Leaving Home: A Climate Migrant’s Story

When I left California the first time, it seemed like a lot of folks had a similar idea. Around the time I took flight for Ireland, Dana and Anya left for Grand Rapids and Nancy headed to Santa Fe. There were others, too, who left. Friends on the periphery of my life headed to Oregon and my the friend who adopted my cat Bob moved to Detroit.

In the late 1990’s, if you weren’t in the tech industry, it felt like life was waiting for you someplace else. So we moved. 

A decade later I came back to the place that felt like home. I guess the Universe knew that the Bay Area had more lessons to teach me. Some of those lessons devastated me. Others filled me with hope and motivated me to not only do better but to be better. To be more kind. More patient. More trusting. 

I purchased my first home through Palo Alto’s BMR program during my second time around in the Bay Area. And I fell into the kind of love that is more than a fleeting tickle in the heart.

My beloved B (henceforth known as ‘BB’) and I first tossed around the idea of leaving California long before COVID changed the way we live. But when last summer served us a shutdown, raging firestorms, intense heat and The Day the World Turned Orange we knew it was time to flesh out what it would look like to leave. What it would mean.

So we created a spread sheet that ranked our potential destinations according to the criteria that was most important to us. We wanted to be closer to family but we also needed affordability, diversity, culture, tolerable winters and, while BB could continue to work remotely, I needed opportunities to continue on my path as a yoga therapist and coach. I also needed room to grow back into the artist side of me I abandoned when I left California the first time. Asheville was too expensive and Chapel Hill too far from family. We didn’t relish the idea of a Pittsburgh winter and potential livelihood for me was sketchy in Richmond. 

But Charlottesville, Virginia? Charlottesville ticked enough of the boxes to warrant an exploratory visit.  By the end of our seven day visit last May, we knew where we wanted to live.

It isn’t Charlottesville. It’s a little town (to be truthful it isn’t a town, it’s a place and yes, there’s a difference) outside of Charlottesville called Crozet. Crozet is named after Colonel Claudius Crozet, the French engineer who built the Blue Ridge Tunnel. The community we’re moving to is near enough Charlottesville to take advantage of all it has to offer but far enough away from city lights so that we can see the stars at night. Maybe even the occasional shooting star.

But we won’t move into our new home until next June. Which gives me just enough time to circle ‘round back about a million times to the question, “Are we making the right decision?”


Creating Connections with an Old Bag of Tea

We power through cups of tea at our house. I’ve been saving the wrinkled and wet used tea bags in a bowl. Don’t judge me. I have my reasons.

Not quite finished. The dark flecks are tea. The red pigment comes from pounded rose and geranium petals.

In June I began a year long virtual course of study with India Flint. India is an artist who works with plants and found objects to create beautifully dyed paper and cloth. India’s course of study is why keen eyes might find me in the wee hours of the morning gathering handfuls of eucalyptus leaves from along the bike path that parallels El Camino Real and stuffing them into the pockets of my baggy cargo pants.

India Flint, and this course, is why I save used tea bags.

India’s teaching style is that of a storyteller. Rather than providing precise step-by-step directions – like the sort you’d find if an Ottolenghi cook book – she weaves a tale of her experiences with the plants she is using, the mistakes she’s made, the lessons she’s learned. She gives permission for us to take what we need, to leave the rest, and to be inspired by her life’s work.

I’m inspired.

Our first journey was through the making of a book. I didn’t have much of what was needed – proper paper, a sewing machine, a very sharp pair of scissors – but this course is filmed with such care and beauty it didn’t bother me that I wasn’t playing along. I was still learning.

Which is how, this morning at 5 AM, I found myself carefully deconstructing a dozen or so tea bags, emptying their contents into a bowl and spreading the fragile paper out like one might smooth a bedsheet.

But there is more to this story:

Over the weekend my friend Diane – a talented and dedicated artist – gifted me Beth Pickens’ book Make Your Art No Matter What: Moving Beyond Creative Hurdles. This is a book that weighs much more than it should and its Times Roman font is a point size or two smaller than my eyes enjoy. The first chapter, however, is about time. Something I’ve been pondering lately.

And here’s a little more to the story:

I had lunch yesterday with a friend I’ve not seen since before the shut down. Carolyn and I laugh when we’re together. We laugh a lot. But yesterday, as we were talking about how the pandemic changed us, we thought of something that stopped us in mid-giggle. The shutdown gave us time. And now time feels more precious. Both Carolyn and I are discovering how different life is when we treat time as a gift and not a commodity to burn through. We’re learning to say ‘yes’ to what we love. Even if that means saying ‘no’ to something we love less.  

And that is how I found myself at 5 AM this morning gently opening the tea bags that had been drying for a day instead of reading emails and absorbing all that had happened in the world as I slept. India’s course is inspiring me to explore. Diane’s book is encouraging me to love my inner artist. My conversation with Carolyn is reminding me that time is precious.

Deconstructing tea bags is a slow, careful process. While I sat at my desk, my Ottlite breaking the pre-dawn grey, I fell into a sort of meditative reverie. I thought about the tea, how far it had traveled – the Ashwaghanda from India and the green from Japan – I thought about the farmers who grew and harvested the tea then bundled it off to factories to be processed. I thought about the work it takes to create the paper that holds the tea and about how I was moving the process of creation forward by turning the old tea into dye and the these fragile scraps of paper vessel into a new vessel.

It was a profound moment to experience that deep sense of connection. It felt new to me because it wasn’t cerebral. The connection came from my heart. 

I hope I can hold on to that feeling of connection.


Do Clothes Make the Yoga Teacher?

You wouldn’t know it to look at me but I love clothes. It doesn’t matter that my daily uniform rotates around a tee shirt paired with yoga pants or two identical pairs of Target jeans bought in two different sizes on sale for a tenner each – I love clothes.

Who knew I needed a pea green bomber jacket?

I love the expressive nature of clothes. How the colors you choose can reflect the mood you are in and how the way you style your clothes can shout to the world, ‘here I am!’ or whisper ‘shhh…I’m thinking’. I love how a structured shoulder can help you ‘fake it ’til you make it’ and how cutting cloth on the bias changes the drape of a dress. Clothes can indicate where you stand politically. Clothes can shine a light on your inner artist or reflect your relationship with nature. 

Thirty-five years ago I loved nothing more than to spend a Saturday afternoon at the Goodwill on El Camino Real in Mountain View scouring the racks for vintage dresses. I paired my findings with fishnet stockings, Doc Marten knock-offs and baggy houndstooth jackets with fabulous, patterned satin linings from the men’s section. I was making jewelry at the time – huge brooches made with old watch parts and those tiny spoons you find in salt cellars – and I’d have one pinned to an oversized collar or maybe use one to replace a missing button. The look had a grunge-goth vibe that I embraced. The style was trendy, of course – I mean, what self-respecting Goth didn’t have a pair of Doc Martens? – but those clothes also told a story. Anyone looking at me would know, without asking a single question, a little bit about me.

I don’t dress to impress or express these days. While the pandemic influenced an even more relaxed approach to my sartorial splendor, I’ve been rolling through life in baggy clothes and graphic tees for awhile now. The only story I’m telling through the clothes I pull on each morning is the one that says ‘I’m not worth the effort’. How sad is that?

But maybe that’s about to change.

Last week a woman who plays the role of ‘cool, older aunt’ in my life cleaned out her closet and offered the clothes she no longer wore to me. 

I took them.

These are not clothes with worn out knees or thread bare elbows. These are clothes my bank account would never allow me to purchase for myself. These are beautiful, classic, never going out-of-style clothes.

I slipped my arms through the sleeves of a well-tailored jacket and caught a glimpse of myself in my friend’s mirror. Who was that? I recognized my face, but everything else about me had changed. For one thing, I had a waist. For another, the chatter in my mind shifted from the typical self-deprecating ramblings to which I’m accustomed into something approaching pride. 

I brought the clothes home that evening and the next day purged my own closet. And the day after that? I started showing up for my Zoom meetings sitting a little bit taller and a little bit more confident.

And then I started thinking.

You wouldn’t know it to look at me but I love clothes.

That being said, I’m conflicted. I know clothes are nothing more than the means by which we keep our bodies – our souls’ temporary home – protected from the elements. So why should clothes matter? But if our naked bodies are a blank canvas then clothes are the paint by which we express to the world who we are and who we aspire to be.

Who will you be today?

ps…As a yoga instructor I will continue to wear baggy tee shirts and budget leggings to class. It’s my small protest against the Yoga Industrial Complex and the sexualization of a practice that means so much to me.


In Search of the Elusive Authentic Self

In my coaching practice the issue of authenticity is a featured player. More often than not clients will, at some point in the session, tell me they are either:

  1. Searching for their authentic self
  2. Struggling to live an authentic life
  3. Questioning whether their motives are coming from an authentic place.

What has to happen for the conditions for self-doubt to manifest? When do we begin to feel we’ve lost touch with the image we hold in our mind’s eye of who we believe ourselves to be? And how can we return to the clarity that keeps us grounded and focused on the values we cherish most? When we answer those questions authenticity becomes less of an intention and more of a truth we live. 

When I was a child I was teased for having two left feet. More often than not I had fresh or fading scabs on my elbows and knees from all the falls I took. Like a puppy learning to leash walk I was easily distracted by metaphorical squirrels. I tripped over sidewalk cracks, missed steps when climbing stairs and walked into people, poles and walls in my pursuit of something different from the task at hand.

As an adult, while my elbows and knees have healed, not much else has changed. I’m still easily distracted by bright, shiny objects. I still stumble. I fall, enraptured by the aspirations of others at the expense of my own. My admiration for the high bar others set for themselves ignores the higher bar I’ve set for myself and fills my brain with ‘you should do this’ or ‘you should do that’ at the expense of my heart’s song. This longing to be someone I’m not steals validity from the wonderful life I’m living. It diminishes the dreams I have. It diverts my attention away from the values most important to me and ultimately away from my authentic self.  

The best we have to offer the world is grounded in personal authenticity. When we lose sight of that – when we feel lost – how do we find our way back? The answer to that question is as unique as the journey we’ve chosen for ourselves. But I find these suggestions useful:

  1. Get away from the noise. Take a day to yourself. Set work, obligation and commitment aside and give your heart the space to expand.
  2. Breathe with intention. When you feel unmoored, close your eyes and breathe. Lengthen the exhalation until it’s longer than the inhalation. Imagine the in-breath moving into the soles of your feet and connecting you to the earth.
  3. Trust your instincts but know that the answers aren’t black and white. Some of us choose to listen to our heart. Others listen to our brain. But what about the space in between? What is that space saying to you and how does it align to the authentic life you want to live? Is there an equilibrium to be found?
  4. Honor the truth that journeys change. There are detours, road closures and surprises if we choose to spend some time exploring roads taken less often. It’s these moments that help us take the next step.

When we look carefully, we discover that the sense of self is not a particle that never changes, but rather a flow, a wave of thought and feeling that can increase and decrease and is therefore not permanent.

—Shinzen Young, “Brief Teachings”


Social Media is Making Me Sick

jOCjulUCT0q30hFW6gbywgDiscovering that a friend from high school – a quiet boy that I had a crush on in 1974 – served in the military after graduation, met hid one true love later in life and now spends time traveling around the world with her filled my heart. 

Finding family on my father’s side – a man I never knew – and now preparing to meet a cousin who can tell me about the half-brothers I didn’t know existed until a few years ago would have much more difficult to do before 2006.

Keeping up with people I’ve known through my life or clicking the crying emoji when a friend I’ve never met loses a beloved dog, sharing New York Times articles about the plastics found in the belly of a whale or Nikolas Kristof’s latest opinion piece (and believing that means I’ve done my part) these are all the reasons why I love and loathe social media. And it’s why I’m letting go of my personal social media accounts.

Don’t get too excited. My personal accounts will disappear but social media’s sticky tentacles will still have me in a stranglehold. Where would I be without social media as a marketing tool? I use Facebook to advertise my classes and to showcase the personal essays that land on your feed in ever dwindling frequency. Without Facebook I’d be posting fliers on telephone poles and sending long holiday letters to the few dozen folks who subscribe to Practically Twisted. In other words, I’m like the guy who lists all the many ways his life has improved since giving up Facebook but still has an Instagram account for his dog. 

And that’s just it. On the surface, Facebook seems innocent enough. After all, who doesn’t want to know what the girl who sat behind you in seventh grade algebra is doing these days? Before Facebook all we could do was guess. Before Facebook, I hoped that at least one of the kids who tormented me in 1972 – when my name was Robbie Myers (long story and no, I’m not in a witness protection program) – would find my name on the masthead of Elle Magazine and believe I was the editor. Without Facebook, how would they know that although we share the same name and even the same birth month, that I am not the Robbie Myers that found success in New York City’s high powered publishing world?

Other social media platforms don’t vex me the same way Facebook does. I’ve opened and then abandoned countless Twitter accounts and don’t really get the point of Instagram. So leaving them behind is painless.

But Facebook? Loosening Facebook’s grip is no easy feat. After all, in the beginning Facebook was the gentle and omniscient narrator of our lives. We were having too much fun to see the truth – Facebook is a beast of a business. Its primary purpose is to succeed and success is not measured in how many virtual friends you have. It’s measured in money.

But, like many things in our twenty-first century lives, it’s complicated. 

At first it was the time-suck that got to me. And then it was the sense of false connection we feel for people we’ve never met and the underlying loneliness that false connection hides. Pile on that the trolls, the bots and the anonymity that fuels mean-spirited commentary. Finally, the evil that was live-streamed from New Zealand. Offering infamy to twisted souls shouldn’t be as simple as giving them access to a camera, an internet connection and the ability to live-stream (of course, the counter argument to that is Philando Castile’s brave partner, who live-streamed his murder by a police officer in Minneapolis. Who would we have believed if she hadn’t had access to her phone and Facebook’s platform?). 

It’s complicated. I knew it would be. But social media is making me sick. It steals my time, makes me angry and breaks my heart. And so, anyone who needs me knows where to find me. And if you don’t know where to find me, you don’t need me.

 


Are You Listening?

thI was uncomfortable with the idea of my turning sixty, which is going to happen in late November.  

I have friends who are older than me who thought they were laughing with me when they saw what they considered feigned distress. “You’re a child,” they said. “Just wait until you’re my age.” 

I have friends who are younger and, with what I read as a patronizing tilt of the head told me, “You look great. Besides, age is just a number” (I’ll get back to them when they’re approaching sixty to find out if they’ve changed their opinion).

They believed they were offering support but I didn’t feel heard. Their words invalidated my complicated relationship with aging and I felt myself becoming invisible.

And then, one day after class, a student said to me, “You’re right – turning sixty is a big deal.” The moment those words landed in my heart I reclaimed my focus and returned to being sharp edged and filled with color. 

Someone listened not just to the words coming out of my mouth but the meaning behind those words. Someone heard me and I was no longer alone. It was time to celebrate.

Hearing is easy. Listening? Not so much. How often do we formulate a response before the person with whom we’re engaged in conversation has completed their thought? How often do we try to finish someone else’s sentence? How often do we interrupt?

I’m guilty of all three more often than not. What about you?

Listening can be part of our daily practice. We hear in a rush. When we listen we are mindful. 

Give this a try. Find a friend and a timer. Pour a cup of tea. And then choose someone to go first, set the timer for five minutes and begin. One person will talk about anything or nothing, the other will listen. No questions, no comments, no chatter in the mind. Just pure listening. When the five minutes are over, switch roles and practice again.


Two Friends, a Promise and Arbitrary Kindnes

I’m drawn to the odd duck. Maybe it’s because, as much as I’d like to believe the opposite is true, I am one.

My friend Forrest is a bit of an odd duck. An odd duck who squeezes as much life out of every single second of existence as he can. It’s as if he’s trying to live as many lifetimes as possible in this one go-around.

Forrest is a green contractor. And he’s just opened a new store, Inhabiture, which features home furnishings created from re-claimed materials. You can visit his website here. But that’s not why I wanted to write about him.

When he was a kid Forrest and his best friend promised to meet each week to discuss their intentions for the following seven days. How they planned to travel through the world. What they needed to see happen in order to move their lives forward. They didn’t always achieve their goals – life has a way of interrupting even the best of intentions – but they kept their promise and continued to touch base every seven days. They remained accountable to one another. And when one found success, they both celebrated. If one hit a patch of rough, they knew where to find support.

And along the way, they came up with an idea – the People’s Revolution for Arbitrary Kindness. As the small print at the bottom of the flier says, “The People’s Revolution for Arbitrary Kindness is a rag-tag band of folks who want to do good for people in need directly, without trying to convert people to any belief. We are all volunteers and have no overhead expenses.”

For several years they’ve collected clothes and blankets, distributing them to the needy on San Francisco’s streets. This year for the first time, cash donations are being accepted and are tax-deductible. Also, for the first time, People’s Revolution are assembling toiletry kits for distribution.

If you want to donate, or would like to volunteer, here’s what you need to know:

  1. Monetary Donations: $100 can provide more than 15 people in need with a toiletry bag of essential goods. Please make checks out to Woodside/Portola Valley Rotary Foundation and mail to Ian Schmidt at Trimergence, 71 Stevenson Place, Suite 1430, San Francisco, California 94105
  2. Slightly Used Clothes and Blankets: Donations should be delivered by November 2nd to Trimergence in San Francisco or Inhabiture Home, 248 Hamilton Avenue, Palo Alto, California
  3. Your Time: Volunteers are needed to assemble toiletry kits and to distribute clothes and kits at 10:00 AM on Saturday, November 3rd. If you’re interested in volunteering you can email Forrest at forrest@inhabiture.com.

Isn’t it amazing what two friends and a simple promise can bring to the world?


Home Sweet Home

House sitting is a little bit like grand parenting (not that I have any experience being a grandparent, but I can imagine).  What I mean is that I move into a home, look after the fine furnishings, the houseplants and the mail.  I lovingly care for the cat, dog, or Koi in question and then – after a few days or a few weeks – I hand it all back.

House sitting is also a bit discombobulating.

Returning home over the weekend after my last extended gig, I believe I felt as disoriented and jet-lagged as the homeowners.  I had grown accustomed to their lovely house, the big kitchen, and the shaded deck where I shared meals with my friend.

It became very comfortable.

And now I’m back in the apartment that I am of course very grateful for but I have to admit – it feels pretty small.  It’s taken me a few days to figure out how to live in the space again.  I can’t remember where my “things” are, and I can’t figure out why I have so much stuff crammed into 200-square-feet.

It’s time to clear the decks.

I want to peel back the layers of detritus – the physical and psychic debris that litters my path and slows the journey.

 

 

 

 


A Tale of Two Families…and Me

Tom and Thea, 2009

In the autumn of 1939 there was a heat wave in Northern California.  By September temperatures approached one hundred degrees. As the Bay Area sweltered, Hitler invaded Poland, New York prepared to play Cincinnati in the World Series and the minimum wage rose to thirty cents per hour.

Bill and Tom, beginning their freshman year at UC Berkeley, met for the first time that autumn on board a train traveling across the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge.  Trains did that in 1939.

Seventy-three years later and the boys in that train car are now old men. Bill is tall and shockingly handsome for a man of ninety. Tom walks slowly, but his Irish/Italian eyes still sparkle.  Especially when the stock market is bullish.   He’ll be ninety-one this next May.

Tom and Bill teased one another, as young men will, when each fell in love.  While Tom wooed a beautiful girl on a picnic in the Berkeley hills Bill found love in San Francisco when he met a feisty blond.  The sweethearts married, and Tom’s brunette bride Isabel became best friends with Bill’s gorgeous Bobbie.

Both men served during World War II. Tom was an officer on a Navy tanker in the Pacific.  Bill was an infantryman in Europe who landed in Normandy not long after D-Day and entered Dachau two weeks after it was liberated.

After the war, their homes, one a shiny Eichler the other a rambling Craftsman and only a few miles apart, quickly filled with children. At last count there were eighteen grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

From time to time the families gather together for simple meals of crusty bread, Bobbie’s cherished homemade soup and bottles of Yellow Tail wine.  They gather to celebrate.  But when Bobbie and Bill lost their eldest and Tom lost his beloved Isabel, they gathered to mourn.

All from a friendship that began when two boys headed to Berkeley on the same train in 1939.

I met the couples and their children four years ago, before Isabel passed.  I was astounded their friendship could be measured in decades as my close friendships are only measured in years.  In fact, I don’t know that there will ever be another time when friendships begun by happenstance will endure seven decades of war, love, marriages, births, and deaths.

Of course I’m grateful to be a few mouse clicks from friends I knew in high school.  But that was almost forty years ago.  What do we have in common except memories?

I look at the lives of these two couples and all the good people they’ve brought into the world and I’m nostalgic for a way of life I’ve never experienced.  Our lives move artificially fast and in the frenzied wake intimacy borne of a shared meal or a family gathering is lost. We flit around the world and we forget people.  We forget moments.  We forget.

So strong is my craving for connection and the setting down of roots that I almost lost a friendship this week.  For me, it would have been a horrible loss.  The lesson I’ve learned from the past few days is that clinging to your idea of something is like trying to hold on to smoke.  It’s impossible.  I will never have the life-long love of Bobbie and Bill, Tom and Isabel.  I won’t have children, or grandchildren.  But there’s no doubt I will have love, connection and intimacy.  It’s possible I already do, but I’m too attached to what I believe those words should mean that I haven’t noticed they’ve been re-defined for the twenty-first century.