Commonplace

seeking the story in the ordinary

Going There

I set out on the open road towards Salisbury, Connecticut, reacquainting myself with the Prius. My beloved beast of a minivan—my comfort, my crutch—had to stay at home with the boys. I know where I am in that van.

I let my mind wander—sinking into the past as I stared intently ahead. My regular rotation of radio stations quickly turned to static, so I switched to ‘seek.’ Sixty-five mph felt too fast a clip at which to pass through the world, and I was grateful for the slower pace as the roads turned more rural, familiarity receding in the rearview.

My destination was a fixed point on a map on my phone screen. But I veered off onto dirt roads whenever moved or when I tired of someone trailing me. I snapped photos, breathed in the clean, cold winter air, blasted Cat Stevens’ Another Saturday Night from the car speakers as I captured an abandoned farmhouse in the fading light. I felt the freedom and confidence that comes from being on the road alone, beholden to no one, turning off the beaten path into the unknown. Life is in the detours.

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As I neared the Inn, Waze auspiciously read “almost there,” and yet the destination never came. Anticipation building, I drove on for another several minutes before realizing I’d clear overshot it. Left to navigate on my own, I circled back and caught the missed turn on my second try. I parked and looked down; Waze blinked back. “Almost there,” it still read.

photo-101

Being There*

The rabbi’s manual in the car console. The Inn on the corner. The ice melt residue on my leather boots. The rocking chairs on the porch. The bible in my room’s desk drawer. The subtle throbbing of the cold sore on my upper lip and the crack on my right pinky finger from the dry winter air.

The bellhop escorted me to my room, told me there’s yoga at 5:30. She must have sensed my reluctance, for she offered, “Another woman in your party may not attend; she just got here too.” An out. Permission to do what I always do, what I do best: watch from the sidelines. Not engage. Forgo immersing into this life and instead only bear witness. Skim, not sink in.

But if not now, when? Did I drive all this way (it really wasn’t that far) to sit in a (gorgeous) room at an inn, alone? Doing nothing new? Taking no chances? I chastised myself with a series of cliché motivational quotes.

Then I sent frantic messages to a dear writer friend: What does one wear to yoga? Something I, admittedly, should have researched before I packed for the trip.

I settled on my oldest, most comfortable black leggings and as I faced my self-doubt in the full-length mirror, the phone rang. It was Dani. It was time for yoga. Let us begin.

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I’m terrible at yoga, it turns out. Oh, I know, you’ll say it was my first time, it’s a practice, you can’t be bad at yoga. But let me stop you right there—I’m bad at yoga. I’m ok with this. It’s good to know.

The instructor’s directions tumble out one right after another. I can’t make sense of them. I’ve temporarily forgotten—I mean plain don’t know—my left from my right. Everyone else seems experienced. The instructions come faster and faster and I’m lost. Utterly lost. I can’t keep up or follow along. My neck muscles tighten. I’m worried about the hole in the inner seam of these old, old leggings. I’m wishing, wishing, wishing for it to be over.

I stubbornly keep at it—not for myself, no. But so as not to disturb the practice of the others around me. Of Dani Shapiro next to me. Worried about everyone else. Not what’s inside, not myself.

Listening, wanting—to be able to do it, to do it right, yearning for positive reinforcement, for external validation. Failing. Falling. Unbalanced, unempowered. Horrible. Just horrible at this. My head hanging down, blood rushing, the strain on my legs is almost unbearable.

Realizing then, in that moment, this is how I live. Looking out more than in. Wondering, worrying about perception, appeasing others more than asserting myself. Never acknowledging, never relying on the intensity of my inner strength, my own self, somewhere, way down underneath it all.

I don’t trust in my body, this body. I don’t give birth naturally. I don’t dance. I don’t assume I will find the rhythm or know the steps. I’m always wondering if I’m doing it right, who’s watching, if I fit in. Mine is not a smooth path through this world. It’s staccato, belabored. Unnatural, overthought. Nail-bitten. Lacking flow.

I can’t get out of my own head.

I’m still on that yellow mat. It’s mocking me. I set my sights on one thing: keeping my balance. It’s a worthy goal. Hard, but achievable. For several seconds, I waver and wobble in place. Progress.

“Breathe,” she says. And I realize…I forgot to breathe.

Here’s the thing, the dirty little secret: I’m never present. My body is often in one place, my mind another. My children are young yet—the oldest barely in grade school. My fingers fasten coat buttons while my mind wanders to what’s next…what else…what’s for dinner…do I need to buy oranges? Where’s the baby? Has he gotten into the markers? What can I be doing in this rare moment while my children self-entertain? Wash the dishes? Prepare their school lunches? Clean up the strewn puzzle pieces in that corner? Lay out their pajamas? When I manage to make it out of the house alone, I smile through gritted teeth, where I hold all my tension, and worry about what the boys are doing back home. Often the pressure to be present bears down more heavily than the weight of everything else I’m carrying.

Maybe I’ll be different one day. When the children are grown, when I can complete a thought without interruption, when my mind is no longer splintered and shattered and seemingly held together with scotch tape.

But somehow I doubt it. I’ve come to understand that this is who I am. Everywhere and always. I thrive on the chaos and overwhelm. On the complexity of being several places at once. On the fight to find myself in a life that could so easily edge me out. It’s the contrasts I seek: waking in darkness, calm amidst chaos, stillness within sound.

I like writing around the edges of my little life. The thrill of fitting it in, tucking it into the corners of my days—a stashed secret I can carry with me through a life filled with so much else. The me I know now is surrounded by boys and noise. And it’s the struggle to find silence that makes it all the more sweet, that makes it mine.

Coming Home

Upon return, I quickly settled back into my life. Within minutes, I’m in the warm minivan, boys buckled in back seats, driving to pick up my oldest from after school science. A weight lifted. An expectation fulfilled.

This is where I belong.

The scent of another writer’s perfume still lingers on my scarf, filling my nostrils as my sons fill the car.

Suddenly, the song I had waited the entire trip to hear found me there—on the road home, driving into the most exquisite sunset as the Northern State Parkway rose and fell…where I could be my whole self.

At first, I felt deflated that the retreat was over, that I had returned. That everything was still where I’d left it. That it was all waiting to swallow me whole.

But what happens right here, at 3 a.m., at my desk in the darkened yellow room with my sweet boys sleeping soundly nearby…this is my writing life. This is the life I love.

We can’t make ourselves anything other than who we are. We can only, we must, bring our true, broken, flawed, idiosyncratic selves to the page.

As I hung my black skinny pants in the closet, the smoky smell of the fireplace from the prior day’s workshop hit me and I was overcome. With nostalgia and regret.

And the deep relief of returning home.

 

*I am only writing here of a small sliver of my two-day retreat experience. There was writing and workshopping with remarkable women, our stories coming together. There was good and hard work punctuated by good and honest mealtime conversation among strangers no longer. There were snowstorms swirling outside and warm fires burning within. There was much I didn’t write about here.

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20 thoughts on “Yoga Dropout

  1. Yes, yes and yes. This – We can’t make ourselves anything other than who we are. We can only, we must, bring our true, broken, flawed, idiosyncratic selves to the page – just perfect. I also think that the issue of presence, whether or not it’s something that troubles you, changes with the kids’ ages. I really do. Actually everything changes as they change. xox

    1. I find it so fascinating to discover how I’m constantly evolving along with my children, but also to acknowledge those stubborn characteristics in each of us that are here to stay…and thank you, always…xox

  2. Dana says:

    Dina, I sank into this sliver of your trip expecting something different but loving what I got. You came at me sideways with the title and the lovely meandering drive, and then the 530 yoga call. I knew this wasn’t going to be one of those, ‘and I joined in and it was such an epiphany pieces,’ and thank goodness.

    I get it, I get you on this. I am similar, not easily present or in my body, rarely just being able to sit, my mind is always racing, hopping ahead. Physical group stuff is hard on me, I often feel behind, struggling to keep up.

    I agree with Lindsey that knowing who we are is all we can do, being authentic, not trying to squeeze into someone else’s mold.

    Thank you for all the honesty here, and I’m glad that the trip sounded wonderful in so many ways.

    1. I was so curious to try yoga for the first time, as many people I love and admire find it so central and fulfilling–I would finally see what all the fuss was about! And yet, deep down, I think I knew it wasn’t quite me. Despite that, I believe I gave it an honest try, and as with every experience, it helped me understand more about myself and my place in the world. As I age, I become only more committed to authenticity–to knowing who we truly are and accepting that, for better or worse. We can’t all be interested in, good at, fulfilled by the same things–how boring that would be! Thanks, always, for reading & sharing your thoughts here, Dana…xoxo

  3. Tricia says:

    I feel so much of this so deeply. The wanting to travel but the strong pulls to be home in the familiar. The temptation to take the out and watch from the sidelines (I do it so much too). The feeling of never being fully present. I’ve been working so hard on that one this year and I love Lindsey’s words – that it changes as the kids get older. I so hope for that.

    1. YES–those perpetual pulls and tugs and how we push against them…I do feel I’m getting better at *trying* and accepting failure somehow…knowing it’s just part of what makes me who I am. I was a quitter as a kid–bad at piano? Stop taking the lessons. Math didn’t come naturally? Ok, must not be my thing. I despised that feeling of not being good at something. My instinct after the first couple (difficult) minutes of yoga was to throw in the towel and sit on the sidelines. But I kept with it for the entirety of both sessions during the retreat, and I felt good about that commitment to see it through–and then assess ;). Thanks, always, Tricia…xoxo

  4. Deb says:

    I’m going to be the annoying jerk that says I was never present either — and I learned it (a bit) over time. While it is true that writing is a place where I always feel “flow” (easily, without struggle), yoga — the PRACTICE of yoga, the breathing, not the postures and the posturing — helped me get there. I miss it so much now that I am in the flow of toddlerdom. The thing is, yoga is just one way, you know? If you find it in writing — and you are a beautiful writer — then that may be enough for you. All I’m saying is, you might not want to give up on your body just yet. 🙂 ps – you are a breathtakingly beautiful master of prose…

    1. Thank you so much for this, Deb. I love these thoughts–yes, yoga is just one way. Waking early and working with words does bring me a sense of contentment and presence that carries me through each day in a way nothing else does. Maybe that is how I achieve that sense of being in the moment, in the world. I love that. And of course, there’s still struggle there…but we’ll see, maybe I’ll engage my body in some form of practice again…someday…;). And thank you, thank you for all your kind words–they fill me up. xo

  5. thelatchkeymom says:

    Dina this is gorgeous! And I can relate to never being present – to my mind being one place and the body another. It makes me sad that it is so, yet the more I try to change, the more distracted I get. Que sera sera…

    1. Thank you, Allie! Well, maybe Lindsey’s right and it all changes as the kids grow…or maybe we just find our own little ways to carve out space and time where we feel whole. Good luck out there…xo

  6. For the reasons you described, being so concerned with those around me and whether I am doing it right that I cannot unit my mind with my breath with my movement, I practice yoga alone. I didn’t set out to, but when the girls were babies and I couldn’t get out of the house to attend classes, I discovered yogatoday.com. (That sounds like a pitch. Maybe it is.) I identify with not being present. It isn’t just a problem of a wandering mind, but that I often physically attempt to move in multiple directions at once. I’ve been this way always, children have only enhanced the characteristic. Yoga and meditation have helped me tremendously. (Still selling it.) This was beautiful, as always. xo

    1. SOLD. Kidding ;). Although at the very least, intrigued. I was hopeful, curious when I began the yoga session–thinking I could be a perfect candidate for what it had to offer, given my chaotic life, body, mind. Maybe I wanted too much from it, for a first time, in a group of new strangers upon whom I very much wanted to make a good impression. Those are high stakes, destined to yield some disappointment. Maybe, maybe I will check out yogatoday.com in the quiet of my own space and time and see where it leads. Keep an eye out for a commission coming your way. …and thanks, hun. xo

  7. Nina Badzin says:

    This spoke to me so much. Although I get up five mornings to have any reliable time, the rest of my writing life most definitely fits around my other life— my hour-to-hour mom, friend, exerciser, grocery shopper life. I’m not at a point where it is the main event. I don’t know if it will ever be. But I really love how things are now. Maybe it takes going away from the routine to appreciate there is, indeed, a routine of its own in place and not in need of an overhaul and not in need of waiting for some magical future time of life. That’s a gift to know that.

    1. Yes, exactly. Getting away and gaining perspective on my life as it is, and discovering how much I really love how things are now was very powerful. It was kind of like the flip of that children’s book “It Could Always Be Worse” (tell me you know what I’m talking about!) — instead of adding more and more, I stripped it all away, and realized I actually missed all the chaos and busy and overwhelm when it was gone. Thanks, always, for reading & sharing your thoughts, Nina! xox

  8. bam says:

    “Life is in the detours.” There’s my takeaway line for the day, where undoubtedly, I will fall into cracks, get waylaid, find myself in corners.

    Since, despite my late start, I am just a wee bit farther down the mamahood road (boys 21 and 13), I actually feel my heart pang every time you write “the baby,” and I know it’s an apt description, not like my nostalgic tendency to always call my now-teenager my “little one.” So I read you not from the thick of the melee, but from an angle just beginning to look back on those years. I love that for you the act of writing is perhaps the part of the day where the synapses start firing in straight lines, where the elusive dots begin to connect, to make sense. I don’t know that I would have made it quite so wholly through those years were it not for the sacred hollows I carved out in the shadows, on the margins, in the dim light of the dawn, when I too put words to screen, reached out and netted moments that otherwise would have flitted away, lost to time and memory and constant distraction.

    I love that you know you are home with car seats buckled in behind you, within reach of those fleshy arms and thighs and fists that only want to sidle up against you, and pull you into the whir and the rhythm of their everyday, all-day song.

    What no one really told me (or if they did I didn’t quite grasp it), was that it was in the messy glorious years of early and middle motherhood that I finally unearthed the places in me that matter the most, that put depth to my days. Something beautiful really is stirring, is growing, is becoming. And a mother who pays exquisite attention to her babies, and to her evolving self, is on the frontlines of a mysterious, miraculous birthing — the very essence of all you might be.

    Welcome home.

    1. “the part of the day where the synapses start firing in straight lines” — yes, exactly. And this, “the sacred hollows I carved out in the shadows, on the margins, in the dim light of the dawn, when I too put words to screen” — oh how I love the way we pave our paths with shared steps–yours simply slightly farther ahead than mine. And how grateful I am that you have taken the time to turn around, glance back, and shed some light so that I may walk on with more clarity, seeing more beauty as I make my way. Grateful for you. xox

  9. I love this post. And I would love to hear more about the writing conference. I’m looking for one to attend in the next 12-18 months.

    1. Thank you, Christine! It was pretty magical–Dani offers several a year (you can find out more here: http://danishapiro.com/workshops/), and I highly recommend working with her–she is as sharp, insightful, and generous as you might imagine. But of course, there are many opportunities out there, and I’m always on the lookout too. (Actually, I’ll be spreading the word about conferences like these in my blog editor role at Literary Mama!) Let’s stay in touch. xo

  10. acb23 says:

    What? You don’t like yoga???? Can’t be. 🙂 I love yoga, but love more your admission of honesty. Or maybe more your realization. I was thinking about this today- obviously we should just be who we are- but I wonder sometimes, how to find my way back to that true self. There are so many layers of who I used to be, who I want to be, who I think I am or who I think I should be, that it’s hard to actually know. That’s why experiences like you describe are so freeing- when you are in a moment where you cannot be anything other than your true self. Oh and in a move of solidarity, I will admit I hate skiing. I know, I know, all the cool kids love to ski. I hate it.

    1. Don’t like skiing??? For shame. 😉 Ok, I get it — it’s cold, lift lines suck, you have to wear two tons of plastic boot and walk around like an elephant when not on the slopes. Definitely not a perfect sport…but oh how I love it. Especially that feeling right after you slide off the ski lift and perch at the top of a fresh trail, 360-degree views all around, and take that first swoop, slashing the snow, and it’s as if you could be flying…I love how such different things bring us happiness and fulfillment. And it evolves over time, too — which gets at your questions of how we actually know who we truly are. I do believe there are certain fundamental, unyielding qualities that persist throughout our lives, but I agree with you that so much of who we are in the world is a game of shifts and change, and we’re constantly trying to keep up, to figure out how we fit in, what we feel, who we are at any given moment in response to circumstances that are in perpetual flux. Thanks for *your* honesty here–and for appreciating mine. xoxo

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Jena Schwartz

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