Monday, March 31, 2014

Day 238 of 365: Exactly What You Need it to Be

My first experience with yoga was when I was in the fourth grade. My mom was taking a weekly yoga class at the town's recreation center. I knew absolutely nothing about yoga -- or what people even did while at yoga -- aside from the fact that sometimes people sat cross-legged with their eyes closed and their thumb and index fingers touching (and somehow this was "meditation"). I decided to try said "meditation" during school while my teacher was passing out a test (because I had heard somewhere that meditation can help you focus and I really, really wanted an A on that test).

As you can imagine, a 10-year-old with her eyes closed, thumb and index fingers touching and legs crossed awkwardly under her desk caught the attention of everyone in the class. The classroom reactions was split pretty much down the middle: half had no idea what I was doing and the other half thought I was trying to talk to the dead. I had absolutely no answers to give them, so instead I got red in the face until the teacher asked everyone to quiet down and start their test.

For the record, I have absolutely no memory of how I did on that test.

My mom eventually traded in yoga for Jazzercise and I didn't have any additional experience with yoga until I was in college. There's a joke that there's a time and a place for everything, and that time/place is college. I knew that the university's gym offered yoga classes, but the idea of being in a yoga class for a solid hour -- sometimes even an hour and a half -- seemed absurdly daunting. I mean, for crying at loud: I wasn't even in the gym for an hour.

But I wanted to try it out for the same reason why I wanted to try sushi and go abroad for a semester: I had never done it before and I wanted to see what the big fuss was about. So I decided to go online and find a few ten- and twenty-minute classes on YouTube. I was lucky enough to find a few yoga instructors who had a very, well, approachable approach to yoga. This would eventually evolve into me taking a wide variety of classes, from power yoga to kripalu and back again. I was trying to figure out what I should be getting out of yoga: was I supposed to experience enlightenment during savasana? Am I failure if I fidget instead? Is this just a nice workout and stretch? At what point do my heels actually come down and my back actually straightens while in down dog?

It took a few years and a lot of messing around at home on my own yoga mat before I realized quite possibly the most important thing to realize with yoga: yoga is exactly what you make of it and exactly what you need it to be.

Are you going to yoga class because you need something to balance out a stressful day? Awesome. Are you going to yoga class because all your friends are doing it and you're curious as to what it's about? Great. Are you doing this yoga sequence purely to warm up your muscles and joints to prevent injury? Have at it. No judgements, no assumptions.

Do you need yoga to be a mental experience, a spiritual experience, a physical experience, or some combination of the three? Whatever you need it to be, it is.

My goal as a yoga instructor is to produce that same amount of warmth and approachability that so many "YouTube Yogis" would put forth. I want to welcome in the person who, in the fourth grade, thought yoga was a way to talk to the dead. I want the person who rolls their eyes at the idea of chakras and I want the person who genuinely wonders if "opening her heart chakra" will help her feel better about an issue at hand. I want those with perfect ujjayi breath and I want those who panic over the idea of constricting the back of their throat. I want to make my classes approachable and fun and open enough that students can take whatever they need to take from the class.

I remember going on a YouTube video and seeing this novel-length comment about how this particular video was a fraud because the instructor didn't emphasize ujjayi breath and how it's not "real yoga" unless you are doing ujjayi breath. And I couldn't help but think of all the people who typically get turned away and turned off from yoga because of guys like that. Guys who treat yoga like this exclusive club, ready and willing to berate those who fall short of the requirements, letting you know what "real" yoga is or isn't.

As a yoga instructor, I hope I can be a counterbalance to that. I hope that, bare minimum, I can show people that yoga is exactly what you need it to be, the same way the poses are exactly what you need it to be through the variations and modifications (or through doing a completely different move instead). I want to foster growth, but never force it.

Yoga is exactly what you make of it, and exactly what you need it to be. And that will differ from day to day, hour to hour, even pose by pose. And there's nothing wrong with needing something different or something that is off the beaten path. Acceptance, understanding, and growth. If nothing else, that's what I want to have in my class.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Day 237 of 365: Off the Grid

It's the little things that remind you how good you have it. Or used to have it.

Take, for instance, a dishwasher, or a washer/dryer in the same unit as you. My husband's first apartment -- deep in the heart of Slummerville Somerville -- had no dishwasher. You realize just how awesome it is -- just how much work you are relieved of -- when you have a dishwasher. Our Nashua apartment had no washer/dryer in the unit and we had to trug our stuff out to the "community room" to wash our clothes. Even though we were maybe 10 steps from said "community room", it was still a chore to end all chores, making us opine about our apartment on the North Shore, even though it was grossly overpriced.

Living in a small town means, more likely than not, your home is barely on the grid. And by that, I mean the only thing that the town really supplies directly to you is electricity. In the city/dense suburbs, everything comes in through an intricate set of pipes. When you're out in the woods so to speak, laying that pipe makes no sense. The ROI is next to zero. So instead, we get our water from a well, we get our heat from a tank, and we have a septic system. And, since most garbage disposals are not septic-system-friendly, we went the first 6+ months of homeownership without one.

You forget just how good it is to have a garbage disposal in your sink until you are sans disposal. Suddenly, you're emptying out the strainer every damn day. You cringe when you make rice or quinoa because you know that means an extra strainer-cleaning.

We used some of our tax-return money to invest in a septic-system-friendly disposal. My husband expertly installed it and, as of last night, we are back to being civilized people. I diced up potatoes as part of dinner yesterday and tossed the bruised ends into the sink, just on principle alone.

Even though living away from central pipeline comes with its own set of disadvantages (like we can't run the dishwasher and washing machine at the same time, lest we overflow our septic system), I absolutely love it. Maybe it's because part of me eyes modern civilization, knowing full well that all this shit could collapse at any second. Maybe I just like being self-sufficient. But I like having my house be almost entirely off the grid. If I could (and we had the money for it), we'd have solar panels on our roof (potentially removing the need for city-delivered electricity). In fact, while I wistfully dream of owning condos in every corner of the world, my husband dreams of building a second house that is entirely off the grid.

But then again, this really shouldn't come as any surprise to anyone who knows me (or my husband): I like being independent in that way, a part of the pack on a voluntary basis, but otherwise striking it out on their own. The same reason why I cringed at "group projects" or anything that involved working alongside anyone else.

And one of the things I love about living in New Hampshire is how close the boonies can be to civilization. The same way you drive half an hour away from any of the major cities and be in the forests (and, once you get to Manchester and Concord, it's not even a 30-minute drive; cross the border and you can hit the sticks), the forests are only a quick drive to back to civilization. I can get to "Manch-vegas" in less time than it takes me to find parking in Boston. I can be part of the crowd on a very easy and very convenient voluntary basis.

It's always interesting how I keep taking these mundane things that happen and spinning them into broader viewpoints on my life. You can just call me the JD of the blogosphere. Because I'm about as adept at this as the writers from Scrubs. I'll let you decide if I'm complimenting or insulting myself.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Day 236 of 365: Fun Money

I'll be the first to admit that my husband and I really lucked out after I graduated college: we never had to budget.

Neither of us had an absurd amount of student debt (his parents helped out a considerable amount; I had scholarship and co-op money to soften the blow, and my mom used part of the estate she inherited from her own mother to help me with my loans) and neither of us had issues finding employment in our fields of interest. Especially once we moved out to New Hampshire (with the combo no-income-tax-and-cheaper-rent), money was never really an issue. Saving up for a house was probably way easier for us than it should have been. We were keen on impulse shopping, impulse vacations, and absurd amounts of gifts to everyone in our respective families.

And then we bought a house and I left teaching.

On top of that, we bought a second car, my husband went back to school to get his MBA, and, at the beginning of this year, I went back to become certified as a yoga instructor. And while I love being my own boss, freelancing doesn't exactly bring in the steady income like being a full-time teacher did. Suddenly, money stopped being something you spend like you're a freshman in college.

I can't help but feel like Gwyneth Paltrow; so out of touch with reality, looking at how normal people budget out money like it's a brand new concept. They make shitty comedies about people like that. But it's a weird thing to get used to: suddenly, we can't just buy concert or comedy tickets "just because". We can't just invest in a new piece of technology "just because". Suddenly, we actually have to be adults.

So we've started doing what one of our friends does (who not only has a mortgage and only one full-time income, but two kids to boot): we're setting aside a very specific amount of "fun money". While we still pool our earnings into one account, we dole out a little bit each week for our respective "fun things". Which, for me, involves things like yoga classes and whatever's on sale at Michael's.

In the movies, someone who is not used to budgeting suddenly having to budget usually results in tantrums and maxed-out credit cards. For me, it's a breath of fresh air. I'm shit at Knowing How to Adult. I'm just getting used to the idea of grocery lists and planned-out meals. I lucked out and got to act like a college student long after I graduated, but that shit has to eventually end. As much as I wish I was some trust fund baby, I'm not, and I never will be.

Plus, it gives me a noticeable, tangible understanding of where the money is and what it could be going to. Because my spending habits are usually limited to the yoga studio and the clearance section at stores, there's a chance I could actually -- and effectively -- save up for the big-ticket items. Like furniture for the house. Or vacations. Things that are harder to save up for when you're just looking at your checking account and incorrectly budget out money for mortgage and car payments.

Because that's what I love. I don't care about retail therapy (which is good, given my impulsive/compulsive personality, as mentioned in my last post), but I do care about visiting the world. I don't care about buying a round of shots, but I do care about buying a round kitchenette table (so our dining room table can finally move into the dining room). And this can mean the difference between getting that $10 skirt because ~it's on sale and it's cute~ and going back home to find an adorable skirt I already own.

This is an obnoxious post, and I fully recognize it. But, again: the beauty of a daily blog project is that there'll be a brand new post tomorrow. Perhaps a less GOOP-like post.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Day 235 of 365: Chill Out About Mental Health

I was chatting with a friend recently about addictive personalities. I talked about how I find I have very impulsive/compulsive behavior (meaning I get the impulse to do something, only to feel compelled to do it; one of the many reasons why I avoid retail as a way to feel better about whatever is bringing me down) and how, if a therapist told me that my behavior is actually indicative of an addictive personality, I would believe it. Given my family's history, given how I am about certain things, I wouldn't be surprised in the least. It wouldn't change my day-to-day life, but it wouldn't come as a shock.

This surprised my friend; most people wouldn't be so flippant about potentially having something "wrong" with them like that. I went on to say that people are so quick to focus on all the negatives on certain personality "disorders". Yeah, if you are diagnosed with an addictive personality, there are certain things you should probably avoid, like, say, heavy drinking, drugs, retail therapy, and so on, and so forth. But I think that impulsion/compulsion is the reason why I've been able to accomplish what I've accomplished. I don't halfass things that I enjoy. Come up with a book idea; write said book. Decide I want to run a marathon; train like a motherfucker. Find joy and inspiration in teaching tai chi/doing yoga; start making a living doing it. Get the idea to make the writing version of a 365 Blog; get to Day 235 in one piece.

To be blunt: we need to get the fuck over the taboo of mental health. Our brains are the most complex part about us, and yet we are made to feel shame if it glitches in any way -- if it does anything that even hints at it being a factory defect. If someone said they were born with bad joints, but did certain exercises and visited their doctor on a routine basis to help balance that, no one would bat an eye. If I suffered a nasty knee injury during training -- tear up my ACL, completely destroy my MCL, knee cap basically hanging on by a tendon -- again, no one would bat an eye if I admitted that there was something up with my knee and I was doing something about it to get it healed. In fact, in an ironic turn of events, I would be labeled crazy if I tried to do what so many people do about mental health: deny, deny, deny, refuse any help or treatment, and pretend like my knee isn't bending in the opposite direction when I walk.

A separate friend, who is now a few months sober, has been dealing with addiction and mental health issues for years now. And she makes no bones about the fact that we all cringe and hide about any mental disorder, any personality disorder. She was actually the first one I ever knew to call bullshit on stigmatizing certain diagnoses (and at the tender age of 16, no less), saying that some things aren't as black and white as "sane" and "insane". And now, especially in light of Philip Seymour Hoffman's death, is incredibly vocal on understanding addiction and its effects on the brain.

In short: we need to chill out about mental health. End of story.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Day 234 of 365: Bettering Bridges

After a year-long hiatus from any type of dentistry, I've finally set up a new appointment with a new dentist. I had such a wretched experience last year that I was downright terrified of trusting my teeth to anyone else ever again. Last year, I went to the dentist for the first time in probably five years (because it was the first time I had dental insurance). I knew I had at least one cavity and a wisdom tooth that needed to be pulled. I go in and am told I have 8 cavities, bad gums, and, oh yeah, that wisdom tooth. I listened to them, because that's what you're supposed to do with a doctor. After a solid month of dentist visits (and nearly $1000 later...), I have that bothersome wisdom tooth removed and nearly every single molar has a filling in it. I go back 6 months later and...I am told I have 5 cavities.

Now, I'm willing to believe 8 cavities sprung up in 5 years. I'm not willing to believe that I got 5 in six months. I'm not gnawing on sugar canes all day and then not brushing my teeth. I'm young, I brush my teeth, I eat fairly well (especially considering I'm a salty-snack eater and not a sweet-snack eater) and floss roughly every other night (especially after getting 8 cavities filled). I cancel my appointment, decide to do my own research, and realize I was being scammed like you wouldn't believe. I found out that my three "surface cavities" (as they so called it) were most likely not even cavities in the first place. It's a term they coined to milk more money out of patients. I kept looking into them, only to confirm what I already knew: this chain has a long history of telling people they need treatments when they don't. I get my teeth informally checked out and get met with a, "what cavities?"

So, given that I was big on Yelp during those days, I wrote an honest review. I come home from work to find a voicemail on my landline from said dentistry, wanting to make sure that I was happy and to right any wrongs. I don't reply because, frankly, at this point, I am exhausted.

Cut to over a year later. I'm making said appointment with new dentist -- who I chose because he came recommended by someone I trust a lot, someone who isn't afraid to call people out on their bullshit -- and the dental lady tells me that I need to get my old dental file sent to them. Which I am okay with, because they don't want to do x-rays on me if I've already had them within the past year or so, and I appreciate not having a million things done on me to jack up the price. But that also means having to talk to the dental chain again.

I called them up and learned that the only way my files can be released is if I sign a release form. I save that dreaded date until the next time I'm in the area, and, with my resolve as hard as steel, I go on in.

Save for actually being confronted about my review, it couldn't have gone any worse. A clerical error had resulted in my file getting deleted and transferred over to my husband -- who had never even been there. Meanwhile the doctor I wrote a review about walks by, sees me, and whispers something to a hygienist with a look usually saved for two mean girls discussing a dork in class. I can feel my cheeks starting to burn. I just want out of that place, and I'm stuck waiting around while they call up headquarters and try to figure out what went wrong.

I thought to myself, "Maybe I should play nice and apologize and make this hellish experience over with. Even though I was clearly wronged, maybe I should be the bigger man and mend fences and maybe -- just maybe -- I'll stop feeling like I'm two degrees away from spontaneously combusting."

And then an Anna Nalick lyric popped in my head: "Never better bridges that were meant to burn."

Which reminded me of something I saw on Facebook: "They say you should never burn bridges, but sometimes I'm okay with going for a swim if it means not dealing with that asshole again."

I spent a solid chunk of my life giving people way too many chances. I got back with boyfriends that I should never have gotten back with. I gave bosses second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth changes, even when it was obvious to everyone else that I was just a cog in the machine and they really weren't concern with things like burnout. I've given family and friends alike the benefit of the doubt, even when the proper thing to do would have been to call them out on their shenanigans. I spent so long worrying about "burning bridges" that I compromised myself and my livelihood.

Sometimes bridges are meant to be burned. Sometimes you need to stand your ground and refuse to feel bad about calling a person, a corporation, whatever out. And yes, that might mean that certain people don't like you, but that's life. People aren't going to like you sometimes. I spent so much of my life worried about people not liking me, when people would hate on me regardless because of shit as stupid as, "Oh, she's a model. She must think she's so great."

Never better bridges that were meant to burn, because sometimes you're just not meant to go down that path. And sometimes the more circuitous route leads you to exactly where you need to be.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Day 233 of 365: Beg, Steal, or Borrow

"I thank you for your time, and I thank you for your practice."

My favorite yoga teacher ends her classes like this. Last Sunday, I met with my yoga group to practice our very first practicum. For our next class, my group has to lead a 45-minute class, which each of us doing roughly 10 minutes a piece. I was assigned the last section of the class, partly because I can do the apex pose ("Elephant Trunk Pose", if you are so inclined to Google it) and partly because I'm shite at properly doing cooldown stretches in my own practice, so leading a class to cool down seemed like an appropriate challenge. I do my "Elephant Trunk Pose", I go through the various cooldown poses (where I was thinking the entire time, "Okay, one mississippi, two mississippi, three...") and get everything into savasana (aka "wahoo we can rest for a tick" pose). At the end of the practice, I do exactly what my yoga teacher does, thanking everyone (meaning my practicum group) for their time and their practice.

If there were ever just one takeaway from my time as a preschool teacher, it's that it's okay to beg, steal, or borrow, if it means serving your students better. As teachers, we were constantly sharing curriculum ideas, decorations, even toys and supplies. We'd see one teacher do a play on words and use it in our classroom. It was never a matter of "intellectual property" (because, let's be real, a good chunk of these great ideas were ciphered from teaching blogs, Pinterest, or teachers from other schools to begin with) because the main goal was not winning "Teacher of the Year" award, but inspiring our students.

During our 45-minute pseudo-class, one of my classmates incorporated a sequence that is essentially called "dancing warrior", where you shift from one warrior variation to the next in pace with your breath. That is something our favorite yoga teacher uses frequently, and I'm sure she learned that sequence from another teacher, who learned it from another, and so on, and so forth. Another classmate added in stuff he gleaned from his time as a TRX instructor. And yet another had printed out from the internet various ways to verbalize how to get into certain poses.

As a writer who gets very pissy when someone tries to jack her shit, I can say from firsthand experience how easy it is to fall into the, "What's mine is mine and only mine; what's yours is yours and only yours," mindset. And that's a necessary mindset in terms of things, like, say a short story, a novel, an essay, or even an article idea. If you wrote a song and suddenly you're hearing someone else sing it on stage, best believe the proverbial fur will fly. But, as a teacher, it's all about what you can gather from other teachers -- including your own teachers -- to inspire others, and, hey, maybe they'll take what you gave them and pass it on.

My husband's first grade teacher did a recipe book project, in which every kid attempted to make a "recipe" for their favorite food. The recipes were usually very silly, and involved directions like, "Mommy puts the cake into a bowl and then it's made." One of my last major projects with my Pre-K class involved making recipe books of that very nature. And while I quickly regretted spending so much time (and out-of-pocket money) making copy after copy of said book, I'm happy I did it. Because maybe, just maybe, one of those students will grow up and do that with their own children -- or their own classroom.

The same way I hope that someday one of my tai chi students -- or one of my hypothetical, future yoga students -- will take what they learned and apply it to their life, their spouse or children, or maybe even a class of their own. Maybe they'll take what I taught them about breathing, or redirection, or even chi, and maybe it makes them better able to do their job or handle a rough client.

Again, this falls into the "we are one interconnected system where one's actions constantly affect other people's actions" hippy-dippy granola category. But, oh well. This is my hippy-dippy granola, it makes me a better person, and hey, maybe someone can take a few ideas from this and make it their own.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Day 232 of 365: Your Yoga is Drinking Coffee

I attended a workshop on Sunday as part of my yoga teacher training. It was all about sequencing and developing your own practice without a teacher around. The instructor went over the usual obstacles for getting yoga done at home -- time constraints, motivation, space, etc. She then told everyone that, without fail, she does a little bit of yoga every single morning, right as she wakes up. This got a few eye rolls from the room; oh yes, the yoga instructor has the motivation to do it bright and early in the morning, before she brushes her teeth. But what she said next made us all rethink things:

"Every morning, I have my cup of coffee. And that coffee is my yoga."

What she does every morning is have her cup of coffee (or tea, if she is so inclined), sits down at her table, and just...breathes. Not any special yoga breath, but regular, everyday, forget-you're-even-doing-it breath. She sips on her coffee, looks outside her window to the rising sun, and has her coffee. She does her best to keep her mind clear but, just like in yoga practice, thoughts pop up; and, just like in yoga practice, she accepts them, and sees if she can just let them drift away. Maybe she'll close her eyes from time to time. But she's not there to gulp down her coffee as she checks the news and Facebook and her emails. She's just...there.

I haven't been able to consistently do a first-thing-in-the-morning yoga routine since I quit being a teacher. I wake up stiff and achy (and all the other adjectives that prove you're just getting old) and in no mood to dance into my first down dog of the day. And, truth be told, I only ignore the muscle stiffness when I was a teacher because teaching was just that stressful and I desperately needed something to keep my head on straight. So I tried that "yoga coffee" this morning. I made my breakfast, sat down at the island in my kitchen (which is far, far away from my laptop) and just...breathed.

It didn't last as long as I would've liked: the second I finished my oatmeal, I got up with my cup of coffee and attempted to walk over to my computer. Thankfully, I had the wherewithal to hang a sharp left and get out of the kitchenette area. I walked over to the front door and looked out one of the side windows instead, which lasted about a few sips, before attempting the same thing, but my patio door. Eventually I caved and, with my mug only half-empty, sat down at my computer to do my usual "check ALL the things".

But that's okay. Instead of berating myself for falling into old habits, I'm happy that I was able to last all the way through breakfast in the first place (which, truth be told, was something I didn't even have when I was teaching). My goal is to slowly build up, the same way I slowly built up yoga in general, and see where that goes. Regardless, I love this idea. It plays into my "Yoga is exactly what you make of it and exactly what you need it to be," teacher philosophy. Or maybe, as a caffeine addict, I just really like the idea of coffee playing yet another part in my life.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Day 231 of 365: Purity Balls

First, I'm going to address the elephant in the room: how a show about Purity Balls can go a full hour and not make a testicle reference is beyond me. I mean, c'mon man, it's RIGHT THERE: and the adjective is "purity" for fark's sake! Purity Balls! The jokes just write themselves sometimes!

Now that I got that out of the way, I'm now going to address the super creepy, mildly-pedophilic elephant in the room: how anyone can look at those Purity Balls and not get the heeby-jeebies is beyond me. For those playing the home game, Purity Balls are when little girls promise to not have sex until they are married. This promise can also include no kissing or touching of any kind. They go to the ball with their daddies and dress in white and wear rings on their wedding finger. Meanwhile Oedipus and Electra bartend and man the cash registers.

Things like Purity Balls and Purity Rings and Abstinence Pledges never sit well with me. Yes, force a young kid -- long before their hormones kick in -- to swear to their parents, God, the world, etc, that they'll never have any type of sex until they get married. Really drive that point home that that most basic natural desire (aside from food, shelter, sleep, and a place to poop) is disgusting and wrong unless within the confines of some pretty specific parameters. And hey, why not, because preaching abstinence is a sure-fire way to prevent teen pregnancies. No, no, wait. The other one.

But Purity Balls bother me the most. Aside from the fact that there are few things as skin-crawl-inducing as watching a grown man tell his 8-year-old daughter, "I'm your boyfriend until you are married," Purity Balls are really only a stone's throw away from a very popular mindset with dads. Who doesn't know a dad who has casually mentioned locking his daughter in an ivory tower, or buying a shotgun to scare away the boys. Hell, maybe you (the reader) are that very dad.

And I get it. I really do. That's your little girl. That's your baby (literally). That's the little toddler who played with dolls and ate crayons. It's hard to come to terms with the idea that she'll eventually grow up and have boyfriends (or girlfriends) and *gasp* have sex. And, hey, we're not that far removed from our Puritan roots. Even though (almost) everyone does it -- even though every single living creature on this planet does it in some form -- we're quick to be ashamed of it. That's a dirty, dirty, nasty act that only dirty, dirty, nasty people do.

But here's the thing: unless you're daughter is asexual or gunning for nunhood, it's going to happen. It won't even be her choice. That's the beauty of biology. Puberty happens and good game that formerly-innocent mind. Yes, we always want to protect those we see as innocent, but hormones spare nobody. So that means there are only two routes you can go down: you can go down the Purity Ball route in some nature, be it as intense as putting a ring on your daughter's finger and saying, "I'm your boyfriend!" or as simple as threatening to beat up any boy that even looks at your daughter. You can load up the shotgun and swear that what you are doing is protecting your daughter.

Or, you can go down the more reasonable route. You can focus on the more important matters, like teaching her to be assertive and stick up for herself. Showing her through your own interactions with women that she deserves respect and understanding. Telling her to never do anything she feels uncomfortable doing, and to never let another man (or woman) make her feel like less of a human being because of who she is or what she wants. Reminding her that how she feels is always valid, even if it doesn't always make sense. Educating her on the fact that the things she's going to want to do at some point come with a boatload of risks, and, yes, even she is susceptible to the consequences of not being smart and safe about it.

I know, crazy idea: raise a girl with her own brand of arsenal so she can protect herself instead of locking her up like a fragile beast, which will only make her even more unprepared for the real world.

Because that's the thing: you can't protect your kids forever. Eventually they're interacting with the rest of the world. Eventually they'll be doing all the stupid shit you did when you were their age. There's no way to stop it, but there is a way to help them be smart about it.

But if you're dead-set on high-fiving Electra as she mans the DJ station, you can come to one of my planned Purity Balls. I'll be having two of them, one right next to the other. But be forewarned: the event halls I'm renting out are not the same size, so one of the balls will be bigger than the other.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Day 230 of 365: Everything Has Changed

A workshop I needed to go to for my yoga teacher training cancelled last minute yesterday, leaving me with a gloriously-free afternoon. I took the moment of unadulterated free time to drive all the way down to the South Shore and just reconnect with some people.

While I was born in Boston, I was raised in Weymouth, Massachusetts, home to Abigail Adams and George Jung (which, really, sums up that town pretty accurately). I've been slowly trekking up north ever since, from Boston, to the North Shore, to Nashua, and now to the Manchester area. With my friends slowly moving out of the area, I only go down to the South Shore on occasion, and that's usually directly to my parents' house. Today, I drove to the one place I considered Mecca as a whiney pubescent kid: the mall.

The South Shore Plaza used to be this simple, no-fuss, concrete building. When I was around 10, they completely overhauled it, adding in more modern touches, like a food court and glass-walled entryway. Aside from a quick shopping trip in 2011, I really haven't been back to the area.

I might as well have been in a completely different town. The mall had expanded again, with most of the stores I knew well long gone, replaced by glitzier storefronts (ever been outside a Love Culture? If you thought Forever 21 was gaudy...). The hotel and movie theatre across the way was a completely different area; the Sheraton was torn down and replaced by a Hyatt, a shopping plaza was built from the ground up. To the side of the mall was a whole new set of buildings, again with enough flash and light to give anyone a headache.

I'll always have love for the South Shore. There are few things that can really match up with a walk on Nantasket Beach or a drive through Hingham. The coffee at the Dunkies by my old high school will always taste just a little more like home than the Dunkies anywhere else. But it's important to recognize the difference between a home base and a jumping point. The South Shore was a jumping point. The same way Weymouth High was a jumping point. The same way Northeastern University was a jumping point. Or Nashua, NH. All places that have such a huge place in my heart, but are not home anymore. And to pretend like they are is to reverse my forward momentum.

That being said, it was still a blast to catch up with old friends. We enjoyed a Brazilian Steakhouse that opened up along the side of the mall (and you haven't truly stuffed your face until you've stuffed face as a Brazilian Steakhouse) and went across the ways to get Ben & Jerry's at the new shopping plaza. And, after we said our goodbyes, my husband and I got into our car and took the hour-and-a-half drive up, past my hometown, past Boston, over the NH border, and into home.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Day 229 of 365: Not a Choice (Again)

Confession time, everyone: I absolutely hate calling people on the phone.

I have to have known you for years upon years before I'm an even close to being comfortable calling you on the phone. And, even then, I naturally try to communicate with people a thousand other different ways, using the phone as a last resort. You could say that it's part of my generation, but I beg to differ: I was this way long before emails, text messages (and especially tweets) were ever a thing.

And yet, even with this weird phone aversion, I worked for four years as a teacher, which required many, many, many phone calls. Especially when I worked in the nursery wing with the one- and two-year-olds, where, every day, kids went home with some type of fever or bug.

And I handled it, never once trying to shirk off my telephone duties to my co-teacher. And why? Because it was simply not a choice.

I was talking with my husband today about the upcoming week, and how there are a few phone calls I need to make. He joked that I have to start preparing myself now for when the workweek starts and I have to pick up the phone. And I responded:

"Actually, I'll be okay."

As I've mentioned before, I'm not this superwoman type of person who is just naturally self-motivating. I'm simply someone who appreciates results and can convincingly tell herself that "it's not a choice".

It's not a choice to call a parent when a child is sick. It's not a choice to pick up the phone when talking to a complete stranger makes me want to run and hide. It's not a choice to lace up my shoes and go for a run. It's not a choice to do another Spanish lesson. It's not a choice to write another page for my manuscript, even when I'm still trying to get my spirits back up after the ABNA.

And maybe I'm lucky in that I can look at something that can very well be a choice -- I don't have to do anything of that stuff; the consequences would suck, but it's still a choice -- and tell myself that the option to opt out isn't available. But I think that's something everyone can do: it's not a choice to avoid copious amounts of junk food. It's not a choice to do your taxes. It's not a choice to vacuum the living room. It's not a choice to get your reading done.

Which, by the way, is what I need to do immediately after this. I have been getting into a bad habit of saving my most technical yoga reading (aka the most difficult to slog through). Maybe it's time to remind myself that "it's not a choice" to read about anatomy.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Day 228 of 365: Cambridge

Last night was the Q&A and signing for Patrick Rothfuss. He entertained us wildly with anecdotes and a few readings from the time he was an advice columnist (Google "The Guinea Pig Story" if you ever get a chance). We lucked out in having low numbers on our tickets, meaning we didn't have to wait long for our signing. I was going to talk to him about how the way he was able to secure a book contract (aka a contest) inspired me to do the same, but the lady in front of me stole my thunder (which totally drew out the elitist in me; "Oh, you write short stories here and there and are thinking about writing a novel? Bitch, I got 3.") so instead I smiled and got my books signed. We met up with a friend in town and enjoyed the rest of the night nerding out.

I used to go to Cambridge on a daily basis. My very first co-op was at a library in Harvard, and I spent every single lunch break walking around the area. My then-boyfriend (now-husband) moved from Somerville to Cambridge and spent a year living just down the street from Lechmere. My brother-in-law lived just outside of Central for a few years as well, and all of these events essentially happened in sequential order: when I stopped working at Harvard, my husband moved to Cambridge, when he moved out of Cambridge, my brother-in-law moved into Cambridge. Which meant there was about a 5-year span where I always had reason to be in that city. And, now that I've moved out and most casting calls are in Allston, Dorchester, or on Newbury Street, I am almost never in Cambridge.

The same way Brooklyn has a different feel than Manhattan, Cambridge has a completely different feel than Boston. They're the eclectic table of misfits next to the table of jocks, party kids, and preppy girls. And it might be because the city is home to both MIT and Harvard, but the atmosphere is a lot more "come one, come all." Get down with your bad self, whatever that self might be.

I miss it. I miss it terribly. I have this ongoing dream that I strike it absurdly rich somehow and I can just buy a ton of property in various places, including a condo in Boston (preferably on the waterfront, even though I hate the blue line). I miss dashing up the Porter Square steps and feeling my legs turn to jelly the second I hit streetside. I miss weaving through Harvard Square and meandering down Mass Ave until I hit the MIT campus. I love where I am in life, and I love our house in the mountains with its incredible views and coop of chickens, but still, I can't help but get a pang in my heart for a city I spent so much time in.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Day 227 of 365: Bringing You Back

Today I am in Nashua again, spending my day at the Barnes & Noble. In a few hours, my husband and I will be driving to Boston to meet one of our favorite authors: Patrick Rothfuss, author of The Kingkiller trilogy (which everyone should read. I don't like fantasy books and I loved these books). I drove down with my husband because we live a half-hour north of Nashua, and, time-wise, it just makes sense if we're already at the New Hampshire/Massachusetts border if we need to get to Boston by a certain time.

So today was one big "get homework and writing done" type of day. As part of teacher training, I have to take this online anatomy course, which is simultaneously daunting and exciting. I did one day's lecture, drove around to refresh my mind, and went back for (at least part one of) the next lecture. Somewhere in between that, I continued to work on my third manuscript, slowly sculpting out the scenes as I see fit.

This really brings me back to last fall, when we moved to our house, but still only had one car. I'd drive down with my husband three or so times a week and spend the day closing out the apartment and sequestering myself in the local Barnes & Noble to work on my writing. And I remember how that used to bring me back to my college days, when I would work as a front desk lady/security guard for the various dorm halls. I typically picked "dead times" (6 - 11 am, or 6 - 11 pm), which meant my responsibilities were slim to none. Combine that with the fact that this was 2006 and "wireless internet" was still in its infancy, and I had a lot of hours to do nothing but work on homework and write.

I think it's incredibly important to draw on your past, see similarities and parallels, as well as the differences. See life as constantly coming full circle and suddenly everything seems a lot more poetic. It's a lot easier to see things as having more meaning. Yeah, I could just be idling hanging out until it's time to drive to Boston, or I could be experiencing a different chapter in my life with a wee bit of a flashback. It's all about how you look at it.

Regardless, I'm excited to see Patrick Rothfuss tonight. He's got this great Joss Whedon feel about him. And hey, maybe I can get a few pointers about this crazy writing industry.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Day 226 of 365: Keep on Trucking

Just hours after mentioning that my first manuscript is in the queue, waiting to be judged and potentially passed onto the next round, I get the email letting me know that the list of novels that made it past the first round have been put up.

Like a high school freshman desperate to make the varsity team, I went on Amazon's website, checked the list ... and could downright hear the "whomp whomp" go off in the background.

I knew it was a longshot. There were almost 10,000 entries, and only 400 would make the first round cut. That's a less than 1% chance of making it. I was warned that the first round is a complete crapshot; that there's no way to really quantify why certain pitches made it and certain pitches didn't. I'd like to pretend that my pitch was in the top 10%, but the cut isn't for 1,000 entries.

Although I'll let you in a dirty little secret: it doesn't matter how often you tell yourself that the odds are stacked against you, rejection really lets the wind out of your sails. I can tell myself that rejection is the name of the game, that at least it gave me a chance to revamp my novel, that I have so many other incredible things (writing and otherwise) waiting in the wings, but it doesn't matter: I saw that list, I saw my name very much not on that list, and I just want to hug a puppy and eat some chocolate.

But you know what I did instead? I put on some music, grooved out as I got some very necessary housework done, took a shower, sat down, and continued to write my third manuscript. I wrote out a solid chunk of the scene, stopping only when I couldn't figure out just how else the scene was going to go. I sent a few emails about a particular project and I revamped my query letter for my first manuscript. I then went off to teach my tai chi class, singing along to whatever songs I wanted during my drive down and back.

Tuukka Rask is an incredible goalie -- not because he's a brick wall and can shut out the competition, but because he doesn't let a few missed goals throw him off balance. Anderson Silva was the champ -- not just because of his skill, but his ability to come back even when he had been tossed around left and right (a perfect example of this would be the Silva/Sonnen 1 fight, which you should totally Youtube because MMA is a wonderful sport that y'all need to be a part of). Stephen King used to have a spike set on his wall, so he could collect all of the rejection letters he used to get. I know it's campy and overused, but it's not about how often you can succeed, but how you act when you fail, that defines your character.

I was talking with my best friend last night, about all the writer friends we used to know (and when you study English in college, all you know are writer people). How many of them still write to this day? How many of them continued to write after they graduated -- let alone 4+ years after graduating? And how many of them saw the hurdles -- the writer's block, the rejection, the insurmountable odds -- and just went along with their desk jobs, working for the weekend, fantasizing about an alternative reality where they're a mega bestseller and going on Letterman to promote their newest book.

Like I mentioned yesterday, the fantasy of me being a bestseller by 25 is long gone (given that I'm solidly in my 27th year *gulp*), and I am pretty sure I'm jamming up some part of Gmail with all the saved rejection emails I have. But I have made incredible strides forward, and I am doing things that other would-be writers could be pretty jealous of. Just because I can't sell a manuscript, just because I can't win a contest -- it doesn't take away from the progress I'm making.

Everything happens exactly the way it's supposed to happen, and for a very exact meaning. All I can do is have faith that I'm on the right path, and eventually something will click.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Day 225 of 365: Back in Action (pt 2)

You don't realize how taxing certain things can be until it's finally done with.

With my first manuscript now in the queue for the ABNA and my collection of essays currently being looked over by the editors in charge, I almost found myself at a loss. I'd be logging in 35+ hour weeks, working on those two projects back to back. It was to the point that I had to scramble to get my reading, my lecture-watching, and my homework done in time for class. And now both of them are done; the essays submitted just before I left for Florida. And, aside from some paperwork for the essay stuff (that I completed while waiting for our delayed plane back to New England), it's been all quiet on the Western front.

So what do I do? Pull up my third manuscript and finally (FINALLY) have at it again.

In a way, waiting until after going to Florida was perfect, as the book takes place in two places: Chicago and Miami. I had been basing a lot of my writing off of the last time I was in Miami, which was way back in 2008. Turns out I remembered horribly and had actually written a scene incorrectly as a result (which ended up working perfectly in the rewrite, but that's for another time). That extra time in Florida (plus a week of not having to worry about everything) also acted as a huge "reset" button, allowing me to go forward with a bit of a blank slate.

My goal now is, bare minimum, a page or two day. Ideally, a scene a day, but I'm not going to beat myself up if that ends up not happening. I am so stupidly close to finishing it and it genuinely irks me that I let it be stagnant for over three months. Even after I remind myself that a lot has been going on in the last three months -- even after I remind myself that it took nearly two years to write my first manuscript -- it still irks me. And I'm hoping to use that annoyance to propel me further, even when the last thing I want to do is write.

Because I am genuinely in an incredible and fortunate place right now. I am given this time to focus on my writing, to focus on building on a brand new career from scratch, to do exactly what it is that I need to do before diving headfirst into job obligations and, eventually familial obligations. It's an absurdly lucky thing for me to be able to have and I need to use it to the best of my abilities. There's an alternative universe somewhere, where my first manuscript got scooped up on the first agency hunt and I became a bestseller by the age of 25, but that's not this universe, and that's not my life. So I can only do the more realistic option of working away at this again and again until I can get a foothold.

So I'm back in action again, only this time with my novel writing. Let's do this.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Day 224 of 365: Being Irish

I grew up in a very Irish household. We had it all: from corned beef to boiled dinners to drunken great-uncle singing old drinking songs. I get a sunburn from spending too much time by a window. I have a very short fuse and it's never the important things that set it off. I take pride in my celtic heritage, warts and all.

Although the one thing I won't be participating in that my Irish (and fake Irish) people alike partake in is the copious amount of drinking. The older I get, the less interested I am in alcohol. It's to the point that I went out to dinner a few nights ago, had one whole glass of white wine, and considered that the maximum of alcohol I enjoy at any given period.

The Irish get a reputation for being drunks and, to be fair, it's well-earned. And today, much like Cinco de Mayo, is just an excuse for people to drink a little more and swear up and down that they don't have a drinking problem.

But, at least in the Boston area, St Patrick's Day is a little something more. We have parades -- not to boast about Guinness and Magners and how drunk we can get -- but to celebrate the fact that 90% of us are descendants of Irish immigrants, back when "Irish Need Not Apply" was actually a thing (and Irish people weren't considered "white", which is hilarious because we're probably the palest group of people in the history of the world). We wear "Kiss Me, I'm Irish," unironically.

We're damn proud to be Irish-American, the same way we are damn proud to be Bostonian. All the flaws that come with the titles are negligible. And yes, this holiday means a ton of college students will crowd every bar within a 50 mile radius, get plastered, and do stupid shit. But hey, it comes with the territory.

For me, St. Patrick's Day is also my half-birthday. I don't know why, but I get a huge kick out of the fact that my half-birthday rests on St. Patrick's Day, even though the concept of "half birthdays" mean nothing after you turn 13. But, still, it's another reminder that time is going forward -- that I am indeed getting older -- and that I'm evolving as a person. Which includes being super Irish and not touching a drop of alcohol on St Patrick's Day.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Day 223 of 365: Back in Action

After getting a few runs in while in Florida, I flew back to New England and signed up for my first half-marathon of 2014. I officially have until May 24th to bring my runner's legs back up to snuff for the Boston Run to Remember.

I still haven't forgotten the promise I made to my best friend: if she could have the chutzpah to move to Chicago, I'd have the chutzpah to train for the Chicago Marathon. Right now, that seems incredibly daunting, as my calf muscles are dragging ass (the one really shitty part about natural running is that, when you stop it, it's way more difficult to start it up again). I can get about 5 miles in before my calf muscles start threatening injury. And, given that I tore one of my calf muscles last year, I'm not exactly ready to tell my legs, "Man up!" and keep on going.

But I'm ready for another challenge. My 2013 half-marathon was one of the most challenging things I have ever done physically, and I'm so incredibly proud that I was able to accomplish it. I want to take that next step and really see what I am capable of. I'm riding off of the momentum I'm creating through my progress in yoga. Thanks to my kick-your-ass yoga class on Wednesdays -- which specializes in crazy arm balances -- I've been able to do moves I never thought would be possible. So if I can master twisted side crow, what's stopping me from mastering 26.2 miles?

The weather is finally warming up, and New England is finally thawing out. I've been gun-shy about running outside ever since my disastrous run in January, but 27* is definitely not -5*. It's time to lace up those shoes, tell myself that, once again, it's not a choice, and hit the ground running.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Day 222 of 365: To My Hypothetical Daughter

Dear Hypothetical Daughter,

It seems silly, writing a letter to someone like this. Knowing my luck, I'll have only sons. And, in some weird way, part of me would be relieved. They say it is easier to teach a boy to respect a girl than it is for to teach a girl to respect herself. And that's no fault on your (the hypothetical daughter) part. Look at what you're put up against from day one. Look at all those mixed messages and double standards. How any of us get out of it in one piece is nothing short of a miracle.

But I hope I have daughters. I might eat my words when you turn 13 and decide that you hate my guts and think that I'm a raging bitch, but still: I hope I have you. I hope I get a chance to give you all the advice I wish someone had given me when I was growing up. I hope I can raise a level-headed girl when the environment is completely detrimental to that idea. I hope I can bring another woman into this world who can see beyond the chaos that the rest of us dealt with on a trial-and-error basis.

For one, I want you to understand that you are so incredibly beautiful. I don't mean that you are necessarily "cover of Vogue" beautiful, or "homecoming queen" beautiful, but you are beautiful because you have been given the gift of life. You get a one-in-a-trillion-trillion chance to experience and perceive the world, to learn and grow and evolve. You were given this incredibly complex body with a brain that mankind still can't fully figure out. What type of body you were given and how it compares to whatever standard our society holds up now is irrelevant.

And, most importantly, you are not the opinions of others. No one escapes judgment from peers, family members, even complete strangers. They'll say you're too tall, too short, too big, too small, too shy, too out-going, too tomboy-ish, too girly, too prudish, too promiscuous, too high-strung, too laid-back. Recognize that it is not you they are judging, but a mirror into the parts of themselves that they either do not like or feel threatened by. It took me decades to recognize this. Forgive those who judge so needlessly and understand that you are the only one in charge of what you are.

If you want to play with Barbies, play with Barbies. If you want to play with Tonka Trucks, play with Tonka Trucks. If you like English in school, dive right in. If you like Chemistry: ditto. Follow your path. Don't go down (or eschew) a path purely because it is or isn't girly. There is nothing wrong with the color pink, much like there is nothing wrong is the color blue, or green, or violet.

All of your emotions are 100% valid. Berating yourself for crying when you think you shouldn't cry, or getting upset when you think you shouldn't be upset is like drinking gasoline: you're using your fuel wrong, and most likely only harming yourself in the process. Embrace exactly who you are at every moment, even those negative moments. If these behaviors hurt other people, take responsibility (but don't berate yourself!), apologize (but don't make excuses!), and learn from your past.

Be kind, but be assertive. You can be both. Take charge when you need to take charge. The world needs more true leaders, even if it's just a leader of a meeting at work or a class project in school. You are not a bitch because you stand up for yourself. You are not a bitch because you do not cave to bullying.

And if there is anything I hope you enter adulthood with, I pray it's a healthy view of sex and sexuality. It's quite possibly the number one thing females grow up without. I pray you understand that sexuality is a beautiful thing, and only you will know what level it will be. Express it only in the way you feel comfortable with, not what society tells you to feel comfortable with. Down that route lies a lot of catch-22s that will only make you hate yourself. Remember that sexuality is never to be used as your only way of validating yourself. But it's okay if you ever find yourself feeling that way (again, your feelings are 100% valid). That trap is far too easy to fall into. But make sure you find a way out, because you have so much going for you than what you have between your legs, or how you can showcase or attract people to it.

Understand that sex isn't some shameful thing that you should avoid at all costs -- and understand that sex isn't something you should "get over with" as soon as possible. Do it when you and only you are ready. It comes with a boatload of risks, so be intelligent and be safe (because all those consequences apply to you, too). Never do it to "keep" a guy (or gal). In fact: never do anything to keep a guy or gal. Relationships aren't toys. You can't lock them up so that no one can "steal" it away. There is no magical set of actions that will keep someone around when they are obviously not invested. Anyone who wants to change you or make you do something that you're not ready to do doesn't actually love you. They are simply hoping to date someone who can boost their ego without any effort. And you deserve so much more than that.

The same way you are not the opinions of others, you are not the relationship you are currently in -- or not in. Movies tell us that if you don't "find true love" or "get the girl" in the end, then everything was for naught. But, sweetie, please: look around you! Look at this incredible world you live in. Look at all the things you can do with and for your life. Look at all the different relationships -- familial, platonic, professional -- that are right there in front of you. Life is too short to put too heavy of an emphasis on a relationship. We all want that true love -- that partner-in-crime relationship -- but giving "finding a boy/girlfriend" too much priority leads to mediocre relationships that one stays in because "it's better than nothing".

And, above all else, understand that I love you completely. That you always have a place you can find shelter in, a shoulder you can cry on, an ear that will listen compassionately. I know that even the best plans will not fully prepare you for the world, but I hope that I can lay down a sturdy enough foundation that you can build from.

Truly, unapologetically, and hypothetically yours,


Friday, March 14, 2014

Day 221 of 365: You Will Not Gain Meaning by Traveling the World

"I don't know what I want to do with my life. I think I'll just sign up for a work-abroad program and hope for the best."

The late twenties have proven complicated for us Generation Y kiddos. What we were told, what we expected, and what we got all turned out to be startlingly different things. And -- just in time for that quarter-life crisis -- a lot of us aren't sure where to find meaning. We wanted to find meaning in our careers, but after a string of free internships and a round of layoffs, the majority of us are just making due with whatever will pay the bills. We want to find meaning in deep, powerful relationships, but 21st century technology has made it too easy to keep every type of relationship -- from the platonic to the romantic -- at a pretty superficial level. We read about those who have given up the nine-to-five and started traveling the world and we can't help but go, "That's it. This is how I will get meaning in my life. I will travel the world."

I hate to break it to you, but you will not gain meaning by traveling the world.

This is coming from a woman with a severe case of wanderlust. I take pride in the fact that I spent a summer in Belfast, that I've climbed to the top of Florence's Duomo and I've ridden to the top of the CN Tower. I flood Facebook with pictures of me by Niagara Falls or the Colosseum. My frequent-flyer points are like gold to me. I am very happy that I got the opportunity to drive from New England to San Francisco and back, given me a chance to see just how vast and different America can be from coast to coast. I'm that type of person who sees those articles online and checks her bank account, bemoaning that she can't just cancel everything and take a sporadic trip to Peru.

Travel is in my blood. But it doesn't give me meaning.

Like anything else, we cannot go to any person, place, or thing, expecting it to give us meaning. The same way we cannot go into a church and expect to feel a spiritual awakeness just from entering alone. The same way we cannot go into the dating world assuming the "finding a man/woman" will give us clarity and purpose. It would be nice if everything had this intrinsic quality, but it doesn't.

It breaks my heart when I see a friend or former classmate jet off to South Korea, or England, or Brazil, purely because they are unhappy with their lives and want to find meaning, only to meander in their new country and return home essentially the same person, albeit with a few souvenirs. They'll return to their old jobs -- or find a position in exactly the same field -- and count the days until they can "find meaning" again.

Here is the nasty, gnarly, unfortunate truth: at the end of the day, cities are cities. Towns are towns. Countrysides are countrysides. There are roads, buildings, and a plethora of jobs that need to be done in order to keep the community going. These places will vary greatly in shape, size, and texture, but at the end of the day, it is still just ground beneath your feet. The cars might be on the opposite side of the road, but that doesn't mean the asphalt will provide you anything on its own accord.

So what does traveling get you? Perspective. You go onto those roads and into those buildings. You experience the shapes, sizes, and textures. You walk down Times Square -- not because there is something inherently special about Times Square, but because it differs so greatly from Cheyenne, Wyoming, or Montreal, Quebec -- and you take it all in. You don't gobble up these moments like a manic collector, fervently praying to complete a set or finish a series. You take in these experiences gently, let them swirl around organically, see what resonates and what passes you by. Take in the nuances and the overt contrasts. Take it all in and recognize that perspective is not meaning, but it can help you shape it.

Meaning in our lives will not come from outside sources, even if those sources are from far outside our house. Travel can open your eyes, but it doesn't make you better able to see. The same way a career for career's sake, a romance for romance's sake, a religion for religion's sake, will not give you meaning. Meaning cannot be given, shared, sold, or traded. It is created from within. It is created from deep intro- and retrospection, understanding what makes you tick and what shuts you off.

And it is created with the understanding that anything can be a catalyst. You don't need to backpack through Europe, or do a string of work-abroad jobs for the sake of doing work abroad. You don't need to do anything that doesn't resonate with you. You just need to step out into life with an open mind and a fearlessness to accept whatever emotions come your way.

You will not gain meaning by traveling the world. You will gain meaning by traveling your mind.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Day 220 of 365: Get Out of Your Head

There is a yoga teacher in New Hampshire who helps guide her students into balancing poses by saying, "Get out of your head."

She goes on to say that a toddler falls over because their center of gravity is so high up -- practically in their skulls -- and that is roughly the same reason why people fall out of balancing poses. People focus too much on what they are doing, if they are capable of doing it, if they are going to fall over, that they essentially bring their energy, their balance, into their heads. And like a toddler, they fall over. She tells her students to focus on rooting down, focus on the ground below them, focus on that connection, and watch as they stop falling over.

Now, I straddle the line between the spiritual and the practical aspect of yoga. I remember my first full yoga class, where I rested in savasana and just knew that this bag of meat I lived in was nothing compared to the dynamic spirit that resided in me. But I also recognize that a lot of the "mystical" stuff has roots in actual science. "Opening your heart chakra" is really just keeping your thoracic cavity expanded, making it easier to breathe. "Pull in the uddiyana bandha" is really just an efficient way of engaging your core. And, likewise, telling a person to "get out of their head" is a psychological act of putting the focus on something calmer, something that keeps you from panicking and locking up your limbs and falling over.

I might be touching in on Life of Pi over here, but, when given both options, I'm okay with shifting towards the more imaginative one: the idea of shifting energy down, even if it's just a ploy to get my muscles to move in a certain way.

I got to try paddle boarding for the first time yesterday. Our flight wasn't until late, so we spent the morning at the beach. For those playing the home game, paddle boarding is when you kneel or stand on essentially a surfboard and, well, paddle around. I spent the first 45 minutes trying to transition from kneeling to standing, only to immediate fall into the water. I blamed everything: the wind, the surf, my paddle... until I remembered that bit of sage advice from the yoga teacher, "Get out of your head."

And that's what I did. I stopped thinking so much and instead focused downwards. I thought about my feet on the board. I thought about this connection (be it mystical or literal) I had with the board and the waves and the water -- and even the sand below me. And maybe I did draw my energy downward. Or maybe I just stopped thinking so damn much and allowed my body to just do what it needed to do to keep balance. Whatever it was, suddenly I could stand. I was going from one end of the designated paddling area to the other. I even turned around while standing up. Within the hour, I looked like someone who spent their whole life in the Caribbean, and paddle boarding was just that thing I did in my spare time.

I do a similar thing with tai chi, jumping back and forth between the pragmatic anatomy & kinesiology and the more mystical "channel your chi". And that's a-okay in my book. Whatever gets you to where you need to be, take it. If you have to imagine opening your heart chakra, go for it. If thinking about your thoracic cavity instead gets the job done, do it.

Just so long as you get out of your head.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Day 219 of 365: Stupidity Trophies

I got the chance to have dinner last night with my cousin-in-law (although, in my eyes, cousin-cousin,  but that's because I gleefully adopted my husband's family as my own years ago) and her husband. We got to sit outside at a lovely Italian restaurant just outside Miami and talk about life.

One of the things that got brought up was the dumbing down of America.  For instance,  my cousin's husband is currently in grad school. He took the GREs maybe 4 or 5 years ago. Recently, he got to sit in on a GRE prep class.  The teacher boasted how his previous-year students had the highest scores in the history of the test.  He got a chance to take a practice test soon after and he soon figured out why:

The test was maybe half as difficult as the one he took in 2007.

The same way they removed analogies from the SATs, they removed a lot of the "hard" parts in the GREs.

This is how I see it: about ten years ago, we saw an influx of people getting their bachelor's. So instead of telling people "study up and get smarter," they dumbed everything down to incorporate the masses, including the SATs.  Now there is an influx of people getting their master's, so instead of telling people, "study up and get smarter," they dumbed it down.

We are past, "everyone gets a trophy."  We are now smack-dab in the middle of, "erase the hard rules, don't keep score, and say that everyone is a top athlete."  It honestly frustrates me to no end that we have this new trend in people who are woefully uneducated, but walk around like they could get into MIT "if they wanted to."

There is currently an online "high school alternative" that is nothing more than a pat on the back and reassurance that the kid is a genius, even after he spells ridiculous with an "e".

Like I have said many times before, I take no pleasure in being told I'm in whatever-top percentage in terms of intelligence. Truth be told, that says very little about me and a TON about those around me. I feel like my IQ should be the baseline.  Sometimes I'm shocked that I have enough wherewithal to be a competent adult. To think that, if we are just looking at numbers, I'm actually on one of the upper tiers frightens me.

There's a huge rant I could do about dumbing down the masses because they are easier to control -- or the fact that we teach kids to take tests, only to dumb down the test -- but that's for another time.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Day 218 of 365: Spring Break

So, apparently this week is the height of spring break season. I thought it was nutty enough when we went to Miami Beach and had to wade through the throngs of college kids. But, this week, even Fort Lauderdale is filled with college students.

To say I didn't have a standard college life is an understatement. Given that I participated in the co-op program and stopped having summer breaks after my freshman year, it's safe to say there was a lot of standard college life that I didn't participate in.  I had a serious boyfriend for 90% of it, and I never could get drunk without puking and hating myself.  Northeastern's spring break was in February and I usually spent it just catching up on schoolwork and trying to relax.  The wild and reckless college years were not really part of my repertoire.

I was talking with my husband about this yesterday.  We both never experienced the insanity of a spring break in Cabo or weekend benders.  But that really is for the best.  As I told him, the closest I ever got to a normal college experience was my first semester freshman year.  I was drinking way too much and hooking up with abandon and going to night clubs ... and I was miserable.

My most unhappy time in college was that first semester.  Because that is not me. I don't recover well from being drunk and I'm not the type to just be casual about the opposite sex.

And maybe, for some, that type of lifestyle comes naturally.  And maybe they'll transition out and join the real world. Or maybe they'll opine for their "glory days", still going out and getting blitzed and bemoaning how "old" they've become.

Who knows. All I know is that, from the perspective of an adult, spring break doesn't exactly look that great. Just a regular vacation with more bodies hanging around and more booze consumed.   Oh, and "whoo"ing.  There's always "whoo"ing.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Day 217 of 365: No Man's Land

My husband and I spent the weekend in Sebring, Florida, which is roughly in the center of Florida. It's a 2-hour drive from Tampa and a 3-hour drive from Miami. We drove up from the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale area, which mean we took essentially the only road they have to get from the southeast to the middle -- Interstate 75, which goes through the Everglades.

Coming from a densely-populated hometown just south of Boston, where every single square acre of land is used for something, it blows my mind that we have miles and miles and miles of land that is either sectioned off as nature preserves -- or just not used. When we drove through Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada, you could go miles and miles and miles without anything in sight. You would only know you reached semi-civilization if there was an intersecting road -- which would have no lights, because the roads were just that sparsely-used.

It's a huge reminder that the entire would really isn't our oyster. We can manipulate and terafirm and drain and build and pour concrete ... but, at the end of the day, there are just some areas of the world that humans have no business being in. That almost no creature has any business being in. The simple fact that we paved out roads through these areas is a testament to our modernity more than anything else.

On a related note, I spent Sunday walking through nature trails -- trails that weaved their way through the swamplands, where people would walk over wooden bridges with alligators and snakes within arm's reach. People actually sloshed their way through those swamps and built those bridges, so even the most casual civilian with their flip-flops and smartphone can waltz through like they are (literally and metaphorically) above the swamp waters.

The song and dance that mankind has with the natural world is one of the most fascinating situations I can think of. Almost as fascinating as the song and dance that mankind has with itself -- but inter- and intrapersonal. But that's another rant for another time.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Day 216 of 365: Running Again

For the first time since my disastrous run in January,  I went out running.  I laced up my shoes, bid the lady at the front desk adieu, and ran down A1A.

I'm honestly shocked at how much I ran. Your body reverts back to "lazy" at an alarming rate, so I genuinely had no idea if I'd even get to 3 miles in one piece.  But I got to a solid 5.3 miles before stopping -- and even then, I stopped because the calluses on my feet were almost nonexistent and I could feel the blisters starting to form if I wasn't careful.

You get something from running that you just can't get anywhere else.  I can do an intense yoga class, I can teach tai chi with nearly an hour's practice beforehand, but nothing compares to running for at least 45 minutes.  You spend the rest of the day feeling more efficient.  And it's way more than a, "My legs ache but I'm getting stronger."  You feel it at your core -- your metaphorical core, not the one comprised of muscles and ligaments.

Part of me was worried that taking a hiatus from running would result in me never going back to running.  This little jog reminded me that there's hope for me just yet.  I might not be able to sign up for any half marathon anytime soon,  but, hey, maybe a 10k or two.

(Although technically two 10Ks is almost a half marathon.)

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Day 215 of 365: Argentinian By Proxy

My husband and I drove down to Miami yesterday. After wading through the hordes of spring breakers at Miami Beach, we drove just outside of the downtown area to this Argentinian restaurant.  The type of place where they lapse into spanish in the middle of serving you. I don't know what was more enjoyable: the Milanesas and Argentinian-style linguini, or seeing what I could pick up with my slowly-growing Spanish.

I joke that I'm Irish my birth, Argentinian by proxy. I further joke that it's because I have a big butt and, around Latin American people, I feel more at home. Or maybe it's something to do with the culture,  and how it's the opposite of the traditional Irish ways of doing things.

Or maybe I just really like when Spanish and Italian collide like this.  Who knows.  All I know is that I love it and I obviously need to spend more time in Miami.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Day 214 of 365: The Vastness of America

It's 8:30 in the morning and already a balmy 70 degrees. I have an obscene inability to sleep in, so I spent the better part of the sunrise and early morning walking the beach before getting into some yoga and tai chi.  The second the sun came out, sweat started to build on my face and I was already imagining how good it would feel to go for a swim.  I then remembered that, just a 3-hour plane away, there are ice/snow mounds that reach 14 feet or higher.  In New England right now, "balmy" is a whopping 40*F.

I remember talking once with a politician from Belfast. Unlike a good chunk of Europeans, he didn't look down on Americans for their lack of international travel.  He simply said, "Look at everything that is happening in America. There is so much to see.  Why visit anywhere else?"

Driving cross-country showed me just how vast and varied America is (and that was just a cut-and-dry East-West drive). America lacks in history (as we, y'know, kind of destroyed the original history to make our own country) but it is abundant in different geographies, topologies, cultures and values and nuances. If you knew nothing about American borders and were shown five different photos -- one from Florida, one from New York,  one from Texas, one from Wisconsin, and one from Nevada -- there is a good chance you would attribute all five photos to five different countries.  People can get on how standardized everything is but, at the end of the day, the climate is different (literally and figuratively), the styles of houses are different, the ways of speaking are different -- even the way of dressing is different.

Which is also why it's so difficult to make things work in America, as opposed to other smaller countries.  What would benefit the Northeast might hurt the Midwest. What the West Coast agrees with, the South might be completely against. We are varied in a way that few countries can really understand.

What started off as a post that wreaked of "omg beach and yoga and road trips" suddenly got a little political. Or at least took on the role of the neutral observer in politics.  Not bad for only 8:30 in the morning.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Day 213 of 365: Flying Miracle Machine

So my flight to Fort Lauderdale was almost rerouted to Palm Springs, as a nasty thunderstorm came in and temporarily shut down the Fort Lauderdale airport. We circled around Orlando,  me stewing in my own furstrations.  I mean, we had a rented car waiting for us. Were we going to take a taxi to Ft. Lauderdale? It wasn't until I took a step back and realized something did I stop my internal bitching:

I am traveling in a giant metal bird at 38,000 feet going 400+ MPH.

I am doing something my ancestors could never dream of. I am traveling above the clouds, where people thought the heavens were.  And, shit, this is like heaven. How can I not look at the sun and the air and the clouds below me -- clouds that are currently delivering snow and rain to the people on the ground -- and not realize that this is a slice of heaven?  I can board a plane and go to places on whim when just 100 years ago, you'd have to prepare yourself for an arduous and long journey on the ground.

Boo hoo, your plane is delayed,  or your seat is uncomfortable.  You are currently in a flying miracle machine. Quit your bitching.

Sometimes we forget just how good we have it. The most average middle class American lives better than the richest of kings from barely a few centuries ago.  I can go to the store and buy whatever food I want. I can buy avocados in New England in the middle of winter. I can manipulate the climate of my house -- shit, I can manipulate the climate of my moving miracle automobile thingy. Dammit, we got it good.

So that moment of micro-enlightenment kept my bitching at bay. The storm ended up passing and we ended up landing in Fort Lauderdale, albeit an hour later. We hopped into our climate-controlled rent-a-car and drove to our climate-controlled condo. We ordered a pizza with as much effort as it takes to pick up a phone and fell asleep on a nice big mattress surrounded by all the comforts we take for granted.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Day 212 of 365: Limits

My fat chihuahua of a cat doesn't hop onto the kitchen counter. Instead, he sits by the edge and meows pitifully until someone is willing to pick him up and put him on the counter. Even when he desperately wants to get on the counter. If no one picks him up, he'll just pace back and forth, paw at the counter, and then walk away in defeat.

Even when we put treats on the counter to encourage him to hop up. Even when he sees his brother hop up with ease. Regardless of what we do or what he's exposed to, he refuses to attempt to jump onto the counter. He might do a false start

However, once he is on the counter, he can jump onto the top of the fridge with no problem. The counter comes up to roughly the halfway mark on fridge, meaning the distance from the floor to the counter is identical to the distance from the counter to the fridge.

If this is not a reminder that the majority of our limits are usually arbitrary ones that we put upon ourselves out of fear and a lack of self confidence, I don't know what is.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Day 211 of 365: The Good Energy

As part of my "yoga homework", I've decided to assign myself the task of basically winging an entire yoga sequence at least 2 or 3 times a week.

What happens during my winging-it session is that I put on a playlist created purely for a yoga class, come to my mat, and attempt to run an imaginary class through a sequence that I am making up on the fly. If I really like what I'm creating, I'll try to write it down and store it away for when I become a "real teacher".

It was a bitch in the beginning. I'd get through a sequence and realize that I got through 45 minutes, not an hour-15. I'd get flustered and have all my ideas bottleneck and find myself in a complete funk. But that's going to happen. So I kept at it, attempting to repeat the sequences I liked for my husband (who has been kind enough to be a guinea pig on Sunday mornings), attempting to take notes and follow them when necessary.

My own yoga instructor (and the reason why I'll drive 30 minutes there and back for an 1:15 class) told me how, in the beginning, she couldn't free-flow her, well, flows. Everything was written out on notecards. But the more comfortable she felt with her sequences -- the more comfortable she felt with herself as a yoga teacher -- the more she could go into a class with an intention and a level of activity and let the movements come as they will.

And while I'm sure this ~intuitive ease~ that I'm starting to get at home would be out the fucking door if I ever shifted to the front of a class, it feels good to have this come just a little more naturally. It's not just an intellectual shift, learning what poses should be paired with what and which poses can be built up from the previous movements, but an emotional one. Just becoming more confident with myself and who I am and what I am capable of. I know the only times I trip up in my tai chi classes are the times I let my brain get ahead of me and I question what I'm doing. But the days I go in there with the (sorry, Cesar Millan) calm, assertive energy are the days that my classes run the most smoothly and I genuinely get the sense that my students have really learned something important.

It's such a good energy. And I don't care how hippy-dippy that makes me sound. I love the feeling I get after a successful wing-it practice. Much like I love the feeling I get when I construct a good 1:15 playlist. I do certain sequences -- I listen to certain playlists -- and I can already imagine a gentle Sunday morning class, or a Wednesday evening kick-your-butt practice.

I'm excited for this. The more I train, the more I feel ready. And it feels good. And I don't care how granola that makes me look and sound.

(And since I mentioned hitting a milestone on my crafts blog, I figure I should mention a milestone I hit a week or so back on this blog: the 365 blog has finally hit 5,000 views. Not bad for a blog I started on whim and never actually promoted.)

Monday, March 3, 2014

Day 210 of 365: Winter Numbness

So, you know how people post on Facebook et al just before a vacation about how they have "so much to do" before they board their plane -- and most of us are like, "Oh to have your problems."

Well, this is one of those posts.

I have two days to get everything ready before we go to Florida. After hearing about potentially another storm a-brewing, I need out of New England and I need out now. This perpetually cold, grew environment is eating at my soul and destroying my productivity. I need the ultimate palate cleanser: a week in the sun with the sand beneath my toes.

Only one problem: because this weather, I have zero intentions of getting off my ass.

There's a lot that needs to get done. Aside from packing and prepping for the flight/vacation itself, I need to clean the entire house, prep the various food/water/etc things for our pets, completely clear out the chicken coop so our poor friends don't have to deal with their bitchiness (our chickens are little brats). And I need to finally submit something I swore I was going to have finished and submitted two times now (it's just getting silly at this point).

But it's cold and dank and gray and I just want to have hot choco and take a nap. And it's only 8 a.m.

We are past winter desperation. We are now smack-dab in the middle of winter numbness. That seems a little counterintuitive -- doesn't the winter cold make us numb for the entire stretch of winter? But our spirit is broken after February. We spend all of February desperately wishing for an early spring, only to hear that more snow is on its way. We hit March and we just expect more of the same. We dare not even hope for warmer weather at this point, because January and February have beat us into submission.

But, like I said in one of my very first posts, some days you have to say: it's not a choice. Force yourself off your ass and move forward and pray that a little sunshine (and sunburn) will help counteract all this bitter cold.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Day 209 of 365: Exactly What You Need to Be

I am too stubborn for mantras.

Tell me to have a good and noble mind, and I'll immediately think, "Bullshit!" Say that you wish for peace and tranquility for all the world, again: "Bullshit!" End the practice with nearly anything other than, "I thank you for your time and I thank you for your practice," and I will probably be thinking, "Bullshit!" in response.

To repeat: I am too stubborn for mantras.

I've been trying to figure out what my overall ethics statement is when it comes to teaching tai chi and yoga. I already have an attitude of, "This is for everyone, and it is exactly what they need it to be." I market my tai chi class as, "Worry-Free Tai Chi". I want my classes to be as welcoming and open as possible, but I need something more. I need my own little mantra. I need my own little statement about myself and the world that can weave through how I build my classes, how I respond to current and potential students, and how I conduct myself as a teacher.

But, again, I am too stubborn for mantras.

And yesterday, it dawned on me. I was simply taking notes on the diaphragm when, out of no where, I flipped to a new page and wrote:

"May you be exactly what you need to be in this -- and for this -- world."

It just fits. It sums up my belief that everyone happens for a reason, that every little action is a necessary part of a much larger song and dance. I'm not asking you to have a good and noble mind. I'm not asking the world to suddenly become peaceful. I'm asking you to realize that you are exactly what you need to be in this insane little planet.

I love how everything is slowly coming together. Every step closer to higher-level tai chi/yoga instruction is another step away from the emotional fallout from leaving the teaching world behind.

And it's a nice little reminder: you are exactly what you need to be in this (and for this) world. Everything you've done in my life -- even the stuff that you're not proud of -- was exactly what needed to have happen.

Namaste, bitches.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Day 208 of 365: Anatomy

I am so incredibly grateful that yoga teacher training has such a scientific side to it.

I'll be the first to admit that I worried yoga teacher training would be a lot of chanting, a lot of talking about chakras, and a lot of philosophies that I don't really follow. But the overall atmosphere has been incredible. The primary message is, "Don't do anything that will injure a student; do make your studio as welcoming as possible." And one way that educate us on that message is through giving us a crash course in anatomy.

I can quickly see why I never went to school to become a nurse/doctor (aside from the fact that they rival teachers in the "overworked" department). Just went I think I have muscle extention/muscle flexion down pat, I'm learning about the various disks in the vertebrae. And when I think I have that covered, suddenly I'm transported into the various muscles that assist with breathing, accessory inhalation, accessory breathings, etc, etc, etc.

And don't get me started on the pages that break down the various poses. If there were a bar exam for yoga training, I so would not pass it right now.

And these classes are tough. The online modules we have to do can be upwards of 5 hours long. I had two due for class today and I had honestly wanted to cry tears of joy when I saw the second module and saw that it was only an hour and a half (good sign that your spirit has been broken).

But, man, if I gain nothing else from this, the better understanding of anatomy alone is worth the tuition money. I can feel it change the way I shape my tai chi classes. I find myself explaining why we do the stretches we do. I can talk about injury prevention and mention the muscles that could get blown out. I approach modifications to the form with a new type of authority.

I just love the confidence it has given me. That's what I have to focus on when I run out of gas and still have another hour-long video to watch.