Month: October 2012

Domestic Gods and Goddesses

Inspiration from an exhibition, a wedding and the great life indoors.

Yesterday a good friend married his long time partner in a sweet and loving ceremony in Georgetown.  As we walked to the reception at the university through the fall leaves and bright sunshine, we were both struck by how different our wedding was from theirs. This couple has been together for quite some time as domestic partners.  Their lives are already completely wound up in and around their wonderful families.  I loved it when the groom’s sister-in-law said in her toast, “I’d say welcome to the family, but you are already a big part of our family.”

Tom and I had only known each other for a short time when we decided to get married almost 25 years ago, and we really had never shared a domestic life before our wedding day.  Our first child was born ten months after our wedding, four months after we bought our first house.  After our first chaotic year together, we found a good way to bring some control into our lives:  We became domestic god and domestic goddess.  Even though we have always been 50/50 partners and we have both worked full-time, Tom had his realm and I had mine.  He does the lawn and the dishes and the laundry.  I cook and am in charge of the inside of the house and was the parent in charge during illness, upset and homework assignments.

The domestic arts have been a good place to be creative.  I have painted the dining room almost as many colors as Benjamin Moore makes.  I have planned kids birthdays and band bashes.  I have decorated each room with care, tried new recipes, taken the Christmas card photos, and served as the organizer of the PTA International Night Talent Show at the middle school, an event that was fraught with terrible diplomatic peril.  As the children grew and I had more time to my own devices, I’ve found other places for that creative energy — in my art making and in my yoga practice.

So when the weather turned chilly today, it was nice to plan a day together to putz around the house.  Tom turned to the yard, and after making a few dinners for the rest of the week, I turned to my little corner studio.  At first, I thought I might paint something from our own wedding, but it was really hard to get inspired to paint on the theme of love when I kept heaving in laughter at the photos in our wedding album. (Tom was so mad at having to take photos while everyone was inside celebrating, that his eyes get more and more intense as you flip pages in the album.  It is really almost like a pop up book when you look at his head.  I on the other hand, look as though I could take flight.  My mother had a 24 inch waist and we had to have her wedding gown altered for me with a ginormous bow on my back. )

So instead I found my inspiration coming from a show I went to on Friday night at the Gallery at Iona.  Senior artist Joan Shapiro began making necklaces later in life, after a friend who was a jeweler refused a commission, telling her, “Joan.  You are a smart lady.  You can figure this out.”  Which is what she did — magnificently. I’ve never done anything like making jewelry.  I figured out how to string the beads but the first attempt didn’t quite get the sense of domestic bliss that inspired me today.  So I added some things from Tom’s corner workbench.  The coffee cans full of screws and nuts and bolts yielded old, painted and rusted hook eyes and brand spanking new washers that complemented an old earring and various ceramic beads.  A necklace for a domestic goddess, inspired by her domestic god.

Joining two lives together — whether you’ve been together for a while or not long at all — is like stringing the beads.  One at a time.  Balanced. Harmonious.  Beautiful to the ones who choose to wear it.

Congrats to all my friends who have tied the knot lately.

Looking back, fully free

Painted when I was lost and then found, seven years ago.

Most of my psychic energy in the past two weeks has been spent on new and sub classes and leaving my class at Pengu Studio.  On October 1 I started teaching the 7 am class at Tranquil Space Dupont and will begin the 6:45 am class at the Arlington studio on October 16.  On weekends I try out sequences, trying to get the flow right. I worry incessantly, and occasionally in the past week, I’ve been right to worry!  For all my big talk about embracing beginner’s mind, I’m terrible at it. As my beautiful and wise daughter reminded me, everyone is perfectly imperfect. Get over it.

But I don’t want to turn away from the worry, because it has been a dense, rich soil for my creativity.  For example, this month’s asana Bharadvajasana has been an inspiration for me on so many levels.  The pose has so much going on it — part hero, part lotus, deep twist, bind.  As I try it out in my body, I think of Andrew Wyeth’s painting, Christina’s World.  The autumnal colors and the fact that Christina turns away from the viewer gives the painting such a beautiful nostalgia.  But this feeling is balanced by the horizon — there is hopefulness of creation and the freedom of spaciousness.   This is exactly what Wyeth wanted us to take away.  Christina was a neighbor of Wyeth’s who was afflicted by polio, who “was limited physically but by no means spiritually.” Wyeth explained, “The challenge to me was to do justice to her extraordinary conquest of a life which most people would consider hopeless.”  (From the MOMA website. It is part of the permanent collection.)

The pose also brings to mind the Zen teaching:  “The past is already past.  Don’t try to regain it.  The present does not stay.  Don’t try to touch it.  From moment to moment the future will not come.”

Our nature is to turn back, to look for meaning, to right things that went wrong, to revel in the good feelings or wallow in the bad.  And even when we aren’t looking back, the past comes looking for us.

Two Mondays ago was the seventh anniversary of my Mom’s passing.  I hate to admit that this was the first year that I didn’t feel the loss in the marrow of my bones as the day approached.  That evening I ran into one of Mom’s dearest friends at a work reception.  It was a coincidence that was a gift .  It reminded me about what is truly important about my past.  We chatted until way too late about Mom, and I drove home feeling enlivened by the old stories, even the hardest one to relive, that of her last few months.

The next day, I went looking through the past for more of that warm embrace from the past.  I flipped through her correspondence from Bangladesh in the 70s — hoping that there was a message.  Anything for me here?  Lots of talk about Dad’s job, my first Brownie uniform, how much weight my little brother had gained, the incessant monsoon rains, the fabric she used for upholstery on the drab government issued chairs.  Nothing.  Just the past.

Bharadvajasana is fully ground in the present.  The sit bones are ground into the earth, the deep twist coming from the ribcage.  Even though the heart pulls us into the past, our root is in the present.

This poem by Linji has helped me get to this sense of freedom from, in spite of, because of the past:

If you want to be free,

Get to know your real self

It has no form, no appearance

no root, no basis, no abode.

But is lively and buoyant

It responds with versatile facility

But its function cannot be located

Therefore, when you look for it,

You become further from it.

When you seek it, you turn away from it all the more.