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Category Archives: Special Interests

Teaching is the best way to learn

As a place to live, Blue Ridge has many lovely qualities, but the small town was so devoid of opportunity in some areas (at least for me) that it made me feel a bit like Dorothy running through the poppy fields in theWizard of Oz. Poor Dorothy is inspired and determined to get to the Emerald City, but on route she becomes transfixed by the beauty of the wild flowers. She stops to admire the beautiful red petals, totally unaware that they are potent with a heady, dangerous aftereffect that distracts her from her goals. Before you know it, the beauty around her has cast a spell and she falls sound asleep – the Emerald city and all the things she set off to accomplish are lulled to rest along with her body, heart and mind. In that story, Dorothy is awakened, thanks to interference of a good witch who sends snow to break the spell.

I won’t get into what became “snow” was for me, but suffice to say I was fighting sleep while I lived in the country. I was so enamored with nature and the calm of living at a gentle pace, that I lost the drive to accomplish many things I believe make my life worthy and meaningful.  I’m not suggesting that ambition is ultimately important – if anything, the older I get the more personal ambition fades, but I do believe continuing to grow as an individual and sharing your unique gifts with others is an important part of living to your greatest potential.

 When I first moved to the country, I volunteered to teach illiterate adults to read. For three years I worked with one particular woman three afternoons a week. Eventually that project came to a graceful end. Always wanting involvement in some kind of community service or humanitarian project to keep my karma in check, I got it into my head that I should get involved with teaching again, be it through writing or dance. I began by offering my services as a dance teacher to local schools free of charge. No one returned my calls, much less offered me a class. So, with my MFA freshly in hand, I offered to teach a writing class for free at two local colleges, the arts association, and for half a dozen individual groups (senior centers, the library and/or the Kiwanis club). No one was interested in my offerings in this avenue either, and after repeated failed attempts to give away my time and services, I simply gave up. Volunteering may be high on my life priority list, but as long as I was living in that particular town, the best I could do was to join a church and participate  n bake sale fundraisers, etc. Not exactly my ideal outlet for giving, considering I long to share my specific talents not just for others, but as away of honoring the arts I love.  It was a very frustrating issue for me.

Since free classes were a no-go, I offered a short journaling class at the new yoga studio. The session wasn’t very organized or well received and if anything, all it did was shake my self-confidence as a writing teacher. Frankly, I sucked at it, but in retrospect I can see that life was falling apart for me, so I couldn’t really give it my all. The project limped along, barely resembling my vision of sharing writing with others, but it did fuel my desire to someday teach people who might otherwise never have the opportunity to explore the power of words. I didn’t know how or when, but I did believed that someday I’d share writing with others and introduce them to new methods of communicating and exploring their feelings.

 A few days after I moved back to Sarasota, I called the Senior Friendship Center to make my standard offer to teach for free. Having hit dead ends so many times in the last few years, I didn’t expect things to unfold so easily, but lo and behold, within a day I was offered an opportunity to lead an ongoing writing class. It just so happens that the former teacher of a long-standing writing class had passed away in Dec. and the student’s had been trying to stick together sans official leadership. My timing was perfect – but life has away of giving you what you need when you need it most.

 When the class discovered I had an MFA and years of involvement in literary endeavors, they welcomed me with open arms and hearty appreciation, so I took the responsibility to live up to my resume very to heart. , I’ve been teaching fiction and memoir writing to a group of seniors every Monday for two months now.  Like every volunteer project I’ve ever gotten involved in, I feel great about the experience on many levels. I certainly learn as much as I teach.  Then there is the fact that, for me, a life well-lived involves giving of yourself, and I don’t mean just doing thoughtful things for your loved ones or getting involved in community projects that happen to further your work ambitions (although I’ve done that too). Like most people, I’ve embraced generic giving. I sponsor a child from a third world country. I donate to worthy causes, such as purchasing livestock for poverty stricken families in Indonesia each year. I’m quick to volunteer for the one-shot project, helping at a school or organization’s fundraiser. I take things to good-will. I walked 60 miles to raise money for cancer. You get the point. These endeavors are lovely, but face it; this kind of giving is easy because it involves limited commitment. It’s the thankless long haul volunteering – being willing to show up long after the initial flood of “aren’t I a nice person” feelings fade, that defines true selflessness.

 I saw this class as an opportunity to walk my talk, so, I made a pact with myself that I would show up, week after week, even if it meant going out of my way to arrange the rest of my life around this once a week commitment, (which is no small feat considering I’m struggling to piece together enough work to sustain me.) I simply sense this project is important -for me and for others, and for the as yet undefined future that awaits me.

Getting involved in the Senior Friendship Center has opened my eyes to an entire world of mature, active adults and the unique struggles people deal with in their golden years. I lived in Sarasota for 18 years, yet I did so completely unaware such a remarkable, free community resource existed here for the elderly. (In fact, it boggles the mind how many wonderful things this town has to offer that I’ve stumbled on now that I’m exploring it anew, approaching the area with fresh eyes and a good attitude.)

 The first time I walked into the center I was floored by the diverse offerings. Each afternoon a three-piece band of seniors performs. People come and sit in the great open lobby to enjoy live blues or big band music. They lounge around on couches or sit at tables with friends, some sit regally in wheelchairs, tapping their feet to the music and calling out to the band members as if they are all the best of friends (which indeed, I’m guessing they are). There are always a few couples dancing on the ballroom floor and I can’t help but stop to admire them. I wonder if I’m watching married couples that have been dancing together for 60 years, or new couples holding hands for the first time- a unique senior dating experience brought about because time marched on and rocked their world, disengaging them from beloved partners or friends. The romance in both scenarios moves me to tears. I’ve spent a lifetime watching young people move to music, but lately, the image of elderly people dancing strikes me as remarkably poignant. It fascinates me that regardless of a person’s age, music can creep into the soul and the body responds. We dance! 

At the far corner of the great room, dozens of men play pool on 3 busy tables. A room to the side features a handful of women playing scrabble with great intent. There is a wii station set up and inevitably, a senior is always hooked up, swinging his or her arms and legs and laughing at whatever challenge they’ve taken on. A convenient snack bar provides refreshments in one corner and/or people can always go into the large cafeteria for lunch or dinner where another musician serenades patrons on a piano. At the top of the curved staircase a busy computer lab invites dozens of people to pound the keyboard – they work on the Internet or write stories (in many cases, for my class).  Several rooms shoot off from this hallway, where all kinds of classes are offered throughout the week: art, writing, painting, scrapbooking, craft and special interest projects etc….The center offers free yoga, fitness and dance classes as well. It’s simply an amazing place for older people to gather and feel active and connected to others.

 Each Monday when I arrive, I pick up an envelope and a sign-insheet at the main desk and head to my assigned classroom. Smiles left and right greet me. Most days, I can’t help but think that life passes by in an instant, and it won’t be long until I’ll be stepping into a place such as this for entertainment rather than as a volunteer. It kind of makes me feel I am paying my dues in advance. I always think about my mother-in-law when I pass the scrabble room. Ever since her husband passed away she’s been consumed with debilitating loneliness. A place such as this would provide her with the companionship and activity she needs to feel life affirmation again. Friends and activities keep a person young at heart and I know she would have loved the music and the people.  She would kick butt in the scrabble room too.

Once I get to my classroom, I move tables and chairs into the center of the room while the music floats upstairs from the great room lending subtle inspiration to the project at hand. I wait for students to arrive. When they do, we share news of our lives. Our friendship grows stronger with each lesson; partly because of the time we spend together, but also because sharing heartfelt words is a bonding experience.

I structured the class to follow the format of a traditional writing critique group. Each week students bring in samples of their writing to share with the class, and after their reading, we open the floor to constructive criticism. After everyone has shared their perceptions about the writing, (and I insist on MFA rules of conduct so the discussion stays positive and helpful) I offer the teacher’s view, giving suggestions and advice for developing a stronger voice or evolving the writing to be more effective. When time permits, I end with a writing exercise. I always have something prepared, so even if we don’t get time to write in class, I pass out my handout and encourage the students to try the assignment at home.

 Amazingly, (at least to me) I’m really a good writing teacher. Apparently I have a wealth of information stored in my head from all those years of taking seminars and going through the grueling MFA process, and it’s all come together at last. When I look at a student’s work, I see the weaknesses with clarity, and the words I need to explain how to rectify the problems are right on my tongue. Several of the students in my class are also involved in writing classes at Eckerd college and Vo-tech, and they insist I’m not only inspirational, but that I explain things in terms they consider remarkably easy to understand. One student has even gotten into the habit of bringing me assignments from a college creative writing class he’s in, because he likes how I explain what the teacher expects.  I enjoy helping him prepare for that class as well as my own.

 It is fair to say I began with serious concerns about my ability to teach writing effectively, but thanks to the praise and the results I’m seeing from my little class, my confidence is growing. I’m sharing the act of writing with others. It’s been a long haul to get here, so I’m savoring every minute.

 I will eventually write with more detail about this adventure, or at least the lessons I’m learning along the way, but I will not go into detail about my individual students out of respect for their privacy. I do think I need to share a short description of the class dynamics, so for this one time, I’ll mention a generic overview of the kinds of students involved. My class so far includes one poet (also a visual artist) who is writing moving prose about growing up black in the south, one woman writing a musical about homeless people (bringing in profound and ultimately creative work that she jots down on the back of napkins and on paper plates– It’s a hoot, and she has no clue how good her work is), a student struggling with serious life upheaval because her husband left her after 40 years of marriage (she is writing as ahealing activity, and it’s all I can do not to lose it each time she reads her gushing accounts of her confusion and pain. I not only feel empathy for her, but I can relate,), a man who turns in a memoir piece one week and wild paranormal fiction piece the next, and there are always a few shy drop-ins. I’m told that when the seasonal residents return in the fall, the class will fill with many new faces.  I can’t wait.

 And so, a new chapter of personal “giving” begins for me. I’ll continue to show up week in and week out because, like all new experiences, there are lessons to learn by teaching. For some reason, I sense this particular activity is important – it has volumes to teach me about living, life and people – lessons I am primed and ready to receive at this stage of my life. Lessons I need to keep going.

Strawberry Jam Under the Sun

This week, I’ve been busy re-establishing my life, which for me involves so much more than just finding employment and a place to live. I’ve been immersing myself in activities that I believe will thrust me into the company of people and events that enrich one’s world. In other words, I’m getting involved.

 Last month I went to my first meeting with the Sarasota Book Club. The book up for discussion was “Salt, A World History.” I thought the factual, non-fiction book a strange choice since most book clubs lean towards literary novels, but I plowed through the book and went to the meeting anyway.  I felt like a nervous little kid walking into a new classroom as I pulled up to a woman’s home and walked through the foyer to face strangers. I’m used to book club meetings being held in less intimate settings, like a library. But the moment I walked in the door I felt at home. I was greeted by a lovely, social group of 20 plus readers (sometimes, when a more popular book is on the agenda they have up to 60 people in attendance, I’m told – that is huge for a reading discussion group in my opinion.) The member’s newsletter encouraged everyone to bring food, so I wasn’t surprised by the table laden with salad, brownies, lasagna, and appetizers (I brought sweet and sour meatballs). The afternoon began with a huge lunch spread, then moved on to a vibrant discussion about the book. I so enjoyed being in the company of people like me, nerds willing to pass up hanging at the beach on a gorgeous Saturday to do something mundane, in this case, discussing a dry history book….  Intellectual stimulation – sad to say that’s my idea of a cheap thrill.

Speaking of books, this week I met someone who recently experienced a trying passage of life – she’s been successfully battling a brain aneurism. The family is interested in hiring me to ghost write a book about the ordeal, so I made plans to meet with them to discuss the possibilities. Not much money involved, but I sense this would be a great learning project for me, and I can use a challenging distraction from my personal issues, so I’m game. We’ll see if anything comes of that.

This morning I contacted the Sarasota Senior Center to volunteer my services to teach writing classes, specifically memoir and journaling. I’ve always felt more grounded when a small part of my life is devoted to volunteer work, and I’ve been thinking for some time that it would be rewarding to help older people preserve their life stories for their families and for prosperity. The problem is, every time I tried to get something along those lines started in my small town in Georgia, I hit a wall.  In Sarasota, thanks to the sheer numbers of the population and the available money allotted to non-profits, opportunities abound, so I’m going to try again. I pursued my MFA for personal life enrichment rather than career training, but the more I think about it, all that effort could be channeled to enhancing the lives of others as well. I don’t know if I’m going to be any good at the task of teaching writing as opposed to dance, but hey, I’ve offered my services for free, so the worst that can happen is I’ll develop some teaching skills and meet some wonderful older friends.

I joined two writer’s groups in Sarasota hoping to turn my attentions back to the dream I had hoped to pursue full time when I retired from my business. It didn’t work out for me due to other family choices, but the fact that writing can’t be a full time pursuit now doesn’t mean I can’t plug away at it. The Florida Writers Association has asked me to lead a new writer’s group in my area. Cool beans.  But I look forward to participation more than taking on the responsibility of leadership. The diverse input you get from hanging with an eclectic group of writers in any fiction group is priceless. I joined the Sarasota Author’s Connection as well, because it offers readings and book signings along with short writing sessions that interest me too. Haven’t joined any romance writer’s groups. Guess I’ve evolved beyond that. In a way, I’m sorry. Anyway, that covers the writing angle of life.

Next is running. Yes, I’m running again – not well,but steadily. Not a day goes by that I don’t head out the door, look up at the brilliant sunshine and the flat stretches of pathway beckoning to me and don’t feel charmed by Sarasota. I was disenchanted with this town when I left, but I’ve returned like the prodigal son, with new appreciation for the quality of life here. Running is one of the things I missed most about Florida, the emphasis on health and wellness, the active culture and the beautiful weather allowing consistency if you love exercising outside. I was not a very active member of the running club when I lived here last, but with a mere $20 a year membership fee I thought, “what the heck”. I rejoined the Sarasota Running club, hoping it might inspire me to go to a few races. For good measure, I also joined the Lakewood Ranch running club. They have some wonderful social events for runners that will get me out of the house and among people who make fitness a priority. Last but not least, I’ve looked into the Sarasota bike club. They organize long rides on weekends that start right by my home. The problem is, I’m a bit intimidated by this group. I have no clue how far or how fast I can ride. I’m guessing I’ll be an abysmal slow-poke if I just show up without some preliminary training. One of these days I have to get my bike out and ride as far as I can and time my ride – then I’ll check the distance with my car. I’ll probably think I’m going 20 miles at a good clip, but find out I’ve gone two in slow motion. But hey, the fact that I want to evolve from a runner to a bike rider doesn’t mean I expect to be good at it. Never been a good runner either – but I do love plodding along and feeling my heart race. Makes me feel alive. Riding might prove the same.

The other day I was driving down the street and a stand was set up selling flats of fresh picked strawberries from plant city. My heart went pang and I thought, “If I was in Georgia, I’d pick some up and make jam or wine . . . I will really miss the organic, natural element of my former life.”

Then it occurred to me that moving doesn’t mean I have to give up the things that enriched my life in the country. People are but the collective experiences of their lives, so everything I learned and loved in Georgia is still with me, and always will be.  I swerved over and bought two flats of gorgeous, plump strawberries. When I got them home, I looked at my tiny kitchen and thought, “who am I kidding…. I am not set up for this kind of thing…” but the dang strawberries didn’t fit in my fridge, so I had to make something out of them. I went to my garage and pulled out my canning materials, dragged them upstairs and at 11:00 that night was finishing my second batch of jam. It was such a pleasure to be cooking again. There I was, rocking out to the blues in my kitchen, singing as I ran a hand over the steam as it shot out of the top of my pressure cooker while I licked strawberry jam off a big wooden spoon. Figuring out how much steam pressure was appropriate was a new experiment for me. A part of my old canning pot was missing after the move so I was attempting a new method. That meant breaking out the pressure cooker for the first time. Cool tool.  Anyway, I now have 24 jars of fresh strawberry jam resting on my counter. Of course I’ll only use about two or three jars myself, and I’ll no doubt want to make other sorts of jams as different fruit comes into season, so I’ll be giving most of what I made last night away. But making jam is not about eating – it’s about cooking and having a gift of food for others on hand at all times. So shoot me. I love feeding others.

Someone asked me the other day if I miss my “expansive life”, a life that included raising llamas and growing tomatoes. I responded that I really didn’t think my life was expansive because of where I lived, but more because of how I lived. I like to think I embrace and explore the opportunities present in a given life situation.  You can lead an expansive life anywhere – it is simply a matter of seeking ongoing growth as a person – of being curious enough about the world to get off your duff and live large. I certainly hope my children have learned that from me if nothing else. 

Frankly, I felt my world was expansive when I lived in New York and I dived into dance and theater fearlessly. I felt it was expansive in Sarasota when I learned about running a small business, bought my first home, had a family and began writing. I felt it was expansive in Georgia as I experimented with organic living and explored the natural world. No one place has ever been more educational or stimulating than another…. no single place was better or worse – just different. Collectively, my life has felt expansive – not because any of those lifestyles were uniquely different from how other people in the area lived, but because moving from place to place provided me with diverse life experience.  Change is good. 

What’s important is to not lose sight of the fact that a person can make strawberry jam in Georgia, Sarasota or Timbuktu. I have a counter full of jars to prove it.

The Collective Consciousness At Work

The other day I spied a pile of turkey feathers in the road near my hen house. My last surviving turkey was nowhere to be seen. 

I sighed and thought, “Merry Christmas, Mr. Fox,” and that evening I closed in the peacocks and chickens to assure their safety.

 Yesterday the weather was so bad I barely stopped by to check my animals, only tossing a bit of food out in the torrential rainfall, and again, I didn’t see a turkey, but then, I didn’t expect to see one. 

Today, I went to feed my poultry, and there, huddled against the fence was a very drenched, forlorn looking turkey, her white feathers all soiled from some kind of tussle in the wet, red Georgia clay.

“Hi,” I said, bending down to stroke her feathers. “I thought I lost you. You must be hungry.”  I tossed a shovelful of chicken scratch on the ground under the eves of the chicken house where it would stay dry and she waddled over to eat. She wasn’t walking normally and her backside looked a bit ravaged. Ah, something did try to get her, but she escaped. Goodgirl.  I tend to appreciate anyone or anything with  the survival instinct, so I gave her some special care and tucked her in safely into the pen thinking, it just goes to show, you should never be so quick to write off a friend, because they may surprise you and turn up when you least expect it.

 Speaking of which, I heard from a long lost friend this very week. It was one of those weird coincidences that Mark would chalk up to the“universal collective consciousness”. He has a theory that all people are connected in this metaphysical way, and all ideas and thoughts are swirling around in great pool of brainpower. And sometimes, people key in to the idea pool and draw ideas out at the same time, which explains why more than one person can invent something simultaneously even if they live half a world apart. At other times, one person can tap into the collective consciousness and it will spark a response from someone else. This is why weird coincidences occur, such as you thinking of a person and suddenly they up and call you out of the blue. In other words, there are no coincidences; we are all linked in this invisible, spiritual way even if we don’t readily recognize it.

 Anyway, the other day I wrote a blog where I mentioned an old friend that I haven’t seen in 35 years. I didn’t mention the fellow by name, so it’s not like he goggled himself and found my blog. I just mentioned that someone had walked into my yoga class and it made me think of an old boyfriend and I wondered how his life turned out.

 Then, two days later, I received a message from that very friend through a classmates finder website. He just wanted to say Hi and was curious how my life turned out. How weird is that?

 He was the great love of my young life, a wild rock and roller with a wicked sense of humor and more talent than he knew what to do with. He sent me a short letter outlining the details of his life, and I must say, his hasn’t been an easy one. Married & divorced three times (though now grateful to be in a lovely relationship with someone special). Had a business, sold it and retired early, then had a financial hardship that turned that blessing upside down (um… I can relate) and now he is starting over with a new company, working from the ground up again. Had two kids, both who passed away due to separate accidents (my heart ached to hear such news.) And to top it all off, he has had to battle flare-ups from his MS for years. That was the news that so often bothered me when I thought of him, because I assumed his affliction probably meant he had given up his beloved music, and I hated imagining him without it.

 But with his letter, he sent me a recent picture, and I can barely describe the thrill I felt looking at it. Because he doesn’t look at all like a fellow dealing with health issues, beaten down by life. He looks amazing. He is behind his guitar (still playing in a band for fun– how perfect is that!) fit and tanned, his body all ripped, with arms like Popeye sporting some bad-boy tattoos that certainly suit him. Ah, my dear rock & roller is living true to himself, and I must say it is not often you find that in old high school friends 35 years after they move on from the youthful dreaming stage.  The only thing different is that my former long haired rocker is now bald, but lately (must be a 50 year old thing) I’ve noticed many bald men are rather attractive, and bald certainly works for rocker ChrisDaughtry, so why not Joe?

Anyway, it warmed my heart to hear from him and see him still behind a guitar in his 50’s. I haven’t written him back yet, but I will one day soon. I just need to think about how to describe my own life journey in a few bullet point pages.Last he saw me he had driven me and a U-hall filled with all my possessions to New York City where I was moving (and leaving him) to pursue my dream to be a dancer. I was 18. Needless to say, a lot has happened since then. I don’t think he is expecting me to be living in rural Georgia mothering a beat up turkey and telling all my darkest secrets to a donkey- but at least I can report that I still dance and I kept up the writing that even back then, found it’s way out of me in the form of poems, stories and journal entries. Yes, we both loved our respective arts and thankfully, we kept that love alive despite the allure of more traditional lifestyles. But perhaps that is the very character trait we recognized in each other way back when, the thing that forged our friendship.

Anyway, here’s to the collective consciousness…. May we all tap into it now and again to reconnect, understand, and share a slice of life with important people from our past. And if not, at least it is nice to know that we are capable of deeper connections, if only we keep an open mind to the endless possibilities swirling around out there in the murky universe.

My productive day

This morning, I began my Christmas shopping. It is so hard to decide what to buy.

Should I get a mosquito net for a child in Gambia? (13.00) Or a pig for a family in Indonesia (24.00). (Always thought it would be fascinating to raise a pig, but they are incredibly smart and knowing this makes the animal’s long-term fate is too dismal for me to consider. Naw, I’ll skip the pig.)

I could go with a goat for a family in Zambia (51.00) but that would make it seem I lack creativity, because I’ve bought goats several times as Christmas gifts in the past. I used to buy a cow every year, but after moving to Georgia I ventured out and bought different things – a llama, a goat,and/or rabbits. I’m forever choosing something that relates to my life in some small way. I like the symbolism, I guess.

 My budget for this season is limited, but for all I can’t really afford to be generous this season, I’m not going to skip buying gifts for the important strangers on my list. I’m keeping my Christmas giving to about 100 bucks this year, wish it could be more, but  even so, that’s enough to send a water purifier and filter to a rural school in Ecuador (87.00) leaving me enough for 10 chicks for a family in Mozambique (9.00). 

Actually, Mark sold a house on ten acres to a fellow that professed the first thing he wants to get is some chickens, so I agreed Mark could give him mine as a closing gift this Monday. That said, perhaps sending some chickens to an unknown family in a third world country will make Christmas morning special for me, I’ll have that symbolic exchange of both my chickens and those overseas to make the omelet I eat that morning a reminder of all there is to celebrate this year.

That leaves me 3.00 under budget. I can find some jar on a restaurant counter for a children’s stocking fund for that. No prob.

Yesterday, I got a letter from Meaza Zergaw (above). She’s the girl I’ve been sponsoring for several years through ChildFund, international. She is my replacement child, you see, because after 12 years of sending money to a boy named Malukin, he one day disappeared out of the system. No explanation or warning. Just the picture of a new kid in my mailbox one day. Never sat well with me, but I turned my attention and donations to Meaza regardless. Maybe it’s better I not know the fate of my old friend Muluken. But I think of him often, wondering.

 Meaza’s father writes me whenever I’m slacking off (which is always, I’m a dismal failure as an overseas sponsor correspondent, sad but true) to gently remind me how important it is for her to receive letters. I’m overdue, so this morning I wrote her the news of America and I’m sending it with some brochures from my studio. Not that she can read them, but she likes receiving pictures and I figure she’ll show the brochures off to her friends. I tried to explain what yoga is in the letter. Considering how simplistic I try to keep descriptions, due to cultural differences and respect to her narrow life options, I really struggled. It was sort of funny.

 She has already received my Christmas gift, which comes in the form of a check. That money will be dispersed in such a way that she will get a little something personal, but the family will get the rest, and in some cases, a portion is given to the village. Yes, I’d like to send her something frivolous and indulgent, like a doll or an I-pod, but that is not allowed, and all it would do is show how clueless we spoiled middleclass Americans are about the real life issues of those unfortunate enough to be born into hardship and difficult environmental, cultural and political climates.   I believe she is prouder and more grateful for my donation of life necessities than she would ever be of a brightly wrapped personal toy. That is why I think about her so much – she reminds me that life for everyone is a box and the boxes come in all sizes. I shouldn’t be so hung up on the limitations of mine – because the truth is, I’ve been blessed with a pretty roomy box.

So, today, I’m “buying my ticket into heaven” as Mark so aptly puts it. (And he also once added that because he decided to marry me, he has earned a ticket into the pearly gates too – he doesn’t need to be a do-gooder, you see, because I’m the family bleeding heart representative and I do enough for us all. Harrumph. Talk about riding someone’s coat tails.)

Since Christmas is the theme today, and Mark is working, working, working, I think I will drag Neva and her friend to the studio to put up decorations to make the place festive. I’ll get creative and come up with some kind of yoga themed tree – now if that isn’t a challange what is? I’ll listen to all our new-agey Christmas music as we putter and pick some selections for yoga classes. That will make going to work rather fun for the next month.

 It will be a productive day, but an easygoing, upbeat one at the same time. I like days like that. And then, I’ll come home because today is the day I cook. I’m going to make a cheesecake this morning for Mark’s mom (her ultimate favorite) because I’m feeling guilty that I won’t be here to cook on Thanksgiving, and later I will just throw in a ham (keeping it simple) because this also gives Teddy a seriously fun bone later – and yes, I’m still feeling bad that I let him get hit by a car . (He is fine, by the way). Then I’ll make homemade Mac and Cheese (Neva’s favorite) and a fancy salad (For Mark) and some buttery homemade bread (for Kent) and veggies and whatever else might catch my fancy when I start thumbing through my gigantic “one of these days I’m going to make” receipe collection.

 By then, I’ll be ready to relax and enjoy the fruits of my labors. And I’ll feel good knowing I made the day count. Which reminds me – I need to put a fresh bottle of wine in the fridge to cool.

You don’t believe I really just think of other people all the time do you? Get real!I

I’m a selfish prig, I just don’t blog about it.

Asha or nadda?

Monday, I went to visit Asha, a rather prestigious school of massage therapy in Atlanta. Actually, the Atlanta School of Massage is considered one of the best in the country, so it would be nice to go to that institution, but there are two reasons I don’t think the school would work for me considering my goals. One, it’s core approach is rather clinical and less inclined to lean towards organic and holistic health practices, therefore it is less an extension of yoga philosophy (and I want to incorporate massage into my vision for a future holistic yoga center, not just change my career to working in a clinic or spa,) and two, because that school only offers full time programs, day or evening, and I live so far away that it would be impossible to attend and continue being involved in my new business. Asha, on the other hand, has a solid, technically based program but additional electives that lean much more towards new-agey approaches. Seems a nice fit for a yoga teacher. And it offers a special part time program on weekends. I could work all week and still go to school. Takes energy, but I have enough of that.

     The school was smaller than I expected, but well equipped with four lecture/lab areas, 7 massage rooms for the required practicums, and a nice library. I had an interview with one of the administrators and she answered all my questions, and as you can imagine, there were quite a few. She showed me the textbooks all filled with anatomy and hands on technique, a few history books, and we discussed what therapist make in Georgia (50-80$ an hour- not bad for a side job in my opinion).This was important information, because the practical side of my personality has to crunch the numbers, don’t ya know, to determine how much effort it will take to pay off the training. (And thankfully, this works out to be reasonable.) I think the biggest drawback is that I can’t do massage and have long tapered nails. No, it will be short stubs for me. Drat.  Everything else seems fairly positive.

    A few classes in the program are devoted to spa techniques and things like aromatherapy, and I confessed that I have no sense of smell and therefore I might fail in these areas. She assured me I could learn about aromatherapy in an academic way and get by, with or without my nose. That was comforting.  We discussed the state exams and she told me 95% of their students pass the first time.

    “And it certainly won’t be a problem for someone with all your degrees. We love professional students here,” she said.

    I about choked. First of all, I don’t’ have “all those degrees”. I have one BA and one MFA. That is not unusual in today’s world, but since many people choose massage as a vocational school in lue of more formal education, I guess this makes me a rare case for enrollment. Second, I don’t consider myself a professional student – just someone who spent her middle years making up for lost time after devoting her youth to dancing in New York. I didn’t go the traditional course and get a formal education, like every friend I went to school with did, and I hated feeling uneducated as result. I graduated from High School after my junior year (I hated school and wanted out so I could get on with my dancing life) but it never sat well with me that I didn’t know anything except dance. Religion, politics, economics, environmental studies, and business – I was clueless about all of it – clueless about how the world worked. So at 35, I thought it was time to correct that flaw and get educated.  I’m hardly someone who makes going to college a career, despite evidence to the contrary. Actually I consider my schooling as “retraining”. – A necessity for someone who dared dance for the first half of life rather than do something practical.

    My BA was so I could run a business properly and evolve from a dancer to a studio owner successfully.  I would have much preferred to go to school to study English or literature (my passion), but I went for Business for practical reasons. It turned out to be a very good decision, because it did open my eyes to all kinds of information about how the world works. There was a life outside of dance. Who knew?

    The MFA, well that was just a gift for myself – the latent dream that you hold in your heart when you think, “If I ever had the time and money I would .. .” Well, I made a lot of money and decided to follow through on the “If I only could” scenario. Dang glad I did, too. Changed my perception of the world and myself.

    But one door opens another if you dare to open doors, and now my mind is wandering to physical arts and totally new mediums of health and wellness.  Must be a middle age thing. Dance and admitting I was getting older and wanting to do so gracefully led to retiring from my business, and that led to yoga, which led to massage. It makes sense when you see the entire picture on one life map.

    Becoming a certified massage therapist seems a very smart thing to do if I plan to continue on my path as the director of a yoga studio, but while I like the idea, I’m not convinced the time or place to pursue massage training is right, so I am struggling a bit with this decision. As someone who usually doesn’t pause when she decides to leap into something new, I can’t help but think my reluctance is intuition telling me to hold off. So, I’m taking this decision slow, considering every downside.      

    Nevertheless, in my reluctance I’ve looked into massage programs elsewhere, considered all possibilities for training, and still Asha seems most practical considering my current life position. The problem is, the program I am able to attend is on weekends, and this special “weekend only” system only begins once every 6 months, and of course it just so happens that a new program is starting this January – thus pressure to make a decision soon. Once I commit, I’m stuck devoting my weekends to this pursuit for a full 17 months (well, I get one weekend off every 5 –that is something for my sanity, at least.) Can’t transfer the credits to another program and it would be cost prohibitive to just walk away after paying for the full course. Since my life seems to shift and change without notice (for example, I didn’t know I’d open a dance studio until one month before I actually did. It was a total curve ball) 17 months seems like a really long commitment, yet I know that once I begin, life will sort of unfold as it always does, and before you know it, I’ll be finished, with a new skill to add to my repertoire of talents. In that way, 17 months is nothing and getting certified would be a perfect activity for this transitional period of my life. The timing coordinates with the lease on my new school, and with Neva’s middle school years, and carting Kent off to college and getting him settled (one more down, one left to go) Just when I graduate from Asha, I’ll have a certain freedom. I’ll be free to make a choice about whether or not I want to plow forward with this new business and stay in Georgia, or give up trying to make it work and move. That said, perhaps now is a perfect time to enroll at Asha.

rning massage will be interesting. I adore touching people, love the intimate connection that comes with helping others, like providing comfort and teaching people what they can do to be healthier and happier too. A friend the other day said, “But won’t you have to touch gross people, like naked old men with warts on their back and fat, old ladies with hairy backs and . . . “ I held up my hand to stop her. The truth is, I have empathy for people with physical problems and can’t imagine a single case where I would be put off by the human body.   Fact.

   And there are side benefits. I’ll know 1001 ways to use massage oil, and everything there is to know about bringing relief and pleasure to others with my hands (get your mind out of the gutter.) Gotta admit that makes a girl have a touch of mystique. I’ll know Swedish massage, neuromuscular therapy, clinical sports massage, reflexology, Asian theory, polarity therapy, mind and body integration, anatomy and nutrition. I’m told I’ll be prepared to teach special seminars if I want to go that route, such as nutritian for health and wellness– a perfect addition to a yoga curriculum in my opinion, just as my journaling classes have proven to be. I’m really proud of that, by the way.

   And here’s the best part, even if I never work as a serious massage therapist (or just do it on the side part time and put the income in a fund for world travel or something else frivolous and self indulgent) it will give me a wealth of knowledge for writing. Because in the end, that is what I want to do most in this life– experience the world in all it’s complexity and uniqueness, and use those experiences to write something worthy. You simply can’t write without having something to write about, and living a full, active life is the best path to uncovering the rich ore that leads to great books. Yes, I may seem to have interests that shift and sway, but at root, my dreams and ambitions are as solid and steady as they’ve always been. Live. Move. Write.

    Sometimes I have to admit that my eclectic interests actually take time and attention away from writing – perhaps this is all just an elaborate avoidance on my part– the barn, the dance studio, yoga, cooking and growing things – these interests rob me of time and fill my world with so much to do that there isn’t time to pursue writing seriously. If you don’t get your butt in the chair and produce, you’ll never sell anything. I haven’t sent anything out to publishers in years and I even have an agent waiting for my revised book. Have I done what I should in that area, given it a chance? No. Other things have captured my attention lately.  But I also feel there is a time and place for everything, and I’m storing this huge wellspring of experience and altered views of life in a bottomless well that I will draw upon for years once I turn my attention to writing the way I probably should. And will. In fact, I know this.

    If there is one thing 50 years has taught me, it’s that I don’t give up on a dream. And writing – writing well – is a dream that is alive and kicking in my gut still. And it feels like the time is getting ripe to make a move in this direction.

    So, this afternoon I am filling out an application to Asha, but not sending it. I am also filling out an application to pursue the master level of yoga training – another process that will take a year or so – might as well enhance my skills in that area too if I’m serious about going this route. But I’m also thinking about turning my attentions to writing for a time. Looking at all the unfinished projects and wondering what one might call to me strongest. So many choices . . . .

    Eventually, all these life possibilities will come together and make sense, and I’ll see the slow, steady evolution that will have led to new horizons and a world that probably isn’t even a glimmer in my eye as yet. That seems to be how living works for me.

As the quote over my desk reads  – 

“There are no mistakes. The events we bring upon ourselves, no matter how unpleasant, are necessary in order to learn what we need to learn, whatever steps we take, the’re necessary to reach the places we’ve chosen to go.”  – Richard Bach.

And that rest beneath an other quote –

“Every now and then go away . . for when you come back to your work your judgement will be surer.”  -Leonardo da Vinci.

Words to trust. 

Peacock feathers – so many meanings

The weather was beautiful today, the sun shining bold and clear, the air boasting just a hint of impending fall. The temperature outside was like water when it comes directly from the tap, neutral yet refreshing. I teach Yoga on Saturday mornings and then I have the rest of the day to myself. I love starting the weekend by leading others in a positive early morning exercise experience, and I have a particular fondness for the people who take time from their weekend to attend.  Yoga wakes up the heart, like a jump start to the internal motor, and it attracts people who tend to be intellectual, sensitive, health conscious, and lead interesting lives, so I enjoy getting to know every one of my students. When the class is finished and people disperse, my Saturday stretches out like a long roll of banner paper inviting me to finger-paint; I can be messy or creative or just dabble for fun. Yes, Saturday’s lately have been good for my soul.

 Yoga classes unfold with certain properties, or at least mine do. In case you haven’t taken a yoga class, or at least not one of mine, I’ll describe it. I begin by asking everyone to lie in a supine position on the floor and I proceed to give a guided relaxation meditation. This aids the centering process and helps transition the students’ mind from their busy day to the internal place where yoga thrives. Students then sit cross-legged to begin some breathing exercises and a gentle warm-up. No one opens his or her eyes. I keep my voice meditative and smooth, trying to use words and a tone that will stroke them into relaxation. Once warmed up, everyone shifts to knees for a transitional warm up and I try to touch everyone, my hands gentle on their backs and ribs, or the back the neck. This exercise pushes into downward dog where we experiment with gravitational pull and circulation and I usually do some talking (I teach a great deal about yoga while guiding the class– I never just run through the paces) Finally, I maneuver everyone to a standing position (Tadasana) and we begin sun salutations to create internal heat. This leads to a more rigorous asana practice (the physical poses and movements most people associate with yoga.) An hour later, we end up back on the floor for Savasana, which is 5-8 minutes of deep relaxation in a reclining position. I share a reading, usually a poem or short paragraph from literature about nature or personal truth. I tend to offer readings from Mary Olivier or Rumi fairly often, but I try to mix it up.  I’m guilty of having favorites, and usually the reading is reflective of my mood unless someone has said something to me in conversation that touches me, in which case I’ll choose a reading I hope will be poignant for them.

    Anyway,during these 5-8 minutes I always pause to watch my students. I like witnessing their bodies melt into the floor in total stillness, embracing rest so willingly after an hour of physical effort (and unlike many yoga classes, my class never stops moving and I continue to transition students from one pose to the next without ever dropping energy, so it is quite a workout.) As I was saying, I like watching their bellies rise and fall as they breathe deeply and the sound made in the room from their oo-jai breathing (sort of like the sound you hear when you put your ear to a seashell). It is calming & peaceful.People fall into such a deep state of relaxation and the stillness is so great, it’s like the room fell under a spell casting everyone into a meditative slumber. Everyone but me, of course, and there is something neat about being the one person wakeful and aware in a room filled with passive consciousness.  I eventually reintroduce movement with three light rings on Tibetan chimes. Everyone sits up with his or her eyes still closed and I lead the group in pranyana exercises, (deep yoga breathing techniques.) The class concludes with a small bow and we say “Namaste.”

    I don’t do many “om’s” or chanting, at least not at this time, because I’m careful to keep my classes “laymen” friendly. That probably sounds funny or wimpy, but I want to make yoga an enriching, soothing experience even for the skeptical and/or yoga-novice, and so I don’t do anything that will jar people from their trance-like state with thoughts like, “How weird is that?”  But when my student’s get more comfortable with basic yoga practice, I’ll begin adding oral sound and short discussions of philosophy now and again.     

 Anyway, sometimes while my students are lying still, my eyes shift around the room and land on something abstract. My mind wanders.Today, I stared at my peacock feathers arranged in a jar like a flower bouquet in each of the three windowsills. I also have two large arrangements of feathers at the front of the room by shelves where I place more lit candles and my poetry books and chimes – it’s sort of an alter, though I hate to call it that, because the term dredges up thoughts of religion or worship. This artful setup is really just a defined front of the room and a station from which to teach.  

 The room is lit with small pin spots that shine on the cream colored walls and highlight some small, thought-provoking framed messages –words like, “Balance”, “Calm”, “Peace” and “Nature” – corny, I know, but very pretty all the same.   A neat area of shelves is set up in a window inset on both sides of the room, one filled with over 30 Mexican blankets, the other filled with yoga mats, blocks,straps, sandbags, satin eye bags, bolsters and other props for students to use– all in purple of course (a tribute to my FLEX history). Across the front of the room is a long, natural wooden banister (because the yoga loft is actually just a balcony over the studio lobby.) Colorful, abstract art suggestive of bodies in motion is hung high on a wall opposite from the balcony and spotlights are aimed at these too, so students focusing ahead while balancing and/or maintaining yoga positions gaze off into beautiful images that almost float beyond reach, subtle enough in context that they don’t actually stir thought, but they keep the mind focused in a way a blank wall would not. It’s quite a lovely environment, if I say so myself.

In morning classes, light streams in through the bamboo shades over the windows, highlighting the iridescent colors of the peacock feathers. Today, the fans were on and all the hair-like feather wisps beneath the round eyes of the feather stalks rippled in the same way wheat sways in an open field. I was mesmerized. I adore my peacock feathers because they are not something I just went out an bought for decoration, but something I collected from my very own, beloved pet, Elmer (named so he will stick around, unlike my last male peacock, the traitor who took off the first chance he had). The peacock feathers are symbolic of my choosing an interesting life, or at least, trying– go ahead and laugh, that is my romantic view of them. They always bring to mind the striking pet I have so enjoyed raising and observing. He wanders naturally around our land but always returns to roost at night and when he sees me drive in to feed the poultry, he runs, his gate awkward and stiff like the roadrunner in cartoons. Love that. His cry is piercing and dramatic, a sound that seemed so odd when I first heard it, but now will forever be a part of me, just as the vibrato in a good friend’s voice – a sound that brings you pleasure, even if all you are hearing is a short “hello”.

    Today, I actually counted how many peacock feather eyes I could see from where I sat and noted 53. I smiled remembering that as a middle schooler, I had two peacock feathers in my room that I bought at Spenser Gifts. I thought they were so cool that I couldn’t resist allocating a chunk of babysitting money to buy them and those feathers became my prized possession.  For years I kept them in a prominent place in my room, believing they added elegance and whimsy to my dullchild-like surroundings.  When I was a teen, I remember giving my boyfriend a backrub and ending it by stroking his skin with those feathers (Ha, even then I was a sensation monger who loved to share. If my mother only knew.) What would I have thought back then if someone whispered in my ear “You will have all the peacocks feathers a girl could want and then some when you are 50.” In my wildest youthful dreams, I’d not have guessed how or why. But I would have thought it dang cool.

    I have a huge bouquet of peacock feathers in my office at home now too, and they blend perfectly with my muted green walls and shelves loaded with eclectic books. I’ve given single feathers to friends as a memento of a visit, and recently sent a handful with Denver to the yoga school where we both received training. A few ended in Mark’s art & craft supply room for future projects.

    I never would have guessed how dense a peacock tail is until Elmer molted and I received his windfall gift. The feathers come in all lengths depending on what area of the tail they were originally positioned in. The center of the tail offers three-foot long straight stalks, but the sides developed shorter stalks with a natural curve. Some are just a foot long with a big,dramatic eye and a few stalks are crescent shaped with half an eye, a graceful arc that looks like a paisley print. Nature designed these variations to fill in the edges of the impressive bird’s display, and the accumulation of all these shapes and sizes makes for some awesome arrangements, I must say.

   Elmer’s tail is now short; perhaps 12 inches, and thick with dozens of eyes spurting out like a closed fan close to his body. Each month the tail gets longer. I suppose by spring it will be trailing the ground behind him, ready to be spread like a fan for his ladylove. What, I wonder; will I do with next year’s feather harvest? Put peacock feathers on top of gifts in lue of a bow?  Place a hundred loose stalks in a tall stand next to my yoga mats and other merchandise for sale so dreamy teens can buy some for their rooms? Perhaps I’ll just find a hundred friends to give them away to? Ebay? Maybe I should spread love in the form of peacock feathers everywhere I go, leave them like a signature for friends and strangers, kind of like Zorro did after he made an appearance.  Ooooh, the possibilities are endless.

      Years from now, when I am long gone from Georgia and Elmer is nothing but a memory of an interesting phase of life I went through during my midlife years, I suspect I’ll still have a collection of peacock feathers in my home. We are nothing more than the accumulation of our life experiences, and each of us has mementos that we carry forward as tangible evidence of a life well lived. Now, peacock feathers have become one of mine. They symbolize pets, and life adventure, and yoga, and how it is always possible to add elegance and beauty to your life, despite where or how you might be living in the moment. 

A month ago, I bought myself this lovely large scarf that was green and the print if you looked up close, was simply a scattering of peacock feathers. I was thrilled to find it and I thought it suited me. When I recently went to Florida to choreograph a piece for a very respected and dear student, a dance I planned using a big scarf as a prop, I bought three others just for her. But at the last minute, I chose to give her the peacock scarf. I don’t suppose she thought anything of it or ever will. But it meant something to me. I watched her dance, so strong and passionate, marveling over my contribution to her talent and remembering my many years as her teacher, and for some reason, watching those peacock feathers fly through the air in her hands seemed just perfect. It was like watching the the most precious experiences of my life fuse together to create something striking and glorious. 

Now, when I look at the feathers in the yoga loft, I think of dance students as well, and how we all pass on gifts in life, some obvious and others more subtle. And I think of the gifts I’m been fortunate to receive. From birds, from friends, and from simply embracing a rich and reflective life.    




Do the right thing

Someone sent this to me as an e-mail to forward to others, but I don’t really have an e-mail address list since changing to a mac, so I thought I’d post it here. Don’t be lazy. Look at this face, and do the right thing.

Hi, all you animal lovers!
 This  is pretty  simple… Please ask ten  friends to each ask a further ten today!  
 The Animal Rescue Site is having trouble getting  enough  people to click on it daily so they can meet their quota of   getting FREE FOOD donated every  day to abused and neglected animals.  It takes less than a minute  (about 15 seconds) to go to their site  and click on the purple box  ‘fund food for animals for free’. This  doesn’t cost you a thing.  
 Their corporate  sponsors/advertisers use the number of  daily visits to donate food  to abandoned/neglected animals in  exchange for advertising.
 Here’s the web site! Please pass it  along to people you know.