And Then I Fell Out the Window

Life, examined and punted around

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Yoga and a Quiet Blossoming

I’m sitting in the dark on the porch swing outside my house, starts twinkling–Big Dipper is right overhead, and yes indeed, summer is here. The breeze wafts over the scent of the lilac bushes lining alleyway I just walked down, sweat-drenched, yoga mat slung over my shoulder.

For a long time I’d thought of yoga as something pretentious, at least in the states–something rich white people do to show off how flexible they are. In some ways this is true. I went to the $5 community class at Hothouse Yoga (usually pretty darn expensive for a lowly baker/simulated patient like me) into a class of all-white college-aged students, most wearing designer outfits. This used to bother me. I remember going to a yoga class at Luther three years ago and finding the whole situation ironically stressful. I would fret over my downward dog and wonder why my wrists hurt so much, then I’d scowl over at the curly-haired girl who brought her own yoga mat (most of us just used the ones in the studio, as dubiously sweaty as they were) and made a point to get into the deepest lunges, the best tree poses, and to be all-around smug.

Or maybe that was just my perceptions.

This class, too, had its all-stars…and the one shirtless man in the front who breathed extraordinarily loudly and pushed himself too far…but I found myself not caring. I happily walked in with my shaved head, my normal old t-shirt emblazoned with “Got Libros?”, my old running shorts, and my somewhat wobbly midsection and found that I did not care if I messed up or was behind the “regulars” of the class or if I needed to take a break. I didn’t feel flustered if I stumbled over from tree pose…I just grinned and planted my foot back above my kneecap.

What had changed over the past three years? I had changed, slowly, quietly…and it was only when I was in downward dog, sweat-drenched hands slipping over the mat, that I realized it. I feel at peace, happy…wow.

I feel like I should explain the “hot yoga” phenomenon, because it sounds miserable, at least to heat-hating me. They basically put you in sauna for an hour and you do yoga and try not to die. I was anticipating sweat, of course I was, and I brought my waterbottle to compensate, but I’ve never sweated like this before. Within the first five minutes of the warmup poses, sweat was tricking down the side of my face. Soon my entire arms glistened with wetness, and then my entire body was absolutely soaked. I am eternally grateful for my short hair so I could dunk it under the faucet in the bathroom immediately after class. 

The purpose of hot yoga is, presumably, to let you get into deeper stretches, and hey it worked. Ms. I-Can’t-Touch-My-Toes did manage to wrap her digits around her big toes with relatively straight legs tonight. Then I suppose there are the benefits of sweating out all the blech in your body. When I did step out into the starry night with my mat, I felt like I was floating down the street. I hovered down the ped mall, full of students done with finals, drinking, eating meals, sitting on benches with cups of frozen yogurt, preteen girls doing gymnastics on the springy floor of the play area by the library, people on iPads studying at Bread Garden, an old man playing blues guitar. 

I walked past the blossoming trees, petals falling like snow, and under the leaves on the trees that just a week ago were nothing but buds, past dandelions which seemed to have burst from yellow tufted flowers to the halo of fluffy seeds in less than a day. And I never saw this happen. The change came and I only noticed the shocking disparity between what was and what used to be not long ago.

Where was I three years ago? In such a different place than I am now. Even three months ago I was in a completely different place, though my outer circumstances haven’t changed much. And where will I be three months from now, three years from now? Maybe I’ll be in a low place again. Maybe I will be looking back and realizing how something inside blossomed without me seeing it. So past me, three-months-ago-me, things did get better. Things do change. And no, you didn’t have to go to a wild party or run away across the world or lose ten pounds. You were stepping forward and sprouting quietly amidst all your sorrow and chaos.

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Doing Everything, Being Everyone

I love it when people tell me what someone my age “should” be doing. And by “love,” I mean I want to flip out every time they “should” on me. It doesn’t help that now more than ever 20-somethings are being barraged by conflicting Utter Truths poured forth in every Tweet, blog post, online forum, Facebook status or social media trend. We have access to all information and every opinion, and perhaps this is empowering but it is also overwhelming.

Don’t get me wrong, having information and choice is an amazing gift. It’s when you start getting daily information about others’ lives and choices and beliefs that you start wondering whether the choice you made was the right one. When you’re given the opportunity to do everything it’s ever so easy to think you’re obligated to do everything.

And to go everywhere. So many of my friends are working, studying, or traveling abroad right now: one is studying at a film academy (were there any two words with more capacity to instill envy than film academy?) in London (LONDON), one has a job in Japan, one is teaching in Prague, one is living in Mexico with his boyfriend, one is teaching English in China, etc. etc. etc. I love hearing about their lives and their adventures, but occasionally (often) I’ll fall into the trap of thinking, “Why aren’t doing that? What the hell am I doing to advance my future/live my life to the fullest/suck the marrow out of life/live each day like it’s my last/follow my dreams/do something every day that scares me?” 

These quotes, which are meant to be inspirational and pop over all over the place, often just serve to torment me. They seem to constantly scream that my life isn’t full enough, isn’t exotic or faraway enough or movie-montage-worthy-enough and that if I’m not hang-gliding or partying on the roof in the moonlight with champagne and exotic artistic friends then I am not doing it right, dammit. 

And therein lies the trap of seeing everything possible and expecting it to be yours. 

Sometimes, when I decide to be reflective instead of slipping into these damaging thought patterns, I realize that nobody can see the whole world. I simply cannot do everything there is to do and see everything there is to see. There are so many streets in Iowa City that I haven’t even walked down yet, and that realization is comforting. In this trap of comparison, it is heartening to know that nobody gets to see and experience everything.

Then I’m reminded of a book I’m reading for my Buddhism group, Stepping out of Self-Deception by Rodney Smith, which is all about how one of the core tenants of Buddhism and one that’s often ignored by Westerners, is the concept of Anatta, or this idea that the individualized “self” doesn’t really exist. 

It’s a challenging concept to wrap my head around, especially because our entire culture is based off this idea that we’re individual selfs seeing the world separately from outside our head. But as I’m reading through this, I’m starting to feel a weight in my chest lightening. My friends’ joys become my joys, and their pains become mine as well. And just when I’m thinking that I can’t do everything, I realize that being able to share our collective experiences gives me the opportunity to dig my heels deeper into the Iowa City soil and be okay with that. I can get an understanding of what it’s like to walk the streets of Hangzhou, China or how all-consuming it is to make a professional-looking short film without having to do it all. 

Then, instead of scrolling through Facebook statuses, endless photos and blogposts and thinking, “Why isn’t my life like that?” I can think instead, “Wow! Look at all the ground that we’ve covered!”

I am not sure if this is the mushiest thing I’ve ever written or the most convoluted, but I feel liberated as I begin to realize that it’s not this constant stream of information that is making me drown, it is my perception of what it says about my life and how I feel I should measure up. When it stops being about “me” and starts being and feeling collective, all of that pressure, all those “shoulds” melt off and I am happy to be where I am, what I am.

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Being a Hometown Tourist

I haven’t gone traveling in a while. I miss it sometimes–feet landing in a whole new place, exploring something fresh and brand new and different. When you travel, your entire self is engaged in the experience. You keep your eyes open and your ears wide to take it all in, because it’s special; you will only be there for a week or a day or a few hours and you must take it all in.


I miss that, absolutely I do…but then I realized today as I was walking to a local diner to eat breakfast with Mermaidhair how beautiful and cool my city is. It’s easy for me to slip into “local” mode and ingnore the unusual or brilliant things about my hometown. My neighborhood is on the northside, rising up the hill, the older part of town, and it really is beautiful and strange. There’s a gazebo in a little park outside my window. Uneven brick streets that are beautiful to look at and hellish to walk on stretch along rows of old houses with lush green yards and flowering trees, the breeze sending petals raining across the sidewalks. On an overcast day like today the colors stand out even more, the bright green of the budding trees and the folded tulips waiting for some sunlight so they can open again from their retreat, the gleam of the gold dome on Old Capitol. 

Today’s my day off, so I can walk like a tourist through my own town, loitering in the used bookstores on Market Square, people-watch in the ped mall, gawk at the gorgeous unaffordable dresses in the Dulcinea shop window. I finally engage my senses, pulling out my earbuds and stopping to stare and take mental notes. I am present finally in the city where I live, in my neighborhood, then whammo, there’s that traveler’s rush, that excitement of discovery. And I didn’t even leave. 

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Change Comes In Threes

My coworker Mermaidhair was saying a few weeks ago how she believes in karma, and that things come in threes. “In three months, everything changes.”

“I doubt three months from now things will be much different,” I said. I was in one of my oh-god-I’m-never-going-to-get-anywhere-worth-being slumps.

“Just wait. Three months from now, things will be really different. Maybe not the situation as much as the way you see things.”

I’m making Mermaidhair sound like some kind of mystic, but really she’s just a hilarious coworker with a blunt way of speaking who I disk-golf with. She is, in her own words, a delight.

And damned if she wasn’t right. Here it is not three weeks later and everything feels in flux. Ever since I shaved my head, I’ve perceived myself different. Not as a dorky loser who quotes Futurama too much, but as someone who has enough “cool factor” now to walk into White Rabbit or Prairie Lights or some grad school shindig to look fitting for the place. So shallow, this perception, but then again, how I perceive myself shines through on how others perceive me. I feel more like an adult with my hair short, less prone to lull in bed and RP over Skype instead of being a productive shit and getting my ass out of bed. 

This grown-up-looking me is taking some getting used to. She’s still stretching her limbs and seeing what’s possible. She’s made a pact to finish a passable draft of that damn story by the end of the year, in time to give it as a present to Drunk Grandma (I have two grandmas: Drunk Grandma and Tiny Grandma. I feel they deserve a blog entry of their own), the grandma who ate up Harry Potter along with her grandchildren, who read the entire Wheel of Time series (kudos, Grammie), who tore through Hunger Games on her Kindle during late nights with her porch door open toward the lake.

This shaved head, then, really does feel like a new start. And while I try to figure out myself, it is snowing and raining in May when it was a sweltering 87 degrees less than 48 hours ago, and people pull their winter coats out of the closet, angry that the coats haven’t even gathered any dust yet, and they squint at the wind and cold and talk about soil temperature and corn planting schedules and everything is in turmoil.

And the third thing: (things really do come in threes, eh?) My dad has brain surgery Tuesday. This is like stepping onto a boat after a few years. Yeah, you had your sea legs before, but now you’re still seasick and even though the risk isn’t as bad there’s still that chance of the big wave and the capsize.

They discovered his first tumor when I was twelve or thirteen, a big fist-shaped shadow on the x-ray scans. We all drove to Sioux City for the brain surgery. Mom made my older brothers pack funeral clothes, but I didn’t know about this until at least a year later. The surgery was fine. Dad had a dent in his head. We bought him funny do-rags and celebrated as he recovered.

When I was sixteen it came back, and it was like I’d been expecting it. He was supposed to be having routine scans, but when I’d ask about them, he’d say, “Oh, yeah, they were fine,” in a vague, vacant sort of way. He hadn’t been going. And it came back in roughly the same area. The surgery took longer. There was a lot of scar tissue to work around, and recovery took longer.

A few months ago Dad told me they’d found two small ones. The surgery is going to be “less severe” this time, but the surgeon is still cutting open his skull and pulling out something (two somethings) that keep coming back for we don’t know why. So I’m going up to the tiny town where I was born and lived before my parents divorced and be with Dad and Drunk Grandma and sit in waiting rooms and try to read and try not to think of all the many many possibilities that hang on the edge of a surgical knife. I will not pack funeral clothes but I can’t help be intensely aware of how much could change in three seconds’ time.