Browsing Tag

yoga

Grief, Guest Posts

I Didn’t Want to Exist Today

May 14, 2017
chest

By Sarah Dwyer

I didn’t want to exist today. It’s not that I wanted to hurt myself or remove myself from the Earth forever. I just didn’t want to exist—just for today.

I got up to get ready for work, took a shower, and forced myself to blow dry my hair while tears dripped down my red, blotchy, scrunched up face and tightness pulled across my chest. I had this infuriating desire to do a handstand into a somersault—or to burst every inch of bone, muscle, and organ out of my skin. I didn’t just want my insides to escape my body, I wanted to be the one to initiate the explosion, to be in control of the process–to  push the button. 3, 2, 1…be free.

At that moment, I was (and I still am) physically incapable of both doing a handstand into a somersault and exploding, so, naked and sobbing, I climbed back into my bed, pulled my tangled sheets up to cover myself haphazardly, and lay there on my back with the sun shining brightly through the shade and curtain in my window. Continue Reading…

The Manifestation Workshop: On Being Human. In Aruba!

April 29, 2017

The Manifestation Workshop- On Being Human

Join Jen Pastiloff in her signature workshop and see why she sells out with a wait-list everywhere.

A yoga workshop that’s not just about yoga (and can sometimes be NOT about yoga at all). A writing workshop for struggling writers, to-be writers, and non-writers. A dance party and a sing along for dancers, singers, klutzes, tone deaf, and deaf and hard of hearing singers. A trust and love circle. A place to make shit happen. A workshop for humans.

All levels welcome. Expect to flow, sweat, sing, write, dance and laugh and share out loud as you let go of what is no longer serving you.

Please note: There will be much laughter. Maybe a few tears. It’s been known to change lives.
Bring an open heart. Expect to go beyond your comfort zone. Come see why Jen travels around the world with this workshop. Bring journal/open heart/sense of humor. This experience is about life: unpredictable, sometimes messy, beautiful, human.

Teacher: Jen Pastiloff
Date: Saturday 29th April, 2017
Time: 9AM – 12PM
$60 PER PERSON (Excl. 3.5% Aruban tax)

Secure Your Spot.

Anxiety, Guest Posts, Yoga

Yoga Taught Me I Could Stare Down Fear

April 24, 2017
yoga

By Amy Moore

I grew up as a painfully shy, introverted girl in a family with three brothers.  Like many others, my parents were held hostage by their own demons which left them unable to function in a capacity that a child needs as they’re growing up.  At home, it was best to be quiet, obedient, and almost invisible as an effort to keep the calm among the chaos.

As a kid, I sat on the sidelines observing others living life and unable to get past my anxiety to be able to participate in many activities or make many friends.  My life remained similar as I grew into a teenager.  My emotional pain manifested into numerous unhealthy habits, the most profound was my body image.  In early adolescents, I began my journey with anorexia and bulimia and suffered with it secretly for years. Maybe in a sense I was trying to disappear, to go unnoticed and unseen through life.

Although I was physically and mentally unhealthy I longed to be a healthy strong person. I read and researched everything that sparks my interest, which is exactly how I came to find yoga.  When I started reading about yoga I was fascinated about the stories of health and healing that so many people experienced. However, it didn’t seem possible to me.  How could stretching and breathing change your entire life? Regardless of my reservations, I felt drawn to learning more.  I wanted to know more about the practice peacefully displayed on DVD covers and magazines. Continue Reading…

Forgiveness, Guest Posts

Forgiving the World

February 12, 2017
hate

By Lori Holden

We sit on the floor in criss-cross applesauce at the beginning of yoga class, and our teacher instructs us to close our eyes and remember a time during childhood when we were hurt or scared in order to find if there are areas in which we need to release and to forgive. Her soothing voice and evocative words take each of us back to address our own personal boogeymen, troubles that loomed large because we were so small.

This won’t work, says my inner voice. I’ve already exorcised all my demons.

I open my eyes and peek around the room, surprised that my fellow classmates are going crimson in the face as strong emotions rise from their bellies. Something powerful is going on, and if I can surrender my thoughts to my emotions, I may have the chance to release something I’ve carried for a very long time.

Hah, that’s what you think! comes a reply, also inside my head.

With an exhale I allow my hips and tailbone to feel heavy, to sink into the earth. With an inhale I lift my spine, filling the space between my vertebrae with, well, more space. In an instant… Continue Reading…

Divorce, Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, Relationships

Deconstructed: The Adventures of Co-Parenting And Running A Business With My Ex-Husband

December 8, 2016

By Ally Hamilton

You know the fairy-tale about the princess who marries the prince and has babies, and opens a yoga studio with him and gets divorced and has to figure out how to keep it all going? Yeah, me neither, although I’m living that story now.

When I tell people I’m in business with my ex and we have two young kids, they say something along the lines of, “Wow. How does THAT work?!” Most of the time it works really well. Of course I have my moments when I’m reminded of why we’re divorced, and I might even curse him with every expletive I can think of, but those moments are few and far between. I’m sure he has his moments, too.

The thing is, my life looks nothing like any five-year plan I ever would have devised, and nothing like the picture I had in my head of “how things should be”. Growing up, I went back and forth between my mom’s and my dad’s, three nights here, four nights there, switching that fourth night every other week. If you’ve never lived that way, it’s crazy-making. I was forever forgetting my keys and finding myself locked out, or leaving something essential at one place or the other. The rules were different in each household, as was the energy. When I was at my dad’s I missed my mom. When I was at my mom’s, I worried about my dad. When my step-parents joined the circus, it got even crazier. My mom and stepmom did not like each other, and did not hide that fact from me. My dad said disparaging things about my step-dad. You know who never said a bad word about anyone to me, or within my earshot? My step-dad, and I remember that to this day.

Continue Reading…

courage, depression, Guest Posts

I Fought For You

July 3, 2016
love

By Robin Rivera

I’m lucky lately when I don’t go immediately back to bed after giving a morning stroll through the kitchen wondering aimlessly.  My hormones are raging, I’m exhausted, and my bed is the safest place for me. I’m a month and a half pregnant, scared, insecure, and experiencing chronic depression, which I previously thought would never happen to me. I thought my darkest days had been left long ago in the beautifully deceptive streets of Beverly Hills. Oh, my glamorous alcoholic porn star days were hellish tainted with sex trafficking, corruption, and spirit crushers. I thought those were my darkest days.

I was wrong. That darkness, that gut wrenching pain, that out of control lost feeling is back, and I am fighting everything and everyone like a cat clawing its way up and out of danger. One day, I literally felt like I was drowning in hell with no one to turn to. While screaming in my car after being turned away from some self-help meeting for being late, I crazily broke my phone hoping the rage would somehow exit my body this way.  I was in overwhelming emotional pain. I was so desperate for relief from the trauma I was reliving somatically. My partner couldn’t support me for whatever reason, and I felt so alone and abandoned. Like what it might feel like to watch your child be murdered in broad day light & your screaming for help and everyone sees you, but no one lifts a finger. Yes, that’s how I felt a couple weeks ago, but about my own self. I’m still recovering from that day with embarrassing scars to prove what I am going through is deep enough to penetrate all layers of my happiness and hope. I’ve been searching for the lesson in this all… feeling paralyzed with fear and exhausted by anxiety. There are people screaming they love me, but it sounds like the faintest pen drop only muffled by my debilitating resentment for this experience.

I have everything good in my life I thought I’d never have. A really handsome, brave man trying to love me, my chance at stopping the cycle of abuse in my family, a prestigious college degree, a magical relationship with my six-year-old daughter…yet my self-destructive patterns have shown their ugly face again. This time with vengeance. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Manifestation Retreats

Badassitude

July 1, 2016
happiness

By Chris DeVinney

“You are the only custodian of your own integrity, and the assumptions made by those that misunderstand who you are and what you stand for reveal a great deal about them and absolutely nothing about you.” ~ Maria Popova, Creator and Curator of Brain Pickings

I recently attended one of Jen’s fantastic “Being Human” yoga-but-not-really-yoga workshops in Atlanta. It was sold out and the excited hum was palpable. It involved some yoga and some writing. But mostly, it was about the willingness to be vulnerable in a room full of strangers and share openly.

I hadn’t heard of Jen when my friend invited me to this writing / yoga workshop, but I like yoga and I’m a writer so sure, why not? Then I read the workshop description…

“This workshop is NOT your typical yoga workshop nor is it about the asana, although there is some yoga. You do NOT have to have any yoga experience. A writing workshop for struggling writers, to-be writers, and non-writers. A dance party and a sing along. A trust and love circle. A place to make shit happen. A workshop for humans.”

Dance party? Sing along? Shit, this sounds like it’s going to be good but cheesy, like the new-age-church-youth-group retreats of my early teen years, I thought. Confession: one of my armoring up habits is resisting doing things that I think seem uncool or might make me look stupid. I hate feeling like I look stupid. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Yoga, Yoga Classes

The Arena

May 27, 2016
yoga

By Anne Falkowski

My car flies at breakneck speed to make a yoga class. The sun spanks my eyes.

Its anonymity I seek. To be a body in a flock of bodies where none have crossed my path before. To be a cut-out swatch, side by side, without being pinned to any other. To complete a pattern. To be random. To fall. To float. To fly. To flutter. To feel.

To fight.

No, I have not come to the yoga mat to fight but I just realized I placed my mat next to someone I used to know. Someone I had a fight with. A public fight. I was left beaten, covered in my own invisible feathers. Maybe time has a way of making us more than we were.

It’s too late to move.

It’s subtle how we recognize the past. I knew it was her because of a curve of her skin and an angle of her cheek. The space she took up and the space she didn’t. The negative space of her. Nothing definite. Each of us carry our imprint of the other.

***

It’s been a few years. Does she know it’s me? Does she see my new tattoo spread across half my back? A blue goddess, covered in teeth and snakes. She holds a dagger.

I look down at my legs, one thigh folded over the other, my feet bare, aware that I haven’t showered in two days. My period is on its way. I smell it like moss, sticks, and bits of feather.

Her eyes are closed. Pretend rapture, I’m sure.

I want my blue goddess to aim her dagger between those eyes.

S. is attractive. Dark hair and eyes, tall and thin. Has six-pack abs. When she used to teach yoga at the studio I own, students would comment on how they wanted a stomach like hers. My hands go down and squeeze the flesh of mine which has been through too many rounds of weight gains and losses. My hands amass silvery webbed flesh with a slit for a belly button. Some would say a trophy.

Shit, I thought I was better than THIS. I had let all THIS go. Maybe old demons need to air their foul breath out of pursed lips to remind us what we have not completely digested. Maybe they need to tongue rattle.

I close my eyes. I draw my breath up to my collarbones where it lingers. I purposely hold it there. I watch the pause and wait for it to right me. It kind of does. On the exhale, the breath floods my belly. A wind sound fills the back of my skull. My jaw bones soften. I am finding my way back to what needs my attention. Back to now. Now is breath and sensation.

A yoga teacher once told me: Feed your demons. A strategy for not having them eat you.

Do you need to know the story between S. and me? Does it matter? Did it ever? Maybe I need to tell it.  Maybe the need is why it matters.

The climax of the fight takes place at my studio, three years ago, in the hallway, among carefully placed pairs of shoes. Mostly flip-flops and sandals. The bodies that go in the shoes are inside the yoga room, on their backs, their knees roll to one side and then the other, in a guided knee-down twist.

S. is my studio’s most popular teacher. She has stepped out of the room she is teaching in, and has grabbed my arm. For a brief moment, I think she is in pain. But no, it’s something else, hot and insistent. Her mouth moves open and shut, open and shut. Words come out and spill on the cork floor. Something about quitting, opening her own yoga studio less than a mile away, and taking with her as many students as possible.

I ask her why. She tells me, “You need to look inside. Do some searching. Ask yourself why no one respects you.”

NO ONE RESPECTS YOU…NO ONE RESPECTS…NO ONE…YOU….YOU…YOU….

Her bobbed black hair swings this way and that and her lips get redder as she speaks. Now the students are on their backs with knees bent, feet on floor. They push into their feet and lift hips and torsos up to the ceiling. Their necks are extensions of their spines. Little spines in neat rows. Up and down they go. An assembly line of ribs expand and contract like the small bodies of birds breathing.

YOU NEED TO LOOK INSIDE….

How fucking dare she?

Seeing red is a real thing.

Red is the color of heat,

the tongue.

I have never been able to speak up to her or anyone at my studio.

She tells whomever will listen I am jealous of the amount of students she draws in.

She says she is the reason my studio is a success.

She tells others not to take yoga from me, that I’m not a real yogi.

I secretly wonder if she’s right.

Red is the color of shame.

Deal with red.

I’ve done yoga with weapons. At a workshop. We were meditating on death, while we flowed through standing poses. A live drum pulsed in the room. The space between hitting the drum and the sound it makes is called Spanda. In Sanskrit, Spanda means pulse of the universe. The beat of your heart is called Anahata. It means unstruck sound.

The teacher put various weapons in our hands. In Warrior One, he gave me a staff. I felt nothing. In Goddess Pose, he changed out the staff for a sword, still nothing. Then a loaded pistol, black and heavy. He curled his slim fingers around my hand. Our wrists touched one another. Still no response. Then the dagger. In my hands in Warrior Two. Front knee bent and my bare feet pushing into the ground. There. There it was. The right weight. Its size surprisingly small. My throat opens and the drum beat burrows deep into my hip sockets. My body electrifies. A familiarity. A knowing.

I’ve killed with a dagger. More than once.

Knife-wield, wing-flap, tongue-dance, bone-beat, heart-beat, drum-beat, red rhythm, ancient ones I have known.

Always known.

We don’t make eye contact, S. and me, as the teacher calls out poses in the heated room, and sweat pours from my hair-line. S. was never one to break a sweat but not because she doesn’t work hard. For a few poses, I forget about S.  It’s only me and the rise and fall of my breath in the forest of others, my body folded in half. A silvery belly I am. A long spine I am, making it expand and contract to lightly cage me, to hold me lover-like.

At the end of class, before final resting period, the teacher brings us onto our backs and talks us up into wheel pose. A pose where you bend your knees, feet on the floor, bring your hands behind your shoulders and press up making a big upside down U shape with your spine. It moves stuck energy.

Out of the corner of my eye, I watch S. She pushes up into wheel with me. For a few breaths we are holding together in sync. We are both strong. But then she pushes herself up off her hands to standing. A move requiring huge amounts of leg and back strength.

I know, right there, she is competing with me. Wanting to show me what she can do, just like I wanted her to see my tattoo. For a moment, I feel nothing but awe.

She does five of these. They are called wheel drop backs. A pose I cannot do, but oddly I do not feel less than. I witness each one while I hold my own, more moderate wheel, the one the teacher is guiding. My legs shake in their own right. My boneless tongue curls and presses up against my soft palate.

The yogis believe emotions are manifestation of energy. They purposely raised animal energy: anger, jealousy, lust, shame, and fear. And then they sat in it. Don’t move, don’t flinch. The more you bring up animal energy, the ones that throw you the most, the more you breathe into them and feel them and face them, the more you will learn to ride bareback.

After wheel, we go into final relaxation.

Ten minutes later, the teacher tells us to slowly awaken our bodies. My ritual is to hold every part of me still except to slowly move my tongue side to side. My red tongue, the color of the earthworm, a creature who can regrow segments of themselves when they need to. In this liminal space after yoga, the parts of me which have been cut off, banished, damaged, or lost, have regenerated. Only now, they are different, not exactly the same. They’ve reinvented.

I sit up and wait for S.

I’m not sure what will happen.

Nothing does.

S. remains on her back, covered in a blanket, a small silky pillow stretched across her eyes. I sit there, with my legs tucked under me, until everyone else is almost gone. It becomes obvious she’s not going to get up. She will stay like this forever, covered and motionless, if she has to.

I don’t want her to have to.

I roll up my mat and walk away.

A dagger inked on my back.

My body feels light and full at the same time.

I could take flight off the ground.

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Anne Falkowski is a yoga teacher/workshop leader and a wannabe writer. She has published numerous articles on yoga and body image.  She can be reached at director@samadhiyogastudio.com

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Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany Sep 17-24, 2016. There are 5 spaces left. This will be her only international retreat in 2016 and is her favorite retreat of the year. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com asap. More info here. Must email first to sign up.

 

Join founder Jen Pastiloff for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016. Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was? Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty. Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

Binders, Guest Posts, Yoga

The Gift of Breathing

April 4, 2016
yoga

By Kirsten Palladino

Rainy Sunday mornings are right for praising life with yoga. My first session of the season is going resplendently well. My body isn’t arguing with me as I thought it might—a dedicated yoga class hasn’t been on the calendar in 10 years. A twin pregnancy and decadent, indulgent food in a metropolitan city as a restaurant editor have enabled me to eat recklessly.

Through death and abandonment, my original family of four shrank to one in the course of just a few years. I have grief-gobbled myself into a puffy caterpillar form, minus the legs. Finally, I’ve earned the mockery of the high school girls calling me an elephant, a quarter-century too late.

But my body is strong and limber today, giving me what I need. Hips opened wide after delivering two darling boys in one night—finally, I birthed a living child; full healing lungs breathe in deeply instead of screaming and gasping after a 15-year childhood stint of sucking on the cancer sticks (family legacy).

As we move through our positions, I hear my therapist’s words in my head: “Inhale deeply through your nose as if you’re trying to smell freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Then breathe out of your mouth so strongly as if you’re trying to blow out birthday candles across the room.” In. Out. Mindful breathing. Here we go. Continue Reading…

depression, Guest Posts, Yoga Classes, Young Voices

Sometimes Smoothies and Yoga Aren’t Enough

January 20, 2016

By Emma Faesi Hudelson

I suffer from depression and lately, my mat has felt like a life raft. Not in a “yoga is saving my life” way. Not even in a “my practice is the only thing keeping me sane” way. It’s a life raft because I feel like I’ve been shipwrecked in the middle of the ocean, and if I don’t hang on to my raft, I’m going to drown.

Depression feels like roadkill looks. Unless I’m in the middle of one of my sobbing spells, I may look OK, but internally, I’m flat and messy as that raccoon I saw on my way to the grocery store this morning, all bared teeth and gaping guts.

When my brain gets like this, my practice changes. Sometimes, it becomes the only bright spot in my days. I look forward to it, even if everything else sucks. My mat is a place of refuge. I may not know if I’ll make it through my day without snapping at my husband or crying because I got hummus on my shirt, but I know I can inhale, exhale, and take a goddamn vinyasa.

More commonly, practice becomes a chore when I’m depressed. It’s another dreaded task on in infinite list. When brushing my teeth feels like an impossible effort, spending ninety minutes jumping around, folding, and twisting seems laughable. Even on those days, I’m sometimes able to force my way through it all, and I usually feel better for it, even if my body is so knotted with emotion that I can barely touch my toes.

The physical part of yoga does help. Working up a sweat means that exercise-induced endorphins release into my bloodstream, giving me a temporary mood boost. Breathing deeply soothes my nervous system. Backbends energize my emotions. The three closing lotuses give me a chance to consciously open a channel to God.

I know all this, but sometimes, I still can’t force myself to practice. Those days are the worst. Not only do I feel so bleak inside that I’m praying I get T-boned by a semi on my way to work, but I can’t do the one thing that I know will make me feel better. It’s hard not to beat myself up. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts

I Don’t Buy The Whole “Love & Light” Thing.

January 15, 2016

By Stephanie Birch.

I don’t buy the whole love and light thing. Not all the time.

I think we can get so caught up in love and light that it becomes exhausting. There’s nothing liberating about choking on “light” and feathering “positivity” when you’ve not begun to uncover the buried parts of you. Collecting quotes to push down weathered stories and experiences is not something that necessarily radiates light. Often, it masks the disguise of experiences stacked in the history of your makeup. There’s an endless parade of corralled happiness and bliss-chasing that leaves the dark locked in pretend existence. That’s the thing about darkness, it’s always ahead of the light.
**

I used to be a quote collector, like nuts to a squirrel scooping up positive affirmations. As a yoga student, I often followed a teacher’s cues to “let go” in “love and light.” It was always so poetic and sometimes sounded like regurgitated myths that I could, in fact, be loving and light if I simply let go. If…

My brain would agree and I would nod, like a dutiful student, with brief sprints only to fall back into old thoughts, patterns, and beliefs. Like an addiction, I searched and hoarded for words that held little weight and much less responsibility. That’s the thing about collecting quotes, they belong to another. Continue Reading…

Converse-Station, Guest Posts, Interview, writing, Yoga

THE CONVERSE-STATION: Novelist Stephen Policoff Interviews Poet, Short Story Writer & New York Literary Lion Tim Tomlinson

December 26, 2015

Welcome to The Converse-Station: A dialogue between writers. With the site getting so much traffic (my Facebook page is reaching over 18 million people) I can think of no better way to utilize that traffic than to introduce the readers to writers I love. The dialogues created within this series have stayed with me long after I’ve read them on the page. Enjoy. xo Jen Pastiloff

 

Turnabout is fair play, or so they tell us.  Last November, my friend and colleague Tim Tomlinson interviewed me on the eve of the publication of my 2nd novel, Come Away (Dzanc Books, 2014).  And now, I am returning the favor, letting Tim discourse on his amazing and inspiring work. ~ Stephen Policoff 

 

SP: I have read and loved some of your poems and short stories—which, by the way, always seem to be published in cool and interesting magazines.  Do you have a preference for one form or the other?  Are there certain subjects which evoke one form rather than the other?  Do you work in—or plan to work in—other forms as well? Novel? Memoir? Screenplay?

TT: Many thanks, and yes, I’ve been fortunate to have my work appear in some pretty cool venues: Pank, and Heroin Love Songs, and Down and Dirty Word.  Not quite the same register as The New Yorker, or The Atlantic.  But sometimes the unwashed of today wear tomorrow’s tuxedos (or we know some people who will).

I go back and forth between poems and fiction. If I’m supposed to be doing one, I do the other. This way I get an illicit thrill and simultaneously court disaster—story of my life.  All my subjects—from the pleasures and perils of various forms of inebriation, to the pleasures and perils of the coral reef—appear in both forms.  Sometimes the poems begin as notes toward something. Blueprints, or maps.

There’s “B.A.R.” the poem (Soundings Review), then “B.A.R.” the story (Blue Lyra Review). I wrote the poem first, it got published second, but both uncoil from the same trigger event.  Writing the poem gave me the story.  The story opened up the incident, I built backwards. In an old interview, Denis Johnson talks about the stories that became Jesus’ Son—how they grew out of drafts of poems that, he felt, didn’t fully work.  The first story in that collection, “Car Crash While Hitchhiking,” opens with the lines of the poem from which it springs.

Many of my stories are linked—the ones featuring the protagonist Clifford Foote.  When I reach “the end,” I’ll call the collection a novel-in-stories, with the title Work Until Failure.  At least a dozen of its “chapters” have already been published, and you’ve probably seen one or two.

And in between the poems and the stories, I’ve done something entirely new for me: Yolanda:  An Oral History in Verse, will appear in October, 2015 with Finishing Line Press. It’s a collection of accounts I gathered from survivors of Super Typhoon Yolanda, then reconfigured into poems.  (In November 2013, the islands of Leyte and Samar in the Philippines were devastated by Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda; well over 10,000 died—the official number is lower, but there’s a cynical motivation for that.)

 

SP: I know that you teach writing about music and assume that music has been a tremendous influence in your life.  Could you tell us a little bit about the ways in which music influences/is a presence in your work?   Bonus Question: If you could be a piece of music which would you be?

TT: I take heart from music, and from the stories of musicians. Bob Dylan’s Chronicles I opens with his encounter with prize fighter Jack Dempsey. Obviously, the suggestion is that a career in music (or writing, or painting, any of the arts) is analogous to getting in the ring. You will be hit, you will be knocked down, you will lose. But you have to keep fighting. Chronicles I is structured around a series of walls that Dylan hits, and his accounts of how the walls affected him, and then how he got over or around them. As Tom Waits says, any way’s the only way. With writing, you can get hung up on—I do get hung up on—rules and templates and the way things are supposed to be. But often the thing you need to do is the thing you’re not supposed to do, the thing that breaks the rules. Dylan’s work teaches that, over and over again.  Blood on the Tracks is a great example—the non-linearity of the narratives, the multiple points of view, and the asynchronous events happening simultaneously.

At the moment, I’m reading interviews with Joni Mitchell. She says that she dipped her toes in the lake of jazz, and then Mingus came along and shoved her in all the way. That’s how I feel with poetry. I always wrote it (despite Philip Levine begging me not to), but I was much more committed to fiction. Teaching—the needs of my students—is what pushed me into poetry’s lake (which I should probably call Innisfree). I couldn’t teach without doing, and I couldn’t do without sending out, and suddenly I was having more success placing poems than placing stories. And I thrive on encouragement.

In reference to music itself: I love how certain music induces moods, and I love to write out of moods. Yearning, melancholy, abstract rumination. One morning while we were living in London, I was listening to Erik Satie’s “Gnossiennes” (Pascal Rogé, piano), and two poems emerged, damn near fully-formed.  They were  “Broken Things” (http://www.mandala.uga.edu/recon/poet-broken-recon.php) and “Mescaline”(http://saxifragepress.com/tag/tim-tomlinson/).

SP: Bonus Question: If you could be a piece of music which would you be?

TT: “In a Sentimental Mood,” the Sarah Vaughan version, the Nancy Wilson version, and/or the Ellington/Coltrane version, not all at once.

SP: Travel, too, seems to be a huge factor in your life, especially travel through Asia (?).  Could you tell us a little about how travel/living and working in other countries has affected your life—and your writing especially?

TT: Even as a kid, I wanted to be the boy who ran away and never went back. (I have a story called “Runaway”; it appears in the current issue of Tomas, the literary journal of the University of Santo Tomas, in Manila.) William O. Steele’s Flaming Arrows and Jean Craighead George’s My Side of the Mountain planted the seeds. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn cultivated them. On the Road and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test—these led to first, and probably premature, harvests. When I was eighteen, I wound up living on a research vessel in the Bahamas. I say wound up because there was never any plan except to be available for opportunity, the wilder the better. Now I think of my time in the Bahamas as analogous to Percival in the Grail Castle: there I was, in the midst of all that splendor—the islands themselves, the people, the water, the coral reefs. But I was too dazzled to ask the right question. In The Story of the Grail (Chretien’s), Percival flubs his visit to the Grail Castle, and if I remember correctly, he winds up back on his horse staring at drops of blood in the snow. I didn’t have a horse, so I went to college (in some respects, an exchange of one wasteland for another).

Asia came much later. My wife is from the Philippines. We started visiting the Philippines for extended periods pretty much every year since 2003.  I started teaching summers in Thailand.  Then we had two glorious years in China with NYU Shanghai’s Liberal Studies program—the original NYU program in China.  We did a lot of travel in China, and throughout the region—Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok, and up and down the Philippines. We made our first visit to Tacloban, on Leyte, during that period, and then of course the typhoon struck. That wiped out the place where we’d stayed, and we felt we had to give something back to a place that had made us feel so welcome. Out of that comes Yolanda: An Oral History in Verse.

Flannery O’Connor says that a writer has all the experience she needs by the age of seven. That’s true for some work. But all the time I’ve spent in Asia has opened up new material for me. Raymond Carver divided his life into the Bad Raymond years, and the Good Raymond years. And he often took Bad Raymond behaviors into Good Raymond settings. “Cathedral” is an example. I have Pre-Asia Tim, and Asia Tim. I’m putting the one into the other and having fun with the collisions. Pre-Asia Tim isn’t exactly a bull in a China shop, but he is a worm, and a weasel, and a dog, and a monkey.

SP: What about yoga and your relationship to it and how does that connect to your work (if it does)?…that one is a serious question.

TT: Yoga provides a foundation for my life. Without it, I don’t think I’d be doing the writing. Regular practice results in incremental improvements, and not just in executing the asanas. But because the asanas get better (easier to achieve, to hold, to transition in and out of), a more general sense of well-being occurs. I think it’s a lot like learning an instrument, except it’s the body, and the mind, and the life, that’s the instrument.

When I began a regular practice, thirteen years ago, almost everything beyond the simplest basics seemed way beyond my ability. A lot of what seemed impossible then is a part of my daily practice now. Headstand, for example, or some of the binds. The lessons you learn from the practice translate into your everyday life. And when you encounter a yoga problem—and you always do; as one of my teachers used to say, yogis seek discomfort—you find a solution, eventually, through the breath, which can mean the breath literally, or, more figuratively, daily sustained effort (although yoga teachers tend to scold too much effort).

You can see how all of this applies to writing. You fail, you fail better. You don’t nail the headstand, and you don’t nail the sestina, the first time out. But you come back to the problem and you give it your breath—it is your breath—and you don’t experience it as a failure, you experience it as another day in the practice. Then, one day, you’re in headstand in the middle of the room. And the next day, you have a book.  NB: my collection of poems, Requiem for the Tree Fort I Set on Fire, will appear late in 2016, with Winter Goose Publishing.  To me, a collection seemed much more impossible than a headstand in the center of the room.

SP: Tell us a little about New York Writers Workshop, and your role there.  Can you tell us about how The Portable MFA came to be?

TT: New York Writers Workshop is a collective of writers who teach. We’re based primarily in New York City.  We formed in 2000, incorporated in 2001.  Our first slogan was Think Outside the Yellow Box—Gotham was our local “competition.” Now it’s Coming Soon to a Continent Near You—in July 2015, I bring New York Writers Workshop’s Pitch Conference to Australia. We’ve been in China, the Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong, Mexico, and in many locations in the US, including Kansas and Alabama.

The Portable MFA in Creative Writing is our craft book. It covers fiction (the chapter I wrote), poetry, drama, and a few different forms of non-fiction. It’s enormously flexible—it’s on high school creative writing syllabi, college syllabi, and grad school/MFA syllabi—and it’s moderately successful—4th printing, over 20,000 copies. We’re very proud of it. I’m a co-founder of the organization, and I’ve been the president since day one, basically because I’m the only one who read Robert’s Rules of Order. Our mission is to help writers, at whatever stage of their game.  So we do community outreach in programs for inner city youth in trouble with the law, and we do pitch conferences for writers with manuscripts but without publishers.

We have a phenomenal staff—poets Loren Kleinman, Hermine Meinhard, Mary Stewart Hammond, writers in dramatic forms such as Emma Goldman-Sherman, Ross Klavan, Neal Rowland, novelists Yvonne Cassidy, Sally Koslow, Manreet Sodhi Someshwar, graphic novelists Laurence Klavan and Alissa Torres, multi-genre writers like Charles Salzberg who’s got almost as many books as Joyce Carol Oates, and Jacqueline Bishop, who paints, quilts, and photographs in her spare time away from novels, short stories, poems, and oral histories. If you can’t tell, I’m very proud of this group. We’re the little not-for-profit that could.  Ah, and I should mention our two other divisions:  Greenpoint Press, run by Charles Salzberg, publisher of fine fiction and non-fiction, and recently featured in PW, and Ducts, the literary webzine of New York Writers Workshop, with an archive that’s starting to rival the Paris Review.

Stephen Policoff

Stephen Policoff

 

*Featured image is author Tim Tomlinson

beauty, feminism, Friendship, Gender & Sexuality, Guest Posts, love

Beauty and Bitterfruit

November 24, 2015

By Renee Gereiner

There’s something painful about living in a world where the rules have never made sense to you, where the idea of following the rules breaks your own heart, so you start making bird calls in the middle of the night, hoping someone will hear you, hoping there will be someone else out in the cold night singing.  It takes so long for it to happen so that when it finally does the other bird is old, and she presents you with a bitterfruit.  Like no one you know, she speaks, “We are not of this world.”  And you don’t question her, because she holds you in the deep brown of her eyes.

When you bite it, you become the women you always knew you were.

You sneak into parties you aren’t invited to where the beer is cheap and the women are shirtless; you drink bottles of wine in fancy restaurants standing up; you talk about film and documentaries and both the history of it and all the bullshit of what happened to old fashioned picture taking like you’re a famous photographer who has an honorary PhD at NYU; you drink your weight in wine; you stay up all night literally burning your shit in a bonfire with hippies; and you finally start making those blue nude portraits that actual professionals compare to the late Francesca Woodman.

But, of course, the bitterfruit gives you diarrhea and you end up spending afternoons over the toilet bowl, and even so, you still go back for more.  Because the calling of the bird tickles you from the base of your spine all the way down the sides of your wings until you are flying.

The bird knows shit that women wish they didn’t know. Continue Reading…

cancer, courage, Guest Posts, healing, Yoga

My Love Letter To My Yoga Teachers

October 30, 2015

By Alexa Shore

At 44 years old, I never thought I would get cancer. I never ever thought I would get it twice.  I never thought my yoga practice would save my life.

I knew something was wrong. I felt nauseous, had food cravings, felt as if my hair was falling out— was I pregnant? I went to the doctor to get a blood test and physical examination. I was handed a slip for a mammogram the following week.  That weekend, I went for a hike. I felt a lump. I went back to the doctor.

My oncologist said I was “lucky” after being diagnosed with “early detection” aggressive HER2+ breast cancer. Lucky?  That I have cancer? The second time I got breast cancer, I heard the words again. I finally got it. Both times, yoga had taught me to be so aware of my body, that I knew something was wrong. The second time around, I had the voice to speak up and say something was wrong – again. I caught my own breast cancer, twice, before it could metastasize to my brain, bones, liver and lungs.

I was healthy and I practiced yoga. I was not immune to cancer. People asked me questions about diet, environment, and personal habits to try to understand why I got cancer, and then, why it came back. I wanted to understand too.  I was told by one doctor “cancer creates change” I began to think …

I am a single mom, love my children, my family, my friends, my work, yoga, sunsets, and dancing. Change what? My body was strong; my mind positive and optimistic. So I sat and thought. How is Alexa? Did I truly have balance? Did I make time for me while juggling everything I did for everyone else?  Was I stressed? Did I feel resentment that I did not have time for myself? I bought gifts for myself and traveled to amazing places, but what about me? My spirit? Is this why I got sick? Could I have actually enabled cancer to grow? Continue Reading…