Thursday, July 30, 2009

Juicy Juice

If you haven't already been over there, check out Connie's new site at Dirty Footprints Studio--art, yoga, enthusiasm. It's a very inspiring page, with lots of pictures of paint pots and crayons and ideas for jump starting your creativity. She calls it your creative, juicy life. It's a lot of fun to read and just makes you want to surround yourself with art supplies and draw.

So, it's great timing for me, as I'm starting my first design project in years (six, to be exact). I'm very curious to see how the confluence of motherhood, yoga and costumes comes together. It's a really wonderful project; a collaboration with a dance professor at Beloit College who took a group of students to Tanzania to work at a school for AIDS orphans, called The Peace House. These are African teenagers who have applied to attend the boarding school, and who receive training to do such things as teach and help set up small businesses in their home villages. Chris and her dancers worked with these kids for a week, exploring ways to use movement and dance as a way to communicate and teach.

I didn't get to go to Africa (phooey), but I have been working with Chris upon her return--reacting to extensive photo documentation and collecting additional imagery as she begins the tricky process of turning her experience into choreography. This is my favorite part of any design project--trying to convert an emotional, ephemeral jumble of ideas into a concrete reality. A watchable production. It's probably the art historian in me, but I just can't get enough of listening to other artists try to describe their influences and, together, figuring out how to translate these thoughts into a new piece.

And then I have to express that with the clothes. I've never done dance before, but I've always found it very compelling. The design is essential to the realization of the piece because the costumes are one of the dancers' props. They emphasize movement, or hinder it, or make bigger (imagine a shaking flapper without her fringe). So the designer has to really understand the choreographers' intention and work closely as the dance develops to make sure the garments serve the final product.

We've had a couple of really exciting conversations in the last few weeks. Watching (and helping) Chris start to "unlock" this dance has been so gratifying...something I have missed. I look at Connie's blog and it makes me so happy to wearing my artist's hat (beret?) again.

If my past experience is any indicator, yoga is going to be extremely important to the process--stress reliever, brain releaser, calming device. And then there's the boys--how have these little monkeys changed my approach? I assume I'll be able to keep the whole thing in perspective a bit better (if you have to step away to remove a splinter, wipe up a chewed crayon, rescue a cat from a remote-controlled tarantula, you can't get too worked up about leotard choices). But I wonder what else has changed.

Exciting. Intriguing. Juicy.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

5th Anniversary

Not only is today Eamonn's birthday, but it is also the fifth anniversary of my becoming a mother. Both momentous (and simultaneous) occasions in our household; the earth shifted and everything changed.

I often think about what a curious hazing early parenthood is--no sleep, a wailing baby, lots of blood and other bodily fluids, a complete lack of control. Also intense love, a desire to protect, possessiveness, joy, relief. All of these mighty emotions combined with the physical demands of healing and exhaustion rewire you completely. I wonder how different my brain chemistry is now compared to 2003--what neural pathways were connected to make sure I always think of the children first, hear a faint cry in the night, keep track of many disparate yet essential elements.

Yoga has been a touchstone through it all, especially in the early days when a Down Dog or Supta Baddha Konasana was my only connection to Life Before E. Not only did it unsnarl the painful knots that come from hunching over a helpless babe (why are they born before they can sit up?!?!?), but it helped me settle down and quiet voices that urged me to jump up and get something accomplished (impossible on 5 non-consecutive hours of sleep). Calming the Fluctuations...Pranayama, baby.

So here I am...five years out. A lot more experienced, not a whole lot smarter, but a more interesting person (I think). I live so much of my life outside of myself, these days, I think I have a much more mature perspective than I did back in the old days. After five years of trying to control the uncontrollable, you learn to let go a little bit. Chose your battles carefully. Turn the other cheek.

Here's to you, little man, as old as all the fingers on one hand. Happy Birthday, kiddo, and many Happy Returns!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

You Win a Few...

I lost a student this morning. Nothing tragic, but a sweet, older student came up to me before class and thanked me, saying I was a good teacher, but that she had decided to start taking another exercise class closer to her home. I tried to be gracious, because I could tell she was worried about hurting my feelings. She then continued that she was frustrated that she couldn't do all the poses, even though she had been working on them at home, and that the class made her feel stupid. She was using an apologetic tone, and I could see that she felt betrayed by her body, rather than by the class itself.

I was truly sorry that she decided yoga wasn't for her; it's always frustrating not to reach some one. I feel a little responsible that the modifications I showed her weren't enough and that my encouragement to "work at your own pace" didn't resonate. But there's only so much you can do...

I wrote earlier about "true believers", but I'm pretty good at predicting who is going to leave class, too. It's so hard to get some students to dispense with the notion that this is a class about right and wrong, about being good at yoga and if you use props you are weak and have failed. I try to encourage everyone to consider their own bodies ("keep your eyes to yourself") and what version of the pose is appropriate for their own flexibility and strength--offering a gentle adaption here, suggesting an alternative pose there. Some take the advice and others frown and you can tell they're annoyed that they can't do the "real" pose.

This is not a competition, people! It's a tricky thing to un-learn, the need to achieve and to be the best and to be better than some one else. It's instilled at an early age and encouraged throughout our lives...maybe it can get you ahead in work and win a road race, but it's no help in the yoga studio.

I'm sorry that she decided to leave, but I certainly didn't want her to feel stupid or berate herself for having tight hips. Maybe she will find a better fit with the exercise class. I'll keep slipping blocks under knees or handing out longer belts or rolling blankets under heels and, hopefully, others will find a modification to their liking and stay.

What's a yoga teacher to do? (Inspired by this post at Now,This is Yoga. Thanks, Michelle!)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Working Foot

I used to have a fairly regular gig designing costumes for a theatre in Maui, Studio H'poko. It was a total "art with friends" set up, since I loved the people I worked with and the challenges of putting together a Shakespeare show on the islands was always fodder for plenty of adventure. The first show I designed was The Tempest, so I needed a batch of noblemen costumes to contrast with the loose-fitting schmattas of Prospero and his crowd. Shoes, I needed shoes.

I collected actors' measurements before I left for Hawaii, so I could assemble some of the clothes and bring them with me. I was struck by the shoe sizes--everyone had really, really wide feet. So I headed off to Maui with a suitcase full of broad, boxy shoes, sure that people were just trying to get away with extra-comfortable footwear. It didn't occur to me that the result of many year of slapping around in flip-flops (rubbah slippahs), would mean all the actors would have very wide feet. And so it was...the shoes fit fine, although there were lots of complaints about having to wear socks (never mind underwear).

My on-island assistant thought my astonishment was hilarious and noted how every time she went home to Ohio, she was always disgusted by how pale and useless-looking everyone's feet looked. She was used to broad, tan, callused, hard-working paws that spent all day on the beach or clambering around the rocks, caked with red dirt and exposed to the elements instead of carefully-manicured tootsies that only saw the sun through leather sandals.

I thought all about this the other day, when I was trying on birthday sandals (love me some Zappos!). Nothing was too short, but all the shoes were too narrow. 5 yoga classes a week? Shoeless swim workouts? Toting an extra 27 lbs. around in the form of a 2 year old? These plates of meat spend a lot of time unshod, so I guess it's not a surprise that things have spread out a bit.

Thanks to Bev in Pukulani, tho, I like to think of my shoe challenges as due to barefeet with lots of responsibility. These guys do a lot of supporting and grounding and spreading of toes throughout the week. Balance is great, ankles are strong, so I guess I'll take bigger feet as a trade off for lots of yoga.

I'm in Wisconsin, so I'm definitely still pro-sock (no flip-flops in February), but hopefully these dogs would pass muster in the Tropics!

Monday, July 06, 2009

Flying like a Penguin

When I was a kid, more than anything, I wanted to be able to fly. Peter Pan seemed like a dream come true, but no matter how hard I wished or how much Peter Pan Peanut Butter I ate, when I jumped off the kitchen chair I landed on the floor with a disappointing thump. Gravity sucks!

I wonder how flightless birds feel. Do chickens get bummed out when a robin or cardinal zips past their hen house? Is an ostrich jealous of a vulture or hawk, gliding over the open savanna? Do penguins feel inadequate as they waddle along while petrels swoop overhead? Probably not (a good lesson for humans not to covet thy neighbors' mad flying skillz, btw), since each has nicely developed alternatives to get around.

One of the boys' books ended with a quote that "Penguins fly in the water." I've looked for an attribution, because I thought it was so sweet and pithy, but it seems to be a common refrain. It's a nice metaphor--excel and enjoy the medium you do work best in and don't worry about the ones that slow you down.

I've repeated this in my head over the last few weeks, because I've started swimming to add a little aerobic work into my schedule. I love gliding along in the pool with just the sound of bubbles and water splashing in my ears. I feel so streamlined and elegant--unlike the clunky, sloggy feeling I get when trying to run--pound, pound, gasp, wheeze. I feel akin to those little tuxedoed Southerners, darting and spinning beneath the waves.

So I'm all about finding your best medium and taking off. I'm not saying dodge the challenging stuff, but sometimes it's best to let yourself do something you enjoy and can be good at with just a little bit of effort.

For the record, I really like raw seafood, too.