Laramie Scenes

Notes from Laramie:

  • Nobody actually likes that winter lasts so long here
  • Overhearing a discussion on well water – where it tastes best, where it dries up
  • The metaphorical use of the term “bearcat” to describe a flummoxing process, e.g., “Getting my car registered today was a real bearcat”
  • Two severed male elk heads sitting upright in a neighbor’s backyard, in full view of the sidewalk, their bodies nowhere to be found
  • Wyoming town names include Chugwater, Bar Nunn, and Ten Sleep

Two good Laramie observations, made by other people:

  • A student in the economics graduate program with Matt, who just moved to the U.S. this fall, asked us why college-aged boys here are allowed to own such powerful rifles. He attended a military boarding school for boys in Bangladesh growing up
  • Sherman Alexie, the Native American poet from Seattle, came to speak at the university last week. He poked fun at the audience, asking if we all realized how close we are to Denver. He said he’d decided that the relentless Wyoming wind was just trying to kill itself by careening into everything as hard as it possibly could. This description isn’t far off

In other news, Matt and I are still afraid of our basement, I have yet to organize the bookshelf, and it snowed again the week before last (and last night!).

Abe's snowy paw print

Abe’s snowy paw print

And for those of you who missed my Instavideo, here’s a little snow ditty:

First inkling of snow
out through bay window

tumbling flakes start to flurry
in their breathless meandering hurry

settling in hair, nostrils, uninvited
spinning out, up, in – in spite of

wind tugging firmly otherwise
air now misted thick with white

I’m trying the handle of my car door
stuck numbed shut in winter storm

Notarized, a Poem

An original poem for you all. I’ve been writing very short poems recently; this was my attempt at a longer one.

Notarized

Yesterday I processed paperwork for a dead woman.
She’d lived in Wyoming all her 67 years
according to the affidavit of domicile.
67 years all in one place – in Wyoming, no less –
which, though beautiful, doesn’t vary much
between its snowy granite peaks and limestone canyons
and plains empty but for sagebrush and sky,
from corner bars with canned beers in a fridge out back
to cargo warehouses with dusty parking lots,
all devoid of people who aren’t white and straight.

Spending your whole life in one place
is an experience I’ll never have. I want to be in all places –
I have five tabs open in Google Chrome for a hopeful vacation
to Costa Rica: flights, guided rafting trip, a treehouse
built on a mango tree in Cahuita out past the sloth sanctuary.
Reviewers say you can hear the ocean through open windows.
This Wyoming woman, her life spelled out
in front of me, notarized, never heard waves.

YogaYogaYoga

Last weekend I started my Yoga Teacher Training at Blossom Yoga here in town. I’ve decided to embark on this 200-hour journey because a) the training places me decidedly in the role of student, which I’ve missed, and b) afterwards, I will be able to share my love of yoga with some legitimate confidence (and you all know how I love sharing!).

I find being a student particularly freeing. Being in a position of learning means there is no need to pretend to know things you don’t, or “fake it ’til you make it.” It’s a position of humility, and openness. You aren’t required to have your mind made-up about things; it’s okay to admit ignorance. As a student in teacher training, we naturally have homework assignments. And as one of the class’s homework assignments, I am to write about how my worldview of yoga has evolved or changed after the first weekend of training. Since I promised to share a little about my yoga weekend with you all, I felt it was appropriate to post the response to that question here as well.

namaste_2

Yoga has been a way for me to re-center and realign myself (physically, spiritually, and emotionally), and to awaken my mind to the simple presence of my body, through linking the breath to movement. And for many, yoga is a way to relax and de-stress because, as demonstrated in several medical studies, yoga actually slows down the metabolism. Yoga is also a way to love and appreciate your body which, in many ways, runs against mainstream Western culture, known for encouraging the mind’s control of the body, and thus separating the two. We often try to stuff ourselves into punishing clothes (skinny jeans, Spanx, belts, bras, high heels, etc.), try to force our bodies to shrink by withholding certain foods (gluten, dairy, desserts, carbs, etc.) or engaging in certain practices (juice cleanses, etc.), and compare our bodies to highly visible images of people who look good for a living (models, actors, performers, etc.). This is obviously unfair, and yoga has become a great stepping stone on the path of healing for those who have suffered at the hands of fad diets, body image issues, and other physical challenges.

I also love yoga because it makes me feel good! My flexibility has gotten so much better in the past three years, and I’m able to focus much more acutely on my weight distribution, balance, and exertion in different areas of my body, which is GREAT for climbing!

As you can see, my focus in practicing yoga has been largely on how doing different poses makes me feel, and not so much on the other stuff, of which there is a LOT, apparently. I am already familiar with many poses (even if I can’t do them!) and what those poses accomplish in my body – as in, if I do a lot of chair pose, aka utkatasana (which you can see here) one night, the next morning my quadriceps are guaranteed to be sore. I’m beginning to learn exactly what’s happening to my body in a pose like utkatasana, and why certain tiny, precise movements in the fingers, toes, etc. are so important.

And this is the stuff I love about yoga – in a challenging pose you can take your mind away from, say, your abs, and instead to your knuckles. Are they touching the mat? How far apart are they? Do they feel weak, or strong? Do they feel energized? And this realization, this ability to intimately experience your body, is really quite powerful.

I’m looking forward to learning more about the history of yoga. And though learning something’s past is an important part of knowing that thing in full, its past does not define it, which is something we discussed in class as well. As classical composer Gustav Mahler once put it, “Tradition is the handing on of the flame, not the worship of ashes.”

Namaste, folks.

Beauty is “of the soul”

Back when I was in college, one English professor assigned us all of Edgar Allan Poe’s collected works to read. Most people are familiar with “The Raven” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” thanks to our public school system and Halloween, but I don’t think many have exposure to Poe’s essays. If I were to list the most life-changing works I’ve ever read, Poe’s essays would absolutely be among them.

Actually, here they are – since people often ask me about my favorites anyhow:

  • Alfred Lord Tennyson’s In Memoriam is a collection of poetry he wrote while mourning his best friend’s sudden death. Probably the most famous excerpt is “‘Tis better to have loved and lost/ Than never to have loved at all.” This was one of the first books I read that I felt dealt honestly with the hardships of faith, particularly in times of great tragedy. One of my favorite sections, which I tried very hard to memorize, follows:
    I falter where I firmly trod,
    And falling with my weight of cares
    Upon the great world’s altar-stairs
    That slope thro’ darkness up to God,
    I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope,
    And gather dust and chaff, and call
    To what I feel is Lord of all,
    And faintly trust the larger hope.
  • Rainer Maria Rilke’s Book of Hours is also poetry though it really functions as one long poem, originally in German but many translations are now widely available. Rilke didn’t see much artistic success during his lifetime, and suffered from both health problems and severe dry spells in his writing. If I recall correctly, he wrote the entirety of Book of Hours in the span of just a couple short weeks. The poems are from the perspective of a monk, speaking directly to God. Perhaps the best indicator of the tone of these poems is the quote, “What will you do, God, when I die?” [“Was wirst du tun, Gott, wenn ich sterbe?”] There is so much beautiful, timeless imagery throughout! Below is definitely one of my favorite sections:
    I live my life in widening circles
    that reach out across the world.
    I may not complete this last one
    but I give myself to it.
    I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
    I’ve been circling for thousands of years
    and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
    a storm, or a great song?
  • Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a novel, translated into many languages from the original Czech. Similar to Updike’s novel, which I list next, the text is largely concerned with love and lust as it occurs between men and women, and how heavy these things weigh in our human lives. There are so many lovely, intensely internal passages throughout. The below is underlined in my copy:
    “The young woman smiled dreamily as she went on about the storm, and he looked at her in amazement and something akin to shame: she had experienced something beautiful, and he had failed to experience it with her. The two ways in which their memories reacted to the evening storm sharply delimit love and nonlove.”
  • John Updike’s Marry Me I mentioned above. Updike wrote so much that it’s hard to choose just one, but it helps that I haven’t read all of them! The plot consists of two married couples, neighbors, who begin affairs with one another, at first unbeknownst to one another.
    “‘Don’t be silly. We’re all depending on your sanity.’ Jerry was always saying things like that, compliments that cut like insults, thrown to trip her mind, which never failed to stop and puzzle over what was meant. For he did not invariably mean the opposite of what was said. In this instance she suspected it was true, they were all in their craziness and infatuation and self-deception depending  on her sad, defeated sanity to hold them back from disaster.”
  • To continue with the theme of interpersonal relations, particularly those which involve some derivative of love, Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. This novel demonstrates that love and hate are not at all opposites, and in fact have much more in common with one another than most are willing to admit. Below is a passage where Mr. Heathcliff is discussing his love for Catherine:
    “‘…for what is not connected with her to me? and what does not recall her? I cannot look down to this floor, but her features are shaped on the flags! In every cloud, in every tree – filling the air at night, and caught by glimpses in every object by day, I am surrounded with her image! The most ordinary faces of men and women – my own features – mock me with a resemblance. The entire world is a dreadful collection of memoranda that she did exist, and that I have lost her!'”
  • Last is J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey, which I must thank my friend Makaiya for forcing me to read while we were barricaded in her West Village apartment during Hurricane Sandy.  The character Zooey becomes obsessed with the meditative ideal of praying without ceasing, which she encounters in a book about a pilgrim. This obsession coincides with a breakdown of sorts. In the passage below, she is describing the concept:
    “‘Well, the starets tells him about the Jesus Prayer first of all. “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” I mean that’s what it is. And he explains to him that those are the best words to use when you pray. Especially the word “mercy,” because it’s such a really enormous word and can mean so many things. I mean it doesn’t just have to mean mercy…. Anyway,’ she went on, ‘the starets tells the pilgrim that if you keep saying that prayer over and over again – you only have to just do it with your lips at first – then eventually what happens, the prayer becomes self-active. Something happens after a while. I don’t know what, but something happens, and the words get synchronized with the person’s heartbeats, and then you’re actually praying without ceasing. Which  has a really tremendous, mystical effect on your whole outlook. I mean that’s the whole point of it, more or less. I mean you do it to purify your whole outlook and get an absolutely new conception of what everything’s about.'”

So obviously I wholeheartedly recommend the above books, that is if you’re in the market for a paradigm shift. Anyway, back to the original point of this post, which was to highlight Poe’s essays and their affect.

There is an ongoing argument among artists about the function and purpose of art, which coincides with the well-worn argument about art for the artist (e.g. Emily Dickinson) or art for the people (e.g. Diego Rivera). Poe sees the former as 1) poetry to attain truth/passion, or 2) poetry to attain beauty. He adamantly falls into the second camp:

“…the point, I mean, that Beauty is the sole legitimate province of the poem…. That pleasure which is at once the most intense, the most elevating, and the most pure is, I believe, found in the contemplation of the beautiful. When, indeed, men speak of Beauty, they mean, precisely, not a quality, as is supposed, but an effect – they refer, in short, just to that intense and pure elevation of the soul – not of intellect, or of heart – upon which I have commented, and which is experienced in consequence of contemplating ‘the beautiful.’ …Now the object, Truth, or the satisfaction of the intellect, and the object Passion, or the excitement of the heart, are, although attainable, to a certain extent, in poetry, far more readily attainable in prose. Truth, in fact, demands a precision, and Passion a homeliness (the truly passionate will comprehend me) which are absolutely antagonistic to that Beauty which, I maintain, is the excitement, or pleasurable elevation, of the soul.”

Poe then goes on to discuss how, in technical poetic particulars, he strives toward Beauty in “The Raven.” At the time, as an undergraduate, this concept blew my mind. That “aaahhh” feeling I got from reading a really excellent poem was actually my soul’s reaction to experiencing Beauty. And this is exactly why I don’t find it frivolous to both seek out and value beauty as it occurs in our daily lives. In fact, Milan Kundera has a passage in The Unbearable Lightness of Being where he admonishes the public for not recognizing ordinary moments of beauty, particularly in the occurrence of coincidences.

Let’s see, examples of ways you could seek out beauty today:

  1. Take a long walk
  2. Thank someone; express your gratitude (it will make you happier!)
  3. Read a poem (this one is a lovely example of Beauty)
  4. Make something, whether on the page, in the kitchen, between two knitting needles…
  5. Frame a few of those Facebook photographs you always find yourself going back to
  6. Pray
  7. Buy some flowers and arrange them at home

yellow_tree

How do you value beauty in your daily life?

First Snow – Yes, Already

This Thursday night it began snowing. I believe the Weather Channel had named this winter storm (emphasis on winter) Atlas. Matt, a few friends of ours, and I were drinking beers and Moscow mules at a bar situated such that the front windows look directly out onto the railroad. You have to stop talking when a train goes by, or else suffer not being heard.

Wet little flakes were spinning toward the ground as we left, but my poor sans-ABS brakes car made it home alright, mostly because everything here is within 5 minutes of everything else.

As we went to bed, I won an argument about how the word “wintry” is spelled. This is significant because I tend to debate things with Matt about which I don’t know very much (e.g. politics, traffic violations, etc.). For the record, Matt thinks it should still be spelled “wintery.”

As you may have guessed, we awoke the next morning to SNOW.

The park across from our house, blanketed in snow

The park across from our house, blanketed in snow

I’ve been trying to walk to work since it’s only five or so blocks from our house. The walk Friday morning was actually quite pleasant, despite the still-falling snow and temperatures in the high 20’s. I pulled out my wool socks, snow boots, and full-length black wool coat (thanks, Goodwill!) for the occasion.

The view down our street

The view down our street

I shoveled the sidewalk in front of my office and regretted leaving my mittens at home. On my lunch break, the walk back home was much less pleasant. The temperature dropped throughout the day as Atlas careened toward South Dakota, and the infamous Laramie wind was beginning to pick up. I pulled my scarf over my face.

Icicles forming on a neighbor's house

Icicles forming on a neighbor’s house

While leftovers were warming up in the microwave, I took Abe for a walk. I think he is obsessed with snow. Seriously! At this point there was a good six inches on the ground, so traipsing through the park was becoming a chore for me in my boots. Abe was fascinated by the scent of snow. He didn’t quite seem to understand that snow by the tree over there was going to smell the same as the snow in our front yard. He had lots of smelling to do.

Abe on our snowy walk

Abe on our snowy walk

We also invented this fun game where I made a snowball and threw it, then Abe ran to fetch it, but as the snowball hit the ground it magically DISAPPEARED. Abe then looked confused for a moment and ran back to me for another snowball.

A pine branch in the park

A pine branch in the park

Despite all the snow, which is mostly melted after today’s sunny weather, it is still very much fall here. Some of the leaves on the cottonwood trees around town are still green, and not all of the aspens have had a chance to turn yellow just yet.

Fall leaves, wintry weather

Fall leaves, wintry weather

I haven’t even bought a pumpkin for carving yet! I did, however, make two dishes last week that featured butternut squash. The local co-op grocery store is stocking its shelves with all sorts of fall squash: pumpkins, acorn squash, butternut, spaghetti, and of course all those other ones that look like lumpy, misshapen pumpkins’ cousins.

Before the snow, Abe guards the homefront via a strategically placed window

Before the snow, Abe guards the homefront via a strategically placed window

Don’t worry, we didn’t let the freezing temperatures dampen our Friday night spirits! Matt managed to get us free tickets to see Chris Thile in town. Thile is an amazing mandolinist whom I’ve had the pleasure of seeing three times now (once with the Punch Brothers at Merlefest, and again with a jazz pianist from Nonesuch Records in Durham, NC). He is a joy to see live! He played everything from Bach to this goofy and hilarious tune. He can even yodel: case in point.

I’m hoping we can visit Fort Collins before the weather gets too bad (please hold off just a little longer, winter!) and do some brewery tours. New Belgium and O’Dell’s are based there, as are many others, both in town and nearby (Coors is in Golden, CO). Maybe I can also swing a trip down to Salt Lake City to visit friends Kyle and Tallie (who also have a blog!), and new resident Sara, but actually just to stock up at Trader Joe’s. I’m also looking forward to starting my yoga teacher training courses next weekend. Look for yoga updates on my blog!

Off to make some scones and then a couple steaks. Saturday night in Wyoming, yeehaw!