“The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherf*king sh*t of it.” ~ Cheryl Strayed.
It’s early August, nine-thirty a.m., hot and sticky on a Saturday in the charming city of Fairhope, Alabama, some twenty miles southeast of Mobile.
I steal away from the adobe cottage that keeps me flinching in the wee hours due to its unsettling noises, and take up on the sidewalk wearing a pair of CrossFit training shorts and a running bra.
It’s not exactly yoga attire, and in the modesty of the South, nothing short of conspicuous.
What can I say?
I’m from the Northeast.
Sweet Luna, a small, “feral” black cat greets me on the steps of nearby Soul Shine Yoga Studio for the third day of my 30-day pilgrimage—a writer’s retreat—in search of creative inspiration and, this morning, to better hone my yoga practice.
I’m holding a camera, making kissy noises at Luna, when vivid splats of red flash through my mind. Before I left my sometimes-creepy cottage—you know the drill—I squatted on the toilet and my maxi pad got unstuck and plopped into the bowl. Things like this happen to me all the time. I fished the thing out with my fingers, squeezed out the excess fluid, and tossed it into the wastebasket.
This fourth day of heavy flow began drip-drip-dripping as I sat down into seat 34F aboard the plane at Logan, wearing my favorite white jeans and lusciously deep pink-colored panties with a wide white band that reads “Victoria’s Secret.”
I’m an open-door pee-er in the sunlit privacy of my own home, but peeing in the cottage bathroom’s windowless dark keeps “Missy-the-homeless-woman,” who is known to stalk the place, from glimpsing me through the front door window. The same goes for the drummer who lives in his car in the library parking lot next door.
I rose from the toilet and turned on the light. Worthy of a CSI crime scene, the toilet’s white porcelain base, rim, seat, and the tile floor was not merely dotted, but wildly strewn with bright red blood. “My biology,” as I’ve come to call such things. I cleaned up the mess, thinking, Jesus, really? A voice in my head, a source of infinite encouragement, emitted a self-deprecating, resolved sigh. Not wholly due to the grossness, but because “we” thought my menstruating was done for good.
At 53, my periods stopped six months ago, and “personal summers,” such as fling-the-covers-off-body-aflame-at-three a.m., ensued in their wake. Honestly, with no irritability and continued and intended weight loss through cycling, running, and High Intensity Interval Training, I was over the moon. My husband began finding me in Namaskarasana at sunrise, staring fixedly at the ceiling and chanting, “Dear God, at last, thank you.”
But why had my flow resumed when I was boarding a plane to take me far away for a month-long writer’s residency awarded to me to finish the memoir manuscript I’ve had kicking around for eight years?
Could it be a cleansing of sorts—a divine reckoning, penetrating that dense layer of dust in the creative cogs of my mind?
A rebirth in the advent of leaving the sentient beings I love—my family and furry kids and best-girls—behind?
Can’t be—because as time progresses in this creep-du-jour cottage—I’m Bugs Bunny doomed in his aircraft, twisting and turning in a tight downward spiral toward earth.
It’s the day job; it makes for a tasty morsel of distraction. Same goes for the things that go bump in the night—not the fridge’s compressor turning on and off or the central air. It’s the noises I can’t pinpoint—that banging. The dread of opening my eyes to make for the bathroom when I can’t hold my pee in one second more and fathoming the walking dead standing at the threshold with a blacked-in eye socket and the other eye barely intact, dangling down its cheek by a bloody gnawed-on thread.
The cottage is rent-free, awarded on the merit of my published writing and work-in-process but, let me tell you, everything comes with a price.
My ego doesn’t take the spooky stuff into account or the ample and overwhelming creative-crushing opportunity to get some writing done.
You’re finally here and look at you go, that little voice in my head jeers. I can’t give a fruitful response to each of the good-natured sponsors who take turns treating me to their favorite restaurant every night, all the while suppressing my question, “So, how have the women faired in a month-long stay in the cottage?”
Instead I tell them, “I’m not sure where I’m going to start—revising a manuscript or beginning a new one.”
They search my face for intent, some hint of promise.
Look at you go.
I think hard on a source for creativity and inspiration: yoga.
I pinpointed the studio on the map from Massachusetts, just in case I’d need that source of creativity and inspiration. There, it’s a block from the cottage. Soul Shine Yoga.
The name of the place sunk in well. I want my soul to shine.
Luna grows bored with my picture taking and crosses the patio to the florist next door. I check in with the teacher at reception and step into a studio not even twice the size of our master bedroom back home and heated to ninety-three degrees. It houses no more than four mats three inches apart width-wise times four mats lengthwise, a cramped total of sixteen yogis, plus an instructor, standing.
This is my third-ever “Hot Power Hour” and I’ve learned as soon as you exert the slightest bit of energy, the obvious happens—sweat pours out of your skin in buckets. It’s the effect I’m seeking, although it’s against my mother’s advice. She bravely contended with my frequent acute knee-buckling episodes of teenage tachycardia, known in colloquial terms as “heart attacks.” A rampant yee-haw condition in which a stress-induced event (excessive heat and humidity or exertion) tripped electricity inside my heart to a rogue electrical pathway, spiking my heart up to two hundred beats per minute.
Mom said, sympathetically, “It’ll be too hot for you.”
The instructors at this studio play a diverse mix of music, and Mary Jo leads us into subtle movements to limber our muscles, accompanied by Perry Farrell’s eerie and whiny-pitched voice singing Jane Says, a song about “Jane’s” heroin addiction and how “she’s gonna kick it tomorrow.” Jane’s Addiction’s album covers flood my mind: macabre busts and a recollection of their fantastic rendition of Sympathy for the Devil and how Farrell says he’s visited by aliens.
All this is not good for my practice, so I dismiss the lyrics and imagery for later when I approach my creep-du-jour cottage.
Mary Jo intensifies the movements. Plank, chaturanga, up dog, downward facing dog, and crescent lunge. The sweat on my body reflects the recessed ceiling lights, cascades down my nose and limbs, and drips to the floor. I do not lapse into a “heart attack”; my mother forgets I had the rogue electrical pathway ablated in my late twenties. When Mary Jo takes us through a hyperintense flow sequence including Warrior I, II, and Reverse Warrior, three women in the class more than half my age (and sporting proper yoga attire) revert to child’s pose.
The voice inside my head sets a precedence. It offers words of affirmation. You’re winning, it says.
My heart’s beating so hard it’s going to tear out of my chest, but darkness is not inking over the crown of my head and seeping into my eyes, bringing me to my knees. Back up to Warrior I, I lunge and reach my arms for the sky, my pose a tuning fork and an open channel for divine intervention.
I am self-aware and my senses keen; my chest and heart uplifted. I radiate empowerment—there “ain’t no mountain high enough” to keep me from anything. My abrupt exhales and the sweat pouring out of my pores tells me I am life—a vessel. Biology. Mary Jo prompts us to transition to Warrior II and, grounding strong in my core and quadriceps, I bend at the knee and stare over my middle finger on my extended arm, and every cell in my body is vibrating, shimmying.
They say to me, You’re rocking the intensity, sister.
The voice in my head echoes, Rockin’ it. Like a warrior.
Mary Jo eventually leads us toward reprieve—my familiar bedside prayer squat—and surprise, or perhaps not during this rebirth, this cleansing, I’m called to embrace my womanhood again. My uterus contracts and expels a boatload of blood.
The maxi pad is saturated with sweat and blood and due to routine straining before the pad slipped into the bowl, mucous from my intestinal lining—major biology. Whether the pad is fixed in the right place or not, it’s not going to serve much purpose.
During Savasana, I am at ease. I think about how my period, after so much time, is like it used to be with its heavy flow, but on this occasion without cramps or fatigue or cravings. I think about how I was at “my edge” and found strength and empowerment so big and expansive it couldn’t be contained in a single moment. I think about how the sweat bubbled up from my skin in bodacious beads, and momentarily fatigued and depleted, I held grounded in my stance. I think about one of the T-shirts for sale on a rack near reception that reads “This Isn’t My First Vinyasa,” and smile ever so subtly.
When I leave the studio with my drenched yoga towel draped about my neck and shoulders, I bend down and give the not-so-feral Luna a scratch behind the ears, then retreat to the cottage. Thoughts of Perry Farrell and his creative renderings do not come to mind upon its threshold. I enter the place, take down the towel blocking the front door’s window, open the curtains and snap off the light in every room. I voraciously devour lunch and the words on these pages spill forth: a culmination of the bleeding, sweating, cleansing, and opening—the zenith of being a woman.
It’s a miracle; a goddamn beautiful one. I brought it on, knowing yoga and the universe would serve as catalysts to open me up like a flower and weave a story derived in a fresh tantalizing experience, a wanting, a means to an end.
The bumps in the night in this writer’s cottage won’t be so scary tonight.
They’re confronting a warrior.