Sauvie’s Island

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Apparently, when the mercury rises in the city of Portland, there is a massive exodus. The seemingly entire Rip City population packs up their inflatables and heads out to Sauvie Island.

If you’re not a local, you’ll pronounce it “Saw-vee” Island, but those who live here call it “Sew-vee” Island. And only one person I know makes it possessive and calls it “Sauvie’s Island” as if Mr. Sauvie was the missing triad to the Lewis and Clark expedition and, travel weary and fed up, decided not to reach the Pacific Ocean, threw in the towel and claimed the island as his and “far enough.”

Truth be told, the island was named after a French-Canadian from the Hudson Bay Company, Laurent Sauvé, a dairy farmer who ran farms on the island in the 1830’s, so it was, in fact, Sauvés Island.

To get to the island, you drive. And drive. You watch the city-ness fade into industry. You ride along industry, parallel to train tracks, for quite some time. The road and the tracks and the industry stretches on for so long that you wonder, “what on Earth gets made, manufactured or shipped here?”

Half-way to the turn-off there’s a Bikini Barista and I highly recommend stopping in for a Bob Marley Iced Mocha and the opportunity to stumble upon Superhero Theme Day.

When you get to the turn-off, you’ve only just begun. You feel like you got picked up and dropped into Technicolor Oz.  Farmhouses, and flower fields and green, green rows of corn.  Rope swings and rusty cars and giant trees and cows. The road winds and winds and you feel like you’re travelling back through time. The road winds ever on into this Little House on the Prairie backdrop, but there is no way Dorothy or Laura Ingalls Wilder is prepared for what’s up ahead.   You slam on your brakes suddenly because the car in front of you slams on their brakes, barely noticing in your nostalgic reverie, that ahead of you has been a steady stream of cars winding through this wonderland for the past 25 minutes.

That’s when you know: you’ve made it to the beach.

The line is long today, because the temperature is creeping up towards 100 degrees, and as you inch along in traffic, knowing full well that this road leads to a dead end, where somewhere along the way, you may or may not find a parking spot. After the 45-minute drive to get there, defeat was unacceptable.  There’s no turning back.

Me and a Porsche saw the reverse lights simultaneously and threw on our turn signals, each aggressively nosing our way into the spot. We fought through our dusty windows for a few minutes, before I suggested: “Rock, paper, scissors?”

Rock beat scissors, (or Porsche beat Civic) and I was back on the search, grinning from the brief interlude. #onlyinportland.

You juggle your beach bag, and your cooler and your inner-tube, and nudge the sunglasses up your sweaty nose. To get to the beach, you have to walk through the Frisky Forest, where the only thing certain to be frisky are the mosquitos. Your hands are full, and you cannot slap them away, so you resolve yourself to the bites as necessary and worth-while battle wounds.

It’s as if this whole journey is a series of passages, taking you deeper and deeper into the proverbial Heart of Darkness and asking “how bad do you really want this?”

When the forest opens up to the beach, there, lining the sandy shores of the Columbia River is the entire population of Portland; frolicking, swimming, strolling, floating and….completely, totally: Butt. Nekkid.

I suppose it should be no surprise. This is the city with more strip clubs per capita than anywhere else in the country, and in a place where you can get married in a doughnut shop, participate in the Naked Bike Ride, a yearly event with thousands of birthday-suit wearing participants peddling their nether regions all throughout the city; the notion of Keeping Portland Weird (or naked) does not exclude Sauvie Island.

There are legends here. Urban, suburban or otherwise. For example, everyone knows of the Mayan man with the extremely big, um….walking stick. I saw him once with my own eyes, like a nudie-beach Sasquatch sighting, and it’s true, his staff is quite substantial.

There are so many varying degrees of nude: the tank top with the penis just peeping out of the hemline, the naked except for a tu-tu, and then my favorite…naked while wearing Teva’s. What’s up with Teva’s, Portland, seriously???

But the amazing thing about Sauvie Island is that being naked is the ultimate equalizer. Nobody really looks all that hot when they’re naked. They just look….human.

There, for all to see, is your cellulite, and your nipple hairs, and your tiny penis, and doughy-ness; and when you get a sandy strip of beach lined with a throng of naked humans, you start to realize that all of your notions of hot or cool are just illusions. There are no push-up bras or Spanx.  When you strip it down and peel back all of the layers, all of the outfits that define your personality and style; hide, cover or accentuate the good and the bad, there lies you.

To get to Sauvie Island, you shed your layers. One by one. You shed the city, and the industry, and the wonderland, and a little blood, and then your clothes and all that is left is just you. Flawed, beautiful….human. You.

 

 

 

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Searching for Samurai

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There is something I forgot.  A lesson once realized, but like most things, gets dulled over time.  Like a sharp knife cutting pennies on a steel chopping block.

I forgot how hard it is to be human.

To watch yourself make the same mistakes.  Repeat the same patterns.  To love and to lose; to fail miserably and to do it all wrong and yet, somehow find the courage to pick yourself up by the bootstraps and hope and pray that you won’t fuck it up all over again.

Hitting rock bottom hurts like hell.

I sometimes get overwhelmed by the fragility of humans.  It’s so hard to be real. To be honest.  To be an adult.  To be scared.

But it’s so easy to criticize.  Ourselves, each other…to measure up constantly to how we perceive “they” see us.  And rarely, when we see sides of ourselves that we could improve upon, do we find compassion towards our fallibility.  Or acceptance.  It’s easier to point fingers and throw insults and lay blame.

So, I’ll say it again.  What if we could be open and undefended?  What then? What if it was okay to be raw, breakable, sensitive and full of flaws?  I’m so tired of all the articles about being strong and independent.  Who made the rule that we had to be cool all of the time?

Guys, we need each other.

You don’t learn anything if you live your life in a vacuum. In the midst of pain, it’s hard to admit this, but you learn from hurting and being hurt. You learn from loving and being loved.  From accepting and being accepted.  And in my story, nobody has ever said, I see it all, and still I choose you.  It sucks sometimes to take a cold, hard look in the mirror and to be real and still love what you see.  But apparently, there is much to learn.  And probably, mostly about myself.

Through my skinny bones I feel my heart.  It beats loudly against the back of my sternum.  And it is capable of so much love.

It’s all quite dull at the moment, but still, I am busting out the whetting stone and searching for my edge.

 

 

Negotiating Newness

Memoirs of a Downward Dog

I have a secret. I might have told you that I moved to Portland over a year and a half ago to be closer to my family. I might have mentioned something about getting back into nature, blackberries, mountains and fresh, rainforest air.

But the truth is, I moved to Portland to open a yoga studio.

For nearly a year, I spent days searching for a space. Hours working with a real estate broker pretending to know something about commercial real estate, when in actuality his lingo was like a Frenchman trying to speak English. Or an Englishman trying to speak Greek. Intangible, foreign and unfamiliar. The first phone call I made about a particular property and the broker for the space laughed at me kindly, and in a nice, condescending way said, “Honey, this sounds like it might be your first rodeo.”

Over time, I learned to speak the language. I figured out the difference between a triple-net lease and a single-net lease. I started asking about tenant improvement dollars and built-to-suit properties. Like most of my lovers, there were many spaces that I loved and then lost.

And then, as if just by accident, I (we) found the one.

Consequently, this threw me into a new vortex of things I did not understand. Lease negotiations, rental agreements, landlords, investors, lawyers, architects, sub-leases, contractors, sub-contractors, trades, sub-trades, and suddenly I was swimming in an unabridged encyclopedia of “Foreign” that got issued out on re-release at my local library.

My head is still dog paddling, but my arms are stroking forward like an Olympic freestyler.

There is a space. There is a lease: signed, sealed and delivered for the next ten years of my life. And there are days when I wish I could crawl into a cave and forget my name.

Humbling does not even begin to describe the trajectory of this process. But amidst the uncertainty and the unknown there is an exhilaration that comes from learning something new. From being tossed off the dock with no life-raft or water-wings and being asked to swim across a shark-infested channel. I’m learning about R-Values, and U-Values and heat recovery ventilators and click-technology cork; sprinkler codes, fire codes, spray-foam insulation, 240 versus 208, furring walls and reading architectural blabber.

On top of it all, I realize that I have not had much opportunity in my life to develop stress-coping skills.  I think this is a good thing, for my heart and blood pressure and things like that, but for my boyfriend and sister/business partner, perhaps they might have appreciated a couple trips ‘round the block before now.   A previous “breaking-in” if you will.

Last week I had to openly admit to both that I’ve been a total asshole and that tomorrow is Monday and I promise to be a better person.

To cap off the drain of my energies and responsibilities, I travel to Seattle, every weekend, driving 3 hours each way to teach 8 classes in 2.5 days. And it is here that I realize what it is all for:

Squeezing the hand of someone who has not yet learned how to calm their breath. The bliss that causes you to forget your mat and your shoes and walk out into the rain barefoot and oblivious. Watching the heartbeat ripple the sweat in that concave space just below the sternum. Stillness. Space. To grow, sink, swim, discover and learn.  I got this.

Modo Yoga Portland, here I come.

Take Me To Church

Memoirs of a Downward Facing Dog

There are times when I forget to practice. It’s not that I forget, rather, because every day there is an opportunity to choose to step on my mat. And for some of you, this is not a choice. It’s like brushing your teeth or wiping your butt after you poo. So let me refine—for those of you with good hygiene—practice is not a choice.

But for me, a regular yoga practice ebbs and flows. More often than not, it ebbs. Like the back-sucking of the waters’ edge right before a tsunami.

If I am teaching, I take class, yes. But taking class and practicing are two different things. Taking class implies going through the motions, finding proper alignment, breathing at the appropriate times, gaining glimpses of stillness, or at least, appearing to do so, but probably you are wondering why the instructor has to talk so much or if only you could tell the person next to you to soften their shoulders a little bit more, or does my belly look fat or goddammit why can’t I stick this handstand?!

Practice, however is moving inquisition. An investigation stimulated through form, but entirely independent of form. Practice is curiosity without judgment. Practice is paying attention. The ability to acknowledge the limitations and then to sit with them. The clarity to be able to see ourselves with authenticity and to recognize where we might be able to edit, refine and change. To seek the resources we need to sustain and to stop habituating the patterns that are a waste of our time and energy. Practice is a willingness to grow.

And lately, I suck at practice.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the distractions. To prioritize the emails, the details, the flirtations and the frustrations over the moments that afford you the ability to listen. To the birds. To the frogs in the middle of a rainstorm. To your intuition. To your heartbeat pulsing in your eardrums.

I forget to practice until I remember: that space is always there. That voice is always audible, the inquisition is worth your time and the relationship with yourself matters…..

And when I make the choice. When I remember, when I listen…it’s like an altar, a choir, a enormous room full of stained glass and reverberating light…

Amen.

Salt Licks

Memoirs of a Downward Facing Dog

Though the arched, wooden bows might be wobbly, the canvas tattered and torn, the suspension about as bouncy as a slab of cement, and certainly towing with oxen parched as the desert, it is safe to say, that I’m taking a trip into wild, unchartered territory riding high and rickety upon a Prairie Schooner. Aka—I’m on the wagon.

The resolve of another inspired and bolstered the resolve in myself and not even two weeks in and I wonder, is it wrong to stand motionless in the wine section of the grocery store and longingly fantasize about licking the side of a curved, glass bottle?

And when I say, “taking a trip into wild, unchartered territory” we’re not necessarily talking gun-slinging cowboys and herds of wild horses, rattlesnakes and whiskey, Rocky Mountains and dysentery. Oh no, my version of that wild, wild West means living on the razor sharp edge of seltzer water and repetitive nights of Netflix on the couch.

And though it has been an interesting experiment; noticing those moments when we habitually socially lubricate in uncomfortable situations, soothe and appease stress-riddled nerves, bolster and upsell our confidence-joy capacity or conversely, numb all of those dark places we’d rather not look at, it hasn’t been excruciatingly hard.

Mostly, I just want to sleep and eat. I add exercise in because I probably need some endorphins.

My partner in anti-booze crime has noted how boring life has become, but I disagree. It’s winter, and granted, Portland winter does not necessarily justify hibernation like my Montreal counterparts, yet even still, I’m happy to cozy up in my cave and ride out the quiet on a wave of bad television.

Isn’t it time for a catnap??

The thing is, I feel grateful for the opportunity to rest.  I have a sneaking suspicion that shit is about to get real. Life is about to happen. And I think I’m going to need a little R & R to store up for what comes next. Imaginary squirrels stashing nuts for the proverbial winter.

It’s time to get strong.

What is required of us is big. There is a purpose. You know that you will have impact.

So, sleep.

 

 

Letters in Time


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There are times when my 36-something self wonders what she would say to my adolescent-teenaged-twenty-something-self if only she could mail a letter through a worm-hole back into time.

Would I tell myself to have not succumbed to “cool”; to have walked down mall hallways side-by-side with my parents without shame or fear that peers would see me as reliant, dependent and even perhaps, loving in the context of my family unit?

Would I tell myself to have only sought after friendships that are fun, easy, full of party and never with turmoil because somewhere along the line, we are taught that mostly “pleasant” is what we deserve?

Would I have wished upon myself a more focused path from an early age so that self-definitions about who I am, what I am doing or where I am headed are more palatable to societies’ definitions of “norm” in the context of now? How tiring does it get to constantly explain, “Nope. 36. Single and figuring it out. But I’m okay with that—are you?”

Would I have told myself to be patient with this crazy thing called growing up? To cherish innocence while it still exists; to believe in magic while your heart isn’t soured by cynicism and weathered and warped with time? To have fun and date lots of men that are “right for right now” instead of getting entangled in this nutty notion of “The One” before I was barely even mature or self-aware?

Would I tell myself to have avoided the relationships that wounded my heart, left gashes from deep betrayal, and rejected me from unrequited emotion? Would I have told myself to love more conservatively; with restrain and caution because pain is an emotion that easily gets caught in your throat; tears up the lining in your esophagus as you dryly attempt to swallow and no good can come from that jagged little pill?

I have spent my whole life up until now living under the mantra of “No Regrets.” And that mentality has allowed me to try many things, to titillate many guises, to live under many roofs and to try on many hats. Without mentioning that “No Regrets” is also carte blanche to be wishy-washy and move on without ever sticking things through to the bitter end.

The truth is, I have regrets. Plenty of them. But in all of the mistakes that I’ve made along the way, I think I might be learning a few things:

I’ve learned that honesty is not a gift that you give or a favor that you do for someone. Honesty is something that you believe in.  That you try to uphold no matter what.

I’ve learned that trust is not flexible. There is no grey zone. No conditions. It either is or it isn’t and you make the choice of where trust stands.  That one, for me, is the hardest. The jury is still out, folks.  But I’m working on it.

Forgiveness makes us recognize our foibles and our shortcomings; the innate truth that to err is human. Forgiveness gives us the ability to heal, because in our capacity to hurt or be hurt and yet, still find the hubris and compassion to move forward, we discover strength and the remarkable resilience of the human spirit.

So, I’m giving up the mantra of “No Regrets” because “No Regrets” implies no mistakes. And I want to fuck things up.

Would I tell myself to do things differently?

Nah….Jen, you did it exactly right.

Total Recall

Memoirs of a Downward Facing Dog

So the truth is, shit is starting to get cray.

I have been living in Seattle for the past month, filling in teaching at Modo Yoga Seattle.

That is not the strange part.

But since having been here, there are a lot of doo-doo, doo-doo, (cue Twilight music now) things that have happened to make me shake my head and snap to attention.

Let me give you the back story: I lived in Seattle from age five to age ten, at which point we moved about an hour and a half north to Bellingham, Washington. We left Bellingham when I was sixteen and moved to Massachusetts, which I hated. (Who likes changing schools at 16?) I graduated a semester early from high school and high-tailed it back to Seattle when I was only 18. At one juncture in my crazy life trajectory, which I can’t fully remember without drawing myself a detailed map, I moved back to Bellingham sometime in my twenties.  Capiche?

Last week, while driving to the bank on my day off, I passed Aurora Avenue, a busy North-South thoroughfare here in Seattle. I remembered that I had lived just off of Aurora Avenue as a child because we had this blonde, bat-shit-crazy-dog-from-hell-rescue-mutt that used to bolt out the front door the minute you opened it. Buff would run as if his fur was on fire and head straight for Aurora Ave, which we’d inevitably have to make chase before he got smashed into a creamy, buttermilk-Buff-pancake.

Not knowing my old address, but with time on my hands and only memory in my back pocket, I set out to find my childhood home.

I knew that we lived north on Aurora. Somewhere after 80th and before 200th street. And the only landmark I can remember was a Park n Ride across the street from our cul-de-sac. We used to take our sleds and bikes down the hill and cruise around when all of the 9-5 ‘ers had made their daily commute, picked up their cars and gone home for the day.

Travelling north, I passed 145th, then 165…and at 185th street, I passed a Fred Meyer on the left. (Fred Meyer is a west-coast department store chain much like Canadian Tire.) An everything store. At the moment I passed 185th street, a vivid dream I’d had 3 or 4 years ago was instantly recalled.

The store in the dream looked nothing like an actual Fred Meyer, with all of its garish lights, and bad, living-room furniture sets…this store looked more like your average dark, po-dunk, all-purpose general store. But in the dream, I knew that the name of the store was, in fact, Fred Meyer, even though when I’d had that dream I’d been living in Canada for 8 years and hadn’t seen a Fred Meyer in something like forever.

In the dream, the store was right across the street from the childhood house I was searching for. Not to mention, I had not had any recollection of this dream until the minute I passed that 185th street Fred Meyer, when it all came rushing back.

I knew I was close.

And sure enough, at 192nd street, there on my left was a Park n Ride, a hill and an entrance to a cul-de-sac that was all too familiar. I turned left on 192nd, and then right onto my old cul-de-sac at Whitman Ave N. Of course that was the name of my address—how could I forget??

I proceeded to park in front of the house like a Say Anything stalker, minus the boom-box, but still taking creepy pictures from the confines of my Honda.

At some point, I decided I might look crazy and figured it was time to go home. Choosing to take the highway back, I turned down 175th street, which was a busy, hill-like street not unlike the one I’d just come from. In a split second, out of the corner of my eye, I barely see a blonde streak, and instantly–WHUMP!!!—a giant, metal-crunching sound hit the front of my car.

HOLY SHIT!!!

Instantly, I look in my rear-view mirror, and a beige dog leaps up a stone-wall embankment and runs into the woods.

Not even five minutes after I found a childhood home based on the memories of this sandy-colored dog, a street, and a dream and then a blonde fucking mutt runs into traffic and hits the side of my car—so hard that I could barely open the drivers’ side door!

I spent an hour running around the neighborhood looking for the dog, but to no avail.

It wasn’t dead.
It wasn’t wounded.
It was nowhere.
A Ghost Dog.
It was as if the dog just vanished. Like some crazy glitch in the Matrix.

But stay with me folks. It gets weirder.

Last night, while bored and doing some late-night Christmas shopping at Macy’s, because only in consumerist America do department stores stay open until midnight during the holiday season.

As I walked up to the cashier, the guy at the counter instantly says, “You look familiar.” I snapped out of my retail-therapy bubble and looked at his face and said, “YOU look familiar.”

We exchanged 20 questions for ten minutes about who we were, where we’re from, until finally—voila! Turns out he was my downstairs neighbor in Bellingham when I’d lived there back in my twenties some sixteen-ish-odd years ago. We used to party on the porch. He dated my sisters’ best friend.

His name?? Whitman.

….doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo…..just like the name of my childhood street.

There’s been a lot of heaviness in my life recently. A lot of weight, insecurity, doubt and unease. And it’s easy to get caught up in those dark, serious stories that pull you down. It’s easy to take for granted the people, scenarios, relationships and opportunities that give you the chance to be better.

Memories are strange. Dreams are significant. Coincidences matter.

And sometimes it only takes a few solitary moments to snap you into attention and remind yourself:

You are meant to be here.

 

 

 

 

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