Sunday, October 31, 2004


My costume for Halloween was Self-Obsession. I wore a headdress of peacock feathers, pinned a glamour shot of myself onto my shirt, and pinned the following resume to my back:

GOALS: To get attention and validation from the world!!!

EDUCATION: A lot of great schools that were lucky to have me.

October 1, 1980: The clouds opened, choirs of angels sung: I was born!

1980 – 1993: I was a very precocious child. I skipped two grades! Do you want to see some of my gold stars? I kept them!

1993 – 1997: Adolescence. For some reason, the world wasn’t paying as much attention to me as it should have. Do you want me to read you some of my poetry from back then? I kept it! I bet I could publish it if I wanted to, it’s really good!

1997 – 2001: College. A lot of my fellow students seemed to think they were just as impressive and special as me! Poor things.

2001 – Present: A series of totally impressive jobs with important people. Do you want one of my business cards? My boss asks for my advice all the time. Also, I have a lot of friends and they also have totally impressive jobs. What’s your job? Can I have a business card? Also, boys ask me out on dates all the time! If there’s another girl in the room and boys are paying attention to her, it’s just because they are too scared to approach ME!


Namedropping, boasting in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, self-analysis, self-promotion, self-marketing, goal-setting, trend-catching, polishing my mirrors, promoting my blog, rubbing cream obsessively onto any nascent wrinkles, complaining endlessly about boys who don’t treat me as well as I deserve

I wandered around with a copy of "Thus Spake Zarathustra," writing my secret thoughts into my journal: "Oh, I am so misunderstood! Nobody knows how hard it is to be me!"

Arm in arm with Self-Obsession was the beautiful Kaelan as Denial; we pinned little notes to her: "I am immortal," "I will never age," "I am so not drunk," "Ashlee Simpson has talent," and on her butt: "Hands Off!"

Meanwhile the peerless Mehr was a Shooting Star, dressed up as a cowgirl with a water pistol full of tequila.

On the lazier end of the spectrum (but still pretty funny) Ben, saying that he wanted to be something scary, went as a Person With An Easily Communicable Disease; he drew red dots on himself and coughed a lot. "It's convenient, because I cough a lot anyway."

Friday, October 29, 2004

Uphold your civic duty

It's the most important election of our lifetimes (including me, and I'm Australian). Enough said.

America Coming Together has organized trips from cities across the US to swing states on election day and the weekend before. The link is: And the events page on Kerry's website ( allows you to find events in your area, or sign up to travel to a swing state.And in case some people are less motivated to travel away from home, they're in need of volunteers to call Kerry volunteers in swing states to get them signed up to participate in Get Out The Vote efforts. If you're already signed up on the Kerry website, all you have to do is go to and it gives you a script and all the information.

WHAT YOU CAN DO IN DC** Phone calls: Phone bank volunteers are needed at the Kerry national headquarters (in McPherson Square) to call undecided voters in crucial battleground states. Hours are:Monday-Thursday: 10 a.m. - 10 p.m.Friday: 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.Saturday: 10 a.m. - 7 p.m.Sunday: 12 p.m. - 6 p.m.

For more info, e-mail, or call (202) 589-3949

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Ode to an Anatomy Diagram

O you precious little vertebrae
linking knuckles for a crackling kiss,
any second set to carve a jig
like white ivory dice
pattering in my fist...
You lie.
So white and clean and cold.
It's the muscles move you
Warm slobbery pink piles of flesh
slurping with blood and ooze and pus -
Without them
you'd be shelving dust in twilight's tomb
inside a ghost town's biology classroom.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Smell the roses at Dumbarton Oaks

"The city . . . does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of streets, the gratings of windows, the banisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls."
--Italo Calvino, “Invisible Cities”

“Beatrix Farrand’s Plant Book was written in 1941, in a period of critical importance to the preservation of western culture, so many elements of which are represented at Dumbarton Oaks. During those dark days, humanist ideals … were threatened with extinction. [Those] who had experienced the Great War, the dynamic optimism of the twenties, and the economic upheavals and consequent political struggles of the thirties, realized the magnitude of the threat. The bright lights of European culture and art were soon to be dimmed, and the basis of our civilization was challenged. Almost forty years later these ideals are still threatened, but we now have come to value our own cultural assets and through the preservation movement are taking an active part in assuring their continuance ... The Plant Book [recognizes] that the gardens at Dumbarton Oaks form a significant part of our cultural heritage…they represent a uniquely American adaptation of the classical Mediterranean garden form … so eloquently described by Edith Wharton in Italian Villas and Their Gardens.”
--From the Introduction to Beatrix Farrand’s “Dumbarton Oaks Plant Book

LOCATION: Dumbarton Oaks, in Georgetown on 32nd and R St TIME: Tuesday- Sunday, 2-6pm EQUIPMENT: Yourself, $6 for admission (or $45 for a season pass) OPTIONAL: Sketchbook/Poetry/Camera/Cellphone for calling your friends to tell them how much you love them when you start overflowing with joy DISCOURAGED: Shoes

The art of living in a city is both about venturing far from home but also making new homes in places that appeal to you. So today, I want to talk about the art of becoming a regular.
Places are like people; with some, no matter how exciting the encounter, it’s only meant to happen once. Other places grow familiar from necessity (the office, the metro station). With some you fall in love slowly (the corner store, the neighborhood park) as they unfold their benefits to you. And then the places you know right away that you’ll come back to again and again. Well, I couldn’t have fallen faster for Dumbarton Oaks if it had been a pouty-lipped Italian painter beckoning to me from his Vespa.

When you’ve got the habit of a place, the energy-draining logistics of getting back and forth evaporate, so the mental initiative required to pick yourself up and go there is much less than if you were heading into the unknown. Individual memories of each trip wear a groove in your brain like a river carving itself into a rock; and in fact the familiar ritual of getting there can be auto-hypnotic, shifting your brain into a good mood. With the gardens, all the times I've whizzed over there on my bike (over the bridge, down P St., turning right up the hill on 30th St, past the cemetery, past the yuppie family park) - blend together, the particularities just threads in a warm fuzzy narrative.

So here you are: ten ways of looking at Dumbarton Oaks.

1. Falling

The first time I came to the gardens, with the beauty, and the peace, I had a strange deja-vu tickling at my stomach. I dismissed it; don’t you sometimes get that too, in completely foreign places? (When I was walking barefoot on grass at the National Arboretum with Matthew we discussed “knowing every square inch of the forest with your feet” –the texture of the soil, its wetness, depth, temperature, little plants, and a million other tiny subtle sensual clues. Matthew said, “Yes, that’s true, and you start to feel that even a new piece of ground is familiar; it’s all part of the same thing.”)

And doesn’t it happen when you fall in love, too, dear reader? The disturbing, even slightly queasy, familiarity – the urge to learn everything, faster, even though you know somehow that it won’t be a surprise. As I walked around Dumbarton Oaks I had a strange tension between lingering and looking ahead to the next place, possibly better still; now deciding that I’d slow down, because I’d have time to come back; then thinking better to walk it all quickly, build a mental map, and return to my favorite parts.

It was a full week later that I remembered, while washing dishes, that I’d been there before with my family. My dad used to deliver sweeping lectures on the beautiful symmetry of the landscape architecture, which reminded him of those preeminent stylists, the Italians, and I used to climb the puzzle tree and sit there for hours. “Déjà vu”: already seen. Who is to know how much of love’s déjà vu comes from recognizing what you’ve already loved before, differently?

2. “You look like some kind of water nymph.”

Once there was a rainstorm. I took off my shoes and sprinted across the Main House Garden. Then the thunder spoke (datta: what have we given?) and the lightning and the air actually crackled, almost coming to life. Everyone else had run inside for cover so I laughed and whooped as loud as I wanted to and jumped in and out of the fountains, waving my arms. When the rain died down a little bit I noticed a man standing in the Arbor Terrace, under a gigantic old-fashioned umbrella, watching me.

He called out, “You look like some kind of charming water nymph from a Keats poem.” He said he’d been a garden regular for ten years. Right now all the regulars were up in arms about the plans to re-landscape Cherry Hill. “We’ll never let them. It would destroy the integrity of the design.” He told me the story of the original landscape gardener, the visionary Beatrix Farrand. She had training in classical philosophy but a concrete love for the soil; she gave up a promising career as a singer and “never looked back over her musical shoulder, but, transferring her sense of rhythm to the world of nature, composed her visual symphonies.” When she was seventy Beatrix wrote a massive compendium on the Care of the Garden (still used as a textbook across the country for landscape design classes) to allow the place to be preserved after her death; there’s a chapter for each section of the garden talking about the philosophy of its design, its connection with the other parts of the garden, the types of plants, the soil chemistry, practical gardening considerations - I’ve read it and think it’s a real piece of literature, interesting regardless of how much you professionally care.

The man told me about Mr. and Mrs. Bliss, the original owners of the garden; it was a second marriage for both of them, and their children from the first marriage met in Dumbarton Oaks, fell in love as well – and the two couples lived together in the house for ten years.

All these fascinating stories were hard to follow; I’d just been jumping in the fountain, full to the ears with animal joy, and it’s an effort when you start thinking in abstractions again. Perhaps the man saw my foot tapping; he tipped his hat to me and walked off through the rain.

3. “When straightening up I saw the blue sea and sails”*

As you amble along Prunus Walk between the herb garden and the butterfly garden, a cozy nook opens on your left with a bench overlooking a patch of grass. I camped out there one afternoon with Czeslaw Milosz, doing yoga on the grass - and suddenly was aware of a presence in the air, or rather, not a presence, but the feeling of the life throbbing in every plant and animal around me. The air was heavy with meaning, and yet it wasn’t meaning, not an abstract idea, it was meaning intimately part of the fabric of reality. I don’t know how long the moment lasted; I do know that I cried, and thought how beautiful life was; how, after having been lucky enough to see, I’d never have any problems again - I’d just have to wrap the certainty of beauty around me like a warm cloak.

The next morning, driving to work, I was already grouchy, disjointed, full of resentment and laziness, and thoroughly human again. Yet that same certainty still does burn inside me somewhere – like the pilot light on a gas stove.

4. Splashing in the fountain is the point of life?

So of course I wanted to go back again the next day. (One of my terrible and habitual sins: one shouldn’t be greedy with one’s transcendent experiences.) I invited Adam, and of course it was a perfectly pleasant and thoroughly solid afternoon. He took some pictures and we splashed each other in the fountain in the Pebble Garden. We hadn’t known each other very long, so we were still at that stage where we weren’t sure when we were going to start kissing. He said, “This is fun, but I always feel guilty doing stuff like this…like I should be doing something productive, like I’m missing the point of life.” And I said “No Adam, this is the point!” “Ah…” he said. Then he kissed me.

Almost immediately I felt a twinge of guilt: maybe my philosophy was wrong; maybe I was just corrupting him with my hedonistic ways? It didn’t stop me, of course.

5. Rolling downhill with Marcella

One day I took some mushrooms at Dumbarton Oaks with Marcella. We crawled around the Rose Garden taking photos; my favorite was taken from a sharp perspective looking up, as Marcella reaches wonderingly to the towering stalk of a bright yellow rose against a blue sky. We tiptoed on the rim of the fountain, clasped each other by the waist, and arched our backs pretending to be a statue. We rolled down the hill near the apple trees. We crouched, giggling, in the herb garden, picked one of the tomatoes, and passed it back and forth for bites with our faces brushing up against the lush spicy basil foliage. We took it in turns doing handstands and spotting each other.

When I told people the story of the day I’d always conclude, “It was like the Garden of Eden, but there weren’t any apples!”
Most people let it go, but Mehr and Mansir both jumped on me, “Didn’t you mention that you rolled down the hill near the apple trees?”
“Oh…right. But they were just blooming. They didn’t have any fruit.”
“Not yet, you mean.”

6. Talking tea with the Tenth Radio Tuner

I met Kevin on the internet and we came to Dumbarton Oaks. He loved experimental music and as we walked down Melisande’s Allee he told me he’d once performed in a John Cage Symphony for Fifteen Radios as the Tenth Radio Tuner; he was in charge of twiddling his dial at a set rhythm to whatever stations happened to be playing at the moment. He’d lived for three years in a tiny wintry Japanese fishing village, and his favorite thing to do in the world was to talk long, long walks in the snowy mountains, all alone. We sat in Forsythia Hill and talked about tea ceremonies, and he said that the bench made him think of the Japanese aesthetic, which finds most beauty in the old and weather-beaten and the serendipitously-rearranged-by-nature. He was a very interesting person, and even more importantly, he was good; I wish that I’d been even slightly attracted to him. Unfortunately, I am a nincompoop.

7. Roberto breathing down my neck

My friend Roberto is unique; he’s a visionary artist and a philosopher who wants to apply his ideas in a very practical way to change the world. I have the utmost respect for him and I always tell people about him with pride. And yet he’s the kind of friend that sometimes it’s easier to love from a distance.

We went to Dumbarton Oaks together once and walked around in the sunshine, and I felt as though I had a second shadow. Every view I regarded, every flower I rapturously pressed my face against - he was there, behind me, doing exactly the same thing. It was a mark of respect; it was only because he thought I had interesting opinions about things and was curious about what I chose to examine - but even so I felt I had a vampire of my perceptions following me. Absent the ability to read my mind, Roberto wanted to duplicate all my sensory phenomena for himself.
It wasn’t easy to admit, at first, this lurking discomfort. I started walking faster, not making eye contact. It didn’t work. When I was crouched at the butterfly bush in the Herbaceous Border, Roberto sighed behind my neck, “Oh, that’s fascinating! Look at the tiny legs on that bee.”

“Unh,” I said, and kept on walking. It was maddening, especially because usually I’d give my right arm for friends willing to do things like examine insects up close for half an hour. Yet here I had it, and I didn’t like it. Hence my overwhelming memory of an immaculately sunny afternoon, in a splendid garden, with a dear friend - is uncontrollably mounting annoyance, frustration, and guilt. I’m pretty stupid, hey?

8. Talking to strangers with Michael

I went in March with another internet date, Michael, whom I wanted very much to impress. I’d been praising the garden to him, but it was only March, and when we arrived there wasn’t anything in bloom yet. “That’s ok; I can certainly see its potential,” he said, politely.

Conversation with him was extremely light and fast-paced; I felt as if I was running along the beach, skipping over waves that always threatened to devour my pant legs. In the Orangery there was a man reading a book at one of the tables. Michael nudged me. “Let’s go up and talk to him and ask him if he came a long way. It’s interesting to see how people react when strangers talk to them.” I felt like he was testing me somehow. We walked up to the man and I said, “Hi – where do you live?” The man looked up, startled. Michael said, “We wondered if you lived, like, a two-hour bike ride away, and made a pilgrimage here just to read, because you loved it.” The man shook his head. “No…uh…I live in Georgetown.”

In retrospect Michael’s social experiments seem cold-blooded; I certainly don’t object to talking to strangers for kindly reasons, but he seemed to relish the man’s discomfort. At the time, I was too busy thrilling to the brush of his wool sweater against my bare arm as we walked.

9. Cicada-hunting with Theodora and Victoria

I used to babysit my neighbors’ children when I lived at the Fondo Del Sol; the best afternoon was when I took them to Dumbarton Oaks at the height of cicada season. As we we played “Tag” in the North Vista, running up and down the terraced steps, Victoria kept dropping to her knees to examine the insects.

She found one cicada in the process of emerging from his papery, translucent chrysalis, took off a sock and used it as a bag: “I want to keep him forever and ever.” Doubting that her mother would appreciate this new pet, I argued: “Victoria, that cicada will never be happy in his sock home. Don’t you see, he needs freedom to be happy!” “No, no!” she cried passionately. “I love him and I’ll always take care of him. Those other cicadas might get eaten by birds, but I will protect him!” It was an interesting philosophical dilemma: the relative value of freedom vs. a long life to a cicada. I felt myself at a loss to convince her.

Theodora came to me and proudly held out her arm. “Look at this beautiful insect – he loves me!” It was a mosquito sitting there, of course, and I suddenly remembered when I had done the very same thing, myself, to my mother, in the backyard one summer evening. Her face had twisted with disgust and she’d instantly reached out with a slap, leaving a long splash of blood on my arm.

10. Alone ….

I am lying on Cherry Hill reading Madeleine L’Engle’s memoirs.
I am talking to a grandmother about her children near the Lover’s Lane Pool.
I am climbing the tree on the Beech Terrace.
I am stealing a handful of mint leaves from the herb garden.
I am standing on my head.
I am finding four leaf clovers (there's a patch at the end of the North Vista, beyond the final staircase)
I make a man jump when he sees me emerge from behind a rosebush: “I thought you were a specter of the garden!” he said. “Maybe I am,” I said.


*The Gift (by Czeslaw Milosz)

A day so happy.
Fog lifted early, I worked in the garden.
Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers.
There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.
I knew no one worth my envying him.
Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
To think that once I was the same man did not embarass me.
In my body I felt no pain.
When straightening up, I saw the blue sea and sails.

Attempt to give existential directions

LOCATION: Kramerbooks TIME: Midnight of the soul EQUIPMENT: Yourself, perturbed stranger

So I was in Kramerbooks one night reading literary tea leaves when a man approached me. It took him a while to talk to me; I could feel his presence and attention (distracting me from the sublime Czeslaw Miloscz) for a few minutes before he actually worked up the nerve to say anything. I looked up from my book. He was shifting his weight back and forth on his feet; he was sweating and his hair seemed greasy; he had a spray of pimples on his cheeks; even under his dark green sweater, I felt that I could sense all his muscles twisted into aching knots. He was a completely repulsive human being.

"Excuse me. Excuse me." His accent was South Asian.

Feminine egomaniac that I am, I assumed it was some kind of pickup and glared at him. "Yes?"

"Excuse me." His eyes were wide and frantic in an almost animal way; I thought of a bird I'd seen which had broken its wing on a glass window and was watching my hand reach down for it, certain of its doom. I started to doubt my pickup assumption.

"What do you want?"

"Excuse me." His voice was dropping lower and lower. "Is you this predominantly homosexual neighborhood?" The words all came in a rush.

"Oh. OH. I don't know. Well ... I think it's both. It's for everybody."

He gave me one more piercing, anguished glance, and walked away.

Dear reader, some of us grow up with a culture that tells us that certain behavior is evil and wrong. And yet we are compelled to do it anyway, even though we know it's wrong - so we hate ourselves, and we want to punish ourselves, and we're never comfortable, and we become repulsive human beings, and then our society assumes that it was right about us, after all: we are monsters (an opinion we share).

But perhaps, some day, we move to a "predominantly homosexual neighborhood" - the kind of place where supremely arrogant, oiled, tanned men stride around 17th st in ballgowns for parades - and perhaps, just maybe, things are starting to look up for us.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Inhale, exhale: a guide to yoga classes in the DC area

It's very hard to convincingly describe yoga's benefits to newcomers: how it teaches you to live in your body, gain control of your mental states, and unlocks reserves of vitality and joy you never realized you had. But for someone who has heard enough fervent testimonials to at least be curious, the next question is: so how do I get into it then? You really do need a teacher; books and videos are great, but not enough. So, here's a personal guide to getting into yoga in the DC area (with a bias towards the Dupont area). Please, send me your own experiences and I'll add to the guide!

Considerations: Factors include convenience of location, price, convenience of time, teaching style (vinyasa/ashtanga/iyengar etc, as well as whether yoga ethics and spirituality are included), teaching quality, the quality of the physical space, the number of other students... There is a plethora of ways to teach yoga - especially now it's so trendy - and it makes me sad when someone tells me about a bad experience they've had with a yoga class. If you don't like it, try somewhere else!

Convenience of location: Depends on where you live and work, obviously. Since a yoga class is about relaxation, it's crazy to stress yourself out getting there on time every week.

Price: Standard price is around $15 for a one-time class, with progressively better deals for multiple-class passes. Most studios offer introductory deals, either the first or the second class free. In addition, some studios have a monthly free class, or cheaper classes that are taught by teachers in training, or they offer deals where you trade work at the yoga studio for free classes. I think there's the general attitude, among quality studios at least, that if somebody really wants to learn yoga, it would be tragic if money was a prohibitive burden for them. Be creative and remember that you're dealing with people who are probably very empathetic and understanding.

Convenience of time: Things to consider when you're looking at available class times: it's best not to eat 3-4 hours before doing yoga (it's uncomfortable to stretch and twist and turn upside down with a full stomach). For some people, yoga is harder to do early in the morning because your body is stiffer, and they prefer it in the evening; others feel that it gets their day off to a fantastic start. Find out which one you are. Being able to shower beforehand is a wonderful luxury because it loosens your body up (but it's not necessary); showering afterwards is nice if you sweat a lot. It's wonderful to go out with friends after a yoga class because it puts you in such a good mood (and it makes your hips sway more.)

Teaching style:
Yoga is a mighty tree with many branches. Although those branches might seem very different at first, with time it becomes clear that they all share the same roots and the same soil. That being said, it's important to find the branch that's most comfortable for you to sit on!

Iyengar: BKS Iyengar is one of the most famous yoga teachers this century; he puts a lot of emphasis on precision and body alignment in the poses, using blocks and blankets and straps where necessary for beginners. Iyengar yoga studio are strict about teacher certification, so you're certain to get a competent teacher. It's also especially good for beginners because you learn to do the poses precisely and you avoid getting into any bad habits; if you overtwist your body in an ugly way because you want to reach your toes with your finger, your teacher will gently pass you a block or strap and show you how to do it right. However, I feel that it's also tricky for beginners. You don't actually get much of a workout in the beginner Iyengar classes. A large percentage of class time is purely didactic, and there's no emphasis on flowing with the breath. Especially if you're initially skeptical about yoga's benefits, it can be frustrating (to say the least) to spend ninety minutes learning to stand up straight. And even if you have rock-solid faith that your initial drudgery will pay off, there are some poses that you simply need to build up the appropriate muscles and flexibility to learn, regardless of your intellectual knowledge about how the pose is supposed to align - and for that, you need your yoga class to give you a workout. Learning yoga for me has works better as an iterative trial-and-error process; if I had been required to get every detail perfect before learning the next detail, I probably would have been too discouraged to keep it up. That being said, if you have the motivation and the discipline, Iyengar studios are excellent and you will get superb lessons there.

Ashtanga: Sometimes known, in its bastardized forms, as "power yoga," this is the most vigorous and challenging form of yoga. Ashtanga classes teach set series of poses which are progressively more challenging; they always start with flowing sun salutations, then continue to standing/balancing and finally seated poses. Expect to be dripping with sweat at the end of an Ashtanga class. It's a very beautiful style of yoga and an excellent workout; however, I wouldn't recommend it to beginners. Even in the most basic Ashtanga class, the poses flow so quickly that it's hard to explain anything and beginners often feel completely lost. In addition, if you don't have a certain base level of fitness, strength, and flexibility, some of even the introductory poses will be completely impossible for you (and everything flows so fast that it's tough to fetch a prop). So: if you have some experience with yoga, or previous athletic experience with dance, gymnastics, or capoeira - Ashtanga yoga is fantastic. Otherwise, you're likely to be flummoxed, or even get an injury.

Bikram: An always-identical series of 26 poses, taught in a heated room so that you sweat like a pig. I hate its founder, Bikram Choudhury - this article by the Economist pretty much sums up why. I suppose that for the truly sauna-addicted, this yoga style might have its long as you don't mind paying royalties to a greasy quack.

Vinyasa: "Flow" yoga (the style I teach). Like ashtanga, vinyasa yoga also puts a lot of emphasis on movement and flowing with the breath; you're likely to be sweating at the end of a class. But unlike ashtanga, which has set series of poses that you always follow in the same order, vinyasa puts emphasis on flexibility and creativity when designing your practice, depending on what you need at the moment. This also forces you to learn more about the philosophy of the asanas (poses) and their effects on the body, in order to put them effectively together. To use a totally dorky computer science metaphor, ashtanga or bikram yoga gives you a complete set of reference libraries; with vinyasa yoga, you have to write it from scratch. But of course, this also puts more of a burden on the teacher, who not only has to concentrate on communicating and making sure students are doing the poses right, but also must basically create a dance choreography. As a result, I think that the quality of a vinyasa class depends more even on the teacher than a class in the ashtanga or bikram style, where you can sort of rely on the textbook. Unfortunately, "vinyasa yoga" has become a bit of an umbrella phrase for teachers who don't quite fit into any other style, and end up teaching a confused hodge-podge of a lesson.

Kundalini: I haven't done much of this but there is much more of a spiritual focus in the kundalini tradition, with an emphasis on eventually awakening the "kundalini energy" at the base of your spine. Breath work and energy meditations are integrated with the poses; it's pretty awesome. However, the closest Kundalini school I know of is out in Rockville.

Sivananda: I haven't ever taken a Sivananda class, but I hear that they are rather slow and relaxing.

It's the United States - everybody wants to start their own club. There are many more yoga disciplines listed here.

Teaching quality
Your teacher should have a welcoming, glowing presence. S/he should give individual attention to every student in the class and make sure that nobody is doing positions in a way that causes them injury. I'm in the habit of doing yoga by myself almost every morning, but I still love going to class, because a good teacher can push you to go further than you could alone.

The physical space
This is where gyms suffer in comparison to yoga studios, which have airy, well-lighted, wood-floored rooms painted in soothing colours, with good music systems, and mood-enhancers like candles, incense, and aromatherapy.

The number of other students
Other people are also able to notice which teachers are good, and their classes are often so crowded that people have to stagger their yoga mats to avoid bumping into each other. If the teacher is good enough you can still get in a good class like this, but it's a completely different experience to take a very small class where you can interact directly with the teacher and they can assist you often. It's worth seeking out inconvenient times (early in the morning or later at night) for this luxury with a good teacher.

So where can I go and do it?
I will be adding to this list as I explore new places!

Tranquil Space:
Vinyasa style. This is where I took my teacher training, so I obviously like them a lot. It's a convenient location: 2024 P St, near the Dupont Metro. The studio space is very beautiful; they have a big calendar of classes to choose from, so you can always find a time that's right for you; and the teachers all know their stuff very well, and structure interesting and varied classes. And classes are offered for Level 1, 1/2, 2, and 3 - so you can avoid the frustration that comes from being an advanced student in an overly easy class, or vice versa. Kimberly Wilson is the founder, and her "you-go-girl!" personality pervades the studio - check out her yoga fashion boutique. This can occasionally be annoying even for me, and I've had men tell me that they sometimes feel slightly uncomfortable in the overly-feminine atmosphere. But despite her perky curls, Kimberly is sharp entrepeneur - her studio has exploded in popularity over the past two years and she's always coming up with new workshops and yoga retreats and special events - and a fantastic teacher; her classes are full to overflowing. The stunningly beautiful Lisa Farmer is another of my favorite teachers there - and for those who'd like a Bikram fix sans snake oil, she teaches a hot yoga class on Tuesday night. There is not much of an emphasis on chakras or spirituality, but every classes closes with a dedicational reading and a mantra. Mat and towel rental is $1; you can store your mat at the studio.

1635 Connecticut Avenue - a few blocks north of the Dupont Metro. They have passes which are slightly cheaper than most other yoga studios. DCYoga has a nice atmosphere; it doesn't feel like a business. Mats and towels are free and they have a pot-luck meditation party one Saturday every month. They have an extensive work-study program, so there are always groups of yoga students hanging around the front. And there is more of an emphasis on spirituality and meditation, which appeals to me (although not, perhaps, to you.) However, I have found that the teaching quality there is a bit spotty. Some teachers are absolutely amazing (oh I miss you Mike, kundalini master!) but some are quite green, and teach at a rather basic level, or might miss mistakes of alignment that their students make (or even make the mistakes themselves!) However - perhaps because of this spotty teaching quality - class size is often very small.

Bikram Yoga
1635 Connecticut Avenue - in the same building as DCYoga, one floor below. We know already how I feel about these guys. (Another telling detail: they charge the ripoff price of $2 for the all-important water bottle). The hot room is usually quite intense - you're contorting near a bunch of other half-dressed, sweaty people. Instructors bark orders more like aerobics instructors than's quite unpleasant. However, they do offer an excellent introductory deal of $20 for unlimited classes for a week. I have to say, if you want a detox week, sign up and do some sweaty yoga for 90 minutes every day. You will feel fabulous at the end of the week. But this is not a studio to stick with, in my opinion.

Flow Yoga
It's right next to the Whole Foods on 15th and P, so you can stop by for a smoothie after your class. This is a new studio - it opened over the summer - but thanks to their location they've already got a lot of students. I haven't taken many classes there yet, but I've liked the teachers I've had there very much. They offer Level 1 and Level 2 vinyasa classes and an Ashtanga class on Mondays; they also offer related classes like bellydancing and African dance (perfect for showing off at the Meridian Hill Park drum circle).

Unity Woods
The DC-area Iyengar studio. They have locations in Arlington, Tenlytown, and Bethesda, among others. I've taken classes at the Arlington studio and liked it; my experience there is the inspiration for all my previous comments about the Iyengar tradition. I quite like the founder's monthly newsletter; he seems like an interesting man.

Georgetown Yoga
Ashtanga studio on 1053 31st st. I've never gone here (location is inconvenient for me) but I've heard very good things about them from my friend Scott. Classes are rigorous and there's also a strong spiritual emphasis. They also have an excellent teacher training program (one weekend a month for a year).

18th and Yoga
Adams Morgan area - I haven't gone here yet! But a friend of a friend, Liz, teaches here, so I'm sure I will check it out soon.

Studio Serenity
Another Adams Morgan area place I intend to check out soon.

Circle Yoga
Upper NW DC; I haven't been here yet.

The National Capital YMCA
I haven't been here, but my friend Mehr writes:
"I've taken beginner and intermediate classes at the National Capital YMCA with Ra; they have multiple instructors. Their beginner classes are free and intermediate classes are for $68 for non-Y members. The Y promotes healing Hatha practice. Classes usually evolve around a theme; e.g. balance, or around strengthening a physical zone. Aside from the general philosophizing that I find annoying on a bad day and amusing on most other days, I think Ra is an excellent instructor and my practice has really evolved with him (I don't think it is a yoga instructor's job to preach; spirtual discovery should be largely left to the student)."

Other gyms
I don't know much about this. If you already have a gym you go to and they offer yoga, there are definitely amazing teachers at gyms - but there are also some shoddy ones. I would say that if you're serious about yoga, it's worth taking a few classes at a top-notch studio as well, just so you have a standard of comparison.

Zoe's living room
The price is right: I'm still training as a teacher, so it's free! I try to make a lovely atmosphere, with incense and candles, and since my classes are small I give a lot of personal attention and assists. But remember what I wrote about the dangers of teaching vinyasa style? I'm new, and no doubt totally suck at a lot of stuff.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

To a Verbose Suitor

You can't abstract me, sir, no;
this leg and this hip make
a perfect - (almost) - right, but then twist
and curve to other shape, un-
traceable and mocking words or any
thing not solid, ground, now.

You can't describe me, sir;
Not to draw me closer with a
less-than-spider web, not to placate
my eyes which might window soul
but are still round, heavy, wet, salt.

I change, I flow, in the time between
your thought
and your word
and in the time
inside that.
The pattern only patterns
from afar
and you want
to step

So close the pages of your book
(good only to press a flat flower)
and take that nearer step -
Sink foot into soft earth for print
which will deepen,
and in whose
sweet crevices
shoots of green
may grow
and fall.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Spin in circles at the National Arboretum

LOCATION: United States National Arboretum, 3501 New York Avenue, NE TIME: 8am to 5pm, every day except Dec. 25 (although you could probably jump the fence) EQUIPMENT: Yourself, water bottle, joie de vivre OPTIONAL: Shea butter, juice, badass friend Matthew with sangfroid and superb map-reading skills OTHER LOGISTICAL NOTES: Best way for carless people to get there from DC is to bike. A cab from Dupont Circle is about $11. There is also a bus that leaves from the Arboretum gates at closing time and takes you to Union Station. The Yellow Cab Headquarters is located just opposite the big sign for the Arboretum on New York Ave, so it's also very easy to catch a cab home. (Plus you get to peek in the door and see what those people you speak to on the phone actually look like.)

Recipe to Cure Most Cases of Existential Dread:

1) Arrive at National Arboretum
2) Remove shoes
3) Tour Japanese garden with award-winning bonsai* trees on display; reflect on their similarity to well-manicured vegetable poodles; whistle "Waltzing Matilda"
4) Toss rock back and forth with friend; try to show off and do a fancy throw twisting it under your high kick; drop rock on your foot
5) Foot massage exchange with friend while sitting near fountain in herb garden
6) Walk through underbrush barefoot, attempting to catch the multitudinous grasshoppers
7) Yoga in azalea garden
8) Get down on your belly to observe praying mantis doing weird dance, until you get too creeped out by its evilness
9) Wash feet in herb garden fountain, surrounded by couples and cute old men smelling the roses. Notice rainbow reflected in the water drops.
10) Spin in circles really really really fast and fall over.
11) Sit in field and read Walt Whitman's Song of Myself to your friend, in its entirety, making sure you pause to take sips of water. Important: When you start to read, don't pay attention to how long it is or you will be discouraged and fear for the integrity of your vocal cords. Just put yourself in Walt's hands and do not fear. He will carry you through the whole way. Oh, and when he tells you "let us stand up" - obey him!

It was a Sunday, so after the Arboretum closed we went on over to the Meridian Hill Park Drum Circle. That's not part of the recipe, though - I'm just obsessed.


* Correct pronunciation, I learned, is "bone-sigh" not "bahn-zai" which means "to your health and long life!"

Friday, October 15, 2004

Ride your bike with no hands and no helmet through traffic

LOCATION: Streets of DC TIME: First and last Friday of the month, if you want to be social about it* EQUIPMENT: Yourself, bicycle, fluid in your inner ear, cute little dress OPTIONAL (but HIGHLY RECOMMENDED): underwear

The first time I went to Amsterdam I was overwhelmed with joy, probably like when the ugly duckling met the other swans, or the friendless high school geek went to his first Star Wars convention. Finally, a city that understood my bike-riding philosophy! Bikers zoomed through sidewalks, down roads, over curbs - in fact, anywhere that gave them the straightest line to their destination. They scattered gaggles of tourists like small children running at pigeons, grandly disregarding the numerous dedicated bicycle lanes. They wore business suits and cocktail dresses and flowing skirts and silly purple scarves. They talked on their cellphones, munched apples, waved at their friends, and fixed their hair as they rode, with impeccable balance. And none of them wore bike helmets. Oh, they were such bad-asses.

*sweeping national generalization alert* It seems that people in the States have a more extremist attitude about their sports than the Dutch. For some reason - despite the fact that bicycles are cheap, efficient, non-polluting, maneuverable, and fantastic exercise - most people don't ride them. (And some people even feel the need to go and invent the Segway, regarding which any explanation I've heard for why to buy a $5,000 scooter with a complicated motor instead of an elegantly simple $100 bicycle strikes me as total codswallop.) Yet it seems that people who do get into their bicycles are more likely to really get into it, complete with the purchase of special shoes and shiny pants and water-delivery systems and pedal clips and helmets. To go with the hoary old Protestant culture rubric, the hobby is seen as another arena for you to do work, rather than as a convenient facilitator for the rest of your life. Not that I don't think it's cool to really get into your bicycle! But it's just a shame that car-driving people might be intimidated by the perceived startup cost, and never even give it a try.

Me, I like to ride my bike with no hands - it's good balance practice for yoga, plus you can do arm stretches as you ride, and generally have an extraordinarily playful time feeling the wind whip against you. But in a city like DC, it usually gets a stare, and sometimes it sends me into paroxysms of self-consciousness, like "They think I'm showing off! But I'd be doing this even if I was alone! But I do like getting glances from other cute bicyclists. Admit it, I am showing off. Oh, is that wrong? But I don't want to stop!" One night I was riding my bike no-handedly to a party in Arlington, wearing a little purple dress. Going over the Key Bridge I noticed a group of cute guys walking towards me, smiling and clapping. I glowed and stretched my arms high in the air; I was, dear reader, very definitely showing off. Then a breeze picked up out of nowhere and flipped my dress up around my shoulders.

It totally served me right. Oh well, at least I was wearing underwear.


*On the first and last Fridays of every month, bikers gather in large groups around Dupont and shut down traffic in a Critical Mass. It's fun! You should go! I haven't gone yet myself, or I would have tried to describe it more. But I hear that afterwards, everyone goes drinking, and we all know that bikers are hot.**

**Or at least, my only chance not to flee back to Australia immediately.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Babysit your neighbor's children

LOCATION: A city TIME: Mutually convenient EQUIPMENT: Yourself, Theodora, Victoria (or their equivalents), neighborliness, pink bicycles OPTIONAL: thumping ovaries

I used to live in the basement of the Fondo del Sol art gallery - about which more later. Two doors down from us, the owners of the Alex Gallery had two adorable daughters who often rode their bicycles back and forth on the sidewalk. As my friend Missy used to say, "My ovaries were thumping!" I introduced myself to their mother Julia one day - she was a very interesting and lively woman - and said I'd be happy to babysit them on the weekend days she had to watch the gallery.

Seriously, I think that there's a huge missing market here. There are all these stressed-out families with children in need of care, and there are all these twenty-something girls with no families anywhere near on the horizon, but ovaries which occasionally thump. Somebody needs to figure out a way of efficiently hooking us up together.

Anyway, Theodora and Victoria were absolutely charming - sweet and well-behaved, but also curious, creative, and strong-willed - the kind of kids who persuade people who never thought they wanted kids, to have 'em. (My aunt's children pulled a similar trick on my parents, poor things.) Julia said that lonely old women would sometimes stop on the street and basically beg to adopt them.*

One day during cicada season I took them on a field trip to Dumbarton Oaks (about which more later). They rode their bikes. Later that afternoon I wrote the following.

she called,
but I, happy in my velocity
thought if I didn't notice I could keep on riding -
but Look!
she called again, to make it clear
this was non-negotiable, so I wheeled my bike around
to where the girls were kneeling.

An accusing finger pointed out a cicada carcass
gently baking on the sidewalk: crumpled wings
and a parabola of sparkling guts.
- this time
expectantly, waiting for my explanation.
I had to vouch for the universe.
How? she had no idea, but there must
be some explanation. And I thought, how cute -
she's going through her death phase, and I get to help.

"Well you know...all insects die eventually, and maybe
it had babies." This was clearly lame. "But what
if it didn't have babies?" "That's true -
maybe it didn't. It's a shame. There's not
really a reason. Here, though, we can do something,
we can take it out of the street."
And with a leaf I scraped the carcass, put it on the grass.
We all waved. "Goodbye!" Soon after:

And, happy in my velocity, I turned - "I think
there are millions of cicadas. It's just dangerous
to be a cicada." The curiosity skipped to a new foot.
"Look, half its butt is missing. And ants are eating it."
And we left it there.

On the third
her older sister said, with
Authority: " I think that there are
a whole lot of those, Victoria." And there were -
thick as locusts, scattered like autumn leaves.

If the bodies crunched
beneath the bicycle wheels
I couldn't hear it -
not for the clean click of gears,
the shuffle of feet on pedals,
the rustle of pink handlebar ribbons in the wind.


*Attention, men! Do you realize how unfairly this whole game is stacked in favour of you? You're playing against a gender that has an almost uncontrollable biological imperative to be selfless. It is wrong to abuse this fact.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Seventeen Year Itch

They sleep for seventeen years
(an epoch of indecision to shame Hamlet)
so I wonder what is it, in the end
that persuades them to give this life a shot -
to leave their comfy dark cryogenic chamberfuls
of dreams, of conversations
that never end and never begin,
of gossamer webs of philosophy
and imaginary technicolour -
to give all that up
and roll the dice on eating,
Did it depend on a unanimous vote
and a swarm of would-be wakers
finally bulled the dreamer in the corner
into giving it a shot?
Or maybe everyone was perfectly content playing games
until some trouble-maker proposed a dare?
Or maybe, quite simply, everyone suddenly realized
that they were hungry, seventeen-year hungry,
starving slobbering ravenous and dreams are just thin broth?

But whatever, the reason
is overwhelming and for a month
we are cicada-fied
we are cicada-swarmed
alarmed with cicadas
it is a cicadarama
as they make up for lost time
and blanket the earth
with their quivering new red eyes
their eager singular oceanic cries
their gentle insistent rustle of life...

I watched him shudder out of his chrysalis
pausing, halfway, to
crumpled tissue wings wet -
so tiny in the breeze -
Soon he will chirp and crawl and feed
but now he
and waits.

Perhaps he knows as well as the rest of us
that the sun might be shining
and the sap might be rising
but it's still a dangerous thing -
deciding to get out of bed in the morning.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Chip in for a figure model at Federico's house

LOCATION: Federico's place TIME: Tuesdays, maybe Thursdays EQUIPMENT: Yourself, $ for model, art supplies OPTIONAL: divine inspiration

I was idly sketching people at the Meridian Hill Park drum circle last Sunday (I like it more every time I go. There's incense, happy children and grandmothers, totally awesome rhythms...) and a man came up and introduced himself to me. I could tell that he was a real artist because when he flipped through my sketchbook, he didn't say "Oh, that's great! That's great too!" like most people do, without really looking - he just sort of raised his eyebrows until he got to the only picture in there that I was slightly proud of, and said, "That's good. Now, that is something."

He said that he was trying to organize a sketching/painting group that would split the cost of a figure model, to be held every Tuesday at his apartment. The figure model will switch weekly between male and female, and sometimes they will have special excursions. Unfortunately, I can't ever go unless they change the time, because I teach yoga class. But if you're interested, you should email him.

Tell a silly story at the DCJCC Jules Feiffer opening reception

LOCATION: 1529 16th St TIME: After-workish EQUIPMENT: Yourself, photo ID OPTIONAL: Strange story about a dingo

The DCJCC is the Jewish Community Center* here in DC. They have plays, concerts, a gym with a pool, yoga & aerobics & bellydancing classes, and I've heard good things about their art classes (photography, painting, sewing). Basically, there's everything you could desire from a "community center."

Last night they had an opening reception for an exhibit of the work of Jules Feiffer, with the goal of promoting his play A Bad Friend, opening Oct 30. I'm not all that familiar with Feiffer's work, and the exhibit was quite small, so it wasn't a life-changing experience. One thing I hadn't realized, though, was what a lovely kinesthetic sense he has in his sketches - something he shares with fellow cartoon artist Bill Watterson. (Click on the previous link for an articulate rant by Watterson on the degenerate state of comics today, nothing like the innovative whimsical artwork he enjoyed when he was a young lad. And indeed perhaps it's telling that both Feiffer and Watterson quit making comics after a while in favor of other forms of self-expression.) I liked Feiffer's sketch of a little girl "climbing" her dad's leg - perhaps one of the universal parent-child bonding rituals? And his dancing woman reminded me of a cross between one of the skinnier Degas ballerina sculptures, and the uptight "happy face" mom in the movie Strictly Ballroom.

The food at receptions at the DCJCC is lovely! Tasty snacks, vegetables and hummus and cheese, and the bartenders don't even bat an eye when you go back for your third cup of wine. My lovely friend Natalie must keep a pocket-sized black hole inside her tiny elegant purse, because she managed to stuff an amazing amount of napkin-wrapped hummus-y pita in there, smoothly and seamlessly while making conversation. I wonder if perhaps, in a previous incarnation before her current intellectual artistic state, she was a squirrel living in a cold climate.

But Natalie and I discovered the price of shamelessly nursing the buffet table as a reception wanes: you're barraged with attention from eager but socially awkward men. Ancient computer science professors, middle-aged international economists, young journalists - they accosted us asking fumbling questions about our place of residence and future career plans. My mouth was greedily full of hummus and I was spilling crumbles of cheese onto the floor, but none of them seemed to notice.

This kind of situation is dangerous and tempting. I found myself explaining to one young suitor that I was Australian, but left the country because of a family tragedy when one of my young cousins was devoured by a dingo. "We searched all over for her but the only thing we found was a pile of chewed-up little bones in the woods." I said that it was a difficult ethical situation for me, because dingoes were endangered, but my personal animus towards them was such that it was all I could do to restrain myself from wandering out in the woods with a machine gun. So I made my way to a country that didn't contain 17 of the 20 most dangerous and poisonous species in the world. The poor fellow was polite, and utterly perplexed.

So, in conclusion: the DCJCC is very hospitable! Go see their plays, take their art classes, swim in their pool, and nosh your heart out at their receptions. But just remember, greed always has its price.

*I am not Jewish, but sometimes I pretend. After all, jews are neat.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Take one of my yoga classes

LOCATION: My yoga studio TIME: Tuesday evenings, for now EQUIPMENT: Yourself, your breath OPTIONAL: Yoga mat, kind offering to the volunteer teacher

Yoga changed my life and I want to learn how to share it with people. I just completed a level 1 teacher training course at the Tranquil Space studio, and will take the 4 month intensive course in the spring. Classes for now are free and informal - I don't think I'm qualified enough yet to charge for my lessons. We'll see how it goes.

If you're interested, request to join and send a message introducing yourself here:
Since lessons are free and in my living room, I'll reserve the right to be very selective about members I accept!

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Sketch strangers at Tryst

LOCATION: Tryst coffeeshop, 18th St in Adams Morgan EQUIPMENT: Yourself, sketchbook, audacity*

I was writing in my notebook at Tryst late one night and a cute guy sat down near me and ordered a glass of white wine and berries. He had a boyish, Italian-looking face with a square jaw, a smooth brow, a small, slightly twisted nose, and very red lips. So I started drawing his face. I knew that he noticed it, although he studiously avoided looking at me. He kept his face still and occasionally suppressed a smirk; when I leaned over to drink my tea, he tried to peek at the picture. Yet I could tell that he was also slightly uncomfortable. He was suddenly aware of the sensual aspects of his face, and of the fact that they were there, written on his body, available for any stranger to investigate and enjoy. He realized that he was posing, and it made him feel feminine and passive, but he also couldn't help it. From the way he was looking at me when he first sat down, I knew he was going to try to talk to me; but when I started drawing him, even though it intensified our connection, it was like I took his voice away.

Being objectified is simultaneously flattering and discombobulating. It's a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there. I'd throw some academic jargon at you, but I've never taken a women's studies course.

*Come to think of it, you should probably only try this if you're a girl, or extremely good at not seeming threatening. If a guy I didn't like started to draw me, I'd be totally skeeved out.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Get out of bed already and play the organ at the Scottish Rite Freemason World Headquarters

LOCATION: The Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite Freemasons, 1733 16th St (the whopping sphinxy marble building)
TIME: Weekdays, 9 to 4, unless you manage to chat up Bob, the building superindent EQUIPMENT: Yourself, angst OPTIONAL: Love of organ music

For some reason my serotonin levels crashed this morning. I could try blaming it on a few weeks of turbulent love (platonic and romantic and familial types all...enough to make a girl want to give up); but really it's just that my humours have always swung freakishly betwen sanguine and melancholy. After I'd been lying in bed for six hours*, Ben, in a remarkable effort of telephone faith healing, convinced me to get up and go outside and put some clothes on.** I was riding my bike down 16th St when I looked over and noticed a group of students on the steps of the Scottish Rite Freemason World Headquarter building, which is a classical marble behemoth of a building extending almost a whole city block, with a majestic set of stairs and two gigantic sphinxes on either side of the entrance. I almost kept riding - but if there's one thing I am, even in the depths of gloom, it's a nosy parker. So I walked in, and grabbed a bunch of brochures. An attendant rushed up to me and said, "Sorry, we're closed today, it's just a special tour. Please come again during the week!"**

I went back out, climbed up on top of one of the sphinxes and started writing in my journal. I noticed that the other man in there kept on peeking out at me. Eventually he came out and introduced himself. We chatted for a while and he said that he was the building supervisor and would be happy to give me a tour.

The building is an odd mix of Greek and Egyptian architecture. There are inspiring quotations, carvings of Egyptian hieroglyphs, and busts of Greek philosophers everywhere. It turns out that their reading room is open to the public: it's a beautiful room with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, internet access for your laptop, and marble statues everywhere. (Bob said that 85% of the volumes on the shelves related to Freemasonry. There were a LOT of books.)

He also showed me their stacks, with exhibitions of old manuscripts (including a lot of first editions and letters of Robert Burns), the kitchen, with its antique dumbwaiters and old icebox, the dining room, with glass tables displaying coins from lodges all over the world, the community garden (you can sign up to plant tomatoes), the formal garden (tended by a incredibly hard-working red flannelly 80-year old man and his daughter Mary-Sue: "I just don't know how I'm going to replace John," Bob sighed), Bob's office (where I played with his adorable labrador bitch, whose effusive, eager-to-please personality reminded me of her master) and the meeting room upstairs (with a ceiling dome 180ft tall and purple velvet drapery). There was a sweeping marble staircase on the way up to the meeting room, and a single-seater chair was carved into the rails with the inscription: "Know Thyself." I sat down experimentally. "I think you have to know yourself to sit there," Bob joked, and I sprang back up. In the meeting room was a piano/organ with lovely acoustics and Bob told me that I could come back to play it whenever I wanted to. "Organs are like a sailing boat - you've got to use them constantly or you have huge maintenance costs!"

I don't know that much about the Masons, except what I've gleaned from that Simpsons episode, reading Foucault's Pendulum, and the fact that their "all-seeing eye" is on the American $1 bill. So I won't try to give you the scoop on their organization - except that, unlike the Scientologists, this tour did not send shivers down my spine, and I would have felt like an asshole mocking Bob like I did with the Scientologist guide - Bob was obviously a nice man, not out to rip anybody off, and genuinely excited about all the beautiful things he had that were open to the public.

An interesting quote, from the brochure: "To a Non-Mason: You Must Seek Masonic Membership":

"Ask and you shall receive! Knock and the door will be opened unto you! Seek and you shall find! As a Past Grand Master of Masons in California, these comments of mine may be helpful...
While the real roots of Masonry are olost in faraway mists, these items show that our recorded history goes back well over 600 years....The historical advance of science also treats of our operative ancient brethren who were architects and stonemasons of geometry. It is apparent from this portrayal that they had a very real and personal identification with the Deity and that this fervent devotion provided energy to build cathedrals. They embraced the teachings of Plato and applied Pythagorean relationships. Just as there is a beauty of harmony credited to mathematical relationships on which music is based, just so these master geometricians treated architecture. The architects and stonemasons became the personification of geometry, performing extraordinary feats with squares and compasses." According to Bob, most medieval stone-workers couldn't read or write, so certificates were impossible - but Masons were known to be excellent workers and were ranked by skill, so if you showed up at a cathedral site and told the master-worker the appropriate password, he could give you the right job immediately.

So, in conclusion: get out of bed, you lazy idiot, and tour the Scottish Rite Freemason World Headquarters, work in their reading room, stroll in their garden, and play the organ in their purple domed room. It's way more fun than feeling sorry for yourself.

*With only a brief interlude to pick up the legless red velvet couch that my sweet elfish friend Chris left outside my door with a stern sign in Spanish: "¡No toque esto!!! Pertenece a Zoe!!!!", along with a CD of his strange banjo music where he covers Guns n' Roses. Thanks, Chris.
**Not in that same order, though.
**It's funny how sometimes you meet people who are like archetypes of cases described by medieval medicinal theory. Take this first Mason guy: out of the four humours (black bile=earth, phlegm=water, blood=air, and yellow bile=fire), his phlegm was so clearly out of balance. His nose was runny, his eyes waters, in fact every single mucous membrane seemed soggy, and his handshake was cold and damp. I imagine that a physician in Shakespeare's day would have prescribed some hot dry concoctions like pepper and chili to balance him out.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Live with the most adorable roommate

who overflows with empathy and positive energy*, has the softest dreadlocks in the world, inexhaustible frilly clothing and beauty products to lend, pink feminist stickers all over her belongings, an empire of friends to call on for favours, a grandmother who can bake sublime biscuits, and a treasure trove of 50s cheesecake postcards for the purposes of decoupaging bicycles.

OOPS! Sorry!! You can't!!! I've already got her!!!!

*and vanilla rose lotion

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Be a living statue at a Dresden Dolls show

Liz and Zoe at the Dresden Dolls Posted by Hello

LOCATION: The Black Cat (14th and T) TIME: October 27th EQUIPMENT: $cover, costume, love of hammy theatrical display

I first saw the Dresden Dolls early this year. Stopping by Iota one Sunday afternoon for a drink, my friend Liz and I noticed the poster for the band that night, which quoted some reviews that mentioned the band's cult following in Boston; people would sometimes arrive at performances in costume to honor the lead singer Amanda Palmer's previous career as a street mime. So - as you may have noticed, it doesn't take much to persuade me to put on my pink wig.

The show was absolutely amazing: a crackling and charismatic performance. We twirled our feather boas and waltzed back and forth across the dance floor. Amanda and Brian came up to us after the performance to compliment us on our silliness, so Liz (whose antennae are always perked for a celebrity encounter), invited them for pie and an interview for her friend's zine.

You can read Amanda's diary for some interesting insights on what it's like to be a sincere artist struggling with newfound success in the music industry, and this essay for some tips on being a living statue. They're coming back to DC on October 27th - a great chance to rehearse your Halloween costume, or an excuse for another one altogether.

Shop for groceries on a snow day

LOCATION: Soulless Arlington suburb (take your pick) TIME: Ask the weather gods EQUIPMENT: Snow boots, $ for groceries OPTIONAL: guilty soul

I loved blizzards in my old days as a consultant driving to work - and not just for the chance to avoid another day inside an office, helping rich people get richer and feeling my soul slowly calcify.

Snow's sheer beauty, first of all. I feel silly trying to poetically describe what approximately ten thousand generations before me have also poetically described. But let me just mention a lacy icy filigreed bush underneath a steam vent, which was puffing clouds down to make a watery embrace between the melting ice of the bush and the condensing steam. Drops of water ran down the branches to freeze again into loopy stalagmites: gas to liquid to solid and back again. My friend Sadao and I stared for about fifteen minutes, then sprinted home to get a tripod for his camera.

I used to live near the Courthouse metro stop, a paragon of Republican urban design. The streets are very wide and friendly to cars, and all human interaction is completely sterile. Walking around, you feel like a frictionless Newtonian billiard ball that rocketed off the confines of the pool table into deep space, fast and straight. But when all those ugly cars are buried under pretty snow, people come out and walk in all directions; you can't tell where the roads or sidewalks or directional markers are. People are supposed to be at work, but they're not, so they feel playful, maybe a little bit like they're wearing costumes, and so strangers make eye contact and smile and crack little jokes in that way that strangers only are allowed to, here, when there's some kind of anomaly or emergency. (And we already know how much community tickles me.)

So during one blizzard I walked over to Giant, the only open grocery store. The aisles were full of happy strangers, dripping puddles of mud all over the floor, buying apple cider and popcorn. As I was standing in the checkout line, I heard the woman complaining about how tired she was. "I was one of the only people who could make this shift, because I live really close to here. I'm going to be at work for fourteen hours today."

"That's a shame," I said to her.

"Oh yeah, and it's tough to walk to work in all the snow - I have a bad knee, I had surgery on it three days ago." She pointed to the knee under the apron. She was a middle aged woman, fat, with a receding hairline. Her hair was blonde and fine and so thin that you could see through to her scalp. The harsh fluorescent light picked out all the grease and pockmarks and broken capillaries and cakey makeup on her skin, so that it actually made me wince to look at her. She was slightly out of breath in the way that fat people get, and I could smell the sourness of her sweat.

"Three days ago! And you're still coming into work! I hope you're getting some overtime."

"Yeah. And I've got to keep my job. I told my daughter that she could go to any college that she wanted and I have to be able to pay for her."

She told me all about her daughter, who was the best daughter that any mother could ask for. She was such a bright student and did all her homework and she had always been so good to her mother. And she was pretty and she had fun and all the boys wanted to ask her out when she went to parties. The people behind us in line were starting to get impatient (although not nearly as quickly as I'm sure they would have on a regular day.)

"Okay, well, thank you so much. Have a wonderful day and good luck with everything," I said. Even with the beatific smile that spread over her face when she talked about her daughter, I still had to stifle a wince when I looked at her.

She patted my hand warmly. "Thanks for listening, dear."

How varied our human life is! I was living in a young strong body, having experiences and sensations and ideas galore, and her whole life consisted of sleeping and standing still under fluorescent light in an ugly grocery store, bedeviled by pains from a broken-down body. And yet she was working for someone she loved, and felt that her life had meaning - and I, despite my abundance of physical and intellectual gifts, was adrift in existential confusion, squandering my talents at a ridiculous job. I read somewhere that God gives you only as many spiritual challenges as you can handle. When I've built up some more good karma, will I be reincarnated as her?

Monday, October 04, 2004

Watching a Bird in the Airport Lounge

"Oh and she thinks that glass is the sky"
"She doesn't belong here. We do
a very different kind of flying."
Yet he walked up so smooth
and bent so quick
she didn't even flutter in his palms.
"I just want to take her outside."
And as he strode his pride
rose up through his steps and down
to the tender hand held at his side.