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One would think that having 4 days off from work would lend itself to large chunks of time devoted solely to blogging, but I seem to have been too busy eating my weight in various forms of carbohydrates to sit down and commit myself to the keyboard. I’ve had blog post ideas stored in my brain for the past week (things I’m thankful for! 5Rhythms recap! yoga weekend!), and now they are all just melding together like the sweet potatoes, corn, and stuffing on my holiday dinner plate. That said, consider this my “Thanksgiving plate” post–a whole bunch of everything, all mashed together (and hopefully you’re not one of those people who can’t stand their food touching).
Four Days of Consumption: 2 pumpkin spice lattes, 1 hot chocolate, 2 green juices, 1 full Thanksgiving dinner, 2 mini cupcakes, 1/2 giant chocolate peanut butter cupcake, 1 full diner breakfast + 1 full homemade breakfast, 2 glasses red wine, 1 margarita, 1 mimosa, pumpkin pie, plus a burrito thrown in to make it an international weekend. A random slice of pizza, too. And several Tums.
Looking Forward To: going back to eating soup for lunch. And not feeling like I have to walk 3 miles after every meal to keep my pants from popping.
I’m Thankful For ___: the random stranger who pulled over as I was walking to inform me that I dropped my glove a few yards back; road-widening projects that require the cutting-down of the PITA sycamore tree outside our house whose roots back up our sewer and whose gangly limbs scare me ever since one fell through my car window; not being in college (a thought that crossed my mind as I watched Felicity via Netflix); the New Guy at work, because as much as I loved working with eager-to-learn interns, their impermanence in our office was a bit tiring; closely reading our new car insurance paperwork, during which I discovered that instead of taking Bryan’s old/dead car off our policy, they took off MY car, you know, the one I had been driving every single day (all fixed now–whew!); choosing to skip swimming in a crowded gym pool on Tuesday and going on Wednesday instead, because Evening Before Holiday = Empty Pool.
One Geeky Thing I’m
Totally Not Doing Right Now: Tracking PHL arrivals via FlightStats.com as airplanes fly over our house.
Before Setting Up FlightStats, I Totally Wasn’t: Planning out a hypothetical 2-day solo getaway to Disney World at Christmastime for next weekend.
Living Room Conversation Piece: This guy:
I Fear: that my cellphone is dying. I hate getting new phones, especially because they’re all smartphones now, and I’m 80 so that scares me.
TV Series Recently Completed on Netflix: Twin Peaks.
TV Series That Will Forever Give Me Backward-Talking Nightmares: Twin Peaks.
Non-Edible Products That Smell So Good I Kinda Want to Eat Them: pumpkin-scented soy candle from the farmers market (seriously, it makes the living room smell like a bakery for two days after it’s extinguished); gingerbread-scented Method countertop cleaner.
Approximate Weight of the Newspapers + Black Friday Circulars Sitting on the Kitchen Table: 3 pounds.
Gatherings and Meet-Ups This Weekend: Thanksgiving dinner with Bryan’s family; breakfast meetup at the diner with 3 high school friends; holiday tree lighting with my favorite toddler ever and her parents; burritos and margaritas with our favorite double-date couple; and Thanksgiving weekend breakfast with my family.
Silly Photos From Said Meet-Ups:
Nonsensical Notes From Last Friday’s 5Rhythms With Some Explanation in Parentheses: synchronicity (I asked the universe for a certain dancer to attend class, and the universe obliged); traveling amoeba (we all huddled as a group, back-to-back/side-to-side and just allowed our little jumble to move around the room on its own accord, like a traveling amoeba); tipping point from subtle to full-blown run-around-the-room Chaos, unleashing! (because sometimes I start Chaos with very small and subtle movements and then out of nowhere, there’s a tipping point of energy, and I go from standing in place to leaping across the studio as though I’ve been thrown over the edge of a cliff).
One Day I Will Totally Write About: the yoga workshop I took last week with Rudy Peirce.
The other day as I was driving to work on a particularly cloudy, drizzly, and ho-hum morning, I experimented with flipping the car radio to one of the local stations that’s currently broadcasting Christmas carols around the clock. I do not normally condone such pre-season holly jolly activities, but I figured that since Christmas songs are associated with mirth and merriment, perhaps just a song or two about Santa Claus and a few merry gentlemen would stir up enough warm and fuzzy feelings to get me into the office with a smile on my face.
However, after just a few seconds of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” I had switch back to the traditional hits of the ’80s, ’90s, and today. The holiday music felt wrong, so out of place for that early November morning, like someone singing “Happy Birthday” to me on June 10 instead of July 30. Yet, in a way, I was disappointed about not being receptive to the music. I spend so much energy resisting this early onslaught of Christmas in stores, in TV commercials, and in people’s homes (walked by a house on November 14 with a tree already set up), that I thought to myself, Why resist, Jen? Just welcome it in, let the Christmas spirit flow through you as it is elsewhere around the country. Don’t wrinkle your nose at the fact that Santa made his debut at the mall on November 5, giving out candy canes even though pumpkins filled with candy corn and bite-size Three Musketeers are still sitting on the kitchen counters of every American household. That’s not a good attitude.
But as soon as I tried to welcome it in, the door slammed shut. I just did not want to hear about one’s experience rockin’ round the Christmas tree on November 14. And as much as I love Starbucks, I do not love getting my pumpkin spice latte served in a red cup. The resistance returns.
But there’s a reason for the resistance, and it all has to do with nostalgia. I can thank Kathy O’Connell from WXPN’s Kids Corner for this realization (yes, it’s true that I sometimes listen to the made-for-kids radio show), as she pointed out that, for her, the Christmas spirit is not allowed to creep into her system until Santa arrives at the conclusion of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Only then will she begin listening to Christmas songs, consider dressing in red and green, and pick out greeting cards, because that’s the way it used to be growing up.
Now, Kathy is much older than me, but even back when I was a kid in the ’80s, the same theory applied. There was never any talk of Christmas before Thanksgiving, and even then I remember being confused why Santa Claus participated in the Thanksgiving parade. My hometown had a holiday parade the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and for me, that‘s when Christmas could begin. The turkey was carved, pumpkin pie consumed, Black Friday shopping done. That’s the way it used to be. Those were the good ol’ days, when Santa’s Village at the mall didn’t open until after Thanksgiving ended, when candy canes were handed out only after all of your Halloween peanut butter cups were fully digested and eliminated.
So it seems that as great of a holiday Christmas is, most of us are programmed remembering the way it used to be, and that’s the way we can’t tolerate Bing Crosby when the trees are still covered in yellow and orange leaves. Perhaps the younger generations of today will be A-OK with mistletoe and fake cobwebs being sold side-by-side on the same shelves when they become adults, but for most of us right now, we’re just trying to hold onto a little magic from our youth, upholding tradition, and doing everything in our power to prevent orange and black M&Ms from ever mingling with the red and green ones.
To live without pain or dance without soul?
One component of my job is to keep abreast about all the latest goings-on in the field of psychological/psychiatric research (a) so we can include news briefs of the most interesting developments in our publication and (b) so I don’t sound like an idiot when I’m talking to our contributors. Most press releases that come my way seem to be generated by Captain Obvious (“Women Who Experience Gender-Based Violence Have Higher Incidence of Anxiety”), but every now and then along comes something eyebrow-raising, like this: “Drug May Help Overwrite Bad Memories.”
According to a Canadian study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, recalling painful memories while taking the drug metyrapone can reduce the brain’s ability to re-record the negative emotions associated with them (Explanation: manipulating cortisol close to the time of forming new memories can decrease the negative emotions that may be associated with them). The press release goes on to explain the study procedure:
The study included 33 men who learned a story composed of neutral and negative events. After 3 days they were divided into three groups: Participants in the first group received a single dose of metyrapone, the second received a double dose, and the third were given placebo. They were then asked to remember the story. Their memory performance was evaluated again 4 days later, once the drug had cleared out. The researchers found that the men in the group who received two doses of metyrapone were impaired when recalling the negative events of the story, while they showed no impairment recalling the neutral parts of the story.
For those not quite ready for a quick prescription of eternal sunshine of the spotless mind, good news: Metyrapone is no longer commercially produced.
But what if it were? What if that magic pill did exist, and all of the pain and angst of your past could be deleted? Would you take it?
The press release above is actually a few months old, but I started thinking about it again last night as I was watching So You Think You Can Dance, as contestants Melanie and Sasha were talking about where they find the emotion that drives their intensely powerful movement. Sasha, after performing in a duet about manipulation and abuse, alluded to “having been hurt” in the past. Melanie, in tears, talked about her deceased father, physically in tears as she began one of the most achingly eloquent solos of the competition.
If these girls were to have taken that magic drug, would such beautiful art even exist?
So often in yoga or Eastern religion discourse, we are taught that the past is the past. Acknowledge it and move on. Yet, isn’t it in those times of deep contemplation and reminiscence that the most powerful works of art emerge? My god, if everyone who suffered a broken heart erased that memory from their brains, the world would be devoid of some of the best ballads, poetry, paintings, orchestrations, and ballets.
There are periods of my life I’d like to forget. I’ll be going about with my day fine and dandy when BOOM! Well, hello bad memory! I didn’t see you coming, and to tell you truth, you have made me quite angry/sad/confused.
It’s not pleasant getting socked off-guard by icky thoughts of the past, yet at the same time it is that unease that has given depth to my dance and writing. I was a talented writer in my youth, but only to an extent. I was young; my words lacked experience. How can one write poetry about the injustices of life when you are only 14 and have lived a comfortable existence? All I cared about then was the skeleton, the technique: that lines rhymed and the meter stuck. It is the same with dance; I was a dedicated dance student through grade school but little emotion came through in my high hitch kicks and straddle jumps. I was good at dancing–I remembered routines and could execute them gracefully–but the flesh of my bare-bones dancing took years to develop.
No amount of master classes or instruction videos could give me the depth that real life–love, loss, betrayal, redemption–brought forth to my movement. Every misstep I took or misfortune that was thrust upon me made me weak in that moment but stronger for the future. Events that brought me to my knees and hurt so badly that I didn’t even care about dancing anymore–surprise!–today have only made my dancing richer and more three-dimensional. And without a doubt, my dancing 10, 20, 30 years from now won’t be the same as it is today. It’s a bit cruel that by the time we reach an age of such wisdom and experience–a time when our dancing would reflect decades of memories–our bodies are breaking down. If only an 80-year-old could dance in an 18-year-old’s body!
(Returning to the memory-erasing drug, though, I should note that the investigators conducted the study mostly with people with posttraumatic stress disorder in mind; we’re talking soldiers, victims of horrific crimes, etc, not people trying to recover from a bad break-up. Although painful memories may add depth to artistic endeavors, I am not advocating that veterans who have witnessed their friends perish in a land mine hang onto those memories in the name of art.)
As Thais recently noted in her blog, traumas need to be released:
If we do not consciously work through our traumas and release the caught up energy in our bodies, that force is going to come out one way or another. Some it’s by a physical illness, others it’s by addictions or eating disorders. Just look at the world around you, nothing good comes out of compression. Finding that release valve is what keeps us sane. Some may find release through dance, sports, yoga, therapy, etc. It’s important to find the right activity for you and your body.
So, now, comes the million-dollar question: Do you take the magic pill…or do you dance?
A few nights ago when I had the house to myself, I decided to bust out (OK, by “bust out,” I mean play via Netflix streaming, even though I own the DVD, because sometimes I am just that lazy) one of my favorite movies of all time: Contact.
The movie was released in 1997, not too long after Independence Day hit the theaters. The trailers made it out to be another alien movie, perhaps with less stuff blowing up. I remember going to the theater expecting one thing and coming out very confused. Not confused about the plot line or the ending but more bewildered with my own thoughts about believing in stuff that can’t be seen.
In a nutshell, Contact, based on Carl Sagan’s novel, is about an astronomer (Ellie Arroway), an atheist committed to searching for extraterrestrial life. She is a woman of science and makes it clear to her romantic interest (Palmer Joss) that she needs physical, factual proof to believe in something’s existence, even though Palmer, a religious writer and highly spiritual man, doesn’t share her viewpoint and constantly challenges Ellie about being devoted to a phenomenon that can’t be seen. One of the most provocative exchanges in the movie occurs when Palmer asks Ellie if she loved her father, who passed away when she was 9:
Palmer: Did you love your father?
Palmer: Your dad. Did you love him?
Ellie: Yes, very much.
Palmer: Prove it.
Ellie eventually makes the discovery of a lifetime, a message coming from outer space that provides blueprints for a transportation device to the aliens’ home turf. During her journey to outer space, she witnesses celestial sights that can only make her weep, and she has a highly emotional encounter with an alien that changes everything she ever thought she knew. However, she returns from the mission proof-less, with no recordings, artifacts, or shreds of evidence that corroborate her story. No one believes her; in fact, the government insinuates that she is making up the whole story, that it’s a delusion of grandeur:
Panel member: Doctor Arroway, you come to us with no evidence, no record, no artifacts. Only a story that to put it mildly strains credibility. Over half a trillion dollars was spent, dozens of lives were lost. Are you really going to sit there and tell us we should just take this all… on faith?
Ellie: Is it possible that it didn’t happen? Yes. As a scientist, I must concede that, I must volunteer that.
Michael Kitz: Wait a minute, let me get this straight. You admit that you have absolutely no physical evidence to back up your story.
Michael Kitz: You admit that you very well may have hallucinated this whole thing.
Michael Kitz: You admit that if you were in our position, you would respond with exactly the same degree of incredulity and skepticism!
Michael Kitz: [standing, angrily] Then why don’t you simply withdraw your testimony, and concede that this “journey to the center of the galaxy,” in fact, never took place!
Ellie: Because I can’t. I… had an experience… I can’t prove it, I can’t even explain it, but everything that I know as a human being, everything that I am tells me that it was real! I was given something wonderful, something that changed me forever… A vision… of the universe, that tells us, undeniably, how tiny, and insignificant and how… rare, and precious we all are! A vision that tells us that we belong to something that is greater then ourselves, that we are *not*, that none of us are alone! I wish… I… could share that… I wish, that everyone, if only for one… moment, could feel… that awe, and humility, and hope. But… That continues to be my wish.
This movie hit me hard when I first saw it, and it still does today. It stirs me, it makes me cry, yet I’m not fully sure why. My heart aches for Ellie, yes, but I feel something much deeper than sympathy for a character.
I’m not a religious person, but I guess you could say I am spiritual. Perhaps this movie resonates with me because I am a bit on the fence about everything “out there” that we cannot see. Having to go to full Catholic mass weddings makes me cringe and feel uncomfortable, yet I sometimes listen to gospel music on my commute to work because it just makes me feel so damn good. I’m confused by people who go from not caring a lick about religion to talking about Jesus as though they were BFF in college, yet the moment I emerged on the rooftop of the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, Tibet and looked out at the Dalai Lama’s former residence, I felt something unworldly course through me and was moved to tears by a power that could not be seen, smelled, or measured.
I squirm when I am at a funeral and the priest reassures us all that “the departed is now with God,” and yet sometimes I find myself in the same position as Ellie, trying to convince people what I experienced is real, for real! Like the time I had an out-of-body experience during savasana after a particularly powerful yoga class. Or during that one crazy-intense yoga class at Kripalu, when every hair on my body stood on edge as I lifted into Vrksasana. Or, I swear, one time during a meditation sit during YTT, I could actually “hear” all of my classmates’ energies buzz above our heads.
Could I prove it? Absolutely not. Perhaps one could physically see the hairs on my arm sticking up during that intense tree pose, but would it be attributed to some higher power? Maybe I was just cold. Maybe I was aroused. And during that out-of-body savasana experience; well, to others, I was simply lying in corpse pose. But to me, I was floating above my own body. Try explaining that to someone who does yoga simply to get a toned butt!
A lot of what I do is hard to explain to others. For instance, just this morning, after a long and sweaty yoga practice at home, I arose from savasana with an overwhelmingly intense urge just to sit in meditation. After a dance of swirling colors swam before my eyes, the world turned to a deep indigo, and I felt like I was transported to a vast amphitheater of nothing but pulsing purple. It went from being isolated to just my head to surrounding my whole body. For a few moments I felt like I was on the verge of entering another dimension. I’ve tried to explain this to other people who meditate; some have also experienced the indigo bubble, others say meditation is just time to sit and be quiet. No colors, no shapes, no mysticism.
I’ve had trouble understanding the people who come to 5Rhythms who just kinda bob along to the music, not really getting into it. Like me. Like the way I do. And yet they come to class week after week after week. Why?! They’re not doing it my way, so clearly they’re not getting it. Do they need it explained to them?! And how can I possibly try to describe some of the intimate exchanges that occur between myself and other dancers, how we link arms and hang over each others’ backs, skin on skin, side by side, a theatrical pas de deux of sorts? Some of the exchanges we do are so eloquently executed, it looks like they have been choreographed. We are keenly aware of each others’ moves and presence, and the give and take of our motions looks anything but spontaneous. I tell ya, sometimes it’s hard to convince others that this is what all dance should be like. (Note: If you are a dance enthusiast, the link is worth watching. It’s a beautiful display of an improvisational duet between two dance students.)
It’s human nature for us to want to share what has happened to us, but it’s foolish to think that the world is going to drop everything and join our team. Maybe the movie was and always has been a gentle nudge for me to at least be respectful of others’ beliefs and values, rather than roll my eyes at the mere notion of something I “don’t get.” As the alien explains to Ellie:
You’re an interesting species. An interesting mix. You’re capable of such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you’re not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other.
One of the things that drives me crazy while food shopping (minus the kid carts the size of tractor trailers and the fact that at Wegmans yogurt is spread out between 45948 locations) is the way some cashiers handle your food.
I don’t know if some grocery stores have contests to see who can make the quickest transactions or if perhaps there is a corporate policy about squeezing in so many customers in a certain time frame, but the past few times we’ve been to Wegmans, the cashiers have been just plain rough with our food purchases.
Cereal boxes, yogurt cartons, fresh produce, bread … they just gruffly push it down and slide it across the scanner, and then–because we bring our own bags–they toss it on the counter behind them. Ker-thunk. Ker-thunk. Plop. Thwack.
Now, it’s nothing so bad that a carton of eggs is going to break–it’s just the manner in which the cashiers handle the products we are paying good money for and will eventually end up in our mouths. This isn’t a blister pack of batteries we’re talking about; it’s a carton of strawberries, a bunch of bananas, my beloved Flat-Out wraps that will eventually swaddle my garlic hummus, spinach, and cheese. Please don’t manhandle my dinner.
The one place that always respects the food is Whole Foods. I will never forget the one cashier I had years ago who scanned each item as though it were a piece of 24-karat gold. It was so zen to watch, so hypnotic the way she picked up each item with intention and gently glided it across the scanner. She even commented here and there on certain things: “This is a great brand of yogurt. So creamy! You’ll love this new flavor. I haven’t seen this yet; have you eaten it before?”
I was so touched by her yogic scanning technique that I let her know how much it meant to me. “You’ve made it an art!” I exclaimed.
So when our frequent grocery shopping excursions at Wegmans turned into the complete opposite experience, I got irritated. Last week’s cashier was so staccato with our food that I vowed to Bryan I would write a letter to customer service. (I didn’t, because I tend to forget these things if I don’t do it right away.)
Yesterday at Wegmans, I assumed my position at the opposite end of the conveyor belt with trepidation, bracing for the torpedo of food coming my way. But we seemed to have selected the right lane, because the cashier had clearly read my mind. I think he was new and perhaps a bit flummoxed by some of the barcodes and produce codes, but his self-consciousness led him to be the kindest, most gentle cashier we’ve had to date at Wegmans. The way he cradled each individual Chobani yogurt container and then placed them on the counter behind him took my breath away. I glanced up in disbelief at Bryan, who was smirking and nodding his head. He knew. His husband radar had totally picked up on my neurosis and my bubbling excitement about our cashier’s smooth scanning skills.
Of course, I made a point to praise the cashier before we left. I told him about our previous experiences and how much I appreciated the way he handled each piece of food with respect. I hope he got my point and didn’t write me off as a trippy-dippy hippie.
It doesn’t matter what store you shop at or whether you eat deli lunchmeat or free-range chicken breast–everyone should respect food!
I had an amazing time last weekend just being a kid again.
Two of my favorite people in the world, Emma and Peter, were in town with their 22-month-old daughter Gabriella. She is the textbook definition of “cute kid,” and I’m pretty sure if encyclopedias still existed (remember those things?), you could look up “ideal toddler,” and her picture would be pasted all over the pages.
It was a hot summer afternoon, and Bryan and I spent most of the day soaking up the cuteness that Gabriella had to offer. Of course we spent time chatting with our adult friends, but baby-watching was so much more entertaining than anything on TV.
It was hard for me to keep up with Gabriella’s endless imagination. Who knew that pouring invisible tea and eating plastic crumpets was so fascinating?
At the same time, watching a child’s mind run wild is so humbling. Remember those days when playing with a pot, a wooden spoon, and an old shoebox could last for hours? During our time with Gabriella, we watched her:
• Cook imaginary pancakes and eggs–and if you tried to eat them before blowing on the spoon, her eyes would widen and she’d wave her hands, crying “HOT!”
• Admire a blade of grass and handle it as delicately as a baby praying mantis.
• Contently dig her wet feet deep in a pile of dirt.
• Splash around in a baby pool, completely unaware of the chill of the hose water.
• Discover countless ways to play with plastic cups: throwing them in the pool, wearing them as shoes, filling them up with water and showering herself, tossing plastic ducks into them, wearing a cup as a hat…
• Stop doing whatever she was doing outside to look up at the sky and shout, “PLANE!”
…Which is a perfect segue into how Bryan and I spent the following day–Plane watching!
Even though I have a mortgage and pay taxes, I still like to think of myself as a kid at heart. Gabriella does the happy dance when an airplane engine roars overhead–and so do I!
Bryan, fully aware of my childlike obsession with big, loud flying things, drove me last Sunday over the bridge to Pennsylvania for some real plane watching. I’ve written here before about watching planes land from Red Bank Battlefield, but that is nothing compared to being right next to the airport.
Our first stop was Fort Mifflin, an historic site from the Revolutionary War era, that just so happens to be located right next to Philadelphia International Airport.
I nearly peed myself when we first drove up to the place. I get so excited when I see planes close up! As we were driving, a jet flew right over our car, and I scrambled like a starstruck fan trying to snap a picture of a celebrity. It reminded me of being in Los Angeles, when Bryan and I were driving in LAX territory and planes zoomed directly over the highway.
We hung around Fort Mifflin for a while, snapping fun photos of plane after plane descending into the airport. We didn’t bother paying admission and actually going inside the Fort; just because we’re adults doesn’t mean we have to pretend to be interested in historical stuff. We were there for the planes!
Things got even better when Bryan told me that if we drove to the other side of the airport, we could see planes taking off. I had no idea the public could get so close to the airport and that a magical access road surrounded the entire place. Him telling me this reminded me of when my parents would say, “Hey, let’s go to Clementon Lake Amusement Park tonight!” REALLY?!?!?!
Turns out we weren’t the only ones parked next to the airport. We saw several other people there for fishing, biking, (illegal) motorbike racing, and some older guy driving his convertible around the loop, over and over again.
I plastered myself against the chain-link fence and watched planes race down the runway. I swear, no matter how technologically advanced our society gets, there is still something jaw-dropping and amazing about metal tubes with wings flying through the sky, transporting 100, 200+ people across the ocean. (As Louis CK says, “You’re sitting in a chair…in the sky.”)
Moments like this remind me that age really is just a number. I may not be able to occupy myself for 20 minutes with invisible eggs and a child-size frying pan, but I can stare up at the sky for hours, pointing at the metal birds above, shouting, “PLANE!”
This past weekend I went to the bank to deposit a check and get some cash.
I gave the teller my check, the deposit slip, and requested my $50 back in tens.
Click, click, click went his computer, and in seconds he was presenting me a handful of five $10 bills.
I paused, furrowed my brow. What the…? The transaction was over way too quickly, and I felt uncomfortable by the way he just magically produced my cash and handed it over without counting it. Every teller counts your money! Several times, in fact! That’s why they wear those plastic finger condoms, so they can whip through those bills like a blackjack dealer. The nerve of this teller, to just assume he produced the correct amount of money…
…and then reality hit me. I saw the black printer-like machine next to the teller–a money computer. Just days ago, this teller would have opened a drawer, pulled out some tens, and flip, flip, flipped through the wad to give me the correct amount. But now all he has to do is click in some code that translates to $50 = tens, and with a yawn he reaches down, grabs the cash, and ho-humly passes it over to me like a bored CVS clerk giving me my receipt for a bottle of water.
Technology, 1; Things That Make Life Exciting, 0.
Sure, counting money the old-fashioned way must be time consuming when paired with a robot that does the math for you, but there is something fascinating about watching a bank teller whip through a stack of new, freshly cut bills with cheetah-like speed: 10-20-30-40-50. Re-stack. 10-20-30-40-50. Re-stack. 10-20-30-40-50. All yours! Have a great day! It’s a sensory experience of watching the teller flash through the the money, hearing the flip-flip-flip of the paper against the person’s hands. It adds some color to the otherwise mundane task of going to the bank, a little magic trick of sorts to make that 10-minute wait in line seem not so bad in the end. And, jeez, at least it gives the teller a little dignity! Going from bank lobby pseudo-magician to robot peon can’t be good for self-esteem.
The bank encounter reminded me of other sensory experiences being silenced in place of technology, one of which is the old time board at Orlando International Airport.
I nicknamed this behemoth the “flippy screen,” because any time a plane departed, arrived, or was delayed, the line in question spun like the numbers on a slot machine until the new designation was listed. At times several lines would flip at once, making the sound of a card dealer on speed. It was fun to witness, too, a bit mesmerizing, like watching little old ladies in a casino pull their slot machine lever over and over and over again. Lucky 7s? Flight to Philadelphia on time?
So you can imagine my disappointment when, several years ago, my beloved flippy screen became a victim of technology and was replaced with several flat-panel televisions. They’re boring. They just sit there. When a flight status changes, in just a blink of an eye, the wording goes from “Boarding” to “Departed.” Like that! No sound, no anticipation of where the flippy board will end. It’s like getting a scratch-off lottery ticket and finding that the numbers appear by themselves without you having to grind a penny into the card and brush the metallic crumbs off your kitchen counter. Yes, it’s quicker, but what’s the fun in that?
We have eyes and ears and a nose for a reason. We’re sensory creatures!
Now, I dislike the traffic that builds up around toll booths on bridges and expressways, but I’m not looking forward to the day these guys go extinct:
True, true, these coin baskets can sometimes be a great cause of anxiety on the road (“Do I have exact cash?” “Is my car too far away from the basket?” “What if I have awful aim and the coin misses?!”), but again, it’s a sensory experience. There’s the satisfaction off “gettin’ the coins in” (c’mon, we’ve all at least once compared ourselves to some sports hero when all the money reaches its destination), the jingle-jingle as the money funnels to the bottom of the basket, and the final nod of approval from the monitor that has counted all of our coins and gives us permission to pass through the gate.
There are plans underway to make many of the roads in South Jersey all under the control of EZ-Pass, eliminating not only these delightful sounds of quarters and dimes tap dancing in a plastic bucket but most of the physical, human people who serve as toll collectors as well. No matter how many times I tell my husband the story of the charming toll collector on the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge who flirted with my grandmother every Friday when she crossed into Philly to visit her siblings, he firmly stands by fiscal responsibility and eliminating unnecessary jobs and doesn’t care about jingle-jangles or romantic glances from overpaid toll collectors. I totally see his point, and my brain agrees–it’s my eyes, ears, fingers, and heart that struggle to make peace with all of this sensory-stealing technology.
I spent this weekend looking through a ton of old photo albums at my parents’ house and fell into a bit of a funk during my trip down memory lane. Instead of reminiscing with fondness and appreciation for what had been, I found myself longing to turn the present into the past.
Then Thais–so perfectly timed–wrote a post about her recent experiences taking yoga classes with top-notch teachers, which essentially boiled down to this message: “If you constantly wish the moment was different, you are only going to create a tense, unhappy life.”
I’m never again going to fit in a kiddie pool, believe in Santa Claus, or be held in my great aunt’s arms. That’s just the way it is. But for all those things that are no longer attainable, there are things today that are just as wonderful and deserved to be seen, acknowledged, and appreciated, things like:
A soak in the hot tub at my gym last week had me thinking, “Am I a snob or just very disciplined?”
I had just finished a swimming workout and was winding down with a quick dip in the jacuzzi when women taking the aqua aerobics class began filtering into the pool area. They peeled off their outerwear, greeting each other with smiles and stories about the past week as they gingerly dipped their toes in the cool water. “Whatcha making for dinner tonight?” “How’s Bob and the kids?” “You’ll never believe where Helen is this week!” It was typical pre-class chit-chat, but the thing that raised my eyebrow was that it didn’t stop once class began.
The instructor turned on the stereo, cranking it full volume. The noise of the splashing water grew louder as the exercises started. The sound of gurgling bubbles from the jacuzzi competed with the pulsing music. The teacher yelled out instructions.
So much noise, and yet most of the women kept on talking, bringing their pre-class chats about dinner and Helen and Bob and the kids into the pool. They had to practically shout to be heard among each other, and as a result of being more engaged in conversation than exercise, their moves grew more and more limp and indifferent. They half-heartedly shimmied their torsos from side to side as the instructor demonstrated a powerful twist-and-hop move, clearly not listening and definitely not being very courteous to the other women in the pool who were there for a workout.
A white-haired woman in the front row caught my eye—she is me, age 70-something. She is in the front row, next to the instructor, because she wants to hear the exercises being called out. She is clearly set off from the coffee klatsch, her eyes focused ahead. She mimics the instructor’s moves, counting along, watching her form. She is wearing a fitness swimsuit, something from Speedo maybe, while the others are in frilly and floral bathing suits with skirts. The white-haired woman doesn’t once glance back at the peanut gallery behind her, although the somewhat exasperated look on her face indicates that she wishes everyone else would just shut up and pay attention already.
I sat there in the hot tub, fuming at the social butterflies who were disrupting class, as though I were actually that white-haired woman. I felt guilty for reacting like such a snob, but I was reminded that perhaps: “You’re just very disciplined.”
The utterance of the word sent me back to 4th grade, jazz dance class, in the studio rehearsing our annual recital number to Kylie Minogue’s “Locomotion.” The teacher was by the stereo, rewinding the cassette tape so we could practice the routine again. Jenna and Allison (pseudonyms, but OH I remember their real names) were talking, probably about boys or makeup or something “cool,” because they were a grade ahead of me. The teacher scolded them for talking, yet they got in trouble for the same thing over and over again, class after class. Maybe their parents sent them to dance class against their will; maybe being a serious student wasn’t “cool” to them. But I HATED Jenna and Allison. Why couldn’t they just be quiet and learn the dance?
My father videotaped one of my dance recital dress rehearsals once; this time I was a senior in high school. We had finished the first run-through of our tap routine and were hanging out on stage as the teacher gave notes. It’s all there on camera—a few chatty girls laughing and having their own little conversation on stage, and then me, diligently listening to the teacher, removed from the other fits of giggles breaking out around me, breaking concentration only once to practice a toe stand on my taps.
In general, the dance teachers I had in elementary and high school were pretty lax. They’d start class a few minutes late. They’d wouldn’t care if Jenna and Allison talked about their junior prom plans as they stood in line waiting to do hitch kicks across the floor.
But then one year a new ballet teacher was hired at the studio—not quite Phantom of the Opera strict, but very different from any other teacher we’d ever had. There was absolutely no talking during class. If you messed up, you had to do the combination again. She was old and didn’t care a lick about your junior prom. And you better be quiet while she was giving notes during dress rehearsal.
Everyone hated her. I LOVED her.
Of course, I pretended to hate her, to fit in with my peers. But inside…she was my dream teacher. I was there to dance, and she made sure that happened.
My parents weren’t paying a hefty tuition for a weekly Happy Hour. I wasn’t taking an hour out of my creative writing class homework every Thursday night to socialize. I was there to dance; I wanted to get it right; just cut the crap and get down to business.
As such, I have a tendency now to look a little snobbish when fellow classmates try to get all talky-talky during group-setting workouts. Maybe that’s why I have so much trouble with Zumba; I mean, aside from the high-impact moves that sometimes hurt my hips and knees, the class is VERY social. It’s advertised as a kind of dance party, and at a party you talk and gossip, right?
As for the chatty aqua aerobics women, I totally get that this may be their only form of exercise and that perhaps they’re there more for the social benefits than anything else. Research has proven over and over again that group exercise classes are beneficial for their social interaction qualities, but that doesn’t give everyone an excuse to slack off and work out their mouths more than their bodies, especially if there is time before and after class to hang out in the lobby. And especially if there are white-haired, disciplined students among them, trying hard to learn the aerobics move, yoga pose, or dance step. :-)
What about y’all out there? Is your sense of discipline borderline snobbery? Or would you and I butt heads in a class?
Being naked in my bedroom is a big deal.
You’d think nudity is a given in a bedroom, but not so much in our house. Our bedroom is located in the “attic” of our bungalow, which means despite our best efforts to heat it, the room is significantly chillier than the rest of the house most of the year. From around October through May, and especially during the dead of winter, disrobing in the bedroom is a grand effort involving a separate space heater, a microwavable neck/shoulder pillow that improvises as a bed warmer, flannel sheets, and about six blankets. Changing from my work clothes into my pajamas is done in about 1.7 seconds to minimize any bare skin-cold air contact. The bedroom is similar to a biohazard zone, in that I need absolute protection: knee-high wool socks, slippers, fleece pajama pants, long-sleeved shirt, a hoodie on top, and sometimes even a scarf.
It takes a significant climb in outside temperature for the upstairs and downstairs climates to switch. That “switch”–when I ascend the stairs and feel the air getting warmer and warmer–brings about a giddiness akin to what winter aficionados must feel during the first snowfall of the season. The switch is a sign of freedom: liberation from clingy, heavy clothes; socks that suffocate my toes; and heavy blankets that weigh me down through the night.
It’s been in the upper 60s for the past few days, and the bedroom has been growing more tolerable (lighter socks, flannel PJs rather than fleece). Today we had a high of 80-something. Would this one-shot spike in temperature be enough to bring on the switch?
Ladies and gentlemen, this evening I stood stark naked in my bedroom.
I came home from the gym, peeled off my bathing suit upstairs, and stood with ZERO CLOTHES in the middle of the room. I actually did a victory cheer, raising my arms overhead and woo-hoo’ing. Then I plopped my naked self on our mattress, lying in ecstasy as the light breeze from the *open window* whispered over my skin. No purple fingers. No goosebumps. No mad dash to hide under the covers. Just me, my curves, birds chirping outside, the sound of neighbors putting out recycle buckets, the gently flowing curtains.
I never allow myself time to relax like that after coming home because I am always in a rush to bundle up and move as much as possible to keep warm. Winter–cold in general–is so restricting to me. I feel like a prisoner, waiting (im)patiently for my parole, the day I can walk without shackles.
Today was just a brief preview of the parole that is to come. Tomorrow it will be back in the 60s, the windows will close, the socks will go back on my feet. It was a bittersweet moment lying there naked in my bedroom, like an inmate being allowed outside the gray prison walls to clean the highway on a sunny spring day–sensing freedom but not being quite there yet.
The day I’m able to be with nothing is the day I’ll have everything I need.