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THANKFUL FRIDAY

Cindy Maddera

There were a couple of minutes left before my class started Wednesday evening. My students were sitting on their mats in various states of chatting with neighbors and stretching. I was looking around the room, accessing my students, the class plan I had made for us that evening and making sure everyone had the props they would need for that class. Then I turned and glanced out the window to see the most perfect rainbow arching all the way across the sky. Each color in the spectral range between 700nm and 400nm was bright and distinct. Notice how I just reverted to science nerd speak, but that was where my mind went when I saw this rainbow. I immediately broke the colors down into their respective wavelengths. I instinctively reached for my camera, that was not with me. 

I don't take my phone or my camera into my yoga classes. I leave those things in my scooter trunk or the glovebox in my car for obvious reasons.

I was reminded of a scene from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Walter Mitty travels the planet in search of Sean O'Connell, a photographer he works with in order to retrieve a roll of special film or something. He's looking for the answer to a question and Sean O'Connell is thought to have that answer. So Walter heads out on a search that has him traveling the globe. When he finally catches up to the famous photographer, they are in the snowy mountain ranges in Tibet. Sean O'Connell has been camped out in front of his camera there for days trying to capture images of the illusive snow lion. Walter sits with Sean, shivering in the cold, when suddenly a snow lion appears. Sean moves to take the picture, but he pauses. Walter asks him when is he going to take the picture and Sean responds "Sometimes I don't. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don't like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it." 

"I don't like to have the distraction of the camera."

This scene remains one of my favorite and (to me) most beautiful lessons on being present. The distraction of the camera is the very reason why I leave them behind when I go in to teach my yoga class. My main focus and concern is for my students. When that rainbow showed up just before I started class, we all experienced the joy of seeing the beauty of that moment together. We marveled at the brightness of the colors and the clear separation of those colors and then I started class. That rainbow was with us all throughout our practice and when I walked out to my car there was still a section of faded colors streaking across the sky. And that is the rainbow I captured on my phone.

I am thankful for reminders to just be in a moment. 

I am thankful for rainbows. 

 

THE END OF SUMMER

Cindy Maddera

It has long been a custom to link the end of summer with the first day of the school year. I've been hearing for two weeks the lament from Michael about how summer is almost over. Then on Thursday, his first day back to school, he declared the official end to summer. It is the end to his summer vacation, but it is not the end of summer. Or at least, I don't feel like it is the end to my summer. The weather here is hot and humid. Missouri is currently under drought conditions which is not normal. The backyard is a combination of tall prairie grasses and and dry barren patches. My sunflower continues to grow strong, but there is still not a bloom in sight. The evenings hum with the buzz of cicadas and crickets. The mosquitoes are vicious and the chickens are no longer laying six or seven eggs a week. We're lucky if we get four eggs a week now.  

August is a hard and brittle month. 

I spent all day Sunday decluttering the places we tend to dump things. The closed cabinet section of the china hutch has become a home to a random array of tools and leftover screws, several selections of dog and cat treats, pipe cleaners, Halloween spider webbing and a box of old markers. My desk drawers had become a dumping ground for the flotsam and jetsam that accumulates for no other reason than it feels inappropriate to throw them away. I threw away fabric remnants that I no longer needed and dried up bottles of glue. I set my side table and three decorative pillows out on the curb. Then I shifted the couch over to the west. That side of the room looks a little exposed now that there's no longer a piece of furniture lining every section of the wall. That's my design style it seems, lining the walls with furniture. In the clean out, I unearthed five small notebooks of lists and Chris's USAO and military IDs and a stack of old pictures. I will be unearthing notebooks containing two to three pages of writing for the rest of my life. And I will keep each one. 

August is difficult.

This time last year I was thinking about how nice it would be to jump out of the car while it was moving through heavy traffic. I don't feel that way this year. I don't necessarily feel like doing cartwheels, but at least I don't feel like jumping into traffic. I've got my distractions. I've gotten more focused on food, our meal plans and cooking something new once in a while. I'm reading more. I'm organizing my work and thinking about new business cards. Michael and I are adapting to a new schedule and getting back into a routine as he starts the school year. We find ourselves occupying the same spaces at the same time in the mornings, dancing around each other in the bathroom and the kitchen. It is more fluid then one would expect. I'll start cooking our breakfast while he gets the scooters out of the garage. We both sit at the dining room table and eat breakfast together. It's nice. So, I'm keeping busy, but not so busy that I don't forget to just sit still every now and then.

One evening recently, I sat on the back stoop watching Josephine as she did her patrol of the back yard. I noticed one lone firefly blinking across the back yard. At first, it is a lonely sight, without the others blinking back in response to this one's blinks. Did you know that the average lifespan of a firefly is about two months? This guy was either born late or he's found a way to extend his lifespan. Either way, he's soaking up as much of the summer as he can. I want to be that firefly. 

 

 

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Cindy Maddera

Last night I taught my last Thursday night yoga class at the Y. I have been teaching a Wednesday and Thursday evening class there for almost six months and for the most part things have been going well. My Wednesday class has a decent sized group of regulars. Thursday's class never really took off. Some nights, I would have six and some nights I would have one. I never knew what to expect with class size or students. I was always modifying and improvising the class. There were other issues with that class besides attendance that had to do with timing and scheduling. Also, by the time I reached Thursday, this body was tired. This brain was tired. So I made a choice to drop this class. 

I was talking about this class with a new friend not too long ago. She used to own her own studio and understands the work/life imbalance that starts to happen with yoga teachers. I talked with her about the idea of letting that Thursday night class go for all the reason I listed above. I also mentioned that I have something scheduled for every night of the week except for Mondays and that it would be nice to have an evening with no obligations. She urged me to honor those thoughts and her words really gave me pause. At first I agonized over the decision. Should drop I it? Should I just stick it out? Guilt would settle in about letting people down, about giving up. I would start berating myself about just being lazy. Even when I finally sent out the email detailing the end of that class, I felt like I had done something wrong, that people were going to be mad at me. But honestly, I didn't feel like I was making any kind of impact with this class.

When I finished teaching last night's class to three students, two of which had showed up ten minutes late, I felt relieved. A weight I didn't even realize I was carrying floated up and away. In that moment I knew that I had made the right decision. I am not so good at honoring my own thoughts and feelings. It is one of the reasons I end up doing things that I don't really want to do.  I am thankful for her words and I am thankful I took pause to honer my feelings towards this class.

Saying "no" to the things in my life that no longer serve me well is a continuing practice.

 

RECOGNITION

Cindy Maddera

The other night, I was sitting on the couch reading when I heard a clackity clack sound coming from the kitchen. It was one of those rare evenings when I had the house to myself. In an effort to soak up every last drop of the last days of their summer, Michael had taken the Cabbage to Ocean's of Fun with plans on closing the joint. So it was just me and dog and sometimes the cat and now this clackity clack sound. Side note: I recently read a book about a family living in a sort of dooms day shelter. The youngest boy had been born in the shelter and had no idea what the above world was like. His boogy man was called the cricket man, part man with a cricket body. The cricket man would come and take bad children who were not in their beds when they were supposed to be. If I had not finished the book and discovered the reality of the cricket man, the clackity clack in the kitchen would have freaked me the f out. 

The sound was from a very large leaf hopper who had somehow managed to wind up in our kitchen. I finagled a canning jar out of a cabinet and trapped him inside the jar so I could set him free outside. Once he was free from the jar, he flew up and away. I watched him, fascinated by the shape of him and the way he moved in a mechanical way. It is not often I have come across a leaf hopper of that size. He was at least the length of the palm of my hand and brilliant green. His body was a perfect mimic of a leaf. I never stopped to grab my camera and take any pictures of him. It was only later when I thought "huh...maybe I should have taken some pictures." I shrugged the thought off because I still have a bad taste in my mouth from editing the pictures I took while we were in Oregon. 

I took some really crappy pictures with my Nikon while we were in Oregon. I'm talking really bad pictures. F-stop and aperture mistakes galore. Everything is either too bright or too dark. Focal points are weird because I relied on the autofocus. They're all just really shitty. I look at them and say to myself "Cindy, who the heck do you think you're trying to be? You think you can take pictures? That's hilarious." I know why my pictures turned out terrible. Frankly, it was because of drugs, but that's not a story for here. Even though I know why the pictures are bad, I still have not been all that inspired to pick up my camera or consider artistic endeavors. It is kind of like falling off my bike and instead of my usual 'get right back on' attitude, I am hesitant to go for another bike ride. For some time now, Micheal has been urging me to do some sort of art showing in a restaurant or coffee house. He talks about it a lot, enough for me to maybe consider actually doing it. I've gone as far as changing this website and adding a gallery of a few photos. That's about it.

Honestly the whole idea of it really makes me want to vomit. Posting my images here and on Instagram are way different from hanging actual prints in a public space for strangers to look at judge with their judgy eyes. I have never ever considered the possibility of doing an art showing mostly because I still struggle with this concept that I might be some kind of artist. I don't see that I am doing anything that someone else couldn't do with a camera. There's a lot of vulnerability there and a lot of questioning of how thick is my skin. There is a lot of changes in my mindset and my views on who I am, that I am more than I think of myself. The other day when we were at IKEA, I saw a photo enlarged to poster size, framed in a simple frame and I thought "wouldn't that one picture I took look nice displayed like that?" So while I'm walking around queasy over the idea of actually doing an art showing, I am at least thinking of what photos to use and how to display them. 

The next steps are crooked, wonky ones because I have no idea how to go about finding a venue or marketing myself. I'm sure I need some sort of business card and a portfolio that is not on my phone. The most difficult step of all will be believing enough in my work to expect a business to want to display it for me. We'll see. Maybe by January you all will receive an invitation to an art opening. 

MRS GERTRUDE REGRETS

Cindy Maddera

It is with deep regret that I must inform you of the passing of the very dear Colonel Martin Vanhousen. You may remember that I mentioned him a few months past, about how he lived in a third floor office building among his collection of artifacts from his explorations around the world. You might also recall that I mentioned he had a string of widows who visited him frequently. It was one such widow, Mrs. Gertrude Delany who discovered the Colonel's body. It was her usual night to stop by with dinner and that evening she had prepared a new chicken casserole recipe that she was eager to get feed back on. Mrs. Gertrude knocked several times on the door, but after a few minutes of waiting, she flipped the edge of the doormat over and retrieved the spare key that the Colonel kept 'hidden' there (in case of accidental lock outs). Then Mrs. Gertrude let herself into the Colonel's home. 

Upon entering the apartment, Mrs. Gertrude walked straight back to the kitchenette to set her hot casserole dish down, all the while chatting to the Colonel about everything from the weather and why it was he was still lazing about in his house coat with the all of the curtains shut tight. She then went to one of those windows, drew the curtains back to let the sunlight in and turned to see the Colonel wearing his slippers and his red velvet house coat, sitting in his favorite leather wing-backed chair with a glass of scotch in his hand. She noticed that his skin seemed paler than usual and his face slack as if he were sleeping. She tip-toed closer and said "Marty?" When he did not reply or even twitch, Mrs. Gertrude poked the Colonel in the cheek which was quite cold. Mrs Gertrude shrieked and then dug her phone out of her purse to call 911. 

After further investigation, it was determined that the Colonel died peacefully in his chair. Though if a thorough autopsy had been performed, the coroner would have discovered a poison found only on the tips of the blow darts used by an obscure tribe of indians dwelling in the Amazon rainforest. You see, the Colonel had woken up on the morning of his death feeling tired. Not physically tired per se. He found that his tiredness was more mentally related. The Colonel got up out of his bed, sliding his feet into his slippers and shrugging his house coat on over his satin pajamas. He then shuffled to his kitchenette and set the kettle of water on his hotplate to boil for his usual morning cup of tea. Once his tea was made, he took his mug into his office where he sat at his large mahogany desk looking at the clutter around him. The Colonel unlocked the middle drawer of his desk and removed the letters and locket from his one true love, Elsbeth, and proceeded to re-read the letters he had read so many times before. Then he opened the locket to gaze at Elsbeth's lovely face. He then closed the locket, stood up and walked to the bookcase. The Colonel ran his hands along the rows of stacked field notes, pulling one notebook at random and flipping through it. 

The Colonel had lead a very exciting and long life. He had seen many amazing things, traveled the whole world, and fought in a number of skirmishes. His life, with the exception of his beloved Elsbeth, had been a full life. It was all recorded in those stacks and stacks of field notes. Every skirmish and near death experience. Every unbelievable find. Every adventure. It was all recorded there for any one to pick through. The Colonel then poured himself a glass of his favorite scotch. He rummaged through his drawer of arrow heads until his fingers found what he was looking for in the very back of the drawer, a vial containing the poison darts he had stolen from a tribesman while on expedition in the Amazon. The Colonel knew that the poison would not work instantly, but it would work quickly. He had enough time to prick his finger with one dart, place it back in the vial and then return the vial to his desk drawer before taking his scotch to retire to his favorite chair. He was able to take two more sips of his scotch before the poison stopped his heart. The Colonel Martin Vanhousen left this earth, as he had lived: on his own terms.

His apartment/office has been completely cleaned out with many of his things being sent to auction to cover his debts. His field notes were all donated to a local historic society. All of them with the exception of one notebook. His most recent field notebook now resides with the Mrs. Gertrude Delany. While waiting on the authorities to arrive, Mrs. Gertrude discovered that the Colonel had been writing down his latest 'adventures'. This included very detailed reports of the encounters he had with the various widows who visited him during the week. Very. Detailed. Notes. Mrs. Gertrude nearly fainted as she read his description of how his removal of her girdle for the first time was like 'peeling a banana'. Scandalized, Mrs. Gertrude tucked the notebook into her purse. It is now locked in the bottom drawer of her cedar jewelry case. Mrs. Gertrude has yet to decide whether to burn the notebook or use it against the other widows.

Of course, despite the scandalous notebook, the Colonel Martin Vanhousen will be greatly missed. 

*This story comes to you after noticing that the building that inspired the original tale has been gutted. It is under renovation and has a 'for sale' sign out front.

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Cindy Maddera

Okay. Gratitude. It is the basis for any happiness project self help book you have ever read. Taking a moment of time out in each day to be grateful for something and to acknowledge that gratitude, makes for a happier human. Sometimes it is the 'taking a moment of time out' in the practice of gratitude that is the most difficult. The time portion of things has been my struggle this week. I feel like I have been playing catch up all week. I've been catching up on sleep, emails, and work all while trying to maintain my normal daily routine. Of course things slip through the busy cracks. One of those things can easily be gratitude. 

Sunday, after wiping down all the surfaces in the house, I looked at our kitchen with disgust. It has been a while since I have had time to deep clean that space. The stove was in dire need of more than just a wipe down. The drip pans were beyond cleanable and just needed to be replaced. I looked around the kitchen with slumped shoulders, already tired and unsure of when I would be able to get around to doing a proper cleaning. So, I asked for help. I asked Michael if he could do two things this week: first, order new drip pans for the stove and second, deep clean the kitchen. He did both of those things with out (much) complaint and I am so grateful that he did. I am not good at asking for things like this. When I see that something needs to be done, I just do it. I have to be really overwhelmed before I ask for help. I am thankful that he was able to do this task for me. 

Our summer routine is coming to an end because school is starting next week. I am grateful that Michael took over the daily household chores for the summer. I like to think that this experience helps us do a better job of appreciating each other. It is a reminder to take time out to be grateful for the person standing next to you.  

AUGUST FIRST

Cindy Maddera

It's one of those days where I spend my time holding my breath in anticipation of horrible news. I keep thinking that I'm going to wake up on some August first later on in the future and feel normal. I'm not going to have flashbacks of being in pigeon pose on my yellow yoga mat and Chris walking in holding the phone and saying "Your mom is on the line and something's wrong." I won't remember the sound of my mom's hysterics or how she was incoherent. I won't remember calling Katrina's number and talking to our friend Cindy, listening to her explain to me what had happened with J. I feel like it is a trick of my brain that I can remember all the details of that moment. I can even tell you that I was on my left side in pigeon pose. 

My yoga mat is now a gray/blue color. I will probably never again buy a yellow one. 

As I scrolled through my Facebook feed, I noticed several 'friends' posting memories for loved ones lost today. Sentiments of "I can't believe it's been three years" or "we miss you." lined the page. Time doesn't matter. Three years or thirteen years. Any amount is unbelievable. You will always miss them. Often the traumatic memories are the first to surface. In this case I image what it was like when J died. I've seen too many movies and too much TV, so you know that those imaginings are brutally graphic and horrific. It's one of the many ugly side effects of grief, seeing the one you lost in the worst way. Sometimes I see, in my head, Chris's face the day before he died. His face is slack and his eyes are unfocused. He can't form words. That part is the oddest part to me. Chris was a word smith and in the end he couldn't form a coherent thread of words. These are the memories and images from the blunt force trauma of death. I have to close my eyes and shake my head to rid myself of the thoughts. 

As I was cleaning out the herb garden this spring, I decided to plant a few sunflower seeds. I'd come across a packet of them in the garage while gathering my gardening tools. Only one of those seeds sprouted. Each day it has grown taller and taller. It is about waist high now, still no flower. One day a few weeks ago, I went out to feed the chickens and noticed that the top half of the sunflower had been snapped almost completely off. It was still attached, hanging there like a broken bone. I frowned at it and thought about pulling the plant completely out of the garden. But I left it. When we got back from Portland, the top portion that had been dangling was now lifted up. A branch from a lower portion had grown up to support the broken portion. The plant had grown new tissue around the broken part. You can still see that the sunflower was broken. The plant dips obviously to one side before stretching up. There's a scar left from the break, but other than that, the plant looks healthy. It's thriving. You can watch it follow the sun every day. 

Broken yet thriving. 

We are all a little bit broken yet thriving. 

 

 

OH, HEY. HEY, OH

Cindy Maddera

Michael and I went to Oregon. I didn't really talk about how we were planing to go to Oregon. I don't know why that it is, but part of the trip was work related and part of the trip was standing on cold, foggy beaches related. Most all of that trip was about eating really great food. There was one day were I ate raw fish for lunch and dinner and I have no regrets about that decision. There were several evenings with Todd that including laughing so hard, tears leaked out the corners of my eyes. The only regret I do have is not throwing my body down onto the floor and refusing to get on the plane to come home. I should have made Michael drag my limp body through the airport. I should have polished up the old resume and been more aggressive about handing it out to people at the work thing. I should have tried to score a job before leaving, but I didn't think I was still so much in love with Oregon.

I was wrong. The remnants of my heart are still in Portland eating a fake pork taco at Robo Tacos.

Re-entry to the reality of this current life has been slightly difficult. I am still battling the time change. Saturday morning, I slept until almost 11:00. I missed a call from my mom, who had called me at a very reasonable hour of 9:00 am. When I called her back, I told her that I was sorry for missing her call but I had still been sleeping. She said "You were still sleeping?!?" I was just as surprised as she was. Michael asked me much much later in the evening "who are you and what have you done with Cindy?" It was well past midnight and I was still up. Sunday morning I made myself get up at 8:00 am even though I wanted to stay in bed all day. I lounged on the couch for a couple of hours before picking up the dust rags and wiping away the vacation dust, finishing laundry and putting suitcases back into storage. 

Time changes are rough.

I've come home though with a plan or at least a list of things to do. The first thing you may (or not) have noticed is that this place is no longer Elephant Soap. I changed my Squarespace domain to my actual name. I'm gearing up to do some things that require a bit more professionalism around here. These things I'm cryptically talking about are things that make me uncomfortable, vulnerable and pukey but are good risk taking, character building things that I need to be doing. So Elephant Soap is maturing, at least as mature as Cindy Maddera can be. The next big thing on my list is to start really cleaning out as if I was planning on a move. I'm talking about a "would I want to take it with me" kind of clean out. This means saying goodbye to a few boxes of elephants. They have been in those boxes since we moved in with Chris's mom almost ten years ago (holy crap on toast, what happens to time?!?!). I do not have the room to display all of them nor do I have the energy to continuously dust all of them. There are things besides elephants that also need to be dumped. When the day finally comes to move (to where ever), I want to be ready. I don't want to look at all of the things around me and sigh with exhaustion at the thought of packing it up and moving it to the next place. 

My name is Cindy Maddera. I am, among other things, a blogger, a writer, a photographer, a yoga teacher, and a scientist. I'm maturing. I'm 42 years old and I'm just now trying to be a grown up. Sort of.

GUILTY

Cindy Maddera

Someone recently posted this blog post by Rumya Putcha at Namaste Nation on a yoga teacher Facebook group I am part of. It is a very eye opening read and I have not been able to stop thinking about it. Rumya Putcha discussed the mis-appropriation of 'namaste' and cultural appropriation of upper class white women and yoga. Yoga is thought of and marketed as a white woman's domain. I have become hyper aware of the lack of diversity of people in yoga studio classes. I will be sitting on my mat, waiting for the class to begin and I'll look around the room. We all look alike and this makes me very uncomfortable. I don't tell you that to garnish some kind of sympathy or "Oh, no Cindy. You don't need to feel uncomfortable." I DO need to feel uncomfortable. This should make me feel out of place. 

“When you’re white in this country, you’re taught that everything belongs to you. You think you have a right to everything. … You’re conditioned this way. It’s not because your hair is a texture or your skin is light. It’s the fact that the laws and the culture tell you this. You have a right to go where you want to go, do what you want to do, be however—and people just got to accommodate themselves to you.” Ta-Nehisi Coates

My first exposure to yoga was in a gym setting. In fact, I did not attend yoga classes in yoga studios until yoga teacher training. Yoga was/is a workout option. There was no talk of the spiritual side of yoga or stories of the Gods who inspired these poses. The teacher said 'namaste' at the end of every class and we just nodded our heads in response. I didn't know the meaning of that word. I just assumed it was some sort of goodbye/thank you/blessing. Like ending a prayer with 'amen'. I have a giant Ganesh tattoo on my back, not because I am Hindu, but because I like elephants and was attracted to this Hindu God because of his elephant head. I did do my research before having him permanently placed on my body and I love this tattoo. But I do question what right I have to put Ganesh on my body in such a way. It is hard to admit because no one wants to admit to being part of the problem, but I am part of the problem. 

I see my mistakes and I'm working on being part of the solution. My roommate in college was full blood Cherokee. She used to invite me to her home in Stilwell Oklahoma mostly because she didn't have a car and missed her family so much. She would say "Drive me home this weekend and we'll have Mom make Indian tacos and we'll go to a stomp dance." I always agreed because her family was so nice and I loved going to the stomp dances. The dances would run late into the night and into early morning and I watched for hours as Cherokee men and women danced in a circle. I would help my college roommate tie on her tortoise shell shakers that fit the length of her shin and was always surprised by the weight of them. The dances were beautiful and mesmerizing but I never participated unless my roommate specifically dragged me into the circle. I was very aware that I was an outsider and that I had no claim to this culture.  This is how I should also approach yoga. I do not lay any cultural rights on yoga. It is a gift that has been brought to our Western society, a gift that should be treated with more respect. 

I chose to teach yoga at the Y because I thought it would be the best way to bring the benefits of yoga to a more diverse group of people. I teach my students how to move safely into yoga poses and to challenge themselves physically. I teach my students to focus on their breath and how linking your breath with your movement aids in calming the mind. I encourage my students to find joy in their practice. I do not teach the spiritual side of yoga. We do not chant or "om". I still say 'namaste' at the end of class. I don't know if it is the right thing to do any more. I say it, fully meaning the sentiment behind the word: that which is beautiful in me salutes that which is beautiful in you. But my students don't know that this is the meaning of namaste. This is another mistake on my part. When you know the meaning and reverence of something, you are more likely to be more reverent with that something. You are less likely to toss around a sacred word like namaste.

This is true for all languages and cultures. 

 

 

 

 

 

THINGS THAT DON'T MATTER

Cindy Maddera

I don't know what it is about Costco, but just pulling into the parking lot makes me want to punch someone. I immediately fill up with rage. We always find ourselves pulling into the parking lot at the worst time of day to be inside Costco and getting from the car to inside the doors is like reenacting an episode of American Gladiators while pushing an oversized shopping cart. I must have missed the etiquette lesson that teaches you to stop just inside the doorway of places so that you block all others from entering a room. The other shoppers at Costco did not miss this lesson because they are masters of stepping just inside and then spreading out almost like they are getting ready to start a game of Red Rover. It is all I can do to not shove them with my cart. I am not there to browse. I am not there to gawk at all of the things. When I go into Costco, I go in with a plan and a list. I can not afford to do other wise. I want to get in and get out and the people inside Costco want to do everything they can to keep me from doing just that.  

Saturday, I had to play this game twice because we ended up at two different Costcos. The first Costco didn't have all of the things on the list. Michael called the other Costco to see if they had the missing item. They did and we ended up abandoning our cart and just walking out to head over to a different Costco where I had to run the gauntlet all over again. This time I got everything on our list and managed to push my cart right up to an empty check out lane. WHAT?! Turns out that no one pays attention to the check out lane at the very end. Our check out was timed perfectly with a torrential downpour. We walked to the doors where people and carts were lined up as if they had been herded into a pen. Michael ran to get the car and when he pulled up, I ran outside with our cart. He had managed to park right next to the downspout for a gutter. I stood in ankle deep rushing water while tossing all of our things into the back seat. Rain was pounding down on me and while I was tossing in a giant stack of Kleenex, I just yelled "IT DOESN'T FUCKING MATTER!"

I finally made into the car, my clothes soaked through, my hair plastered down on my head with water dripping into my eyes. Michael turned to me, handing me his handkerchief and asked "What did you yell while you were putting stuff into the car?" I blotted my face with the handkerchief and replied "It doesn't fucking matter." Then we both started laughing at the ridiculousness of the whole situation. Our next stop was the REI store and the rain had dampened to a medium sprinkle. People were still standing under the awning of the store though when Michael pulled up and let me out of the car. One woman looked at me as I walked up to the doors and the look on her face said "Oh, honey." I shrugged and said "We just came from Costco. It's way worse over there." and I brushed my wet hair off my forehead and walked right on in. 

A couple of weekends ago, Michael and I got caught in unexpected rain shower while we were on the scooters. We rode home in a heavy downpour. At one point, I got stuck at a light behind a car that was illegally parked outside a church. They had pulled up so that someone could usher some senior citizen into the car. I just sat there waiting patiently. Really, there was nothing more I could do. I couldn't go around the car and by the time I could go around, the light had turned red. I was thinking of this moment while I was stuck outside Costco, throwing bulk items of butter and kleenex into the backseat. At some point it really just doesn't matter. At some point, I just have to be in it. This is how it is; it is not something I can control. But I can control my reaction. Which is how I should approach being inside Costco or any situation I get stuck in that I can't control. Sometimes you need to get caught in the rain just to remind yourself that it really isn't that big of a deal to get caught in the rain. 

And that is just doesn't fucking matter. 

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Cindy Maddera

We are strangers. Mostly. Many of us have never met face to face. Yet, we feel like we know each other. Sort of. We support and encourage each other in our endeavors. We are generous and philanthropic. We are an online community of women, a community I have managed to wedge my big toe into. Really...I'm a nobody in the blog world. A small fish swimming in an ocean of big fish, but any time I've bumped into one of those big fish, they have been the kindest of fishes and truly genuine moments. This community has been an unexpected perk to blogging. Never in a million years would I have thought that I would meet these women, laugh with these women, cry with these women. 

It would not be until Chris got sick when I would realize just how important this community is to me. That's usually the way, right? Emergencies tend to put things into perspective and change the way we look at life in general. I know that I have never felt more scared then I did during those weeks when we were still trying to figure out what was going to happen to Chris. The roller coaster of emotions from that time was truly nauseating. There was so much that we didn't know, so much that we learned, and so much that didn't want to know. To say that the whole situation was overwhelming is an understatement. Nothing, not even J's death, prepared me for those days leading up to Chris's death. 

During those weeks, I would often receive emails, cards, notes, even gifts from this community of women. These virtual strangers. They sent their love and support during a time in my life when I knew if I stopped moving for a second, I'd curl into a ball unable to face the next decision. To this day, I am humbled and floored by the support they sent me. This, this is what the internet is for, for empowering and supporting each other, particularly in times of need. And I am so so grateful for all of it. A few weeks ago, Rebecca Woolf, a blogger and writer I follow and admire, announced that her husband had just been diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. Because I know all too well what they're going through, it was a no brainer for me to donate some money to their GoFundMe page. It is my way of showing my gratitude. I did it because I am grateful for the love and support that I have received from this community. I did it because the internet has taught me the true meaning of community. 

We love and support each other. We care for one another. It doesn't even matter that we are strangers. 

Fuck Cancer.

AUTOBOTS, ROLL OUT

Cindy Maddera

One of our journaling prompts for that journaling workshop I attended a few weeks ago was "how are you transforming?" I stared at the page for a really long time. I am not currently transforming. This was the first thing I thought as I stared at my blank journal page. I suppose it all comes down to perspective, but really, I am not currently in a state of transformation. I am not searching to find myself or develop a better persona. I am not undertaking a new diet and/or workout routine. I have no desire to toss out all my clothes and reinvent my wardrobe nor do I have the money to do so.

I have transformed. In fact I've gone through many transformations in my life time, as we all do. We all change in some way. I have transformed myself from a person who only saw and ranted about the injustices of the world to a person who actively seeks out the rare and beautiful moments. I have done my best to be less of a complainer and more of a changer of the space around me so that I can't complain about it. I have transformed myself from just a mere scientists to a scientist with an artistic flair. Actually, I feel like I have transformed myself into a person with a well rounded life. I am living the interdisciplinary life my undergrad professors wanted for us. It goes with out saying that a shit ton of transformation occurred after Chris died. I had to remind myself that I was more than a duo. I had to rediscover my identity. I was still figuring this out when I met Michael. So now I was in this spot of rediscovery while learning to be in a new relationship. Often, I felt like I was not navigating any of it all that well. It was more like I was just letting myself be dragged along in some kind of current and then I'd get upset when that current left me someplace where I wasn't really comfortable. I started taking more responsibility for the direction I'm going. That means saying 'no' to some things and 'yes' to other things. Sometime during this year, I started to feel really settled into this skin. Part of that is from saying 'no' to things I really don't want to do. Part of that comes from teaching yoga again. I've stopped doing back flips to make those around me happy. I have let go of the idea that I could have the same kind of relationship I used to have and have found a way to live in the relationship I do have. And be happy with it.

I realized that I am constantly bombarded with advertisements and emails to transform myself in some shape or form. My favorite email that I have received this week by far has to be the one inviting me to a Global Summit on Shamanism and to attend workshops on becoming a shaman. I can't even think about 'connecting to a higher spirituality' and learning to 'guide others on their spiritual paths' without rolling my eyes. The act of guiding transformation is a big business and they all want to help you transform yourself into something spectacular. It doesn't matter that you are already spectacular. You can be even MORE spectacular. We all kind of suffer from Maddonaism with a need to reinvent ourselves every five years or so, but there has to be some parts in life where we are content with ourselves in that moment. I don't know what I ended up writing in my journal that day, but I feel like it was something not totally honest. The pressure was too great to fit in and feel like I was transforming myself just by being present at this particular workshop. I was already sitting outside my comfort zone. That's a transformation in itself of sorts. At one point, the hostess asked in regards to one of the prompts "And how does that make you feel?" I wanted to say "Lady, I barely tell my therapist how I feel and the stuff I do tell her has to be pulled out of me like a tooth." So I made something up. I drew on past experiences, but what I really wanted to write was that I am not transforming. 

I will never admit to being spectacular (I have just gotten used to accepting compliments), but I will admit to being content with where I am right now. I like being in between transformations. 

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Cindy Maddera

Today, I am grateful for:

  • Picnics in the park with my circle of boys and how they always go out of their way to be festive. 
  • Water balloon fights
  • Watching fireworks and still being wowed by the display of colored explosions. 
  • Early in the morning the day after the fourth, before the heat of the day settles in, the city is covered with a sulphery haze from the firecracker wars of the night before. It makes everything look like a photo from the 70s.
  • Every memory that Facebook wanted me to share this week that I did not share. 
  • Hannah Gadsby's Nanette on Netflix. This is one of the smartest and most honest pieces of storytelling you could watch in this moment. Watch it. Listen to it. Don't wait. Do it now.

IN DEFENSE OF BOREDOM

Cindy Maddera

I have noticed that there are two different (at least) species of fireflies in our backyard. One species is about half an inch long. It floats slowly through the air almost like a hot air balloon and has a long glowing blink. The other species is about half the size of the one just described. It is faster in movement and in blink. It also seems to stay close to the ground, while the larger kind can be seen all the way up in the tree tops. 

What kind of firefly are you? 

That question reminds me of that scene in Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom where Sam asks Suzy "What kind of bird are you?" Everyone knows that Sam is really asking Suzy "What kind of person are you? Are you brave and daring? Are you the type that goes against the crowd? Or are you just like the others." Because it is Wes Anderson and every movie he makes drips with metaphors and the implied words between the words. So I ask. What kind of firefly are you? Well, I can tell you that I am the fat slow kind of firefly. 

Since Michael is off for the summer, he's been taking care of everything around the house. He cooks the meals, cleans the kitchen, runs the vacuum, cleans the bathroom, cleans off table clutter, does the laundry and the grocery shopping. His plan is for me to have mostly nothing to do on the weekends but go to yoga classes and scooter around the city. It's a nice plan and with the exception of the occasional round of dusting, his plan is mostly working. I have nothing do. I have oodles of time to do all the other projects that I've been wanting do or at least thinking about doing; the projects that get set aside because of the demands of daily living. This is the perfect opportunity for me to sit down and write, organize photos and get the creative juices flowing. 

I am doing none of those things. I just lay around like a lump. Mostly. I am going to yoga classes and we have been scootering around the city. We spent the whole day last Saturday scooting from place to place, even getting caught in a downpour. We came home, put on dry clothes and then I plopped myself back down on the couch. I was talking to Dr. Mary about all of this in our weekly session. I told her how I should be taking advantage of this extra time, but nothing I write sounds interesting. I delete everything. The scenery around me does not inspire me to pick up my camera. The pictures I take are forced. The pictures I take of myself for my 365 day project are uninspired and often do not include my face because every time I see my face through the camera lens, I'm like "ugh". I told Dr. Mary that I was bored with myself. 

Then Dr. Mary said that maybe I needed to be bored for a bit. 

I realized then that I have been thinking about this free time all wrong. Instead of focusing on doing all of the things, I should be relishing in this time to be still. Boredom is a privilege that is rarely allowed to us in adulthood. Boredom is for children and oh the things a kid can invent to escape their boredom. Fantastical games and magical worlds bloom from moments of boredom. Boredom is the time for recharging the creative batteries. So, I'm going to be bored. I'm going to be still. And then I'm going to hope that something blooms from all this stillness.  

THIS ONE'S FOR KELLY

Cindy Maddera

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One day last week, the clouds piled up and the sky turned black. It happened in the middle of the day, but it was so dark outside that you would have thought it was late in the evening. Sheets of rain fell heavily from the sky. The storm moved through quickly, but somewhere near the end of it we were all evacuated to the nearest storm shelter to wait out the tail end of it. This is probably the second time I have had to go wait out a storm in the shelter since I have moved here. One of my colleagues is a fellow Okie. When the alarms sounded, we both looked out the windows. Then we looked at each other and rolled our eyes at being sent to the storm shelters when we both knew there was no tornado coming our way. We sat in the storm shelter, which is just the stairwell, with our coworkers for five or ten minutes. Long enough for someone to take a group photo of us all in the stairwell. 

The storm and having to seek shelter was all the talk the next day. Everyone had a story of their afternoons spent in the basement. My friend/yoga teacher/plant goddess, Kelly told us all before class about shoving her two large cats into one small pet carrier and taking them down to her basement. She looked at me then and said something about all of this is probably not being a big deal for me. I shrugged my shoulders and said "not really." Then I confessed that I never once lived in a house in Oklahoma that had any sort of safe room or storm shelter. I told her how every time the tornado sirens went off, which was pretty often, Chris and I would just look at each other and shrug. It became a joke. There are pictures of me and Hooper sitting in closet with clothes piled all around us or sitting in the bathtub together. I'm wearing my scooter helmet in all of these pictures. I also told Kelly about the time my family rode out a tornado in our camp trailer.

Living smack down in the middle of the tornado alley is a whole lot different from living way out on the edge of that alley. I realized I had gotten used tornado sirens being tested on the first Wednesday of every month when we were standing in a Walmart in Guyman Oklahoma at noon on a Saturday. I froze in front of a rack of children's purses and told Michael to stop talking. Then he heard the sirens too. I looked over at an employee and asked her what day it was. She looked at me like oddly and said "It's Saturday." I replied "that's right, it's Saturday and it's noon." I turned to Michael and told him that they test the sirens every Saturday at noon. Then he looked at me and said "really?" I said "Yup. Every Saturday. At noon." That should give you some scale about the number of tornados that run down the center of that alley versus the number of tornados that fall off into the margins. 

Tornados are just a way of life in Oklahoma. I remember Chris saying once that he thought it was just the normal activity of the evenings to go hang out in the storm shelter when he was a kid living in a trailer park in Altus. That's just what they did as a family in the summer evenings. The sirens go off and we make a pot of coffee so we can stand outside with a cup of joe while we watch the skies. We may or may not stand in the bathtub. It depends on how the sky looks. Here, actual tornadoes are rare and any could be maybe looking cloud freaks people out. They go straight to their storm shelters or basements without one glance at the sky. It could be said that a seasoned Okie such as myself is a little bit lackadaisical when it comes to weather. I will admit that I can go for days without checking the weather report before I scoot out to work. I will admit that I have often gotten caught in the rain. A lot more so than when I lived in Oklahoma. There is something to be said about having some caution. 

That doesn't mean that I will not immediately go look out the windows whenever the tornado sirens go off. 

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Cindy Maddera

It has been almost a month since I've spoken to Dr. Mary. We have both been on vacations and this week was our first session together in weeks. We briefly talked about our trips and shared a couple of pictures before she asked me how I was doing. I told her about the workshop I had attended over the weekend and some other things that were on my mind. Dr. Mary asked me if I dream. I told her "not really." Which is kind of true. When I dream, they are usually discombobulated scenes that I rarely remember the next morning. I just wake up with a feeling that I did dream about something. I just don't know what that something is half of the time. 

I did tell her about a dream I had had recently that involved a couple Chris and I had been friends with in college. We had a horrible falling out with these two. The whole thing was blown out of proportion and ended sadly. The result was that we never had anything to do with those people again. It was her choice, not ours or even her other half's choice, but we respected her choice. Any way, it all happened years and years ago, so I found it odd that I would be dreaming about them now. Except now that I think about, maybe not so odd. I am constantly re-hashing old arguments in my head and pondering past grievances and what I should have done versus what I did do. I think about how I could have handled things in a more articulate and less volatile manner. I twist it around and around in my head. I do this for no good reason because in most of those incidences, I handled it the best that I could at the time. Also, it's done. We have all moved along with our lives. 

I think maybe for some of those past arguments and grievances, the reason it is so hard to let them go completely is because there wasn't any closure or attempts to mend fences. There was not a moment of "let's agree to disagree but let's also try be friends around that disagreement." No one apologized for bad behavior or hurtful words. They end up just being these little festering blights in your timeline. When asked if I have any regrets, I will tell you that I regret not doing more or being better in those situations. Today I am thankful for the reminder to be better, to listen more empathetically and to make more of an effort to find ways around differences. I am thankful for the reminder to let go of past arguments and grievances. 

This is something really hard to do, particularly in today's environment, but I think that if I try to be better, that's going to rub off on someone else and start a chain reaction of being better. 

 

THE OCCASIONAL PUNCH TO THE GUT

Cindy Maddera

I came home from work to find the picture sitting on my home desk. Blurred and faded. Chris in the act of impersonating a jelly fish or reenacting a scene from the Simpsons. It could be either of those things. I recognize the room. It is the room where we all spent half our days hanging out, the student government office in Trout Hall. Is it even still called Trout Hall? For some reason I don't think so. I vaguely remember them moving the student government office too after we all graduated. God, this image is from a hazy lifetime ago, back when we were all so young and not so jaded by life's disappointments. That school was our Hogwarts. I don't think any of us even thought about what we'd do next, when we finally graduated and had to leave. 

I think we were all surprised and a little shell shocked when we realized that we would one day leave that place to stumble through to the next thing. Some times I wonder and dream about what it would have looked like to never leave. Not necessarily staying on as students, but moving into teaching. The only time teaching has ever crossed my mind was if I could teach there. I have no desire to do it otherwise. I wonder what we would look like, how the group of us would have changed if we had all stayed put. Would we just be older versions of our idyllic selves? Chris and Amy would have turned the UFO Independent Study into a yearly event. I would have taken over Dr. MaGrath's campus gardening project. Jen would be dragging a group of art students around to various places to sit and draw. Basically we would be the lost boys to Chris's Peter Pan. Never growing up.

Was I his Wendy?

I remember how it felt like we were not grown ups. Not even when we moved on from graduate school and entered the so called 'real world'. We still seemed to be just playing at adulthood. Like it was a game or a theater production. We watched cartoons and collected toys. We had hand-me-down everything from cars to couches. We still scavenged home decor from thrift stores and garbage dumpsters. The idea of being able to buy a house was so far out there that we thought it would be easier to buy land on the moon. We bought scooters and lived with his mom. We were children right up until the day we moved to Kansas City. We moved in an actual moving van for the first time, not a horse trailer borrowed from a neighbor. We bought a lawnmower and we bought a house. Our couch was still a hand-me-down couch and our furniture was still an eclectic mix of thrift store and IKEA, but it was our house with a garage and a fenced-in backyard. 

We were better off never growing up. 

The Cabbage was the one to find that picture. It had been tucked inside a book and had fallen free when she pulled the book from the shelf. There is always an odd tug and pull that I feel whenever my current life runs into my past life. Michael and the Cabbage are always respectful of my past. They placed that picture on my desk instead of back in the book it fell out of because they thought I might want it. Which was nice and sweet. But it still feels odd for them to run across such a random and totally honest picture of Chris. Like a science fiction show when dimensions in timelines cross paths. For a moment my timeline gets twisted into a loop and the now meets up with the then ever so briefly. Just enough to feel the oddness of it before it flips back into place. Like a twisting rubber band. 

We are better off never growing up. 

 

 

I'M REALLY ATTRACTED TO CHEESE

Cindy Maddera

I attended a meditation/journaling workshop this weekend that turned out to be more journaling than meditation. The workshop was taught by Elaina Cochran, a photographer and yoga teacher. She uses her photos to make meditation/journaling prompts and you can buy some of those at her website, Elated Earth. For this workshop, we used cards from her Reflect series. She chose different cards and then we all sat around writing about the prompt and image on the card and how it all made us feel. The workshop was a nice disciplined way to get me to be still and write in an unguarded or uncensored way. Which, as personal as this blog gets at times, it's still a censored version of reality. 

One thing I can tell you is that I am not an avid journal writer. I see images from other peoples journals and the handwriting is beautiful and they have colorful swirly art doodles in the margins and I think "I am going to do this!" Except every time I sit down to to do this, my journal ends up looking very much like the scientific notebook I keep for work. Look, I have always believed that I was not a creative person. It hasn't been until recently that I have come to recognize that my creativity manifests itself in other ways. I am good with this. Another thing about this workshop that I kind of struggled with was the part where I had to write about me. These prompts are meant for reflecting on your inner self. I use the prompts in my Fortune Cookie diary to write tiny short stories of fiction all the time. For this workshop, I found that I often had to remind myself that these reflection prompts are not to be turned into short stories of fiction. 

One of our journaling prompts was "what am I naturally attracted to and excited about?" I sat there, tapping my pen for a few minutes while considering an answer. Naturally, I attend to be attracted to intellect and knowledge. Some of my favorite parts of graduate school were our Friday evenings at Stonewall's, a big group of us sitting around with a couple of pitchers of beer discussing all things from politics to books to movies to religion. I am continually excited by the complexities of life on a microscopic level. The other day our group was having a discussion about messenger RNAs and it got so deep and detailed that a part of my brain exploded. All I could think about is how it is an absolute miraculous wonder that we are alive. Each day, I am excited about what discoveries I'll make and what I will learn from those discoveries.

Lately, I have noticed an attraction to abandoned things. Mostly buildings. There is something about the way the light hits an abandoned structure and the shadows they make that makes me want to lean in, place a hand on a wall, search for something hidden. There is a silence and stillness in these places that can be dissected into individual sounds and movement. It is a deception in a way. The buildings are abandoned, but only by humans. There were many of these places as we travelled to and from Colorado. Some times it was a forgotten business, often it was an abandoned farmstead. The old farms held the strongest attraction. I wanted to stop for each one and explore those shadows with my camera. I wanted to know the story of each farm. I am attracted to the stories.

I wrote all of this in my journal and then when Elaina said we'd spend just about a minute more on this prompt, I wrote "I am attracted to cheese." I wrote it because I thought it was funny, but then I thought about it and I really am attracted to cheese. I told Michael about it and so we we stopped by our new fancy Whole Foods and bought three different cheeses for a snack for later in the evening.

Maybe I should become a cheesemonger. 

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Cindy Maddera

Yesterday, I went with my friend and coworker, Jeff to teach a group of fourth graders about microscopes. We took a basic light microscope and some samples. Jeff has done this before and has his presentation down pat. He's made a device that attaches a webcam to the eye piece on the microscope that he can then project the image on a screen. I was just there as a sort of assistant, helping out with samples and chiming in with bits of information here and there. I have more experience with bacteria and amoeba than Jeff does, so I was able to talk about those things with the kids. 

We had some really interesting samples to show them and discuss, but the best, most exciting sample was a dish of pond water. Jeff had collected a water bottle full of water from a pond near his house. We had a large petri dish that we poured the water into and placed on the microscope stage. Then we sat back and just watched as various larvae, microscopic water fleas and water mites, and other creatures swam into our field of view. It was at times thrilling and a little scary Occasionally something really large would swim by so quickly, it was unidentifiable. The whole room would erupt in shrieks and gasps. The kids and the adults in the room totally loved every minute of it. The previous year they had a guy from the local science museum come and talk. Apparently he was not that great and when we wrapped things up, someone said "they were WAY better than the guy from last year." 

I really shy away from doing things like this, mostly because I feel queasy when I'm on any kind of stage. I have to say though that I had a lot of fun yesterday. I have forgotten how fun it is to really look at something like pond water, to see all the life swimming around. It is the whole reason I am where I am today. The first time I looked at bacteria through the eyepiece of a basic light microscope, I was hooked. It's all I ever wanted to do. So, I am super grateful that I went and helped out with career day yesterday. It was a good reminder of how it is I ended up where I am today. It was a good reminder of how fascinating the world is around us. There are more bacteria living on this planet then there are people, something like five million trillion trillion. Some of them live in the most extreme environments like Antarctica and inside Old Faithful at Yellowstone. Some of them live in and our bodies, helping us out by providing protection against infections or with digestion. To me, this is mind boggling amazing. 

I am thankful to be working in a field that constantly amazes me. 

CHATTER

Cindy Maddera

My head space has been really crowded with chatter lately. There are fifty different thoughts and conversation happening loudly all at once in there. The other day it was so bad that I almost stepped off my yoga mat five minutes into my practice, but I stayed put and did my best to make the yoga teacher voice the loudest. There have been moments during my practice while holding a pose for an extended period of time, it has felt as if my brain would explode from the vibration of noise in there. There is a screaming voice yelling at me to get up, move, stop being still. 

Buddha said that the human mind is full of drunken monkeys. What an amazingly accurate description and such a visual one. I can easily see a wild pack of monkeys in various states of drunkenness with all the drunk personalities represented. It's like the party scene from Breakfast at Tiffany's except all the actors are played by monkeys. There's even one laughing hysterically one minute at it's reflection and then sobbing the next minute. Buddha taught that you should not try to fight these monkeys (because monkeys can bite), but instead learn to tame them by sitting quietly in daily meditation. The Yoga Sutras refer to these monkeys as chitta vritti. Sutra 1.2, "yoga chitta vritti nirodha" translates to "yoga is the silencing of the modifications of the mind." For years and years and years, yoga has been taught as a way to prepare the body for meditation and can even be a moving meditation in of itself. 

There are loads of scientific papers that validate the importance of meditation. It reduces anxiety. It lowers blood pressure. It down regulates inflammatory genes and up regulates immune system genes. Researchers even believe that meditation could aid in the prevention of Alzheimer's disease. So I really should be meditating. My meditation practice fell apart years ago though and every attempt I've made to revive that practice has failed. I have settled into the idea that my meditation practice is a moving meditation practice. It happens when I am flowing through rounds of sun salutations and when I take my walks. Yet, I recognize that I really need to practice the art of stillness. Those evenings around the campfire when I sat and journaled our day and then drew cartoons in the margins were the closest to stillness that I have come in a long time. That is why I have signed up for a meditation and journaling workshop on Sunday at Sunshine Studio. We all need a little nudge and I am hoping to gain some momentum from this workshop rebuild my meditation practice.

Because those drunk monkeys are starting to look like an out of control Frat party.