Monthly Archives: July 2014

I am the Jerry Seinfeld of Yoga

This week I was doing cat-cow pose in my new summer yoga class and feeling annoyed as the teacher’s voice faded at the end of each sentence.

“Breathe in and do … “ She’s dropped her voice to a whisper, and I think she said “cow pose,” because everyone is doing it, but I can barely hear her.

“Breathe out and arch your …”  She whispers “back” and then the rest—presumably she’s saying “into cat pose”—fades into silence.

It wasn’t until I was telling my coworker about it and she said, “Oh that sounds so relaxing,” that I suddenly realized, “Oh my god! I’m the Jerry Seinfeld of yoga!”

I had just seen the episode where Jerry breaks up with a woman because she eats her peas one at a time. And here I was a day later, crabby because the teacher was being relaxing at a yoga class. Or, was she being a fade-talker?

In my defense, I am a perfectly nice yoga student from September to June because I have a great yoga set up—a good Iyengar teacher who is irreverent and challenges me and a weekly class close to my house at a time that fits my schedule. She takes summers off to recharge, and I commend her for listening to what she needs. However, this seems to turn me into Jerry Seinfeld. As I scour the web for Boston yoga classes, things get dicey. You might be thinking, are you nuts? There are hundreds, perhaps 1000s of yoga classes in the Boston area alone. Yes, this is true, and it is also true that there are 1000s of women to date in New York City. Like Jerry, I have a long list of requirements that need to be met before I can even consider a date/class.

  1. I prefer Iyengar style yoga, and there is precious little of it in Boston. Go ahead and do a search. There is hot yoga, flow yoga, and lots of yoga that’s a blend of hot, hatha and flow. I don’t like sweating and slipping around on my mat, and flow makes me anxious. If I wanted to move around quickly, I would go jogging. I’m trying to slow down my body and quiet my mind, which I can’t do when I’m frantically going from down dog, to plank, to up dog, always a half beat behind all the other people who know the routine much better that I do.
  2. I have about 5 time slots available to do yoga. Some of the reasons for my restricted availability are real, such as I prefer to go when my son is with his dad on certain evenings and on the weekend. Some of the reasons are really just me being a princess, such as I’m not getting up at 9 am on a Saturday to do yoga. I love yoga; Saturday at 9 is not gonna happen.
  3. If the day/ time is right, then location becomes the next hurdle. A 5:30 class on a week night I can go is great, until I realize it will take me 40 minutes on the T to get there from work.

What happens when I find these select few classes? Apparently I turn into Jerry Seinfeld. For your consideration, I present this evidence:

Jerry broke up with a woman for having “man hands.” All my early yoga teachers were women, so I didn’t take a class with a man teacher until one of these fateful summers. I didn’t really think about it at the time. All teachers tend to gravitate toward the poses they like best, and at some point I know my favorite poses will intersect with theirs. Until I took the class with a man teacher. I was panting about 20 minutes in. Why? He was doing all upper body strength poses, because guys are great at those. It felt like an Olympic gymnastics practice. When I’m being kind, I tell myself that my upper body is an opportunity to practice increasing my strength. When I’m being myself, I curse out my arms while I struggle to open up a jar of pickles. Flexibility poses, my personal strength, were nowhere in sight. I hear you yelling, “Not all male teachers do that!” At the time I agreed, so I took a class with a different man. Yeah, same thing. Two strong apples can spoil the whole bunch. Jerry wouldn’t put up with “man yoga hands,” and neither will I.

Jerry broke up with a woman for not giving him a massage. I stopped going to a yoga class because there was massage involved. I was already on the verge of breaking up with the teacher for reading really bad New Age poetry while we held poses for a number of minutes. Believe me, it’s hard enough to hold a pose without your brain screaming out, “That’s cliché!” “Wrong use of that adjective!” “The horror, the rhyming horror!” Call it an occupational hazard of being a writer, but it was brutal. She only did that once a month, so I learned to skip those classes. But then she had a substitute.

I assumed the substitute would be a yoga teacher—how very silly of me. As I was getting settled on my mat, the substitute announced she was not a yoga teacher. If I were really like Jerry, I would have left right then and I would have been right. But I am basically an optimistic person (or delusional as the occasion warrants) and thought, “Well maybe she will just call out a list of poses for us to do.” Yeah, and Jerry Seinfeld will choose a woman over a funny voice. Then she brought out the tennis balls. Now I was concerned. I couldn’t think of one yoga pose that could involve tennis balls, even as a prop. “Let me show you what to do,” she said, as she proceeded to sit on all of her tennis balls, roll around on them, and say how good it felt. I have a fair amount of butt real estate, and I am OK with sticking it up in the air for down dog or for a forward bend. But that’s because everyone else is doing the same thing, so no one is actually looking at my butt. But I was not about to stick balls under my butt and roll around, letting them disappear under my ampleness, nor look at others doing the same. I truthfully claimed I had an upset stomach and left that class and continued my hunt. At least classes that didn’t have bad poetry or tennis balls now had a fighting chance to get on my list.

Jerry broke up with a woman for being too much like him. One summer, I found a class near my house, on the right day and at the right time. It wasn’t an Iyengar class, but it also wasn’t hot or flow, so it was worth checking out. The space was nice and the teacher chatted a bit before class. When we were all settled in, she put on music. Then she unfolded a piece of paper. With the sequence of poses on it. I never had a teacher do that before, and my very first teacher was still in training. I was part of her first guinea pig practice class, so she actually could have had a cheat sheet. So what’s wrong with it? It’s what I would have to do because I can’t keep much in my head these days, never mind a sequence of 20 or more poses over the course of an hour and half. When she had to pause in the middle of the class to consult it, I realized I wasn’t coming back. I go to yoga to confront the part of myself I’m OK with confronting—my can’t-open-a-pickle-jar- arms, my core that could use more “practice” to increase its strength, and getting my brain to stop spinning. Seeing a reminder that I can’t remember diddly squat? Not so much.

And there you have it, my dirty little secret. I’m the Jerry Seinfeld of yoga. Only about five more weeks to go until my teacher gets back, and I can say in a silly voice, “Hellooo, La La Laaa.”

Photo credit: Thanks to the the Date Report for the photo and listing of 23 of the reasons Jerry broke up with his girlfriends. Check them out!

My Family Was Catholic Until the Almighty Got a Hold of Us

Ever wonder how all the different religions came about? Well, wonder no more, because I have a highly sophisticated theory. I think entire families stand in a long line before they are born, and a deity hands out religion like an ice cream truck guy hands out SpongeBob SquarePants bars, strawberry shortcakes, and fudgsicles. How do I know this? It’s the only way to explain my family.

I can see a long line of families snaking off into the distant puffy clouds. I imagine even an omnipotent being could get bored doling out religion all day, passing out Christianity, Judaism, Muslim, Hinduism, Buddhism and all the other isms. And maybe it gets monotonous and s/he wants to mix it up. But s/he’s omnipotent, s/he knows not to get too crazy—these things must be done delicately. S/he’s feeling cheeky when s/he spies my family in the line—some even-keeled French Canadians on one side and some tolerant Dutch on the other. All are headed for the US, and the American generation will be born in the late 1950s and early 1960s. S/he smiles mischievously. With a wave of her/his celestial hand, s/he respectfully hands the older generation Catholicism. Over the American-born generation, however, the wave is different. Spirituality falls like jimmies over us and we gaze up radiant and expectant. Then s/he moves us along. No religion is given. “See what you make of that!” s/he chuckles.

Cut to life on Earth: The French Canadians make their way from Lac Noir, Quebec through New Hampshire and Vermont, and they land in Bristol, Connecticut. As predicted, that generation and the next are hard-core Catholics. As a teen, my grandmother recovered from a serious illness by believing in Mary, (aka the mother of Jesus, and no I didn’t just swear). When my m other was a teen, she entered the convent. The conditions in the late 1940s—working long hours in a hot laundry, washing priests’ vestments, and eating meals that would make Oliver Twist seem gluttonous—wore her down. She got sick enough to be sent home to recover. Twice. Mother Superior believed it was a message from God that this is not her path. My mother was crushed, but maybe dealing with that blow helped her through what her kids were going to put her through.

My mother met my father, a Dutch-born Catholic, and they married in 1957. The babies came in 1958, 1960, 1962 and 1965, and for a while things were looking pretty good. Our family of six attended Mass every Sunday morning and every holy day. We kids went to Catechism and the sacraments were all distributed like clockwork: baptism, communion, confession, confirmation.

Then came the 70s. I imagine the omnipotent being was chuckling.

My father jumped ship first, having had more years to contemplate spiritual matters than us kids and becoming disillusioned with organized religion in general. He began to study the many facets of Eastern philosophy and was soon talking about the universality of life and the idea that the separation of man and god were human constructs. A favorite theme of his: we are the watcher and the watched.

And then there were five.

Once my Dad opened the door, I think maybe we all started consciously or unconsciously to hear the Catholic Church rap differently. The faith of my grandmother and mom transcends the words of the church. While the words can be lyrical, they can also be contradictory and absolute. My siblings and I were born to be people who listened to the words and thought too much about them. We also asked a lot of questions—not really traits the Catholic Church was looking for at that time.

When my oldest sister, Julie, left home about a year after high school, she found a religion that not only invited questions, but could provide answers, with footnotes. And so she became a Jehovah’s Witness. At first it was hard for the rest of us to understand—we were a little afraid it was a cult. But over time we could see that it made sense to her. Except for missing holiday gatherings (they don’t celebrate any holidays except wedding anniversaries), she was still pretty much the same person. The weirdest part was that all the Jehovah Witnesses she introduced us too were always super nice. Being close-to-the-vest New Englanders, we had a hard time with that, but we got used to it.

And then there were four.

A year after Julie left home, Sharon went off to college. By her fourth year, she met a nice Jewish boy and decided to marry him. Although many interfaith marriages work, Sharon felt the pull of the Jewish faith. She liked the Jewish emphasis on family and being a good person (as opposed to say, burning in hell for transgressions). The final piece was the idea that children must be born to a Jewish mother be considered Jewish, so she converted. It was toughest on my mom. Julie’s religious departure was still based in Christianity, but for my mom, Sharon had left the fold entirely. As for my brother and me, we were now getting pretty experienced in this religion switching thing; my greatest concern was figuring out the Jewish holidays. It also helped that Marty, my brother-in-law, had no problem celebrating Christmas and Easter.

And then there were three.

By now, my brother Mark and I were teenagers, and we picked religion as our rebellion. Mark pulled the age-16 card, “If I’m old enough to drive, I’m old enough to make my own decisions.” He stopped going to church and finds his spirituality in the cool wind of a mountain peak after a long hand-over-hand climb and in the stillness of a snowy wood on a crisp January day. We accept that it works for him, but the rest of us still prefer a little heat with our holy moments.

And then there were two.

Around this time, my mother became a lector, which is a layperson who reads the scriptures during the Mass. She sat on the stage up front, while I sat alone and stewed and sulked by myself in the folding chairs. Yes, we had Mass in folding chairs, in the Catholic school gym because the congregation had outgrown the church. Being in an actual church wouldn’t have made a real difference—I think it just hastened the end. Sitting in my hard metal chair, I had plenty of time to review the all the things I didn’t like, starting with my fourth grade Catechism teacher—did I mention I can hold a grudge?

“You have a choice,” she said, one day. And I perked up, because I liked choices. “You can be good,” OK. Not very compelling, but not a deal-breaker either. “Or, you can go to hell.” Well, even a fourth grader knows that’s no choice. For me it was downhill from there, so when I turned 16, I also declared my independence. My poor mother tried to dissuade me, but she knew she was on thin ice. She let me go. I have since become an agnostic, with Eastern leanings, who is more comfortable considering celestial questions than finding answers.

And then there was one Catholic left.

The Catholic Church is still a major part of my mom’s life, and it has given her the grace and generosity to accept us all. And we’ve accepted each other. Oh, sure, I may have glossed over some of the hand wringing, regrets, and recriminations we’ve had with each other over the years, but heck we would have had those even without being the religious United Nations.

Earlier this year, my mother accepted an award for her many years of volunteering at her parish. The event was held at the Hartford Cathedral and honored parishioners from all over the diocese. The Jehovah Witness wished she could have made it, and the rest of us were there—the Eastern philosopher, the questioner, the Jew, and the cold nature guy. Because, you know, that’s how we roll. It was a testament to our love, respect, and acceptance of our religious diversity. That, and we had taken bets on whether we would burst into flames. Obviously we didn’t, otherwise I would have written about that. I do believe, however, I could hear a deity stifling a giggle. Well played, my friend. Well played.

Photo credit: My own photo of the ice cream truck near the Public Gardens in Boston.

Not Just Any Pink Blanket

This past Friday night, I walked to the Hatch Shell in Boston for my first Free Friday Flicks of the season—it’s my 26th year of watching movies there; the first one I remember was “Batman”—no, not the one with Michael Keaton as Batman and Jack Nicholson as the Joker. No, this was the made-for-TV Batman movie with Adam West and Burt Ward, complete with the “Pow,” “Bam” and “Smash” hand drawn exclamation bubbles. (Young ones, Google it or just watch the SpongeBob episodes with Mermaid Man—same diff). Back then they also showed lots of classic movies. FFF, as we like to call it, was where I first saw Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, and Citizen Kane. I’m sure they were cheap for the city to get and the crowd was easy to please. It was a handful of mostly people like me—broke post-college and college students who were happy to find something—anything—free to do on a Friday night.

I’ve seen a lot of things come and go at FFF. But nearly always, at the core has been my pink blanket, aka F*cking Pink Blanket. For years, it has been the centerpiece, nay, the very FFF raison d’être, welcoming newcomers and seasoned attendees alike. Until last night. As usual, I had arrived early, unveiled the FP Blanket and secured the area. Something was off, but I couldn’t put my finger on it until my friends came and pointed out, there were not one, not two but at least THREE other pink blankets around us. Of course, they were not nearly as amazing as the FP Blanket, but still, they were not pastel posers. I was concerned. I see you are puzzled; let me explain.

The FP Blanket, pictured above on Friday night, is at least 40 years old, and like all good things from the 70s, it’s made from an indestructible synthetic material that defies physics and logic. It hasn’t gotten any more worn, nor has the color faded. It’s just as f*cking pink now as it was when it was on the bed of whichever of my unlucky family members had it. Or maybe it was a guest blanket, which would explain our lack of guests growing up.

Before cell phones, meeting up with friends at the Hatch Shell was a challenge, as most of us left our carrier pigeons and tin cans with string at home. Thus, the neon pink blanket became an important feature for spotting our group amongst the sea of particularly unremarkable, yet confusing blankets. In the 90s, I met my friend Becky and invited her to FFF. She’s the one who dubbed the blanket the F*cking Pink Blanket. She‘s not profane, mind you—other than the blanket, I’d be hard pressed to tell you that last time I heard her swear. But she is an excellent story-teller and that summer, on the blanket, she told a story about her friends who were trying to buy a tandem bike, an unusual item. They found an ad for one (in a print publication no doubt) and called the number (this was before the internet and before there were readily available photos. If you think it’s tiresome to keep reading about these stories that happened before the internet, imagine how tiresome it is for me to have to keep footnoting it). When they reached the seller he said, “I gotta warn you, it’s f*cking pink.” The rest, as they say, is history, and ever after the blanket became the F*cking Pink Blanket.

So, you must understand, there can be no others. Because of my longevity and good nature, I have decided to give you, Other Pink Blanket Owners, a friendly warning.  I understand you must be new to FFF, so please know that I own the FP Blanket and you need to find another blanket to bring. I’m sure you will. Your flimsy, natural fiber blanket won’t last anyway, so I’m saving you a lot trouble. Maybe you can use yours for a sick dog or to cover up your IKEA furniture when you move out of Boston. Need some hints of what else you could bring? Low chairs, sleeping bags, and really any kind of blanket is acceptable. Except pink. That’s my blanket and how people find me, not you. No one wants to sit with you, who has the fake, non-F*cking Pink Blanket. And don’t think for a minute little girl with the square pink blanket that I’m going to go any easier on you than I will on the others. Cute doesn’t play in my town, sister, and make no mistake, this is my town and my FFF. Thank you for attention to this matter, and I look forward to not seeing you next week.

Sincerely,

Sandy, owner of the true and only F*cking Pink Blanket.

Anna Karenina and The Muppets: More Similar Than You Think

Just like your trash pickup — I’m a day late because of the holiday! Hope you had a great weekend.

There were a number of books I read in high school that I was too young to understand, and I often wonder at the value of having kids read these things. The Scarlet Letter comes to mind—as a 17 year-old, modern-day honors student, I couldn’t connect to the characters’ situations. A terrible teacher didn’t help matters. A Separate Peace, was another book I didn’t get. It seemed to be picked only because the character was about our age. It was slightly more modern than Scarlet Letter and has a backdrop of WWII, but this incomprehensible story about a private school boy who ends up crippling his best friend because he’s jealous, was in some ways farther away from my experience than a woman who gets pregnant out of wedlock. At least I knew a girl who’d gotten pregnant. A Separate Peace haunted and mystified me for so many years that I inflicted in on my book group, hoping maturity and other smart readers might help me make sense of it. They were fairly mystified as well.

The book my book group is reading now, Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy, has given me the opposite feeling. I should have read this when I was younger. Probably not high school, but definitely college. Why? Because I can identify all too closely with the characters. If I were younger,  I’d just see the characters as interesting people and not uncomfortably close to my life. Also, I’d recover a lot faster from the destruction I know is coming. We all know Russian novels don’t have happy endings — heck they don’t even have neutral endings. I have 30 pages left of this 900-page behemoth, and I had to stop because I know Tolstoy’s going to lay waste to this huge cast of characters, who he has manipulated me into caring about. Thanks a lot, jerk!

Which brings us to the second reason I should have read this when I was younger — all  the unpronounceable, multiple names of all these characters. Dear, god, I don’t have the brainpower to keep that in my head now (if I ever did). I should have created an Excel spreadsheet at the beginning to keep track of the nomenclature. Everyone is referred to by at least two, three, and sometimes four names. Many of the characters have the same or similar names. There are still two characters I confuse. Worse is that the characters are referred to by different names depending on who they are with. There are familial names and pet names and nicknames. Whether you are for or against writing programs and workshopping your writing, I could make a strong case that Tolstoy’s naming structure (if you can call it that) wouldn’t have lasted five minutes in a workshop. And I can say with certainty that Anna Karenina’s greatness would not have been diminished in least by simpler names.

And Karenina is a problem too. I’d always heard people pronounce it Karena and apparently I never paid close attention to how it was written, but that extra syllable kills me. I feel like I’m stumbling over the word, which I am for all the other characters like Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky  and Stepan Arkadyich Oblonsky (say that three times fast.) To help me out, my book group member Becky graciously suggested that Karenina rhymes rhythmically with “Mehna Mehna” (for all you who grew up in the 70s, just think “The Muppet Show” and you’ll hear the song in your head. If not, you can relive it here:

So, back to the last 30 pages. Will I finish it? Of course — I have my English major reputation to protect after all. But when? Hard to know. I need to rewatch the “Mehna Mehna” video of few times, for research, you understand. And then I have to finish the James Bond novel I picked up yesterday as the antidote to grand Russian doom. Nothing like post-WWII political intrigue, Bentleys, and martinis shaken, not stirred to lift your spirits.

But wait, WWII — that’s it! I finally understand. Getting through the last 30 pages can’t possibly be any worse that reading A Separate Peace. Twice. And that’s the benefit of age. I’ll let you know how the Russians turn out.