No Mere Spring Cleaning. It’s Exorcism.

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My arms are crossed in front of me, straitjacket-style.  I grasp the wrists of my chiropractor friend, H, as we position ourselves back-to-back, preparing for the second in a series of three adjustments.  Slowly we each lean forward, away from each other, and the clatter of wooden blocks sounds out as my vertebrae align.

“That was easy!” he says.  “You must really be ready to let go.”

You’re not kidding!  I’ve been tossing stuff out of the plane for miles – a good five years, I’d say. Someone once told me we carry our fears, symbolically, around with us, so I break out my map-reading skills and turn to the topography of my corporeal landscape.  While the runway has seen lift-off, there are still dammed up rivers, buckling frost heaves, and muscular peaks crying out to be climbed.  Taking flight requires the lightest load possible, and I’ve already let go  in substantial ways:  Goodwill, my real estate agent and the zoo that houses former boyfriends have all benefited from my housecleaning efforts.  Flying’s been a long time coming.  My whole life has been rife with falling/flying dreams and now that I’m finally airborne, cutting cords and gaining altitude, clarity emerges like a 747 coming out of the clouds.  But wouldn’t you know that the more I ditch, the more that pops up. It’s like I stashed multiple carry-ons under every single seat and now I’m on cleanup crew.  Someone please deploy the slide and toss a couple of beers my way!

https://offpeaklife.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/sleestaks.jpg?w=300This unfettering process isn’t confined to bone-cracking, closet-purging or journaling; yoga has also been integral. Pranayamic breathing  into joints and muscles bound tight like the foot of an 18th century Chinese woman highlights my avoidance tendencies and thankfully, their growing obsolescence.  Headlining as Houdini in many relationships, I mastered the art of unshackling (not in a good way) but what I fled from usually switchbacked and burrowed deep into commissural crannies, latching on like a stubborn Lyme-ridden deer tick.  In private session, I explain to my yoga instructor, Rachel, the quest to stop skipping over what I didn’t want to feel, and together we face the cave dwellers, those emotional Sleestacks hidden in my shoulders, hips, and spine.  Plank to Baby Cobra is near impossible without my shoulders wincing, so I rush the pose with no precision or grace.  Complete lack of presence.  But I know it’s possible if only I stop dodging the strain and flow through each micro moment.  It’s the anticipation of pain, more than the actual pain that freaks me out.

She guides me to hold each pose for more minutes than I think I can and breathe ever so deeply into the stretch. It’s not as hard as I imagine; time seems to slow and surprisingly, brings relief.  I exhale fully.  What I’ve stuffed into tight spaces loosens and – lo! – starts to dissipate.  Breathing room is redefined.  All this spaciousness created in pigeon, eagle, and other totemic asanas has superseded intellect and provided an escape hatch for ancient toxins.

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My nemesis, anger – always a knotty one to metabolize – has been most toxic in dark and forgotten corners of my body, sabotaging with putrid, silent stealth.  Now that I’m hushing my mind, quieting my environment, and quelling stimuli,  I see the wreckage and teach my inner fires to warm more and inflame less.  Like receding winter snow, any sense of feeling wronged has nowhere left to cling and transforms the ground beneath.  Now when ire spikes, I let it sting.  Really feel the power surge, and breath.  Then I investigate and almost always when another is involved, I imagine what it must be like on the other side and compassion instantly washes over me.  It’s hard to stay angry at someone when you realize there is no ‘other.’  We’re all in this together, and besides, do any of us really know what the hell we’re doing anyway?

photo road sign squeeze meTry this:  grab a sock or a pen in your dominant hand.  Facing it down, squeeze.  Squeeze a little more.  Now squeeeeze with all your might.  And…………………drop it.

Which was easier?  The letting go, of course. Yes, I know, it’s easier to do when you’re ready, it’s the getting ready that’s difficult.  It’s taken me years.  It’s been gradual, uncomfortable, and replete with pitfalls and backsliding, but I’m traveling atmospherically these days and I hunger to go higher and faster, still.  So I’m dedicating this month to boot camp-level exorcism.  I’m calling upon all therapies – Feng Shui-ing, digestive sand-blasting, African drumming, sitting at the altar of Ganesh, marathon-training. April is spring cleaning month and I’m giving myself a psychic colonic.  Ready?  Set.  GO!

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Dismantling Youth

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.  My sin. My soul.  Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth.  Lo. Lee. Ta.”

When I was 20, maybe 21, signing up for yet another semester of Humanities at the local community college, adulthood perpetually as imminent as the red button, the Cold War was unknowingly about to end.  In a desperate ploy to hang on to childish things, to look cool in the eyes of others, I graffiti’d a pair of white Vans with titles of Vladimir Nabokov novels in red magic marker.  Save for that  stunning opening paragraph that even now astounds me by its physical lyricism, I hardly knew who Nabokov was, much less Stanley Kubrick or James Mason, who together brought Lolita to the screen.  Smitten as I was with the younger intellectual skateboarding boys on campus – with their long hair and side-parts, lanky surfer bodies and West Coast fantasies – I scrawled ‘Bend Sinister’ across the left shoe and ‘Invitation To A Beheading’ across the right, in true contrarian embrace-the-enemy fashion.  What’s that mean? they’d ask, as we’d hang out in concrete basement bars, pretending we were old enough to be there, but not so grown up to be confused with the proletariat drinking their dollar and a half draughts during dusky happy hours.

God forbid our fraud should slip.

While Michael, boyishly cute and charming and the one I had the maddest crush on, played aloof, I did my wiliest to mirror his nonchalance (therefore showing him how much he really wanted me) and instead tried impressing his friends with arcane Soviet trivia.  When I found them gawking over stacks of nudie magazines one afternoon after class, I casually mentioned Nabokov’s penchant for getting published in Playboy, proving that yes, men really did read it for the articles and they should, too.  Were any of us planning on graduating and growing up at some point?

We never saw that our restless energy was held in check by end-of-the-world-as-we-knew-it propaganda.  What young adult wanted to stake claim in an era of Reagan and Gorbachev and the crisis of missiles?  We did as we were told:  good little Communist-haters, except that we weren’t.  We were too naive, still, to really understand anything, so we played on both sides of the rail, never knowing when the train was going to race down the tracks and split everything in two.

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Meanwhile, I taught them to play chess, (the Russians were masters, right?) and we’d plot moves until dawn, taking rooks and pawns and they taught me to say “Prost!” as we toasted with cheap vodka;  it wasn’t until I went to Germany years later did I realize that I didn’t have a trademark on affectation.  In time, our attempts to dazzle each other with bluster and bloc fizzled, but as the breezes of destiny blew, it turned out we all just really loved being together.  Especially Michael and I.  Ultimately, we paired off, whirling around in a magical wonderland with passionate abandon, leaving the group behind.  For months, we were intoxicated by the blindness of bliss, closing our eyes and diving deep enough inside to feel lo. lee. ta.  in each other’s mouths.

Eventually, the other boys all said goodbye, scattering off to four-year universities or low-paying jobs in nearby towns.  Michael and I remained, still partly caught in the stickiness of our infatuation, but somehow sensing a shift in the wind.  That fall, with legs entwined, curled up in front of the TV, we watched the Berlin Wall come down, governments toppling like dominos, the only world we ever knew crumbling, and we tried to imagine life without impending nuclear catastrophe and its fear we unwittingly swallowed. The structures that had defined us were no longer.  Where do you go when you can go anywhere?

As we planned our escape to California, as far from New York as we could  imagine, tragedy struck.  There was an accident and his brother died.  All spells broke.  The world had changed;  nothing would ever be the same.

The stranglehold of the eighties loosened and catapulted us into our futures.  The cocoon of youth dissolved.

He left for Hollywood, alone.  I never saw him again.

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My $250/Month East Village Apartment, Ingenue-Style

We always romanticize our first time, holding it up high in our hands, turning it this way and that, allowing the stories we eventually tell about it to filter through the prism of all that followed.  Three times I’ve moved to New York City, but it was the first when unbridled exuberance met myth and monster.  I secured a one-third share in a one bedroom railroad apartment in the East Village back in the early nineties, claiming the weekdays, while my upstate roommates alternated weekends. The New School of Social Research offered their full curriculum for non-matriculated students, and here is where I pushed against the borders of my known world.

Four days out of seven, I’d bounce into morning in the dingy, dark room on east 10th street like it was a palatial pre-war on the upper east side.  I never saw its structural or aesthetic flaws, but that probably was more attributed to its soot-blackened windows than any lack of observation.  It didn’t matter anyway – I was living in NYC in my early twenties!  What did I expect for only $250 a month?  Before I’d head into the fray and wail three floors down, I’d put the dented teapot on the sole electric burner, turn the greasy knob to the left, and plumb the dorm-sized fridge below for leftovers.  Usually there’d be pork lo mein or maybe some pad Thai in one of those ubiquitous Chinese to-go boxes and the room would stink like charred pig and soy sauce as I ate standing up, plastic fork scraping my unbrushed teeth.  I hadn’t yet developed coffee addiction; no caffeine was necessary as adrenaline anchored me to the rooftops as I swung through those early days of kick and bliss.  I was free!  I could do anything I wanted.

I’d hop into the yellow- and black-tiled tub, turn on the sputtering shower head and surrender to the warm wash of the chlorine-scented cascade, rinsing last night’s revelry down the drain.  I unsuccessfully tried to ignore the mildew on the shower curtain, as my nose scrunched at its musty intrusion.  I’d just swing by a bodega on my way home and buy a new one;  house cleaning was certainly not going to encroach on my weekday jaunts around the Village.  By the time the jasmine tea was brewed, I was slipping off my damp towel and into the softened leather of my black cowboy boots.  I donned the rest of my city uniform, inhaling the lingering lavender of my white tee as I pulled it over my head and secured the cool, metal buttons of my Levi’s.  I squatted a few times to stretch out the stiff, rough denim, giving me some wiggle room.  I’d check my backside in the full-length mirror on the inside hall closet door and smile.  I looked good.  I felt good.  I was ready for anything.

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