Friday, June 22, 2012

Get Your Yoga On For Good!

Dear Chicagoland Friends and Readers,

Please mark your calendars for a celebration of Yogaview's 10th anniversary on Saturday, July 28. The studio has three convenient locations, two in the city and one in Wilmette that is near and dear to yours truly. This place has been an emotional balm to me in difficult times and I am happy to celebrate with them.

Another reason this is a Can't Miss event: all class fees will be paid by donation only and I urge you to come and to give generously - the proceeds benefit Yoga for Recovery, an organization dedicated to helping people beat their addictions with the powerful ally of yoga practice. The collection is in memory of dear friend Kate Maguire, a talented filmmaker and editor, beloved mother of two and dedicated student of yoga whose shining light was extinguished too soon, too soon.

Heather, Cassie, Diane, and Megan are some of the excellent Yogaview instructors I have had the privilege to work with; patient and kind Sarah Hillenbrand will be teaching a Level One class at 11:30 on that Saturday that I highly recommend. I hope to see you there!


Yogaview Wilmette is located at 1231 Green Bay Road. (847) 919-0533 for more information.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Missouri Vacation With Kids: St. Louis

I would suggest:

Let your dear husband drive the five or so hours through the Illinois farmlands, since you are going to be parenting solo this week after he takes the train back to Chicago on Sunday night. 

Catch a thrilling glimpse of the arch from the east side of the river just before a landfill obscures your view. Gawk again as you cross one of the bridge spanning the Mississippi. The immensity and the perfection of the shape are best appreciated close up, but you can't beat this first look on the edge of the city.

Find the Boathouse Forest Park restaurant from suggestions online and sigh with contentment because sipping iced tea at the edge of a lagoon in the middle of acres of parkland that hosted the 1904 World's Fair where the first glass of iced tea ever was served is just what you need after hours in the car. Love the tilapia Reuben. Get your daughter a local Fitz's root beer and make her day.

Stay at the Chase Park Plaza, from dear friend Gretchen's recommendation. Know this was the place for us from the moment you spied Sammy Davis Jr. (one of dear husband's favs) on the website. Enjoy their pool and the idea of their movie theater, although we will wait to see "Polka-dot-polka-dot-polka-dot-Afro!" on a less jam-packed weekend.

Learn that the official name of the Arch and its environs is the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, although Thomas Jefferson never set foot in St. Louis and this mouthful has about enough resonance as "The Willis Tower."

Make reservations online and get to the Arch early in the day. The lines grow odiously long and there is much to see: the visitor's center has two theaters and a museum and plenty of exhibits about the Finnish architect Eero Saarinen. Try and fail to say his name without thinking of The Lord of the Rings. Marvel at the genius of the man who married massiveness and simplicity to create grace and inspiration; grieve that he died of cancer before seeing his masterpiece completed.

Find yourself underground in the dark bunker that houses the Western Expansion museum, staring at an ax-hewn handcart with wooden wheels and freak at the contrast of its rough form with the sleek modernity arching 630 feet overhead. Link the effort to build the marvel of this structure with the pioneers' arduous journey to the West. Feel the perfect symbolism for the soaring ambition that kept those pioneers taking one dusty step after another.

 Five people fit inside!

Delight in the 1960's version of cutting edge modernity: the round yellow elevator capsules with atmospheric lighting that clank and clink their way to the top.

Feel a bit claustrophobic in the narrow room at the top but gape at the 30 mile view through the tiny windows. Shiver when you learn those windows are necessarily small because over 500 pounds of pressure was needed to jack apart the two legs of the arch to fit in the final triangular piece at the top and larger windows would shatter.

 Back down on the ground, stare and stare and walk and stare at the beauty from every angle, at the curves against the sky, at the surreal curved shadow on the lawn, at the amazing play of light on the stainless steel, at the beautiful angles of the triangular walls. Lay down on the pavement at the base and put your feet on the wall to feel the sensation of walking up a silver road into the sky.

Take a boat ride on the Mississippi and a bike ride along its banks.

"It's wiggly!" said Nora of the City Museum's suspended Slinky, spooking her vertiginous momma.

Find the City Museum and spend, like hours, freaking out over this special and amazing place until you figure out after wandering room after bizarro room of pinball game collections and decorated turtle tanks and multi-floored slides and hidey holes that it's not really a museum after all, but an art installation built of architectural artifacts found within the city limits and repurposed for active play. Recall Gaudi and the Watts Towers and Wisconsin's freak show House on the Rock.

Kiss Daddy goodbye at the train station and luck into the City Diner just by driving around. Scarf up a really good vegetarian eggs Bennie with some of the fantastic housemade salsa. Giggle at the Barbie collection displayed in the hall (complete with Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds Barbie and Punk Rock Barbie) and wish the Matchbook slotcar racing set in the window sill had newer batteries. Vow to come back soon to this great river city.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Summer Soundtrack

 Super cute Wilco cover by Chicago band JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound.

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova doing Jeff Buckley's "Buzzin' Fly" with a little "Grace" thrown in. They sang this at Ravinia a couple summers back. A magic moment. So poignant, Buckley's line "Well, it's my time coming/I'm not afraid to die..." If we make it to New York this summer, squeezing a quick trip inside an already jammed calendar, I want so so SO bad to catch the stage version of Once.

Pink Floyd's "Fearless." A good anthem for days when I feel the fool. "Every day is the right day."

You say the hill's too steep to climb, climb it
You say you'd like to see me try, climbing
You pick the place and I'll choose the time
And I'll climb the hill in my own way
Just wait a while for the right day
And as I rise above the tree-line and the clouds
I look down hear the sounds of the things you said today

Fearlessly the idiot faced the crowd, smiling
Merciless the magistrate turns round, frowning
And who's the fool who wears the crown
No doubt in your own way
And every day is the right day
And as you rise above the fear-lines in his brow
You look down hear the sound of the faces in the crowd

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Pajama Bike Ride

I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn't get back to sleep, too full of song ideas, I guess, from our first excited and shouty meeting for next year's Variety Show. Went downstairs for some yogurt and looked out the kitchen windows to find 4:00 a.m. wasn't night after all. The light in the sky was too beautiful and the yogurt, honey and blueberries too fortifying to try to sleep some more so I left Randy a message on my new iPhone, (woo-hoo!) and went out for a bike ride.

"Is this manic?" I wondered for a second as I bounced over unseen dips in the brick street, but no, it's just June, the month of white nights. My cousin Sally and I were in Russia, in St. Petersburg, for the beginning of summer back in the early nineties and I remember well how the light at ten o'clock at night fills you with energy and you stay up all night eating fried potatoes and drinking the smoothest vodka that ever flowed down your throat with your new instant Russian friends and your eyes may feel a little sore and sandy in the morning, but who cares, look at the light!

Kenilworth Boulevard makes a straight line to the lake. I can see a red glow at the end of the tunnel of tree branches arching over the street. Nobody on the roads, nobody. People, you have got to see this! I think at the silent houses.

There's more keeping me awake. I bought a book for my old friend Michele's birthday, but haven't sent it yet, even though I missed the day and keep getting more and more belated. But it's not really just a book, it's The Book, for me, at least, and holding a copy and reading passages feels like communion with the dearest of old friends. It's Peter Matthiessen's The Snow Leopard (and I just accidentally typed "Snot" instead of "Snow" which is important because I can get way carried away with goofy gravitas and silly solemnity when I'm trying to talk about My Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World...)

From the introduction by Pico Iyer:

The haunting beauty of the book--what comes to make it a modern classic--has relatively little to do with the fact that it describes a land (the Tibetan Plateau region of Nepal) that few travelers had seen in 1973....It comes, rather, from a rare mix of discovery and loss. The drama, the excitement of any classic record of an adventure comes from giving us the heart-pounding sense of traveling to some state, inner and outer, that few people have had the chance to see before; and yet what gives that a larger resonance here, and places it inside an elegant frame, is the sense, too, in every moment, that excitements fade, that everything moves on, that even the epiphanies and discoveries that seemed so exhilarating yesterday will soon be forgotten as the world flows on. You can't hold on to anything.

I've been thrilled and moved and changed yet again each time I've read The Snow Leopard, but it's the account of Matthiessen's journey off the Crystal Mountain that kills me every time. The journey out of the lofty place of insight, wisdom and discovery back to the filth and destitution of the suburbs of Katmandu, back to the inevitable disappointments that even an experienced practitioner of Zen tolerance can't avoid.

I try on a Zen edict as I'm pedaling down Kenilworth Avenue toward that red glowing sky at the end of the tunnel: "It doesn't matter." Catching sight of the elusive snow leopard, seeking insight instead of allowing it to come, capturing the moment instead of living it, even writing, none of it matters, does it?

It's an interesting idea but I come to a full dead stop when my mind, of course, flies to the children. I poked my head in their dark bedrooms this morning before I got on the bike. Mia lay in a hump in the middle of her bed, pillow abandoned, just her dear little head on the mattress. Like they used to sleep when they were babies in the crib. The Buddha's "desire is the source of all suffering" is a masculine concept. He was a man, after all. I cannot reject attachment. Don't want to. Perhaps I am just a tourist on the journey to enlightenment - I can't resist a peek at the gift shop. Might find a cute something or other to delight my little ones.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Walk Alone

Here's Mia playing piano with my cousin Becky and Becky's mom, my Aunt Joan, the Sunday before Mother's Day.

We had such a sweet time at Joan's house in Joliet. Mia showed off her versions of "The Pink Panther" and "Meet the Flintstones;" Nora played some violin tunes and we all danced the Hokey Pokey in a circle to Aunt Joan's piano accompaniment. Randy took pictures from the couch and surreptitiously checked scores. Aunt Joan told a joke about a parrot that spoke five languages and later, over pizza, read a dramatic dialogue she'd composed between herself and her inner critic.

"We're having ourselves a regular salon!" I said sometime that afternoon, in between bites of the oatmeal cookies with white chocolate chips that Becky had made.

Joan was my mother's younger sister. She lost her only sibling when she was thirty-three. Aunt Joan and Becky and the girls and I get together about once a year and there's always a shock of recognition, usually accompanied by a big laugh, when Joan reveals some nuttiness or forgetfulness that reminds me of myself. Aunt Joan pressed a bag of fresh picked asparagus in my hands before we left that she and Becky had foraged  in the forest preserv.

On this happy afternoon, I didn't think to ask her the eerie questions that occur to me later, "Do you see her in me?" "Did she laugh like you?" We were having too much fun in the now.

"Do you play?" asked Aunt Joan as I was admiring her piano books, then corrected herself, remembering my high school days. "I mean, besides the French horn, of course. You know I read an article lately that said certain personality types choose certain instruments. And French horns, very..."

"Brassy and loud?" I interrupted.

"Yes," she laughed, "And principled. And honest." She was flattering me, I think, but it still felt good to hear.

I do pick out tunes on our piano at home, for a few stolen minutes after the girls have gone off to school, slow and cautious versions of "Falling Softly," "Surrey With the Fringe on Top," the Soldier's Chorus from Gounod's Faust and most often, almost to the point of a daily discipline, "You'll Never Walk Alone." That one is a simple version for no more than four fingers at a time from an old book of Rogers and Hammerstein songs with colorful illustrations.

I love how the gorgeous chords build into the climax, but I prefer to play it very soft, rather than build to the loud Forte the score calls for. The song is a hymn, the final song from the musical Carousel, a play whose tone I found strange when I finally saw a production at Northwestern a few years ago. I guess we're meant to be swept up in the triumph of Billy Bigelow's redemption, but the wife-beating and daughter-slapping that precedes it are pretty hard for me to fathom.

But it's not usually the source material I think about as I practice, too distracted by my desire to get the left hand correct. The left hand is so important, you see, more than the melody on the right. It's the left hand that tempers the dominance of the main line with unexpected minor surprises. That keep you from getting bogged down in the predictability of that old tune we all know too well.

"When you walk through the storm, keep your chin up high and don't be afraid of the dark..."

You probably know this song. They scream it at soccer matches in Liverpool. Pink Floyd borrowed it in the song "Fearless." Elvis recorded it.

"At the end of the storm is golden sky/And the sweet silver song of a lark..."

I had been working on it for a few weeks, squinting at the page, remembering how I loved to look at the pictures when I was a girl, when the title broke into my consciousness in a new way and the realization dawned that the song was sung to a girl whose foolhardy father gets himself killed. A girl left lonely and adrift. I lifted my fingers mid-chord.  

This song is a lie. I do walk alone.

I left the piano.

Bitterness can come over me sometimes - seeing dear Aunt Joan brought up a tangle of emotions and not all of them were easy. There's a huge stone in the landscape of my life and sometimes I knock into it without warning.

I'm not one of those who talk to loved ones who have gone before us. I don't look to the sky for guidance, nor picture my parents looking down on me with pride. Nancy and Christopher do not wait in their white pajamas for a happy reunion.

But on a bad morning, I did cry, "Mama, help me!" in tears, when I was wrenching my back wrestling our heavy mattress against the wall since Randy left for California on a seven a.m. flight and the exterminator was due any minute for the second visit, and he wasn't even the eco-type I found on the web (of whom Randy asked, "Do they politely ask the bugs to leave?") but a gruesome full-strength guy who made me feel like I had to turn in my organic card.

That cry was almost without thought, a kind of reflexive "Help me Jebus!" in a lost moment, but even as I made it, I knew my call was not to my mother's magic angel or her benevolent ghost. I called to her genes within me, or the wisps of her memory, or to a place where she lives in my imagination.

"Walk on through the wind, walk on through the rain, though your dreams be tossed and blown..."

Dorothy Day called it the long loneliness, living an entire lifetime without sight of the god she loved. Sometimes I think of her name for it and take the phrase for my own weird landscape, the one I walk through, although god is only one of the crowd of dead I miss.

But the storms of bitterness are temporary. I am Pacific and the waves calm in time.

I'm alone much of the time, but not all of that time is lonely. All the spare time I had this year, all that time I was looking forward to when the girls were both away at school all day for the first time, it all drove me a bit crazy. I've got to get back to teaching.

But I did write a book this year, with all that extra time I had. It's a YA novel about a girl who hears differently than those around her. I wrote about 40,000 words and I know many do more than that in a single month, but I am slow and self-editing. Still, I made a heroine I like very much and she's got a  lousy (literally lousy) sidekick I love. The little boy is funny and the heroine girl is resourceful and hopeful, not a bruiser like Katniss, nor flimsy like a Twilighter. Query letter number three going out as soon as I post this.

"Walk on, walk on..."

There's going to be bitterness sometimes. But bitter is a flavor, like sweet, and like tangy. My cousin Becky's cookies had a hint of oven smoke but that didn't stop them from being enthusiastically devoured. By me. By nine o'clock that night. 

Rocks reside in every landscape. Quarter rests, half rests, whole rests, they are all absences and yet they are still part of the music. Even if it's terribly sad, every part of this whole world is music.

Do you really think I could give up the piano, give up playing that song? The left hand is what brings me back. Not the unmoveable stone of the Melody, not the cloying lyrics, but the counter-melody, the subtler left hand, the challenge to the conventional Story about walking alone.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A Relief

When I spotted a neighbor friend's Facebook post that One Direction were mobbing Old Orchard, my first thought was probably the last thought of the hundreds of girls in our township surely rushing toward the mall: they had to show up during road construction, didn't they?

I was describing their ridiculous hair to Randy (I mean, come on! The hair is just stupid!) when the girls came in the room and Mia asked what I was talking about. I pulled up the "One Thing" video and left them giggling at the boys doing the Monkees walk in fast motion and bouncing Hippity-Hopper balls down a hill.

"I think I just activated their hormones," I whispered to Randy as we watched from the couch. I half expected Mia's hips to pop out before our eyes or Nora to call out, "I feel funny down in my tummy," but after twenty seconds or so, Mia said to her sister, "Let's go play" and they ran back to the SpongeBob Lego set in the bedroom.

Whew. A few more moments of innocence.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Made My Day

I was taking the girls to Mia's piano lesson. The traffic on Crawford Avenue in Skokie is always thick in the afternoon. We were stopped at a light and I 'm stuck staring at the "Fire Obama" bumper stickers on the back of the conversion van in front of me.

Not even the name of an opponent.

A car pulls up next me and rolls down its passenger side window. I keep staring straight ahead; I'm in that bad of a mood.

I hear the soft voice, "I like your bumper stickers."

I spin in my seat to look at the driver next to me. She gives me a big smile.

I give my new friend a big double thumbs up and yell, "FIRED UP! READY TO GO!"

She laughs and waves and drives on. I'm still chanting and the girls chime in with Mia's addition, "Shoot the cannon! Here we go!" Perhaps not precisely what the campaign needs, but a moment in the spirit.

"2012" says our sticker on the left, "Obama Biden" says the one on the right.

The ebullience of 2008 was a special thing, for a once in a lifetime event. We'll recall it when our first woman president is elected. For now, the fire still burns and we do what we can to keep hope alive.