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Monthly Archives: March 2009

My Yoga Journey begins

This weekend I began Yoga training. I will share a bit about
the experience – at least my reaction to it.

 It is amazing to me that even after hours spent doing
intensive yoga poses over and over again, I wake up the next day and nothing
hurts. That is a beautiful and remarkable thing about yoga, and the best
tangible evidence I have that practicing is truly good for you, body and soul.

 Dance, on the other hand, hurts all the time, no matter your
age. I suppose this is because dance is about defying nature’s limitations and
pushing your body beyond the limits in an effort to create a visual image that
is illusive and idealistic. Perfection is the dancer’s goal, and the artist is
expected to suffer to achieve it. Between you and me, I love that about dance.
  I hate what the art does to your body,
breaking it down, but it seems worth the end results. The fact that not
everyone can dance is one of the things I admire about the art form. To become
a dance artist requires soul, physical strength, and a gift from God. Dance has
always been, and always will be, my true calling, so I love it despite its

 Yoga, on the other hand, works within the framework of the
body’s natural design, and the mental relaxation and breathing which is central
to good technique forces the student to relax, thus avoiding injury. A yoga
student is taught to listen to his or her body and adapt poses so there is no
stress on joints or muscles. In the opposing dance universe, a student is
taught to suck it up and suffer for art’s sake. Different attitude. I don’t
suppose I need to mention that there I am in yoga class pushing beyond what is
comfortable on my 50-year-old body in every pose, because I can’t shake the
idea that I’m not making progress unless I hurt. Dancers are not only familiar
with physical abuse, but they revel in it because pain is often the path to
improvement. Sick creatures, us dancers.

 I think I am an annoying yoga student. Not by choice, but by
nature of my personality and previous life experience. I ask too many questions
of a technical nature, and the answer I get is always, “it depends” or “You’re
over-thinking things. It’s not important.” Since over thinking happens to be a
problem with me in many areas of life, I’m sure the evasive answers I receive
are a fair response. Still, I am sometimes very frustrated with the lack of defined
answers to my questions. Mostly, this is in regards to the mechanics of yoga
movement. We move from one pose to the next, and I ask about what exact
positions we should move through during the position. Is it better to have a
flat back or to roll through the spine? Should the eyes lead or follow after
the pose is stable. The answer is, “It depends.” It depends on the student, the
body type, the mood of that particular practice, and what I want to achieve at
this moment in time. It depends on what feels right and good. Some yoga
techniques are more defined, and perhaps studying one of those methods someday
would suit me better (hint, hint), but in this particular yoga method we believe
in adaptability and less defined structure.

 Meanwhile, I’m thinking the hell with what feels right and
good, I just need to know what IS right and good adhering to yoga standards
because then, come hell or high water, I’ll master it in that way.
  As you can see, I have a way to go
regarding my gentle yogi-ness.

 In dance, there is an ideal, a defined perfection that a
student is always working towards, so naturally I want to know what the yoga
ideal is so that I can help students, through modified poses or whatever
methods required, to achieve greater skill. And in the back of my mind, I’m
thinking a student with great potential might come along and he or she will
need more advanced coaching, and I want to be prepared. All this makes my
questions seem pushy and too focused on achievement-oriented goals, a very unyoga-like
approach. I’m sure the teachers want to slap me, but that wouldn’t be yoga like
either, so instead they smile at me with love and shake their head with “you
don’t get it yet,” tolerance.

 I then shut up, reading the gentle frustrationin their eyes
and think, OK, I’ll shut up. I get it academically, but setting goals for a
student, having an objective for the class still seems important to me.
  So shoot me. Clearly, I’m going to have
to work on this “total acceptance, no judgments, no expectations” element of
yoga training. I love and admire the attitude in theory, but because I’ve
always been result driven, the gentle approach to movement isn’t going to come
naturally. So this is something I will work on.

 There are other elements of yoga Asana (the physical) I
adore. There is a gentle touch used in correction, and the loving, non-judgmental
attitude where you can do no wrong is alien, but it’s remarkably admirable. I
hope to adapt and evolve as a teacher by learning this approach to teaching

 Yoga training is not just about the physical. It is about
spiritual practice as well. You must define “intention” for your practice and
your life. When I told Mark that we spent the afternoon discussing our
inner-most fears and desires, and I think I disappointed my instructors in this
area, because I was one of the few who didn’t break down in tears and expose
interior pain (not because I can’t or won’t but because honestly, I don’t feel
broken inside), he sighed and said, “Honey, the fact is, you are very
sensitive, but you are never vulnerable. Ain’t nobody gonna make a big
yoga-crybaby out of you.” (He said this not as an insult to those who expose
their feelings in this safe setting, but to hold up a mirror and make me laugh
at my own foibles- and it did.)

 “What are you saying? That I’m not able to let down my
guard? That I’m too pig-headed to go through yoga training in an open way?”

 “Well, Denver and I were just now wondering how you were
doing. She was saying, “Does mom have any idea of what she is getting into,
that she’ll be thrust into a touchy feely environment that will be more than a
little challenging considering her nature?”

 I think I sputtered a bit over that.  

 Mark went on to explain that he knows me well enough to
understand I have great empathy and feeling for others, but personally, I rely
on inner strength to deal with the world, and that’s not conducive to the
exercises used in self-revelation programs.

 Them’s fighting words, but then, that’s my problem, isn’t’
it? I am not a victim, but a warrior, and admitting it comes across as if I am
in denial or as if I’m not honest enough to reveal my innermost pain and
  The truth is I would
reveal my misery if I felt feelings of loss or worthlessness inside, really I
would, but damn if I’m not fairly pleased with myself and my life at this
particular place and time. Of course, I’m not always satisfied in all ways with
my existence, but perfection is unattainable and I believe I’m doing the best I
can with what I have to work. That is the best a person can do, and I won’t
beat myself up because life isn’t perfect.

 In choosing an “intention” I spoke of my wanting to
reconcile my relationship with food – that I felt strongly about industrial
farming and I wanted the strength to kill a turkey at the end of my yoga
training. The teacher thought I was striving for comic relief, and wasn’t
pleased. He asked me to redefine what I was trying to say in a sacred, soulful
way. I just couldn’t explain how seriously I felt about my relationship with
food – that I didn’t think being a vegetarian or a vegan is the answer, because
I rather eat a steak (despite a factory cow suffering) than a tomato because I’ve
learned 97% of tomatoes eaten any season other than fall comes as result of
forced slavery (in AMERICA, ya all.) I want to live authentically to my
environmental and ethical beliefs, and I worry about human suffering more than the
effects of food choices on my personal health (I’m so sick of everyone’s life
purpose rolling back around to me, me, me. Time to think not what the world can
do for us, but what we can do for the world, oh selfish ones.) So, since
killing turkeys is not yoga-like, I let the food thing go, but deep down, that
is the one thing I am truly wrestling with inside. (Food ethics, not killing
birds)so I think that qualifies as my “intention”. The problem is, the world
had gotten so off kilter regarding food production that there is nothing left
to eat if you want to eat morally (not to be confused with eating healthily.)
So it is a complex issue.

 Mark reminded me that the people in my seminar are all
coming from a different place – the place where we were four years ago. They
are living in a stress filled environment, with disappointments and
frustrations at every turn.
are still slaves to environmental conditioning, consumerism, social
expectation, bla, bla, bla. “Remember, four years ago, you were there too. You’d
be the biggest yoga-crybaby in the universe back then, because as I recall, you
were depressed and sad all the time.

 Oh yeah. That was me. But it’s not me anymore.

 I tried to
explain myself to one of the instructors. I said, “I feel like a dog that got
hit by a car and crawled under a bush to lick her wounds. For me, those 18
years of obsessive work and living in the rat race was like standing in the
highway with lights coming at me. Add to that the constant drama and personal
attacks that came with running a dance school, a midlife crisis and a desperate
desire for adventure, and life spun out of control. That was like being hit by the
car. So we walked away from everything and moved to 50 acres for a couple of
years of solitude, peace and nature. The most productive thing I could do was
engage in gentle interaction with innocent animals. That was me crawling under
a bush and licking my wounds. But now, I’m emerging, healed – feeling strong. I
feel like me again, only a wiser me with more diverse life experience adding to
my inner resources. I’m proud of where I live, how I live, and I’m grateful for
the authentic life we’ve created. I have goals again, hopes.”

 When asked to come up with one word to describe how I feel
about myself, I said “strong.” This did not go over with the mediator of our
group. He shook his head and said, “No, another word.”

 I instantly knew that “strong” wasn’t acceptable because in
this yoga-world of peace, love and self-acceptance, “strong” sounds too
forceful and aggressive. It is a word associated to people who cover up their
pain with feigned control or something. But honest to God, strong is what I
feel, and I’m not denying something else inside, at least not that I know of.
  Strong is not a cover-up for vulnerability,
or a way of sheltering myself from the world. I’ve been beat up too, so I know
what it is to feel shattered. But sorry, I’m just not shattered anymore.

 Now, least I give you the impression that I felt
disapproaval from my instructors, let me make it clear that simply isn’t
  Yoga is based on the “you
can do no wrong” viewpoint. It is about total acceptance, approval, and
unconditional love for your fellow humanbeings. But accepting and loving a
student who has some resistance is another thing entirely from their being a
joy to teach.

 The mediator looked at me and said, “What you really want is
for people to love you, right?”

 I said, “Of course, who doesn’t?”

He told not to be flippant and to repeat that I want people
to love me with reverence and truth. So I did.

 And you know what? Repeating that sentence in a solemn way
was the first time I felt like a phony. I know that was not his intention, and
that he is sincerely trying to help me reach a greater truth, but it felt like
he was taking a stab at a common “issue” when in fact, I believe everybody
wants to be loved, so my wanting it too is no revelation. I don’t feel a
desperate need for love and wanting to be loved isn’t a problem because it
motivates me to act differently than I want to act.
 Heck, I already feel loved, by my family, friends and
students. What really motivates me, but I couldn’t it say to him, was my one
core belief:
  that the strong must
take care of the weak – that we are not all given the same gifts when we are
set upon this earth, and I feel I’ve been extremely blessed with strength (and
some hard-gained wisdom), and I’m designed to tap into that inner strength and
use it to help others lead authentic lives.
  My purpose. Ee-gad – that sounds arrogant, but it’s how I
 Strong – and a champion of
those that need help.

 I was told to find a word that defines me. I said I hoped I
was inspirational. My mediator said, “Then voice out loud that you are

But I couldn’t. I shrugged and said, “I don’t think anyone
can slap a label on themselves and suddenly be what they proclaim. That’s pure arrogance.
I think all a person can do is ASPIRE to be inspirational. I can’t control how
the world receives me, but I can commit myself to trying to be inspirational,
and I do.”

 He was willing to accept that, or else he was ready to give
up on me. Like I said, he is always loving and supportive so he wouldn’t say or
do anything to make me feel I failed in the exercise, but I sensed that he
wanted more from me.

 And so describes Ginny in yoga training. I know I am a tough
student and probably not the kind the teachers enjoy working with. This program
is supposed to be life affirming and life altering, but since I do not seem to
need of drastic attitude or a life shift to find contentment, working with me
is bound to feel less fulfilling to someone who has devoted their life to
leading the lost to the alter of yoga. Nevertheless, that does not mean I won’t
get something important from the seminar.

 Despite that I’m not headed for great life revelations (or
at least I don’t think I am) I love yoga training. I love learning new things,
seeing the world from a new angle and probing the mind and attitude of people
that approach life differently than I do. I marvel at the loving, open,
accepting attitude of the teachers, for they are role models that remind me I’m
sometimes cynical and have a great deal to learn about unconditional
  So, I proceed with an
open mind, knowing I’ll embrace what rings right and true for me, and discard
the rest. That is the how we grow, picking through ideology because we each
have diverse life experiences that define truth, as we know it. There is no
universal truth. There is only what works for us independently.

 They have ceremonies in the yoga tradition, sort of like a
“coming of age” proclamation. As people define their intention, they are ready
for their ceremony. I seriously doubt they will find me ready for a ceremonial
confirmation anytime soon, if my first seminar was any judge. Perhaps I’ll
never seem worthy (which means I wouldn’t graduate). What am I supposed to do,
fake vulnerability? Pretend I believe we should all be vegans so I don’t have
to kill my turkeys?
  Make my
intention learning to embrace total acceptance , which wouldn’t be so bad
except that I believe true faith comes after you ask hard questions of any

 I think people come to this yoga training because they are
at a crossroads in life and they are seeking answers, support and permission to
change their world. They feel broken and in need of healing and support. But I
am a different case. I was broken and needed healing four years ago, so I
shucked my life and slinked away to reflect and act on what I believed is
important. I filled my inner longing with animals, an MFA and nature. I changed
my view of the world by immersing myself in a new culture, changed my
relationship with food and consumerism, gave a little something back through literacy
work, and enjoyed a period of few demands for the first time in my life. I
wrote a book, and redefined my relationships with others. Now, I’m ready to
re-enter the world and I’m deciding how. I’ve come to yoga training not because
I’m seeking answers, but because I found them. I came because I want to add to
my arsenal of resources, because I’m ready to make a difference, and I’m
seeking just the best path to do so. Yoga seems a natural addition to my
skills, a way to help others find acceptance and peace and physical awareness.
It helps people learn who they are, what they want, and gives them the strength
to pursue happiness– which is what I love about writing (and dance) too.

 This right of passage that Yoga is supposed to unveil– this
enlightment, is something I’ve already experienced or at least I’m well on the
path to understanding. So, while I’m probably perceived as arrogant and a
really unauthentic yoga student who is missing the point, I think I get the
point more than most. In fact I’m of the opinion that some people who are very
quick to embrace ideology without questioning it or testing the perimeters are
the very people who only receive a surface understanding of that ideology. And jumping
in with both feet on day one without reservation is a habit of people who can
just as easily replace that ideology with the very next one that comes along,
cause it’s the fun of the drama and the IDEA of yoga they love more than the
kind of love that comes from a deep understanding and appreciation for the
reality of the ideology. I am different. I wrestle with ideology, challenge and
dissect it, so that when and if I embrace a new view of life, I do so with sincere
faith and conviction because I couldn’t rattle the truth of it.

 So, I am absorbing the essence of yoga on many levels,
intellectual, physical and emotional.

 Perhaps it is a matter of my learning style. While gaining
my MFA, I was a resistant student. One would even say I wasn’t cut out for the touchy-feely
literary environment with it’s high brow attitude and passionate definitions of
what is or isn’t good, regarding literary verses commercial literature. But I
emerged changed from the training, moved beyond description. I asked lots of
inappropriate questions, challenged the methods, the teachers and readings. I
couldn’t accept that certain masterpieces deserved respect simply because
academics claimed these writings captured the human condition. Sometimes I
couldn’t help but think economics, social attitudes, mass literary hysteria and
the close-knit cultural attitudes of the movers and shakers in the literary
world were responsible for the reputation of a piece rather than it’s true
merit. And if I didn’t stand in awe of the classic masterpieces, I was told I
didn’t “get it”. Perhaps they were right and I didn’t get it because I wasn’t
intellectual enough, or brilliant enough, but to this day, I think there’s an
element of the emperor’s new clothes in academia. A true individual thinker
(which I hope to be) shouldn’t be afraid to voice an opinion contrary to what
is the sophisticated norm feels for fear that it will make him or her appear
“stupid” or unenlightened. The new me rather sheer a sheep than be one, ya
know. But the fact that I wasn’t an easy student didn’t mean I wasn’t a serious
student. My MFA was the most poignant, life altering challenge I’ve ever
undertaken, and I’m grateful to my teachers, the program and God for leading me
through the process.

 I think it will be the same with yoga.

 So, I’ve begun my four-month journey to become a yogi. I
won’t write about others in the class, beyond saying they are all admirable,
lovely individuals. Their journey is not mine to share, but I feel there is
nothing wrong with sharing my own revelations, experiences and failures. Writing
about a thing clarifies it for me and
 lets friends go along for the ride and hey, I’m not shy about
admitting that I fumble ungracefully through new things. But I will say the
teachers are wonderful people with earnest intentions, admirable skill, and positive,
encouraging attitudes, and that makes the introduction to yoga a lovely
  I have a week of homework that includes reading, preparing a short lecture/report on the first chakra, taking a long walk in nature (after fasting) and daily practice. As they say in yoga sessions when you’ve made a commitment to your revelations – “I’m in”.  


One story ends

After 3 plus years, and lots and lots of diligent work,
Kathy has decided she is ready to take a break from our reading project. I’d be
lying if I didn’t admit her decision disappointed me, but it is my own fault. I
gave her the out.

 Last week one of the women who work in the literacy office
stopped me in a store to comment on how remarkable she considered my success
with Kathy to be. She said none of the other tutors could seem to keep their
students interested beyond a few months, and in fact, every other reading team
had faded away. In her opinion the problem was the teacher’s manner and
approach to the task. These tutors, while having the best of intentions, come
in toting briefcases packed with homework, a determined set to
their jaw, a schoolmarm air, and a non-nonsense attitude. They’re going to be
great reading tutors- do or die.

 I’m not that sort of teacher. I’m just as likely to come in
with a book of jokes as a book of poetry, or a basket of cooking items to give
chocolate chip cookie homework. I shoot the breeze with my student and take an
interest in her life, centering all our work on practical application stuff
that I hope will enhance her life at a non-literary level. For example, we
filled out an order form for the food bank one week and I bought Kathy
groceries for the holidays. It was a way to challenge her math and writing
skills while also helping her family, and teaching her how she could manage her
family food budget better.
  I made
her keep a date book, a diary, send Christmas cards, and taught her to play beginner
word games on a computer (which we gave her when we upgraded ours at home). I
enrolled her in a craft class at the local arts association and made her write
a page about the project as homework. I got her a gift card to a clothing store
for her birthday (and since she has never had a bank account or credit card, I
had to teach her how to use it too.) And all these things felt like fun rather
than work, so she kept learning, albeit in a less structured way.

 It was kind of the same principal that was behind our
successful children’s dance program. Mark and I believed learning dance basics
could be camouflaged in fun activities, so we created a colorful, inviting environment
with props etc… to take the place of the traditional youth dance lesson. I then
wrote the syllabus, lectured at seminars about how well the approach worked in
today’s “instant gratification world” and we built a successful business on the
theory. Meanwhile, teachers who wanted to be taken seriously still swore by the
traditional dance programs they trained in a million years ago, so they pooh-poohed
and criticized our approach saying it was commercial nonsense, and that we were
“selling out” while they were teaching “serious” dance. All the while, Mark and
I were training better, more committed dancers, many who have respectful dance
careers today, and we built a school that was an artistic and financial success.
Results say more than trying to impress people by adopting an “I’m legitimate”
serious dance person attitude, in my opinion. Anyway, we always thought it was
weird people couldn’t see how well our fun approach to dance worked – and it
was always a source of frustration that we had to defend our methods over and
over again.
 Only after we left the
dance world did people proclaim our brilliance and the great loss the Hendry’s
retirement was to the dance world. (Ain’t that a kick in the Lycra pants.)

 Anyway, that experience taught me that while I could appear
a more intellectual reading tutor if I wanted to wave my MFA around and be all
scholarly, demanding grammatical correct assignments, tests and worksheets, I should
follow my instincts and take another approach. I wanted to teach reading the
way I taught dance – with joy and a love of the craft the ultimate goal. After all,
I could sense the reluctance of my illiterate, repressed student the first time
I pulled out flash cards. It makes sense – if she didn’t take to traditional
education the first time when laws forced her to attend, why would I assume
she’d embrace it as an adult when she had the power to leave?
 I had to change the way she viewed
education, and make the process appealing. So, that is what I tried to do, and
I ended up with the most successful student to date in our literacy program because
of it. Kathy not only learned to read, but she lectured at the schools, in the
prison, and became a symbol of what could be done if an illiterate person is
willing to do the work required. Of course, it’s not like she is a college professor
now or anything that would make her a candidate for a Hollywood Hallmark movie.
She only reached the third grade reading level, but she can now read her bible,
school newsletters and mail. She can read the labels on things she buys in the
grocery store and read street signs. She has a basic understanding of a
computer (which in this world is necessary to get by since even library card
catalogues and driving tests are given on the computer now.) She functions well,
surpassed her husband and siblings reading levels, and has intentions to
continue her studies on her own. God willing, she will continue to improve. And
lets not forget that she gave up drugs in the process, changed her parenting
techniques for the better, became a healthier person and a contributor to
society. Only thing I couldn’t do was get her to stop smoking.

 I was flattered by the nice comments the woman from the
office said about my work with Kathy. I responded that I was just lucky- I got
an enthusiastic student with a positive attitude, so it was easy.

 “She wasn’t so positive when you started. I remember her.
She was like all the others that walk through our door, having problems with
drugs and low self-esteem. She had no teeth, bad hygiene, and if you recall, she
missed the first three lessons without calling, so she wasn’t all that committed
at the start. YOU made the difference.”

 Well, that gave me a big, fat, conceited reading-tutor head.
Perhaps she was right and I was the reason Kathy held in there so long – at
least a little.

 Then, just to prove her point, the woman marched into our
next lesson and said, “Kathy, you’re the longest running and most successful
student we’ve had in this program. Do you think you would have stuck it out
this long without Ginny as your tutor?”

Kathy said, “I would have quit a long time ago if I was
paired with any of those other tutors. I’m here because Ginny makes learning to
read easy. I never feel stupid with her, and even when I don’t do the homework
she wished I’d do, she is easy going and encouraging and never makes me feel
 She applauds what I get
done rather than reprimanding me for what I don’t do. If I felt pressured to do
more, I’d probably have given up on this whole scene long ago.”

 The woman from the office gave me an “I told ya so” grin.

 When she left, Kathy and I talked about all we had
accomplished, which lead to a frank discussion where I admitted I felt we were
sometimes just treading water, and perhaps I would be a better tutor if I were
a little more demanding.

After three plus years, we might want more results, and I
feared we were growing stagnant – I told Kathy she should consider enrolling in
a formal class in the GED program or something to provide new challenges and
intellectual growth. We couldn’t just keep meeting forever and ever and staying
with the status quo.

 “I could do more, and I know I should, but sometimes, I just
feel overwhelmed with it all. I’m pretty happy with what we’ve done already. I
don’t really aspire to much more.”

 In response to that I said (kick me please) that if she ever
wanted to take a break we could, and that I didn’t want her to continue showing
up for ME – and that after all we had accomplished, her stopping wouldn’t be a
failure, but just a sign that she had gotten what she needed from me – we could
always get back together later, even if it was a year or two later, to pick up
where we left off, if and when she felt ready to resume her studies.

 She said she loved meeting me every week, and that our
tutoring sessions were not just about reading, but about friendship too.
 I thought I had at least laid a
foundation for some kind of evolution in the future, and perhaps she would
think it over and might even decide it was time to pour on some steam.

 But don’t ya know, she came in the very next week and said,
“I thought about our conversation. If you were serious about my being able to
take a break, I think I’m ready. But I don’t want you to be disappointed in me.
What I want to know is, can we still meet once in a while for coffee or
something? I don’t want to lose you as my friend.”

 “Of course. I’ll take you to lunch. I’ll make you read the
menu and if you start slipping and can’t make out the words, I’ll pop you
upside the head and make you come back to lessons,” I said, making her laugh.

 So, we decided to put an end (or a temporary pause) to our
lessons. I knew our break was inevitable and natural, after all, we’ve been
doing this for three and a half years consistently, and I’m supposed to be her
tutor, not a crutch – but still, the reality that our work was finished plunged
me into depression for about a week.

 Why? I worry that Kathy will slip back into ignorance, like
the character in
Flower’s for Algernon – which isn’t fair to her at all,
because it shows my lack of faith that she will retain her reading skills. But
I also know when we take breaks for Christmas or summer, she does take a step
backwards. What if she stops all those habits I nag her to do – the ones that keep her reading daily? I also worry that without our weekly pep talks and
my ongoing influence, she will fall back into her old habits and maybe even get
involved in drugs again. Not that I’m some kind of knight in shining armor, but
having to face me every week has to help keep her straight. Surrounding yourself
with pulled together people (If I may dare put myself in that category) is a reminder
that there’s a world beyond the limited, repressed existence she’s been
trapped in for so long.
the company you keep does make a difference.

 I guess it is fair to say I feel the loss for selfish
reasons too. Kathy was the one thing I did in my life here that wasn’t self-serving.
  I mean, I take care of my family; I go
out of my way to do kind things for my elderly mother-in-law. I give to good
causes, and volunteer for community events now and again. I’m your basic
good-person, as everyone with any sensitivity from my background tends to be.
But Kathy was a serious, long-term commitment to something that didn’t have any
positive rebound for me, other than my feeling good about helping someone who
was less advantaged than I. Teaching her to read took thought, time and
attention away from my own interests, and watching her life change was tangible
proof that my life wasn’t just some endless quest to enhance my own existence.
Because of Kathy I knew I would leave the world better than how I found it.

 I’ve no doubt some new cause will slide into the empty space
in my heart where Kathy took residence. I told the school I’d be willing to
take on another reading student, and perhaps that will happen, but deep down I
feel I’ve already had that experience and perhaps it is time to engage in
something new and different. I just don’t know what.

 What I do know is that Kathy taught me as much as I taught
her. It was through Kathy that I learned the most about the Appalachian people
and the very different socio-economic class that surrounds us here – and I
learned what I know about these people not just intellectually by reading about
our differences or watching them from afar, but by intimate involvement that
forced me to question my preconceived notions and prejudices. Kathy also taught
me to look at the English language a new way and to see the world through new
eyes. She is an important part of my memoir – a very special friend, one without
pretense or competitiveness or even expectations – that made her different from
any female friend I’ve ever had. Our conversations were livelier and more insightful
than any I’ve had with intellectuals over cocktails at some highbrow event. Yes,
Kathy made me think . I’ll miss her.

 So, I’m feeling sort of low…. Like I’m not of much use to
anyone now. I suddenly miss my passionate dance students, my work with downs
syndrome kids, my involvement with literacy. I feel isolated and sort of empty
as if my life needs a bigger purpose than writing (for myself) or toying with
animals (for myself) or doing laundry and cleaning house (for my family, which
in turn is for myself too).
I feel compelled to buy a cow (not for me, silly, for a family in a third
world), or go build a house with habitat for humanity or something.
  Amazing how a little thing, like
meeting one little woman a few hours a week, can make such a difference in how
you feel about your time on earth.

 Anyway, I am no longer teaching someone to read. I am
open and eager to see what will come next.

 This weekend I begin my Yoga Teacher’s Training, the first
of nine weekends that involve two twelve-hour sessions on a Saturday and Sunday. I got a hotel room for
this first Saturday because I’m guessing that after holding warrior poses all
day, I won’t be able sit much less drive the two and a half hours to get home.
I’m not the vivacious young dancer with the indestructible body I had at 30
anymore, sorry to say.
all that meditation I’ll be practicing will help me survive the muscle twinges.
Meanwhile, I’m armed with books on Yoga medicine, yoga theory, anatomy and
more. You know me, read, read, read, whenever a new subject tweaks the mind. As
if I might be able to think my way through the work ahead…
 but I also know intimate experience is
going to teach me more than any book, so I can’t wait to get into the training
sessions, meet the experienced yogi’s and be with other people starting a new
journey just as I am. The people in this course are hand selected by essay and
interview. Bet they all have interesting stories.
 You can bet I’ll find out.

 Perhaps this is the new door I’m meant to walk through to
lead me to something new and meaningful. Perhaps Kathy’s disappearance from my
life was meant to come at this juncture, clearing the way for me to grasp onto
something new  – something I’m meant to do – maybe even something yoga connected. 

Or maybe that is wishful thinking. 

Gee, I hate a void, especially when its in the soul.

The Great Turkey Experiment

I embarked on a new personal challenge yesterday. I call it, “The Great Turkey Experiment”.

I brought home five adorable, three-week-old turkey chicks. Three of these chirping innocents are bronze turkeys, the kind that will grow up to look like the traditional birds featured in your average Thanksgiving décor. The other two are a less hefty breed of turkey that will grow up to be snow white with a more delicate physique. The personal challenge? I’ve got six months to work up the courage to eat them. If I can’t do it, I’m going to become a vegetarian. It’s the principal of the matter. 

Ever since we bought farmland and embarked on this journey towards a self-sustaining lifestyle, my relationship with food and the environment has changed. Eating locally, choosing organic foodstuffs, and recycling is all the rage now, so naturally I’ve joined the ranks of all the other enlightened Americans who carry cloth bags to the supermarket to carry home pricey “certified organic” produce and “free range” chicken breasts. Must do my part to save the planet and embrace a healthier lifestyle like all other cool kids in class, don’t ya know.

I’ve even taken the commitment a step further by planting a large, diverse garden to provide fresh food for our meals. I can or freeze anything we don’t eat immediately, assuring we have organic, homegrown grown food all year. My larder is filled with jars of homemade salsa, pickles, jelly, applesauce, and tomato sauce, not to mention jugs of homegrown honey and wine. Add to that my thirty free-range chickens providing anywhere from one to two dozen eggs each day and you could say I’m making decent headway in the organic, eco-friendly lifestyle ideal.  We eat locally grown food without so much as a gallon of gas devoted to the cause.  How’s that for lowering your carbon-footprint?  

The problem is, eating homegrown veggies and eggs is a good start, but it still avoids the most serious environmental and health hazard attached to our food processing systems today – industrial farming. My hobby farm interests have led me to environmentally conscientious reading material. I devour magazines such as Organic Gardening, Hobby Farms, and Mother Earth News and books such as the Omnivore’s Dilemma and Animal, Vegetable, Mineral. These sources not only teach a reader how to successfully grow salad in the backyard, but increase awareness of the horrors of mass produced food, including those deemed “organic” or “free range”, sad to say.

So, inch-by-inch, I’ve waded deeper into the waters of self-sufficiency so I can verify the origins of my food and consume without guilt. My homegrown beans paved the way for homegrown eggs and honey. Next I bought half a cow and half a pig from a farmer friend. It was a poignant experience to watch the animals grazing lazily in the field knowing that six months later they would be resting in my freezer, but witnessing their natural existence, a life of fresh air, green grass, and a lifespan three times that of forcefully-fattened, factory raised animals alleviated any guilt I had about their impending demise. The grass fed, hormone-free meat provided us with months of guilt-free meals, though I admit I missed the classic perfection of cuts of beef packaged and designed to appeal to the picky consumer. Nevertheless, I cooked the local, organic meat ignoring its imperfection, with reverence and respect for the creatures whose lives were given to nourish my family. But my willingness to do so didn’t help me shake the memory of their doe-like eyes or the way the sun bounced off their soft fur coats, lulling them into a lazy afternoon nap. Without intending to, I started giving up red meat, turning my attention more and more to poultry and fish, creatures with less personality in my opinion.

 Then I had the misfortune of pulling up behind a chicken truck. It was stacked with hundreds of wire cages; each filled with half a dozen chickens stuffed into the two-foot space allotted them. Most of the birds lacked feathers, which I knew was because chickens cannibalize each other when raised without ample space or diversions. They were despondent. Some actually looked dead. Faced with this tangible evidence of the plight of factory-farmed chickens I paused the next time I reached for a chicken nugget. Factory farmed chickens are fed chemical laced food to fight off disease, have a short six week lifespan, and the trip to slaughter house in a speeding truck where the cold air steals their breath may be the only natural sunshine they ever witness. Every time I buy chicken from the grocery store, or order it in a restaurant, I’m supporting this barbaric system, and suddenly grilled cheese or Tuna sandwiches are all that’s left on my idea of a moral menu. Even buying “free range” doesn’t guarantee the creatures live a natural life, because these birds also live in crowded conditions and all a company need do is provide an 8 by 8 concrete pad for them to step outside on for perhaps an hour a day to qualify as “free range”. Labels can be misleading.

My chickens at home live full, pleasurable lives, but still it’s easier for me to buy Purdue chickens, neatly packaged and trimmed up for consumption, than to consider the alternative. I just can’t imagine myself being the instrument of any animal’s demise, which is why I have laying chickens, rather than broilers-fryers at home.  Eggs are a perfect excuse for not slaughtering chickens, don’t ya know.

But more and more often, I’m experiencing mixed feelings over my willingness to support industrial farm practices because it is “convenient” to do so. I should just become a vegetarian, and I would, if only I didn’t happen to like eating meat so much.  So how do I balance my ethics regarding what I consume?

When you raise a goat, hog or cow, you can load it in a trailer, take it to the butcher and pick it up later wrapped up in neat, white paper. If you don’t want to raise the beast yourself, you can always find someone willing to sell you half a steer around here, and knowing the animal lived a life of dignity makes eating it seem less barbaric. Unfortunately, there’s no such service for poultry. It just wouldn’t be cost efficient or practical to cart a bird to someone else to dress, so eating homegrown poultry involves raising, killing, blanching and plucking the beast yourself. Frankly, that pushes my inner farm-girl beyond the limits of what’s comfortable or fun – afterall, taking up poultry slaughtering would be difficult on my perfectly polished, acrylic nails, not to mention that it will no doubt give me nightmares.

But eating in this hypocritical way continues to haunt me. The fact is, a creature dies every time we order a chicken potpie, and trying to remain distanced from that reality is like sprinkling Novocain on your dinner instead of salt. I think an important part of the human experience involves being fully aware and conscious of our choices and how they impact the world at large. Choosing to distance ourselves from our food sources is ignorance in its most offensive form.

So, after two seasons of thinking about it, and months of questioning my own mettle, I’ve presented myself with the great Turkey Challenge. I’m told turkeys are stupid, smelly beasts and it’s unlikely I’ll grow fond of them. That said, when the time comes, I’ll should be ready and able to shout “Off with their heads!” like the Queen of Hearts. And yet . . . they sure are cute, shy creatures now, peeping away in their cage with absolute innocence, so I wonder . . .   will I’ll end up with five turkey pets for years to come?

Least you get the impression that I’m planning to begin a lifetime campaign of raising all my own food and slaughtering every future holiday meal in my backyard, let me assure you that while it would be admirable, becoming a serious farmer isn’t my long-term plan. I can’t see devoting a good chunk of my life to the manual labor of beheading and plucking poultry, even if I’m willing and able. But I do want to see if I can do it once, as a way of exploring the origins of my food sources. Raising and slaughtering a bird, being instrumental to its life and death, will alter how, when, where and if I purchase certain foods forevermore. Somehow I feel being a part of the process from start to finish will earn me the right to eat poultry. If I can’t stomach carving my Thanksgiving turkey because I am all too aware that he was once a creature that fluffed his feathers and looked up when I said good morning with a bucket of feed, than I shouldn’t be eating turkey anyway. I’ll become a vegetarian, and in that way, live true to my newly clarified ideals.

Call me crazy, but I need more than an academic understanding of what life is all about – I want to explore the human experience firsthand, without avoiding anything considered “unpleasant” because clinging to blissful ignorance is more comfortable. People have ventured so far from nature’s original design in their rush to embrace the neat, pre-packaged, commercial world that I sometimes wonder if we’ve all become too lost to ever find our way back to what is natural and real.

So, in six months, I’ll either slaughter my first (and perhaps only) turkey . . . or I won’t. What you are willing to do theoretically and what you will do in reality is often worlds apart.  But I’m not going to pass judgment about what is right or wrong regarding human consumption until I’ve experienced firsthand what the issue entails. So in the interest of testing my environmental and ethical ideals, I’ve set up the great Turkey Experiment.

You, lucky reader, can start placing your bets.