Sunday, September 29, 2013

I can't Cope...or Can I?

I firmly believe that things happen for a reason and that the universe presents messages to us almost constantly.  It does require keeping a sort of low grade awareness about you, as they can easily be missed with all the daily distractions in our lives.  It takes practice and the ability to interpret the messages. If I did not believe this, my life would not have changed over the last few years at all.  It was when I started to listen to them. I mean really listen to them that change was able to manifest.

Fear can be a harsh taskmaster. It is without a doubt what prevents most people from moving forward. The known present is so much safer than the unknown future. As we age, it becomes more so. "What ifs" clog our progress and keep us stuck.  Leaps of faith are far more frightening as the years pass.  At 21 or 31 or even 41 we are more courageous. The thinking that we still have so much time left helps. But something happens north of 50. We are less inclined to take risks.  We become a little set in our ways.  Change rattles us more. Routines give us comfort. For the most part it works, but for many, like me, there is a yearning for more. More adventure, more stimulation, more experience.

I watched a movie last night called The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  The basic premise of the film is a handful of English retirees who due to financial circumstances are drawn to an ad to come and live at said hotel, a seemingly exotic place, for very little money. Like most ads, it portrays itself as far more luxurious than it really is and when these folks arrive and see the state of their new home. each character copes in a distinct fashion. Some much better than others.  

It really got  me to thinking about the next change in my life.  I have spent many months contemplating my move to Queensland.  It is so far away. What if I need to come back to Canada in a hurry? What if I find the semi-tropical climate unbearable? What if my new relationship does not work out? What if I have problems immigrating? What if I become ill? What if there really are snakes everywhere? What if, what if, what if, what if, what if.....??? The list is endless. 

Twenty or thirty years ago, I would not have given these things a second thought. The truth is, I am still healthy. I do have the means to hop on a plane in an emergency. I have been dreading and despising the cold Canadian winters for many years now. My relationship is wonderful. My daughter has given me her blessing. Go live your life mom. (she is amazing!) Still, despite all these positives, old MRS. FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN will suddenly weasel her way into my thinking from time to time but as the days pass, she makes fewer and fewer appearances. 

Watching that movie last night really was one of those  messages from the universe. I think it was Judy Dench's character that said it was all in the coping. How one is able to cope with the changes made all the difference. She did not paint a romantic unrealistic picture of her new life in Jaipur, but in the end, her ability to cope is what made her experience positive, unlike Penelope Wilton's character and her inability or even desire to cope that made hers so miserable.

It gave me a real jolt of excitement. A turning point for me almost. The thought of embracing change instead of resisting it. That old cliche of "when in Rome...", is exactly the approach that is needed.  Things will be different there. Not better or worse...just different. Instead of stopping to buy peaches and apples at a roadside stand, now I will buy avocados. Instead of roast turkey at Christmas, shrimps on the barbie perhaps. Fresh water lakes vs the Pacific Ocean. The Big Dipper vs The Southern Cross. Vegemite vs butter tarts. (OK - that may be harder to cope with!)

I keep thinking back to one of my earliest messages from the universe. At the time I did not really see it as such. I had one of those world globes on a stand made of tin. I was about 11 years old at the time and I used to lay on my bed and spin the globe around and around studying all the foreign lands and dreaming of seeing them one day. I dropped it on the floor one night after a too vigorous swirl and dented it. When I picked it up to examine the damage, there was an obvious dent on the pink land mass called Australia. I knew then that one day I would go there. My first trip was in 1979. The second time was 2012.

The third time will be October 26. Perhaps this time, like that dented spot on the globe, I too will leave a more permanent imprint.

Even thinking of a new blog...Upsidedownunder gal goes Walkabout!'s all in the coping. :)

Friday, September 27, 2013

For Arts Sake

As much as I have been denying it, summer is well and truly over. The down duvet went back on the bed today. As I glimpse to the right of my counter stool I see the fire flickering in the gas fireplace that is the heat source in this "cottage" I have called home for the last few months. My bare feet are pleading for socks or slippers. Time to retire the flip flops I guess. Just as well, as my pedicure is a shameful shadow of it's summer brilliance. Must do something about that I think to myself as I reluctantly root through the closet for warmer footwear. 

When the sun is shining at this time of year I am energized, but today it is rainy and grey and cold, not unlike my mood.  Swinging back and forth all day between brief spurts of energy, I welcome the darkening sky now. It makes me feel justified in my sloth.  It was dinner time before I made the bed, wheeled in the rubbish bins and even worse, combed my hair.  It would have remained in it state of disarray had I not caught a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror when I went upstairs with the freshly laundered sheets to make the king-sized bed - a chore really made easier with a second set of hands. How it has been done until today.

I decided around 5 pm that the day was a wash. Prior to that, I kept thinking I would get outside, go for a brisk walk with an umbrella but the voices that were prodding me to pull myself together and face the elements were not nearly as strong as the ones that were giving me permission to take a day off from life. A sick day. Even though I am not sick. OK, a mental health day then.  It was not a complete waste of a day. I rooted through some piles of paper and mail that had accumulated the last three months, did a bit of laundry, a bit of banking, stuff like that. I did not turn the TV on, not much of a sacrifice really since I rarely do. Life is about to shift again. This is my battery re-charging I convinced myself.  Amazing how we are able to justify just about anything if we try hard enough.

I was up in the night. Sleepless. Somewhat near Seattle. Instead of counting sheep, I watched a few Ted Talks on my ipad until I started to nod off again.  I tend to go for the inspirational ones. They are not kidding. Some of them really are. Problem is by the time I woke up this morning, I forgot what it was I was supposed to incorporate into my life to be happier or less stressed or more creative. Tidbits remain floating around in my sub-conscious brain surely.  Hunched down, waiting to pounce into consciousness at just the right moment. That's my hope anyway. Like the "moment of brilliance" between the first and second bottle of wine.

I did listen to Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and it made me admire her even more than I did before. Her talk focused on the creative process and how creative people are somewhat marginalized in our society as being a bit crazy (I am paraphrasing here) but there is a stigma attached to artists. People in more traditional jobs and careers wonder how they do it. Aren't you afraid of failure or obscurity? What if you never succeed (referring to financial success for the most part)? She proposes that no one should be afraid to do what they were meant to do, no matter what their talent. No one ever asked her father if he was afraid to pursue his career in chemical engineering. But tell someone you are a musician or a dancer or a writer and right away the questioning begins. How will you make a living doing THAT? 

It is preposterous when you think about it really. The truth is, trying to fit into someone else's mold of who you should be is the real tragedy. It is akin to living a heterosexual life when you are really gay. I bet there are millions of closet artists out there working as accountants or lawyers or construction workers or nurses because they felt pressured by their parents or their community or society in general to comply. To put their "foolish" dreams aside and work in a "normal" job or profession.

I have been working very hard the last few years to banish this kind of thinking from my brain. Someone once said if you want to be a writer...start writing. So I did. And, I started writing this blog. It  has no real purpose. It is just an outlet for me. It is like practicing scales on the piano. (hated that as a kid), but it does make you a better piano player. The difference between playing piano scales and writing this blog are in the discipline. Scale practice requires discipline. This blog does not. I have complete freedom here. I can do it when the mood strikes. No one will care if I do it or not. Some times I even wonder myself why I bother doing it. All I know is that while I am doing it, it feels like I am being me. 

Now, if only I could get paid for being me....:)

And remember that whatever discipline you are in, whether you are a musician or a photographer, a fine artist or a cartoonist, a writer, a dancer, a designer, whatever you do you have one thing that's unique. You have the ability to make art.
And for me, and for so many of the people I have known, that's been a lifesaver. The ultimate lifesaver. It gets you through good times and it gets you through the other ones.
Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do.
Make good art.
-Neil Gaiman-

Keeping the love Lubed

If I turn the radio off right now, I think the silence may actually consume me. Best leave it on. In fact, maybe even turn it up a little.  Alone for the first night in many weeks, the adjustment to my own company will take some time. On one hand there is something appealing about it. On the other hand, not so much.

As I heated the kettle to make a cup of tea, I took just one cup from the mismatched collection of mugs on the shelf.  This nightly ritual since the evenings have become cooler was one of those simple acts of nurturing that gave me pleasure.  Making cups of hot tea for us following dinner and the post dinner tidy up in the dimly lit kitchen we have shared all summer seemed intimate to me for some reason.  Intimacy can take many forms. Knowing exactly how your partner likes their tea or their coffee or their eggs prepared are things we take for granted most of the time. We just do it. We apologize if for some reason it is not quite right. Sorry, darling, I know you like your toast a bit lighter than that, hope you don't mind this morning but I forgot to turn the dial back. If you are lucky, these minor imperfections are shrugged off as mine are. But I do like to get it right most days. I like making him happy in these small ways.

However, for the next month I am on my own.  It got me to thinking how difficult it must be when one's partner is not coming back in a month, or a year, or ever. I imagine these are the very things, these ordinary kindnesses that we perform with love and caring that you miss the most.  I am already switching gears a bit knowing that the little tasks that I relied on him to do will now be up to me.  They are not things I cannot do myself. They are just things that he did. Things that were "his" job.  Checking the doors were locked before bed. Pouring me a glass of water before he came to bed so there would be a room temperature glass of water for me in the morning to take my vitamins. Turning on the dishwasher. Taking out the rubbish. Doing any jobs that I deemed "yucky". Things that I am completely capable of doing, but really appreciate someone doing for me. 

Small, thoughtful gestures like this are the things that keep a relationship humming along like a well-oiled machine. The constant steady maintenance required to keep the love alive. Stopping in the middle of whatever you are doing to focus on your partner for a moment.  The 6 second kiss. Long enough to make it meaningful. A re-connection for no other reason than that - to reconnect throughout the day. Coming back to each other amid all the distractions. Like little shots of WD-40 to keep things gliding along.

He just texted me from LAX. Knowing he is safe on his journey home is important to me. These things are unnecessary really, but we do them to engage with one another. It breaks the silence he knows I am experiencing. The sound of the text startled me. Then soothed me. All good he said. It's what I wanted to hear.  All good tonight. All good.

All the time. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Slip Sliding Away...aka...Hot Yoga

This may come as a surprise to many of you out there, but I took my first yoga class in 1973. A gal pal of mine in grade 11 and I decided to add it to our repertoire in a vain attempt to turn our curvy butts and muscled calves into something they were not. We dreamed of long graceful torsos and ballerina gams when the reality was we were 5'3" and 5'4" respectively.  Damn her for being so much taller than me! 

No amount of spine lengthening shoulder-stands or downward dogs was about to change any of that, but we persevered nonetheless.  This of course was in the day of yoga studios (I use the term "studio" loosely here) above downtown commercial spaces in St. Catharines where we both grew up. You entered them through a darkened doorway and headed straight up a set of creaky old stairs and entered a large cavernous space covered in old worn hardwood or maybe some old vinyl tiles with the odd chip here and there.  Everyone would find a spot on the floor and wait while others arrived, while the instructor busied herself with her cassette player and lit some ghastly patchouli smelling incense. She had no doubt graduated from the "flower-child" school of Hatha Yoga and led some sort of alternative lifestyle that we found a bit weird yet fascinating. This Lola Granola gal was from another planet surely.

It was a mixed crowd.  In fact, I am quite certain we were the youngest in the crowd most evenings. One of the participants in our class was a man well into his seventh decade, a local eye, ear, nose & throat specialist that once treated me for ear infections as a child.  It is always strange to see one of your doctors in civvies, but I assure you it is well beyond creepy to see one curled up in Pavanmuktasana (wind-relieving) pose next to you and even more uncomfortable when said pose worked for him.  This of course sent the two of us into utter spasms trying to suppress our immature girly laughter and our own gassy emissions. 

Oddly, I do not recall bringing a yoga mat or a bottle of water to class. Maybe because the room was a normal temperature and not FIVE MILLION DEGREES! It was not referred to as a "practice", it was simply called "yoga class", and your wardrobe did not require a special trip to an over-priced shop for "breathable" logo-stamped clothing. I was even able to do double-duty with the same leotard and body suit I wore to my Jazz and Ballet classes that year. 

At the time, yoga was not cool (or hot for that matter).  It was out there and available, but if you did not do it, no one was going to think you were unenlightened.  Yes, that is how it feels now.  What? You don't practice? Oh, you really should.  It is sooooooo good for you. It has completely transformed my body. I cannot de-stress without it! Blah Blah Blah! The Cult of Yoga. That is what it is now. So, not wanting to miss out on this amazing life transforming, detoxifying, stress-relieving activity, I geared up last winter and signed up for a month of Moksha yoga. 

Let me start by saying I detest saunas and have been known to overheat in a hot tub. As I entered the "practice" room for my first class I felt the same shock you get when you exit the plane and descend the stairs to the tarmac when you land in the tropics after being holed up in a Canadian winter for 4 months. Gasp!  The shock of the heat and the thick moist air pushes a panic button in me and it takes gargantuan focus to talk my way through the moment. Remain Calm Deb, breathe slowly. Move slowly. You can do this. You will not drown in your own steam. So, I try to find a spot where I will still be able to watch the instructor, but not be too front and centre in case I do pass out from heat stroke. We are to lay in Savasana (corpse pose) until we begin. Great, I think as I just may be a corpse before the end of this. 

Before the class even begins, I am perspiring. Just a moist film covering my skin for now. Hmmm, maybe I can handle this. The instructor arrives just as I start to nod off and asks us to set an intention for our practice today. What?  An intention? Now my relaxed corpse body has tightened as I scramble to think of one. Not wanting to miss out on a chance to set one and have it manifest at the end of an hour, I want to think of something really profound or mind-blowing. I come up empty. Nothing. Surely there must be some issue or deep-seated emotion I need to vanish from my being.  But no, nothing. Then it dawns on me.  I know. I will set the intention that I will not let my beginner hot yoga self feel intimidated by the long-practicing yoga gurus in the class. I will not compare my skills (or lack of them) or my body, or my pace with anyone. Perfect. That is my goal for this class.

There is only one small problem with this. Mirrors. Not only can I see myself, but I can see everyone else as well, despite the dim lighting. The man with the crazy, hairy back, the tall sinewy pretzel girl, the Olga Korbut look-alike, the tatooed dude with the six-pack, and his big tits, no ass girlfriend, the serene looking east Indian woman who has surely been doing this her entire life, several perky, pony-tailed milfs, a couple of women my age with larger asses and a couple with smaller ones and those are just the ones I can see clearly. Ugh! There is no way in the world I will not be able to look and compare. 

And so we begin. I move through the simple poses, trying to keep my focus on how my body feels, my technique, my balance. I can feel myself getting hotter and hotter. The sweat is now trickling off my chin, droplets hitting the mat slowly at first, then more steadily. I silently thank god I wore a cotton headband to absorb what is now wet hair and keeping the sweat from dripping in my eyes. We stop to hydrate. Momentary relief. I cannot feel any air circulation. I need a fan, a breeze, something to cool me down. Nothing. Onward we proceed. Ugh. Dancer's Pose. I hate this pose. I cannot do it in the best of times, but now, my hand, slippery with my own hot bodily fluids, cannot grasp my leg without slipping. The instructor notices me struggling and comes by and helps but now I sense all eyes on me and it makes me sweat even more. Stop it. Stop it. Remember the intention. Fuck the intention. Now I just want to move on to the next pose. End my misery. Now I start wondering what time it is and how much longer I have to endure this discomfort.

I recall there were 2 choices for class length. Was I in the 60 minute or 90 minute slot? Please, please, tell me it is the 60 minute class. My foot slides on my mat as I lunge into Warrior pose and I can feel the groin strain and quickly pull it back in before I end up in the splits involuntarily. Relief arrives as we get down on the mat for some spine twisting pose and that is when it happens. The neck issue I was suffering from for months prior to this class, rears its ugly head and no amount of deep cleansing breathing will end my now stiffening neck. All I can think about now is when will we be able to lay in Savasana again? I want to be a corpse. 

Finally prone again, I wonder if it is actually even possible to re-hydrate after this self-imposed torture. Then it occurs to me that a post-session weigh-in might be in the cards. Surely I just lost about 5 pounds of fluid.  For a moment I am excited and feeling light and detoxed. The instructor has suggested we lay here for as long as we like. Although I want to roll up my soggy mat right away and escape this choking steamy atmosphere, I wait a few minutes,  not wanting to be the first one to leave. Leaving too soon disturbs the folks who are lying in some state of Nirvana it seems. One woman is a bit noisy as she departs and a couple of enlightened souls shush her, perhaps their intention to not sweat the small stuff and release all their anger did not quite gel in the hour spent in clammy contortions. 

I finally get up off the floor and start gathering my mat and water bottle and towel and head for the door toward what now seems an oasis of cool. The peeling off of the wet supposed breathable yoga wear is as difficult as putting a wet bathing suit on.  It all lands in a damp heap on the floor and I am so grateful for cool air on my skin, I don't even care that I am naked among strangers, my aging breasts likely shocking to the younger perkier gals in the locker room. No more shocking I suppose than the number of tramp stamps I notice on several of them. My head does a double take on the way to the shower. Did she really have Namaste inked above her ass crack? 

For the record, I actually did this 7 more times that month. I think there might have been one day that I actually did not hate it, but the feeling passed almost as quickly as it arrived and my neck actually got worse and worse. I clearly had hoped it was going to help but that was not my experience. This is one bandwagon I needed to get off. And I did. 

Namaste to that.