It’s raining.

My husband was late for work, and ran out the door without kissing me goodbye.

My youngest woke up with a high fever, one day after her older sister finally got over her fever.

I haven’t gone grocery shopping, so we’ve been subsisting on grilled cheeses and fast food since both girls were sent home sick from school five days ago.

Oh. And it’s Valentine’s Day.

My oldest woke up with a headache, but no fever, so she insisted upon going to school so as not to miss her class party. We’ll see how that goes.

After she got on the bus, I bundled up my feverish preschooler, and drove to drop off the elaborate, homemade Valentines my kindergartner had made for her class.

I realized that this was only the second time I’ve left the house since Friday.

It’s Wednesday.

As my sick kid complained from the backseat, I decided that this crap morning deserved some drive thru breakfast. (And fried food almost always improves her attitude.)

I ordered my sandwich and hash brown, and pulled around to pay. As the cashier was handing me my change, a drop of rain dripped off his jacket sleeve. Poor guy. Stuck near an open window. In the rain. In the cold.

And it’s Valentine’s Day.

“Thanks,” I paused, and flashed him a smile, “and happy Valentine’s Day!”

His face brightened. “Happy Valentine’s Day to you, too! What a smile! It must be a good day today, huh?”

And I thought.

About the hot food I’ll soon be eating while watching cartoons with my daughter.

About the modern medicine that we can afford and get with ease, that will soon be soothing her achy body.

About how my husband sat in bed too long this morning, holding her hot, feverish body (making himself late for work) while I made lunch for our oldest.

About my creative daughter, who picked out a Valentine’s craft for her class and worked so hard this weekend–even with a fever–to finish them all for her friends.

About our refrigerator and pantry, both stuffed with food. I can’t make a special Valentine’s dinner for my family and friends as I had planned, but I can make loads of yummy meals, without ever visiting the store.

About my family, calling and texting me all week to check in on how the girls were feeling.

And I looked over at this dripping wet fast food worker. And I smiled.

“Well, you know what? It is a pretty good day.”

Happy Valentine’s Day, friends.

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As I mentioned in my last blog post, I have decided to try and cut down my wardrobe, in the hopes of creating a “capsule” wardrobe that will not only cut down on my clothing clutter, but will also more accurately reflect who I am as a person. I decided to take my closet as it currently stands and challenge myself to wear EVERYTHING in it over the course of the next 40 (or so) days. And, to make sure that everything in my closet got a fair, equal shake, I assigned each of my clothes a number, then used an online random number generator to match every top with every bottom. 38 tops. Paired with 7 bottoms. For 38 days.

Here’s what I’ve learned from my first 10 outfits:

  1. My pants game needs a serious upgrade. My jeans are sad. Really sad. Ever since becoming a mother, I’ve chosen cheap and convenient over stylish and flattering. My ass deserves better. Literally.
  2. I have to start making myself a priority. One of the strangest things that I’ve discovered from this challenge is how rarely I ever take the time to make myself look nice. I’ve had to make a conscious effort–a real effort–to take a shower, style my hair, and put on my daily outfit. When did just putting product in my hair become an option? When did I become an option (and not one that I choose regularly)? Even with this challenge, there have still been several days where I just didn’t bother getting dressed. My kids have been sick so we all stayed in pajamas, or I was cleaning the house all day in my sweats, or I did my yoga and just didn’t bother to change into “real” clothes all day. It’s one of the “advantages” to being a stay-at-home parent that I don’t have to worry about what I wear. But it’s also a slippery slope into genuine personal neglect and poor hygiene.
  3. Some of my clothes are OLD. The very first shirt I put on for this challenge is a decade old. I was excited to wear it, as it reminds me of when I was teaching (and had to look nice at least three times a week), but the second I pulled it out, I saw that it had yellow stains at the armpits, loose threads and sequins, and just lots and lots of wear. Things are starting to show their age. So I guess it’s time to let go.
  4. I look pretty good. I have taken a full-body picture of myself for ten days now. It’s terrifying. It’s embarrassing. I’ve been trying to hide my phone from my husband so that he doesn’t open my photos and see all of the, well, me on it! But, at the same time, I’ve been looking at my photos and thinking, “Wow.” My body looks fit. My hair is cute. My smile is natural. And when I feel good in my clothes? I look hot.

Below, find the day-by-day breakdown of my first 10 outfits. (Also, excuse my crazy photo sizes. Apparently, my photo editing skills have not taught me how to resize things properly! I’ll fix it for next time. Promise. ;-)) I have already donated/gotten rid of three shirts, and have plans to remove three pairs of pants from regular rotation.

Day 1

Day 1. I loved this outfit, but, sadly, upon closer inspection, this shirt was really showing its age. To the donation pile it went!

Day 2

Day 2. This was the day I fully accepted what my sister has been telling me for years: my Target bootcut jeans are tragic and doing absolutely NOTHING for my butt!

Day 3

Day 3. Love my wide-leg jeans. Love this lace tank top. Love my shoulders. Werk, girl.

Day 4

Day 4. Super Bowl Sunday. Jeans are again tragic. But I love the off-shoulder shirt. Again, I love my shoulders. No shame.

Day 5

Day 5. The silliest feeling outfit of the entire week. Honestly, these pants are already my “placeholder” pants. They’re currently the only brown pair of pants I own. They’re at least a full size too big on me. I started this project, knowing that these pants would need to be replaced by something better at the end. Luckily, a cardigan saves the day. (As it almost always does for me)

Day 6

Day 6. By far, my FAVORITE outfit of the week! This outfit made me feel as though I had finally found my style. I felt confident, appropriate, attractive, and comfortable. I could go to a playdate, then add a sweater and some heels and go out to dinner with my husband. Only one thing hindered me: Once I took this picture, I saw that my top was covered with grease stains! But, still, personal style unlocked! This is what I’m trying to accomplish! Give me an entire closet of THIS!

Day 7

Day 7. Tight pants. Tight top. Suck it in, girl. SUUUUCK it in! I also figured out that this top was is so old, it’s from the Junior’s section. Oy. Donation pile!

Day 8

Day 8. Classic white tee with dark washed jeans. Classic shirt so old and threadbare that it shows absolutely EVERYTHING going on underneath. Donate.

Day 9

Day 9. Damn. Also, I added my favorite boots ever to this outfit. Double Damn.

Day 10

Day 10. Today’s outfit. I’m happy that my kids are home sick on this outfit day. Baggy pants and top are kind of nice for a “movies on the couch” day.

There they are! Have I made the correct assessment concerning my clothes? Should I let go of others and hold on to some? Comment below and let me know what you think!

I’m a ’90s girl. I can’t help it.

When Cher Horowitz fired up her customized closet computer, scrolled through her clothing options (with a TOUCH SCREEN!! That was some crazy technology, for sure!), and finally was rewarded with the ideal, now-iconic, matching yellow plaid blazer-and-mini-with-corresponding-sweater-vest ensemble, I was officially in love.

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But, let’s face it. Cher’s system was incredibly impractical. I mean, honestly, exactly how many outfits could one reasonably make with a bright yellow plaid mini-skirt? Outside of the one, I just don’t see it happening. It also seemed to be a system based on pretty strict fashion rules. I mean, why did it say that first outfit was a mismatch? A black skirt with a printed jacket? Was that really so wrong? What else did it THINK she should be pairing with a black skirt?

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Then again, Cher certainly had the closet space to hold on to all of those very specialized, only-once-in-a-very-great-while outfits. Can’t really say the same for me. I’m operating out of your standard, 2’x6′ wall closet with accordion doors. Which is why I recently undertook the challenge of creating a minimalist, “Capsule” wardrobe for myself. Basically, I went through my clothes (several times), got rid of a TON of stuff, and kept only what I believed I could wear at any time. And with anything. Basically, I’ve been trying to create a closet that is Garanimals for Adults.

The keys to a Capsule wardrobe are simplicity and sternness. Keep it (relatively) neutral. Don’t hold on to sentimental pieces for no reason. Think about your clothes as not individual pieces, but as parts of a whole. And, for God’s sake, you’ll never get that marinara stain out; just throw the thing away already! The theory is that, by treating your clothing this way, you actually create more unique, individual outfits by investing in fewer, more versatile pieces. This way, if you have only, say, 10 shirts, and 3 pairs of pants, you still have a possible total 30 outfits you can make with these pieces. Add two cardigans, or a few belts, and you’re multiplying your outfits! (Think about how many thousands of combinations you can make at Chipotle using only about 20 ingredients. Same idea. If not slightly less delicious.)

Woah. 30 individual outfits? MORE with just a few accessories? I (like, I think, many people) am currently rotating through about a half dozen outfits regularly. Could this really be possible? Could I really go an entire month without repeating an outfit? And could I be doing this with fewer clothes staring at me from my fluorescent-illumined closet?

I’ve decided to give it a try. I’m cutting down my wardrobe, and I’m going to wear everything in it. Everything. And, to make sure that I’m being truly honest, I’m going to dress like Cher. Starting on February 1st, I’m going to let a computer dress me for 38 days. Why 38? Well, because I couldn’t bring myself to pare down my clothes any further than that (for now). I got myself down to:

  • 38 shirts, not counting about a half dozen random tees I use for sleeping.
  • 7 pairs of pants, not counting dress pants. I do still own three pairs of dress pants (white, grey, and brown pairs) but I decided to omit those from this experiment, as I’m a stay-at-home parent, and a substitute teacher at a preschool, and, well, fingers are sticky and dress pants are expensive. I’ll just be wearing my “everyday” pants for the duration of this experiment.
  • 13 pairs of shoes (this includes my “specialty” shoes, such as snow boots and my wedding heels [that I’m NEVER giving up! They’re hot pink and ruffly, and gorgeous and sexy!]).

Following along with the rules as I understood them based on the Pinterest boards I found, I color coordinated all of my clothes, assigned each one a number, and used an online random number generator to first sort all of the tops into a list, then to pair them up with a bottom.

Shirts_clothing challenge

My. Entire. Wardrobe.

As it will be February, and there are tank tops on this list, I’m reserving the right to add “layering” pieces (mostly my absolute favorite I-am-never-seen-without-one cardigans), and I get to make shoe choices myself. But the base outfits will remain exactly as the computer selected them.

My clothes for the next 38 days. The print out of my wardrobe looks like a page full of mug shots. Some of them really ain’t pretty.

I hope that this experiment helps to free me up from old clothes that I’ve been holding on to for years now (my ideal goal is to get my closet down to 25 tops). And I hope that it gives me some ideas for outfits that I hadn’t considered before now. But I hope that it also frees me from this strange fear, or obsession, or I-don’t-even-know-what-to-call-it that keeps screaming in my head that my personality, that my actual being, is somehow tied up in all of the things that I own, the things with which I surround myself. Clothing is a pretty easy start for me. As a SAHM, my clothes aren’t really “important.” If I look a little weird one day during this experiment, it won’t cost me a client, or create a running joke around the water cooler (though my style-obsessed kindergartner will likely tease me). But it’s an important start. One that I hope will lead to other starts. And maybe it’ll finish someplace simpler, cleaner, and with a whole lot more “me” and a whole lot less “that.”

I’ll try to post short, weekly recaps of this experiment as I go, with pictures of all of my computer generated outfits, so you all can judge for yourselves how things seem to be going (and what I could possibly do without).

This month, I’ve found myself in charge of an online fitness challenge group for some friends who want to start off the new year with some healthier habits. We’re not trying to set the world on fire, and my goal is to just increase my Ashtanga yoga practice from 2-3 days a week (I’ve really fallen off the wagon) to 4 days a week for the entire month. Many of the people involved in the group have expressed interest in starting a yoga practice of their own, and instead of writing an obnoxiously long Facebook post about it, I thought I’d just put my tips for practicing right here on my blog and share them for anyone who’s interested.

First, I’d like to start by saying that I have been practicing Ashtanga for only the last 9 months. I am NO expert! But I love the practice. I love the challenge. I love the consistency, and while I’m not yet up to the standard 6 day-a-week practice, I have been able to maintain my practice for nearly a year and more or less regularly. I’m a beginner, talking to other beginners, about how to begin.

  1. Firstly, try to remember that yoga, really and truly, can be practiced anywhere. You don’t need a gym. You don’t need a studio. You don’t need equipment. (Though I do recommend a good yoga mat. A good one will provide grip, a little cushion, but will also be firm. I have a Manduka mat. They are expensive, but I don’t think you need to go all out for your first mat. You can find one at Target for less than $20 that will work just fine for a long time. And you don’t have to spend a bunch of money on a yoga towel if you feel yourself getting sweaty and slippery. I literally use an old hand towel to get my grip and mop myself up.) This last week, I did my practice at my Grandmother’s house. We had 9 people staying in her 1,000 square foot home, and I still found a 3-foot-by-6-foot space to plop down my mat and practice in my pajamas. My dad was sitting on the couch playing solitaire while I was practicing. It’s a little weird, but I felt an awesome sense of accomplishment because I had eliminated my excuses and completed something just for me.yoga_nanas
  2. Yoga doesn’t have to be complex, fancy, or fitspo. My instructor regularly tells me, “Surya is a practice.” Surya Namaskara A and B—better known as just Sun Salutations—are far more than just warm ups. They are a full practice in and of themselves. Once you learn them, you can complete an entire practice in about 15 minutes max. 10 Surya As, 5 Surya Bs, and you’ll feel more centered, more engaged, stronger, and more flexible. Often, when I’m pressed for time, instead of taking 75 minutes to complete my full practice, I’ll do my Suryas and a short closing sequence and be done in 20 minutes flat.suryas
  3. Shorter and more frequent is better than longer and less consistent. I’d love to complete my full practice every day. Really, I would. But I have two small children. I’m a substitute teacher (so I’m “on call” early in the morning). I’m trying to get a small crafting business off the ground. I don’t always get the sleep I need. I don’t always have enough reserves of attention. Sometimes, I just flat out don’t wanna. Shorter, frequent practices are the next best thing to frequent, long practices. I’ll cut my Primary Series in half. I’ll switch from a long closing to a short closing. I’ll just do 15 Sun Salutations and call it a day. Don’t stress about how long your practice takes you. Just practice, and all will come!
  4. Variations are not cheating! Use the props if you need them. Bend your legs if your hamstrings are screaming. Don’t worry about touching the floor, or your toes, or your elbows. Your practice is yours. No one else can tell you how to do things “right” for your body.
  5. Remember the first two limbs. “Ashtanga” translates to “eight limbs.” They represent the lessons you are supposed to learn from a regular, consistent practice. The first two limbs are “non-violence” and “truthfulness.” Ashtanga limbs sound New Agey. Spiritual. Perhaps even a little silly. But when you think about them as part of a physical practice, we can think of the first two limbs as “self-care” and “self-awareness.” Think about “non-violence” as something that you can direct inward, towards yourself. Don’t get caught up in the idea that “pain is gain” or that yoga is “supposed” to hurt. It is not. If something hurts (and not in an “Oooh, I haven’t stretched that muscle in a really long time!” kind of way, but in a sudden, sharp “Ow! Owowowow! What the holy hell??” kind of way) then stop. Practice non-violence towards yourself, first and foremost, within your yoga practice. The outward stuff will come later. Also, think about “truthfulness” more as “self-awareness” in relation to your practice as well. Can’t get your heels on the ground in Downward Dog? Having problems fully extending your arms in Warrior 1? Or, alternately, feeling as though you could be doing more, reaching farther, not really pushing yourself as hard as you could? Recognize and accept where your body is, honestly. Assess yourself. Turn inward. Again, all of the outward stuff will come afterwards.

My two favorite sites for Ashtanga tips:

The Ashtanga Yoga Institute. Yes, it’s in German. But this site has all of the best infographics available for breaking down each pose, step-by-step, and showing you exactly when to breathe, or transition, or hold each asana. I prefer text and image over videos, so this site is my true go-to when I’m stuck.

Kino Yoga. Yes, she’s incredibly blonde and incredibly peppy. But, girlfriend knows her stuff! Whenever I get stuck on a transition, or a particularly difficult pose, I can always find a great, short video where she breaks it down and gives tips for accomplishing even the weirdest, pretzeliest of poses.

The fitness fun starts tomorrow! Let’s have a great month, friends!

Hello, friends! I’m still here. I know it’s been a hot minute since I’ve written anything, and I don’t have time to go into everything that’s been going on in my life (or the raging shit storm that is America right now), but I do have time to write a quick post here, detailing how I just made what I’m guessing will be the Best. Christmas. Present. Ever!

It’s super simple. I did it all in four steps, and about eight minutes. So here goes!

Step one: Acquire a lap activity table. (I got these sweet plastic ones at Michael’s for $5.) If you can, measure to make sure the table top is at least 10″x10″. I literally set these down in the floor and compared the top to the 12″x12″ tiles in the store. ‘Cause I’m classy like that.

Step 2: Acquire a classic Lego base. (These I found at Target for $7.99, but you can probably find them cheaper elsewhere.) The standard base is 10″x10″. (See where I’m going with this?)

Step 3: Cut small squares of strong, super sticky Velcro. (I just happened to have this in my sewing box. It’s industrial strength!) Apply the squares to the corners of each Lego base. Make sure that you put the prickly side against the base! No scratchy squares on the top!


Step 4: Line it up and stick it on the lap table! Boom!! A Lego table that quickly converts to a drawing table in one fell swoop! 

I’m super pumped about these presents, as my girls are currently obsessed with all things Lego. But they’re constantly forced to play with them either on the official “Lego table” that we keep upstairs, or they have to wait until I clear spaces for them on the coffee table or kitchen table. (Legos just don’t work well on carpets, after all. It’s just too hard to get that good snap.) And, these tables have deep side compartments for storage, as well as cupholders! High five, you guys!

That’s all I can do for today. But I sure do hope someone decides to do this for their kids, too. I thought this was too good to keep to myself! Happy holidays, dear readers!

At my last lesson, my yoga instructor and I started talking about “fitspo” images (“fit inspiration” pictures; often glossy, perfectly lighted, framed, and posed images of very fit people doing physically impressive—yet also beautiful—feats of flexibility and strength). As someone who is just starting in Ashtanga Yoga, I often find myself searching through Instagram, looking for fitspo pictures of yogis. It is inspiring, beautiful eye candy.

It is also completely fucking discouraging.

And hella unrealistic.

The images you see on Instagram are gorgeous. But they are also severely sanitized. Almost anesthetized. They’re clean. They’re serene. Everyone’s face is stoic. Everyone’s body fat hovers right around 2.3%. Nobody shakes. Nobody’s uncertain. Nobody’s trying too hard.

Ashtanga Instagram

A collection of screenshots just from this morning. Seriously, who the fuck are all of these people doing their practice on the beach? Is that a thing? That shouldn’t be a thing.

I’ve only been practicing Ashtanga for five months now. I love the physical challenge. I love the discipline. I love that the regular, consistent practice forces me to pursue asanas that I find difficult (and might try to skip had I been left to my own devices—So long, Wheel!). I love those rare moments when the spiritual aspect of the practice kicks in, and I feel peaceful, and strong, and non-judgmental, and calm. I start to think that I am one of those clean, bendy people in the pictures. That I am fitspo.

But, dude, for real? Yoga is kinda gross. Kinda really gross. When you contort your body into the kind of shapes and poses a physically challenging practice like Ashtanga makes you, things … happen.

Here’s what those perfect images on Instagram don’t show you:

  1. Farts. Yoga makes you fart. Anyone who has practiced yoga regularly knows that. I’m not entirely sure why this is true, but, trust me, it is. Maybe all of the stretching and twisting and contorting of your body acts akin to twisting and squeezing a sponge. But instead of dirty dishwater, rotten egg farts come pouring out. (Yoga is a great way to regret every single food decision you have made in the last 24 hours, yo.) And, yeah, farts are funny. And you’ll laugh. But if you do it during a class, chuckle, maybe whisper a “sorry” to those in the Stank Zone, and keep going. Every single yoga instructor on the planet is totally used to farts (I’ve farted twice on my instructor. On her, you guys. She never cracked a smile. Didn’t even back away. Totally unfazed.). They will handle your stinky butt symphony with complete maturity and calm. You don’t have to run out. Promise.
  2. Sweat. Nobody on Instagram sweats. But yoga in real life? Man, that shit gets SWAMPY. I keep a towel next to my yoga mat at all times, just so I can regularly mop up. My instructor has actually had to wipe off my face for me in a forward bend, because when I bent over, the sweat filled up my nostrils, and I began drowning in my own salty effort. I don’t glisten. I pour. Crotch sweat, specifically. I don’t know why, but ashtanga makes my crotch sweatier than just about anything. I look like I peed myself (which I may have done a little, but this is ridiculous).

    Crotch Sweat

    I bought new yoga pants. I assumed they were made with sweat-wicking materials. They were not.

  3. Anus Talk. Bandhas (also known as “locks” or “body locks”) are a key part of Ashtanga yoga. Basically, your bandhas are the muscles in your pelvic floor and lower abdomen. You keep those slightly engaged at all times, and it improves your balance, your flexibility, and your stability. You can think about your bandhas in very dry, medical terms: by pulling in your perineum, or squeezing your urethra, or engaging your lower abdominals. But, again, in real life yoga, while the sweat is dripping into your ears and you’re cursing your grandmother for passing down her impossibly short limbs to you, medical terms don’t work nearly so well as nice, direct, anus talk. So, people talk about your anus. A lot. “Squeeze your anus.” “Engage your anus.” “Feel your anus pulling up.” “Are you squeezing your anus?” “Is your anus locked?” “Don’t drop your anus!” (My personal favorite.) The thing is, as weird as the anus talk feels at first, it very quickly just becomes part of the experience. Now, when I practice at home, I’m constantly reminding myself to pick up my damn anus. How’s that for Namaste?
  4. Weird Injuries. I’ve fallen into walls. I’ve fallen into chairs. I’ve fallen against and on top of tables. I’ve come millimeters away from violently elbowing my instructor in the nose. I’ve cut my wrist with my own toenail, and bruised the tips of my toes. I’ve knocked the wind out of myself. I’m not even particularly clumsy. It’s just that this shit is hard. And it’s a hard that you have to hold. And so I fall. Because gravity. And because sirsasana (headstand).
  5. Smells. The farts. The sweat. The crotch sweat. The hot room. The deep exhalations. The feet. Oh, god. The feet. You can taste the bodily fluids in the air. It’s a great reminder that we’re all just a half a chromosome away from flinging poo at each other in a zoo.
  6. Noises. Yoga classes are not silent affairs. Your body cracks, creaks, and crunches. You occasionally let out an audible moan or groan. There’s chanting to open and close your practice. You practice what’s called “audible breathing,” where you breathe only through your nostrils, and try to sound like an asthmatic Darth Vader. It’s noisy. And some of the noises are just. Well. Unidentifiable. You could hear a crack, and have someone look over at you with concern. “Woah. Was that your hip??” Uhhh. Honestly? I have no idea what that was. But I don’t seem to be screaming in pain yet, so let’s just carry on, mmm’kay?
  7. Queefs. Now it’s time to get real. A couple of things, okay? First of all, queefs do happen. Second of all, no woman on the planet enjoys queefing. They’re weird. They feel unnatural. They’re not pleasant. They make me feel paranoid about the status of my own vag. Third, I’m suspicious that having two children in close succession has made me more susceptible to the occasional queef. I mean, let’s face it. The old grey mare, she ain’t what she used to be. That being said, I will admit it. Yeah. I queef. And there are times during yoga when I’ve queefed. Loudly. I’ve noticed that I do it more during what are called the “inversions”—shoulder stands that you hold for extended periods of time. I like to think that gravity is my queef nemesis during inversions. Like, perhaps I just always have some air trapped in my velvet pocketbook. Like, I clearly just go through my day with a little bubble floating in my lady parts. Like some kind of personal contractor’s level, helping to keep my box balanced. Maybe it’s always in there, but my relatively upright daily life just makes it hard for it to escape. Then, during yoga, I flip my hootch-caboose upside down, and suddenly the air in there can just float up. And out. I mean, that’s just science. (Maybe?) A queef is actually the perhaps worst thing that could happen to me during yoga (though, the stronger my pelvic floor becomes, the fewer queefs seem to be escaping). It’s the only noise I make that I actively try to pass off as a fart. A fart in yoga I can explain away. “Ha, ha. Taco Bell!” Sweaty vagina burps? Yeah. Pass.
Real Fitspo

Here’s some real fitspo for you. This was back when I first started ashtanga. My first successful attempt at reverse prayer pose. I was so excited about it, I asked my husband to take a picture of it. (You can see just how big of a shit he gave. Out of focus. No light. Didn’t even bother getting out of bed.) Chubby ass arms, sweaty bun, Target yoga pants, and brown house slippers? Check!

So, there it is. The truth. The non-fitspo picture of yoga. Honestly, I think about Ashtanga in the same way that I think about my children. They’re totally disgusting to every other person on the planet. But, damn, I love them. Sticky fingers, greasy hair and all. And I love yoga. In all its gross glory.

Yesterday, I took my daughters to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. While there, we visited an exhibit called “Beyond Spaceship Earth,” about the International Space Station. As the girls wandered through the display, looking at vacuum packed food and tooth brushes “that have actually been in actual space!” I turned a corner, and squealed. Sitting in front of me was the Liberty Bell 7, the craft that held Gus Grissom as he became the second man to ever go up into space. The second human being to break gravity, and pilot a black sky.

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The American space program has always fascinated and inspired me. When I was eleven, my mother, aunt, cousin, and I traveled to Washington D.C. My mom had to meet with Congressmen to discuss funding for the Michigan Primary Care Association, and while she was trapped in committee meetings all week, my Aunt Cyndi took my cousin and me around the city. We walked around all of the monuments, stopped in as many Smithsonian museums as we possibly could, ate hot dogs out of street vendor’s carts, rode in taxis for the first time, yet there was just one place my cousin and I wanted to go back to, again and again. The Air and Space Museum. Still, to this day, it is the gold standard for museums as far as I am concerned. Because it doesn’t just capture the awe, the elation, the victory of man’s pursuit of flight. But also the fear. The uncertainty. The terror. The failing.

The Air and Space Museum was also the first place where I heard John F. Kennedy say those immortal words, “We do these things . . . not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” I heard those words again yesterday at the Children’s Museum. I felt that swell of pride again. That hardening of spirit. That grim determinedness. That feeling, not of success, but of attempt. Of trying. For something bigger. Something grander. Something more important than the self.

And I cried.

When Kennedy spoke about America’s plans to enter and accelerate the space race, he used Sir George Mallory’s (failed) expedition to Mount Everest as an example. Mallory (who would die on the mountain), when asked why he wanted to climb Everest, simply replied, “Because it’s there.”

There is a mountain before us, dear readers.

A mountain of hate.

A mountain of intolerance.

A mountain of fear.

A mountain of desperate myopia and misguided self-preservation.

A mountain of isolationism.

And it’s there.

It is not space. It is not black sky. It is not a snow covered peak. And because it is not all of these things, it can feel overwhelming. Because it is not easily defined by things such as elevation, atmospheric density, gravity, or GPS coordinates, it feels insurmountable. It feels terrifying. Its very indefinability makes it feel impossibly large. Impossibly powerful. Impossibly invisible.

But it’s there. Trust me.

And we can summit it.

It’s hard. It’s been hard, I know. But I’m begging you: Continue to resist. Continue to speak. Continue to fight. Continue to uphold the ideals of humanity, of empathy, of what is right. Because that is what we are. Right. We are right. We who see value in every human, in the flawed, messy, horrible shit show that is modern existence? We are right. We are correct. I know it as surely as I know the Sun will rise. (And the Sun will rise. And so can we.)

Though, of course, knowing that we are right, that history will recognize our collective fight against this current administration as the correct, the true, the just path, that doesn’t make the fight any easier. Like Kennedy said, these things are hard. They are terrifying. They make us afraid, because they should make us afraid. This stuff is scary. And I’ve been afraid. I’ve been afraid every single day for months now.

But the thought of doing nothing has made me more afraid.

We will not break. They think we will, because they think we are already broken.

But we are not.

We are not broken.

Transgender friends, you are not broken.

Women, you are not broken.

LGBTQI friends, you are not broken.

Friends of color, you are not broken.

Friends of different nations, you are not broken.

Friends of all religions, you are not broken.

Ill and disabled friends, you are not broken.

Elderly and infirm friends, you are not broken.

Academic friends, you are not broken.

Suffering friends, you are not broken.

You are not a problem to be “fixed.”

You are not a burden.

No human is a burden.

Say it again.

No. Human. Is. A. Burden.

You are not a cross that some mythic “rest of us” are forced to bear. You are not a deviation from “normal.” You belong.

We are not broken.

And they cannot break us.

It feels like we are outnumbered. It feels like we are out-financed. Out-powered. Out-shouted. Every day. It feels like a terrifying time to be alive. It feels like it would be easier, nicer, cleaner, quieter, to just hunker down, plug my ears to the maddening crowd, and sail through these next few years, hoping for the best. It would be an easy thing to do, given my economic and racial privilege. Easy to just wish it all away.

But I’m not going to do what’s easy.

I’m going to fight.

Because it’s hard.

I’m going to continue to speak here. I’m going to continue to attend meetings and rallies. I’m going to continue to wear symbols of resistance. And I’m going to try to overcome my fears and speak when I see the mountain rise up before me. The frightening, horrifying, invisible mountain that grows without warning, from all corners of my quiet Midwestern life. The mountain hurled my way by a flippant comment from an elderly man at the grocery store. The mountain suddenly dividing me and a friend. The mountain between my family and our physicians. It is terrifying to face the mountain. Even harder to climb it. But being slowly crushed by its weight is surely worse. Hearing the muffled screams of those already suffocating under its mass is surely more impossibly nightmarish than continuing to sleep quietly in my own protected valley. Surely.

I have to overcome my fears. I have to start speaking louder. I have to join those already climbing the mountain. I have to be ready with oxygen for those trying to escape the atmosphere. I have to. We have to.

Not because it’s easy.

But because it is hard.

IMG_20170428_180241_958

The pain was sudden, intense, and sharp. I yelled as an electric shock ran down the back of my leg, causing my knee to buckle instantly. I didn’t have time to react as my left leg gave out underneath me. I was practically to the floor before I was even aware that I was falling. Luckily, my husband caught me, stopping me from hitting the concrete.

“What just happened?” The surprise was quickly morphing into concern as he looked at me.

“I don’t know. I was just standing up, and it’s like someone stuck a cattle prod on my left butt cheek. It felt like I was electrocuted!”

The next day, I saw my primary care doctor, who is a specialist in sports medicine. After an X-ray and physical examination, she stood back. “Well, it looks like you are having a combination of issues. I’d say you probably have some bursitis in your left hip, some IT band inflammation in your left knee, and you have what’s called ‘piriformis syndrome’ in your left hip and buttock. Basically, you have some big inflammation all down your left leg, and part of that inflammation is squeezing your sciatic nerve, which is what created that electricity feeling and caused you to fall. It’s serious, but totally something we can take care of with anti-inflammatories and physical therapy.”

But physical therapy just wasn’t a viable possibility for me. In order to come in two to three times a week, I’d have to find a sitter for the girls—spending quite a large sum of money, taking quite a large chunk of time—and results could only be promised insofar as I was able to continue the exercises at home (if my issues responded to them at all). My doctor understood my concerns, and she suggested that I learn a few stretches to do at home. “You could also look up some good stretching videos online. Like yoga.”

Immediately after leaving my doctor (a prescription for powerful anti-inflammatories in my fist), I texted my friend, Sara, who has been practicing and teaching yoga for 7 years.

Three days later, I had my first yoga lesson. I spent a good five minutes, just trying to stand in Samasthitih (saam-i-sittee)—the neutral standing “pose” that is seriously just standing with your weight equally dispersed between your feet, and your arms at your sides. I realized that my weight was primarily on my right leg. (I was naturally trying to spare my injured left leg by taking my weight off of it.) I was amazed that I had never noticed before just how off-balance my body had been feeling. Finally, I found my center, and learned Sun Salutation A, and the first couple of standing poses in the Primary Series (the sequence that all practitioners learn when they first start Ashtanga yoga).

It has been three months since I first started Ashtanga (for clarity, most people know it as “Power Yoga,” but that’s really a misnomer). After three days, I stopped taking the anti-inflammatories. They just weren’t necessary anymore. After two months, I ran a 5k with no prior training other than yoga. I haven’t experienced any recurring pain from my injuries (though my left hip is definitely tighter than my right, and requires a little more caution when manipulating certain poses), and my overall strength and endurance have skyrocketed. While I’m not “back” at running yet (the 5k was for a charity and put on by my cousin. I try to do it every year), I have started walking again, and the paces that I can now maintain just astonish me. Whereas walking a 15-minute mile prior to beginning my practice (that’s what you call a daily yoga exercise. A practice) would have left me sweaty and breathing heavily, even when I was running the most, now, I find myself barely perspiring. I often will have to remind myself that my walks are not for leisure, but exercise, and that I should be pushing myself more to get my heart rate up.

Sara, my yoga instructor, told me that a regular practice would change me. I secretly scoffed at the strange, New Agey idea that an hour a day of bends, lifts, concentrated breathing, and asanas (poses) would really “change” anything. I mean, physically? Of course! But mentally? Spiritually? Besides the pleasant release of endorphins that I expect from any exercise, I just didn’t see how that was going to happen. After all, I was a ballet minor in college. I’ve been dancing since I was four. I’ve been a runner for six years. Surely, if I was going to change from a physical activity, it would have happened by now.

Then, just this week, I met with Sara for my weekly lesson. I had had a frustrating week. Sara challenged me with trying headstands for the first time, and I could barely bring myself into the pose that you take before you actually do the headstand. I was stuck in that position, trying to breathe deeply, but just gasping, while the sweat dripped down into my eyes and nostrils. I wasn’t completing a headstand so much as I was thinking about maybe, one day, building up the strength to try one. But, what was even worse, I was feeling particularly frustrated with something called my “vinyasa.” A vinyasa is a transition. It moves you from one asana (pose) to the next. It’s the movement that comes in between the actual movements you have to achieve. And it’s hard.

Basically, when you “take your vinyasa” or “flow through your vinyasa” in the Primary Series of Ashtanga, you are trying to move your legs from being straight out in front of you in a seated pose, to being straight out behind you in a plank (chaturanga) position. You do this by bringing your legs up to your chest, lifting your butt off the floor with your hands, and then tucking your legs between your arms (while you are still suspended) before jumping or stepping your feet back to chaturanga. Here’s a video of it, since it’s kind of hard to describe:

I’ve spent weeks struggling with my vinyasa. I could feel my body lifting internally, but nothing seemed to be budging on the outside. It was as though my bones were lifting up, but all of the non-solid stuff—the fat, the skin, the stretch marks, the ingrown hairs, all of what I perceived as my “ugliness”—refused to move off the floor. I would “take my vinyasa” by grunting, gasping, pushing with all of my might against the floor, only to remain exactly where I was, until I was forced to take another breath, and just walk my legs behind me to get into chaturanga.

I opened my lesson with a diatribe against vinyasa. Feeling unable to do a headstand felt justified. After all, I knew people whose lifelong fitness goal was to “do the headstand in yoga.” But the vinyasa? The transition? The thing that is just supposed to take you from one place to the next? Why did that have to be so hard??

I began my practice, with Sara watching me, breathing with me, and adjusting me as needed. When the sweat began spilling from my face, she quietly placed a towel by my side, and gave me a breath or two to wipe down my slippery hands and feet. When I would bend forward, she’d appear behind me, firmly yet gently pushing down on my back, lengthening it until my forehead suddenly touched down on my ankles. Sara’s quiet, steady strength is inspiring, to say the least. Then, when it came time to take my vinyasa, she just said, quietly, almost in a murmur, “Take an extra exhale to just set the bandhas (your lower pelvic region and core), and then lengthen your arms on the inhale.”

I exhaled, feeling my fingers spread and my palms flatten. Feeling the texture of the mat, and thinking about keeping my entire palm flat on the floor. Thinking about using my fingers to help with the push. I inhaled.

And lifted.

There is a similar pose in Ashtanga called “utpluthih” (oot-ploot-teehee). Translated from the Sanskrit, it means “uprooting.” You sit in lotus position, put your hands down at your sides, and push up. Having pulled bushes, trees, and about twelve incredibly deep and stubborn rose bushes out of my yard, I was already very aware of how difficult “uprooting” can be.

utpluthih

Utpluthih

But I realized in that moment, that second of lifting up, that I wasn’t really uprooting myself. I was re-rooting. I was still attached to the ground. Just finding a new way of connecting to it. I couldn’t get my legs to swing back without touching the ground, but I was able to pivot my body forward, walking my legs between my arms on my tiptoes, and as I swung my legs through, I felt the gentle twist of my muscles. Wrapping around my arms from my shoulder blades, around the tops of my shoulders, wrapping back around my triceps, around and around, until the muscles spread into my fingertips. And in that moment, as I was feeling the spiral of my own strength going down into the ground, I thought about the apple trees on my parents’ orchard, growing over the years and decades and generations in a slow twist, spiraling out of the ground and spreading up, turning to find the sun, the wind, the rain, the moonlight. So slow and steady, and so trusting of time, that the only evidence of their continuous twist towards the sun is in the steady wrap of bark around their trunks.

It was a second and a half, but I felt all of those things. That I was like the inverted apple tree, spinning, slowing screwing myself down into the ground. That I wasn’t uprooted, but re-rooted. Flipped. Upside down, but still upright. That strength is different from power. That I realized that wanting power (and calling it “power” yoga) is an exercise in ego, and that ego has no place in my practice. That the tree is powerful. It does not have power. That those two things are very, very different. It was the most incredible, meditative moment of my life thus far.

I collapsed in chaturanga, laughing. “My arms are trees,” I gasped. “My arms are trees!”

I can’t say where my yoga practice will take me. I can’t even say that I will maintain it, or pursue it into more complicated series (there are 5 after the Primary Series, and after 3 months, I’m still only at the halfway point in the Primary). But I can say that it has, in fact, changed me. I’m liking the change. I’m liking the re-rooting. The rerouting as it were. I like that it’s forcing me (quite literally) to look at my world from different perspectives. Ashtanga is here for me at exactly the time it needed to be. It’s healed me. It continues to heal me. And that’s some crazy, New Agey shit for sure. But I like it.

Alert: Major spoilers ahead!

My girls’ latest obsession has been Disney’s newest princess film Moana. And for good reason. Moana is full of humor, action, self-discovery, and is set in the incredible backdrop of the Pacific Ocean (which becomes its own mischievous character and Moana’s friend). It makes history as the first “princess” movie from Disney that does not include a love story, or even the hint of a love story. The titular character actually fervently denies being a princess at one point, explaining to her Demigod partner, Maui, that she’s “the daughter of the chief,” to which he shrugs, “Same difference . . . If you’re wearing a dress and have an animal sidekick, you are a princess.” Furthermore, it is the first of the Disney canon to feature a non-white princess for whom her race and social status is not in any way an issue. She (and everyone around her) just is. A fantastic comment on equality, by making no comment on it at all.

In many ways, it is not your typical princess film (both of her parents live!), and that is welcome news for a modern audience with distinct Pink Fatigue.

So, why does Moana give me that sick, familiar feeling again? That cross between fear, shame, worry, anxiety, and sadness that I’ve known for fifteen years now. Why can’t I watch it with enjoyment, but ambivalence? Why does the refrain “know who you are” cut so, so deeply?

The revelation hit me like a slap in the face. Like a sharp pain, deep down, in my most intimate, private places, places that I alone can feel. I suddenly knew.

Moana is about rape.

Maui rapes Te Fiti, the Mother Island, and the movie is, ultimately, about Moana helping Te Fiti to heal from her assault, but only after she helps Maui heal from his toxic masculinity and learn humility.

maui

The premise of Moana is that the demigod, Maui (played to perfection by Dwayne Johnson), travels to Te Fiti and steals her “heart.” Te Fiti, the Mother Goddess, has the power to create life, and Maui is convinced that her heart will give him that same power. Using his giant fish hook (a clear metaphor for his masculinity/phallus), Maui violently pries Te Fiti’s “heart” from the middle of her “spiral” located at the center of the Mother Island. However, once Maui takes the heart (a small, smooth stone that is intricately carved with a spiral, swirled pattern), he discovers that it has lost all power, that it is “just a rock.” The Mother Island starts to spread death around to every island, and what is more, the stolen heart is now seen as a prized artifact for a whole ocean full of monsters, but mostly for the fearsome Ta Ka, a demon of fire and lava. Ta Ka rises once Maui steals the heart, and she is powerful enough to actually knock the fleeing Maui out of the sky, and separate him from his magical fish hook, dooming him to a thousand years of emasculated, non-magical solitude on a desert island.

It is easy to see how Moana becomes a metaphor for sexual assault. The smooth, round “heart” that is taken from Te Fiti without her consent is a magical object capable of creating “life,” a clear stand-in for her womb/vagina/womanhood. But, importantly, it is a thing that becomes worthless when it is removed from the Goddess from whence it originated. Maui’s fish hook, even if it weren’t enormously phallus in its mere size and shape, becomes the representation of his masculinity, the thing that makes him “awesome again,” the source of all of his power. Yet, siginificantly, it is Moana who sees that Maui is not, in fact, defined by his hook, and that the hook itself does not possess the power he needs to become a hero “to all.” He attempts to use his hook to fight off Ta Ka in order to replace the heart, but is defeated—multiple times—and his hook is eventually destroyed in the process. This is when the audience discovers that an act of violence cannot undo a violent act. Only an act of love and compassion.

Moana, in an attempt to return the heart herself, discovers that Te Fiti, the Mother Island, has sunk into the sea, and reemerged as the demon Ta Ka herself. Te Fiti’s anger, sadness, and fear that resulted from Maui’s attack transformed her into a monster of fire and lava, a beacon of death instead of a thing that creates life. Maui did not remove her powers to create life. Instead, his attack left her no choice but to deny her life-giving powers. To coat her heart in fire and ash, so that no creature could come close to her. Could hurt her again. Once Moana sees that Ta Ka and Te Fiti are one and the same, she turns to the monster with compassion. With love. The climactic moment when Moana restores Te Fiti is one of incredible beauty, but also incredible sadness, as any act of hard-won forgiveness must be.

Translated from the Polynesian language Tuvalu, the choral lyrics read:

Let the tears fall down.

My heart is filled with sorrow

For we have lost

Many loved ones

For we have lost.

Moana is truly a powerful character, as she explains to Ta Ka, “They have stolen the heart from inside you / But this does not define you / This is not who you are. / You know who you are.” For Ta Ka/Te Fiti, seeing and hearing Moana acknowledge her long-lingering pain—hearing that it is not merely Te Fiti who feels sorrow, but all of us who have “lost,” without any conclusion or end or resolution—binds Moana and Ta Ka in a community that the far-distant, long-dead island was desperate to discover. (Indeed, the entire film could be considered an extended argument in connectivity, in equality, and the potential dangers of isolationism.) Further, Moana reassures Ta Ka/Te Fiti that her heart “does not define you,” that it is not “who you are.” Te Fiti’s loss, and the terror of the memory of her violation consumed her (just as her protective lava spread and consumed all that she had created), and for a thousand years, alone and frightened, Te Fiti was unable to consider herself anything other than that which used to contain the heart. Used to contain that which supported life. Used to be the vessel of creation. It is Moana who sees beyond the significance of the physical heart, to Te Fiti’s figurative “heart,” her soul, her being, her power in an of herself, separate from the stone itself. Moana sees Te Fiti as whole and complete, even without the physical piece that had been taken so violently from her. She sees the victim, not as broken, but as whole, and this creates true healing.

Maui, meanwhile, must prove that he is worthy of forgiveness for his sexualized act of aggression against Te Fiti. So long as his personality and ego remains inextricable from his fish hook, he is irredeemable. Being separated from his hook for a thousand years, as he in the film’s beginning, has done nothing to diminish the centrality of his hook in his definition of himself. It has only solidified it. Meeting Moana, he only agrees to assist her in her quest to return Te Fiti’s heart under the condition of them also journeying to retrieve his hook from another monster, Tamatoa (a truly GREAT character, by the way). The film does an excellent job demonstrating the fragility of hypermasculinity such as Maui’s, though, as it shows the roller coaster of emotions the demigod rides even after his is reunited with his precious hook. Maui’s happiness is not, in fact, connected to his fish hook: it is more a source of anxiety, uncertainty, fear, and doubt (as all hypermasculinity must be, since it is defined and walled by rigid, impossible standards of masculine perfection that are at once perceived as concrete and ever-changing). First, he must relearn how to correctly use his hook, and instead of shrugging off his rusty magic as simply the result of a millennia without it, Maui flops to the ground, groans repeatedly, and then softly sings, “Hey, it’s okay, it’s okay. We’re dead soon!” His very life is over because his hook/phallus won’t submit to his will immediately. Secondly, even after he learns how to once again wield the hook, his first attack against Ta Ka results in his hook being damaged and cracked. Instead of depression, now though, Maui is angry and fearful. His hook could be destroyed. Permanently. So, he reacts against the woman who “forced” him to risk his hook in the first place: Moana. “We’re here because the ocean told you you were someone special, and you’re not!” He calls Moana a “girl” and a “princess.” Words that are clearly meant as insults. Then, he uses his hook one last time, to transform into a giant hawk that will take him across the waters, far away from Moana.

The audience does not see Maui’s eventual emotional turn. He merely reappears after Moana has decided to return the heart to Te Fiti herself. We can only assume that it is the love and, yes, respect he feels for Moana that inspires his return. He feels protective of Moana, but not because he sees her as a weak “princess” but as a fellow warrior against the death and darkness. Now, instead of girl or child, he calls her “Moana,” and voluntarily decides to help her against Ta Ka, even if his actions could result in the permanent destruction of his hook/phallus. For Maui, Moana’s faith gives him the confidence to believe that he is more than merely the wielder of his fish hook. She empowers him with the knowledge “Hook. No hook. I’m Maui.” By the end of the film, his masculinity is not exclusively connected to the “magic” of his phallus, but to the extent of his loyalty, and his selfless acts. When his hook does indeed get destroyed, instead of running, or lashing out angrily, or falling to the ground, Maui stands and faces Ta Ka. He performs a “haka” dance, a traditional Maori warrior dance meant to instill fear and elicit a challenge to enemies. Maui’s dance is the moment of his true growth. Even without his phallus, he knows how to perform his masculinity in a way that is distinct to him, while also connecting him to the human community he was born into, and to his sense of self that is whole and complete, without the physical representation that is his hook. Both Te Fiti and Maui, then, discover that they are complete, whole, and connected to a wider world without those physical things that are the representations of their respective genders.

Of course, the lingering, troubling, painful moment for me(and for so many others who are also triggered by the themes running throughout this film), is the moment of forgiveness. The moment when Te Fiti, newly restored into the Mother Island/Goddess by Moana’s act of loving bravery, creates a new fish hook for Maui, gives him is masculinity once again, and forgives his past transgressions. Maui, genuinely humbled, apologizes to Te Fiti, and admits, “What I did was wrong. I have no excuse.” To which Te Fiti responds with a new hook. Significantly, Maui does not touch the new hook until Moana gives him permission to do so, because he is uncertain how to respond to this (undoubtedly not-entirely-earned) gift. Then, Maui thanks Te Fiti. For the first time in the entire movie, this character, who is known for singing “You’re welcome!” over and over to what he has assumed were the grateful and prostrate masses, says a sincere “Thank you” to the Goddess he has wronged, and who has carried the pain of that wrong for a thousand years.

Te_Fiti

Perhaps it is a sign of my own mortality that I cannot forgive as readily as a Goddess. Perhaps it is petty and bitter of me to think with anger about Maui’s overall likability. His humor. His large smile and witty retorts. Perhaps I focus too much on the silent, smiling Mother, and allow myself to feel too strongly the injustice of her stagnant-yet-beautiful form in the water compared to this lovable rogue who is free to fly across the oceans. Perhaps I see my own silence too much. Perhaps my own isolation. Perhaps my own fears that the one who hurt me, so long ago, sees me not as a woman who for too long has been consumed by the terrible question of “Where is my worth, my self, my power centered?” but as an artifact to be treasured and coveted, owned and displayed.

Perhaps I’m not ready yet.

Perhaps I’ve been ready for too long.

But nobody has traveled the oceans yet to heal me.

So, I watch Moana with joy, and with laughter. And with tears and dread.

It is a wonderful film. But it is one that I don’t think I will ever be able to watch without that feeling. That pain.

A pain that, I’m sure, even if I were to live a thousand years, would never truly subside.

Tomorrow, I’m going home to Michigan. To a place I love dearly. “Camp Quinn.” Every summer, when my older sister went to sleep-away camp, I was sent to Terry and Mary Quinn’s house. Mary taught me how to make rag rugs. Terry would let me sit in the front of his pontoon boat and dangle my toes in the water while we puttered around the lake in the back of their house. We’d talk about books. We’d try (and fail) to catch fish. We’d bake pies.

Terry died last Friday night. After a nearly 20-year struggle with emphysema. His funeral is tomorrow. And I finally cried tonight.

There are times when it seems the universe conspires to make you cry.

When you drive home, alone, and hear an unfamiliar song on the radio.

And, half-listening, you catch a lyric about smoking hand-rolled cigarettes.

About being a child.

About being an adult.

About watching a sunset with someone.

With you. With You.

And you think about the unexpected text you received, not ten minutes ago, from a far-distant friend, talking about the pain of missing. About the emptiness that is left behind. The You-shaped hole inside. Talking about how missing is a physical ache. A psychological torture.

And you glance, out of habit, into your backseat, to check on the children. But they’re not there. You’ve dropped them off for the night, or the afternoon, or the hour, or the weekend. And you know that you’re alone. But something in your brain—or your heart—still insists upon checking. Upon looking back.

Back when I was a dancer, we used to have entire classes devoted just to stretching. Long, slow, arduous stretches that made you gasp and sweat with exertion. You’d strain your body, trying to reach as far as you can, your muscles and body and brain screaming in unison, asking you to stop. Telling you it was useless. That you were held as far as you can. That there was nothing left for your body to give. Long, long minutes would be spent in that tight, strained agony. Then, suddenly, it would happen. A desperate gasp of air would finally float, find its way down to your muscles, filling them with breath. And something would release. Without feeling anything in particular—doing anything in particular—your body would simply stop fighting. And let you reach further.

And there, sitting in your car, driving down the familiar roads towards your home, you feel that breath reach down into your chest. Into that tight spot you’ve been carrying around. Filling it with the air that hasn’t been able to reach it for days. And without doing anything at all—doing anything in particular—your body, your brain, your heart simply stops fighting.

And now the road is a fog that you can’t see through the tears that have collected on your eyelashes.

Five minutes.

Five violent minutes.

You sob.

You choke.

Every breath shakes your body.

You park in your driveway and sit, engine running, with your forehead pressed against the steering wheel.

And between your gasps and sobs, you say it. Out loud. Louder than you should. Louder than you were expecting.

“Goddammit.”

“Goddammit, Terry.”

Because you remember the sunsets. And the boat rides. And watching him roll those cigarettes. One after another. Every evening. With the big, white dog sitting at his feet. Back before he knew what they were doing to him. Before the air started to leave, slowly. Before it squeezed out of his lungs. A bit, a bit at a time. Before he knew that he would never be able to bring that air down into the tight places in his chest again. Before he knew.

Or maybe he did know then.

And you know now.

You only know it now.

He helped raise you.

He helped shape you.

He helped you become who you are.

And you never told him.

Goddammit, Terry. Goddammit, cigarettes. Goddammit, me.

You finally exit your car, and walk into your house. Not quite a run. But faster than usual. You dread seeing a neighbor.

You take a tissue, and dry your face. Your neck. Your chest. The collar of your shirt is wet.

But your eyes are dry.

After five violent minutes.

And you are ashamed, but relieved, but ashamed to be relieved, that it only took five minutes.

The storm was furious.

But it was blessedly short.

And now you can breathe.

Without seeming to do anything, something released. Something let go.

The air finally reached your muscles. Your brain. Your chest. Your heart.

And you see the gift that he has given you.

The gift of the sunsets.

The gift of the white dog’s thick, thick fur.

The gift of those damn cigarettes. Hand rolled. One after another. After another.

And the gift.

The gift of this breath.

Goodbye, dear, dear friend. I know that you read everything I ever wrote. I hope some part of you can see this too. It’s for you.