Monday, March 20, 2017

Rocket Girl

There are some things one should really only buy from Italy. Shoes, flashy cars and, yeah, espresso makers.  And no one's ever going to accuse me of being self-denying. To wit, meet my precious:

Rocket Cellini Evoluzione V2
I have made 8 espressos in the last half an hour. Sure, a few of them went right down the drain. But I'm so jacked up on caffeine right now, I should be able to unpack every box in the next 2 hours :-)

This machine hovers in the sweet spot between commercial- and consumer-grade. It works for home and light-commercial purposes and it'll likely last 20 years. Moreover, the heat exchanger (2 pressurization systems) allows one to make the espresso while also foaming the milk. And the foamer does not fuck around.

We also bought a good Italian grinder (the Lux). It's not the one that costs 1300 bucks so we'll need to play about with a knob to set the right grind. Once we find that, though, this version is every bit as good as the $$ one at half the price.

I can tell you that pulling a perfect shot is both complicated and eternally simple. I deliberately went with a semi-automatic machine because, people, I'm not a robot. I want to engage with my coffee, not to simply press a button. And every time I open the brew lever I am miraculously transported from greasy, grey, late-winter TO to endlessly beautiful, mid-summer Barcelona. Mentally, I'm on a terasse. This whole house smells like a cafe. I'm using some pre-ground beans (Faema gave us a batch ground to the correct consistency for practice purposes) and the taste is crazy delicious. It's caramelly and bitter with some cocoa undertones - I'm not into fruity beans. I steamed all the kinds of milk from skim to homogenized to determine what will make the best foam. I'm leaning towards the full fat for a thick, milky pour. Note: these beans must be jacked on caffeine because, even as a daily 3-shot drinker, I'm jittery right now.

This machine plumbs into the waterline which, obvs we won't do till we bring it back to the "new" house in the fall. In the meanwhile, we can use its water reservoir which, while quite robust, still required 2 refills while Scott made his own batch of coffees.

I've spent 15 years wanting a gorgeous machine and Scott has always used the same refrain: Wait till we renovate and put in an espresso counter. Secretly, I believe that was his way to avoid bringing any new appliances into an overstuffed kitchen and, really, he doesn't like to commit when it comes to the gizmos. Remind me to tell you about the ice cream maker fiasco of 2010.

The time for delayed gratification has been and gone. This is the season for living like a grown-up - a grown-up with great taste. We have a huge, if not chic, front porch (maybe 300 square feet) that'll be totally perfect for knitting while coffee drinking this summer. Now I just need to find that real fur blanket...

Friday, March 17, 2017

Movin' On Up

Yeah - I'm supposed to be moving shit right now. I can hear my husband muffle-yelling at me from the third floor. What can I say? I need a few minutes to chill.

Here's a photo of the dining room of house we're vacating. Disclaimer: The whole fucking house looks like this:


Truly, at this point I cannot tell you if I'm so stressed that I've come out the other side, or if I'm in denial the likes of which is so significant that nothing can touch me. Occasionally I think of all of the elements of this reno I haven't even contemplated yet and I feel a wave of panic. But I can't encounter those necessary steps until I get through this one.

So let's focus on the objective positives:
  • The weather is changing and I can tell it's gonna be fine living amongst the residential peeps. The downtown area is famous for reckless deforesting but fancy homeowners in the satellite neighbourhoods know how to fight the system. This house has some very nice light and a north/south orientation.
  • While I'm not living amongst the establishment proper, I'm pretty fucking close. And, let's face it, this is probably as close to this sort of vibe I'm going to get cuz, when all is said and done, I'm freaked out by homogeneity. I wrote this post 6 years ago and strangely, today I'm moving right next door, if only temporarily. Wychwood Park is the idyll in that link, Wychwood is my surrounding 'hood. Hillcrest is across the road. The stupidly gorgeous, organic hipster market cum artist commune is at the end of our dead end street (well, across a fence we can't get through, so we have to go up and around). OK, it would appear that I should look at a map more often. (Apparently, I overestimated how far north our new place is (everything is north when you live south of Bloor) and the market is both north and east of the new place. But still - it's only 10 minutes away.) I can almost imagine that I've moved to Toronto for a short-stint and I'm living as one imagines the natives do. It's not particularly real, but it's liminal reality.
  • Weekend market aside, I'll have 2 of the best grocery stores in TO within a 5 to 7 minute walk (and on the way home from the subway). I can tell you right now, if there's nothing else I miss about this adventure when it's over, it'll be the all-out access to best-in-class groceries.
  • Did I mention we have 6 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms (one of which is on the main floor). In my current home we have 4 bedrooms (albeit of reasonable size). We're each about to have 2 rooms of our own in addition to common space. Decadent, I'm sure you'll agree. Sure, one of the 6 bedrooms is a glorified closet, but it's nice enough and it'll be perfect for yoga. Plus, when you have minimal furniture, what do you need with a zillion rooms.
I know that there are many pluses I haven't had the chance to consider as yet. And figuring those out will be fun. One thing I love: The best cappuccino machine vendor in the city (perhaps country) is a block away. And I think I've chosen the model that'll sit at the espresso station when we finish the reno:

Rocket Giotto Revoluzione v2
No reason I can't buy it next week though, right?

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The First of Those Ten Posts about Sugar Addiction I Promised to Write

I'm only sort of joking about writing 10 posts on this topic because its impact is everywhere - systemic and personal. There isn't a part of the complex continuum of human experience that sugar doesn't touch, in the West, anyway. And whatever it touches, that thing gets fine.

This post is not about how sugar will kill you. (Note: I appear to be in the mood to tell everyone what everything is not about. Let's hope it's a phase.) This post is about the no-shit thrall it has me in and how fucking miserable it is to have had to remove it from my personal human experience.

I've said to a bunch of people, over the past 6 weeks that, if sugar were heroin, I'd be in a facility detoxing. I am not joking. And I don't even have to hide for shame because, sugar - it's legal, it's in all the fun foods, it's in many of the not fun foods. Everyone eats so the issue is theoretically omnipresent. I can talk about it and you can laugh and it's all good.

But it's really not good.

Allow me to give the requisite high-level overview:
  • Seven weeks ago I eliminated all sugar, all grains (every last fucking one of them including the ones you've never heard of), 90% of booze (except for up to 15 oz per week in course of 36 hours on Sat/Sun. If I don't drink it then, it's done till the next week), all legumes, all soy and every last form of junk food. If it doesn't have 8 ingredients or less, all of which you'll find in nature, I don't eat it. You know how I secretly judge people who do this, right?
  • What does that leave? Organic or grass-fed everything that falls into the meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, vegetables (even the occasional starch or nightshade), fruit - but only the berries, pears and apples - unless you count coconut. I like to call coconut my new food group. BTW, I've always enjoyed coconut but even I'm finding it hard to keep the love. I also eat dairy, albeit in moderate full-fat amounts. And most beloved, one daily, dry cappuccino with 2 or 3 shots of espresso. Fair Warning: I may lose it on anyone who suggests I should give this a miss. My genetic testing showed that I have a caffeine-sensitivity gene thing that goes along with my vitamin D issue gene thing. (I know, my science-speak is impressive. Caffeine exacerbates the vit D issue.) I of all people should be giving the coffee a miss. But it's going to be the last fucking thing to go. On the upside, I down it with 16 grams of collagen protein which I gleefully stir into it while taking 2000 IUs of Vit D to offset the damage. Yup. I've become that person, but it's the subject of another post.
  • How else does my anti-inflammatory approach correlate with other genetic test results? I'm not gluten or dairy intolerant, gene-wise. But I sure have got rid of the gluten. For me, it's pretty easy (if meh) to live without grains. Legumes I love, but I don't miss them overly, though I may have at first. Weirdly, I don't care about anything but sugar. The degree to which I care about booze is only the degree to which it fucks with my blood sugar. Because apparently, that's my high of choice. But, in a sugar-free vacuum, I'll take a good chocolate bar before alcohol, any day. I miss the junk food, particularly fried carbs with weird coatings, preferably laden in sugar. Do you know that popcorn is a grain?! Lord knows what I thought it was.
  • Why am I doing this masochistic thing? Because my body pain is caused by systemic inflammation and sugar, grains, booze and processed foods are the most inflammatory foods out there. In the event that one will have direct, or indirect, inverse correlation with the other, I'm on the hook to verify. Sugar addiction is the flaw in the design of human evolution. Just watch every metabolic syndrome documentary ever made or read the literature (high and low). Go to any mall in suburban North America. Consider diabetes, an epidemic that's going to bankrupt the global health care system unless we start to make serious cultural shifts and stop burning out our pancreases by mainlining sugar. Note to reader: Of course, this is true, but I'm only saying this because I can't eat it.
  • One more thing: I'm pretty stringent. The only goddamned reason I'd ever consider doing this for my health. And it won't work if I don't do it consistently. The smallest amount of sugar (subject of yet another post) makes me actually tingle, esp. if my blood sugar is low. I feel it happening in my brain and I love it. And then it's gone. And then I want more. So I stay the fuck away from it and life seems endlessly flat.
When I stopped eating in the way I had, in some sense, I lost my identity. Hear melodrama if you must, but that's not the angle I'm working. I had lived under certain ebullient terms that worked for me, and they are gone. For the first three weeks, I felt the numb thud of craving, followed by a sinking feeling of loss, in practically every moment (to say nothing of being sick as a dog).

For three weeks, things were really fucking bad. I don't know how my colleagues tolerated me, although they were incredibly tolerant. Sometimes, when I got  bitchy or stared at them as they ate muffins or chocolate, they'd make jokes about the absurdity of my detox. It defused the bomb.

Scott had the much harder job. That man is a saint and I don't say shit like this ever. I couldn't go 3 sentences without bringing it back, in some way or another, to how my life was broken without delicious, sweet things. And I wanted to talk constantly. I could not shut up about sugar and how lost I was and how life is effectively colourless without sugar. Or about how Big Sugar's going to be the end of humanity (which I do believe, by the way, but really...). Or about how everything he was eating was going to kill him. I know. I'm a tough sell right now. But I'm doing really well by comparison with last week.

I mean, this week I have all of the same feelings, but they're not as intolerable. There's occasional reprieve. On some level, this fast has broken me. Oh, sure, I'm in the lure, but I'm far enough away to feel a little bit safe. The sad truth is that the thing I miss most is the thing I've got to stop missing in order to actually be ok with this lifestyle scenario. And you know I don't want to do this. But my ever-practical side is adaptable. My brain will eventually find the same sexy joy in this diet as it did in my last (God help me for writing shit like that) because I need to find beauty and satisfaction in eating. It's non-negotiable for me.

Moreover, while this way is so dull, it's so stable. I am never hungry and I never crash (though thinking of eating often makes me feel physically sick, I imagine for emotional reasons). When I do have to scrounge up a meal, there's a lot of delicious and decadent good-for-you food out there. More to the point, I'm a really good cook. What can I say? I'm no prodigy of crafts but I'm confident with food. I get food and drink. Cooking is a meditation of gratitude, a way to invest a small part of yourself into what will nourish you. It's how you introduce yourself to your meal. I forgot how fun it is to cook (because I got angry at people I was cooking for and not cooking was how I punished them. But really, I punished myself. You know how that is.) Cooking is the new eating, I like to say, because it's where you first meet your meal. But it's labour-intensive. It's my urban, first world way to hunt and gather.

Anyone who tells you that you can eat this way (organically, sustainably), as affordably as you can while following the standard American diet, is fucking lying. On one level, you're addicted to sugar because it suits the economy. If you subsist on the cheap franken-foods, it's because they're designed to make you love them (whether you can afford better and realize that you should eat better). The only way I can bring myself to approach this lifestyle is by eating the most desirable healthful foods and they cost. For a family of three, we used to spend 900 bucks month on groceries. I know that's a lot but I live in the heart of a big city, in an expensive country and I don't limit myself. That price included booze, fwiw... We now buy way less booze and I'm still spending about 200 bucks a month more overall. Mind you, we're eating more of the food we buy and those meals are so nutrient dense that they're giving a lot of value for the money, even if the cost is absurd. What I don't do much now is eat out, not because I can't find food to eat, but because restaurants without wine and dessert are very depressing to me. Also, most of what I cook tastes better than restaurant food because I'm controlling the taste factors that matter to me.

To some extent sugar is a metaphor for my decadence. With no irony, I do recall relating my current experience to the fall of Rome, recently. Sigh. It's also a great drug and I'm bereft to see it go. For how long will I do this? Who can say, but I imagine quite a while because it could take a year to observe potential changes in pain, stiffness and bone/joint health. I also want time to consider potential interdependencies with yoga, my arrhythmia and my brain chemistry. Living balancedly is excessively dull, but very smooth.

Today's questions: Have you removed all the fun foods and did it work to diminish whatever issue you manage? Are you a sugar addict with a capital A? Have you ever overcome an addiction (to anything) and, if yes, can you relate to what I'm describing? Let's talk.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Back to the Studs

I don't know that I've ever gone this long without writing something non-work related. Moreover, I'm not sure that there's anyone who still checks this space. But sometimes one needs to talk, listeners notwithstanding.

In case you're wondering, I could not begin to outline the events of the past 3 months. Just on the topic of the reno alone, Scott's managing a spreadsheet with 180 deliverables BEFORE we move into the rental. (Note to potential readers: We have rented a house to live in for the duration of the reno. It's in the "real"end of a swanky 'hood. Once you are on the hook for 4K a month in rent whether you go to a good hood or a slum, you might as well live large. That's home rental in the big city... Alas, it's more like 9K to go furnished so we have the fun of moving twice and renovating!) That spreadsheet doesn't outline our work DURING the reno, which (it has somehow just occurred to me) includes a shit ton of interior (and landscape) design. When my mother asked me who my designer was, I told her she was part of my team. FWIW, Scott and I are the other members of that team.

She told me to send her the stamped plans.

I am not moving my sewing gear to the rental cuz, fuck, I'm designing a home and I've been too absorbed by the endless trivia of pre-design (contract negotiations - that fucking contract just got signed, engineering, moving and architectural plans) to even begin to think about things like tiles and fireplaces and floors and windows. Don't worry. I've got this. There are few things I like more than making decisions.

Anyway, this post is not about the reno. It's about the current watchword of my life: reconstruction.

To me, it feels like there is nothing that isn't being ripped back, excavated, exhumed. My office building has gone through 6 months of serious refacing - with all the noise and grime that goes along with it. My job is about reforming an entire sector of the health care system. I've given up almost every food I love for health reasons (that's about 10 posts-worth of info I'd just as soon not write down) and, truly, I am existentially transformed and grief-stricken by the loss of my favourite touch point, of self. One thing I'm sure to write 10 posts on, eventually, is my addiction to sugar which - do not be under any illusion - is hardcore. If we were talking about heroin, I'd be institutionalized. Instead, I just pick my ass up every morning and go to work.

I'm not going to tell you I'm tired. I was tired a year ago. Now I float by on my sleep-deprived wits (part of that overarching Kristin health item), or so I tell myself. My career is omnipresent. I'm working at 7 am, at 7pm. I do all kinds of things I'm unsuited to. But this post is not about my job.

I feel I need to provide the broadest health strokes before I can tell you what this post is about. In brief: I have osteoarthritis everywhere they've looked, namely hips, entire back, neck, jaw. It's fairly entrenched, which is to say it's been there for at least 20 years. Based on the genetic testing I've done, I personally believe this has to do with my propensity to have difficulties metabolizing vitamin D (which affects bones and joints as y'all know). To wit: I had my vit D levels tested after months of taking 6000 IUs a day and my levels are still only borderline normal to the low end. Note: The doctors have no opinion of my theory so take this as you will.

The most problematic zone for the OA is my jaw. You may recall I've referred to my most intolerable health concern, which I don't like to discuss, very bad TMJD. At this time, it seems there's no disc left on my left side so it's bone on bone and a joint that dislocates routinely. Explains my hideous headaches though! It also explains tinitis that started a few months ago. Alas, the problem is exacerbated by a structural issue from birth, as my jaw didn't form properly (numerous expensive scans have recently proven). This probably allowed the OA to take hold in a joint that is rarely implicated as it isn't weight-bearing. Just FYI, It's not a good joint to fuck up.

There's much more to this story like the fact that the structural issue interferes with my breathing when I sleep (I did a sleep test). I don't have apnea but my blood deoxygenates numerous times a night, which moves me from deep sleep to light sleep. They estimate (on the basis of test results) that I get very little REM sleep and likely haven't for a decade.

I just like to point out that I am a fully functional human being who doesn't get much REM sleep. I think, under the circumstances, I am fucking killing it, even if I haven't had a chance to interior design my new home three weeks before tear down.

The story is more involved than this, and rather concerning, but let's leave it at: knowledge is power.* Because, really, it is.

You can see where I'm going with this theme of reconstruction.

Yesterday I was doing some weird yoga pose, something I have rarely done in the last 2 months because a) I have no time to pee and b) changing my entire diet has left me with no time to do anything other than cook (unless it's work). While I was experiencing the pose, it suddenly hit me: my body was tireless in seeking what it knew. It was grasping, trying to find a space it had fallen into thousands of times before in the guise of "desirable structure". Those who do yoga know what I mean about how you find your pose with muscle memory and, occasionally, grit.

There's this bodywork construct wherein muscles are "locked long". The theory is that a muscle may get "locked", by tight fascia, in its lengthened position (recognizing that muscles don't lengthen from the centre like taffy). It's the very definition of how "doing what you always do" "brings what it always brings". And if that were biophysical closure, it wouldn't be a sensory trap. Add a little order-induced OCD (man, I sound like a fucking mess! :-)) and you can entrench some pretty deep kenisiological troughs.

Here's my point finally, thank god I'm sure you'll agree: I need to take my practice back to the studs. Every yogi is advised to bring the mind of the beginner to her practice but I've got to bring the movement too. I need to isolate the glitch spots so that I can retrain them. This ain't no small task.

I suspect it's easier to renovate a fucking house.

I have recently discovered my neuroplastic gifts, which we all have in miraculous reserve, though many will never exploit them. I'm exploiting them. And I urge you to do the same because encountering yourself at the meta-level is really all that. I mean, it's kind of everything (she says, floating in a vat of her own bourgeoisie).

Way to add another reconstruction to the mix. At some point I'm going to get good at this.

PS: If you're still there, please say hi! I have truly missed you.


*FYI, I'm working many medical and alternative angles which I can't possibly get into now, but know that I am managing the shit out of this thing.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Year

Last night Scott and I went out for a walk (at 7:30, I'm not 35, after all). It had been days since I'd gone outside. This "vacation" has been punctuated by long stretches of in-home activity - sorting, going to the dump (that's the extremely appreciated friend-with-a-car part of our experience), trying to find a place to live (do not get me started), getting party-wall permit letters done... I could go on.

And while I really needed some fresh air, alas, it was raining last night (sometimes freezing, sometimes regular). Not good weather for pain. (Apparently, it's really bad weather for osteoarthritis - which my husband has in his right large toe - to a rather extensive degree. We were out for 90 minutes and, by the time we got back, he was all but hobbled. I reviewed his foot with shock. I made him drink cherry juice and I rubbed it (yoga therapy style).) This morning when we woke up, it was way improved - far less inflamed. The sun is out in force today, miraculously for this time of year. It's dry and cold again.

I too began very stiff and sore today, particularly in my hips (the original seat of my pain, starting 20 years ago - but much less painful than the rest of my back most of the time, these days).

I swigged a ginger shot. Went into the yoga room, wherein I sat for a while, wondering what would come of my session. Some days are very fortunate. Some days I realize things (big and important, small and intriguing, part of a larger, emerging whole). My mind drifted first to self-inquiry. The stream of my consciousness: Why am I in pain, in my hips, of all places? and then Ah, Kristin, remember when you hated standing poses? (Ed. note: In the old days, during the first week of every month - the standing pose focus week in the Iyengar system - I'd be in semi-regular hip misery.) Then I thought about how so many yoga practitioners believe that being able to do a pose automatically imparts the benefits of that pose. I could do any damn standing pose proficiently - and I really believed I was feeling its benefit - but it would hurt me a good 50 per cent of the time (to say nothing of potential micro injuries).

Then it struck me. Standing poses are the way of the future.* But, as I know (and have been reflecting in my practice methods), sometimes I cannot do the full physical expressions of some of those asanas (the more weight bearing ones) without producing joint and myofascial pain thereafter. Sure, sometimes I'm fine, after the fact, but I often feel on the edge (which is unsettling and not the point of bodywork, IMO).

Increasingly, I've been doing standing poses at my rope wall. I can happily manage bearing @ 75% of my body weight on my hips, without running risk of causing pain, as long as I can keep my back hip open and as long as I can defer about 25 per cent of the weight of the front leg to the wall-attached rope at which I'm perched (traction allows for this).

I did many side-angle standing poses this way today. Because I could control the minutest of actions, I was able to have a really rich experience. I felt my musculature from foot to head on a number of occasions. I moved things around from the inside which allows for a lot of shifting, very little of which expresses itself in movement of the muscles and bones. When I did a supported backbend, instead of keeping my legs in my "regular" position, I extended them slowly in different directions, lengthened them to straight and observed how the movement (and limiters of that movement) interacted. My brain talked to my body. Increasingly I wonder if this sensation is straight-up neurochemical or meta. You know, energetic, for the Californians among us. I happen to feel that it matters not and, either way, I am privileged to have this awareness.

And then I went to my next thought wave: What is the relationship between pain and mobility?

Hear me out. In yoga, we talk a lot about quantifying pain as a mechanism by which we can ascertain safety in the pose. That's a post in itself, so I won't dwell here, but today I want to consider this question through the prism of myofascial and/or arthritic pain. All you need to do is pull up a website and you'll see pretty pictures articulating the simple (and hurtful) mechanism of joint and bone degeneration which drags muscles and nerves along for the ride. People with arthritis experience pain at a most interior (amorphous) level, sometimes extremely and relentlessly.  I posit that, when the arthritic person doesn't engage the affected area(s) in very frequent targeted activity, inflammation catalyses a decrease in one's mobility as pertains to one's previous full range of motion. But to move, except very consciously, can also bring pain. The less refined one's movement (and this is defined entirely by the individual), the more the muscles and bones have to work with brute strength - and if they misfunction just slightly - nerve compression can be the result.

Sort of sounds like you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't.

But I believe that's a flawed perspective. What careful movement does is maintain mobility. And stability is in mobility. Incremental improvement and the delayed onset of serious symptomology are prime features of mobility. Mobility isn't a "nice to have" - it's core.

Yoga is the most profoundly personal thing I have ever experienced. I am a constant student in that I am always learning and in that I am sincere. Mind you, I spent a very long time being sincere and yet I couldn't quantify what was happening in my body. Ironically, though I was probably seeking contentment, pain has been the self-awareness tipping point for me - particularly given its phased onset. It's compelled me to move my practice out of my extrinsic body and into the crevices.  

So, if I must sometimes incur pain to be agile (and I speak of this as an intermittent outcome of a mindful practice) that's a trade-off I'm willing to make. Strangely, it's empowering. Because it makes me feel like my pain is meaningful, maybe even slightly volitional. It makes me feel like it's for the greater good.

*In truth, one doesn't need a degree in yoga to know that standing poses are indicated for arthritis / musculoskeletal conditions. But, really, it eventually becomes very clear that any number of poses which might, theoretically, be good, can actually be very harmful (likely because of how they're being performed but sometimes because a pose is not warranted).

Friday, December 23, 2016

Full Wheel

Today I went into the sewga room (really,  it's the single-purpose yoga room these days, cuz for how long can one ride on past activity?). I couldn't decide what to do. I'm recovering from an eye infection (but it's almost gone, thankfully, as it made me look like I'd been hit in the face and it hurt like hell). I'm not in a high-pain moment but it's really damp outside (which can be tricky for me). I'm also very tired. I know it's important to be active, to lift weight, but right about now I feel it's even more important to retain some perspective on movement.

As a sidebar, you know I've had some time to consider the nature of mobility. I've also had a lot of time to consider what it means to gauge everything by one or 2 indicators. So often, I think about how perhaps I've lost pose X, or my ability to do Y, instead of being super fucking grateful for how much extraneous flexibility and strength I actually possess. I mean, how much do I need? What is it that I'm searching for when my time to regenerate is focused on abstract loss? It's no new question, natch, but what would practice be like for everyone if, as a society, we started to laud the stiffness and weakness of which we are all, to some extent, comprised?

You've heard it again and again - I mean, I've said it again and again - one's practice is in no way dictated by how a pose looks. I wish I had been able to understand this in my youth, though youth is rarely wise. I wish I'd spent more time engaging subtly to gain awareness about how a microscopic movement can produce transformation, sometimes merely for a moment, other times forever. But evolution is on its own timeline.

When I say my practice is random, I'm both entirely serious and probably wrong. I walk into the room and I intuit what to do next. I ask my body the question. I listen intently for the answer. I push aside what I want to hear. I listen again. And I'm continually amazed by what craziness I get up to. Sometime I do whack interpretive dance without music (?!) Sometimes it's MELT and body rolling. Sometime it's lying in therapeutic poses, doing pranayama, for an hour. Sometimes I hang in ropes - I do every pose using some sort of prop for traction. I rarely practice with online classes in the winter, but I have a bunch of them. I prefer restorative and alignment classes (though I do vinyasa too).

Today was a strange day. Today I did active back bends. Ah, these used to be my prized poses, the ones that made me lively and flushed. They gave me access to the the dark flip side, as it were. These, and the inversions, were my go-tos. I haven't done urdhva danurasana (full wheel) in a long time - maybe a year - and I really don't know how the impulse came but I gave it ample opportunity to wander away, and it didn't. First, I worked on thoracic and sacral opening in a variety of traditional Iyengar set-ups (using chairs and belts and blocks). Then I did some rope work for traction. Then I got on the floor, with one belt around my upper arms and another around my upper legs (not regular practice for me but I'm not doing backbends on a daily basis and I wanted to be stable). I spent about 30 seconds fighting with my anxiety (not of doing the pose but of not being able to do the pose or of causing myself pain). Then I smacked myself metaphorically, like any good Iyengar teacher of the 90s, and I lifted up. Cuz thinking more about it wasn't going to get me anywhere.

A minute or so later, when I came out of the pose - which didn't cause pain - I lay on the floor and argued with myself. Should I do it again? Did I want to do it again?

I did not repeat the pose, though I wondered if it would have been fun the second time. I did not repeat that pose because it only needed to be done once. I used my muscles. I flexed my flexibility. I bore weight (all these things that are important for my spinal health). And the person I am, right now, needs to expend the minimum amount of effort for the maximum gain. It would have been hard to keep going. I would have achieved more. And in that achievement, I may have brought on pain.

How many times have I caused myself injury because my desire to achieve outweighed my better judgement? How many times will I do it in the future? No sense in worrying. Today my body and mind got it together and we came up with a viable plan. Can't wait to see what happens tomorrow.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Knotty and Nice

I'm sitting in my living room, practically shivering, imagining a world in which the entire first floor of my house will be equally heated (and entirely warm). Admittedly, I just drank some almond milk straight from the fridge and I'm not wearing a double layer - unless a large scarf and shearling slippers count. But man, I can almost feel excited by the prospect of the reno when the temp drops to minus 8. I'm really hoping (understatement) that stable indoor temps will help keep pain (which doesn't like cold or wet) in check during the winter months.

But this post is not about that. This post is about knitting - and unknitting - a subset of the craft that every knitter should get with to some extent, IMO, if perhaps not to this extent:

The Jan Sweater by Susan Crawford
This sweater, the second thing I ever knit, was suboptimal from the start. It's how I learned yarn-overs (a lacework stitch), something I've really never loved, even if I've grudgingly accepted them. The fit was all wrong - too big everywhere, too wide in the boat-neck (I actually had to seam it up after the fact), too see-through (given colour, yarn-weight and the holes). I didn't enjoy the pattern. Susan Crawford patterns, I have learned, are not to my liking. The instructions are weak (and slim, in keeping with the vintage thing) but more than slim they're weak.

Destined to be something much better than the sweater ever was~
I used Excelana, also by Susan Crawford, yarn which I wouldn't recommend. Firstly, I believe you have to buy it online - and it's just not that exciting. Secondly, there were SO many knots (like, regular knots) holding every skein of this yarn together, that those myriad balls you see above are as much because I had to snip the yarn every 50 yards, as because I didn't snip my side seams cleanly. There are only a few comments on this yarn in Ravelry and one of them indicates that this hasn't  happened only to me. I can forgive a few knots (like 2) in my artisanal yarn, but don't make my life a misery. Also, what does it say when you can't keep your yarn in one piece as you spin it?? Finally, it's not expensive (though it's not cheap for those who have to ship it and pay the exchange), and it doesn't feel high-end. It's got a somewhat generic feel - even as I imagine it is EXACTLY like what affordable yarn in wartime England would have been like.

I've been thinking more and more about this whole "rip back a sweater" thing and I've put my money where my mouth is. To wit, in the last year I frogged a sweater 3/4-finished. I ripped back 3/4 of this to improve the bust fit (so it's still not done) and now, I've gone whole hog and undone a whole finished garment.

Not only am I reminded of my newbie-knitting parents sheer horror at the thought of losing a stitch of work (till you get what's happening, it can be so awful not knowing how to fix things), but it's a pretty awesome metaphor. I mean, it's hard to deconstruct something back to its component parts, even if you're very laissez-faire. When you mess up a cooking project, you get to throw it out and start again. Like, with new material. There's something so in-your-face about the way yarn comes undone. About how it teaches you the value of your work, which is to say, it's only as good as what you've learned and what you'll do next. People, there is liberty in this activity. But man, it's hard.

It's messy, it's scary (What if you snip the yarn accidentally? Note: You probably will.), It's a reminder of the sometimes endless-seeming journey you've traveled (you remember all the stand-out bits, bad or good). It's a perfect visual representation of disintegration. It's a mega recontribution to your stash which, let's just say, may be adequately robust already.

By ripping back a sweater (perhaps a nice cashmere one from a thrift shop) you get to see your work in reverse - which is actually illuminating. Doing this will make you a better knitter. And I don't mean in a spiritual way. It'll provide an opp to see how things come apart so that you can be better at putting them back together. It'll also teach you about how much you've learned since last you touched that garment you're, ahem, yarn-retrieving.  (Let's give it a euphemism, shall we?)

I've decided, in future, if I'm at all on the fence about a garment, I will rip it back after blocking (or sooner). It will not torment me in my closet. Hopefully I like the yarn (so that I'll want to knit with it again) but, if not, I'll give away the yarn. I also intend to some of reclaim some of my other already-closet-hogging, hand knit sweaters. Gotta admit, if I never want to work with a particular yarn again, chances are that I'm not going to rip that one back soon - cuz it's a lot of work. Like a couple of hours to do it well (and depending on the amount of yarn to rewind).

I always thought the hardest part about the unknitting process would be contextualizing the loss of time - and feeling inundated by yarn I've already experienced. Now I realize that the yarn is different every time I use it. It molds (literally) to the thing I am creating. And, inasmuch as I am its machinery, it is as prone to nuance as I.

Knitting brings it all up, as every knitter knows. It's as much an act of meditation - of grace - as prayer or therapy. I struggle with the ends of my yarn because, in order to use every yard, I must find a way to use every freakin' yard. Yes, this is an affect of my OCD, but it tells me about myself. I don't like to rip back finished work (or do I?) because it's like loss or waste. I can't bear reknitting with the yarn because it denies the satisfaction of acquisition.

But here's what I didn't know and what has made all the difference: Unknitting is its own kind of craft! Have a glass of wine. Watch a movie. Do a good job of it (I did not, particularly, so I lost about 30 g of yarn due to short lengths). Start with a garment made up in a yarn you care little about. Do NOT snip your main fabric when you go after the seams. Wind the yarn in to your fave kind of ball. Be considered. Note: I don't intend to soak the kinks out of my yarn, at least not at this point. I'll do what a Ravelry friend suggested: swatch and block that swatch for a long time before leaving it to dry.

Unknitting is just as miraculous as knitting and its made from the same component parts. You get to touch yarn. And you get to start again. Maybe that next thing you make will be everything that the last thing was not. How sad would it be not to have a go at that experience?

Honestly, if you can bring yourself to do it, take some unloved knitted thing apart this week - and tell me about it. It will be nothing like you expect, I promise.