Ashtanga yoga

But I'm still not going to join a gym or stop drinking

Thus beginneth another year at Updates for 2014 will be monthly, if you're wondering whether you should drop me from your feed reader or not. Blogging: it's less urgent than ever! I'm not one to do year-end roundups, but I would like to remember December 2013 as the month I realized I not only needed to but had the resources and energy to stop half-assing so much of my life. (Brace yourself for an explanation that might involve yoga.)

Normally (when I'm not sitting in bed playing iPad solitaire) my life strategy* has been to stand just inside the sideline of [something] and see if I like/can succeed at [it] without putting a whole lot of effort, focus, or hope into making [it] work. The list of [things] I have approached this way includes knitting, sex, college, buying a car, parenthood, cooking, working in publishing, relationships, and preparing for my own death. You truly can make a life for yourself by relying on other people's energy and commitment, especially if you don't mind knitting sweaters that don't fit or eating partially-cooked chicken.

*"Why are you such a fatalist?" my father once asked me in frustration when I was a teenager, to which I did not have the vocabulary to reply, "Because I'm smart enough to get decent grades without trying too hard, I'm pretty enough to get attention without trying at all, you're emotionally abusive and controlling, Mom is a detached and passive female role model, the Catholic shame I've been infused with from birth controls every other aspect of my life, and I've learned to feel helpless most of the time." God, being a teenager was the worst.

The sad irony, of course, is that trying to save yourself from disappointment by not really caring so much how something works out will lead to having to accept disappointment as a result of almost everything you do. Now, it's true that some degree of disappointment is inevitable in a lot of what life brings, and it can be used to spur us on to refine what we want, learn new skills, find friends that really get us, and figure out how much yarn we need to make the sweater beforehand, instead of running out three-quarters of the way through.

Jack's new sweater

Yes, that's Jack's Christmas sweater, and I ran out of yarn three-quarters of the way through. I started it last year (unsurprisingly, given that it's me we're talking about, it was supposed to be last year's Christmas sweater). I just assumed that the box of vintage Irish wool that I found in my mom's house after she died was enough to make a sweater. And it would have been enough, if my husband were the size of Reese Witherspoon.

Anyway, the sweater humbled me. I had to buy different yarn to finish it, and it's weird and poochy around the shoulders in a way that blocking hasn't been able to solve, and I'm about to accept the fact that I need to rip out the entire top of the sweater and knit it again to make it right. And I can't tell you how much it shocks me to hear myself say that. Historically, I have not been a person who goes back and fixes her mistakes, I've been the person who says fuck it and shoves a year's worth of work to the back of the closet in chagrin and goes to bed to play iPad solitaire.

But what really drove home the idea of slowing down and doing things right (here comes the yoga): back bends. I hate them. I'm afraid of them. They require a huge amount of openness in the chest and shoulders along with leg strength, butt awareness, and a fair amount of spinal flex, none of which I was graced with at birth. For years I've been hurting myself over and over again by sort of heaving myself up and doing them in this bad, misaligned way and feeling envious of the people who could drop back into these delicious, flawless arches. Most days I'd just avoid doing back bends altogether. Which is a perfectly fine attitude (something hurts: stop doing it), but just underneath giving up was this nagging belief that the poses you hate are the ones you need the most, so I'd keep coming back to back bends but I'd continue to approach them in the least-yogic way possible: grit teeth, hold breath, wrench self up. Why? Because that's what we do when we're scared, and that's what I did, hurting myself again and again, I guess because my ego couldn't comprehend that there was something that didn't come easily to me. I belonged to the looks and good grades come easy club, right? So why couldn't I skip all the hard work and years of slowly developing the strength and openness I needed and make my body do this one thing?

In yoga they sometimes talk about "the gift of inflexibility," which I'm finally beginning to appreciate. Not being naturally flexible means you have to develop awareness and you have to develop compassion for yourself, and your ego has to back the fuck off because it might take you years to do something that the guy on the next mat can do the first time he tries it. So it's a "gift" because that guy can wander off and be amazing and buff without developing any of the interior qualities that you, if your ego can face you rolling around on your mat like a stranded tortoise, will discover inside yourself -- things like patience, bravery, humility, and being able to laugh at yourself because let's face it, you look like a stranded tortoise lying there. And your ass is really lumpy.

So this is my new year's resolution: to do what doesn't come easily at first, to do stuff right. To listen to people who know what they're talking about and let them guide me when my internal guidance has led me to a dead end. To be the best _________ [friend, knitter, worker, writer, dog washer, wife, mother, woman, human] that it's possible for me to be from moment to moment without gritting my teeth and holding my breath and heaving myself in and praying for it to be over. Standing still, looking, breathing, not running away from others, not running away from myself. Not trying to skip to the finished thing without having done all the work that leads up to the sweater that actually fits, the back bend that seems to do itself, the novel that works, the promise fulfilled, the deeply satisfied existence.


Apparently I needed to nap most of the afternoon, after a morning of watching an X-Men movie and forcing Jackson to overcome his fear of Beetlejuice ("Who is Michael Keaton again? But which janitor on 30 Rock?"). Consequently, I have not finished the drawing for today, which was supposed to be something yoga related. I chose the shortest yoga sutra I could find, did a terrible job lettering it, and then took an out-of-focus photo of it. Yeah, I'm calling a re-do for tomorrow, I'm taking that extra hour of tomorrow and calling it today. samadhi

My Weird Little Trip to CVS

Recently I had the opportunity to explain to a Millenial what a bottle deposit is. I wouldn't have bothered except that when she asked the cashier, who was ringing up the woman's giant bottle of Jack Daniel's, what the extra .05 cents was for, the cashier got flustered and said, "I don't know," in this dismissive way, like, "Whatever. Who understands anything?" Well, listen, CVS cashier with the Bettie Page do and knuckle tattoos, I don't normally go around shaming cashiers for not understanding every little burden you pass on to the public but why not let's try to dispel a minor ignorance whenever possible?

I took a breath before I butted in and said, "It's to encourage you to bring the bottle back to a recycling center, then you'll get your five cents back." And the woman was all, "Oh!" *flash of understanding* so I left it at that. I left it to her to recall the times she might have seen people digging through garbage to collect cans in order to turn them in for cash, since she might enjoy extrapolating this for herself in a quiet moment. Having the opportunity to relate new information to our own experience is what really cements a new concept, don't you think? Whether in the classroom or pre-paying for our hangovers at the drug store.

But then I got to thinking. Since I pay my bottle deposits and then toss my bottles into the recycling bin without getting my money back I was suddenly all, "WAIT A MINUTE WHERE'S ALL THAT MONEY I WANT IT BACK." (The Internet assures me that unclaimed funds collected on behalf of the bottle bill go to "program administration" (program administrators' annual Christmas trip to Honolulu) and "grants" (breakfast beers and Tylenol).)

On the heels of this new awareness came a moral dilemma. I was next up and the total for the box of push pins I was buying so Jackson's taped-up posters would quit falling off his wall was something like $3.31 so I gave Bettie Page a $10 bill and a penny. I've been making change semi-professionally for 35 years, sadly, so I do that shit all the time, here's two pennies and a dime and three extra dollars, just so I don't get a pound of small change back from every transaction. It makes me feel like my father but my collarbones were once made uneven from the weight of my shoulder bag and I am not having any of that anymore.

Maybe the line behind me was throwing her off, the feeling that all of these people were staring at her and willing her to go faster. I gave her $10.01. She stared at the penny and then looked at me like, What is this? Then she turned and punched $1.00 into the cash register. Naturally, the cash register said, A dollar? Did you not hear me correctly? I need $3.31. So Bettie goes, Oh, um, fuck, and punches in $10.00. Now the cash register was all, YOU GAVE ME $11.00 FOR SOME REASON and the cashier was all, GAAHHH HERE TAKE ALL THE MONEY, and just shoved a bunch of change into my hand. I didn't even question it, even though I knew she'd just paid me to shoplift a half-price box of push pins, because at that point I was 93% Wow, you really don't care you just want to get rid of me, and 7% YAY FREE PUSH PINS!

I'm not normally one to take advantage in these situations, but fuck this CVS. The same thing happened to me there last month with a cashier who was never trained on how to make change without depending on the register to do it for him, and who just mashed a bunch of buttons on the key pad and then probably lost his job at the end of the shift because his receipts were like math without numbers. But with that guy I took the time to recount my change and gave him back the extra, mostly just because he seemed kind, and who wants to see kids get fired in this economy? But with Knuckles I was less sympathetic, and I don't know if it was from some projected misogyny, or irritation at her hair-do, or the instinct to distance myself from an imminent anxiety supernova, but if I were her manager I would have somebody stand with her to oversee that shit or I'd put her back in the stock room until she realized that what she really needed to do was finish school and quit dating drug addicts.


Well, sorry, I seem to really get bent over details these days. I am writing a novel sort of just to see if I can do it, and I'm finding that inventing emotional and physical detail like all that above is not nearly as easy as just remembering it.


Last night I was coming in the door at 6:00 p.m. with two sacks of groceries and Jackson was lying on the couch and the first thing he said to me was, "Mom, just so you know, I was hungry so I ate three donuts."

And I was all, Seriously, son? I mean, I guess it's cute if you're becoming the voracious teenage boy who can put away two or three dinners a night, but come on. We're not there yet, are we? You're only twelve and where the hell did those donuts come from?


Lastly, here's a drawing I made for a yoga friend who donated to my Red Cross/Charity Water campaign last fall and guess what? I'm STILL not done with all the drawings I owe people and I'm going to have to start another campaign in a minute and I think I'm just going to do tote bags this year. Anyway, I am really, really pleased with this one and it makes me want to do more yoga-specific figure drawings. Just line drawings of happy people doing crazy things with their bodies, nothing fancy.


One-item lists

After I made my big declaration about how Facebook is stealing our souls, I then spent the next two days posting things and chatting on Facebook like nothing had happened. I believe I can find a balance between this and that, but at the same time I'm concerned with the self-sabotaging psychology that kicks in, for example, when as soon as I decide to stop eating sugar, I make a big pan of brownies. I don't even tell myself not to spend money anymore or this will happen:

[via dh]

If that isn't the best video I've seen all summer I'll eat my grandmother's vintage cat's eye glasses. After watching it about six times Saturday night Jackson was all, "Are there any thrift stores around here?" Oh, my son. The golden days of thrifting in Santa Barbara are behind us now, but there still exists a magical town ruled by bikers and street people called . . . Ventura. So Sunday we drove down to the Goodwill in Ventura and bought Jackson a pair of red plaid pajama pants, a green and white striped hooded sweatshirt from the women's rack, a couple of white t-shirts, and we rescued a Build-a-Bear rabbit with floppy ears for .99 that doesn't appear to have lice, fleas, or bed bugs. I bought a pair of ballooning, high-waisted purple wool lady pants that are going to look pretty awesome somehow once I wrap my mind around what to wear on top. If I could find a cropped brown rabbit's fur jacket . . . I wouldn't buy it, but you hear what I'm saying.

Another crush, with free association:

1. Alan Arkin: because of how sexy he is when he's disgusted

Phrase from a comment on an old post that has stayed with me for years:

1. "Away-game pooping situation."

So along with opening back up to the Internet, I'm also trying to be more approachable in real life. I guess I'm an introvert, but I like being around people who are more open than me because they help me connect to that part of myself that doesn't see closeness as a threat. (I once had someone who knows about these things tell me that two lives ago I died by being drowned; as in, someone either held me down or pulled me down or I don't know what, but he was all, "Do you have trouble when people get too close? Because that would explain it." Holy shit, how do I get over that?)

Certainly the thing about working with the public is that every new patron is an opportunity to practice small, non-life-threatening connections. Most people seem to want that, which means at the start of every shift I unpack all of my extrasensory satellite dishes to figure out how best to make that happen. Some people, however, want a larger amount of connection, more connection than I am capable of (or paid to) provide as a public servant. Emotional vampires, in my experience, come off as super-extra friendly at first. Their requests start off normal, but somewhere along the line they try to lure you into the enchanted forest of weirdly-specific things most people don't normally ask others to do for them. "Will you text this 16-line e.e. cummings poem to my friend in Las Vegas?" happened recently, as well as "Will you read the descriptions of forty different children's books to me, both over the phone and in person the next day?" and  "Will you build a web site for me in Wordpress?"

And I think, what is up with you? What is it? Just tell me. Is it that you get off on me touching your stuff? You're lonely and want me to keep you company? You disagree with the concept of outsourced tech support so you'd rather take advantage of my limited skills?

There's a great part of "Words of Advice" by William S. Burroughs that applies:

"If, after having been exposed to someone's presence, you feel as if you've lost a quart of plasma, avoid that presence. You need it like you need pernicious anemia. We don't like to hear the word "vampire" around here; we're trying to improve our public image. Building a kindly, avuncular, benevolent image; "interdependence" is the keyword — "enlightened interdependence." Life in all its rich variety, take a little, leave a little. However, by the inexorable logistics of the vampiric process they always take more than they leave — and why, indeed, should they take any?"

I went into yoga the morning after a particularly lengthy exchange with one of these people and halfway through my practice I was all, "This is crazy, I'm too tired to do any more." And then after sitting there for a minute I realized that my body was strong enough to continue, the problem was that some other, ineffable part of me just didn't have the strength to go on. Once I had that realization, the exhaustion lifted and I kept going, but man. Feeling like you lost a quart of plasma. That's a real thing.

Don't put your finger up your butt to help yourself poop or you'll never be able to stop.

Henry Alford's wonderful essay about his brief stint as a runway model:

"It occurred to me that my lifelong slouchy posture is, in a complicated and wrong way, connected to my hatred of bragging. Somehow in my mind I've learned to equate slouching with modesty."

He then improves his runway walk by imagining he's a former Lufthansa flight attendant who likes vegan baked goods, vintage motorcycles, and Sofia Coppola when she wears aqua in airports. Henry Alford is now my spirit animal.

Look at my thighs, ye mighty, and despair

A funny image popped into my head the other day when I was in yoga practice, working on kapotasana. This is what kapotasana is supposed to look like: This is not what kapotasana looks like when I do it, because my spine doesn't arch nicely like this man's but flattens out into a shallow curve like a rotten footbridge. A collapsing fairytale footbridge beset by trolls. Despite all that,  I try to keep an image of the final version of the pose in my head while I'm making a shallow footbridge with my back and warding off trolls with my mind.

At this point I imagine one or two of you wondering loudly why a person would want to do this at all. My answer is that even when you're doing it badly it feels fantastic. It's a ridiculously powerful pose. I practiced yoga for six years before my teacher gave me this pose and it blew my fucking mind. I once spoke with a woman far younger and more flexible than myself who'd only been practicing 3 months when she was given this pose, and she believes that because she hadn't put enough time into strengthening her nerve channels, this pose caused her to have what felt like a psychotic break. I can't tell you why, other than that it's a pose that requires equal amounts of intelligence, strength, vulnerability, trust, awareness, and the inability to imagine your life without it.

Anyway, to come out of this pose a more accomplished person will push their hips forward until their thighs are perpendicular to the floor, and let their spine roll up smoothly until their head comes up last. When a less accomplished person such as myself comes out of this pose with a nice, stiff back, I look like Nosferatu rising from his coffin.

I'm working toward not rising up like Count Orlok by wringing every bit of strength out of my quadriceps, and that's why the other day when I was coming out of kapotasana incredibly awkwardly, I had an image of the muscles just above my knees being made of birthday cake. I had a very real sense that every delicious bite of yellow, crumbly birthday cake I've ever eaten in my life has settled just above my knees, and it's doing fuck-all to help me out of this pose.

I demand that you care what I had for lunch!

Last week Jack and Jackson went on their annual camping trip to Big Sur, so I took the opportunity to lie in bed and stare at the ceiling and figure out what to do next with my life. Meditating like this doesn't normally produce results for me beyond maybe an angry nap, but for once I tried to be honest with myself. I was inspired by a meditation teacher I recently read an interview with. The full interview is here, but the money quote is here:

Safransky: What's the single most important piece of advice you would give to someone who wants to awaken?

Adyashanti: Get in touch with what you really want. What does awakening mean for you? Do you want it because it sounds good? Then you've borrowed someone else's idea of it. What is it that's intrinsic to you? What's been important to you your whole life? If you touch upon that, you are in touch with a force that no teacher or teaching could ever give you. You are quite on your own in finding it. No one can tell you what that is. Once you feel it, once you're clear on it, everything else will unfold from there. If you need a teacher, you'll find one. If you need a teaching, you'll bump into it, probably in the most unexpected way.

For me, I realized that I needed to start small and work from a really simple place and then see what happens. I wanted to step outside the boundaries of writing/blogging for awhile, so the next day during my lunch hour I charged up my point-and-shoot and made a little video. It's sloppy and it's 4:00 long, which is about twice the average amount of time most people spend on this site, so I'm begging your indulgence.

Lunch with the Letter B from Eden M. Kennedy on Vimeo.

(Here's the link to the video clip I use when I'm talking about the polygraph test for plants.)

(Also, in the video I say "paganist" but what I really mean is "animist." And the fact that I talk all that time without tying everything up in a meaningful conclusion is the result of my freewheeling, unscripted narrative me needing to shut up and eat and then get back to work.)


I am reading a Martha Beck book. I didn't know who she was until recently, but it turns out that half the women I know are super into Martha Beck and her kooky, down-to-earth, life-coaching wisdom. I am digging Martha's vibe, despite the fact that life coaching is not the kind of work I've ever taken seriously. I've met one life coach in real life and she was full of shit, unfortunately, and any time I've read about life coaches their stories make me nervous, i.e., they woke up one morning and realized it was their calling to get other people to pay exorbitant, ongoing sums to wake up and find their callings. Be that as it may, I've loosened up and come to the conclusion that it's probably like any other profession: some people are great at it and give the profession a good name, and the rest of the people who do it fall somewhere on the spectrum between GIFTED and IF THIS DOESN'T WORK OUT I'M GOING TO GO BACK TO MY BOOTH AT THE CRAFT FAIR. (No disrespect meant to the craft fair booth-dwellers among us; the world would be a sad, sock zombie-less place without you.)

So, in this book, Finding Your Own North Star, Martha Beck talks about the difference between your social self, which knows how to get by politely in the world and make you seem acceptable to the general public, and your essential self, which may or may not want to dance with wolves, play naked in a jug band, run a marathon backwards, or leave society altogether and live in a windowless yurt in Outer Mongolia, which I've heard is the most beautiful place on earth.

Martha's idea about two selves coincides somewhat (somewhat) with what yoga has taught me, which is that we have five selves nested somewhat like Russian dolls, deeper and deeper within. Your outer doll-layer is your physical body, a.k.a. the food body (or the annamaya kosha), but beneath this is your energetic body (the pranamaya kosha) which is illuminated by the breath. Then comes your mental/emotional body (the manomaya kosha) which is what makes you feel like a distinct person from all the rest of us, and then within that you have the body of knowing (the vijnanamaya kosha) which is composed of your intellect and your five senses. Lastly and most subtly at the center of it all is the body of bliss (the anandamaya kosha) a.k.a. the causal body, or the soul, "the place of joy, peace, understanding, and union—the Seer itself."

Ideally, yoga can heal them all, but Martha seems to be focusing pretty much exclusively on the leap to bliss. I love her, but I'm not sure how she's going to help me achieve it. She has some great quizzes in the book, and I'm only on chapter three, so I figure if I go for a two-pronged approach (one Martha Beck book + yoga three or four times a week) I'll crack through the illusions caused by the poisonous seed of conditioned existence and start an online life coaching course by the end of the year.

No, but seriously. I have no idea what to do with all this information.

Going Solo

Things I love about practicing yoga at home:

  1. I don't have to arrange my day around a yoga studio's schedule
  2. I don't have to pay for it
  3. I don't have to spend half an hour on the road (plus $4 in gas) getting there and back
  4. No vaguely New Age music
  5. I can wear shorts and my most comfortable, least supportive tops and no 20-year-old will glance at me and possibly wonder (a) if her skin's going to get all crinkly like that when she gets old, or (b) why don't I cover that shit up
  6. Nobody to get arrogant about their space or feel entitled to "accidentally" thwack me if they feel like my mat's invading their territory
  7. I don't have to pray to become invisible during backbends so that the teacher doesn't come over and help me, when really all I want is to be able to struggle through, no matter how ugly what I'm doing may look

Things I don't like about practicing at home:

  1. I can't put down my mat next to advanced students and use them for motivation
  2. Yes, well, sometimes it's nice to have a little help with backbends
  3. Those 20-year-olds are a good reminder that it's totally appropriate for me not to be as flexible as someone half my age
  4. Hippie music camouflages the unhappy noises my body makes sometimes
  5. My home practice space is small and I often accidentally knock into chairs, bookshelves, stray shoes, or other detritus that has nowhere else to go
  6. Then of course Peewee cries and harrumphs outside the door until I open it and let him in
  7. And then he wants to lie on my mat and make it impossible to do anything

Speaking of Peewee, it's his birthday today. He's four in Earth years, but if you give him five human years for his first two, and seven human years for everything after that, he's actually 24. Like many people that age, he's into high-risk activities:

Unlike many people that age, he naps five to six times a day and eats out of a bowl on the floor. Happy birthday, Peewee! We will continue to enjoy having you around for as many years as your genetic programming allows for, and we will try not to think about how much longer that will actually be.

This morning during all of our separate trips outside, each of us noticed the dirty twin-sized mattress leaning up against the wall next to the garbage enclosure. And then we had to talk about it.

Me: "Is it so hard to stick that in the dumpster? Assuming you're strong enough to haul it all the way out to within a foot of the dumpster, can you not go the extra mile and push it up into the trash? Absolutely no one is going to recycle that, it's disgusting."

Jack: "Jackson said* maybe a hobo could use it."

Me: "You think? Hobos need to stay mobile."

Jack: "Maybe an immobile hobo."

"The Immobile Hobos" is either your new band name or a class of Coach bags that weigh 500 pounds.

* Jack has to take Jackson to school for an entire week as payback for missing the MANDATORY PARENTS NIGHT last week, which I went to, and which resulted in me volunteering to help with something like six different events this school year. I did it to make up for the last two years of book-related absence on my part. Do you want me to participate in something? Try guilt! It works like a charm.

On the road again

Alice and I are about to take off again, leaving hearth and home to the care of the menfolk. For this leg of the tour we'll be reading, signing books, and meeting up with bloggers and other civilians in Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, and Burlingame. (All sponsored by BlogHer, for whose generosity we are deeply grateful!) (Details, times, and locations are here.) I had a little free time on my hands this week so I made a new yogabeans! Please to enjoy.

Inner Space

Jackson and I were looking for some entertaining bedtime reading so we picked up a copy of Dav Pilkey's The Adventures of Ook and Gluk, Kung-fu Cavemen from the Future. It's fun and it's silly, as time-traveling cave boys with missing teeth and afros often are. But you know that phrase, When the student is ready the teacher appears? Apparently, if you give me a kids' book full of Kung-fu Panda-style wisdom* I'm halfway to Buddha consciousness.

I had been trundling along for 76 pages, tra-la tra-la, but when we got to this page I stopped. I probably read it five or six times until Jackson was like, Mom, turn the page, PLEASE, but I couldn't because all the atoms in my body had lifted apart from one another and I found myself floating between them, grounded in groundlessness, space, and light. It was like Fantastic Voyage combined that other thing with Martin Short when he played a grocery clerk who got accidentally injected into and then sneezed out of Dennis Quaid. Clearly, a decade-plus of yoga has made me susceptible to meditative suggestion (I will relax my teeth, breathe into my forehead, and lift my cervix at the drop of a mat) but it was one of those moments when something I read just fit. There is so much space within me! Ahh. I am more than an inflexible spine or a clenched heart; I have a universe inside that's big enough for me and Raquel Welch to tease each other's hair zero-gravity style.

*Did I tell you I once saw David Carradine? I was pulling into the parking lot of the old Vons on Victoria Street, looking for a spot, and these two pedestrians, a man and a woman, were walking reeeeaally slowly in front of me, not over to the side so cars could pass, but right in the middle of the, whatever, car lane. So because I was young and impatient and the world wasn't responding to my needs quickly enough, I did the old passive-aggressive parking lot move, I drove reeeeaally slowly ten feet behind them, not close enough to run them down but close enough to be all HI, YOU'RE WALKING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE LANE AND I NEED HOT DOG BUNS. Then the man turned around with his stringy hair and rangy physique and I was all, "Oh, shit, it's David Carradine," and that was my last thought on this planet because then he bored a hole into my skull with the intensity of his stare. And then I stopped my car and he turned away and he and his lady friend went into the store. At that point I may or may not have driven away and gone to another grocery store, I can't be sure of what happened because Kwai Chang Caine erased my mind.

But you know who I really loved in that family was the dad, John Carradine. If you haven't seen it, you should rent The Grapes of Wrath right now, it's so fucking good.