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Wonderfully, Fearlessly, Hopefully Impossible August 5, 2020

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[This is the post for Tuesday, August 4, 2020.]

 

“Nothing in the world is single;

In one spirit meet and mingle.

   Why not I with thine?—

   All things by a law divine

In one spirit meet and mingle.

   Why not I with thine?—”

 

– quoted from “Love’s Philosophy” by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Everything overlaps. We all share common threads. So, even without the Muhammad Ali quote (from 8/2), you could create a Venn diagram based on the first three “impossible” posts and figure out who I might highlight next as an “impossible person.” A Venn diagram is, of course, a set or logic model that shows the overlapping relations between finite collections. They are used in set theory, probability, logic, statistics, computer science, and other math modalities. These diagrams were developed by John Venn, who was born today (August 4th) in 1834. While he came from a long line of church evangelicals, including his namesake and grandfather, it was not impossible for him to choose a field of study outside of the church. That being said, two years after he obtained his mathematics degree from Gonville and Caius College (the fourth oldest and the wealthiest college at University of Cambridge), Venn became an Angelican priest and actually served in the church. It was after his first church appointment, while working as an intercollegiate lecturer at Cambridge, that Venn developed the diagrams.

If you create sets based on the biographies of Maria Mitchell and Rabbi Regina Jonas, you might think that to make my impossible someone would have to be a woman who was the first woman to do something in a profession normally associated with men. You might even think that that someone had to be virtually unknown to the masses. But, then you have to add James Baldwin into the mix. Now, with the third set, you can broaden the definition to include any human who does something outside of society’s expectations – especially, if their achievements make it possible for others to follow in their footsteps and/or do something previously viewed as impossible.

I have heard that it is impossible to make a Venn diagram out of four circles – and I’ll admit that I probably wouldn’t do a very good job of explaining (mathematically) why it is considered impossible – but you can use ellipses. So, when you add in the fact that John Venn was a suffragist who also encouraged woman to run for office, you might think he makes my list. But, he doesn’t. Neither does Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was born today in 1792. Instead, today’s “impossible people” are a musician, a president, and a duchess.

“Some of you young folks been sayin’ to me, ‘Eh, Pops, what do you mean, what a wonderful world? How ’bout all them wars all over the place? You call them wonderful? And how ’bout hunger and pollution? That ain’t so wonderful, either.’ But how ’bout listenin’ to old Pops for a minute? Seems to me it ain’t the world that’s so bad but what we’re doing to it, and all I’m saying is: see what a wonderful world it would be if only we’d give it a chance. Love, baby – love. That’s the secret. Yeeeaaahhh. If lots more of us loved each other, we’d solve lots more problems.”

 

– Louis Armstrong (introducing “What a Wonderful World” in a 1970 recording)

The wonderful Louis Armstrong was born today (August 4th) in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1901. Known as “Satchmo,” “Satch,” “Pops,” “Dipper,” and “Louie,” he came by his most famous nickname because people said the way he puffed out his cheeks when he played the trumpet made him look like he had a mouth full of coins. Some biographers even say that, as a child, he played for pennies and would actually use his mouth as his satchel. For five decades he carved a place for himself in the world as a trumpeter, a composer, a singer, and an actor. His career also spanned different genres of jazz and in 2017 he was inducted into the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame. Some might say that it should have been impossible for him to play the way he played given the way he breathed into his mouth. Others might think that, as a talented African-American entertainer, there was nothing impossible about his success. Yet, when you look at the history of music in America, you find that there was a time (cough, cough) when African-American music often crossed over into the popular culture – but, it did so without the African-American musicians. Louis Armstrong established himself without publicizing (or politicizing) his race and, therefore, his music entered a room before his skin color.

Louis Armstrong wore a Star of David pendant for most of his life, in honor of the Jewish family that “adopted” him as a child and bought him his first trumpet. He wrote in his memoir about seeing his “adopted family” experiencing discrimination and said that the way they lived taught him how to live with determination. Yet, his determination to live and be judged by his art rather than his skin color, led him to receive a lot of criticism from other prominent Black entertainers and activist. Part of the criticism stemmed from the fact that he played for segregated audiences and wouldn’t use his social power and echelon to press for civil rights. However, he did criticize President Dwight D. Eisenhower for his lack of response to the Little Rock desegregation crisis – even going so far as to cancel a State Department sponsored tour to the Soviet Union and state that he would not represent a government that mistreated his people.

“While I could say Pennsylvania and Ohio, and continue this proverbial two-step, I instead give them what they’re after: ‘My dad is Caucasian and my mom is African American. I’m half black and half white.’ To describe something as being black and white means it is clearly defined. Yet when your ethnicity is black and white, the dichotomy is not that clear. In fact, it creates a grey area. Being biracial paints a blurred line that is equal parts staggering and illuminating. When I was asked by ELLE to share my story, I’ll be honest, I was scared. It’s easy to talk about which make-up I prefer, my favourite scene I’ve filmed, the rigmarole of ‘a day in the life’ and how much green juice I consume before a requisite Pilates class. And while I have dipped my toes into this on thetig.com, sharing small vignettes of my experiences as a biracial woman, today I am choosing to be braver, to go a bit deeper, and to share a much larger picture of that with you.”

 

– quoted from “Meghan Markle: I’m More Than An ‘Other’” by Meghan Markle (published in Elle Magazine, July 2015)

1957 may have been when the FBI started a file on Louis Armstrong. So, you can definitely add that – FBI files – to the Venn diagram of impossible people; because the FBI definitely has files on President Barack Obama (born today in 1961, in Honolulu, Hawai’i) and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex (née Markle) (born today in 1981, in Los Angeles, California). President Obama served two terms as the 44th President of the United States and was the first African-American president (as well as the first openly biracial president). The Duchess of Sussex is not only a “commoner,” she is a biracial American woman who not only married into the British Royal family, she also did the doubly impossible by stepping away from the royal life. Both President Obama and the Duchess of Sussex worked as philanthropists before and after “holding” their very public offices. They have been known to feed the hungry and inspire people to hope.

“Hope is not blind optimism. It’s not ignoring the enormity of the task ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. It’s not sitting on the sidelines or shirking from a fight. Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, and to work for it, and to fight for it. Hope is the belief that destiny will not be written for us, but by us, by the men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is, who have the courage to remake the world as it should be.”

 

– quoted from (then Senator) Barack Obama’s address after the Iowa Caucus speech (January 3, 2008)

 

Hoping

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If only it was Taco Tuesday… July 22, 2020

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 “I like it when a man puts thought into the kind of restaurant we’re going to. That doesn’t mean it needs to be fancy – some of the best meals of my life have been having a taco on a street corner.”

– Meghan Markle (now, Duchess of Sussex) quoted in an Esquire Magazine article dated Dec. 15, 2016

 

“I like to take a day off and enjoy fast food for what it is. I have to say that in New York I’m really partial about taco trucks. I mean I really can’t handle it. There is something about catching all those ingredients piled on top of each other it puts me in a tizzy. I love it. I’m kind of a taco truck junkie.”

 

– Alex Guarnaschelli (when asked if she eats fast food, TooFab 03/01/2011)

Imagine the perfect taco. “‘What is “The perfect taco?” Alex.’” What makes it perfect? Is it the outside? I mean, I know people who will throw down over hard shells versus soft. (And, just for the record, there’s no such thing as an “open-faced taco” – that’s a chalupa or a tostado, for goodness sake!)

So, maybe, what makes your perfect taco is what’s on the inside. Hmmm… given that everyone has different tastes, different needs, and desires, it seems that there could be a different taco for every person in the world (and two tacos per person on Tuesdays). The poet Emma Lazarus was born today in 1849, so think about what “all your huddled masses” have been seeking over the years. I once heard Bryan Kest say that there’s at least one version of a pose for every person in the world; he estimated 8 billion ways to do every pose. And, it turns out that practicing yoga is a lot like searching for “the perfect taco.”

“Never underestimate how much assistance, how much satisfaction, how much comfort, how much soul and transcendence there might be in a well-made taco and a cold bottle of beer.”

– quoted from Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

I’m not much for beer, but I’m a huge fan of a well-made taco and I’m a huge fan of Tom Robbins’s fourth novel, Jitterbug Perfume. Born today in 1932, in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, Robbins is a self-described “hillbilly” who grew up in a Baptist household, went to a military college prep school, studied journalism in college, enlisted in the Air Force, and spent a year as a meteorologist in Korea and two years in Nebraska before being discharged. He returned to Richmond, Virginia (where his family had moved during his early childhood) and started reading poetry in a coffee shop.

Robbins returned to school and also put his journalism degree to good use, while (occasionally) hitchhiking, researching a book on Jackson Pollack, and (eventually) hosting a weekly alternative radio show for KRAB-FM, Seattle. All the while, Tom Robbins was writing – searching for his perfect writing style, his voice. He found it and used it to write Another Roadside Attraction, a novel that you could theoretically say is “just” about a kind of wacky couple who open a hot dog stand. His first novel had all the elements you will find in most of his novels: wacky, bohemian characters; strong-willed women; animals; religion; existential philosophical musings; science; food (always food); and the occasional mythical character.

Jitterbug Perfume definitely has all of the elements described above and, to me, it is one the most visceral novels by Robbins. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and yet, when I look at “Nighthawks” by Edward Hooper (who was born today in 1882), I may feel a lot, but I smell very little. On the flip side, I can’t even think about Jitterbug Perfume without smelling it. I know, I know, you’re thinking well, of course, the word “perfume” is in the title and it’s all about perfumers trying to capture this magical essence. That’s the way the brain works.

Yeah, no. When I think of this particular novel, I’m thinking about another element that shows up in all of Tom Robbins’s work: s-e-x. And Pan.

“The word desire suggests that there is something we do not have. If we have everything already, then there can be no desire, for there is nothing left to want. I think that what the Buddha may have been trying to tell us is that we have it all, each of us, all the time; therefore, desire is simply unnecessary.”

– quoted from Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

As we’ve discussed before, suffering is a part of the human condition. We can say, as the Buddhist and Yoga philosophies instruct us, that suffering comes from attachment; however, what we are really saying is that suffering comes from desires. There are lots of different kind of desire, and they can lead to all different kinds of attachment (rooted in pleasure or rooted in pain); but Robbins suggests in Jitterbug Perfume that the desire itself isn’t the problem. Robbins suggests that maybe we suffer because “we do not desire wisely.” It’s an interesting thought – especially if you consider that we are psychologically and physiologically wired to desire, to want certain things and to not want other things.

Considering that there may be a better way to desire, makes me think of certain Buddhist and/or Yoga practices. For instance, shoshin is the Zen Buddhist practice of “beginners mind” and I often liken it to the niyama (internal observation in Yoga) santosha, which is the practice of contentment. Just as Robbins says (above) the practice focuses not on the idea that we are missing out on something but focuses instead on the fact that in this moment there is something, something extraordinary, something… perfect. In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki explains that “in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the experts mind there are few.” When we show up and practice shoshin and/or santosha we open ourselves up to find something perfect in the moment, be it the perfect scent, the perfect quantum physics equation, the perfect taco… or the perfect pose.

“If you lack the iron and the fuzz to take control of your own life, if you insist on leaving your fate to the gods, then the gods will repay your weakness by having a grin or two at your expense. Should you fail to pilot your own ship, don’t be surprised at what inappropriate port you find yourself docked. The dull and prosaic will be granted adventures that will dice their central nervous systems like an onion, romantic dreamers will end up in the rope yard. You may protest that it is too much to ask of an uneducated fifteen-year-old girl that she defy her family, her society, her weighty cultural and religious heritage in order to pursue a dream that she doesn’t really understand. Of course it is asking too much. The price of self-destiny is never cheap, and in certain situations it is unthinkable. But to achieve the marvelous, it is precisely the unthinkable that must be thought.”

– quoted from Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

Go back to the questions at the beginning of this post and think about them in terms of the “perfect” yoga pose. Even better, think about your pursuit of the perfect expression. Do you think about the inside first, or is your primary focus on the outside? Do you recognize that there are hundreds of thousands of elements, which translate into millions and billions of expressions? Do you recognize that there is no one way to do something and so, therefore, there can be billions of perfect poses? There is, however, an even more important question (inspired by one of my yoga teachers). Seane Corn said, “It’s not about the pose. It’s about the purpose. Be In Yours.” So, the better question as you seek your so-called perfect pose, is “What’s the purpose?”

When we get around to asking that question, we find that sometimes the perfect pose isn’t a taco at all… It’s a chalupa (or a tostado).

“When we accept small wonders, we qualify ourselves to imagine great wonders.”

– quoted from Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

As a former meteorologist, Tom Robbins would be familiar with chaos theory (the idea that small changes in initial conditions can translate into big outcomes) and it’s those little things that make a difference, unexpected differences, in his stories. Those little changes can also make a difference in your yoga practice…and in your meal preparation.

In the TV show Ugly Delicious, David Chang says, “The dishes that we’re making… it’s about telling a story.” The practicing yoga is also about telling stories, it’s about your body and mind telling your story. It’s about finding your voice, your themes your ingredients, as Tom Robbins has done all his life, and then putting it out there. It is, also, about listening – really, truly, deeply listening to your own heart, your own soul, and your own story. If you really listen, you can also hear the stories around you. And, it is delicious (even when it smells a little ripe).

“He was becoming unstuck, he was sure of that – his bones were no longer wrapped in flesh but in clouds of dust, in hummingbirds, dragonflies, and luminous moths – but so perfect was his equilibrium that he felt no fear. He was vast, he was many, he was dynamic, he was eternal.”

– quoted from Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

Please join me today (Wednesday, July 22nd) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom, where will find your “breathe properly,  stay curious, and [afterwards] eat your beets.” Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

In case you were confused or missed it (above), only one of the Alex’s mentioned above is celebrating an 80th birthday today!

 

 

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