“Spring”

There are many different types of snow. As I write this, it is almost May in Laramie, Wyoming, and it is snowing. This particular kind of snow doesn’t accumulate; it blows around in the awful howling wind and sweeps across asphalt like particles of sand. Perhaps due to the wind (blaming everything on the wind gives me some semblance, however false, of control), this snow doesn’t appear in flakes, but in little globs, like dippin’ dots.

But less colorful

Yesterday’s snow varied from huge, puffy wet flakes like locusts to our typical tiny, dry, sparkly flakes like crystals.

Backyard snow and courageous green grass

Backyard snow and courageous green grass

Dry flakes also blow around like sand, separated, but they are so small that they just barely catch the light before throwing it back at you, like fairy dust. Very cold fairy dust.

Wet snow, the kind that’s suitable for snowballs and igloos and snowmen, we almost never get. It’s just too dry here. That’s the pretty snow, with visible intricate flakes that people catch on their tongues and hold in their mittened hands.

I think my poor tulips are done for. The grass and other plants are convinced it’s spring though, and not just “spring.”

Go little guys, go!

Go little guys, go!

So now I’ve resorted to planting things inside. The weekend before last I finally found a fiddle leaf fig tree (say that five times fast!). They’re so beautiful!

Our living room is starting to come together!

Our living room is starting to come together. Yes, that pillow is made of mountains.

Such big, cheery leaves! That is why I keep it away from the windows. I’ve also got a few seedlings going, which I started last weekend before the onslaught of “spring” snow.

From L to R, that's zucchini, red russian kale, and sunflowers

From L to R, that’s zucchini, red russian kale, and sunflowers

But right now it’s snowing snotty little clumps, sideways. Like, literally sideways – parallel to the ground, no angle. It’s like watching a painfully unrelenting screensaver. I’m pretty sure this means I get to eat an extra piece of rhubarb crumb cake now. Here’s the recipe. You’re welcome.

Here’s to “spring,” or, as we like to call it in Wyoming, “Brrrrrr.”

 

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Yoga Teacher Training Musings

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of dharma recently, since it’s been a major theme in some of the readings for my yoga teacher training, like the Bhagavad Gita. Dharma is similar to the western concept of “love what you do; do what you love,” or the Christian concept of God’s plan (Jeremiah 29:11) or will for each individual. In simple terms, dharma is your life’s work or purpose; it is the answer to the questions, “Why am I here?” and “What’s the meaning of this life?” According to tradition, your dharma can change over time, and it does not need to be your profession, although this is why we ask people upon first meeting them, “What do you do?” Really we’re asking, “What are you about? What do you value in your life?”

My main question regarding dharma has to do with its relationship to success, because my first instinct in thinking about dharma is that, in order for something to be your life’s purpose, you should be successful at it. Obviously it’s more complicated than that, but how, exactly? I think about figures like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Paul Gauguin. King saw his ideas gain traction but didn’t see much concrete success in his own lifetime, and was actually murdered for his pursuit of equality. Gauguin’s paintings didn’t become widely known until after his death, and he didn’t start painting until after he’d begun working as a stockbroker. (He was later a salesman before painting full time, and this decision led, in part, to his divorce.)

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So are we supposed to achieve some level of success, maybe during our lives or after our deaths? Or maybe just a sense that the work we’re doing is important, somehow? At what point do we interpret obstacles as a sign that we’re not on the right path rather than a sign that we should persevere?

A teacher once told me that I’d know if I’m a writer if I need to write. He suggested an experiment: stop writing for a while, a couple weeks, and see if the urge to write occurs, and inspect this urge. Are its motivations guilt, wistful longing, or necessity? I have tried this sort of thing off and on. There are certainly times where the only way I can think through something properly is to write it. There are other times where a phrase or image comes to mind and I think, how great that would be in a poem, or story! A week ago a friend told me about a little girl she knew who, in times of stress or discomfort, would imitate a cat. She’d respond to questions with, “Meow,” crawl on all fours, and lick herself. The girl’s father was at his wits’ end. Wouldn’t they make excellent characters in a novel or short story?

There are times too when I sit down to write, or just think about writing, and my mind becomes a blank and boring and clear as I wish it would when I try meditating. I waver between complete doubt, feeling as though I’ve lost any artistic ability I’ve ever had, and complete confusion and a sort of awe at what emerges (this was here all along?!?!). It’s something like staring at a kitchen counter covered with bags of flour and sugar and cocoa, proceeding to go into a trance and, an hour and a half later, staring in amazement at a fully formed, perfectly pleasant-looking cake on the very same counter. Who knows how it tastes, but hey! It’s a cake!

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Did I need to write this? Maybe. But maybe someone needs to read it too. Love to all.

Re: Why Writing about Bodies Is Vital

This post is in direct response to Leslie Jamison’s essay from The Atlantic, “‘We Sweat, Crave and Itch All Day’: Why Writing about Bodies Is Vital.” If you haven’t read it yet, I highly suggest you do. You can find it here.

Many credible artists suffered from debilitating illness or chronic pain or injury: Frida Kahlo, Virginia Woolf, Ingmar Bergman, Rainer Maria Rilke, John Milton, Vassar Miller, John Keats, Ludwig van Beethoven, Pierre-Auguste Renoir  – just to name a few. This is due in part to the nature of growing medical knowledge and accessibility of treatment (millions of people in centuries past suffered from untreated, poorly treated, or misdiagnosed illnesses), but there’s certainly a stereotype of the tortured artist. This torture can be psychological (depression or addiction), emotional (heartbreak), or physical. For Beethoven and Renoir, their afflictions were particularly cruel. Beethoven, a composer and musician, had already begun to lose his hearing by age 31, and went almost completely deaf by age 44. Renoir, a painter, suffered from extreme rheumatoid arthritis and, late in his life, required someone’s placing the brush in between his paralyzed fingers in order for him to continue painting.

What is interesting to me is that so few of these artists really lent credence to their afflictions. Those who did so publicly are known for it. Frida Kahlo addressed her broken and healing body strikingly in many of her self-portraits; and Vassar Miller, who suffered lifelong from cerebral palsy, wrote about the difficulty in reconciling her sexuality with her severely disabled body.

For centuries, writing about the physical experience of being in one’s body was considered beneath art. Art was to appeal to the mind and soul, which were valued above the sinful and unclean physical body. Physical pleasures like eating, resting, and sex were each associated with their own special (“cardinal”) sins – gluttony, sloth, and lust. As Virginia Woolf puts it in her essay “On Being Ill,” “…literature does its best to maintain that its concern is with the mind; that the body is a sheet of plain glass through which the soul looks straight and clear, and… is null, and negligible and non-existent.”

Leslie Jamison mentions another downside to writing about your body – that it can be considered self-centered “navel gazing,” pun intended. Does writing about your own experiences, even zooming in to what’s happening inside your body, imply a fundamental lack of creativity? That you’re incapable of coming up with anything else? Of course not! But this is how it’s sometimes viewed. Jamison argues it should be enough to describe what’s happening to you. To say, “This is how I feel.” Acknowledging that, good or bad, is empowering. And writing about your physical afflictions can even help bring healing to others who suffer similarly. During her cancer and others’, my mom has found great help in counseling cancer-specific chatrooms and websites.

From The Atlantic

From The Atlantic

This is all particularly poignant to me because I know the power of acknowledging the body and its suffering. One of the first good poems I wrote, which was published in the UNC undergraduate literary magazine Cellar Door and won third place in their annual poetry contest, dealt squarely with physical pain and suffering. My boyfriend at the time had required emergency surgery resulting in the removal of feet of his intestines. He recovered in the hospital for two months, during which time I stayed nearby for a long weekend to visit him (he was living in another state to attend college).

That weekend was painful, awkward, and deeply sad. I tied his shoes because he couldn’t bend over to reach them. I watched a nurse wiggle a needle around under the skin of his hand for what seemed like five minutes, searching for a vein for the IV.

I struggled in writing several lines of the poem in particular, which are as follows:

“Sunday morning, while your mom was away,
you gently pressed my hand to your crotch
and closed your eyes for a languid moment.
With morphine-tinged speech, you said
it was good to feel pleasure, not pain.”

Keep in mind that I was 18 and the word “crotch” made me cringe. I mean, it still kind of does. But I remember the exact feeling I got after writing it down, a release. A flood of peace. I still felt nervous when reading the poem aloud to my class, and later when I submitted it for publication, but it is precisely the physicality of that moment that needs to present in the poem for it to be at all representative of how I felt that weekend, and what happened, and how young we were. The honesty of these lines scared me, but also invigorated me, which I needed in order to bring healing to myself.

Illness and healing are such huge parts of our lives! They’re right up there with love, heartbreak, loss, war, identity, and all other topics that make for great literature. As much as we’d sometimes like to, we can’t ignore the fact that we exist, thrive, and interact with others on this planet as a body.

I hold to the idea that we’d all be better off by simply acknowledging the existence of our bodies. Then maybe we can progress to acknowledging how our bodies make us feel, and maybe, finally, loving and embracing them. Until then, writing about the physical experience of living will do!

Love to all.