Pandemic Yoga

The studios shut down mid-March. In the beginning of April, a couple of friends asked if I’d be willing to guide a socially-distanced outdoor yoga class for them, so I started teaching one or two mornings a week in the park near my house. It was amazing to be together in that way, at that time– such a relief. Outdoor yoga is different. The earth beneath us is uneven, sometimes sloped. There’s noise, wind, sun, rain. One time the park sprinkler system drenched us. Practicing under the canopy of an enormous live oak, I got shat on by a bird.

My friends were generous. Paula, married to a baker, supplied me with an abundance of artisan bread. Giant salty pretzels. An accomplished grill chef, she brought me a jar of smoked olives, a rack of ribs. Clayton gave me a medallion of St. Roch, the patron saint of plagues.

It felt primal, post-capitalist, both medieval and futuristic to be compensated thus. A book of poetry from one friend, a fern from another. Bags of vegetables from Michele’s farm.

Things began to change. Summer came. The world contracted, expanded, contracted, expanded. We kept going. My friends invited other friends. Neighbors noticed us with our mats and asked if they could join our practice. I reached out to a few of my favorite students from the old studio who live nearby, and some of them came too. People traveled, tentative and defiant, and missed a week or month of classes. They brought me back tokens: an ancient fossil from Lake Michigan, a bottle of Colorado wine. Someone got COVID and had to quarantine. Annette quit smoking. Birthdays came and went.

Autumn arrived. Winter looms. The election happened. Andy, who won the position of judge, joined our practice. We’ve gotten into a routine of Mondays early and Thursdays later. People mostly Venmo me cash for the classes for the classes now. I appreciate it very much, almost as much as I appreciate their presence, the opportunity to be together in a safe way, sharing energy, moving energy through our bodies.

I want to remember the charm of the barter. I’ll make a list to help me do that. I’ll forgot something, of that I’m certain, but here’s a stab.

A pedant of St. Roch/a bottle of wine/so many loaves of incredible bread/smoked olives/a rack of rib/giant pretzels/gift card for fancy cheese/Petosky stone/cash paper clipped to a poem/a Pema Chodron book/a hanging plant/a cranial sacral therapy session/a seven-day cleanse/a hakomi-acupuncture session/a gift card for Madewell jeans/a volume of Marie Howe poems/two squares of THC-laced chocolates/a nonfiction book called Why Fish Don’t Exist/tincture for immunity/bags of farm vegetables/a healing energy bracelet/a huge pile of dried sage/ love/ friendship/ money/ gratitude/support/a reason to leave my house/a purpose/companionship/clarity/hope

What if

instead of the ugly sign prohibiting swimming or climbing on the enticing rocks that make a very walkable bridge across the lagoon, there was no sign? If someone climbs on the rocks, who cares? Instead of that sign marring the scene what if there was an entity that noticed if someone entered the water, whether from the rocks or from the grassy shore, and loudly announced that there was a person in water?

If the person needed help, the voice (think Irish female Siri if you’d like) would make anyone present aware of that. If the person climbed out the voice would thank them then go quiet. If the person stayed in the water (which in this case isn’t terribly deep, though we all know it only takes four inches of water in which to drown unconscious face down) perhaps the voice could ascertain the weight of the person– or object, maybe there’s a way for the voice to tell if the thing in water is alive or not– using displacement (eureka!), and a few different scenarios could play out.

If the (living) object was under a certain weight, an alarm could sound. 911 could be called, by the voice. But the tableau to which I’m partial is one where the voice calmly explains to the bather that this is not water to bathe in. As a retention pond, its purpose is to drain and filter stormwater. The water in the pond likely contains harmful bacteria, toxic chemicals and possibly parasites. Please get out of the water now to preserve your health.

Now the problem becomes, what if the person has no health worth preserving?

The sign exists in the first place not to protect the public from drowning or becoming infested with e. coli, but to protect the property developer from lawsuits.

What might a post-capitalist legal system look like?

I Confess to Being Flippant About Bruce Jenner (though I’m not planning to apologize).

Over their usual beige dinners, my boyfriend’s teenage daughters were having an inane conversation about Kim Kardashian. Is there any other kind?

“Do you know who the original famous Kardashian was?” Chris, their father, asked no one in particular.

“Kim?” said one of the girls.

“Lawyer for Nixon?” I said.

“Lawyer for OJ,” Chris said.

“It’s his ex-wife who married Bruce Jenner, right?”

“Caitlyn Jenner,” the girls corrected me.

“Right! That happened. It’s so funny– back to the 70’s when he was considered an icon of masculinity. His picture was on Wheaties boxes!”.

“You’re supposed to say ‘her” picture,” I was told. “That’s the correct way to refer to a transgendered person even before they became outwardly trans”.

“Fine, but in the case of Bruce Jenner, whose photograph was on Wheaties boxes as a symbol of rugged masculinity, I’m going to make an exception,” I said.

I was being flippant, sitting at the counter with a bowl of green Thai fish curry that I’d made earlier. They took offense and started to clear the room.

It drives me nuts when they do that conflict-avoidance bullshit, so I got flippant about that, too: “Ooooooh a minor conflict, oh no, better run.”

Chris spent 45 minutes upstairs with them unpacking all of that while I finished my curry then penitently scrubbed the kitchen clean. The last thing Chris needs is more drama or another tangle to unravel. To my relief, when he came back down, he was amused rather than annoyed. We leashed up the dog for a long walk through the cool night and talked about other things.

Fish Publishing’s Lockdown Prize

Pleased to be included as a finalist. A little message in a bottle from Central TX floating all the way up to Dublin!

Recognition

By Abigail King

I ran into a friend at the fencing supply, a signmaker.   We crossed paths, masked, several times before realizing we didn’t just resemble ourselves, it was actually us.  

“It’s the perfect profession for a pandemic,” he said, with what these days passes for exuberance.  “I work alone, outdoors, up high.”

How many months, years will it be before I stop visualizing respiratory particles emanating from every open mouth?  Their trajectories, the pull of gravity upon them. 

The figs on our neighborhood trees are small, hard, green but changing fast.  What will the world be like the moment they ripen?   

About Ray

I suppose this project can’t be complete without a mention of the nudist at the Super 8 Motel. I was picking up an order of a Cobb salad from a sports bar on Anderson Lane. “GrubHub for Ray?” I said when I arrived.

“Ray,” the young man at the cash register snickered. This was early in my Running days, very few people wore masks, and delivery drivers were still entering restaurants to retrieve orders.

“Ray,” the young woman next him, his co-worker, repeated with a sigh.

I raised my eyebrows. “What’s the deal?”

“He’s…. a character,” the woman said.

“He always places the same order,” the guy explained, “and he never specifies no croutons/extra cheese, and he always throws a fit when the order arrives and yells at the delivery person and calls us to complain.”

“Ah!’ I said, “but you’re on to him now. So, no croutons, extra cheese, correct?”

They confirmed this. I knew the drill; I texted the customer: I’ve got your salad, no croutons, extra cheese and I’m heading your way- anything else you need? He texted back: OK thank you sounds good.

“Good luck,” the sports bar kids told me.

“I’m not afraid of anybody,” I told them back.

The sky grew dark as I drove to the motel by the side of the highway. This would be my last Run of the day. I was feeling tired but peaceful; I had made pretty good money and was still in that early phase of Running where I was delighted at having managed to finagle an income of any sort.

I’d passed the Super 8 plenty of times but obviously never had reason to stop there. I parked, checked my phone for his room number, climbed the outdoor steps to the second floor and knocked on his door.

The door cracked open, and a short skinny nervous guy with a very long ponytail, maybe around 40, peeked out suspiciously. “Hi Ray,” I said, handing him the bag from arm’s length. “Here’s your salad. Enjoy!”

“Wait,” he commanded. ” I need to check to make sure the order is correct.”

“It’s as you requested,” I said pleasantly, stepping backwards from the door to social distance as he turned into his room, door ajar. I could hear the crinkle of the bag as he opened it.

“I would have liked more cheese,” he called to me. His head returned to the door crack. He looked me over. “Still, you did better than most.” The door opened more. “How do you feel about nudity?” he asked, standing in the doorway stark naked.

I offered a benign smile. “I see you, fellow human,” I told him, then gave a nod and headed back to my car.

On the way home I phoned the sports bar. “Listen,” I said, “I’m fifty and couldn’t care less about being flashed but you can not let people step into that situation. It could have been really damaging and traumatic, even dangerous, for someone else. When you said he’s a ‘character’ were you aware that he answers the door naked?”

It was the female employee who’d picked up the phone. She swore ignorance and promised to follow up with the company so he couldn’t get orders from them again.

Of course, there’s no shortage of other sports bars in Austin…. or other delivery services.

As I pulled up to my house I was looking forward to telling the story to my boyfriend and kids; it’s crazy out there! Aren’t people wild?

But something was going on, a movie whose soundtrack makes me crazy or some interpersonal drama, I no longer remember. Something that made me slip off to walk the dog alone and ponder without discussion the mysteries of humans, others as well as myself.

Pause Button

Two weeks ago I Ran Favors for the last time. That Saturday evening, over and over, I declined “offers” to pick up and deliver orders of Chick-Fil-A to far-flung addresses around the city. I can’t do it, I decided, even as my “acceptance rate” dropped alarming in the Favor App. I’m not doing that anymore. Finally an offer popped up that I could accept: I brought a small, reasonable load of groceries to an elderly man who sat at a table on his screened porch, as I arrived, writing longhand on a legal pad. I placed the bags on his door step. “Here you go,” I called out to him. He glanced up briefly, met my eyes, gave a brief wave. What am I doing with my life, I thought, driving away from his house. I pulled into a parking lot and watched the sunset.

My dignity was beginning to suffer. I will stop this madness, I decided, to make room for something new. I want to be writing in my own notebook on my own porch, not spending as much in gas as I’m earning driving my car around mindlessly, endlessly, waiting in lines, opening and closing the door, turning on and off the engine. On and off and on and off and on and off again. What am I going to do with my one wild and precious life? Not this.

At least I will pause this, take time to write about the experience, and see what happens.

Runner Diary, May 15

It’s going to rain tomorrow, so today I toggled my vehicle from car to bike and set out southward. Even with no Favor offers, it would be good to get out on my bike.

I received one, just as I was giving up and thinking about just biking around the lake then home. A woman named Natasha wanted a certain type of bubble tea from a place on Guadalupe Street across from UT campus, The Drag, they call it.

Cost of product: $6.20, Tip: $7.10.

Later, in my car running GrubHub orders, I drove past the UT baseball stadium, bringing Thai food to a gentrified house. It was perhaps exactly two years ago that I’d been in that stadium, my only time there, taking my younger son to a baseball game. It might have been my birthday. It was late May and a very busy time for the baseball team, the end of their season. My son badly wanted to catch a ball and was well-equipped with a mitt, decent seats, and my patient, baseball-appreciating boyfriend offering advice.

Right before or right after that night I got terribly sick, for the first time in eons. It was clearly the flu, though confusing to have in May, plus I’d gotten a flu shot the winter before. In other words, I defied the odds. I lay in bed for a week, begging for limewater and chunks of pineapple. We had just moved into the house together; boxes filled rooms. Chris patiently moved them unpacked what he could, hung paintings, minded my children and brought me pineapple and specialty liquids.

Driving back through downtown today after that delivery I noticed, again, the tent compounds, some lining busy meridians, completely exposed to the elements, others with a modicum of protection due to their locations beneath overpasses. In a few hours, I knew, a storm was coming, and these tents and tent compounds looked ill-equipped to handle strong winds and torrential rain.

I wanted to warn them, tie your stuff down, move to higher ground if you can, find shelter if you’re able to. As if they didn’t know (maybe they didn’t, probably they did), but the roll of dice that would land my vehicle in the correct lane at at red light or with no cars behind me never happened. And the GrubHub app was tracking my location, noting my progress. Clients weren’t paying for detours.

I was cruising East on Cesar Chavez to pick up food from an Indian restaurant I’d never been to– maybe it’ll be a find, I thought. There was a skinny old man at the corner with a walking stick and a cardboard sign, and I was finally in the left lane, two cars back from the corner, and the light was red.

Do you like oranges, I called through my mask as I waved him over. I had three clementines in my left hand sticking out my driver’s side window.

He came over. “They’re my wife’s favorite,” said.

“OK, hang on,” I told him, scrambling to put the clementines back in their mesh sack so I could give him the whole bag.

He took it gracefully as I called out, my best to your wife. The light changed. As I drove on to the next place, I acknowledged that it was he doing me the favor.

Today

Today for the first time I didn’t wash my face; I simply never got around to it. A rainy, cool and gloomy day– I wasn’t planning to run any Favors today, but a personal errand took me to a center of commerce and I thought, why not, I’m out anyway, let’s see what they’ve got.

The first offer was insanely inconvenient. So crazy that I was tempted to accept it because it seemed like a game. Drive a long way to a distant Starbucks, acquire one single beverage, and deliver it to an address even further afield? 30 miles of driving to deliver one drink? Iced sweet tea?? Maybe this would be Easter Egg that hatches the mystical $1000 tip, I wondered? After a moment of consideration, I declined.

Favor disapproves when you decline an offer. They let you know by activating the “Acceptance Rate” feature, which only gets active when you say no thanks; mine went down.

But another Favor popped up immediately, a shopping trip to a nearby HEB. After scanning the list of desired items, I accepted.

It was a small order. Some cheese/milk/eggs, some kitty litter, a few cleaning supplies. From the freezer aisle, downscale ice cream and a bag of tater tots.

The delivery address was tony, but in Austin you can still sometimes find an old dump of a place in an expensive neighborhood surrounded by grand houses. That’s what I expected.

The house, when I got there, was not what I expected. A high-gloss, recent and pricey build. A “for sale” in the front yard.

“You have a cool house,” I told the attractive older man who came to the door after I’d rung the fancy doorbell with my sleeved elbow.

“It’s for sale if you want to buy it!” he responded gamely.

Driving there and home, I scanned my podcast options. Just out today, the latest New Yorker Fiction podcast (issue date of May 18th, how exactly does that work?). A Jonathan Lethem story. I pressed play. I like his work but the speed and volume of his output makes me nervous. He’s prolific in a way that stresses me out.

Looking at the sky, such an incredible sky, I voice- recorded my poem.

I am spontaneously healed.

I am invisible. I can fly.

If I wanted to, I could see through your clothes to your underwear, but I don’t.

I don’t care about anything. I care about everything.

My headlights are on and off at the same time.

My brake lights are flashing.

My windshield wipers move not together

like synchronized swimmers, but

individually, each expressing itself in its own way.

I’m dreaming. It’s a lucid dream, so I can control what happens.

I could decide to wake up, but I’m choosing to stay asleep.

The Runner Diaries: An Early May Evening

Yesterday I ran many Favors. For the necessary income, but to be honest, also to get out of my house and away from the people in it. Friends with husbands and children have confided their envy of my situation; I really don’t have a choice, I have to disappear regularly to go earn the trickle of money that Running provides. At the time of day that they long for escape, a respite from the sounds of their families voices, I am out and about having my own solitary experience.

I drove through wealthy neighborhoods adjacent to the one I used to live in when my kids were little, bringing burritos to one house, pizza to another, fried chicken to a Chinese kid stuck at the boarding school high up on a hill. Memories flashed through me of long-ago playdates: the homogeneity of the parents, the houses, the SUVs parked in their multi-car garages or their circular drives. Those dreaded “parents please stick around to help” birthday parties, the inane chit chat, the omnipresence of sporting events on enormous TVs.

Crisscrossing the river as the sky began to change, I listened to an album of intense piano music by the composer Thomas Adès. The amount of sound being produced by ten fingers seemed impossible.

North of the river again, I drove past a masked woman sitting on a bench at a bus stop on Burnet Rd. She wore enormous sunglasses and a grubby sundress. She was white and skinny with a leathery tan, her sharp legs crossed in a way that reminded me of an insect. Her face turned south, anticipating the bus’ arrival. It was Golden Hour; the setting sun lit her like a theater set or an Edward Hopper painting. In the light she looked lonely yet majestic. There was something terribly sad about her, but also a fierce dignity.

Running With Hormones and Thoughts of Weed, May 7th

Today, Favor/HEB was promoting flower deliveries to nurses, so I opened the app hoping for a bunch of easy runs– my neighborhood is surrounded by hospitals– but I didn’t get a single offer like that; instead, annoying little sandwich orders involving a lot of driving around. I began to take it personally that these people were inconveniencing me by ordering sandwiches from shops ridiculously far from their homes (other days I’ve been irked by the opposite, people who couldn’t be bothered to cross a parking lot to pick up their own take-out). It seemed a personal affront, bad manners, for so many of them to have chosen to live in enormous sprawling apartment complexes with hard-to-reach punch pads for gate codes and poorly marked building numbers.

A podcast episode on holding space for others to express their obnoxious opinions (sorry, opinions different from your own) was interesting while it lasted, but the NPR news that followed was getting me down. Fear of Music, cranked loud, cheered me up. Somehow, one of the songs (I can’t remember which) made me think of the band Hole, who I loved in the 90’s. I tried to re-enjoy their album Pretty on the Inside, a masterpiece of noise/fuzz/rage produced by Kim Gordon, but I couldn’t make it work. Too noisy! Turning to the more accessible Live Through This, I was taken by surprise at my emotional reaction to the songs. I couldn’t listen to any of them all the way through. My eyes teared up. I got my period yesterday and that does make me hypersensitive (hmm, also makes me take things personally…). My emotions were mixed up, confusing. Listening to the lyrics of Violet, I was appalled by the story being told, while at the same time remembering how much I had related to it back when the album first came out. “Go on, take everything, take everything, I want you to…”

I couldn’t listen to Plump past the first few lines, a lyric I’ve always loved: “I don”t do the dishes,” Courtney Love snarls, “I throw them in the crib.”

I felt sad by how distant I’d become from that sort of rage. Other rage has replaced it, a more circumspect version. Probably it is honest to state: a more bitter version. I felt sad for the younger woman I had been and for the fucked up world I, as an older woman, still have to navigate through. I felt sad for my boyfriend’s three teenage daughters, and sad about feeling powerless to help them. I felt sad for Courtney Love, for her treatment by the media. I felt sad that I couldn’t properly remember the Hole concert I’d gone to at Madison Square Garden. I felt sad that I no longer care about going to concerts, then I felt sad that no one can go to concerts anymore whether they want to or not.

Driving home past all the hospitals I wasn’t being paid to deliver flowers to, I remembered that the album had come out as my mother was dying a vicious painful death from cancer. And how Courtney Love had recorded the album, title and all, right before her husband killed himself. That mystical synchronicity had astonished me at the time, yet somehow in the rear view mirror it seems inevitable.

What will tomorrow’s view of today look like? The view back in twenty-five years? I’ll hope I’ll be one of the lucky ones who lives through this to find out.

In the evening, I organized my deliveries to work into an errand I chose to take for myself, driving north to an Indian restaurant for take-out for my family. I listened to the new Kim Gordon release. I don’t have envy for celebrities as a rule, but Kim Gordon is the exception. I envy her voice, her talent, her drollness, her legs. A few days ago I tried to listen to the new Fiona Apple. She wasn’t my bag back in the day but all the cool kids seemed to be into her now, and a lot can happen in a couple of decades, so I gave it a shot. The two albums, Kim Gordon’s and Fiona Apple’s, reminded me of each other. Super fragmented, chopped up, loopy, fractured, broken mirrored, multidimensional, Gertrude Stein-y, overproduced, underproduced, exhausting, boring, what the fuck. Am I the only person who doesn’t smoke a ton of weed right now? I think I might be. There’s only one reason why not: I live with five teenagers, and I don’t want to open that door.