IndiGlow - The Ordinary Illuminated

IndiGlow - The Ordinary Illuminated

Summer Time Teachings

Monday, June 01, 2015

In the words of the great Alice Cooper, "School's out for summer."  For most of us that is now true. 

But, not for me.  I'll be getting those recent high school grads in just a couple of days.

A few of my colleagues and non-teacher friends moan when I say I am going back quickly after finishing up my yearly semester to begin summer semester.

But really, I don't mind.  I actually dig it.  In the summer, I usually only amass a dozen or less students, compared to the 25 I have to wrangle in the Fall.  In the Fall I teach all the Composition classes you knew and loved, a few literature classes, but mostly writingwritingwriting.

I teach more than English though.  I teach (and study) human nature.  And that nature, although the human does not, changes with every single semester.  Quite possibly, daily.  They would like to tell you that people's behaviors, outlooks, opinions can't possibly change that often or that quickly, but, oh, my friend, they do.

Think about it.  We are constantly globally connected.  We can't go a day without some mention of a political statement, or what some family has been hiding, or even to what extent Kanye smiled.  We are constantly connected to our smart phones, and that is not very smart.

When I was in college (and in grad school), I had a TV but it wasn't connected to anything but an old VCR.  In the mornings, I put on a CD (usually Tori Amos) and drank some coffee (usually French).  If I had down-time at night, I watched a favorite movie.  Smart phones did not exist.  If I needed to research something, I went to the library, the one with paper books, and shelves, and card catalogs, and librarians with an  extensive knowledge on the history of everything.

Smart phones are nice, but so is human interaction, which brings me back to teaching summer school.  Right now I have 6 students signed up to take my Introduction to Literature class.  I will spend 3 hours twice a week with 6 people.  Tell me we won't get to know each other in all the uncomfortable ways.  We're going to talk about words and why someone a hundred years ago needed to write them.  We are going to talk about words and why we need to choose them wisely. We are going to talk about trees and why a tree is never just a tree!  We are going to sit with our metaphors and look at the leaves and the sky.  We are going to listen to birds and probably traffic.  We are going to talk to each other.

If you happen to need Introduction to Literature, or maybe you just want to talk about trees that aren't trees, look me up. I'll be in Room 504.  I have a view of the river, the bridge, and the Farmer's Market.  I have 6  people talking to each other.

A Life Examined

Thursday, July 31, 2014

"It's about being alive and feisty and not sitting down and shutting up,

even if people would like you to."


On road trips, I to listen to NPR.  The ear can only handle so much pop star.  It needs a little information and intelligence, even if hidden in a silly radio trivia game.  Anyway, between here and wherever, I learned (or I guess I was reminded) from a former astronaut (who would indeed know) what fear is.  Apparently, fear is an archaic response from our lizard brain keeping us wary of lions and marauders alike.

Which got me thinking:  I, as a rule, am not greatly daring around or within tall, wavering buildings.  I would feel braver swimming through barracuda than managing across a floating bridge over a flowing river.  Gondolas suspended by cables.  Heavy, ton-weighted gondolas suspended over verdant Vermont hills by whip-thin cables.  Don’t even get me started.  Those things.  I made my friends walk a 4,000 foot mountain because of my fear of the gondola.

But really, I am not afraid of the gondola.  Nope.  I’d sleep, eat, and hold a proper tea party in one as long as it was grounded.  It’s really a fear of falling, that someone didn’t wrench the thing right, and I would go careening through space to my death.  What I am afraid of is an under-paid summer technician with a monkey wrench.

We all have a fear, and I bet we all have a friend who carries a fear around that we just don’t get.  Me, I have a friend who is afraid of his own shadow, which is a hyperbole, but you know what I mean.  He doesn’t like speaking publicly, even to small groups of friends, opening up, standing near pretty women, sitting near pretty women.  He is afraid to make noise, to drum his damn drum.

I asked him: what exactly are you scared of, and he said I am scared that people will think I am stupid.

Stupid?  That’s the least of my concerns.  I live for stupid.  I am the band leader with the fuzzy hat and the scepter.  I was awarded Best Turkey at the Annual Thanksgiving Family Dinner Charade.  I am Phyllis Diller and Carol Burnett. 

It isn’t about making ‘em laugh, though.  It is about a commitment to a life examined.  

When my husband and I were on our very first date, we went for ice cream and wandered through some antique shops in the town square.  I put on one of those old lady hats with the birdcage netting, turned around to him, and said “daaahling, coffee, tea, or me?”  The man married me, and in our vows asked that I never lose my quirky.

Maybe you’ve noticed that there are a whole lot of selfies out there on social media, and the yoga community has transferred this pop culture empowerment into full-on yoga poses.  There are #publicdisplayofasana #urbanbadasses #yogaposeweekley #yogaofplace, and our own #indigogingerschallenge. 

In fact, when I went on vacation, I knew I wanted to post pictures in front of city monuments in a more attention-grabbing way than with Bob Fosse-meets-vacation- hands.  As a result, I rocked head stands all over the South: The Waving Girl in Savannah, Bathtub Mary’s in Atlanta, a walking bridge in Chattanooga, a million dollar house in Charleston.

If you’re going to do this, and you should, you will have to bridge a certain element of what will people think of me?  Because, trust me, I got a lot of those looks.

But, as Deepak Chopra said, What other people think of you is not your business. 

That may be the truest and most helpful statement I have seen in a while.  People can think whatever they want of me, even if it is wrong, embellished, fictional, or one-sided.  I know who I am. 

On a good day, I am compassionate with a side of quick anger.  I am petite, but think I am 6 feet tall.  I love chocolate and vegetables, but don’t care for fruit very much.  I like naps and strong narratives.  I like sloths, hedgehogs, platypuses, and bats.  I think washing dishes is a form of meditation, but I cannot sit still and meditate.  I like tulle, sparkly things, and a good cold beer.  I am complicated and quirky.  And it’s none of my business how you interpret my quirky.  I just am.

I have my fears.  I have my scared ofs.  Stupid is not one of them.  Would I go back to that lovely mountain in Vermont and take the gondola up?  Probably not.  Not because of fear though.  We picked wild strawberries and blueberries along the way. We communed with yellow butterflies and prickly grasses at our ankles.  That day was a life examined. 

I am currently a few days shy of going home to New Orleans, and I plan to do brave and stupid things, like an inversion on Bourbon St., maybe a crow pose on police horse, maybe horse pose in Jackson Square.  I will drink cold beer and slip down an oyster or two. 

Be stupid.  Be daring.  Create a life worth examining.  Be your own weird self.  Don’t let your fears make your decisions.  If people look at you, remember, it is none of your business.  They are simply unexamined.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

"Sometimes," said Pooh, "the smallest things take up the most room in your heart."



I had this dream the other night. Truth be told, I have dreams most every night. Stairwells, old, empty houses, haunted houses, attic spaces. Hmmm, I see a theme.


Well, anyway, I had this dream the other night. I was boarding a jet, one of those big airbus things. My mother was there, my nephew. I had a black, rolling carry-on.


I am boarding for my flight to Paris! I am in my seat. I am buckled in. I remember: I don’t have my camera.


For me, this is a weird dream. Paris is on my bucket list. I am in my seat thinking, well, I could buy one when I get there. I wonder how much Parisian cameras cost. Should I buy disposable cameras? Should I buy a nice fancy thing with lots of buttons? But mostly I am pretty unconcerned that I have forgotten my camera.


I’ve mildly contemplated this dream for a few days. Shrinks, on the whole, agree that dreams are there for your brain to work out a problem. Pickles are pickles. A Rose is a Rose is a Rose (ah, Gertrude, how we love you). This jet is not some sort of Freudian man-issue.


I digress. What if you are supposed to go on the trip of your imagination and not record everything you see? What if you are supposed to lock it into your mind, and forget about all the people who will never see the Paris you saw.


You know how long the camera has been in existence? The Daguerreotype was built around 1835. That’s nothing. That’s only 179 years of recording things. That means for a gazillion years man has put his memories in that little walnut shaped brain of his. In 179 years, we have not been able to solve poverty, loneliness, hunger, illness, but we sure can take a selfie and call it empowerment.


A while back, I broke up with someone, and in my need to shred every ounce of memory, I tossed photos like Nixon shredded audiotape. Then, I started digging deeper, getting into childhood photos. Did I need every image of me in a gingham nightie holding a dolly at Christmas? I remember the dolly. I remember the nightie. Do I need the photo? Do I need to carry this dusty thing with me everywhere I go? Some would say yes. My mother would say YES! But I don’t.


We live in this world where we photograph, illustrate, journal every single moment. Here we are reading this via Facebook, we can open a "window," and we can take a quick spin and see everyone’s memory. (Go ahead. I’ll wait). We post pics of our manicured toes, our ice cream cones, and our meal from our birthday, our new car / bike / house / apartment…… None of these are Paris, surely, but do we need to record every moment?


I am guilty as all of you for recording the splendid moments of my life, but what does it matter? If there were a tornado or hurricane or fire, there it goes. Gone.


As I write this I am at a local watering hole, people are chatting, catching up on the daily gossip of who did what, the game is on the TV, the bartender is wiping down a tray, he smiles at the server. He pours a pint with one wrist on the tap, with a laziness like waiting for a pay phone to ring. When he lifts the land line, his pinky knuckle is on his cheekbone. The girls are busy as bees, even in their resting moments their eyes are busy as FBI at a presidential parade. And, I’m ok not recording them, or the Edison bulbs, or exposed bricks.


Look. Don’t stop recording your stuff. I like your stuff. I like to know how you are and what you find beautiful. Here’s the thing: if I go to Paris, and I take a pic of the Eiffel tower, is that any different from any other postcard of the Eiffel tower. Of course, it is my moment. In that moment, it is my Eiffel tower.


Should I experience the moment fully? Should I just breathe in every forged bit of iron, every pair of lover who ever kissed, the souls who jumped, who cried, who lost their way. Should I smell the grass, the Galoises wafting, should I wait for Gertrude and Anais to shed their love on me?


Oui. We should fall in love with the present. It is the only now that matters.

Finding My Center After the Storm

Saturday, September 07, 2013

I'm watching Turkey Buzzards circling over my backyard as I sit and work in my office on this peaceful Saturday morning.  Through the other window I see an intricate spider web attached to the eaves of the roof swaying in the gentle breeze.  My 3 children have spent the morning playing, disagreeing, making-up, and playing some more.  There is such peace and fullness in my heart/mind at this moment.  I'm reminded of the word purnam, or "perfection," which, in this context, does not mean what we might think.  I am full...I am whole...I am perfectly content in my spirit as I observe the fluctuations of the world around me.   

After the longest Winter of my life (which bled into the Spring and even early Summer), I am refreshed to find the ground beneath my feet again.  It felt like a metaphorical hurricane swept through my life and left me completely demolished internally.  

After a month of testing in January, my son was diagnosed with High Functioning Autism.  While I had suspected this for the 5 years prior to his diagnosis, there was still a part of me wishing they would tell me I was wrong on that emotional day.  

The day before I drove to Chicago for this news, I learned that my father was diagnosed with another form of cancer (he had beat Prostate Cancer years before).  My relationship with my Dad has not been a close one, and so I was left with a mixture of feelings, including grief and fear.  

It was a hell-of-a week, and I took a few days to try to assimilate all of this news.  And then...that following Friday as I was waiting in the pick-up line at school I received a terrifying call from my mother.  She was having a stroke!  I spent the next week in and out of the hospital with shifts with my brother as we worried what would happen next.  Once released, she came to live with me for a few weeks so I could care for her, which included sorting out all of her new meds, helping her learn to give herself insulin shots 4 times a day (for her out of control diabetes), cooking heart-healthy meals, and more.  I was happy to do it, but I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders.

By the grace of God, her stroke did not leave her completely handicapped.  While it certainly affected her, with time & rehab she regained most of her speech, balance, and abilities.  It was life-changing for her (and for all of us who love her), and she made incredible lifestyle changes in an effort to avoid another stroke.

Now, months later, we're all doing pretty damn well!  My father & I have become closer than we've been in years, and his cancer is under control at the moment.  My mother lives independently with a helper now who comes twice a week, and she continues to be stronger everyday.  My son, well...of course there is no cure for Autism, but we've been able to get him a 504 at school, which means he is protected for the rest of his educational days.  I've finally been able to talk to him about his diagnosis, and together we are learning how to navigate this unique path God has blessed us with. 

Everyday there are new challenges to face, but this is the nature of human existence for all of us.  For everyone of us life is going to be full of heartache, scary moments, and metaphorical hurricanes that make us feel defeated.  But, the beauty is that there are also moments of deep joy, moments to celebrate, and remarkable miracles which build us up again.  All moments pass, change, ebb & flow.  

I'm eternally grateful for the skills my yoga practice has given me.  Because of these tools I am able to find my center...remember to breathe...and accept that I am not in control of the world around me, but I can control how I react to it.  With a very glad and grateful heart, I am thankful for this moment.  


<3 IndigoGrrl

Who's Got the Reins?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Attachment, Aversion, or Apathy:  How We Relate to the World Around Us

Our conditioned existence is perpetuated by our lack of control over our senses.  Like a chariot driven out of control by a horse with broken reins, our reactions to any given situation leaves us in a constant state of stress and tension.  Our reactions tend to fall into these 3 major themes:  attachment, aversion, and apathy.

When we firmly grasp at something we have developed an attachment for it.  That feeling that we absolutely NEED this particular thing (food, money, sex, substances, relationships, etc.) because we’re addicted to the chemical responses that happen in our bodies when we relate to whatever it might be.  Gratuitous experiences bring momentary ecstasy and the fear of losing that feeling causes us to grasp very tightly to them.

But then, what happens we have a very negative experience with a particular attachment?  Very easily we can develop the flip side of this, which is aversion.  Hating, despising, turning or pushing harshly away from something is another strong fear-based reaction to a thing, substance, person, etc.   How easily can the human psyche switch from one to the other?  Each can lead to great mental & emotional anguish and suffering. 

I believe that out of this suffering we begin to develop apathy towards the outside world.  No longer do we desire or despise…we stop caring and become hardened.  The phrase, “I just don’t give a shit anymore,” comes to mind.  

All of these states of being lead to suffering and can shut down the emotional, spiritual, and physical energetic centers of the body. 

There are at least 7 main centers of energy, known as “chakras” that govern all the functions of the body.  From these spinning, energetic vortices flow rivers of energy (or “nadis”) throughout the entire being and field of consciousness.  When these areas become affected they slow down, become sluggish, or can become completely clogged or closed off. 

After these subtle energies become affected, like dominoes the effect moves through the layers of the body and eventually manifest as physical symptoms, dis-orders, and dis-eases.  Patterns and cycles of reaction/pain/suffering begin to repeat themselves and the attachment/aversion/apathy wheel continues to spin.  Suffering ensues.

Enter yoga, meditation, and mindfulness!  We absolutely have the power and ability to change these patterns and transform suffering into peace, deep contentment & joy.  The reason for these practices is to develop equanimity (mental calmness, composure, or even-temperedness especially in difficult situations).  Through the practice of observation, awareness, breath control, physical conditioning, and deep concentration we can begin to ‘repair the reins of the wild horses’ or control our senses by learning non-reactiveness.  With these tools we can give space to our conditioned reactions…observe them mindfully…acknowledge the emotion is there but look at it through compassionate, non-judgmental eyes without grasping.  In time, the ‘chariot ride’ becomes smooth and the stress and tension melt away.  These emotional/mental shifts bring about health, vitality, and life-force to the energy centers improving not only the physical health of our bodies but also the way in which we relate to food, money, sex, relationships, etc. 

Whole health functions on many, many levels.  The more conscious we become of these subtle energies and relationships, the less we suffer in this existence.  With continued awareness and practice of letting go of attachments, aversions, and apathy we can transform our suffering into liberation and joy.  It sounds like a big task, but by taking small steps everyday (with patience, persistence, and practice) we can really learn to enjoy the process of the journey within.



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