I read this piece at a Writers of Central Florida or Thereabouts’ Short Attention Span Storytelling Hour event at Stardust Coffee & Video on June 22, 2016.
I started “practicing” yoga last fall, but I’ve never been good with balance.
My first yoga class was an act of resignation that I couldn’t keep up the workaholic mentality I had adopted since founding, launching, and managing a brand new digital magazine for my brand new boss. After seven days to get the site live & then seven months of the high highs and low lows of new partnerships and lost team members, new subscribers and budget issues, I needed to carve out some “me time” for my personal well being.
I spread my arms flat out to each side of me, my fingertips reaching for the baseboards on opposite sides of the room. I wound my legs around one another and flopped my knees to the left. My torso twisted around and I pushed my shoulder blades into my mat. Bending and twisting have never been my problem. I’ve just never been good at balance.
I try to remember to breathe in between the thousands of thoughts that I try to push from my mind. My gaze darting to the zipper compartment of my yoga mat carrier, I wonder if my emails or my texts were waiting for my response.
Last Christmas, I went home to Upstate NY to “take a break from work” at least physically. I tried to show my cousin a yoga pose that could help relax her after a long day working as a nurse. She said she could never bend like a pretzel the way I did. I found that hard to believe considering she did ice skating and gymnastics when she was little while I lacked all the power, strength, agility, or grace necessary to even muster a handstand or a cartwheel.
As a beginning yoga practitioner, I have excelled in Yin classes, poses held for longer periods of time and the muscles of the body relaxing into the position with each purposeful exhalation. Before I found my preference for Yin practice, I attended some classes that incorporated balance poses as well as reclining poses.
Balancing is a pain in my ass.
My sister (who can also be a pain in my ass) sent me a copy of our favorite author David Sedaris’ book Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls a few years ago. She flagged the story “Laugh, Kookaburra” with the dust cover flap for my mom/roommate and I to read. In that story a friend of Sedaris describes a four burner stove.
“This was not a real stove but a symbolic one, used to prove a point at a management seminar she’d once attended. “One burner represents your family, one is your friends, the third is your health, and the fourth is your work.” The gist, she said, was that in order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful you have to cut off two.”
My work burner is switched off for now. Even my yoga practice couldn’t save the troubles of the last startup I worked for and I will be reigniting this burner in a new area code next month. Hopefully next time it’s more productive and less detrimental to my health.
My health burner has always been faulty. Having challenges even getting started back at Johnson City Hospital outside Binghamton, NY where I was born prematurely, coincidentally the same hospital where David Sedaris was born. But I am extremely fortunate to report since waking up from my tenth surgery in 29 years on October 23, 2014, my health burner has finally been functioning without fail. Knock on wood.
My friends burner has flamed ferociously at certain points of my life, college comes to mind! As well as when I was living abroad in London and then Australia, and then London again, my friends while I lived abroad became my surrogate family while I was so very far from my own. Since returning to Florida in 2012, reconnecting with old friends, meeting new friends, and maintaining friendships in such a transient place like Central Florida has been incredibly difficult. Having a mom who is also your best friend and roommate is a double edged sword at times. Joining Writers of Central Florida or Thereabouts changed everything about my life.
I found my tribe. Even in a world where people can be cruel, heartless, violent, and dangerous; I found a little slice of the population who just wanted to use their art to make the world, or at least the day, a little bit better. A community of people who loved writing just like I always have and know what a pain in the ass it is at times, too. Leaders who just wanted to be entertained and to entertain. Community members who opened my eyes to new ideas, new ways of thinking, new ways of seeing, hearing, and speaking.
I learned the value of a hearty laugh and witnessed words spoken with such nuance and tenderness I was moved to tears. I was encouraged to speak up, I found greater confidence in my own voice; I encouraged others, I saw them in turn do the same. I made friends who I could talk to endlessly about anything or about nothing. I listened so hard. I practiced active listening to the readers I grew to cherish more and more as each Wednesday went by. I learned the blessing of being left speechless.
I know that there’s not much harm in making the switch from coffee to sauvignon blanc every so often. I know that going home at a reasonable hour on a work night is, 9.5 times out of 10, overrated. I know that taking a chance can be exhilarating, exciting, and even extinguish long-held fears.
Moving back to Central Florida was like practicing yoga. I bended and twisted the woman I had become, I tried to quiet the memories of my past, I sank into the suburban quicksand deep, deep, deep. The Florida days grew hotter and my friends burner warmed up. This week it’s time for me to move away again and find my footing in a new place. I will travel on new roads and face old fears. New challenges, new friends, a new job, I will find balance in my independence.
But I know no matter where I go or what I do I will always carry with me the gifts Writers of Central Florida or Thereabouts have bestowed on my life.
And I know my family burner will always be warm.