See more articles, reviews, fiction and poetry, including more of my writings, at group blog PLUTO'S REALM.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Yoga on the Roof

The image for this one has to be in your head.

I just had a reminder that this world, this society in all its dying glory, can be a very beautiful place to live in one exact moment.

I've been very stressed this week, not least because my internet connection has been shit; Comcast, the country's largest cable provider, can't be bothered to properly maintain its broadband lines in the economically challenged parts of Nashville like the one I live in, so this is the first morning since last Thursday when I've gotten up with a decent cable connection. As I do most of my internet stuff in the very early mornings, you understand I was more than a little crabby. I did get to go shopping and look at all the incredible computer deals you can get now, but I couldn't get past the fact that broadband, when it works properly, is by far the best connection, and when there's only one provider and that provider is a negligent monster -- you see my stress.

I couldn't do my Sunday workout because I had to wait for the cable doofus to come by on a beautiful afternoon, so I was really looking forward to my step aerobics class last night. Step aerobics is a maligned art and a dying one; I've been doing it since the late 80's, and when it's done right, it's probably the closest thing to moving meditation I've ever done. Properly cued, you can totally yield control of your larger bodily movements and do amazing complex routines the first time, right. Unfortunately, the instructors who are capable of doing that cuing have either moved on to other fields or left this town, anyway. Stephanie, the instructor for the 5:30 p.m. class at the Downtown Y, is the best of them left, and she has become very good, so that the entire hour is a joyous release. However, Stephanie has a bad habit of taking on more than she can handle and dumping the class at the last minute on substitutes who are less than stellar. Such was the case last night.

Last night the sub was some large guy who talked a lot and started the class fifteen minutes late because he hadn't bothered to figure out the sound system beforehand, so I snarled and went to kill some time on a cardio machine (all of which I hate) and wait for Shawn's Yoga class. Thank, you Stephanie, for pursuing whatever lame excuse you pursued last night instead of your Step class, because the Yoga class was an unparalleled treat.

Shawn, along with Stephanie, is one of maybe four instructors left in Nashville who can still teach step classes properly, and the last year or two she's take up teaching Yoga. Usually when group fitness instructors cross over into another field, the results are not good. The worst was the aerobic boxing (generic Tae Bo) classes that flooded the market a few years back. I had a great boxing workout taught by Joanna, a black belt from Nashville's top karate school, but when she left I had to give up the bags and my arms will never be in that kind of shape again; most of the other instructors teach some sort of dance-boxing which is best not seen nor done nor remembered. Anyway... step teachers going over to Yoga have about the same record, but Shawn is an exception. She normally condenses a 90-minute vinyassa-style class into an hour so it's a very athletic yoga class.

I do yoga because I'm not good at it, and because it fills most of my fitness needs not filled by step. It's great for strength; I really hate weight-lifting and can't stick with it, and I have plenty of body weight to do all the strengthening I need without having to blow out my joints. I started doing it after a car wreck I had in 2000, for rehab (the stuff they do to you in medical offices is lame, expensive and ineffective) and because I, like most people who've exercised for a long time, had terrible short tight hamstrings. Now I do it for all the above reasons plus keeping my ageing body as limber as it can get, and the occasional great psychological release, like last night.

So I'd just finished my boring cardio workout, listened to the end of the droning self-advertisement of the step sub, and gone into Shawn's class when she suggest Yoga on the roof. The roof! The roof the Downtown Y in Nashville is an underutilized gem; it's basically unfinished, just concrete and a magnificent view of downtown Nashville. There's a pool up there that used to be great to hang out at early mornings in the summer, before the Y bureaucrats took over and decided it need a lifeguard and that it should only open at 11 a.m. (! prime sunburn time) for a few months a year. But last night I was tense as hell and the last thing I wanted was to move my long-delayed workout up the roof, mat, blocks and all. But I did. And it saved my night.

Last night was one of those magnificent sunset evenings you get this time of year when the rain has been off and on, the moon is out early, and the clouds are there for movement; breathtaking. And in this breathtaking magnificence, to be breathing in Yoga, with compassionate teaching and this physical release of pent-up tensions, was not to be missed.

I know a lot of Zen people who do Yoga. There are spiritual schools of Yoga which are based of course in Hinduism (for years the Christian Thought Nazi's at the Y wouldn't have a Yoga class: it was called Relaxation. Seriously.); and Yoga meditation is not zazen. But it is a great complement, especially with a great teacher with an open mind. Yoga is one of those activites that gets lost for me when I get busy, but every time I come back, I ask myself, why did I go?

I won't be able to duplicate last night's experience; I'm very happy that now I have the werewithal to appreciate such an experience as it happens, and not see it as a key to something more, or to something else at all. Because being in that moment is alway, enough.

Thanks to the moronic corporate dweebs at Comcast for giving me back my morning internet. And thank you, Shawn, for the sky.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Zen in Strange Places

I've been wanting to put this blog entry up all week, but I've found excuses to delay it. First, like an idiot, I forgot my camera (among other things) and I've spent hours looking at pictures online to decide what to use to give you some flavor of the costumes I was seeing; there are a few here, and lots more here.

Anyway, last Sunday I headed out for the second year in a row to do a presentation on Zen at the Middle Tennessee Anime Convention. The whole thing started last year when on a whim, I emailed the organizer of the convention to see if there was any way I could be involved. I was a little hesitant; most of the attendees are kids, but I am a big fan of anime and wanted to check it out (I'd gone in for a few hours the year before, but I wanted to be involved. Anyway, Lucas Leverett, the president, noted the Zen presence on this blog and asked me if I wanted to lead a Zen "panel."

With some trepidation, I said yes. Please understand, I'm not certified to teach Zen to anybody, and April last year was when I'd first begun to make my connection to the Atlanta Soto Zen Center and an authentic Zen school; this was just after the disappointing Nashville Zen Center spring retreat that led me to look elsewhere for Zen experience, and I was open to anything. But I went in by myself on a Friday afternoon, winged it, and got minimal response, thought I did meet my friend Ana, whom you've seen mentioned here. This year, knowing a little more, and knowing how unlikely the event still was, I got Ana involved and volunteered again. I told myself that if it didn't work out, I'd sit for an hour, and that would be the last trip.

In my opinion, this year was an unqualified success. At least fifteen to twenty people showed up at 9 a.m. on Sunday morning, some after an all-night rave, and most of them sat zaze with us for five minutes and chanted the Heart Sutra. I had the big bell from the NZC and the fish drum, and eveyone got involved; we even had them doing kin-hin (walking meditation). I don't know if any of them will sit zazen again anytime soon, but the seed has been planted. Hell, I wasn't ready to sit regularly when I first started, and I was at least seven or eight years older than these kids.

I wasn't the least bit shocked or startled by the mass murder last week in Virginia; if you 've been reading this, you know that I know that that's just the way things are going. I didn't even follow the news. I felt like I'd heard it all before. I didn't stop that one little nutball from killing all those people, but Ana and I did show a few kids who are already looking for another way, in their own way, that there are options. And that's all I can do for now, and maybe all I can ever do.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

More on the Evil Dentist

I never know which blog entries are going to draw attention. Part of the problem is, I really don't know who reads this thing. I used to have a hit counter on it so I know there are such people, but for the most part, other than the ones I email, I don't know who the readers are. And another strange thing: most blogs I read draw tons of comments. This one doesn't; everyone just emails me instead. This could be because most of the people who read this blog don't read other blogs; I just don't know.

Anyway, except for Ms. Johnson, who's always popular, usually what draws emails is some secondary thing which was not the main topic or point of the post, and that's true of the last one. My mention of the dentist who did unnecessary drilling is my teeth when I was a young man drew several emails from childhood friends who had had the same experience, or had heard of the man's incompetence. The pattern was the same: lots of "cavities" while using the bastard dentist, none after leaving him, and then a lifetime of bad teeth from all the unnecessary and poorly done fillings.

However, it got more interesting. There were several dentists in my hometown, but everyone who emailed me knew immediately who I was talking about. In my response to one old friend, I noted that the bastard was probably dead by now. My friend responded, somewhat to my embarrassment, that I was right, he had died just a few weeks before. This led me to some online research, and to my amazement, a discovery of a raving eulogy. Allegedly the man was a co-founder of a major scientific research institution, as well as a state political figure. Why he would need to be hanging about in Manchester, TN, putting unnecessary metal in kids' mouths, if he was in fact such a saint and a pioneer, is beyond me. This is the crap you read when people die.

I really wanted to out the dentist here and publish the obituary as well as his name, so that his heirs would have to live in as much embarrasment as possible, but my legal background convinced me otherwise. Truth is a complete defense to a defamation suit, but trying to prove dental malpractice from thirty years ago is more trouble than I want to take on. Not that I'm much of a target financially, but you never know. I do wish I'd known how widespread and well-known this slimeball's activities were, or there would have been a class-action suit many years ago.

I don't know what the universal truth behind this post is; I just thought it was interesting. Perhaps it's just a sad commentary on the human condition that a person who was lasting accomplishments in his personal history, as well as a modicum of social prominence, could still be knowingly damaging the health and futures of children while fleecing their parents for money. I could blame the decline of modern culture, but this is a story that sounds like it could have been written at any point in human history; I imagine the ancient Egyptians had similar problems.

Meanwhile, I'm still avoiding doctors. Eat right, exercise, and die when your time comes. At this moment that seems prudent to me.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Cages in Our Heads

I just went to the doctor yesterday for the first time since, I think the year 2000. What drove me to this desparate act? A sebaceous cyst.

If you know what that is, you know it doesn't need medical attention, unless you're into cosmetic surgery. And it's on my shoulder so who cares? The problem was I needed to have it diagnosed as such, and it took me probably a year to get around to it.

Part of the delay was my aversion to the medical profession. Despite all the alleged hi-tech advances, I don't see a lot of improvement since the middle ages, or maybe it's the fact that the dedicated professionals in the business appear to have been driven out by the quacks and the slaves of the drug salesmen. Or maybe it's the fact that my mother died a few years early because of the gross incompetence of her doctor, whom I'd told her was incompetent years before.

Funny how parents won't listen to you. To this day I have terrible teeth because when I was about 18 I discovered that the dentist I'd been going to since I was a child was filling cavities that didn't exist. My father went to this quack until the quack either retired or died, I don't care which. Anyway, I tended to go 10 to 15 years between dentist appointments. I still don't have a dentist, although any day I anticipate a blinding pain in my head that forces me back into one of those hellholes.

Incidentally, the doctor I saw yesterday was great, as far as I can tell. He took about thirty seconds to diagnose the problem (which is not always a plus, but I'm pretty sure he was sure). He was recommended by someone at work, and I need to thank them today. He even recommended an herbal remedy instead of a prescription drug for a separate minor problem I told him about, which sold me. I think prescription drugs are a bigger problem in this country than cocaine or meth will ever be, because the pushers are institutionalized, and it's nice to have a doctor who's not in their pocket.

Anyway, last year while I wasn't working and had no medical insurance, I noticed this knot on my shoulder. After a while when it didn't go away, it began to worry me. I figured it was probably a cyst, but it didn't feel like the cyst I've had on my wrist for 10 or 12 years (which is the difference between a ganglion cyst and the sebaceous version, I now know). So I couldn't get out of my head the possibility that it was a tumor, either cancerous or otherwise. I tried not to think about, since it wasn't going away or getting any bigger, but I couldn't. The thought found a little niche in my head to live in and wouldn't go away or die. The thing never hurt of course and it's not immediately obvious to anyone else. But I thought about it several times, every single day. And when I went to the gym or wore a sleeveless shirt, I was thinking, does everyone else know I have cancer and they're just too polite to say? And I was thinking people were looking at my shoulder; I'd just catch them looking away.

Then it began to interfere with my planning for the future. Would I die before I could complete the activites I planned? Finally last week I forced myself to make an appointment (that's right, I got in to see a new internist for the very first time, in a week!) and then I was putting off starting any new projects til after the appointment. After all, cancer treatment is long and expensive and makes you sick, so why start back into yoga?

Of course, this is all absurd, and I should've know better. I did know what was going on, but I still couldn't stop obsessing. Those of you who've read Kathe Koja's Bad Brains are probably getting flashbacks (and if you haven't, go buy all her early stuff while you can find it, it's mostly out of print; start with the link hidden in my graphics over there on the right side). Finally, I took the only treatment I could find for my real disease, the mental one, and had someone else tell me I was healthy. That's not the way it should be, but sometimes it's the way it is.

Of course now I feel totally empowered. Everything was going great before, the best in years in most ways. I'm finally making enough money to really live on for the first time in four years, my fitness is coming back, hell I'm even losing weight finally. Living situation is good, and I know better people (the rare times I want them around). In short, everything's been great, but now the rider in my head is gone, and I'm out of the cage. Look out, world!