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Balance in a Roll

September 7, 2017 • By

I do yoga. Don’t laugh. At a studio with the word ‘balance’ on its banner. Stop laughing.  My yogic beginnings are humble and certainly predestined, by Life.

I drove past a weather-beaten sandwich sign five or six times a week for over a year.  It looked lonely but stable; perched on the sidewalk in front of a stately old house divided into apartment units.  Plastic letters spelled out Yoga Classes.

Spring 2010 had landed me in weeks of physical therapy for what started as a shoulder issue. But as the song goes, ‘the shoulder is connected to the neck bones’, and that’s where the whole problem was. One month of biweekly appointments nestled in a computerized traction system and I could turn a doorknob and sometimes the ignition key without a wince.  The prospect of lifting that arm over my head any time soon was idealistic. I was on the lookout for an apparatus and pharmaceutical-free cure.

Slow traffic one morning behind the convoy of logging trucks heading east to a paper mill required me to stop directly in front of that sign. I chuckled reading the oxymoron. A life in balance was everything mine wasn’t. But as idling seconds ticked away, humorous skepticism pushed to one side of my thoughts leaving space to consider the potential. Traffic moved and a decision was made. I would try this yoga thing out.

Late evening, I Googled the name of the studio. The home page listed six classes through the week. My schedule allowed one option, Friday morning at 8:30. I penciled ‘yoga’ on the kitchen calendar.

Friday’s sunshine and green tea chased with half a pot of java produced motivation to arrive early. I peeled running crops from the corner of a drawer and grabbed an identity free t-shirt. I wanted to avoid any symbols suggesting I had a personality. One glance at the mirror confirmed it: I had no aspiration to bend into a pretzel shape that or any day.

What am I thinking?

I backed out the driveway waiting for my hyperactive gut to dump into my bladder and compel me to pull forward. Thoughts thumped at both temples.

Do they have yoga mats? Should I mention my arthritic neck, my grating knees, my locking jaw? Will the teacher notice I can’t lift my right arm? Can you do yoga with glasses?

Reasons to turn back home multiplied, but Life propelled the car and I drove the two miles. Turning onto the side street I saw cars parked at the back of the huge house. Clearly this lot was reserved for residents. I drove past and started to sweat.

Should I park there? What if someone comes home and I took their spot? If there isn’t even a place to park they must not really want anyone to come. 

Half a block further, one illegal U-turn, and I resolved to purchase a yoga video and wake seven days out of seven to an individualized practice. I could find a shoulder cure on my own.

Life steered and I pulled to the curb searching for a No Parking sign. None found, so I stopped and got out, then wrapped myself in the persona of a nine-year old. I looked both ways, crossed the street, and followed the sidewalk all the way around to the front of the house missing every crack. Facing front, there were three possible entrances.

This is crazy. It’s like Let’s Make A Deal!

I had the costume on, but which door?  I stepped onto the creaking porch and made my way toward the middle one. Life made the right choice.

Crossing the threshold onto a hardwood floor I noticed a slight buckle under my feet. Two front rooms formed a t-shaped studio in this massive old place. Morning light filtered through every window covered with yards of muslin cinched in the middle with a ribbon. It was warm, it was quiet. And I was really early.

“Good morning.” Two words bounced across the sunshine and off the walls.

“Good morning.” Out came my automated voice, octaves higher than normal.

Think she can tell I’m a yoga virgin?

“Welcome!” With legs up to my bellybutton, this exceptionally young woman could no doubt bend in half forward or backward, on a dime. I felt short and stiff.

Her face was covered in smile. I mimicked the gesture, “I’m Patty,” and reached out my hand holding the two damp fivers crushed in my palm. The nine-year-old impulse to rip off my glasses and launch into a backbend was overwhelming.

“I parked along the curb across the street. I hope that’s okay?”

“Oh yea, you should be fine.”

Did she say should? Does she mean the cars there aren’t usually ticketed most Friday mornings? But sometimes they are ticketed? I can’t afford a ticket.

She introduced a few studio ground rules, pointed out the door to the bathroom in the hallway and opened a wall cupboard stuffed with brown mats, foam blocks, thick blankets, and coiled straps. An image of medieval torture chambers wedged into my already crowded head. I pulled out a mat and unrolled it on the floor toward a comfortable looking corner where I would be out of the way and with luck, out of her sight.

The door creaked opened. Another woman stepped inside. She wore tight fitting crops and a lovely top, robin’s egg blue. She carried her own mat and didn’t wear glasses. I sat down on my borrowed brown one and felt I was waiting for the dentist’s chair during Sunday Mass; praying for something good to happen, but expecting the need to perform penance for prior transgressions first. They chattered friendly sounds. The teacher handed me a clipboard holding a blank form and a pen. I felt more comfortable with my head down.

I recorded the basics- name, email and yes, my age. I wrote ‘herniated disc’ on the line printed for special considerations and casually added that I was a runner when the weather was good. That’s over-fifty lingo for ‘I-am-always-in-some-kind-of pain.’ She was young and would only read the running part. By the time I checked boxes and filled in all the blanks, two other women had joined the class. They unrolled their mats, stretched, and sat silent basking in the rays of morning sun.

My memory of the next hour is vague. I was certainly there moment to moment, bending, reaching, and twisting. A steady voice offered gentle instructions every breath of the way. Once I tipped upside down self-consciousness waned while chronic competitiveness pushed from the bottoms of my arthritic toes to the ends of my hair which should have been pulled back so I could see. I vowed to practice every pose at home demonstrating rapid improvement to my new teacher the next Friday.

Class ended with all hands giving thanks. I rolled up the mat, returned it to the cupboard, and wondered if I should have asked to clean it first. The others filed out still quiet, still smiling. I expected they had already drifted toward Nirvana.

“Thank you very much.”

“You did great! Was this your first time doing yoga?”

A smile and a nod. I fumbled for my glasses on the windowsill.

“Well, I hope you liked it.”

“I did. Thank you.”

“Hope to see you again.” Our eyes met. She meant it.

Seven years later I feel like one of the founding mats at the studio. Life has continued to change my world since that unlikely day.  Inside that space I discover strength and possibilities both in stillness and shared chuckles whenever we reach back trying to find our toes. The acceptance, the kindness, the giving is ever-present. Many more classes are offered now, each lead by a gifted teacher. Together we bend, twist, reach, and breathe. Together we look inward so we are better people outward. Most days I roll up a balanced life inside my mat and head home to anything but. No matter, I honor the Life in me and the Life in every person there.




Loose Fittings

May 31, 2017 • By

Four days of spring rain. I spent them writing. About serious things. My binge started in a place of self-acceptance. That lasted two hours. I tapped on the keys and got sad and sadder. I took breaks, but chose the wrong distraction, MSNBC. I sulked after day one and whined all day two. Day three I yipped sarcasm at my computer monitor and every car that drove past the house. Day four I exhaled obscenities.

This morning was cloudy, cool, and breezy, but no rain. Time to get outside.

First on my list, wash our 2002 Toyota Camry, white. And no (Child #1), it does not have a backup camera. This vehicle was part of the family. I dug out the fancy golden car wash liquid from the back shelf. Household dish soap was not good enough for this dependable beauty.

Bucket, soap, brush, and mitt collected, I turned the spigot. And noticed the leak puddling on the blacktop. I suspected a loose reel-to-rubber-connection was the cause. If I unwound the hose completely, I could press out any kink, rewind the hose and voilà, no more leak.

Water off.

Someone (husband) neglected to tell me the hose reel, looking tidy as ever inside a gray poly plastic cube, did not unwind easily. Or at all. Assuming a squat, my right hand pushed the handle counterclockwise while my left grabbed the next two-foot section of hose and tugged. Did I mention the bone spurs in my right shoulder?

The hose snaked in misshaped figure eights in front of the dirty car. I got a pair of pliers and a small hand towel. I protected the two-inch section of kinked hose with the towel and gently pressed it round with the pliers. I was no novice at DIY projects. I had YouTube.

Tools back in their box, I returned to my squat and reversed the process. My left arm straightened the hose while the right pressed the handle forward. Every few seconds I hit a rhythm. In between I re-positioned the hose on the reel to wind a perfect balance of coils left to right leaving enough hose out to fill the bucket and rinse the car.

Spigot back on. So was the leak.

Fuck it. I had done the best job possible. Obviously the reel, the hose, and the fittings were junk.


Card Catalog Crush

May 11, 2017 • By

Profound discoveries happen behind the wheel of a car and when my mouth is foaming with paste meant for sensitive older teeth.

“I may have a problem.” A meek morning confession began at our common sink.

A problem?” My husband spit.

“Okay, I may have a problem to add to my list.”

“This one?” His gargled monotone was mildly irritating, but he’s had me around nearly forty years.

“I may have an unnatural infatuation with libraries.”

One more spit, a grunt, and he left for work.

I often wondered if there was such a thing as a library craving and if that could ever go too far. There might even be a label for the affliction. Perhaps I harbored latent longings to be a librarian. I didn’t think so, although I had been asked at Border’s several times, “Can you tell me where the biographies are?” Of course I could and accepted the question as a compliment. My husband said it had something to do with the way I dressed.

Teaching undergraduates on several campuses for thirty-one years may have pushed my affection for libraries to the level of problem. What tipped me off?

The final, final exam was proctored early today. Grading began soon after the first was dropped on my desk. Most of the past two days had been spent grading other exams. The rubric was fresh in my mind. An assortment of colored pens ready, I dug in.

Seven hours and twenty minutes later scores were recorded, grades computed on a spreadsheet. Semester over. I was done.



I clicked grades off to the Registrar’s office and inhaled the freshest air in four months. Freedom. Weeks and weeks of blank pages on my calendar. And I had a plan: get to the library and stockpile books. After all, I did have one faculty perk: NO DUE DATES.

Lips lifted to a satisfied smile. I ambled past the faculty room. A couple of colleagues leaned on file cabinets sucking down leftover donuts from their morning exam snackfests. I had forgotten to stop and pick up a positive student evaluation bribe—again. My mind was focused on the book wish list I penned before sunrise.

Every corner of the library was occupied. The final crunch of the last munch of information was being shoved into young minds. A few students had taken up semi-permanent residency on the corner couches barricaded by Monster drink cans and chips that could last the week. I weaved my way through computer clusters with eyes straight ahead to avoid casting unmerited looks of sympathy. Some coeds were no doubt visiting for the first time since the early February thaw.

My feet echoed up the familiar flight of steps to the door labeled ‘Quiet Floor’ where one could sleep undisturbed. I paced my quest and pulled the wish list from my worn tote, now light and roomy. Amazing how much weight dozens of ungraded words organized into essays added to paper, to my life.