After a couple of weeks of prodigious readings, I have read five or six books and parts of several others. It has been a long time since I gone on a reading binge, though this recent spate of reading wasn’t so much a binge as a way to help me rest and de-stress. I’ve been sick (mild flu with some chills, moderately bad PMS followed by heavy flow and somewhat painful cramps) and stressed (job hunt not going well, spending lots of time with my mentally ill mother, uncertain about what the hell I’m doing with my life). Normally, I exercise 60 to 120 minutes a day, which would help with the stress, but one of my New Year’s resolutions is to slow down or even stop for a day or two when I am sick or injured. I am working on being consistent without being compulsive.
While I did not go on a reading fast, in the past six months I cut way down on my reading because much of it was tied to patterns unhealthy for me- often staying up to 7:00 a.m., using prose to deadening the shriek of my distorted thinking and feeling (anhedonia, self-hate, despair, suicidal ideation, etc.) and ignoring the world and its (at times of mood disorder madness) skin shredding demands on me by literally spending days upon days immersed in The Land of Magic HooHaa or Out In Space or on the Gritty Streets of the Paranormal City or Duking it out with Rakes.
While I am looking forward to getting back into my normal, semi-productive groove, a week of reading has fed my brains in lovely ways and helped me see that I need to add daily reading back into my life. I have to pay attention; I already am spending too much time reading, but then again, reading a lot means I have more to write about and, if I am careful, actually means I write more. Not that I write very much about what I actually read (as this Dose attests) but that reading makes me want to write (in a I can do that sort of way, which is a mixed bag of positive and negative motivations) while providing great writing prompts for my tangential style of meaning making.
I am in the midst of reading Stretch: The Unlikely Making of a Yoga Dude by Neal Pollack. I started reading the book last night but noticing that I was letting myself stay up too late, I stopped reading around 1:00. Today, I ate breakfast at Civilization while reading a few chapters. Then I jotted some rough draft scribbles for this particular Dose of the Good (and Not So Good) Words. I walked home, gave my parents my leftovers (I live next door to my folks), began typing and re-arranging those scribbles, then read some more of his book. I went to get my hair cut. I read while waiting for the hair stylist, who entertained me with a conversation about the disadvantages and cultural meanings of shaving underarms and pubic areas. I came home. I sat on the can where normally I would read (the bathroom is also known as the library in my family), but the bodily functions demanded that I be present to some significant activity from more than one orifice. I did some more reading, getting annoyed with the author, so I putzed around online for a few minutes. I realized I would rather write and so now am putting words in occasionally pleasing and only moderating annoying (to me) configurations.
I have begun to be on the look out for books about yoga and other spiritual or discipline based practices written by my generation, 35 to 45 years olds who back in the day supposedly were hip, ironic, disaffected Generation Xes. Now we are middle aged adults trying to figure out how to let go of youth and be half way decent people, so like the Boomers before us, we have begun to write and/or read books about finding spirituality and/or religion. I am a bit of an “outlier” because I’ve been reading these sorts of books since I was a little girl, the Dewey 200′s have been one of my favorite sections to browse since second grade, but it is refreshing to read these sorts of books written by people with similar cultural references and for whom sarcasm and mockery, including self mockery, are vital for humor.
Stretch delivers in this particular regard, though it also why I need to take breaks from the book.
While I read it between hands of online poker, the Gita profoundly affected my mind. At the moment, I started to practice detaching myself from grief, sorrow, and the relentless buzz of activity that plagues our lives, as well as the fact that some guy from Germany was kicking my ass at Texas hold ‘em. I learned about the seven stages of yogic wisdom and began to make a conscious effort to tamp down any outward manifestations of selfhood. Sometimes, I updated my Facebook status to let people know I was doing this (p. 107).
I am enjoying the twists and turns of a meat eating, pot smoking indie dude’s spiritual journey. Besides being laugh aloud funny, the writing style is the opposite of the annoying as all get out soft-so-it-must-be-spiritual tone adopted by some who follow one of the Eastern traditions.
I returned to the conference, my belly full of pork. This felt a little blasphemous, but all that yoga and talk of vegetarian ethics made me very hungry. It could have been worse; my appetite had craved a steak or double burger. I showed great restraint in only ordering a BLT with deliciously marbled Niman Ranch bacon (p. 215).
Over time, Pollack becomes a dedicated practitioner but that doesn’t not stop him from pointing out the absurdities of yoga in America “the overarching feel at Wanderlust was: We’re youngish and fit and happy and we’re going to live forever! Lies, I thought. All lies (p. 295) or the visceral realities of being body in motion, “it didn’t prevent the sweat from flowing off of me until I felt like Paul Newman in Cool hand Luke after he’d spent the night in the box” (p. xi).
Pollack capitalizes on his cringe worthy behaviors, which is another reason I haven’t been able to read this book in one sitting. Seized by envy and competition after talking to another writer interested writing a pilot about yoga:
And then I did it. I tore his application in half, folded up the halves, and tore them again, and again, until there was nothing left but little shreds. When this was done, I went outside to the Dumpster and put half of the pieces in one side and half in another. I wadded a few pieces into a ball and placed them in my mouth, mashing them into an unrecognizable pulp with my salvia. I had to destroy all the evidence. I went back inside and immediately felt horrible. My conscience began to scream. That had been one of the most quietly venal acts of my life (p. 110).
Pollack fucks up all the time, but the framing of all those (often) funny fuck ups makes his successes cultivating his “best self” stand out. “I realized something. I hadn’t stormed out or otherwise called attention to myself; I’d been respectful to the people who actually liked AcroYoga. This, to me, represented promise for my best self (p. 229).
It is not that I did not occasionally get tired of Pollack’s intense use of humor and self-mockery. And more than a few times I wished that he didn’t smoke so much pot because the humor of his writing about being stoned just adds to the marijuana mystic, and I’m willing to go on record and say that too many intelligent, talented people, especially men, of my generation have spent way too much time fucked up. Those quibbles aside, I appreciate the window into Pollack’s beautifully imperfect practice.
I ended up finishing Stretch a bit later in the evening. I wanted to find some last quote from his book, another nugget to entice you to read it, but I don’t want to spoil any more of the jokes or the ending. If you enjoy some snark with your spirituality, then it is well worth spending a stretch of time with Pollack.