Sunday, May 31, 2009

West Side Story was disappointing

I hate to say that. We spent a lot of money on the tickets, $121 each for seven seats, and that was before the fees. And I think the show stands up all these years later. The music is outstanding and the orchestra was great. The dancing was very good. I liked the cast in this production, all except for Tony--one of our party said perhaps my objection was that he seemed very "American Idol," if you know what I mean, and I think that was accurate. American Idol in that he was too self-conscious, too commercial, he sang to the audience, you could watch him wanting to connect with the audience, and his singing was just plain, oh, icky. That's a technical term. Oh, and Lt. Shrank sounded like he was reading his lines. Bad actor, or miscast.

Still, our crowd liked it, and Lily really liked it, and I cried in the end. It's a nice piece of work, even though I do agree with Stephen Sondheim that the lyrics are pretty much awful. Krupke is okay. Not much else. And I kind of didn't get what they were doing with There's A Place for Us, which was sung by a boy standing with Tony and Maria, looking like he was supposed to be their son, while Sharks and Jets danced together, smiling, bathed in a warm light. Also the ending was odd: Only a couple of gang members showed up for Maria's big speech about the gun and how many bullets does it have. I wanted to see all the surviving members of both gangs, and their girls. It felt lonely.

Dave and Lily and I had seen Guys and Dolls on Broadway recently, and that got bad reviews. It was badly cast, the orchestration was bad, the set was appalling, the attempts at updating and adding were silly (Nathan Detroit runs a hotdog stand at the end, called Nathan's. Get it? Ugh), and it was just bad. We knew that, and wanted to see it anyway, wanted to show it to Lily, in my on-going effort to educate her about musicals and theater, and this is one of the great musicals in the world. Probably my most favorite ever.

But West Side Story! I thought it got good reviews, but maybe I'm wrong. What astonished me were the glaring technical mistakes, mostly the lights. Even Lily noticed. The lights were just wrong, and I don’t understand how, because all those cues are computerized. The person calling the show, usually the assistant stage manager, says things like, "electrics 47, warning," about 20 seconds before cue 47. About five seconds before she says, "electrics 47, stand by." Brief pause. "Go!" And the person on the light board hits a switch and the hundreds of appropriate lighting instruments do their thing, go stronger or fade or turn off or whatever, all at the appropriate time, a time that has been programmed in to the computers weeks ago.

But in this case, lights would randomly turn on and off and get brighter and dimmer, for no apparent reason except to distract the audience. The lights in the tenements, seen all through the balcony scene, for instance, flicked on and off. All of a sudden in the middle of a Tony and Maria scene, I forget which one, a big blast of blue hit them square on. During their wedding scene an ellipsoidal lighting instrument starts rotating right above us, really loudly. Additionally, the spotlight operator never seemed able to find his mark and would wander all over the stage. There were musicians in each of the boxes, and the one near us had a glaring music light that wasn’t gelled and it shone right into our eyes.

Other problems included several times singers who weren't keeping up with the orchestra. An understudy noticeably screwed up the lyrics to Officer Krupke. We had the matinee understudy syndrome, five or six were out, which I kind of get when the show's been around a while. But in this case it had just opened!

One of my great joys about going to live theater, especially something a splashy Broadway musical, is watching the best of the best do their job. The best lights, set, costumes, stage management, as well as actors, singers, and dancers. And that certainly disappointed this time. I am one of those out-of-towners now, the people who save their money for the big show, buy the tickets weeks in advance, drive into the city for the weekend, go out to eat, all that, and then really don't want to be disappointed. For the $75 TKTS Guys and Dolls, I wasn't so crushed. I knew what I was getting. But this! Very disappointing.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Amazing Lily

I have to say I am so enjoying Lily right now. I understand that kids--and people general, perhaps--go through phases and growth spurts, and of course, this too shall pass. But right now, school is winding up--the last day of class is June 3--the weather is at last warm, our thoughts are turning to summer, and camps, and camping, the asparagus is fresh and wonderful, and Lily is a delight to be around.

She's fun, she's funny, she's listening to me and taking my suggestions, like reading new books--I talked to Jess, a children's librarian at the Jones Library in Amherst who gave me five or six books, all of which I borrowed, and am making Lily read. The first one was a chore and then she realized how great they are and she's zooming through the rest. We like to play flute duets together. We have fun shopping together, and yesterday I even left her home alone for 45 minutes while I went to the food coop to get dinner. She's got a new bike that fits much better and wants to bike to school and to her flute lesson (!). She's going to hike Monadnock next week with school! This is a big-deal mountain, her biggest, and she's going to be way pooped afterward. I climbed it as a new 7th grader at the Charles River School and remember it as a wonderful time.

She's relaxed, and just a lot of fun to be around. Not every single time, but then, who is, every single time? I like that she's developing a sense of who she is and what she needs to take care of herself, and then she's doing those things. She gets to bed on time (mostly), for example, because she knows how cranky she gets trying to get up the next day.

We did get her the iPod. We gave it to her Monday maybe Tuesday night, and she was utterly surprised. We got a bright purple Nano, very modern, and she is having great time syncing it to her iTunes, which is mostly Broadway musicals. She's been going through my song list to see what she wants -- definitely the Dixie Chicks, she says, she likes the Dixie Chicks -- and playing the games and generally learning the care and feeding of an expensive electronic devise. One of her first reactions was about how now she'd be able to relate to the kids at school, who all have iPods and Nintendos. Not that they'd be friends with her, necessarily, but she wouldn't feel so left out.

To that end, we let her stay up and watch the finale of American Idol last night, which stretched into two hours, mostly horrible commercials. What a crappy show! I don't think Dave or I had ever seen it before, but it was mostly what we expected. We don't really watch much commercial TV and things like a giant Ford ad, with the two finalists receiving Ford cars, was treated as a new music video and not the ad that it was. In the end, of course, the two guys get the cars as gifts. And then there were more commercials. Dave and I also hated the way they made fun of the earlier, terrible singers. Yuck.

But it was fun explaining to Lily who all the ancient performers were, Queen (and of course Adam Lamont or whatever his name could have the perfect gig there, right? as lead singer?) and KISS, and a geriatric Rod Stewart. I did like hearing Carlos Santana play guitar. That was way cool. Lily liked all the music, more than we did. And now she has something to talk about at recess. Quite a balance, that: the social thing of knowing about TV shows and music and movies, and not having enough time just to read and watch good movies and go to museums and shows. I don't think I'm a snob about all this other stuff, it's just that I don't have time to watch it and to get the downtime I need.

Lily has also just come through three days of ERBs, standardized tests that Bement uses to gage how the school and the kids are doing, and to introduce the kids to these kinds of tests. She actually said they were fun, and easy. She liked filling in the bubbles.

She’s really gotten into music this year, between two choruses and flute lessons. She’s also starting piano in June. She had a solo in one chorus and played the flute in another. All her music teachers comment on how musical she is, Sarah, her flute teacher, particularly, who's really excited about how good Lily’s gotten just since she started lessons in January. Her tone is lovely, and Sarah says she’s making really good instinctual choices when she plays.

The iPod was also a reward for working so hard both academically and socially this year. She's much more easy going, much less moody. She's got more of a sense of humor and she doesn't fly off the handle shrieking and slamming doors nearly as much. She almost never whines these days, unless she's tired or stressed. She doesn't complain about kids at school any more, really, and she had a fantastic time at Nature's Classroom, the three days, two nights camp she went to with school in April. Because of that, she now does sleepovers, and had a great one this past weekend with her friends Lily and Adeline, who live around the corner. What a find that friendship has been! How wonderful they are here!

Lily has found her way at Bement. She's improved so much in math that she’s being moved into the advanced group. This spring she routinely aced the tests. She has a great number sense, her math tutor says (yes, even though we pay tution, for some reason she had to have a tutor, but that's been a find, a great gift). She likes math, she enjoys it, and that’s the best thing I could hope for.

Socially Bement is hard because it's small, and everyone comes from some place else, and her friends live at least 20-30 minutes away. (Gosh, I drive a lot! I hate it. I won't miss that next fall.) I've told her I suspect that JFK, her new middle school, would probably be like Camp Norwich socially, and she loves that camp. A guidance counselor at JFK agreed; a lot of kids from JFK go there.

Middle school will be a mix of kids she’ll like and kids she won’t, and thankfully, the friend pool will be much bigger, 200 kids verus 27, and mostly local, mostly Northampton. I told her that she'll find the artsy kids, the kids in band, the kids who are political and interesting. In the fall we expect she'll keep up with the chorus and the flute and I hope the piano, and also her theater improv class, and who knows what else. And she's psyched to get a locker. Of course.

Monday, May 18, 2009

To the Editor: Barak Obama's graduation address vs. Barbara Bush's

To the Editor:

I am heartened to see in 2009 the occasion of Obama's invitation to address the Notre Dame graduation is being used as a way to discuss the many different opinions on abortion in this country. No one seems to be spending much time talking about how disrespectful the objectors are being to the president of the United States.

Too bad the 150 seniors at Wellesley College who asked for a second graduation speaker in addition to Barbara Bush, were not afforded the same courtesy in 1990. Think of the wonderful exploration of the meaning of feminism we could have had, the dialogue about the value of staying home with children or going into the workforce, the importance of choice, the affect economics has on such decisions. Too bad much of the country felt it necessary to focus on the manners of those questioning, sincere college seniors. Maybe we have made some progress in the last two decades.

sincerely & etc.

chicks, rain, Star Trek, sexism

-- Yes to the Nano. She gets it tonight, we think.

-- Last Friday I called Amherst Farm Supply about getting a wood stove for the living room. The recorded message I heard had this peculiar noise in the background, very loud, and as I listened, I quickly realized what it was. The message said, "The chicks have come in and you must pick them up today." The sound I was hearing was the peeping of what must have been thousands of baby chickens, just a day or two old. I never heard that when I called Home Depot in Brooklyn.

-- The weather is a drag. I mean, it's very cool and that's lovely. I can even deal with the gray, and the rain. But we aren't getting that wonderful warm, sunny, seventies weather I'd looked forward to in February and March. My fear is we will wake up very soon and it'll be in the nineties. From the fifties to the nineties overnight just isn't fair. On the other hand, the trees have all leafed out, and that's just thrilling. How do they know to do that, every year, right on schedule! Incredible.

-- Last week we saw the new Star Trek movie, the four of us: Lily, Dave, me, and Dave's mom. It was the first kind of adult movie we've taken Lily to in the movie theater. She's seen stuff on Netflix at home, movies like the remake of The Ladykillers, which Dave ordered by mistake, thank goodness. I loved the original with Alec Guiness and wanted to share it with my family. This remake was by the Coen brothers, so you can't go too wrong there, made in 2004, and set in southern Mississippi. It was really great, not too violent. But every other word out of one character's word was the f word or the mother-f word, or other street angry lingo. Lily and Dave were a bit uneasy with all the language, but I figured I'd seen Cabaret when I was 11 and Lily would be okay with a more sophisticated movie every now and then. I intend to take her to Harry Potter 6 when it comes out this summer.

At any rate, the Star Trek movie was a lot of fun, especially for someone like me, who gets the Scotty and McCoy jokes, but doesn't know enough to care that Kirk's brother saw him off when he went to the academy - there's been a time warp yet again -- gosh those black holes come in handy! -- and now the Trek movies can go off onto an alternate reality. I suppose that means that Kirk could be a very different person from the one we saw in the sixties; it'll be interesting to see how that plays out in the sequels.

The cast was great and the special effects really awesome. This is the kind of movie you need to see on the big screen, although Lily wanted them to turn it down, said it was too loud. With any luck she'll keep her Nano turned down enough so she doesn't burn out her eardrums by the time she's 20, like everyone else.

And now Lily wants nothing more than to watch reruns of the original Trek. I've been watching a few with them, and they are great, campy and fun. But you know, I can see why I never gravitated to them. They are so unbelievably sexist, it's painful to watch. Every girl and woman wants Kirk, and he accomodates them as much as he can. Every woman is an idiot in short skirts, at least the shows we've seen so far. I love how Gene Roddenberry gets so much credit for having black and Russian and Chinese crewmen in the sixties--but the women are in their same old boring role. What a bore. It's hard to stomach.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Should Lily get a Nano for graduation from elementary school?

Dave wonders if we should just give her the iPod that he doesn’t use (my old one, four+ years old and now discontinued), or show her how to use the MP3 player she already has (I’m not sure what that is but it was free from work).

Here are my arguments in favor:

--She gets a lot of hand-me-down stuff already.

--This would be a reward for a job well done. This has been a tough year for Lily socially, and she also really struggled with math this year. Two weeks into school we were seriously considering yanking her right then and putting her in a different school. We had parent/teacher conferences this week and her homeroom teacher said it's like she's a different kid than this fall. Both teachers said she has grown up a lot this year, and things don't seem to bother her nearly like they used to. And after six months of math tutoring her teacher is putting her into the advanced group because she's so good at math; after a lot of hard work, she's really turned the math around too.

--It’s her last year at Bement, which has been a mixed experience, but mostly positive.

--At last, after two and a half years, she seems to be on the other side of the move; she’s much more settled socially and doesn’t talk about how much she misses Brooklyn any more. Last night we were talking about lunch and she said, "I wish we hadn't moved!" My heart sank. "I really miss talking to Kes," she continued. Oh! Her school switches lunch tables every couple of weeks, and that's the move she was referring to. She hasn't talked about missing Brooklyn for six months, at least.

--She’s really excited about middle school. Gosh, she's grown up a lot this year! Her new haircut makes her look so much older, not to mention the fact that she's now five feet and growing, and is maturing physically as well. She's going into sixth grade in the fall and she's almost 11 years old. This feels like a really big transition year.

--I told her she could pierce her ears this summer and she wants to but is still too scared of the pain.

--She's really into music. She is playing a mean flute these days, her teacher is really impressed, and she has only had lessons since January. She's also going to take piano these summer and see how she likes that. She's learned to sing this year, in two different choruses. She had a voice solo in one and has a flute solo in the other. She's in band. All her music teachers say she's really musical.

--I feel somewhat guilty for being a Luddite. We have computers and WiFi and all, but we don't have cable and we never get around much to taking her to movies or other hip stuff like that. So she doesn't always get her friends' conversation, like when it's about American Idol, say, or that dancing one. I don't care if she doesn't watch the Red Sox or can't remember if the Celtics are hockey or basketball. And she really wants to use her money and buy a Nintendo DS, and I think we're going to let her.

--She can really show it off. She'll get a lot of brief attention if she brings it in on one of the last days of school.

--The Nanos are wicked cool! These new ones are fun and they come in fabulous colors! She'll love it. She'll have a great time loading songs and playing it and showing it off. And we can now give her iTunes gift certificates as a present.

So I want to honor all that with a new, fancy iPod. Too much? Do it anyway?

Friday, May 08, 2009

one response to my letter

Lots of interesting discussion about torture on my FB page. Here's a message I got on FB from someone I don't know. He lives in Pittsburgh, though, and he's in his early 60s.

A partial answer to your question "what kind of person does this to another person." People from North Korea, North Vietnam, Cuba, China, the USSR, WWII people in Germany and Japan, and many leftist regimes in Central & South America today, plus I'm sure many more. And of course any Doctor or nurse who has sucked the brains out of or dismembered an unborn baby.

My letter is in today's New York Times

Here's the link to my letter. Scroll to the bottom.

And here's what I said:

To the Editor:

With all this talk about what defines torture, I’d like to know what kind of person does this to another person. That is, what kind of person strips someone, hoods him, slaps him, slams him against a wall, places him in “stress positions” or isolation for prolonged periods of time, intimidates him with a dog, and yes, straps him onto a board and pours water down his throat in order to make him think he is about to die. And does this repeatedly, for weeks and months at a time.

I would be mortified if my child grew up to think these actions aren’t torture. But I would find it unspeakable to know that I had raised a child capable of inflicting this behavior on another human being, no matter how despicable that person’s presumed crime.

Sasha Nyary
Northampton, Mass., May 6, 2009

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

We watched two great NYC movies last week

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. Released in 1974 about the hijacking of a subway train. I didn't formally live in the city until 1988, but I visited it enough once my father moved there to know the city portrayed here. What a hilarious, great, quirky, wonderful, wonderful movie.

Man On Wire. Phillippe Petit's high-wire walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, also in 1974. The photos of him on the wire made my stomach lurch and it was hard to watch. But I'm so glad he did it, and so glad they made this movie.

They made me proud to be a New Yorker. God, I love New York. That New York, especially. Don't listen to what anyone tells you, that was a great time. I highly recommend both of these movies.

I am one degree from Stephen Colbert

This is my friend Laurie on the Colbert Report, talking about the Anglican Church:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Laurie Goodstein
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorGay Marriage

And while I'm at it, here's the Colbert Report's gay storm ad:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Colbert Coalition's Anti-Gay Marriage Ad
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorGay Marriage

And for old time's sake, Colbert's roast of Dubya at the 2006 White House Correspondence dinner:

Monday, May 04, 2009

Hit the road, Bat!

I was doing something upstairs on Saturday night and suddenly Dave cried out, "Bat! Bat in the house! Bat!" He said later that he had heard a commotion from the family room and then this flying thing came tearing into the living room, clicking its sonar wildly, followed by Chance. He and the cat converged on the corner by the sofa, looking on the floor at the small creature huddled there.

When I was in my early 20s I listened to a group of women telling terrible stories about how they had killed bats who had somehow gotten into their homes. Tennis racquet, baseball bat, whatever. I felt like Hillel, first they came for the bats, and I kept trying to interject how great bats were and how simple it was to get rid of them: When I was about 10 a bat flew into my sister Bondi's room. Instead of panicking my mother called Angel Memorial, the animal hospital in Jamaica Plain, Boston, and they told her to cover it with a towel, scoop the thing up, and throw it out the window. Simple.

(I feel the same way about snakes. Fortunately, Doug Morrison in elementary school would bring in snakes for show and tell, and talk about how snakes are great, they aren't slimy or scary, and there's no reason to be afraid of them. So before I had a chance to learn to be afraid of them, I knew not to be. Today I love snakes; a friend's son had a corn snake that liked to climb around my waist inside my shirt because it was warm. Although it was intense recently to watch the snake feeding where my sister Cate volunteers; especially when the copperhead bit a live mouse and it writhed a while until it was paralyzed and could be swallowed. It's a snake-eat-mouse world, I guess.)

So I grabbed a beach towel and threw it to Dave. And yes, he scooped the critter up, much to the cat's disappointment, and dashed to the front door, the bat clicking like crazy all the while, trying to figure out what was going on. I grabbed Chance so she wouldn't escape and opened the door for Dave and his, er, companion. "You want a look?" he asked me, and I said no, just let it go, poor thing! So he opened the towel, but instead of flying off immediately, it just lay there. Maybe it was frozen by the light of the house coming through the front door window. We gazed at it in all its creepy glory for several seconds. It really did look like a little vampire. We all got a good look, even Chance, and then it took off into the night.

Chance was pretty excited with another mammal in the house for even a moment, and unfortunately Lily was in the soaking tub and missed it entirely. Dave went around all night singing, "And the bat came back, the very next day . . ." and, "Hit the road, bat, and doncha come back no more no more no more no more . . ." No bats ever got into our apartment in Brooklyn.

And speaking of the local mammals, we haven't seen bears yet, but our neighbors have so we know they are back. This should be cub season; they deliver every other year, I gather, and as cubs were cavorting on our driveway just before we bought the place, we should be seeing the next generation soon. Yes, it's been two years since we moved to Marian Street. Time is a-passing.

Friday, May 01, 2009

J School Reunion

Being back in New York City last weekend was odd, oddly familiar. I almost didn't go, first because reunions are so weird and I didn't want to pay the money ($125 for two days of talks and lunches and such). Being unemployed is a depressing place to be at a social gathering, especially a graduate school reunion. But I allowed my friends to talk me into it and signed up. Then the day before I hurt my back in yoga and really almost couldn't go. I couldn't get off the sofa, where I was lying on ice packs. But with the help of my amazing chiropractor, Megan Hudson, that pain mostly went away the next day.

So there I was, on Metro North, headed into the city, at 8am. It's handy having my mom live 20 minutes away from New Haven. I got to combine a short visit with her and an overnight, and a cheaper ride into the city. And easier, more productive, because I got to read. Ah, how I miss those subway rides! I realized I could get off in Harlem at 125th street, and to stretch my back I walked over to Columbia. Lovely, although I probably trashed Lily's wheelie suitcase. New York City in the spring really can't be beat. Every side street is a joy, all the pear blossoms and magnolias and forsythia and daffodils. Heaven!

Just before I got to Morningside Park I caught a whiff of Dominican food, that wonderful, familiar aroma, and at once Lily was a toddler and Dave and I were eating breafast with Jenna and Curtis and Joan and Tony at Castillos on 7th and Flatbush at the edge of the Slope. Harry and Ben and Lily were racing around after eating some bites of rice and beans, and we were all relaxing over the last of the coffee, maybe glancing at the Sunday Times. Castillos is now a CVS and Joan and Tony live in Montclair. But our family still loves rice and beans, and nobody makes it like Castillos used to.

Morningside Park sure is steep! and I climbed up and through, and got to the J School just in time for the famous Sam Freedman's famous lecture on writing a book proposal. If I turned around and went home after that, it would all have been worth it. Feel free to email me and I'll send you my notes. He's writing his seventh book, many award-winning, and his former book seminar students have published more than 50 books, also acclaimed, in 15 years. It's the reason many people go to reunion. The rest is gravy.

Good gravy, though. I loved seeing my friends, but just as important, I loved remeeting people I hadn't known, some I might have, in my callow youth (is that redundant?) once dismissed for some stupid, petty reason. At every event, the lectures, the lunches, the Saturday night party at a classmate's apartment, the door would open and I would see someone else to embrace and chat up. These guys are all really nice folks doing really interesting things. For myself, I was also able to help out a bit, to get down time, to walk around and sit on a bench in Central Park, to set my own limits, not to get overwhelmed. Makes a difference.

In addition, I got to see my oldest friend, Blair, from high school, and we spent hours and hours catching up. I realized with a doh! and a forehead slap that it's ridiculously easy to get to New York City, I can easily go down for a night, see Blair, crash on her guest mattress, go for a long walk in Central Park (wonderful! wonderful! the flowers! the warmth! the resevoir, the masses of people! Oh, New York City! Joy!) and make it home in time for dinner with Dave and Lily. What's not to like?

Can't wait for the 25th. And my 30th high school reunion is in June. You bet I'm going.

Hot (warm) yoga

So for the last six weeks or so I've been doing lots of hot yoga, or, as I call it, warm yoga, since the room is only 95 degrees, not 105, like the Bikram place down the street. The studio is called Shiva Sakti Power Yoga and I went for the first time the week after we were laid off. I didn't think I liked hot yoga, but my closest friend at work loved it, and raved about it, and couldn't believe how great she looked after just a couple of months.

And I hated it. The teacher talked through the whole class, and he was a nut. The room was so hot I thought I'd die. And the class moved fast through the poses and I couldn't keep up and I was afraid I'd get hurt. But I couldn't deny that I felt better afterward, and not just for the rest of the day, but for the next three days. My left shoulder, which I injured doing weights with a trainer last summer, was actually not sore. I wasn't stiff. I flashed on, oh, this must be how I felt when I was 25! May be. I don't remember.

Still, I didn't go back. "Worse teacher I ever had!" I told everyone, scoffing. Still, I couldn't get the class out of my mind, and when I saw my chiropractor, Megan Hudson, a few weeks later, I told her about it. She said, "Your body felt that much better? Then you have to go back once more and see if it's just your head." Meaning, if it's just your head that's turning you off, then you can ignore that. See if it helps your body. What I love about Megan is that by appealing to my left brain about my right brain, she's helping me connect and integrate them both, and my entire body and mind too. After a couple of years working with her, I trust her opinion, and I knew she was right.

I also talked a lot with Lily's flute teacher, Sarah, who by the way has the sweetest sound I've ever heard anyone make with a flute. She'll play a scale and this golden notes just pour out. Play it again! I say. It's wonderful! Sarah's certified in Kripalu yoga and has a great deal of experience with Anusara, and she agreed with all my complaints. But she was going anyway, because she felt so much better afterward.

So I went back. Once more. And once was all it took. I was hooked. I still didn't like it much. But I immediately noticed that that the heat didn't bother me as much, and that the constant talk actually helped me get out of my head and stay in my body. And I loved how my body felt afterwards, how I slept well and my joints didn't creak their usual way.

Today I find those things still to be true. I miss the detailed instruction (apparently the Sunday morning foundations class is helpful in that regard but I haven't been able to get there yet) that I took at the local Iyengar studio that moved into the end of my block, Yogasana. What a remarkable studio! I liked everyone but will always have a special spot in my heart for my teacher, Erin Fitzgerald, and if you are local, check her out. I loved how detailed she got, how we would spend the 90 minutes working on the vertebra at the top of our skull, in one way or another. Same variety of poses, but always with a focus on that specific point. Or a half an hour rolling a tennis ball under our feet. Or how we'd do a downdog early on, and she'd stop at us and say, try this instead. Six poses later she'd say, okay, now do downdog, and what a difference that would be! I never knew yoga like that.

But I bring that sensibility and knowledge into class today, and it makes a difference. The guy who teaches is a nut, but I love him now. Isn't that funny, how that happens? His non-stop, new-agey, Marianne Williamson chatter makes me laugh, and he gives a lot more instruction than I realized, which I find I can incorporate it into this practice, having had some prior experience. I love his girlfriend too. They are both very kind and thoughtful and they have beautiful bodies--and ha! they can't do every single pose! They use blocks and straps and they modify and fall into child's pose, just like the rest of us. I love love love their focus on the breath, the breath, the breath. When one of them comes over to push me or help me find a pose, it makes a difference, in a good way.

Now, class speeds by. I don't bother trying to keep up with everyone else, but every day I am keeping up more than before. The heat is soothing now, not oppressive. Comforting, even. I know I can drop into child's pose whenever I like. I don't make myself hold down dog for hours, like everyone else seems to be able to. I give myself lots of permission not to attempt a pose I've never been able to do, or that I fear will hurt my shoulder. But actually, I've being trying some of those poses I didn't think I could do, and some I can do, like table top, and some I am learning to do, like wheel. Go figure.

The accepted wisdom is that hot yoga, or power yoga, often leads to injury, and I have a deep fear of injury. But as a friend who teaches Bikram in Connecticut says, of course it can lead to injury, but so can any yoga. The trick is keeping your ego out of it. Well, there's a life lesson for you. Keeping my ego out of everything is crucial and essential and powerful, when I can do it. Anything can lead to injury, right? Even not exercising at all. My new teachers say the heat really helps injuries, and my shoulder sure feels better. I have much more mobility and flexibility in it. Wonderful!

And, I did get injured last week. I had twisted my back before class and then went to class anyway, thinking it might help, but it just got worse. Fortunately, I got in to see Dr. Megan, and she did what she could--my L-5 vetebra was twisted the wrong way, against all the other L's. I could barely turn over, or get off the table, and that night, to get up from the sofa after lying on an ice pack, I had to roll onto my hands and knees first. But after following Megan's suggestions of ice several times, and then heat, and ibuprofen, I slept fine and woke up with a spasm or two, but able to walk comfortably. I went to New York for my reunion that evening and had a great time. Walked all over, which I'm sure helped, although then my hips and knees hurt. Can't win.

Sarah talked me through it, or rather, emailed me through it, and said, actually she was injured and once she healed it felt better than ever. And that she had quit yoga for a year because of an injury, and she doesn't recommend that, and that this class helps with the injury.

For me, besides "get your ego out of it," the lesson is to do twists correctly, and to pay complete attention to my body, and not to get overly excited or feel overly pressured into doing something or trying something or pushing just a little harder, if it doesn't feel right. And for that I must have body awareness, and that, my friend, is the bottom line of the whole thing. I am after body awareness. And this class sure helps.

Now I go three times a week only because I can't find the time to go more often. It's a huge time suck but I love how I feel afterward. I love the routine, knowing mostly what will happen, with an occasional new pose tossed in for fun. I hope to increase the frequency, and to spread my classes out over the week. I wash my workout clothes every day and soak them--never seen so much sweat in my life--along with my towel and mat for my yoga mat, called, don't you hate this, Yogitoes, a skidless, durable towel to sop up your sweat and prolong the life of your mat. I drink tons of water on yoga days, but on other days too, now. I want to move more, hike and walk and bike, and I even try to, especially on off-days. Something is shifting.

It's working for me, much to my surprise and delight. As I was leaving the other day I got a little "go Sasha, go Sasha!" cheer after class. It made me so happy. Funny how people change, eh?

Bits and pieces

David Souter's retirement. I don't know if this anecdote is true, but I sure hope it is. Reader comment #20 under the Times story about Souter retiring: "When someone saw him jogging in D.C., they stopped him, and mistakenly addressed him as Justice Kennedy. When they asked what the best part about being a Supreme Court Justice was, he said, 'The honor and privilege of serving with David Souter.' " I sure appreciate his wanting to ditch Washington D.C., as well as wanting to climb some more mountains.

Lily #1. Before Wondertime closed the staff asked us to ask our kids what they like about nature. This is what my Brooklyn-born and bred kid has to say: "That it's so quiet. Walking quietly. It's really quiet. And then, if you just sit down and look out at nature, there might be a lot of really interesting things that you spot. Like, once I spotted a blossom on a bush and it was the only blossom on there and it was really hard to see. It was a lonely little blossom . . . Sitting still and hearing the birds sing . . . I really like that the fact that so many animals can live in one tree . . . There isn't any one thing, there's too many things to like one thing. It would take a person five million years to count it."

It amazes me how much a person knows and thinks, even a 10-year-old person, even a 10-year-old person I think I know really, really well. I really love her line about how many animals can live in one tree. Not to mention, hey! My city kid loves nature! Yahoo! Something took, and we've only been here a couple of years.

Lily #2. Recently Lily had to write and deliver a "speech of praise" to her class. I think they called it their hero speech. She chose me!! (blush, blush). What an honor. So here's what she said:

I have a great mother. Her name is Sasha Nyary. She has made a great impact on my life. These are only some of the great qualities she has. My mom is very kind. She is very generous, and is a good cook. She loves to read and sing.

My mother is very kind and generous. She was kind once when I was about five. I was ice skating and I fell. I couldn’t get up nor could I crawl, because it hurt a lot. She came onto the slippery ice without ice skates on and carried me off the ice. Once when she was generous was when I wanted to get a toy online, but I couldn’t pay for all of it. She paid for the rest of it for me. She also got me an extra thing. I think that was very generous.

My mom is also a good cook and she loves to read. One time when she and I were making cookies, even the batter was good, but the cookies were out of this world. My mom loves to read. A lot of the books I’ve read were books she started reading aloud for me and I liked them so much that I finished them myself.

My mom loves to sing. She was in a choir when she was younger and she’s the reason I’m in a choir now. I didn’t want to do it but she wanted me to try it. I love doing it now! My mom also loves to sing along to CDs. Sometimes it bothers me, but I can’t stop her doing it. I don’t mind though.

I’m so lucky to have a mom like mine. I guess you can say my mom’s my hero. She really shows me what’s right and what’s wrong. My mom inspires me. I love my mom.

How cool is that!

Inspiration. Dave sent me this link right after Wondertime closed. Chin up!

Evolution. Why can't we just say that God created evolution? I believe in God and I believe in evolution, although that’s such a weird thing to say, kind of like saying I believe in gravity. So, okay, I believe in gravity too. (A few months ago a friend asked Dave and I if we believed in global warming. I'd never heard it phrased quite like that. Yup! Just like I believe in evolution and gravity. The evidence is incontrovertible. But I digress.)

But why do God and evolution have to be exclusive of each other? When I say I believe in God, I don’t mean a deity who created the world and controls our every action, but if I did, why couldn't I easily say, without being intellectually dishonest, that God created the world, and with it, evolution. What a great God! Cool for you, God, you clever thing! Why can’t we all just agree on that, the creationists and the atheists?

I was pontificating about this last weekend, as is my wont, at my 20th reunion of journalism graduate school, and my friend Laurie's husband, Peter, actually gave me a great answer. He said it's because of the monkey thing. We really want to distinguish ourselves from all other animals--remember the friezes and statues on European churches with humans crawling up and out of the lowly beasts, he asked me--and some people can't bear to think that humans evolved from early apes. That we really are primates. I really liked that explanation, it helped put a number of things in perspective. Thanks, Peter! Very helpful.

The myth of the Puritans. I often hear about how the roots of our country are so puritanical, how our founding fathers were so uptight, so today we are all about work, work, work, and the natural reaction to all that uptightness is for us to cut loose wildly every now and then.

Except it's hooey. I've long wondered why we go on and on about our so-called puritanical roots when Europeans were landing all along the Atlantic coast, beginning nearly 20 years before the Pilgrims in Massachusetts. The guys in Jamestown were businessmen. (Very interesting to look at early American education, and how it differed in New England and Virginia.) My former colleague Naomi from Wondertime did her graduate work in this area, and as she notes, not only were the Puritans "not puritanical in the sense that we imagine," she points out that New England was founded not only by Puritans but also by Quakers (see Rhode Island) and Methodists."

New York City, according to Russell Shorto's remarkable and well-researched book The Island at the Center of the World, was an amalgam of immigrants from all over, including Jews and free blacks, and was administered by the much hipper Dutch for decades before the humorless English took over. Naomi says that "the Puritan myth is a powerful one, largely because of the first Thanksgiving story, which only became part of the American legend around the time of the Civil War." That makes lots of sense.

Let's get over this uptight, Puritan-roots nonsense. And while I'm on my soap box, in this age of hatred against immigration and resistance to all things not whitebread and bland, let's look at who we really were, right from the beginning, and embrace our deep multi-cultural, multi-ethnic roots. Except for First Peoples, we are all immigrants, we all know that.

If we don't want illegal immigration we shouldn't go messing around in other countries. (Of course, there's lots of reasons not to go messing around in other countries . . . ) When I was in college in the mid-80s I got into a discussion with someone about Nicaragua, and finally she said to me in exasperation, "Don't you understand that my brother in Texas could care less about what happens to the Nicaraguans!" The proper response is, he will when they stream over the border to escape the poverty and destruction we've caused as we've tried to overthrow the Sandanistas. You don't see Canadians sneaking across the border in droves.

This is similar to another myth, "God helps those who help themselves," which is not in the Bible at all, it's by Benjamin Franklin, according to this Biblical website. (The site goes on to point out that it's the antithesis of what Jesus was trying to say, which was, help the helpless.)

Man, I am on a roll today.