On stories, Intsagram and prayer hands

I am scrolling Instagram. The images move on my screen like numbers spinning around a slot machine. I stop and like a few pictures. I comment on one of my friend’s photos. “Love!” I write and search for the emoji with the two hearts as eyes. I see my friends’ children at the park, in their backyard, in the kitchen; inspirational quotes; yoga teachers on retreat, at an altar, sitting before a packed class of students in savasana; shots of frothy beer mugs aside a delicious looking salad; dogs, cats; more yoga poses, a video of man doing a press up handstand, a sunset, an afternoon jog, a hyacinth. I take a screen shot of a quote and save it in my library so I have content should I need it. Why and when I made this a habit is something I am still wondering about. But I have come to accept it and even make friends with technology and heed the advice of those whose feeds look like art projects, to treat this time as if it were art.

A few days ago I posted a photo of myself from my wedding. I am looking away from the camera, smiling. I write that I am 37 and pregnant with my third child and situated in my life. Certain. Comfortable. Madly in love. I never know why some posts get more attention than others. This one had an unusual amount of engagement — more comments, likes, emojis. Lots of triple pink hearts and prayer hands.

The picture was taken eight years ago. A #TBT. It was taken at a time I might refer to as my past life. Certainly, it was a life before Instagram. It was before my third child was born. It was before a lot of shit hit the fan in my work, my family, my finances, my community. I am sitting on a wood bench with the floral wreath in my hair about to marry the man of my dreams. I write in the comments that I want to tell that girl to “brace herself for the education she is about to receive.”

I can’t stop thinking about the book I just finished reading. A beautiful memoir about time and marriage written in a mosaic style. Sound-bytes are framed in delicate passages and it is a book whose words have stayed with me long after I finished it. It’s one of those books where you read a line, nod and think, yes, I get it, I think that too, I have been there. The truth is always recognizable.

I heard this same author once say that when you read good writing, you forget that you are even reading. You are transported. You are sharing a consciousness. This is insight I try to parlay into my yoga classes. When the teaching is good, you don’t even remember that you are doing yoga poses — something bigger is at play. I have repeated this line to teachers in training.

Early in the book, the author lists what doesn’t go on Instagram: “Our bank statements; past due notices; quick glances exchanged when our son isn’t looking. Hangovers; sleepless nights; tuition bills. Emails bearing disappointing news… “ and so on.

I was teaching in Maine last weekend to a group of local yoga teachers and I said it would be refreshing if we posted pictures of the classes where only one or two students showed up. We all laughed.  I smiled and thought how glad I was to be there when only a few days before I had dreaded the trip.

Nobody will come.
I don’t have enough content to fill a weekend.
I no longer practice yoga poses like I used to.
What I know is not enough.

My inner critic was relentless.

Before I left for the weekend, I had dinner with a friend and I lamented that I had no idea what I was going to teach. “All I can do is be transparent,” I told her. Something I say a lot to myself.

There is a story I refer to often enough when I am teaching. It is about a writing class where the teacher told the students they had five minutes to write down the most embarrassing moment of their lives. Something they keep hidden. When the timer went off, I was told, every writer in that room of well over fifty started scribbling away. “Somewhere in there,” the teacher said after the timer went off, “is your next big story.”

When I sit to write I don’t often know what will announce itself. Lately, I have been thinking about the role of shame in my life. A random Instagram quote I posted months ago:  “Thou shall not judge because thou hath fucked up too.” Comments were, hahaha! Awesome. and And how.

Hidden but not gone swirl memories inside my body that have taught me the most about humility and forgiveness.  I know that only now. When I teach or write or meditate I hope to live inside these moments.  Moments where I get to pause now (when I should have paused then) and pull out from under deep folds within myself a time that still lives and breathes. Silently, these memories have matured me and have introduced me to my softest me.

Brace yourself.

This past year I taught a three-hour workshop in New Orleans for three people. I posted on Instagram, “Heading to NOLA to be with my favorite community!”  My stack of books and notes of preparation took up most of my suitcase. When I showed up at the space I looked around as if invisible students might suddenly appear. “It’s just us,” I say almost apologizing to the three women who staggered in.

Months before that I forced myself on a  group job interview for a famous yoga lifestyle brand where “I was a shoe-in” to get the job a yogi friend told me about. I sat around a picnic table drinking iced tea being asked to share a fun fact about my life to a group of peppy twenty-somethings. “What is your rose and what is your thorn,” the twenty-something manager asked me grinning. I pretended I was a journalist doing research and not actually applying for a per-diem job at a retail store at this point in my 46-year-old life.  I wished I could tell you I was able to decline the job offer but I never got offered the job. Instead, I received a form letter that they went with somebody else.

The cat hair is everywhere. The pilly fabric on the sofa. The ignored responses to the queries I have sent out on behalf of my new manuscript. The polite “thanks, but it’s not for us.”

I am thinking of a poem I share in my classes.  What if all the people who could not sleep/at two or three or four in the morning/left their houses and went to the parks/What if hundreds, thousands, millions/went in solitude/like a stream/and each told their story/woman fearful if they slept they would die/and young woman unable to conceive/and husbands, wives having affairs and children fearful of falling/ and fathers, mothers worried about paying bills/and men, women having business troubles/and both unlucky in love/those in physical pain/ those who were guilty/ what if they all left their homes together? … Would they be the more radiant ones?

If this poem were captured as an image on Instagram, people everywhere holding each other’s hands and walking in the moonlight, exposed, safe, lit up–  I imagine many likes and emojis with hands clapping and thumbs up and smiles and hearts and winks and prayer hands.

This is your brain. This is your brain off Facebook (for a week).

       Seven days ago I took myself off Facebook and Instagram. I was sick of myself checking my phone for absolutely no apparent reason a billion times more than anybody needs to check on anything.

       This was after several complaints to my close friend about how bad I felt after I spent time roaming around on my feed. How stuck I felt in my life compared to the innumerable successes and parties and vacations and workouts and yoga poses and adventures that my peripheral social circle of Facebook friends seemed to taut. It’s not that I wasn’t happy for my friends’ new homes or babies or marriages or puppies or haircuts, but there was something about Facebook that dimished my ability to have sympathetic joy. I would log off and would feel more isolated and despairing than was warranted.

      I know I am not alone.

       My close friend has taken herself off social media for this very same reason. She is a stay at home mom of two very young children and finds herself aimlessly roaming her feed (while probably) sitting in a living room strewn with toys and a sink filled with dishes. I asked her once what did she think was underneath the need we have to reach for our phones and check? “Probably escapism” she said.

       It was funny that she said that since during the week of my break, I felt like I was on vacation. Gone was the impulsivity, the low level anxiety, and the subtle malaise that would drift into my belly after a moment of weakness when I would be looking to cause myself trouble like a junkie looking for a fix. Why the urge to look up old friends I don’t speak with anymore? Why the need to scroll through pictures of an old life? “Why would you invite that karma back into your life?” asked my husband who has never had a personal profile page on Facebook.

       My other friend who has a very popular and engaged page equaits her Facebook responsiblity to a kind of stealth mission. “I just move in and out as quickly as possible.”  And still another has told me that she feels bad about herself and her life when she spends more than ten minutes on the thing. And she is a very successful therapist and yoga teacher. It’s like a substance. We know it’s not good for us, but it’s hard to resist whatever weird part of our pyche it is stroking. Sure, there are beautiful things about social media and there are people doing beautiful things and connecting in beautiful ways, absolutely. I am not writing this to round up a global Facebook boycott (nor would I ever delude myself into thinking that I had that kind of influence). There was a time not to long ago, when I didn’t know a thing about how to use Facebook or how or when I would. I had a friend sit with me at my kitchen table and instruct me on the basics. That was maybe five, six years ago.
Somewhere between then and now, my ignorance turned to appreciation turned to probably a low level addiction. It was time for either a Facebook break or a psychotic one.

       In the absence of the time suck of Facebook and Instagam voyerism here’s what I can say:  I feel better being off of it. “You are not missing much,” my ninteen year old son told me. I smiled and thought, true. I was missing a lot a more of life before  thinking that I had to keep up with informing people (what people?) of things that seemed more self-important than important.

       Since imposing these strong boundaries for myself I have had more ideas come to me and more space to cherish that make me go, “ahhhh.”
I have just about finished my first working draft of my memoir.
I have finished three competitive games of Monopoly with my family.
I have cooked three new delicious meals.
I have walked the dogs without putting my head down.
It’s not as if these things would not have happened before my self-declared break.              It’s more about how the life in between these things feels now. Somehow, they have become more precious to me than ever.
Mary Oliver writes, “I know I can walk through the world, along the shore or under the trees, with my mind filled with things of little importance. A condition I can’t really call being alive.”  Pablo Neruda too has written, “If we were not so single-minded about keeping our lives moving and for once could do nothing, perhaps a huge silence might interrupt this sadness of never understanding ourselves…”

       Today would be the end of my Facebook/Instagram fast but, I will do without it for another month. I will be here living my life in Chicago. Going to the grocery store. Signaling left on the highway. Folding laundry. Walking my dogs. Feeding my cat. Exercising. Practicing. (Hopefully) buying new shoes. Thinking up fun new things to teach. Travelling. Writing in my journal. Reading with my newly purchased readers from Whole Foods. You won’t see selfies or fun hashtags about any of these things but that’s ok. I will do what my practice reminds me to do —  Trust that there is always something greater that keeps us connected.

when the yoga teacher grows up.. and other wonderings.

My mother, in her retirement, has recently graduated Clown College and when she isn’t playing Bridge or researching new clubs to join in her over fifties lifestyle community, she and her clown friends are volunteering at the local assisted living facility and entertaining the elderly.

My mother, who has never in her life not parlayed a passion of hers into some kind of opportunity to market her way to a career, has found her recent love of clowning awakening other possiblities for her. She has always loved to help people – whether that was doling out some trusty relationship advice or mentoring young women in how to write a business plan. It wouldn’t be my mother if I did not spend more than a few phone calls listening to her brainstorm ways her clowning could be a national brand. I try to temper her inner enterpeneur by saying, “Mom, some things we love to do are simply for the joy of it.” She can’t help it. Marketing anything is implicit in her personality.

Career wanderlust runs in my bloodline. Reinvention has always been my mother’s thing. She has gone from travel agent, to marketing executive, to salsa dance studio owner, to self publishing author, to a clown named Rosie. She seemed to me through all this risk taking and shape shifting to always be unafraid, unapologetic and inexhaustiable. (I won’t even mention the time she flirted with living on a farm and breeding Saint Bernards).

Up until recently, I have never questioned my work in the world. I have for the better part of almost twenty years been doing what I love and making a modest but sustainable living from it. I have always been way more focussed on the work I love, more than the stream of income I was producing because of it. It wasn’t a job I was showing up for and leaving at the end of the day. My work was synonymous with my whole life. I lived and breathed (literally) the work I offered and I could not imagine spending more than fifty percent of my days not doing what made me feel that alive.

This is the first time in over a decade I have not owned a yoga studio. It feels both freeing and awkward. I have for the majority of my working years not only known that but been strongly identified as doing that. It was what shaped my routine, the things I choose to study and read, my lifestyle, my entire community with which I surrounded myself in.
With this no longer being the central place from which I conduct my life from I find myself in Chicago asking more and more — so, Tracy what’s next? I know I will always stay close to my teaching roots, as I reailze what I loved most about having a yoga studio is what happened on the yoga mat with my students. I am not surprised that one week into living here I found a place to teach.

Yet, lately, feeling on the precipice of all this change in my personal and professional life, I think of my mother’s path and cannot help but reflect on my own. Not the dog breeding part, but the what do I want to be when I grow up part?

Perhaps there has been a side of me that has never really asked myself this question. My passions have moved me along like a steady current and landed me smack in the middle of opportunity. Getting here did not require brute effort it required a trusting your gut approach. It has not been an easy path, but it had been fulfilling for awhile.
But like everything, that is changing.

With more time on my hands than I have had in years, and being older and slightly more weathered from my own life experiences, I sit here and wonder where I will continue to point this interest arrow of mine.

Next to my bed sits a stack of memoirs from writers whom I love. Joan Didion. Dani Shapiro. Anne Lamott. And another book with the unabashedly embrassing title, You are a Badass (how to stop doubting your greatness and start living an awesome life). The title was compelling enough for me to click purchase on Amazon and be grateful I was not putting that one on the counter for the cashier to eye and judge me for a book called You Are A Badass. While it isn’t my style to open myself to self-help type genres, I did buy the thing and I find myself flipping through the pages.
I appreciate the inventory it asks me to take.
I am not afraid to admit I may be a little stalled in my life for some of the subconscious reasons she so cheerily identifies.
I am happy teaching but I can’t help but feel there’s more of this life, this body I am here to do. That there is some unfinished project that awaits my attention.

For the past two years I have been painstakingly working on a memoir that has nothing to do with yoga.I have found a million reasons to dismiss this as a crazy farfetched idea. It would me more realistic if I chose to breed Saint Bernards.
But like yoga teaching found me, writing this thing has reawakened me.
And like my mother has taught me, I follow my heart no matter how wild and crazy the ride seems to be.
And like teaching has shown me,  we do what we love and that is simply the offering.
The pay check for that?
I can always keep working on that too.