Tickseed

Mike and I visited Oakland Nursery the week before Mother’s Day, and proceeded to fill a large cart with plants for the front garden. Among the many was a tickseed, bearing one lone bloom. And look at it now, profusely blooming and wildly pleased with its new home.

Tickseed, of the coreopsis family, is deer resistant, a native plant here in the Midwest, and a perennial. All pluses for this garden and gardener.

The oppressive heat has subsided, and today ushers in a cool breeze and sun in a puffy white cloud sky. Perfect. Wishing for you a day of beauty. I’m off to a happy hour with P.J.—-

Iris

35 years ago, my next-door neighbor, Sylvia B., gave me iris rhizomes from her rock garden. On either side of her front walk, so much beauty. Three residences later, Sylvia’s gifts are going strong, blooming more prolifically than ever before.

Not only furniture and kitchen boxes and clothing and books need to be moved when selling and buying property, but garden treasures as well. Only a handful; the buyer, after all, purchased the gardens along with the house, but a few must travel to the next home. They define home place; they are residents, too.

These beautiful blooms bring to mind (and heart) each spring the memories of our first and most wonderful neighbors, Ray and Sylvia, with whom Mike and I have remained in touch all these years. Sharing photos on our phones not too long ago, Sylvia admired one I had snapped of a single iris bloom. At Christmas, another gift arrived, a painting of that very iris! Two other pieces of Sylvia’s work grace our home, and now the golden iris joins them. Thank you, Sylvia. Thank you, irises.

Prelude

A month of blooms ahead. It’s a diversion from the usual format of illuminating Alexander Technique principles via every day life examples; let’s call it an Alexandrian Pause from Habit.

About the photo—Leo was filling up the bird bath when this lovely vignette came to my attention, morning sunlight on wild mustard and Siberian iris. Third summer at this address, first summer for wild mustard, all volunteers. They are everywhere, and blooming madly, even with the lack of rain. That’s the beauty of native plants—- resilient.

I’m a native, too, and would like to think resiliency is a trait I possess. My early 1800’s ancestors certainly did, leaving their Virginia homes to travel by horse and wagon over the mountains, then on flatboats down the Ohio River to Lawrence County, Ohio, where they homesteaded in the hills.

The southern Ohio phrase used was ‘dressing the graves’ and that’s what we did each Memorial Day. Mason jars were filled with water, flowers and sprays snipped and arranged, boxes of them placed in the backseat, followed by long drives over hot and dusty roads to place a jar of blooms on each resting place. I remember it well, most vividly, the year I accompanied Grandma Irene to the tiny backwoods plot where her first baby was buried, having lived only 3 days.

Three days, or 30 years, or 30 years tripled, we will all join them. Until then, may we remember well our beloved dead and honor them, not only with flowers, but also with lives well lived—-

Come Rain or Come Shine*

Maysville, Kentucky. It’s an Ohio River town on a narrow strip of land between river and bluffs; birthplace of Rosemary Clooney. A leisurely hour was spent walking the streets. Most everything was closed on a Monday morning, but that only served to keep me out in the bright sun with blue sky overhead.

A Maysville stop was not part of the day’s plan. I didn’t even know Maysville existed. Opting to drive backroads for the return trip home from Berea, KY, Maysville appeared. A happy surprise, especially after the drive south of the day before. High winds had buffeted the car, dense rain reduced visibility, lightning jags could be seen much more clearly than the other vehicles on the interstate.

What a difference a day can make! Take heart. As your go-to-guide for all things Alexander Technique, I can report it is possible to practice good Use of Self on both stormy and sunny days. Either way, the work of the Technique is the same—-note physical responses to stimuli (whether that be a semi truck way too close on the rain-drenched interstate, or the pleasure of driving a winding and smooth two-lane country road), Pause and Choose ease. Rain or shine, the Technique serves us well.

*Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen’s 1946 torch tune, Come Rain or Come Shine,1946. Rosemary Clooney sings a Nelson Riddle arrangement here.

Handwork

Grandma Bertha stitched quilts with her Ladies Sewing Circle. Grandma Irene made quilts on a large wooden frame next to the living room picture window. As a young girl, she did linen cutwork with my Great-Grandmother Rachel. My mother sewed most of our clothing, and following a cancer diagnosis, she began a fall scene crewel piece which I finished after her death. And so, the women in the family keep me company as I stitch, as does Mr. Alexander and his Technique.

Handwork is detailed and cross-stitch requires minute stitches a thousand times over, creating color blocks of designs. It’s the perfect activity for Self-Awareness, Inhibition and Direction, the Big Three of Alexander Technique practice. Observing my Self, the following are noted: arms pulled inward, gluteal muscles contracted (yep, who knew the body/mind would attempt to use gluteals to make a neat stitch! Shout-out: It doesn’t help), gripping the hoop.

On to Inhibition: it’s often enough to simply quit with the Habit. Merely stopping what I am doing, whether it be clenching gluts, gripping hands, or contracting arms, means the body (and mind) can then go about their business unencumbered by all the extra effort.

However, if needed, there is always Direction. ‘I allow my head to move away from my spine.’ ‘Long legs, feet on floor.‘ ‘I allow my spine to lengthen and my torso to widen.’ Thoughts only, not a ‘DO.’

Happy Mother’s Day to all—–

Psithurism

Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

Gusts rattle the metal cabin roof, light breezes create a rustle in the dried brown leaves of the surrounding oaks. Wind can be heard in the distance, an approaching low-level roar that builds until all is immersed. I like to imagine the vast sheets of wind traveling across the plains of Indiana and western Ohio, arriving at our outpost along the glacial till, land of soft hills and wide valleys.

How happy was I to discover the word ‘psithurism,’ defined as ‘the sound of the wind in the trees and the rustling of the leaves.‘ It’s an onomatopoeia, a word that sounds like its meaning. In the pines, I become taller, longer, more fully upright as I listen to psithurism. It’s a community of UP out there in the woods.

Alexander Technique teacher, Frank Pierce Jones said ‘anything can be regarded as the stimulus to which you choose the response of lengthening and freeing.‘ Anything. Choosing ease and length when captivated by psithurism is an easy choice. Choosing to ‘think up’ in response to fear is quite another.

We resist expressions of fear, such as shaky knees, sweaty palms, pounding heart, by ‘pulling down,‘ successfully dulling sensation, making ourselves smaller, contracting. There’s a time and a place for that response, but not when there is a show to perform, a song to sing, a line to deliver. We can choose, even when the stimulus is fear; ease and space. This is precisely what Barbara Conable encourages us to practice in her primer, How to Learn the Alexander Technique. Her advice is ‘Embody the fear.’ Feel it, choose to not ‘numb out’ and ‘think up’ instead.

Now we’re talking! And moving, and singing, and dancing, and, and, and….

A Walking Week

Christmas Rocks Nature Preserve, April 1, 2021

Mike and I drove Fairfield County backroads and arrived at this magical preserve close to Lancaster but a world away. We were greeted by a kingfisher at the trailhead and the marvels continued. Hemlocks, clear-water stream rippling over rock beds, early woodland wildflowers, tight leaf buds on trees, and SNOW! Only light flurries, but still. It was cold.

The destination point of the hike is a vista view atop a rock escarpment, looking south over hills and valleys. Getting there meant a steep ascent. After all these years living with Alexander Technique principles, it’s still possible to be surprised at its usefulness. With thought and attention to my Use, and frequent rest breaks, the summit was crested. Mike and I paused to be astonished. Sitting on moss-covered rocks, at eye level with the tops of the cliff side trees, we breathed it all in.

Heading back, muscles and hip joints fatigued, it was here the Technique became most efficacious. I utilized a few lesson prompts from Monday’s AT class: ‘Give attention to the back leg of the stride. Let it propel you forward. No need to do anything else. Let the earth travel under you and support you. Spaciousness overhead. All the space you need to be long and wide.’

The week concluded with another student requesting a walking lesson. A Week of Walking, indeed. Grateful to be on the path with such fine students, and to receive the beauty of Christmas Rocks–

Gesture

Photo by Hebert Santos on Pexels.com

‘Of course, for each of us, there is the daily life.

Let us live it, gesture by gesture.

When we cut the ripe melon, should we not give it thanks?

And should we not thank the knife also?

We do not live in a simple world.’

At the River Clarion, Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver*

Gretchen McCulloch, in Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language, writes of ‘co-speech‘ or ‘illustrative gesture,’ coined by linguists to describe the gesturing we do while speaking. She explains that gesturing is thought to be more about the speaker’s thinking than the understanding of the listener. In other words, the speaker is processing thought via bodily motion, rather than gesturing to ‘make a point’ for the listener’s benefit.

Although I had picked up the book curious to learn more about my students’ formative experiences as life-long consumers of online content, I became intrigued with the idea that our minds access language with the body, through movement, through gesture. Dances are often choreographed with a set of gestures at their core; expounded upon, returned to, and then modified, much like phrases in a musical score. We are ‘saying’ more than we know with our bodies. Dancers just do this on purpose, and to great good effect.

May we, as Mary Oliver invites us, whether dancing or slicing melons, live ‘gesture by gesture,’ mind with body.

*Heartfelt thanks to Alicia, who gave me this book as a 64th birthday present. How I cherish it, and Alicia.

Jenga

Jenga begins with the stacking of 54 wooden blocks. Players then take turns removing one block at a time, the object being to keep the stack from falling down. Stacking is also a dance studio term, as students are encouraged to stack their joints, vertebrae and body parts.

A successful turn at the Jenga stack requires minimal movement, rather like a game of Pick-Up-Sticks. One slight vibration, and down goes the edifice. Stasis is essential. In contrast, a fine turn on the dance floor requires movement and vitality; stasis nowhere to be found.

In Jenga, stacking is done from the bottom-up, carefully arranging the blocks for stability, then figuring out how to maintain that base for as long as possible. Dancers, too, can stack themselves ‘bottom-up,’ feet to head, but this is not the only way to achieve stability. One can also balance from the top-down.

And this is how it is done in the Alexander Technique. Dancers free the primary place of balance in the body, that of head-on-spine. From the head/spine meeting place, the rest of the body’s structure, all the way down to the feet, can move with balance and ease.

Words matter. If stacking provides your heart’s desire as you dance, keep it! If not, examine what the word conjures up for you. If it is stasis, make a different choice. Let yourself move, and also consider the happy possibilities of ‘top-down’ thinking.

Game nights and dance concerts await! With high hopes all will be vaccinated, allowing a return to in-person gatherings and events. My second Pfizer shot is next Friday—-

Hospitality

For Yo-Yo Ma, performance is not about showcasing his technical prowess, but rather about extending hospitality to the world.’

Krista Tippett, On Being interview

Teaching, too. Here are a few ways in which I cultivate a welcoming Zoom Room, my teaching location for the past 12 months:

—Arrive at Zoom class early and greet each student as they arrive. This can be as simple as saying their name as they appear on the screen.

—Make yourself available after class. Several always stay to chat and ask questions.

—-Write to each student frequently. I do so once a week in response to their assignments.

—Divulge a few personal life details. Conducting class from my home office, I can smell the aromas of dinner which Mike is preparing, and sometimes say so.

It’s a strange world in which we have been living and learning, and it’s not over yet. As we tire of the pandemic and long for its end, may we offer hospitality whenever and wherever possible——