Friday, 27 September 2013

Time Travel

I've had the fortune to be asked by a friend from freshman year of college to give an Alexander Technique presentation to his high school choir students. Visiting (any) high school is such a trip, isn't it?? I spent a half hour scoping the classroom and the kids before excusing myself to lay in the field and process all that such a visit foments (and to recover from an early morning's drive to Charlotte, NC). This friend and his wife are a high school music teacher and a manager for Verizon Wireless. I think back to other friends I knew from freshman year: an investment advisor, an engineer, an emergency room physician. I muse on the career paths I didn't take, wondering what led them their ways - and me, mine. What would an advisor have said to me at age 18? What was I good at, inclined toward, what sort of prospects did my parents and elders see for me? I didn't have a clue. I can understand why parents are often the ones who choose a mate and a career for their child... Hopefully they have a broader vision that allows them to offer helpful guidance. What might the Now me have said to that young me, in the way of advice or reassurance?

I guess I can kinda see some sense in the path I've taken (thus far!). I can understand how and why I was drawn to making pottery - I always enjoyed being crafty. I went above and beyond in Home Ec, buying additional project kits and sewing them by hand on the weekend. And delving into the world of craft, art, and technique led me to consider deeply the question of what Self to express; what showed up as important to me? What did I want to say, convey, contribute to the world? And then, of course, that led me to the How of all that, which is a graceful segue right into the work that enthralls me now, Alexander Technique.

As I sit outside my friend's suburban-development home, with tidy yards encircling a half-block long mowed grass commons, I imagine showing my 18-year-old self the details of her life at 40. This is the car you drive (old! quirky! loud! kinda cool!), the house you live in (what's with that crazy wild garden? Only one story?) here's the lineup of lovers you've had (no comment). What would she think of me? If anything I hope she'd find me calm, at peace with the choices I've made, though I imagine and can feel her confusion and apprehension.

Yet.... There's one aspect of me now I think she'd be astonished and thrilled about:

I dance.

Look through the eyes of this awkward, uncertain teenager. Years of being bookish have left her slumped and bespectacled. She hears she's "cute" but can't imagine hearing "hot." And then, she sees me dancing...

Tango! Swing! Balboa! Blues! For gods sake, is that striptease?!?

That's someone I can be excited to be. In the face of those concerns that I've somehow missed out on having the suburban lifestyle, the kids, the 9 to 5 routine, the apparent assurance of it all... The only thing I know for sure is, I'm going dancing.


Thursday, 19 September 2013

A Season for Grieving

Pocono Pines

Thursday was the Harvest Moon. It was also my deceased stepfather's birthday, and today is the year anniversary of my father's passing. A few days ago I visited the Highland Lake Inn, outside of Flat Rock. The early morning mist, the sky above the lake, the edge of autumn in the air reminded me so poignantly of this very time last year, when I was in the Poconos at my father's bedside. He picked a beautiful time to die. The day after he left I spent from dawn until dusk outside, walking the quiet neighborhoods and shuttered golf course near my brother's home, appreciating the incredible beauty of leaves changing, determined breezes tempered by still-warm sun. My dad spent his own youth visiting that area, later telling us stories of "Lutherland"* and showing us the remains of foundations from old buildings. The Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania are a more northern part of the mountain chain that frames my home in Asheville, NC. Perhaps the soothing I receive now from them comes from having spent my summers as a youth embraced by the northern brethren of pines, lakes, moss, and berry bushes.

Pinecrest Lake, Pocono Pines

The seasons this year have felt significantly different to me; I didn't mind a cool and overcast spring, and summer's end doesn't fill me with a familiar, yearning despair. I'm beginning to see the beauty in things ending, appreciating that final hurrah of brilliant color, strong sun, the apparent freshness of cooling air before it becomes downright cold.

Apple galette

That doesn't mean that sadness is a stranger to me. If anything it's flowing with more emphasis, but through a clearer channel. I wonder, dad and stepdad, what do you see? What would (do) you say to me? I am saying, I miss you. In honor of my dad I am making pies as I hold vigil; one of his last phone calls to me expressed his wish that I win first prize at a friend's annual pie contest. One of the last things he said to me was how much he loved my bread.

My dad, Andre

Funny how grief comes... and goes. Thank you crickets, for singing me to sleep; thank you sun, for rising without fail. To everything there is a season, and this one is for savoring ends.

My stepdad, Ted




Tuesday, 20 August 2013

The feeling of YES!!

Way back in May, my friend Libby sent me a link about an astrological occurrence, the rebirth of Venus. She asked me what energy I wanted to incubate over the next eight months, the time of Venus' brightening and rising. What vision did I wish to cultivate? What would I like to bring to fruition?

I found myself reaching for the feeling of YES: of absolute satisfaction, of accomplishment that I got it, I did it! This picture of me (at 25) captures it beautifully. My boyfriend at the time and I took a river trip on the Nantahala in western NC. We'd spent plenty of time in a canoe in the northeast, and weren't satisfied to navigate the final rapids on this particular trip just once--after the first time through, we portaged our boat back UPstream to run it again. So this picture captures a combination of thrill and assurance, a feeling of confidence, of power, while still in the midst of a challenge. But even more satisfying than the knowledge that I can navigate this turbulent bit is the knowledge that I have given myself the pleasure of success. I brought myself to this point of receiving this good feeling, of basking in a wave of well being. I love when I love myself this way...

For the past month I've been loving myself by going dancing. A lot. Four or five nights a week, I've been doing West Coast Swing, Tango, Lindy Hop, Blues, Burlesque. I love the challenge of learning new ways to move my body, inhabit space, respond to rhythm, listen to my lead. It's that same combination, of tapping into tools I have to stretch myself and discover new pieces, being delighted with what I find.

The only other thing that comes close to lifting my heart the same way is the view from Tennant Mountain on the Art Loeb trail where, as The Who put it so well, I can see for miles and miles... And everywhere my eyes come to rest, the answer is YES.

me and Alexis, Tennant Mt.


Saturday, 27 July 2013

Breadcrumbs...or, I don't know Who I Am

More than a month ago I posted a blog identifying the impossibility of knowing what's coming next. I've been feeling lately how impossible it is to know what I've left behind... not what I've lost, but the trail of breadcrumbs I dropped all along, that are now re-appearing in a transformed way.
The signs are getting bigger. I stopped making pottery seven years ago, and people still comment that they enjoy their daily coffee in a cup I made. Okay, cups are physical and practical, nice to hear that something I brought to life continues to have meaning and provide pleasure.
But signs of invisible imprints are now showing up. Ten days ago I attended another Alexander Technique conference (third one this year!). At the morning gathering I recognized two people who had taken a few lessons with me last summer. One is now in teacher training, and the other is also looking to train. Training is a big commitment -- three years -- and I feel a deep appreciation for whatever came through me that gave them both the insight of "hey, I want to do this, too!"

Later that week a friend awaiting knee surgery told me that applying a suggestion I'd offered a year ago on a steep mountain trail -- to let his eyes guide the movement forward, and trust his feet to find just the right footing -- is one of the few things that relieves his pain. Wow. Something I said is still helping. That's some kinda breadcrumb!!
Finally, yesterday I caught up with a friend from my days in California. It is quite a wake-up call to my sense of self to have a highly respected and successful San Francisco executive of an international company tell me that he learned from ME how to manage his money. He went from renting a teeny apartment and routinely overdrawing his bank account to owning a duplex in the City, in just four years. -- What ?!?! His testimonial confounds my own beliefs of not knowing enough about making and managing money.
So today, I am sitting with the insight that I have no idea the effect I have on people. There are times when I doubt my ability to be and offer what I dream of being and offering, and yet evidence to the contrary has been raining down on me. I am amazed to contemplate the reality that I can help someone else grow in ways I myself aspire to.
That perhaps other people know, more than I, Who I Am. And they're worth listening to.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Plunging in

I had the luxury of spending nearly all of yesterday with one of my favorite people, my friend Melanie. We went to Graveyard Fields on the Blue Ridge Parkway to hike and swim in the waterfalls. Although the morning was clear, it started drizzling not long after we arrived and had started toward Upper Falls. We ducked under a bridge and spent the better part of an hour watching the rain and singing (told you she's awesome!). Two new songs I learned have been going through my head all day, in addition to new ideas born of our conversations.
I shared with Melanie that I've been studying a 1923 book by F.M. Alexander, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual. F.M. proposes a "plan of education" that will "not only meet the needs of the human creature at the present stage of his evolution, but will also meet his future needs, as he passes from this present stage of subconscious guidance and control through the progressive evolutionary stages which lead to a higher and still higher state of civilization." A lofty proposition! But, ninety years after this book was published, his ideas are still cutting-edge.
F.M.'s main concern is with establishing a method of education that will enable us to keep learning, growing, expanding. He criticizes the division of mind and body, as well as methods (in education and physical fitness) that attempt to improve one without considering the other. He proposes that only a comprehensive approach to mind-body coordination, aiming for general rather than specific improvement, will enable us to evolve. The measure of success for any method of education or improvement is simply whether or not it continues to make us able to receive and assimilate new experiences.
F.M. describes four points to consider in measuring human advancement: 1) the degree to which we recognize that whatever errors or failings we perceive are the result of mistaken understanding on our own part; 2) our ability to thoughtfully consider a "new and expanding" idea, find it better than what we've been believing, and feel desire to step into the experiences that are associated with the new idea -- as well as the new self that can absorb these new experiences; 3) our ability to adapt to a rapidly changing environment in a way that benefits (and does not harm) us; and 4) being able to "hold in abeyance the fear of giving up [a] job, in whatever profession, trade, or calling this may be, and boldly to make the necessary change" if we have, in fact, realized that the old understanding does not serve us, and to adjust ourselves to accept and assimilate new knowledge while proceeding with our job.
I've been considering these points deeply. Can I hold my fear in abeyance as I examine the manifestations of my life, genuinely question the beliefs that led to those manifestations, wonder and get excited about what new experiences I might have -- and who I might be -- with other beliefs, and allow myself to adapt to new thoughts and changes in circumstance? Am I willing to give up what I think I know (about myself, about life), such that I am open to having new experiences -- and BEING the person who would have those new experiences?
As the rain diminished, Melanie and I hiked back toward the parking lot and continued on to Lower Falls. The rain had cleared everybody out, and we had the entire lovely scene to ourselves (for about 5 minutes!). Did I mention that there's been something like 15 inches of rain in the past month? Translation: lots of rain makes the water positively *i*c*y*. I'd dipped my feet in the river when we'd first arrived, and pronounced the water "shockingly cold". But something moved me... and I stood at the edge of the pool below the falls for several minutes, patiently contemplating the inevitable. (Do you know that endless moment of not-quite-yet, waiting for "now" to come upon you?)
I waited, and then it came. SPLASH!!! In I went and out I climbed, breathless and thrilled. Then in, again! Six times total. Trembling and exultant, I stretched my arms toward the falls in a wide-open Thank You.
What had me jump in? I turned my gaze to the sky and declared, I am WILLING to dive into the places I've been hesitant and afraid, the new experiences and new me that are outside my current beliefs. See me now, meet me: I surrender!

Monday, 15 July 2013

It ain't over!

Backyard woods

I've been back in Asheville almost two weeks; and back in the States for three. Talk about recalibration! Re-entry from a transformative experience always seems to involve some awkwardness before a new kind of "settled" appears, and this occasion is no different. In some respects 3+ months is not that long to be away, but whole new worlds now seem open and appealing to me.

Along the drive home

At the same time that I'm now entertaining notions of living and studying in a bigger world, I've wanted to bring back to Asheville my "visitor" eyes; to remember to regard this beautiful town and region with the same wonder and appreciation I felt for those places I'd never before seen. (Not so hard, as Ashevillians know: We live where other people dream of visiting! Sensual wisps of smokey clouds linger in the crevices of lush tree-covered mountains, magical lightning bugs flash in rhythm across rolling meadows, the La Zoom comedy tour bus honks as arms wave from its windows, farmer's markets celebrate fat blackberries, spaceship-shaped squash, local goat cheese, and the best bread this side of the Atlantic.)

Downtown corner

Nearly a year ago I created this vision board (below) with my friend Emily. (It helps to have someone else bring over great magazines!) I see pieces of so many experiences reflected in these images: architecture, edges, vistas, flowers, trees, fancy meals, grace.

Vision board

Hints on what's got my attention now:

Language, linguistics, attitudes expressed in speech, how we use our bodies to language -- and how language uses us, what occurs in the mind and body as possible and how we orient ourselves, how we conceive-conceptualize-coordinate ideas and action...

I'll be writing more. Thanks for staying tuned :-)


Wednesday, 26 June 2013


I landed in Chicago last night, after 98 days abroad. Thoughts of my Dad, my reasons for this trip, all that has transpired in the last few seasons drifted across my mind. Connecting with my French heritage was a strong motivation, and I finally made contact with my French relatives last week.

My grandmother, grandfather, and ?


I had said I wanted a countryside experience, and between my favorite hosts and my own family, I got quite the spread. Life at Domaine Gaury bordered on luxury, while life in Fleurfontaine is rural poor.

My great-grandfather, his second wife, and ?

I'm having a hard time knowing what to say. I am thankful I got to meet my cousins, Céline and Sévèrine, and their father, Roland. I had been, quite frankly, terrified at the prospect; both because when they've called me in the past I have been absolutely unable to comprehend their rural dialect, and because they'd sent pictures... So I had an inkling what I was in for.

My grandfather Eugène

They live in a small village, maybe 100 people, outside a bigger small village, and only about 20 minutes from Chartres. Roland is retired from being a painter, and both Céline and Sévèrine are unemployed. I have no idea how much the French government provides its non-working citizens; unlike the U.S., I think it might actually be enough to live on, albeit a very plain existence. They shared a typical lunch of bread, cheese, cured meat, scrambled eggs, and thoroughly cooked canned peas and carrots with me. But life looked grim.

My grandmother Suzanne, center

Aside from doing a little work in the vegetable garden out back, knitting or cross-stitch, and now taking a hospitalized aunt's two dogs on a daily walk, they have not much else to do. At least the TV wasn't on when I was there; we spent most of the day in the tiny kitchen reviewing black-and-white photographs and family documents -- they have done significant genealogical research, thanks to the Paris Archives. Roland showed me his voluminous stamp collection, which reminded me of my Dad's penchant for collecting.

Roland with (some of) his stamps


One of the reasons it took me so long to make contact with the family was that the phone numbers I'd had didn't work. When I asked why they'd changed numbers, it turns out they'd been subjected to relentless crank calls. It makes me sad to think that kind of thing still happens, especially because I've met them, and they're decent people. And even if distantly, my people.

Sévèrine, me, Céline

To end on a positive note: I'm glad I had three months to practice my French before this day! I actually managed to keep up in conversation. So proud of myself :-)


Friday, 21 June 2013

Lovely Chartres

I was welcomed Tuesday evening by Rachel, a young schoolteacher and tri-lingual interpreter, for three nights in Chartres. Wednesday afternoon we wandered downtown and toured the amazing cathedral, one of the first sites recognized as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site.

Chartres Cathédral

Built in less than 50 years on the site of at least 5 prior cathedral, la Cathédral Notre Dame de Chartres has 176 stained glass windows Renovations have been made to clean its interior and exterior: What a dramatic difference in the color of the stone!

That color difference isn't just shadow...


Downhill from the cathedral are sculpted gardens and the old city along the river, with the remains of an original wall surrounding the city, la Porte Guillaume (William's Door).

Gardens below the cathedral
Dining delight
Ruins of Porte Guillaume
Trompe l'oeil fresco




I wanted to make dinner for Rachel, who had tests to grade, so we stopped at an authentic French produce marché (meaning I was immediately chastised for touching the zucchini!).

I was so impressed with the pride of the shopkeeper that I stopped in again on Thursday to buy oranges and chat some more. When he learned I was from the U.S., the merchant told me he is so excited to visit New York City in November -- the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. It was inspiring to realize that the American Dream still motivates many an entrepreneurial spirit, although I think with his sense of purpose, this one would be a success no matter where.

Modest shopkeeper

For my last evening in Chartres, Rachel and I celebrated mutual successes: I had held my own in a day of conversation with my French family, and she had just received tenure at her school!

Weird and wrong...
Beurre salé caramel, glace vanille, crème fouettée. Ah!

Always the adventurer, I ordered a Bigoudène : andouille de Guéménée, pommes caramélisées, compote. Mon Dieu, I've never had sausage that smelled and tasted so bad -- Ugh!! Thankfully dessert was amazing, and after walking a bit Rachel and I took seats to watch Chartres en Lumières, a light show projected onto the cathedral façade. Wow!! Absolutely enchanting.