I turned what I call "legal twice!" early this month.
If I hadn't posted six times in April (every one of which is the written equivalent, I think, of approximately a boxing match), I wouldn't be as curious as to "what May brings," because really, life isn't organized by months; months are organized by life.
On my birthday, I sent out acceptances for my MACAA panel called "Teaching Cruel and Abject Art," which was stimulated by my career-need (not mine, but my career's, and more about that later, how those aren't really two things, but also doesn't settle "one into another" either), and then at night went to the art school's Honors and Awards ceremony and gave a bunch of undergraduates some scholarship money. It feels good to give stuff to people, like the old Zen story about wanting to give the thief the moon.
MACAA is in Detroit this year; I've never been to Detroit. One thinks of the Michigan ashtanga scene and also the always-funny line, "Take him to Detroit!"
Kathryn Budig was in town the first weekend of May, also. I missed Friday night but figured I'd go to "spice up your practice" and "flight of the yogi" on Saturday, and of course, I was expecting "here's your challenge posture, in steps, la la la" the same way that Kathryn does all of that online for Yoga Journal and such.
We could create two Kathryns: there's the (if you will) real person, who bears that name, and then also the "E-Kathryn," the internet personality (and Toe Sox model) who apparently has (is? has?) that same bodymind. All of us who have enough internet "personality" will split this way. This adds some teeth to the recent NYT (was it?) article about how social media and internetting have replaced the depth of "actual" conversation with a broader shallowness of half-conversation, little text-ese shorthands for conversation which prevents us from having deep connection. My original take on that article was that it didn't account for the ways in which internet personas come with a degree of anonymity which can allow for greater potential to break through privation (i.e., you can say stuff online that you can't in public--any chat room or 4chan is a great demonstration of this). But with greater "reality" (in the way that Skype has a greater reality index than, say, AIM messenger), we return to greater shyness, shallowness, as if the humanity of another person is now a screen, a tendency to "screen" (that is, digitize) our own fleshed interactions, but isn't that a question that's been around since the 80s, also? David Cronenberg certainly asked it in Videodrome, and J. G. Ballard (and Cronenberg again) in Crash.
So what was I expecting? I was expecting some "tricks" with jumping about and inverting and fancy entrances and exits and then a yoga rock star doing "greatest hits" for her likely-mostly-female groupies, you know? I stereotyped in my expectations. E-Kathryn very much brings that out, and of course it is not E-Kathryn herself that does this, but the culture of E-Kathrynization. WHO is she? No one can tell from just E-Kathryn, or put another way, there is a big grey area between Kathryn and E-Kathryn. Or, on this blog, you're certainly getting me, but if you know me, you know that this blog is a stripe of me, it's very much a frequency of me that I settle into in writing, and that when I turned "art historian" a couple months ago here, this blog opened more of my life and it opened more of my personality, my "e-me" became larger, deeper. Not how most "e-personalization" is supposed to work, eh? But I notice that when I meet people in real life who read here, I'm immediately terribly shy (well, unless I've corresponded with you for EVER in which case we're already close enough to communicate, right?), because "I" in real life am really NOT just the person who writes here, and I'm certainly not looking to establish THIS persona as a first impression, which is just to say that when I'm writing, I'm never thinking of people that I will meet in real life. I'm not looking at my readers as real people, and in fact, I'm not looking at my readers at all; I'm imagining readers (I love audience) so that I can write in this dynamic. It's not that I don't want people to read or don't care what they say; it's much more that I can't write to REAL people like this, it's too much at once. But if I imagine an audience that reads but at the same time doesn't know me, I can be much more honest.
Or readers who will know that this is a frequency of me, one level, and who know better than to think that's all of me or that I wear all of this up front. You need to be careful with me in real life if you first meet me here.
Kathryn was, predictably, much more real than she is online. The most obvious thing ever. And as Saturday proceeded, she got passionate with us about the yoga in ways that weren't "in the box"; she did not process a set workshop for us and just lead us through the paces (whereas online she is totally within the box). She admitted injury; she took questions and spent time with them instead of going to the next sequence; she took pose requests and didn't get to all of them. She taught with tangents and stories, much the way I do. And she lived deep in her ashtanga history, early on telling us that the "liftup" (Lolasana pick-up, Swenson-style) wasn't going to come easily and that she learned it in years of ashtanga practice. She did not master and control the room, but established chewy interpersonal energy, got into our space, invited us into her space. So completely different from her online persona, untouchable, boxed, packaged. I don't know how she deals with that online persona if THIS is who she "really" is.
In short, she was very alive and delightfully full of LA sunshine.
So I signed up for Sunday's "backbends" also.
Quickly, it was May 2007 when I got the ashtanga police memo to drop back and stand up. May 2008 I took a pack of notes on Kino's teaching of backbends. July 2008 I got put in my first Kapo-to-toes ever, and was basically taught how to drop back on my tiptoes (thank you, thank you, Matthew Sweeney, and more about you in a minute). August 2008 I got to try it out in one of Boston's ashtanga rooms for four days, and it worked. September 2008 my household got pregnant and that's another story. Somewhere in 2009 I taught myself to stand up (those infamous "throw face toward garage!" posts) and somehow in the first four months of 2010 I was walking my Kapotasana in to the arches of my feet.
Then I overcranked the right AC joint and couldn't even grab a foot in Dhanurasana for a while and then practice got spotty while I rearranged priorities, and then I gave up all the Intermediate and then I didn't practice much for these first four months of 2012. My backbends in Austin in June 2011 weren't spectacular; 2010's were easily as bendy and as deep. So there's really been no backbending breakthrough other than that I can almost always drop-and-stand, even after as little as just standing series. So maybe I have achieved depth rather than breadth.
Kathryn said to me Saturday afternoon that we'd do "the poses no one teaches," like King Dancer and the King Pigeon, lots of one-foot backbends and lots of wheels. Sounded tasty. I spent the whole night wondering about Kapotasana. To approach it, request it? See if there's anything in it? Or is that pose-grabbing? What to do, what to do? I didn't request it, didn't even try it on Sunday.
We did a lot of splits after a brief thoracic/shoulder warmup. KB says that splits are a great warmup for backbends. We did them on the floor and up against the wall (imagine pressing pelvis toward a wall rather than the floor). It was pretty freaking intense. We learned what KB calls "goddess hand," which is sending the elbow down and the palm of the hand up. THIS is what that tricky rotation which allows for the Natarajasana/Eka Pada Rajakapotasana grab is all about. Has to be elbow *down* and *forward* to send the hand back, NOT elbow *up* and *back* (that's fine for an elbow hook of the foot, but it won't work for rotating in the shoulder). I know that makes no sense, but imagine that you're a server and you're balancing a tray of food on your palm. Or that you're a goddess in some Renaissance painting. That position. That's what you use to reach back.
Let's use Eka Pada Raja Kapo as an example: reach back for the foot and try to grab the NAIL SIDE of the little toe. To do this, I often turn the elbow AWAY from me and the toes AWAY from me also. Then CREEP toward the big toe; this tightens the "loop" that connects shoulder to foot, and only when you have the big toe, do you then swing the elbow and foot IN AND UP and, as KB put it, "you try to put your bicep on your face."
Doing this, I got my first head-to-foot EPRK ever, with left hand on left foot. Couldn't quite get the height on the right side, but did get the hookup.
We did a lunge version of this also (Iyengar and KB call it "Eka Pada Raja Kapo II" and Matthew Sweeney includes it in his "Baddha Krama" if you have his Vinyasa Krama book) which was absolutely stars-in-my-vision "come to Jesus" intense in the psoas. This was done strapped; same with Natarajasana. KB's key advice in the standing dancer was to keep moving the chest UP, not forward, and to squeeze the elbows in; don't let them swing out in backbends.
Then as promised, lots of wheels. Toes in, elbows in. Solid advice also given by many teachers, and same as I tell my own students. Someone had requested an intro to dropbacks and someone else had requested an intro to "flip-flops" which was an amusing way to put "tic-tocs" so we got those too.
KB on dropping back is "drop back to a wall, holding the hang as long as possible," which is also very Matthew Sweeney. Again, good to echo things I've heard before. I like reinforcement versus reinvention where backbending is taught.
On tic-tocs, KB's method was this: press to a wheel, toes against wall. Step feet up wall, and press both arms and legs straight (half-handstand backbend, technically). Swing one leg up, bend the other knee and jump up and over. Risky. I tried this on Monday night, and buckled in the arms and fell onto the back of my head, but it was fine. The directional disorientation is pretty substantial. Anyway, if that works, you land in a downdog/forward bend sort of position. From there, jump back up, flop over and land feet on wall (as with all things, the softer the landing, the greater the control). Walk down to your wheel. Repeat as necessary.
That's so heading out to the side of my garage this summer.
Two things I said there'd be more on: first, I've paid for a Matthew Sweeney immersion (6 days) in North Carolina in July. Same place he's been doing month-longs the past few summers. Meditation and practice, 9 am to noon, then "subtle body" 2-5pm each day. Lots of meditation stuff, inner work stuff. Very attractive now.
Second, this business of opposites: let's use my interests and my career as the laboratory example. I'm running a panel based on my recent Abject Art course (and I find it funny that some of the Google searches that land people here now include "abject art", heehee). This is in large part because my "third year review" (halfway to promotion, which in my case will only ever be Senior Lecturer, not tenure of any kind) wants me to publish on teaching, to make a "public presence" on teaching. It turns out that what they mean is publication, not conferencing, but whatever, I'm conferencing because I misunderstood and because this is, after all, part of setting up a public presence.
But it crisscrossses borders that had been important to me: when I'm teaching something I really like, such as Dada to Ab Ex or Abject Art, my classroom is a SACRED SPACE. The community I try to found in there is a series of ritual interactions, interpersonal modes, a whole instruction in how to relate to the universe, to your own affects, to uncertain and in some cases massive interpersonal challenges: don't just put the art in your head, put the art IN YOUR BODY, really FEEL this stuff in the viscera. And then become it, take it to the hallways, the relationships, the filling of your car with gasoline, take it everywhere. "The cop who pulls you over is a Dada cop, and he gives you a Dada ticket."
So for that ritualism to suddenly "go public" in a disembodied intellectual space like a conference in a foreign city....is that OKAY? See how it feels almost like being colonized, like being e-bodied as I said above about KB? See how it could be seen as calling for me to fetishize my own performance, to become a marginal on a stage and a jaguar in a cage? And to do that to MYSELF? For promotion? See what ugliness can be excavated about that?
The relationship stuff I was posting throughout April is exactly this same dynamic, because one of the chief bureaucrats at the school who is imposing all of this promotion-need on me is the woman I live with, so this overlays very cleanly and with identical panic: wait, aren't we sacrificing our personal and our ritual, in order to have our public and our bureaucratic? (seventh series doesn't quite fit that mold; this is strictly about career versus the "personal" and I'm intentionally setting those two up as opposites; alchemy coming here in a minute)
On Monday there was what is politely called a "faculty retreat" and is more accurately an all-day meeting. Obviously, there can be no interpersonal energy at such a thing, right? There were in-jokes, "blue sky-ing" comments (brainstorming) and laughter, as well as the regular depressing news about income and a little bit of contentious argument about how to attract and keep more students, but the whole thing was interpersonal, energy levels changing, rising, spiking sinking and dynamically moving. It had me thinking of Gilles Deleuze writing about Francis Bacon: the blank canvas is full of cliches, and you have to "break" figuration before you can paint a Figure. When people in their 40s get drunk at parties, they still remain the drunks they were in their mid-20s. Parties become cliche, consumption becomes cliche. But meetings where there is ACTUAL "blue-skying" (I love that term; it's so ridiculous, yet it works) will create reinvention, not just of the terms of whatever subject is being discussed, but reinvention potentially of the SPACE itself, a dynamic energy is created which of course isn't given a LOT of roaming room, but becomes just a little loose and fast, just a little "deterritorialized," to use Deleuze and Guattarian language. Or in Foucault's notion of power, where power is not centralized but lies about everywhere, potential and kinetic, throughout the entire social field.
My own classrooms are all about this: I know what the "cliches" of classroom instruction are, and I load them with affect, use them as toys, foreground them as things that we could do and then change them affectively, so that in a way, my classes do "experiential learning" with the very SPACE of education itself, the very ENERGY of it.
Or as John Berger once wrote about relationships, "You want to appear everywhere; this is not about some acquisition of positions and other fetishes, it is about seeing yourselves reflected everywhere in the social." Words closely to that effect, from a book I reviewed (again as part of my service requirements for school) called Revisioning Europe: the Films of Alain Tanner and John Berger.
Fill everything with energy; be reflected everywhere. The desire to be a cosmos. Or in Deleuzian language, to roam the Body Without Organs, where you can as easily see a Salvador Dali-esque giant ear, as a volcano, as a bicycle, as a hole that opens up to a massive cave full of coffee mugs. Whatever, man. It's all there.
It's too simple (uninterestingly simple, in fact) to say, "Well you just get a job doing what you love." That doesn't even make any sense. It keeps "I" and "job" and it makes them separate by definition and then tries in this flimsy way to parallel them by overlaying one with the other. No non-duality is there, no alchemy at all.
Instead let's do this: where is interpersonal energy the highest, not just the most manageable, but literally the highest, the most anarchic, the most obvious? Where does it pick us up and take us out to sea? I'd say the answer is probably in flow states: when climbing walls, when high on whatever your high of choice is, when in bed with someone delicious. States like that. Now, where is interpersonal energy the most regimented, the most (what Deleuze fans would call) stratified, the most channelled and contained? The office, yes? The cubicle, yes? The public transportation? The job meeting? Even the playground? A Situationist critique of space, psychogeography: public spaces are closed, right? Not closed as in un-open, but with POSSIBILITIES foreclosed by their very arrangement, yes? Or to add a yoga example, your set sequence doesn't allow for PLAY, right?
Then how did the regulars in public transport in Austin last summer crack jokes? How then does my classroom do what it does? Why is there a chapter in the Affect Theory Reader specifically about life in the cubicle? It is because liveliness goes wherever things that are alive go. And chased far and hard enough (which can be done just by sitting still), any stable idea can fall to colorful pieces and dance around.
Then the directed-and-stratified and the flowing-and-delicious don't become opposites, and as long as we hold the in between (which can't be held, and is paradoxical, but those are the only things worth holding, yes?) we understand properly how reality works, I think.
I said earlier I would talk about the yoga here, and of course, tangents took over.
But about tightness: I tend to lose hip openers (and now, forward folds with differently positioned legs, like Janu A and Mari B) when I crank up the backbends, and my new idea after Monday night's practice is: no more "this/that," "my/your," no more of that language. Live instead in "What is happening?" Maybe the answer is, "This posture is very intense, this posture is not as deep as it used to be, this posture has run away" and then those answers can be finessed also. One learns about anatomy, about movement, about the annamaya kosha, about the pranamaya kosha, about the manomaya kosha, and answers, "I'm strung out about this emotional situation, and I'm slacking on rotating the femur bone internally."
Because what's happening is only on a very simple level about "the pose is hard."
It isn't hard to live like this, and it doesn't necessitate being the guy in the San Fran bus who pulled himself into a lotus upside down on the ceiling of the vehicle. But it's also impossible to explain: if I say, "you take agency instead of letting life do you" then it sounds like ego, but if I say, "you just surrender a bit and then manage the energy" it sounds like some relativistic go-with-the-flow hippie nonsense.
Find a way to manage energy. All is coming. Doesn't matter how or where you find a way to manage energy; soon it becomes all you want to do, all you see or sense anywhere.