March 29, 2014

Expectations in Yoga Pants and Life

This morning broke a six week stint of wearing exclusively stretchy yoga pants outside of working hours. The spell was broken when I squeezed into a pair of jeans that had been stiffly folded in my drawer for a month in order to dress for a volunteer project. 

Everyone has a standard-issue after work comfy pants / t-shirt look, and I’ve been extra dependent on my stretchy pant uniform since beginning a yoga teacher training program early in February.


With jeans on and hiking boots laced up, my crew of fellow yogis and I trudged out in the pouring spring rain to clear ivy with an Earth Corps group in the wild woodlands of Mercer Island (Seattlites, this surprisingly does exist, if only in a half-acre spread). We’re in week six of the teacher training program and today was our turn to generate some good karma for the world.


As only one portion of a larger volunteer group, our crew had decidedly intense conversation topics. It was the first time we’ve had an opportunity to spend time together outside of the studio, so we not-so-casually chatted about chakras, stress, mental blockers--obviously regular conversation topics during manual labor. The general tone of conversation went a bit like this:


“How’ve you been feeling after Wednesday’s chakra lesson?”


“I’ve been an emotional wreck! I’m intensely sad, I woke up crying and I have no idea why.”


“You, too? Man, I cried like a baby Thursday night and I don’t know why, I couldn’t help it!”


Unsurprisingly, the other volunteers gave us looks  as though we were a troupe of esoteric spirit guides.


Earlier in the week, we had a lesson on chakras, the seven centers of energy inside of the body, and practiced a series of poses that ignited all of the chakras. Apparently it unlocked a flurry of pent up somethin’ in all of us and has left the majority of our class in shock and awe since mid-week. It felt good to know that I wasn’t the only one who felt crazy for having spontaneous breakdowns since Wednesday.  


We all joined the teacher training program for different reasons and we’ll all graduate with the same foundation of skills to successfully guide a flow-style class. The program is two months or so long, with plenty of classroom time, large binders, and yoga workout requirements. It’s a huge time commitment and ripe for expectation-setting.


I had expected a time commitment, what I didn’t anticipate was having to bid temporary farewell to almost all of my friends, especially those living outside of the pacific coast time zone.


I had also expected a big physical demand, but surprisingly I find myself strapped for opportunities to get to class. When I am able to make it, my movements are slow and calculated, leading to perma-bruised triceps from twists and wacky arm balances.


I had naively expected a total life transformation, which in retrospect was a bit like Oprah convincing us all that we can live our best lives by following 10 simple rules and one easy diet. I mean, really?


Yoga is about non-judgement, being present, compassion, and opening up, among other things. Currently, I don’t have enough mental energy to devote to judging anything from what would be good to cook for dinner to critiquing someone's approach or philosophy. The grueling training schedule combined with a busy season at work has shoved presentness down my throat, as I think on an hour-by-hour schedule to stay on top of my game.


As far as compassion and opening-up? Well, I mean my shoulders and hips are super open and I have even more compassion for parents raising kids, who have a schedule a million times more intense than my own. That counts for something, right?


In a few weeks, I’ll have plenty of free time again. Time to plan, judge, and analyze the minutia of a decision; time to happy hour and time to pick out nice outfits from my closet that aren’t 100% Lycra.


While it’s true I’m not nearly as enlightened as I had expected to be at this point (I’m half-joking), ultimately we all know the beauty of experiences is in what we don’t anticipate.


However, it’s safe to expect the common thread linking today to tomorrow will be my gloriously stretchy and colorful pants.


Namaste.

Improve.

December 31, 2013

Unintended Consequences of Achieving a New Year's Resolution

Last January, I set out to write something everyday. I bought a beautiful pack of Moleskin journals—one of each month, one page dedicated to each of the year’s 365 days.

The resolution was mostly to get back into the habit of daily writing, but I also had the intentions of using the daily recaps as a way to observe and reflect on my current state of affairs. With the exception of four days in June, I achieved my resolution and have a thorough record of how every single day of 2013 was spent.

Early in December, I read through every single day of the year. I read about each day that was sunny in Seattle (more than you would think), recapped each happy hour, dinner with friends, and any extra meaningful conversations. Each job interview, every awkward/semi-terrible date (the handful of goodies, too), and a daily account of a love story grace the smooth ivory pages in my messy, loopy script. Broad threads of cliché seasonal transitions knit the months together into what appear as a dozen neat chapters.

I have all of this—all of this reminiscence and nostalgia—and with only a couple of hours left in the year, all that I really want to do it rip up and throw away the notebooks.

I wish I could say I found some grand insights into myself and the direction I’ve taken/am going, but really I just have a lot of words on record that maybe weren’t meant to live on past the moment in which they occurred.

It’s the cumulative dinners, happy hours and conversations that lead to friendships. It’s the pattern of feelings (good or bad) that, over time, prompt you to act. The little moments in between that fully capture the greater meaning are the moments we tuck into memory. The ones which are easy to draw from when one of our senses is reengaged to provoke the memory.

But all of the others--the day to day highs and lows—I’m not convinced they’re designed to be remembered with such clarity.

This is the time of year when nostalgia is practically shoved down our throats. The pressure to live up to traditions of yesteryear and create monumental moments during the holiday season is incredibly high. Juxtapose that with the promise of a new start with the New Year – your chance to “press the reset button,” to swear that this year you’ll do better and challenge yourself in new ways.

The combination of nostalgia and future-forward introspection lends to making it nearly impossible to just be in the present.

Social media doesn’t help either. Facebook encourages me to “Remember the best parts of 2013” or to list the “Top things you want to remember” in my About Me section. Not unlike the goal of writing something down everyday, Facebook has successfully recorded our lives in as much detail as the day-to-day minutia.

The idea of scrolling through my seven years of Facebook records is horrifying, it seems like the ultimate exercise of narcissism and borderline self-deprecating. Yet it’s right there for all of us to mindlessly scroll through and look at our lives any time we’d like.

My pride got in the way of simply throwing away December’s notebook, I was too close not to just finish it. Instead, this month’s pages are filled with no more than 10 words per page. Many days just have a single word written on them: a mantra, a statement of gratitude. Nothing resembling a daily rundown.

The writing during the year became secondary to the recap. It instead became end of day reminder of what had already transpired that I had no way of undoing.
In 2014 I will do the opposite. I won’t live in perpetual nostalgia, nor will I live in perpetual planning. It’s going to be a day-by-day thing and it most likely won’t be documented anywhere.

Sorry, future grandkids, no juicy goodies to discover in the pages that might make up bits of my 2014.

Wishing you all a transformative and spontaneous 2014.



 think. improve.

July 15, 2013

The Neighborhood Hangover

Neighborhood observations made my me, a shameless morning person, over months of early morning outings for fitness, food, or general exploration.

--


This neighborhood is not an early riser, not even on Monday mornings. Not even when it’s an 8:00 a.m.-required day at the office. To be fair though, it’s nearly impossible to function the morning after a heavy night of drinking.

Except that almost every night is a heavy night of drinking.

Capitol Hill groggily blinks open an eye around 5:30 a.m.—about the time baristas arrive for their morning shift and when cleaning crews begin clearing out liquor bottles by the bag-full, tokens of the excess indulgences left from the night before.

Sure, there are the rogue joggers and small handful of morning fitness fiends, but each vignette of life at that time of day is contrasted with another instance of the neighborhood clumsily hitting the snooze button.  

Buns and bits of fried onion and hotdogs are smeared on the corner of 10th Ave and Pike Street just like the stagnant moss that grows overnight in your mouth from the whiskey cokes and 2 a.m. pizza metabolizing in your gut. The crows and seagulls are as uncertain about nibbling on the street corner grub as you are about the decisions made in a drunken stupor the night before.

Despite the grime, hopefulness for a quick hangover cure slowly starts creeping in around 6 a.m. The air is the best indicator of this—the universal morning smell of energized oxygen bits created from several hours without sunlight (take a whiff tomorrow morning, you know the scent) is mixed with this neighborhood’s special marinade of the tangy aroma from the dumpsters outside of Julia's or the Comet Tavern, hints of salty sea air, and general damp from the excess of vegetation.

If the night was warm-ish and dry, the park is speckled with bodies and mini camps of homeless or vagabonds. With the sun shining bright shortly after 6 a.m., a few stir to find shade and relative darkness, but many people lay, oblivious to the day unfolding above them, perhaps hoping to extend whatever trip they started the night before.

By 7:30, the city has usually rolled out of bed, at least on weekdays. By that time, the middle-age Hispanic man, short and strong like my dad, is usually sweeping the last few cigarette butts off the sidewalk outside a concert venue that had a sold out show hours earlier, as his adorable four-year old granddaughter dances around, antsy to go off to preschool.

Buses are buzzing with more frequent stops at that point, delivery trucks have finished up most of their rounds, and the sidewalks are starting to fill with bleary-eyed 20-somethings dressed in anything from a three-piece suit to scrubs or gender-neutral skinnies with a crop top and chunky boots. The common accessory among them all is the steaming latte in their hand.


The hangover is gone around lunchtime. Cured by coffee, a Bloody Mary and eggs benedict, the neighborhood is back to its bizarre, all accepting yet still cliquey, “super hip” self.  When the sun starts to sink later on, Capitol Hill is again ready to wear its party pants into the wee hours. The bright summer sunrise inevitably arrives too quickly, and the neighborhood whispers a wish for the cozy blanket of the omnipresent grey winter sky.

explore.

May 9, 2013

Pro Tips From Our Grandparents: Using Generational Lessons to Shape the US Future

Despite the overwhelming barrage of terrible things happening in our world, I have always maintained the belief there is enough compassion and brilliance among the human race that can out-maneuver the most egregious atrocities.

Ok, ok... so that might be a bit idealistic, but if I didn't think there was an ounce or two of legitimacy towards that belief, I would have let it go years ago. 

Every generation is born into different circumstances, each of which have provided moments of trial and poignancy. My grandparents' generation is frequently referred to as "the greatest generation" in the US -- having come of age during the Great Depression only having to immediately fight in World War II afterwards. Though the Baby Boomers were blessed with being born into America's golden age, they were the generation who cried out for civil rights, gender equality, and protested against the Vietnam war. 

Generation X rose during the  Clinton years and pre-internet and housing bubbles and watched as environmental and new international crises emerged. As a Millenial, my generation is old enough to remember September 11 and its implications, but were young enough to acquire a different perspective on how the events and crisis that followed impacted our country and culture. Certain character traits start to emerge once you remove the events and begin to understand how generations respond and grow from the circumstances. 

Last month, I attended Creative Mornings in Seattle. It's a monthly lecture series with a single topic unifying chapters around the globe, each with a different speaker and perspective. April's topic was The Future and August de los Reyes gave a fascinating talk on how understanding the future can lead to smarter design decisions today. What better way to understand the future, he argued, than to have a strong understanding of patterns from the past. (Have 35 minutes? I strongly recommend watching it).

From the American perspective, it's easy to recognize a pattern of four distinct life cycles that make up an entire lifetime, there has even been a theory developed around the it. According to the Strauss-Howe generational theory, the four cycles are:

1. High
2. Awakening
3. Unraveling
4. Crisis

Since the high in the 1950s, American society has traveled through an awakening period where institutions and cultural norms were questioned (1960s-70s), followed by unraveling driven by extraordinary economic booms/busts, new environmental concerns and international turmoil (1980s-90s), and crisis (post 9/11 - now). At this rate, my generation is set to hit the high and prime of our nation's prosperity in the middle of our lives. 

Each of the cycles contain personality profiles that are most often associated as a result of a society's circumstances.

De los Reyes commented that the Millenial generation places a high value on community and social space, whereas the Generation X-ers place a strong focus on preserving the individual. Neither is better or worse than the other, it's just a matter of understanding how the two can work together to mitigate long term impacts of the crisis.

As Claire Thompson puts it in an article shared by one of my [brilliant] friends, 
"We’re already the harbingers of a profound demographic shift in this country; our children will be the ones who fully flesh out this new, diverse, interconnected America (in 2011, for the first time, children born to people of color made up more than half of U.S. births). Included in our necessarily more pluralistic, progressive, tolerant worldview is an acute awareness of sustainability and the need to find a place for it in a political system that increasingly does not reflect our changing values."
Our society is at an interesting threshold right now, the recession has crippled the job market. The majority of the freshly-trained and educated Millenial generation is now thrilled to land a low-skill minmum wage job in order to slowly hack away at their (re: our) massive load of student debt. Meanwhile, many in Generation X are figuring out how to support aging parents while trying not to drown in mortgage woes. The retiring Baby Boomers who were once depending on decent pensions are now looking at the reality of not being able to afford retirement while relying on a social security check too small to stretch very far.

We are evidently in a crisis phase, but looking in the past, we've been here before. Sure the details were a little different in the 1930s compared to today, but the general themes remain consistent: environmental concerns, alarmingly low bank account balances, international upheaval  and a general lack of confidence in many of our country's institutions.

Of course I'm selfishly looking forward to the day when my fellow 20-somethings and I can have a legitimate savings account. But I can't help but be encouraged by subtle societal shifts that are placing stronger emphasis on community, health and wellness, minimizing environmental impact, and a new international dialogue.**

Again, Ms. Thompson: 
That’s why it looks like we’re [Millenials] flailing (and make no mistake: We are flailing, when it comes to achieving any semblance of financial security). We have huge potential and desire to innovate, but we also recognize that we can’t fulfill that potential without same basic safety nets. Things like health insurance. Some level of student debt forgiveness. Infrastructure that supports the kind of smaller-footprint, sustainable lifestyles we’re already creating for ourselves: compact housing in vibrant, walkable communities; functioning public transportation; streetscapes that prioritize cyclist and pedestrians over cars, urban gardens and farmers markets; regulatory room for sharing economies to thrive. -(Seriously, read this article. Especially if you're a flailing 20-something).
We've been in crisis before, yes. And we've made it out ok. We'll make it out just fine again. Our country won't look the same, but I'm confident the changes will be for the best.

**Admittedly, the trends I notice living in Seattle are more widespread and encouraged... America is a massive country, and it's going to take a lot more collective energy to see tangible changes.

think.

May 1, 2013

Quenching the Neighbor's Thirst

After a week of sun, the typical Seattle grey returned to usher in the weekend. The cool weather didn't stop a group of friends and I from celebrating Neighbor Day by setting up a free lemonade stand on the corner of Broadway and John St. in Capitol Hill.


Neighbor Day is designed to do exactly what the name implies -- connect with the people who live the closest to where you live. The Neighbor Day campaign was spearheaded by GOOD.is, a magazine and online community inspired by good things worldwide whose mission is to "convene, empower and connect all of those who give a damn." 

Offered complete freedom to concept and plan the event, I was easily charmed by the sunshine and warmth of the prior week, so a free lemonade stand seemed like the best way to celebrate spring and meet some neighbors.

My neighbors are made up of a menagerie of hipsters, potheads, yuppies, drag kings and queens, homeless people, international students, musicians, vagabonds and plenty of us who don't quite fit into any single stereotype. 

The Capitol Hill neighborhood in Seattle has always had character. The wealthiest pioneers built grand mansions on the very top of the hill more than a century ago that is now a delightfully antique residential area for modern-day upper-middle class families. For the past 50 years or so, the gay community has found the neighborhood welcoming, and it was home to the first ever pride parade. Nowadays, Forbes Magazine (clearly the most accredited judge of "cool") has ranked the neighborhood as one of
 the hippest in the country

Saturday's lemonade stand provided a conduit to actually talk to people walking past. Rather than the usual habit of avoiding eye contact, the lemonade stand was an in-your-face "Did you just say free lemonade!?" way to grab people's attention.

"This is awesome! We need to have more things like this," was the resounding sentiment from most of the people. They wanted to get involved and learn how Seattle can become better connected through a GOOD Local chapter. Soon the sidewalk was decorated with hop scotch boards, doodles, and colorful praises for the neighborhood.

"I'm here visiting and things like this make me really wish my city was more like Seattle," one lady said as she stopped by. "This is such a neat community."

Those three hours on the busy corner also brought attention to glaring contradictions we have in our society. Some homeless people tried to give us donations of spare change, while several couples going to or from brunch skeptically stared at us as they walked by -- almost certain there had to be some sort of strings attached to our free offer.

However, several dozen neighbors stopped to grab a glass and talk about their Capitol Hill experience and how they would like to connect with their neighbors. It's evident there is a strong desire among people to genuinely engage as a more cohesive community. Saturday's lemonade stand was a baby step to start capturing some of that spirit and applying it towards good neighboring.



explore. think.








April 22, 2013

Solidarity in a Sentence: Crisis Tweets


It only took seven minutes from the time the blast went off at the Boston marathon finish line for me to see the a news blip about it on Facebook. Sitting at my desk in a cubicle just a half mile from where I-90 begins, I logged onto Twitter to watch the stream of posts coming from the city 3,000 miles away where I-90 ends.

“…blasts reported at the finish line.”

“Two dead, dozens injured in bombing aftermath.”

Immediately I texted my good friends in Boston as well as my friend who has ran in a dozen or so marathons to make sure they were all ok and that everyone they knew were safe. Soon, my closest friends from all parts of the US and I were texting one another just to check in and express our shock and sadness. But mostly it was to check in to say that we loved and missed each other.

“My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone in the Boston marathon #prayingforboston”

Every 10 seconds anywhere from 20-100 new tweets streamed in about Boston. Within an hour, stories of good will and heroism emerged that included photos of people carrying the injured and reports of marathon runners going to donate blood.

By that evening the FBI and law enforcement was encouraging people to send any mobile photos or videos shot from the marathon to help them piece together who might have been behind it.

From the bombing to the capture, it only took investigators a mere 100 hours or so to identify and ultimately capture the suspects.  Throughout last week I found myself turning to Twitter for instant updates, finding comfort in the nonstop feed of reports and comment. Even among the sensational reports and rogue comments, like much of the country, I was enraptured and couldn’t turn away.

Especially in times of crisis, social media takes on bold personas. Often Twitter and Facebook become the neighborhood café; the kind where folks are glued to the TV mounted in the corner and discussing the events, cradling cups of coffee gone stale from serving as a distractive prop rather than caffeinated sustenance. With Twitter, one can mingle with all of the café’s customers freely, simply by changing their #hashtag and generating perspectives seen through a different scope.

Those scopes may include an ultra-persuasive community activist, a triage lead, or a sideline cheerleader. If anything links all of these personas together, it’s the humble #hashtag. In the past few years, the hashtag “#” went from being a simple tic-tac-toe board to the single character for unity adding cause to every tweet.  Since 2009, several revolutions have been sparked by rallying cries of 140 characters or less, spread through #tagged statements. They serve as protest chants, simple to remember making it easy to find others rallying for the same thing.

The hashtag adds emotion, almost like a parenthetical afterthought giving people context for the emotion and atmosphere of the person sending the tweet. The hashtag's lack of spaces inherently changes the tone of voice for the reader – though the tweet may be screaming with strong words, the hashtag often evokes a whisper or hushed voice. It is a digitized smile, furrowed brow, or intense gaze.

We saw it in Boston: #bostonstrong #praying #heartbroken #WeAreBoston

The never-ending stream of tweets and the unifying hashtags foster community, if only in the smallest sense. Strength, love and compassion ooze from the simple sentences. Tangible power emulate from the sheer quantity of tweets just as a paper full of inked petition signatures.

That power can quickly become misguided, however.  In an instant, tweets can become sensationalized, offensive, and downright embarrassing. As details emerged about the bombing suspects, the barrage of unconfirmed information sparked incompetent comment and bigot rhetoric, prompting actions such as the Czech government having to differentiate themselves from the Chechen region.

It’s easy to drown in the noise of tweets and impossible to keep up with the millions of voices on a daily basis. But in times of crisis, the steady stream of updates and reaction is reassuring.

Last week Twitter made me feel like I was part of an unbreakable community in the US. It felt like one big small town complete with all of the players: the reverend, the newspaper editor, the police chief, the team of vigilantes, the village idiots, and the witnesses who all wanted to share their story.

 #solidarity #connection #community #think #see