Reading The Brothers Karamazov (and other grinds)

I have been struggling with The Bros K. but today, today I may have broken through.

Things started to shift in Part 1, Book 3 for me.

I couldn’t get past the whining and the histrionics of the beginning chapters, not to mention all the impossible-to-keep-track-of Russian names. When I can’t hear a name in my mind, but have to rely on just the graphical pattern of letters, I get lost.

I went to book group having slogged through just about 100 pages, and hoped the others who had read farther could assure me that there was light and ease and joy coming in the future.

That didn’t really happen, but I was inspired to keep slogging, just because.

Because it was Dostoevsky.

Because it was a classic.

Because I’ve read longer and more turgid books and god dammit I would read the Bros K. Even if it killed me. And if Linda R could do it, so could I.

It seems like so many things I’m doing these days are like this: grinds.

The Yoga Challenge, The Ultimate Yogi, the Bros K.

But when I got home from book group, bound and determined, I experimented with reading some of it out loud, hoping I could tune my ear to it, hoping I could find a way in.

And it worked! And I did! I started laughing because the way his characters narrate their lives sounds so much like modern conversations. These language patterns sounded so natural, I could hear myself talking exactly this way.

Is this the wonder of this particular translation?

I don’t know, but I am happily reading the Bros K. now, and really digging it.

Today was Day 27 of the Ultimate Yogi. Only 81 more days to go. I decided to just do the damn thing. No expectations. I don’t have to like it, I just have to do it.

But the last few days, I’ve been getting into it.

The Strength sequence is still a problem. Even when I think I’m doing okay and hanging in there, there it comes: that long hold in plank with alternate knees at the biceps. When that part comes, it’s nothing but oh fuck, oh god.

So hard.

All the other sequences I pretty much cruise through without a lot of suffering.

I’m starting to tire of his stories, though: the elephant sculpture one, and Hollow Bone.

 Enough.

Note to Self: Kath, if you ever put a program or video online and you want it to stay evergreen?

Don’t talk too much. 

Don’t tell stories. 

Just instruct the yoga and the breathing with as few words as possible, no jokes. 

Never make a joke. Because in all the world there is nothing staler than a joke on video. Especially on a video you want people to watch every day, or at least somewhat frequently.

The Yoga Challenge is 17 days in as of today, and though it’s going okay, there’s not the commitment that there was in the past. No, I shouldn’t say that. There’s the commitment, but things keep happening. Like Jury Duty happened to one person, and a medical problem flared for another one.

I don’t think there are too many people who can do something like this without a miss. Some things like jury duty can’t be helped. Some things like heart issues flaring, can’t be predicted, some things like college graduations can’t be missed. I get it, I do, but still.

So this will be it. I will really work hard to put it online next year. That way more people can do it. It’s not the daily yoga that’s the problem or the challenge, it’s the coming to class. So online might be the answer, I think.

The season is unlocking. Grass is greening, daffodil foliage is breaking through. I’m enjoying my long walks at the Hike and Bike with Stella everyday. That time spent with her is becoming an important and wonderful part of my day. She’s really a great little dog.

It’s feels good not to grind so much and just enjoy: the yoga, the reading, the season. Hallelujah.

The Personal Touch at Wegmans

Lolly is my favorite checker at Wegmans. She speaks in a friendly, conspiratorial tone, kind of out-of-the-side-of-her-mouth. Her voice has a very peculiar timbre, too. Something between foghorn and an oboe. It intrigues me.

But the thing I really like about her, and why I will wait in her line even if there’s a faster one, …well, there are a few things.

First, she’s is just a great checker. She looks down the belt and checks out the lay of the land, quickly assesses my stuff, and then starts to mentally group things for bagging.

Bagging is a fine art. Lolly knows how to sort and how to bag. She’s one of those Tetris kinds of baggers, but she will never sacrifice fragility for spatial symmetry. 

For example, she would never just shove my loaf of raisin bread into the corner of a bag, even if the space seemed custom designed for it. Oh no. Food before form. Always.

She’s not particularly chatty. But I feel she’s there for me. She sees me. 

Today a group of three women were in line ahead of me. I overheard them talking to Lolly about how hard it was to raise 3 kids as a single parent. Lolly said she understood because she had been a single parent, too.

When they finished and it was my turn, Lolly said to me: “It’s a lot like being a bartender here. People tell you everything.” And laughed.

I corrected her. “No,” I said. They tell YOU everything. It’s because of how you are.”

She just shrugged and went back to efficiently scanning and weighing and bagging my stuff.

All the way home I tried to nail down just what it is about Lolly that makes me cruise all the checkers first, to see if she’s working, and then stand in her line even when there are way faster ones.

She’s not particularly smiley or chatty.  That’s not it.

She’s just present

She seems to care about my groceries, yes, but I also feel she she sees me as a person, too. I’m not just the next customer to process. I feel a human connection with her, and apparently, I’m not the only one. People tell her things. Intimate things about their lives.

As more and more grocery chains add self-scanners, the human checkers are going to be phased out, I’m afraid, and for the most part, good riddance to them, because frankly, most of them they act like robots now, anyway.

But it makes me sad to think that someday there won’t be any more people like Lolly; people who you don’t know personally, but who make you feel more like a person for having interacted with them.

I Hate That Progress Takes Time

I hate that things take time.

Not things. Progress.

I hate that progress takes time.

Especially the visible, tangible signs of progress. That’s what I really hate. 

I feel so impatient. I want a sign: something, anything, that will encourage me to keep going. 

I am attached to outcomes. I am a very bad yogi and a very bad Buddhist. 

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna that he must not fight to win the battle. No.

Arjuna must fight because it’s his dharma. He must fight because it’s his nature as a warrior to fight. 

So here’s what I’m telling myself these days: 

Put your head down, Kath, and grind.

So what if you’re not any stronger.

So what if you’re not any lighter.

So what if you’re measurements are still the same. 

So what if you’re a little sore. And tired. And grouchy. And your words aren’t getting written everyday and you don’t have time to cook, or even shop regularly. 

It’s only been 2 weeks of this Ultimate Yogi thing. What did you expect?

Answer?

 I expected more than nothing. I expected a little something. Some small little something. 

And why?

 Because it’s been TWO WHOLE WEEKS.

Every dieter I’ve ever known has had to fight this battle. Every person who has trained for a marathon has had to fight this battle. Every person who has committed to writing a dissertation, or tried to quit smoking, or any other addiction, knows what I’m talking about here. 

It’s a daily slog. A daily recommitment without any seeming progress. 

It’s the daily sky-gaze where you beg for a sign, for something, anything that will reassure you that, yes, it will all be worth it in the end.

(I feel like I’m getting melodramatic here, but everybody knows this at some level.)

So I really do have to find a way to just unattach from outcomes. To just do the thing for its own sake. 

And trust. 

Or not trust. Just keep going.  

The Ultimate Yogi

I think I’ve set myself up for failure. 

I committed to doing The Ultimate Yogi. 

Again.

I started last Friday. Today will be Day 6.

The Ultimate Yogi is 108 days of power yoga on a set of 12 cds that you rotate through. Each cd runs an hour. I tried to do this once before and only got to Day 46 before I gave up.

It was too hard. 

The yoga was too hard, but mostly it was the time it took. That was the true kiss of death.

I’m still worried about that. 

108 days is really a long time. I won’t be finished until July, if I make it. 

I also have travel plans in the next 108 days, poised to derail me.

So many things can go wrong with this. 

I can’t get injured.

I need to plan it into my day every single day. 

Also, it would be very nice if the world, and everyone in it, could just be cool for the next 3 months and not require any kind of 911 assistance from me. 

(Thanks in advance.)

All this is scary to be sure, but in an inspiring way. It’s a true challenge for me, the way a 30 Day-er wouldn’t be.

I have no track record for this many days in a row doing yoga. I have my eye on Day 46. If I get past that, I will have at least beaten my old record.

So here we go.

Why Would I Do Such A Thing?

The other day Linda, someone who’s been practicing at my studio for as long as I’ve been in business, announced she’s going to do the April Yoga Challenge this year. For the first time. 

(This will be the 12th year I’ve offered it.)

“Why now?” I asked her.

She didn’t give me an answer. 

I asked her again a few days later, and she said something about being “tied here anyway” because of a class she’s teaching this semester.

I’m not sure this is is a a good enough why. I’m not sure it’s going to get her through a month of everyday yoga.

A while ago a good friend turned me on to Simon Sinek and his Start With Why TED talk and his book of the same name. I’ve been a real fan ever since.

Whenever I contemplate a new project, I always ask myself Why? And until I unearth an answer that will keep me going when I lose energy, or motivation, or heart for the thing, I don’t do it. I have to know my why first.

If I don’t have a strong enough why articulated at the get-go, I know I’m doomed. 

It’s okay if my why changes during the project, as long as I continue to have one. And it’s a good one.

I’m in the process of writing my April newsletter to my mailing list now. I’m describing the Challenge and laying out the  rules.  

The game of the Challenge is that if you agree to come to class every day for 30 days, you only pay $30 for the entire month. There’s a leader board on the back wall where you sign in every day, and others can see your attendance and scribble notes of encouragement to you if they want. 

It’s really fun, but it’s also hard. But not because of the yoga. It’s hard because of the everyday. That’s why you need a strong why going in.

So I started writing this sort of rah-rah newsletter to my people, encouraging anybody thinking of doing the Challenge this year to know their why first. 

Just for fun, I tried to think of a few good whys for myself. Why would I commit to such a thing? 

I came up with 4. There could be many more, but these four would work for me.

1. For My Health

2. To Align More Closely with my Aspirational Self

3. To Set a Good Example

4. For Accountability 

Health

I want to shed some winter weight. I want to get stronger, more toned and energized. A 30 Day Yoga Challenge would be a good way to support my healthier eating resolution, or even a detox. 

Aligning with My Aspirational Self

When I invision my best self I see a person who does yoga everyday and looks like they do yoga every day. I see someone healthy, glowing, and energetic. Someone getting life done. Someone who’s not enslaved. Someone calling the shots on their own life, or at least recognizing where choices can be made, and making good ones. 

A 30 Day Yoga Challenge would give me an opportunity to live, at least for a month, in alignment with what I’m always saying I want to do, but so often don’t.

Good Example

Here is my favorite chicken-crossing-the-road joke:

  • Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?
  • A: To prove to the possum that it could be done.

I want to be the chicken. I want to prove that something hard can be done. I want to do something hard and not get hit by a truck doing it. I am aware that people are inspired by other people and that we’re all watching each other. If I can be a good example, maybe you’ll be inspired. That’s how the world works, We’re all watching each other. If I can work the logistics of fitting a yoga class into my life for 30 days in a row, maybe you can, too. I am highly incentivized by being a good example. For nobody in particular. For everyone in general.

Also: Very few people in the world actually do what they say they’re going to do. So it’s inspiring to see someone actually persist and win at something hard.

Accountability

I’m an Obliger. Most people are. Obligers depend on an accountability partner to keep them connected to their goals. A 30 Day Challenge acts as that accountability partner, because if I don’t show up, I’m out. And everybody knows it. 

Also: Very few people do this, so it makes me feel part of a little tribe that I have to show up for and root on. And I like that. 

If you’ve ever committed to doing something hard, a marathon, losing weight— anything that demanded training and a long(ish) slog, you know what I’m talking about. You have to have your why tattooed on your brain or you’ll bonk.

I’ll be really curious to see how many people sign up for this and what their whys are. I’ll be writing a lot about the Challenge next month for sure. Stay tuned.

Also: if you’ve ever done anything like this, let me know how it went, and if your why played a big part in your success.

Reading “Digital Minimalism”

Walking with Stella

Yesterday, out on the bike path, there was a new slant of light. A spring slant. It was still blowing in the 20s in my face, but there was a definite shift in the angle of the sun. Stella and I both felt it. 

This new light and the cold on my face reminded me of when I used to be a runner. I ran everyday. Rain or shine. I trained up and down the hills. 

 My walks with Stella are taking on this same kind of regularity.

I like it.

Reading Digital Minimalism

Newport On Walking:

I just got finished reading Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. He too, highly recommends taking long walks alone. He calls walking “a high-quality source of solitude.” (p.119)

He quotes Nietzsche, “Only thoughts reached by walking have value.” 

I, personally, have always liked the Latin phrase, solvitur ambulando which means: All is solved through walking.

Pretty much my experience. If I have a problem, I take it for a walk. The bigger the problem, the longer the walk.

Newport takes his problems on walks sometimes, too, he says, but he also goes on what he calls “gratitude walks” where he just appreciates the environment.

That’s what I try to do when I take Stella. I try to get out of my head and just notice nature and the sky, and do what Thoreau did: spend a lot of time staring at ice.

 One of our walks takes us across a beaver dam. There’s ice on both sides of the path. It’s getting thinner.

Beavers soon.

On a regular basis, go for long walks, preferably somewhere scenic. Take these walks alone, which means not just by yourself, but also, if possible, without your phone. If you’re wearing headphones, or monitoring a text message chain, or, God forbid narrating the stroll on Instagram—you’re not really walking, and therefore you’re not going to experience this practice’s greatest benefits.” P. 121

And what are the benefits? Clearer thinking, time to clarify values, time to connect to nature, and as a high quality source of solitude.

Newport On Leisure:

He makes a lot of distinctions in this book between high quality and low quality things.

 Things like leisure.

He says there are high quality leisure activities and low quality ones. If it’s passive, it’s low-quality: video games, watching sports, web-surfing and long evenings at the bar.

High quality leisure activities involve making things in the world, either that, or being super-social.

High quality leisure activities are often done outside and always without screens, unless it’s using a YouTube tutorial to learn how to fix something.

Ever since I read this I’ve been trying to think of something I do that results in something physical in the world.  I can’t think of a thing.

I have lots of low-quality leisure activities though, but no high-quality ones. Someone I follow on FB just posted pictures of a table she made from a slab of wood she found in the woods. It’s gorgeous. It’s amazing. That’s what Newport would call a high-quality leisure activity.

What do I do that’s comparable to that? Nothing. I need a thing like that to do. I need to make something. What, though?

This is what I’m thinking about on my walks these days, in between staring at ice, and trying not to think at all.