Screen shot 2013-12-22 at 6.34.56 PMI am taking this all in to hoard for later -- the lights, the songs, the frantic rush, and too the mess of it all, the cold, the long receipts that curl up at the bottom of my purse. I love Christmas time, a love that's so intense it's a little scary, and odder still because I'm not even Christian. But then again I like the pagan parts of it, the way most of what we do today is based in ancient myths, like setting up trees in living rooms as a way of warding off darkness and evil, a remembrance of summer months. (I like this plea to "spare a thought for the Blackheads," a brotherhood of German merchants, who sort of reinvented the burning of spruces at this time of year in the mid-16th century.) (I like too the reminder that everything we do comes from somewhere else, morphed and re-mythologized; it's the closest to honoring tradition I get.) A two-and-a-half hour winter solstice yoga workshop yesterday was like a burning of its own kind. A new start. Fire in our bellies, in our thighs, in our shoulders as we hovered in planks for longer than I'd like. We hung out in goddess pose, we moved, we chanted. I understand finally how ritual can be a binding, can be a call to ancestors. After class our instructor asked us to drop yellow roses into the Hudson, and we did, and the sun was putting on a show, and the Empire State Building saluted back.

I took the long way home after the workshop, after sharing a Witch's Brew beer with my sister, more images of burning; fire everywhere, always. The sun had set and I had nowhere to be, and I got off at my old subway stop and walked through my favorite streets, streets I hadn't visited in a while. More lights; festivity everywhere. When is the last time I didn't have someplace to be? My walk felt like its own rebirth, its own solstice gift, its own stocking stuffer.

December always moves too fast for me, blurry and spinning. I am trying to hold on to it, to remember it, before so many things change. But it has its own mission -- to get us to a new year -- and it's slipping through my hands too quickly, a wave of red and green sparkles in its wake.

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Screen shot 2013-07-27 at 5.10.59 PMMy favorite place to stretch out, to escape, is the floor of my living room. I'm below the line of earth outside the front windows when I'm that low; I can see the sky, the growing building across the street; a different view every day. I have always felt airy and so this recent need to be at level with the ground outside is interesting for me to watch. No judgment. Just now, I left the counter, where I have piles of papers spread out, working on a memoir project for a new imprint, to take to the floor. The pull was intense. (Maybe I didn't get enough savasana in yoga today.)

This weekend, our neighbors are away in Ireland, along with another group of friends, there for a separate wedding, so in addition to suddenly feeling like Ireland is the place to be we are babysitting some plants they left in our care: basil, peppers, an unnamed leafy thing that is flourishing. Lying down in my spot, all three loom over me from the windowsills, bigger than they actually are, curving towards the late afternoon sunlight. The very sunlight that, I fear, will be much changed once the building across the street is fully erect.

When our plant-sitting stint is over, the only greenery we'll be left with is the bamboo a dear friend gifted us when we moved in together last year; a Chinese tradition. I always say I don't want a garden but when in one's vicinity I find myself swayed, picturing weekends filled with sore backs and muddy knees and a bounty. I imagine myself with a pride in growing something from scratch, from seed. Something beautiful, or delicious. Something to make ourselves remember the ground is a gift; a surprise.

Worrying is a way of life

There's a photo taken of me from two summers ago, standing in tree pose on a ledge overlooking the southernmost tip of Long Beach Island; a 20-foot drop to a rocky bottom. The late August sun burned into my shoulders. We had driven down to the end of the island just to show off the view to our friends -- a faraway Atlantic City skyline -- and to dance in a different ocean for a few moments. I saw my opportunity, eager for an audience, and stepped up; a one-legged balancing act, looking out to the sea. I inherited the panic gene from my mother, who wears it like a bracelet, jingling with every flick of her wrist. And I've come to terms with it -- the tingle in the stomach, the train of adrenaline that rushes by and pools in my fingers. So at odd moments - the breath before sleep, the split second before the phone rings -- I find myself always back on that ledge, considering the drop, remembering the sun, squinting my eyes. What a foolish act, I think, getting up on there and standing like a tree, breathing in deep, trying to find an om somewhere on the ocean. What if my balance had been off that day? What if a gust of wind, a rogue wave, had taken up more space than I had accounted for? How much damage could have been done?

Worry is a funny friend. I can laugh at some of the things that used to pinch my insides with fear now, years after the fact, but there's a danger in cockiness. Just when you think you have both shoes in the ground, a third one comes falling out of the sky. So I've learned to like my panic, or appreciate it, at least; a little anxiety is preferable to a fall over a ledge, to a broken bone, to a gun pointed at your stomach in a foreign country.



Last night I did a bridge in yoga class, something I haven't done in literally years, and after the cracking and creaking I settled into it for just a few comfortable seconds before my arms gave up the fight. In high school, doing a front or back walkover was all I needed to stretch my body, and we'd turn them over like four-leaf clovers at any time of day -- on the track, in the gym, in the D-wing hallway after school, wearing jeans and flannels and Doc Martens. Even in college, long after I'd quit cheerleading and dance, on hazy spring nights we'd take to the grass and throw back handsprings and roundoffs and feel out our limberness. In retrospect it all feels very Dancing Shoes-like, when Hilary is learning "roundabouts" in the fields of the English countryside and Rachel is moodily reading some book. (I never know who I like better, by the way: sunny Hilary or scowling, thoughtful Rachel. Maybe Dulcie? Maybe they are each facets of the same?) (Read the book, it's the best.)

I didn't walk into class last night expecting to do a bridge, but I did one and today I'm not feeling so bad, not as sore as I expected, so there's that. What is the lesson, I can feel myself asking. What is the lesson that's not as obvious as the one we're all thinking?

Well, I don't know. I know this: tomorrow morning I'm flying to Charleston, NC, for some sightseeing and eating with my mom and sisters, and I can't wait to get out of New York, which has been bruising me far too often for my liking these days. (Of course, then she goes and delivers a 70-degree day like today, and even though I want to pout -- where is my winter?! -- it just feels glorious.)

Come to some stillness

The first down dog of each day is the hardest, of course, and I always have to ease my way into it; shuffle my legs and hips; pedal my knees; really work my way into it. After a few seconds, I always hear my yoga instructor's words in my head: "Now, come to some stillness." It is my favorite thing to hear -- it sounds so simple. Just stop moving. But it's so, so hard.

Somewhere along my way I lost my ability to push the world's mute button and just chill out inside my own bones, which used to be my proudest accomplishment. Last week as I took some post-surgery painkillers and tried not to move, I ended up basically exclusively moving. Little spasms in my toes. An itch on my shoulderblade I couldn't resist. It was like how when someone says "Don't think of a tree," you start seeing leaves falling from the ceiling, roots forming under your floorboards; your eyelids morph into tree trunk silhouettes and, of course, you fail. There is an entire forest in your mind in precisely the place you've told it not to be.

I had surgery last week. When I was coming out of the anesthesia and it was time to get dressed, I didn't know where to begin. The task felt beyond my capabilities. The recovery room nurse pulled a curtain around me and someone unearthed my bag (and it is just now occurring to me that I don't know how that happened, it had been in a locker and I'd had the key and now here it is, two weeks later, and I don't know.) and K. helped me up and into my yoga pants and favorite, paint-stained American Apparel v-neck. Something about having people in a waiting room for you, only there to see you through it, is too tender, too much, that between that and my bodily trauma I started to cry, that kind of tremble that starts in your chin, below your lower lip. The kind you're just completely powerless to stop. I was just getting dressed. I was fine. I didn't need to cry. I didn't know why I was.

"Yoga breaths," K. told me. So I pictured my studio, the fuzzy lights, the way my heart balloons up in there, and I stepped into my shoes and cardigan and just breathed.

Later in the car on the way home (the driver having been instructed to take the turns slowly and my goodness, it felt like hours but true to his words, I barely felt a jostle), the tremble came on again. I watched B. out the car window, walking to the subway station after saying goodbye for the night, and I saw a flicker of sympathy on the driver's face (the things they must see!) and I lost it.

"I don't know why I'm crying," I'd wailed, somewhere so deep on the east side I could probably hear the river if I'd cared to. I really didn't. I was fine. But my bed felt so far away, so many avenues and tunnels away, and I'd made everyone wait for me in a hospital, and I don't like to ask things of people, and I felt so desperate.

So I tried some yoga breaths, some more, and I tried to find some stillness, and now here I am, almost two weeks later, with stitches and scars and dead flowers and three new pretty vases to keep.

And I haven't done a down dog since before.

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A kindred month

(Is that even a thing?) I am not a yoga evangelist necessarily, but I do love taking a class 1-2 times per week, and how (at a minimum) it's fixed my hamstring/sciatica issues and super-improved my lower back pain (and no, I am not an old lady, why are you looking at me like that?), and, too, it, along with reiki (my amazing practitioner is here, please do yourself a favor and go see her), has improved my life in ways that are hard to explain.

That is why it pains me to admit that sometimes I fail at yoga.

Earlier this week I was in class with my favorite teacher. She announced we'd be focusing on feet. Well, ouch. I think I must keep a lot of tension in my feet, which I suppose is better than keeping it elsewhere? Anyhow, we did lots of new, foot-focused things. It became clear early on that my feet were having none of it. An all-out rejection of the poses, in fact. I stumbled and nearly fell. (More than once.) My foot began cramping up. I got a weird ache in my left knee, and my right ankle. I flat-out couldn't do several of the poses.

I am human. I don't like not being good at things, especially things I am normally okay at. But it felt like one of those days where I couldn't get my head in the game. I left class feeling the opposite of how I normally feel after yoga.

It was disconcerting.

That scattered, dreamy feeling is still with me today -- which, let's face it, isn't unusual. I have learned over the past few years to accept my spaciness, the need I often have for something or someone to ground me back here to the dirt, the cement, the falling leaves. I like the push and pull between earth and sky; how I am usually balancing on a wire between the two. I like the view from here. I like the people that catch me on either side, and I'm grateful for them.

This morning, in my dress and cardie and sandals, a gust of wind scattered some leaves off trees and I realized mid-August is also on a wire, bleeding thunderstorms and heat waves one week, and cool rain and shadows the next. And for the first time, maybe, I respected her a little more than usual.

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