Show November today. The idea of this might make you feel kinda tense. It does me, too. I like to have the television on, even if it’s on the radio station. When I knot malas, I sometimes like to have it on a Disney movie, depending on the vibe I’m working on. I like to watch a program with dinner. This challenge might have to be amended along the way, but I am curious what the first week will be like. I don’t want to feel like my novel is, in fact, the never ending story, so I’m going to use all my free time from No Show November to see if I can finish this incarnation and at least get to draft four. I’ll periodically remind myself this isn’t forever but just a little mental detox.

Wish me luck and join me if you want to. If you do, I’d like to know how it goes for you and in what you would like to invest your new found free time. Good Luck. The challenge starts now!

 

A Storybook About Life

When I was fifteen I got my first deck of tarot cards. They were a Christmas present from my dad, though they were not a surprise because I made him take me to the store to pick them out – The Tarot of the Cat People by Karen Kuykendall and I loved them.

The Star Cat People

The Star can indicate the refreshment and re-alignment with life purpose. It can mean the harmonious blending of resources for self-improvement and inspiration.

Almost immediately my uncle had a fit. He is about as tall as I was in 1995. His eyes have a tendency to run out of their sockets when provoked. Tarot of the Cat People, with its retro vibe and muted jewel tone color pallet, was enough to provoke the hell out of him.

He had a marvelous fit over my tarot cards and they ended up back at the bookstore, both my father and I effectively frightened by Early’s histrionics. Yes, his name really is Early. A year or so later, with the distance of another state between us, I realized my uncle wasn’t mature enough for Tarot of the Cat People, which I promptly re-purchased and still have, wrapped in a piece of pillowcase from the eighties and nestled in a dark wood box.

Since turning seventeen, I read lots of tarot cards and collected numerous decks. My favorites were The Cat People and The Egyptian Tarot, which is now out of print.  I also had a fun, kitschy Halloween tarot deck that is whimsical and retro. Though I parred my collection down, I kept these. The Egyptian Tarot was a particular favorite because of the liberal use of deities and sunlight.

Egyptian Tarot Death

The Death Card symbolizes transformation and releasing unhealthy attachments. Pictured here is Anubis, God of the Underworld.

Several years ago now, I dated “the wrong man” I wanted so badly to be the love of my life. We were a long distance hot mess couple who were terrible for each other but there was this gripping determination I had choking my heart and all reason.

I took to the cards to give me answers. I wrestled with them, demanded answers that fit with the way I wanted things to be. I was willful and tense until I realized I was wrestling with something so much bigger than I was. It wasn’t the cards but the Universe in question, and the Universe doesn’t so much win or lose but simply IS.

About the same time I realized I was no longer in control, or wanted to be, I met my Teacher and my spiritual practices changed. I wanted more to see where I was going than to dictate where I would go. I started to feel something uncoiling from within me which felt infinitely more freeing than investing in wrangling something outside myself.

Hanged man Halloween tarot

The Hanged Man, from The Halloween Tarot, can reflect that you’re feeling stuck or restricted, which is kinda why I got in touch with Uma in the first place.

Last December I was in turmoil because teaching yoga hadn’t quite worked out the way I’d hoped when I went into yoga teacher training seven or so years ago. I thought I was making a career change for the better but what I was investing myself in began to feel like a multi-level marketing business with fitness professionals at the top and raggedy ass cronies at the bottom driving all over the coast teaching yoga classes. This is not what I put on my vision board, people.

While contemplating where my vision board might have gone wrong, I had a random idea; Have a reading with Uma, the idea urged, and that’s what I did.

Uma Simon is a monk and resident at Kashi Florida, the ashram where my Guru lived and taught and where my own Teacher studied. Uma lives there and reads tarot for a living. I considered that, even though I’d begun to doubt the depth or purpose of tarot, certainly having a reading with someone who lives on the very ashram where the Teacher of my heart studied has merit! Uma greeted my email warmly and we had an appointment early the next week.

I felt like I’d met her before, and I very well may have when I was last there. She was easy to talk to even though I could hear myself as though in third person and felt like I sounded like a hot mess. Hot mess or no, she didn’t treat me like one. She was very nice to me and had helpful things to say.

Before we got off the phone I asked her about reading tarot. I explained that I’d lost confidence in tarot and that I felt like I’d just been swimming upstream with the cards. I didn’t even know what I expected to get out of them anymore.

There was a thoughtful pause at the other end before she said one of the two sentences I replay for myself often, “Reading the cards can just be a vehicle for your intuition…”

I felt refreshed by this, like I’d taken myself off of restriction and could go play with my friends outside. I went to my decks and unwrapped them, though they no longer felt familiar to me. Not sure if it was me or them, I turned to ye ‘ole reliable internets and shopped for a new deck.

Shopping for new tarot decks after a seven year hiatus has got to be its own blog post, but just let me say here that a lot has changed since 1999 and I had to order from the bookstore or mail order from The Witch’s Almanac. There is this thing called “indie decks” which are published by independent artists that’ll make you feel like the Universe is sending you post cards.

What I experience now with tarot is that my hope isn’t to be told what to do or where to go, but to experience the landscape of my mind and life’s events with both detachment and understanding. I am learning that tarot is not divination as we think of it as fortune-telling, but that it is a means by which we may communicate with clear consciousness from where wise insights and inspiration comes. It is by tuning into this visual, symbolic tool that we intuit guidance for ourselves and others.

Returning to this practice feels like writing again after ignoring my work or shredding my journals. I forgot how much I enjoyed it and what a comfort simply shuffling the cards can be. There is a difference in maturity in myself that I can see now, and that the break from the cards served an important task of giving me perspective. I am mighty glad for the inspiration to return.

I’d like to share a fitting quote from The Hoodwitch, a most excellent mystic I follow on my new favorite social media platform – Instagram. She says, Fear is dangerous, not the tarot. The tarot represents the spectrum of the human condition, the good, the evil, the light, and the dark. Do not fear the darker aspects of the human condition. Understand them. The tarot is a storybook about life, about the greatness of human accomplishment, and also the ugliness we are each capable of. @thehoodwitch

I could not have said it better myself.

If you’d like to know more about Uma or to book a reading check out her website UMASIMON.COM

Knight of Swords starchild

The Knight of Swords begins new projects with critical thinking aligned with inspiration and fresh energy. This card reminds us not to rush but to remain excited. This is one of my favorite cards in tarot.

Starchild Tarot by Danielle Noel – starchildtarot.com

 

Seventies Vintage

vintage yoga

Teaching yoga class puts me in the unique position – yuk yuk yuk – of hearing people say stuff. That’s a simplistic statement, I know, but it’s true. I don’t know what it is about sitting on a yoga mat that makes folks say stuff, but it’s usually off the cuff.

Last week someone told me without equivocation that I am well into middle-age. I was sitting in front of five or six brave souls all sitting on their yoga mats settling in. I might have asked what we were going to do during class, which is my way of asking what’s going on with people’s bodies so I’ll know what poses and body parts to focus on. It’s like yoga class in-take; this is where you let me know you pulled a hamstring, broke up with your boyfriend, started a new diet and/or had a nervous breakdown. I’ll do the best I can to offer stuff in class to make you feel better or push you over the edge, whichever will help the most.

I do not remember the segue into the realm of age, but I landed at the ass end of the topic with the declaration that I am…”Well into middle age.”

I’m 37. The comment arrived so certainly that I wondered if I might be middle-aged and didn’t notice. I turned to trusted Google and middle-age is actually considered the period between 45 and 65. That’s a few feet away from smack dab “in the middle of” from where I’m sitting. One day I intend to be a middle aged yoga teacher, perhaps a hundred year old author. But don’t rush me. Let me tell you something, though – the baddest ass yoga teachers I know are all over fifty. They could do things to you with their third eye closed that would make you welcome the Universe home to your heart. Just saying.

Reader, I look a hell of a lot better than I did when I was in beauty school seventeen years ago. I had a doughy complexion from a terrible diet and my hair was so short you could see my scalp through the black shards of hair protruding from my head. I drank so much I don’t think I ever actually sobered up the first five or so years I did hair. I smoked so many cigarettes that getting my teeth cleaned was the equivalent of cleaning the ashtrays in the hotel where my great-grandmother worked when I was a kid.

Today, I’m mostly rested, sober, usually hydrated, fit and relatively balanced. I don’t color my hair so there are the tell-tale strands of silver that I am really sort of in love with. It’s not the thought of looking middle-aged that’s pissed me off, it’s the conclusions I’ve come to while I stewed over it.

When I was drunk in beauty school I had a boyfriend who was too old for me by about twenty years. I realize now that the reason he had to have a twenty year old girlfriend is because he was too emotionally stunted to date women his own age. What I realize now as a mostly grown-up person is that I am in the age group that is beyond the category of young. In a man’s world, no matter their age, their standards judge against the spectrum of appropriately young and not young enough.

For a woman, I might actually be middle-aged; it’s like I aged in cat years. Clearly, a woman’s willingness to put up with bullshit, which diminishes dramatically with age, is directly inverse to her value and good standing on the age spectrum. It’s not age that makes her less attractive but her unwillingness to suffer fools. It’s this unwillingness that creates the appearance of the crone in the eye of the beholder.

A girlfriend and I were talking just last week about the archetype of the crone. I’m not just talking about a Halloween witch or that spooky lady with the hump. I’m talking about the Crone Goddess revered throughout the ages and across cultures. She’s usually the least visually attractive of the Goddesses one might encounter, but she is by far the most beautiful.

There are tales and legends of the Goddess disguising herself in the image of a fearsome old hag as a trial for some untested knight. After all manner of quests and suffering he faces the fearsome face of the Death Crone. Can he see beyond the shadowed crevices of her face where he might press his lips? It is his liberation to see the beauty and life beneath the surface of the aged visage but is he nearly that smart? Within the Crone’s power is regeneration, power and wisdom but it’s not something you necessarily see with your physical eyes. This is a timeless knowing that spontaneously arises from infinitely intelligent heart, not something you can share on snap-chat.

Women are not lauded for this power of regeneration, power and wisdom though it’s a given that we’ll appreciate the distinguished image of the well aging man, but that’s somehow different.

The soul has no gender and is timeless, but that’s a struggle to realize face to face in the filters of the twenty-first century, where we see but a dim reflection in a mirror of who we really are. I do my practices so that I can know who I really am, and it ain’t this little ‘ole me all stirred up by a something someone said that I’m so sincerely seeking. In truth, middle-aged was tossed at my feet in jest, knowing the person as I do, but you can’t un-ring a bell.

There have been times something has come up and I thought to write a blog about it – that being what blogs are for, but I have restrained myself on occasion because the topic might not align with “yogic” standards. It’s not nice to say bullshit on a blog with Shiva’s image as the header picture. It’s also not yogic to pretend to be something I’m not, and sometimes I say bullshit. One of the benefits of being an old lady is saying whatever in the hell I want and getting away with it because I’m an old lady. See how fast I cashed in on that?

Of course, this is where I really feel the unusual predicament of being both a writer and a yogi; the yogi meant to let things go, to be like water and consume the world whereas the writer chronicles, burns and digests. It’s a weird place to be, but possibly it’s also a little taste of the freedom offered by the Crone’s wisdom. Just saying.

 

Write Like a Champ

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You may wonder why I haven’t posted a blog in over a month. Well, dear Reader, I was wondering the same damn thing, so here we are. I’ve been screwing around with that book, the one mentioned in my previous post more than a month ago.

The truth of it is that the first draft, which I thought kicked my ass plenty, was just the start of it. The second draft is harder because I have to keep the good stuff, get rid of the bad stuff and add new stuff to fill in the gaps. I’ve decided that the wish to be a writer is like having a mental illness; you don’t choose it, it manifests at inconvenient times and never shows itself when you need it to.

I decided that the stages of writing a novel really do follow the Rocky franchise, and I’m about to tell you how.

During the first draft, I was slumming. I hadn’t written in a while, and when I did I sent stuff to small-time gilt edged literary journals with a pay entry for competitions. I don’t write for the love of it alone, it’s more like a driving madness. Suddenly, perhaps it’s in a turn of phrase I overheard at the Olive Garden or the galactic shock of Michael Jackson’s death, but I have an opening line for something more substantial than a haiku. I think I’ve got a shot at a best selling title and I sincerely want to go the distance.

That’s the heart of the first draft – I want to finish it. I (pretend like I’m gonna) wake up early or stay up (really) late but I attend to it with the same care that Rocky drank those gross raw eggs. Going ten rounds with Apollo Creed is not unlike how I felt when the first draft was finally done. I felt kinda punchy but I made it.

The synopsis of Rocky II is that Rocky and Apollo fight again, then become friends. This is the stage where I went back and read my book like a regular reader from start to finish. Sure I made notes, but I didn’t make many changes. I noticed discrepancies and added commas where necessary. There were secrets kept from me in the first draft that are apparent to me now as I read thru. Characters developed during the writing and I can see them more clearly. I did get lazy in writing discipline while I let the manuscript rest, so I had to go back into training so I could make it another ten rounds. Training includes deep breathing, reading good writing and turning Netflix off. It also helps to write everyday, even if its long-hand

In Rocky III the tables are turned. The Stallion is now in the position Creed held in Rocky I. Clubber Lang is thirsty like Balboa was back in the day. After I made friends with my novel during the re-write I started to feel like I could be a real writer, one with a career and not just a notebook in my purse and a desperate look in my eye. I felt over-confident from my many triumphant wins during the read through, like witticisms I forgot I wrote or off the charts shenanigans that are brilliant. Rocky III takes me down a few notches, when the notes I made during the reading have to be instituted. This is the cutting room floor, y’all. The re-write beat me down. This is where I am now. I pity the fool!

Rocky IV is perhaps my favorite. Though I’ve seen this installment more than the others, I am far from its equivalent in my writing career. This is where I imagine dealing with the publishing industry. The cold, hard tundra of business and negotiations on behalf of something that could’ve taken eight or so years to write. I can clearly see the tiny Balboa looking up at that giant blond Russian played by Dolph Lundgren. That is how I feel about this stage of my career. When the agents and editors say, “I must break you” I mustn’t let them.

Rocky V is the one I pretend didn’t get made. This is the equivalent of what should end up on the cutting room floor; where the files of bad ideas, false starts and sketchy backstories I might think of resurrecting later for a sequel land. I suggest skipping this stage, and this movie, and go straight to Rocky Balboa.

This installment of the Rocky franchise came later. I saw Balboa in the theater with my grandmother. When Rocky I came out in 1976 I wasn’t born yet. Rocky Balboa shows a much older Rocky back on the old block. He owns a restaurant now, he’s a mostly happy widow with a jerky hitch in his step like he could walk into a hay-maker on his way out of the kitchen. We can still see The Italian Stallion in this old guy, we know he’s in there. Writers have that same stalwart psyche; it’s part of who we are, and if properly provoked we’ll come directly out of retirement swinging wildly. This is where I admit that I’ve considered giving it up, the angst and uncertainty of a writing life is so not glamorous, but sometimes you’ve just got to show ’em what you’re made of.

Creed, the most recent installment had me like….. hold on, I need a minute.

Apollo’s son shows up on Rocky’s door hoping the champ will train him. Rocky is old, y’all, they didn’t even try to make him look good, but he still has that slow brown eyed sincerity. And of course he trains the kid, and this is the stage of writing known as mentorship.

Let me tell you something, right now you don’t want me as your writing mentor. I haven’t done anything but self-published content on a blog I bought and, also, hammer out a few first drafts in typical genres. I also fill notebooks with beautiful handwriting that is as easy to read as classical Sanskrit.

My mentors are Stephen King, who wrote the manual for us would-be authors, On Writing, and Natalie Goldberg because she is so damn consistent about writing for a writer is as necessary as coffee and peanut-butter. It’s part of our well-being. I should add that I’ve never actually met these people, so if you see Stephen King and tell him, “Oh, I read a blog post written by your protege, it was wonderful.” He’ll have no idea what you’re talking about and I’ll probably get a cease and desist order in the mail.

When I’m feeling really lost about the business side of writing I go look at websites for authors I admire. I also read books that create for me what I aspire to give my Readers. Currently Drums of Autumn performs this task for me, but so has The Mists of Avalon, Clan of the Cave Bear and Ann Rice’s The Wolf Gift.

When Apollo’s son went into the ring Rocky was right there by his side, just like Micky was there for him. That’s what a trainer is supposed to do and that’s how mentors work. The thing with Writing is that it’s a job in which the fighter must be in their own corner, which is sometimes the hardest part of the craft. Certainly we have friends who support us, a mentor we rely on, a Teacher we trust. But in the midnight hour, they’re all asleep! Writing is a solitary career, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s a worthy one, like anything you put your heart into.

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