01 Jul 2018

when it’s time to soften

me, a few years ago.

Any word taken to its edge is perilous.

Years ago, I took a yoga class. At the time, I’d been practicing for 6 years, 5 days a week & I thought I was the BUSINESS. Here I was executing arm balances and spending Saturdays at kirtan. On this particular day, my teacher was prepping us for bound triangle pose or baddha trikonasana. I said to myself, girl, you SO got this. My teacher walked over and tapped me on the shoulder, leaned in, and said not today, love. She knew my body and its limitations (one of my arms is longer than the other because of a car accident I had as a child and a broken collarbone that never set right). She knew my practice. And she also knew about my arrogance, which was foreign to me at the time. I ignored her and tore my hamstring, an injury which took a year to heal. Later, she talked to me about ambition. The word, in and of itself, is noble. We pursue the things we want with fervor. We’re focused and determined. However, push a word to its edge and ambition blinds you. It’s like a blanket smothering the rational part of you that tells you to back out of the pose. Just breathe. You’re not ready yet. All you could see is your want and your hunger for it. Everything else, however logical, is a distraction.

It would take me years to listen, even more, to understand. My ambition, the blind desire for the world and everything in it, had swallowed me whole. Back then, I went at everything so fucking hard.

I look at pictures of me at Brooklyn BodyBurn the year I moved to Los Angeles and I was FIT. My language was violent. I was crushing it. Killing itIn beast mode. I was surgical about my workouts and I calibrated everything I put in my mouth. I wanted to be FIT. But if we’re being honest, I wanted to be thin.

Sometimes the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves are often more powerful and persuasive than the truths.

I look at pictures of me from my 20s, bone thin and unhappy. As nostalgia would have it, you forget the unhappiness and the hours you counted before 120 calorie yogurt and a 330 calorie Lean Cuisine lunch. You forget the seven miles a day you ran on the sand and the physical therapy you needed because you’d worn down the cartilage in your knee. You forget yourself in the dressing room, naked, wondering if it’s possible to be smaller. You shouted out, is there anything smaller than a zero, to which an annoyed salesperson responded, we don’t sell negative integers.

God, I used to be an asshole.

I arrived in Los Angeles three years ago this August trim and obsessive about the foods I could and could not eat. In a span of a few months, I felt the weight of all the unresolved history I’d left in New York and it was killing me. Daylight had become an assault and the idea of leaving my home was unimaginable. All I wanted to do was sleep in the bathtub and wrap the curtain tight around me. I was slipping. I ate until I got hives again. Then I saw a doctor for cortisone shots. Then I ordered razor blades off Amazon and I saw a doctor for that too.  

I’ve likely gained 20 lbs since I moved here and I remember walking into a megaformer studio in Los Angeles. Part of me took comfort in the fact that my old habits would get me back to center, to normal (even though I was anything but). Though, it hadn’t occurred to me just how much I’d changed. Depression does that to you. Strips you down to your rawest, most vulnerable self. There exists no fat. Only bone. Midway through the class, I said to myself, this is fucking crazy. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to suffer for a size.

I never went back.

Then there were people in my life who had a disordered relationship with food & their body, which I absorbed. Food was relegated to two camps: virtuous or villain. Carbs were the enemy. If you stop eating X food by Y time, your body will go into fat burning mode. Don’t spin–it increases cortisol, which is an open invitation to the belly fat party. Did you hear that you’re not burning 800 calories in a SoulCyle class? Did you know? And so on. The only “it” I was crushing was what was left of my self.

Those people? Gone, girl. For the past two years, I hated how my body looked. I hated that I no longer wanted to go so hard at everything. That my velocity was no longer something that I admired, it had become the part of me I abhorred. Slowly, my ambition had morphed into some sort of quiet purpose. I’m softer in all aspects of the word. I no longer felt starved; I felt sustained. 

I may have gained a little weight, but I never smiled like this when I was thin.

Then I came back to the mat. At first, I compared myself to what I knew I could do, what I had done!! But that’s dangerous and unkind. There is no comparison, and your body, whether you like or not, changes shape and form and there’s a degree to which fighting that becomes a game of diminishing returns. I no longer wanted to bang out poses, I wanted to breathe through them.

Always, I’m reminded of what my teacher had told me about ego and ambition. The mark of an advanced practitioner is not someone who drops down their mat and kicks up into handstand–that’s ego. The advanced yogi returns to a basics class and re-learns the poses from the ground up as if she’s encountered them for the first time. Think about a book you’ve re-read at various points in your life. Your view of the characters and stories has shifted over the years. What you thought you knew or believed to be true became something new and other. There were new truths. You advance by returning to the foundation, not stacking brick after brick over an unchanged foundation. Soon the ground will give way and all the bricks will become rubble–all because you were too arrogant to revisit and relearn that which you thought you knew. 

That’s the practice.

I’ve always believed that who you are in the mat is who you are in life. Granted, I can’t do all the poses I used to do, but that’s okay. My work is about coming to the mat and being okay with who I am, right now, at this moment in time.

A few days ago, I took a 90-min class and the teacher was exacting and methodical. None of this speed yoga that’s become fashionable at gyms and boutique studios to entertain the perennially I’m so bored set. The class was old school Anusara & Iyengar. Long holds. Complicated sequencing. Crazy discomfort.

I played every pose as it laid because it wasn’t about what I don’t look like or what I can’t do, rather, it’s about what this body can do. Right now. At this moment. How could I be kinder to myself with that knowledge? How do I tell myself it’s okay that I’m no longer a skinny Minnie workout maniac? That it’s okay to eat the damn pasta without feeling the weight of it. That my body is a house that shouldn’t be in demolition.

That there’s nobility in leading a quiet, slower life.

2 Comments

  1. That there’s nobility in leading a quiet, slower life.

    yes yes YES!

    Posted on 7.4.18 · Reply to comment
  2. Karen wrote:

    I love your honesty and thought provoking writing. Thanks for refreshing today. Apology if comment seems quaint, I’m better at composing music, sometimes.

    Posted on 8.29.18 · Reply to comment

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  • We spend our time devoted to the periphery. If periphery was an altar trust that we’d all gather and worship. We cleave to the shiny objects that are social media, email, podcasting—we’re told we have to be diversified—at the expense of the one true thing you create. The thing by which you want to be known and remembered. We give equal (if not more) weight and devotion to that which surrounds our thing instead of getting laser-focused and refining our skills, being a student—all to keep getting better at the thing.
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Trust me, I want to do ALL THE THINGS. Now, I ask myself what portion of my day have I committed to being a better writer, a better storyteller and brand builder? Am I learning something new, regardless of how minor that something is? Or am I zeroing in on the things that are conduits and bridges to and from the work. You’ve created all these points of entry to a thing that isn’t as good as the vehicle that got them to the thing.
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Think about that. Prioritize. .
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It’s weird to think that I’ve lived in NY for the first 39 years of my life, Los Angeles for the past four, but I’m watching old episodes of Shetland and wondering how I can get myself to a remote farmhouse, cabin, outhouse, etc. All I need is good WIFI for work.
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But an island in Scotland isn’t realistic, so I’m setting my sights closer to home, California. And I’ve got time to research, thankfully. .
Until then, I’ll keep plugging, keep writing, keep up with newly-revisited healthy habits.
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“If I had my way, I’d never leave my house. My home is small, and I know every inch of it. An 800-square foot box with two windows, walls, and a doorbell that plays instrumental Julio Iglesias. Half the rooms are cloaked in effulgent light and the other a cool charcoal black. I’ve become fluent at oscillating between the two. I don’t even love the space in which I live, but I’m hard-pressed to leave it.”
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It’s bizarre that I’ve always been a city girl and all I want now is small. Quiet. Remote. I feel like my dad.
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I cracked my tooth on Friday (it’s all good—I got Percocet and a $3K bill), and it made me think that there’s so much I want to do, work-wise and artistically, but I’m always thinking about money. Years ago, I heard Paul Jarvis talk about reducing your expenses to feel richer. I know, captain  obvious, but it resonated with me on Friday while on Percocet.
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I’m considering another move when my lease is up to a small AF town in California not too far from the Redwoods and the ocean. I LOVE California, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else in the US. And I love the idea of FEWER people. Quiet to write. Maybe I can get a dog friend for my Felix! .
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  • My breaking point was over a hazelnut. A hazelnut that cracked my tooth at two-thirty this morning. Because I was stress-eating granola. But it was the three thousand dollar bill to fix said tooth that did me in. Only a few weeks before, a persistent ache in another tooth turned into a five-hour fiasco involving a dentist, an endodontist, a $5,000 bill and me texting a friend — while the fifth shot in my mouth was kicking in, and I was inhaling nitrous gas like a glass of water in the fucking Sahara — ARE YOU KIDDING ME WITH THIS BULLSHIT?
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My dentist tried to reassure me, after rejecting my pleas for a fifteen-year repayment plan, that this particular tooth had already booked a one-way ticket to a root canal, so I ended up saving $2,000! Oh, cool. So, instead of dropping ten grand on two teeth, I was only paying eight. Like I have eight thousand dollars just laying around, waiting to be flushed down the dental toilet. Apparently, the hazelnut was my salvation. I started laughing and continued laughing. For a while. To the point where everyone in the waiting room was uncomfortable.
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****I wrote about teeth, money, and debt in my latest medium post. Link in bio.*****
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Today, I wrote a tutorial about crafting plots. Instead of vivisecting plot arcs — because frankly, I’d rather gouge out my eyes with an acetylene torch — I invite you to consider three simple questions: what story will sustain your interest for 70,000 words? Can you commit to your story and the sequence of events that unfold for months or years of your life? Does your novel have the weight to capture and hold your reader until the end?
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This year, I’m committed to sharing what I know for FREE. I’ve got no classes to sell after this (I actually hate the idea of teaching writing; I’d rather be doing it), but lots of people have asked for the goods and I believe if you’ve got the skill and privilege, you should be sharing it.
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  • Want to write a book? I'm sharing a six-part series in how to get the job done. The first two I'm previewing on Medium. Yesterday, I wrote about writing killer dialogue. Today, I'm sharing how to craft compelling characters. If you love what you read, consider sharing and clapping (more than once!). link in bio!
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Characters are delicious. When I was small, I didn’t have many friends, so I surrounded myself with books and my imagination. It’s a strange, magical thing to live your life inside your head, but this is what I did. Long, sultry summers formed a backdrop for one of the many worlds I’d created, complete with a cast of characters who felt so real you could touch them. This was more than inventing an imaginary friend or anthropomorphizing a stuffed bear; my characters were fully-formed people who had their own personalities, a particular way of talk, and facial features I’d cobbled together from television shows and magazines. They clasped pearls around their thin necks and wore sweaters and shoes made of silk and dyed blue. They were carriers of credit cards, plastic rectangular shapes I’d only seen on TV — a far cry from the crumpled bills and pennies we hoarded. My characters were breathing Frankensteins, only far less frightening. What made them real was they refused to follow a script — they rarely behaved the way I wanted them to.
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  • Want to write a book? I got you. Below is an excerpt from my latest medium piece—the first tutorial of six I’ll be sharing on writing mechanics. You’ll get the other 5 later this month if you’re on my email list. Link in profile!
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Denis Johnson once said that dialogue isn’t about what characters are saying, but what’s left unsaid. The leaner the dialogue, the bigger the bite. Darkness fell. The summer in 2005 was unseasonably chilly, and we wrapped ourselves in light jackets and thin cotton sweaters, watching the author of Jesus’ Sonchain-smoke and dole out advice with humor and humility. We were at a writer’s conference where we workshopped our stories during the day and mingled with boldfaced names in the evening. This would be the summer before I sold my first book and I was floored that my teacher at the time, Nick Flynn, found something honest and worthy in my essays that would become my memoir, The Sky Isn’t Visible From Here. Back then, I was painfully shy and prone to giving violently awkward first impressions, so instead of the cocktails and conversation, I chose to sit on the wet grass and listen to writers whom I admired. One evening, Denis Johnson gave a talk on dialogue.
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Dialogue is difficult. I often think of it as the power-lifter of novel writing because it has to operate successfully on several different levels. Not only does it have to move the story forward, convey information quickly, and grant narrative breathing space (because who wants to plow through pages without an exhale), but it also has to reveal core character truths. Dialogue delivers what narrative can’t — a voyeuristic, in-depth look into the minds of characters through what they say, and more importantly, what they chose not to disclose. Characters come to life when they speak. We visualize them as living, breathing people who have a particular way of talk, a specific view of the world and their place in it. While the author has dominion over the narrative, serving as your tour guide through the story, the dialogue serves as the wild card, the wrench that could usurp everything you’ve just read and what you’re about to read.
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