Tuesday, April 30, 2013


It's Derby week, which, for me, signifies the beginning of six weeks of obsession with horse flesh and very small men.

My grandmother got me into it. She sat in her pleather recliner in front of the TV glued to the Kentucky Derby pre-game, motioned for me leave off reading Old Yeller to join her, and then yelled non-stop for the finest two minutes in sports. "Go to the rail! To the rail! Pass him on the outside!" She was so uncharacteristically excited I found myself breathing in little gulps worried she might have a heart attack, or I might.

Horse racing meant it was okay to get all worked up to a lather. Grown men in bowler hats got so pumped they pumped their firsts through their hats with joy; I learned that from old movies. Beauty does this to a person. Though it's ugly side is well documented, horse racing is gorgeous.

Those Michelangelo bodies, the speed, the finesse, the surging forward of a horse nobody had considered, the ability of the jockeys going 45 miles per hour to thread a needle attached only by their thighs to a huge animal that by rights should leap the rail and run off into A Thousand and One Nights.  But no. Like Alexander the Great and Bucephalus, like a centaur, like the Pimlico Racetrack mascot; they become for fleeting seconds, manimal.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Take Solace

When I am waiting, as I am waiting now for the authorities to figure out what happened in Boston and, again, a President in my lifetime is using the word terrorism, the only solace I have found, and I speak for myself only, is other creatures. Non human creatures. Landscapes. A group of boulders.

The fir tree next to our shed. It's probably been in that spot for a hundred years, it will outlive the shed (not a challenge, really);  it will outlive me.

Creatures that wouldn't know what to do with a pressure cooker because their business is swimming or gliding looking like Muppets, or "sentient English muffins," or sea cookies (as people have mentioned on Twitter, in response to this video) comfort me.

I was outside yesterday, feeling what in the world is the world coming to? sending a "the family in Boston is all okay" message to my parents on a ship nearing Morocco who knew nothing, and in that moment, a robin or some other bird  shat a really loud and liquid  -- splat --  on the arm of the chair I was sitting in.

How wondrously wise wild animals continue to be in their complete disregard for us.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Love That Dirty Water

When you're from Pittsburgh you either go East or West, and I went East, to Boston, and it became my centroid.

At first I lived in a tiny studio on tulip-poplar-lined street in Kenmore Square, and failed out of B.U.'s science writing program because my boyfriend cheated on me, it seems like a stupid reason now, what did I expect?

I expected and hoped for experiences in a sophisticated walking city like Boston. Cuban lovers. The swing dance revival. Latte art. Art openings. Bizet's "Cahmen" on the Cohmon, as "Mumbles" Menino announced it while we picniced on things from Formaggio Kitchen.

I spent years in Somerville, now called the US's hippest city, but  I was there before they put a bird on it, taking the subway downtown, to work, at the New England Aquarium where I told school kids to use their "one touching finger" to touch the sea cucumber I held in my hands while I talked about how it could spill its guts, literally, to avoid predation.

I was born in Pittsburgh, and that's my girlhood: middle class, Western Pennsylvania, but I became a woman, as they say, in Boston. And I love my centroid.

Not for the weather, god no, not for the byzantine parking rites, but for the overheard conversations at the many parks in multiple languages, in the line at Clear Flour Bakery, you can talk about dark matter. It's an egghead paradise, with an unexpectedly muscular heart, it's like a charmingly repressed, really smart hot European firefighter.

I called my family from Fenway Park, a place I could walk to, from our apartment in Cambridge, to tell them I was pregnant with my first child and criss-crossed the marathon finish line many times to return the series of What To Expect books to the library.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Laugh Yoga

What a lark is laughter! What a peal of silver bubbles from the mouth of a cartoon fish.

Remembering my son's first laugh (a monkey-meets-dog sound of delight) makes me want to snort my morning latte.  When was the last time I laughed like that?

I laugh socially yip yip yip. Like a prairie dog. If I read something witty I go, haw. I'm known to point to funny signs, like the one I saw yesterday that was trying to say mousse, but said Semi-Freddo Espresso Mouse. But doubled over, helpless, limp in laughter; I love it so much because it happens to me so rarely.

My sister said of a photo of our father (who is always in a Tilly hat) off the coast of Africa, "There's the Hat leaving Gambia" and I felt a crack in the wall of my stoic subdue. Why was that funny? was my immediate reaction. No wonder I don't laugh often. I'm fine combing the sand.

Why ask why? In laugh yoga (a yoga fantastically easier for me than the regular kind) the point is not to tell a good joke or even to get the punchline, but simply to laugh, because it feels good who cares why; and even rats (I remind myself) will nudge the experimenter's hand for more because they want to be tickled again and again even if it is just for research.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Dancing Days

My sister is the only witness to my "grand jete" wherein I took a modern dance class at Smith and she was visiting and I invited her to "come on along" and "watch me" "dance."

Afterwards, she said, "What I will say is that you were very enthusiastic." We both knew what she meant.

In our elementary school there was a girl, who in a talent show danced as a lobster, complete with red foam lobster claws, and in her extreme crustaceal seriousness was unintentionally pee-your-pants hilarious and is now an aide to a Senator. I shit you not.

About dance I am all enthusiasm (note that the word lacking in this sentence is "skill"). O Gene Kelly! the effervescent magic spell you cast with lamp post, puddle and umbrella is exactly how I want to move through life, and more than once, I have tried to mimic you, at night, in my kitchen, with a mop.

The brain on dance is a happy brain. Research shows just watching it gets our mirror neurons all in a tizzy and doing it feels like drinking Champagne. French choreographer Michel Aguillon said, "The consciousness of moving makes dance."

Merce Cunningham said, "When you walk, and you know that you walk, you are dancing."

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Yoga Of The Donkey

In my twenties when I was more bendy than I am now, I had a round as an apple plump Indian yoga teacher named Anu who was a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh making some extra cash teaching yoga in a Unitarian Church basement. You would not expect her to be able to touch her toes and then she'd pretzel herself into some complex asana, all the while telling you reach, reach, reach... and it was you grunting and groaning, in an easy forward bend, Oy, my Achilles tendon.  

I've never been flexible. And now, in age, it appears I am calcifying. Which is true. Osteoarthritis.

I have a series of neck exercises that I hate doing because I am reminded how un-cat-like is my cat/cow pose, how more like a muscle-bound donkey. I feel like braying Anu! Anuuuu! 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

"Even In Kyoto...I Long To Be In Kyoto"

Look at that single brush-stoke ink painting; how delighted the painter must have been with his work. Was ever there a more self-satisfied frog-body? So content in its absurd silver-back ape shape it has  the audacity to smile. Unselfconsciously. It's just what frogs do. Sit by the banks of things.

It's like that old lady on the beach in a bikini who comes out of the water so unlike Bo Derek, full of folds and droops and yet so present in her flesh, so mighty, that that you just stare, transfixed by this being being herself so different from you  in your dowager one-piece-with-a-skirt to hide your thighs, arms crossed over your chest, in a defensive crouch, under the too-small sunbrella.

No bells and whistles. Just frog. That's an accomplishment for a person.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Four Leafer

It started a long time ago. Probably because I was a lonely introvert, I spent a lot of time sitting under trees, being quizzical, observing bugs or sticks. I would pose Big Questions to the universe such as "Why does Tanya have such big boobs and I, like, don't?" And the answer would be in a cloud formation, or something equally opaque.

And I would feel this sensation in my feet and, give or take a day, I would look down and find a four-leaf-clover. Just like that. Ska-doosh, as Kung Fu Panda would say.

I felt that feeling in my feet yesterday, and today on my walk, I glanced at the base of a fence post, and yep. Four leafer. I put it with all the rest in the Book of Common Prayer, and I don't really know why there because, as Yoda would say, Believer I am not, but it seems right in that broad-based liberal Anglican blessing-of-the-animals way.

However, I wonder if faith has something to do it. I've never doubted. If you know me, confidence is a personality trait way off the beaten path, yet in this one thing I'm almost a braggart. "Give me a patch of grass," I tell people.

What I've realized is it's no miracle. It's never answered any of my questions.

The answer is: few people are scanning the grass; yet I am looking for four leaf clovers all the time, but with a Zen-style, meditative non-looking that I've somehow accidentally ridonkulously honed to clover and it's incredibly effective (and would no doubt be useful in other areas of my life if I could make it transfer) like a highly trained Japanese archer is open to one path and no other: their arrow hitting the mark. Dead-on. Doubt-free.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Change of Clothes

When asked if he feared death, the Dalai Lama shrugged and said: "Change of clothes."

I started a Mindfulness Meditation class Tuesday and like Jon Kabat-Zinn we ate three raisins mindfully. Slowly. What a change of clothes that was for me, I who can gulp an entire entree like a gulperfish.

My discovery when I did it later, with Oreos, is that I couldn't do it with Oreos.  I found myself with my head in the box, digging like a fox.

Then I heard the Yonkers-inflected voice of my meditation teacher, "Be, here, now, Elizabeth," and I lifted my crumb-flecked head and stood on my hind legs like a squirrel with the cookie between my paws and looked at it. I've never actually looked carefully at an Oreo I've been so eager  to throw it small-fish-like into my circus seal mouth.

I gave it a sniff.  The odor an Oreo gives off is distinctly sugared grocery store floor wax. How could I not have noticed? The cookie, when I paused to experience it, was unnaturally crispy, the creme -- by god -- what exactly is meant by the word creme?

Still, the Idea of Oreo was so compelling my mind overran the instructions of my body (Stop! Un-yummy poison!) and I went scrambling back into the fox hole. Nom nom nom.

I realize what makes Oreos so bingey is that they are engineered like Disney. You want a big drag off the dream. It's a fantasy, a mara of a deliciousness, and a happy sweet innocent easiness, that never, and does not now exist.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Now. Here. This.

Blake's Moses and The Burning Bush, notice how Moses is like, maybe if I slowly walk away...

One foot in front of the other plodding like a draft horse up Chapel Hill to increase my heart rate and release endorphins that counteract my natural born anxiety, worse now in perimenopause than ever before, damn estrogen, I'm listening to the podcast On Being and there is a Jesuit priest being interviewed for his work with gang members in L.A. and I'm huffing up the hill and not really paying attention until he's talking about his mantra and I'm always interested in other people's mantras because I don't have one and he says his mantra is Now. Here. This.

He actually said Now. Period. Here. Period. This. Period. And right then I caught my foot on a stick and tripped, tumbling like a clown down the hill into the clover teacups over kettle. I dust off, do a brief body scan for fractures, and look around sheepish to see if anyone had seen me receive this sign like Moses might have been if he were anxious that people notice a piece of shrubbery burning like the lit end of a marshmallow and a voice coming from it, from the universe which is that Now. Here. This. is meant for me.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Violet And Forsythia

Violet and Forsythia sound like haughty British sisters who, in jodhpurs, hunt foxes. However they are also the best color combination the Spring Collection has to offer.  Sure, there are tulips and hyacinth and pansies (great Victorian girl's names), and crocuses wow, but I've never been in to pastels. I like bold.

At exactly opposite ends of the color wheel, violet and forsythia are complimentary colors, they go great together: the same way the southern Europe combines lavender and lemons.

Forsythia, the older sister, is already blooming, out in society by the time Violet gets her cotillion. But what a show. Step right up. They're making the place to be seen, the abandoned lot up from my house where they hold forth together; Forsythia bright as buttercups and charming as a chatty character in a book by Jane Austen, Violet, small but regal in face and body, with a voice, the kind you'd expect from a much larger woman.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Unicorn Pushing A Vacuum

Git vacuuming you slacker.

So on Tuesday April 2, on MPT, the Maryland PBS station on the kids' show Arthur I saw an image that if I could even explain it to my daughter I'd have to start with suffragism, and segue into Simone de Beauvoir and A Room of One's Own and discourse on why we have Bratz dolls and the sisters Kardashian and not yet a woman president.

It was a convergence of the mystical and the slogging truth of the second-shift of motherhood and its inexorable chores.

It was a unicorn mother pushing a vacuum around a room with her nose. Oh yes it was. I had to rub my eyes. Fairydust, surely. Was I really seeing this throwback nonsense? 

Yes, unicorns do exist. (There's a comfort.) But even in the land of make-believe there is housework.  And, appallingly, we cannot (even in fiction) imagine it's anyone else but the mothers who do it, with their noses literally to the grindstone.