Archives For November 2017

I now have three tattoos.

I refer to my tattoo #1 as my “college-age cultural appropriation tattoo.”

Yes, I’m one of the hordes of Americans to get foreign-language characters permanently inked on their bodies. In my case, Chinese.

I am not Chinese nor is anyone in my immediately family. I didn’t study Chinese, and I don’t speak Chinese. I was not, nor am not emotionally or intellectually attached to Chinese culture. While I asked a Chinese professor at college to write out the phrase I wanted tattooed on me, I couldn’t properly say it and didn’t know why the professor chose the two hanzi he did. Essentially: my 21-year old self treated Chinese characters as exotic symbols there for the ripping off.

Also, the tattoo wasn’t particularly good. The tattoo guy, without asking, didn’t copy the Chinese professor’s writing but instead created a boxy, angular interpretation. (In all seriousness, “Aztec-style” is how he described it. smh)  The work was patchy and low quality.

Tattoo One

Close up of tattoo #1, photo taken in 2015, 17years after “the crime.”

 

Fairly soon after graduating college, I was first exposed to concepts of anti-racism/anti-oppression. I quickly understood the mistake I made, permanently, on my body.

It took fifteen years to journey from hang-up to hostility. Over that time, my “college-age cultural appropriation tattoo” came to represent everything I hated about who I was that I couldn’t change—my Whiteness, my American-ness, my cultural ignorance, my impulsiveness, my desire for recognition (that supposedly wasn’t being met), my imposter syndrome, my lack of feeling smart, competent. I longed to rip the tattoo from my body.

So I decided cover it up. The artist who did tattoo #2 couldn’t be located. I sought recommendations of tattoo artists, but no one suggested was available for a consult (if they even returned my message). When I planning to travel for work, I asked friends and colleagues for away-from-home suggestions; still nothing panned out. After two years, I gave up with tremendous sulking.

People make mistakes. Most mistakes are ephemeral or repairable; they’re forgivable. Over the course of my life I’ve made some bad calls and definitive fuck-ups. None of these instances caused loss of life, limb, job, property, savings, or anything of devastating permanence. Were feelings injured? Were time or resources wasted? Sure. For how long should I, should anyone, be branded as untrustworthy, incompetent, or unworthy of mercy or reprieve? For some people the answer is been: forever. For some people, there is no moving on, even when fault isn’t as clear as a permanent black drawing on your back. My reset button for everyone else has always been accessible. I wish the same could be said of a reset button for myself.

Since 1997, my need to pick up slack, to practice-for-perfect, to make it work, and, in the end, to carry on with my mistakes did me no favors. This attitude, this drive, was practically knitted into my first tattoo. Which of course is why, despite seeming ready to cover up my “college-age cultural appropriation tattoo,” I couldn’t get myself together to have it done. I blamed outside circumstances, but let’s be real—it was all me. I hadn’t forgiven myself for the original act.

Like all the things about myself that I can’t change but can control, I needed to genuinely contextualize my first tattoo experience for what it was. Tattoo #1 was part of me, but didn’t need to define me. The practice-for-perfect principle that dominated me didn’t need to; I could calm and manage it. That principle doesn’t allow me to practice-for-practice sake, fail forward, or, say, work to bring down White supremacy, Patriarchy, Cis-sexism, Able-ism, and oppression writ large in this country.

But I digress.

Twenty years after tattoo #1 was inked, I connected with the warm, talented Fernando (BlackMothCollective.com or #BlackMothCollective) and on November 15, 2017 got tattoo #3. I love it. It’s bigger and more intricate that #1 or #2 (which meant time and patience, honesty about discomfort levels, and exercising breath work). Tattoo #3 captures core aspects of my identity in the waning days of my forty-first year. It almost entirely covers up #1—only a microscopic line can be detected, if you know what to look for. Most important and symbolically for me, #3 begins, is rooted, where #1 lies but extends upward; toward what’s next, toward what’s possible, toward the future.

I am in a Yoga teacher-training program.

There. I’ve put it into the world.

A Yogi is BornThis is something I never considered except more than a fantasy on highly stressful days: “I could give up working in theatre, become a Yoga teacher, move to a remote small community within a few hours driving distance of San Francisco, open a small studio, and finally be at peace.” (LOL. How’s that for an escape daydream? At least I would be closer to my adorable niece.)

It took an inquiry from my home studio’s owner, numerous back-and-forth emails with her, casual conversation with studio staff and instructors, raising the idea with my spouse (and him even raising it with me), and my work schedule finally settling… it took all that for me to sign up for teacher training. Which means it took nearly six months for me to get comfortable with the idea that I would have to tell people I was in a Yoga teacher-training program.

I still might not be comfortable but the cat is pretty much out of the bag.

I’ve had a flirtatious relationship with Yoga for two decades, but only for the physical benefits. It was a friends-with-benefits affair with Yoga in which I took from what I wanted, gave nothing in return, and didn’t consider for a second what I was ignoring about Yoga.

Yoga, I’m sorry I treated you this way.

Then, two friends, each with their own more intimate relationship to Yoga, encouraged me to turn to my mat during a period of professional upheaval and turmoil. Thank goodness they did. In hindsight, I internalized that “unrest” and, along with numerous emotional hits I took for the greater good, calcified it in most crevices of my body and being.

In summer 2015 I did as any internetworked individual does: I searched “yoga studios close to me” and scoured reviews. This landed me at Petworth’s Yoga Heights (YH). I dated around with Yoga at YH with “unlimited classes for three-weeks.” I dated with intention buying a “one-month unlimited class pass.” I committed more when I traveled to Omaha, NE and spent six glorious weeks with the instructors at One Tree Yoga. I recommitted at Cincinnati’s The Yoga Bar and Raleigh’s Blue Lotus studios, and then always rejoiced returning to my YH. I started introducing YH to friends; some of them introduced me to people who I practiced with multiple times a week. I settled into my mat and practice with effort and ease.

During my un-calcifying phase, Yoga revealed itself to be a home, to be community, to be family. But really, it was only because I revealed myself to Yoga. I realized I’d not considered Yoga in its entirety. I wanted less, I gave more.

Yoga: thank you for your patience with me.

I spend much of my time and energy shaping and holding space for others to be, discover, and do. Even if I’m also a participant, I’m focused on the shaping and holding for everyone else. I’m almost never in spaces where others are shaping and holding the space, or, rather, I don’t allow them to hold space for me.

Except when I attend Yoga class.

Or, at least, that’s what I’m doing now. I am giving myself to my teachers. I am allowing my instructors to hold the space so they can create an environment for me to be vulnerable. I am creating and holding space only for me. This feels selfish and self-centered. It is. I need it. I really need it. To continuing being the person I am in the world.

So yes: I am in a Yoga teacher-training program. But it’s for me and Yoga, cause there’s something there.

Thanks for sticking with me Yoga. I got your back.

Svādhyāya is a one of the five Niyamas (or personal, internal practices). “Sva means self and dhyāya means study or education,” explains B.K.S. Iyengar in Light on Yoga. “education is the drawing out of the best that is within a person. Svādhyāya, therefore, is the education of the self…. The person practicing svādhyāya reads his own book of life, at the same time that he writes and revises it. There is a change in his outlook on life.”