Thursday, July 29, 2010

Retreating and Transformation

Hi, Boomers,
Sometimes you just have to say: Enough! I'm full. I can't take it anymore. There is no more energy left. I'm spent. Basta!
Sometimes destiny plays a role in my life. Sometimes the "others" get in the way of my life. And sometimes I'm just plain tired.
It was a week of practicing the Tao. Daily losing. I had to pick my self up emotionally, spiritually and physically. It began on Saturday night at the milonga - the place where I dance tango. I lost someone I thought was a friend. I don't know why. Men retreat when they are emotionally tied up; women plow forward to explain and explore. I couldn't even begin to penetrate my male friend's feelings and angst. I had to let it go. I'm not sure I have just yet. Daily losing.
My book arrived via UPS at and my door: Sixty, Sex, & Tango Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer. I had read the manuscript for months, edited it, stared at the cover endlessly, and when I got the books - hard and soft cover - I didn't know what to do and I didn't know what to feel. It was familiar and yet foreign. Who wrote this? What's it about? What kind of value does it have, if any? Was it a dream? Did someone else write it? A swirl of emotions and feelings engulfed me. I wanted my mother at that moment. Mom, I did it. I wrote it. Are you proud of me? "I knew you could do it, honey. You can do anything you set your mind to." I missed my mother intensely for days. Where was my dad? Smiling and laughing at his daughter whom he adored. Daily losing.
Endless decisions about marketing the book. Google ad decisions. Book signing decisions. Meta tags. What is everyone talking about? No one was speaking English. I was out of my element I had no learning curve left. You have to have a public relations arm. Why? I'm selling the book on Amazon and Barnes so why do I have to hire a someone? Press releases. I can't decide on which cities. Frustration mounting. Daily losing.
Over a month ago, I had thought it time to go on a yoga retreat with one of my yoga teachers at my home studio - the place where I started teaching yoga. I had gone on several retreats over the years but I hadn't been on one for years. I committed to going on the retreat without knowing exactly why. It turned out it was a good decision.
I leave tomorrow for 3 days to Ojai in order to leave myself behind. My brain is in over-drive and I am challenged daily because I want my old self back. Too many tapes playing in my head. More stress than I can handle. I want to find emptiness and peace, and maybe, a little transformation along the way.
My state of being needs a wake-up call. I realize that some things need to change in this moment.
So what is my intention on this retreat?
Stress is uncomfortable and disturbing. The way I work through stress is in my yoga practice. I've neglected my practice. I have left no room in my life to practice except rarely. I'm teaching way too much. I need to return to the spiritual nature of my being, to the teachings and practices of yoga and meditation, to chanting, to exploring paths to enlightenment all the while remaining unsure and insecure about my path, and I need to reside in the center of my path with acceptance and surrender.
I have been blessed with so many gifts in my life: my incredible sons, my four vibrant grandsons, and my soon to be born granddaughter, my beloved Penelope. I was nurtured by loving parents and supported unconditionally by an amazing brother. I have been blessed with some talent to teach and inspire in theater and in yoga and I want to be daily aware of these gift and not get lost in situations and frustrations. I'm going to take my gifts with me to my retreat and absorbed the light.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

It's Gone Live: Sixty, Sex, & Tango, Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer

Hi, Boomers,

When I started out to write Sixty, Sex, & Tango, Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer two years ago June, I began to write my memoir by accident. I really wanted to do stand up comedy. Odd that everyone in Hollywood wants to direct, but I want to do standup comedy. I never wanted to direct.
Two years ago, I was sitting in my Saturday night milonga, the place where I dance tango most Saturday nights, talking to a movie director who also dances tango. I've know her for years and we got to talking like girls do, finding out more about each other, and I told her that I really wanted to do a stand up routine about my experiences with men and sex because sex is so very different in my 60's.
"Oh, no, Joan," she said with mischief in her eyes. "That's a book. You can do stand up anytime. Write a book on it."
"Yeah, great idea, a book," I mused. "But I really want to do stand up."
I got to thinking about what my director friend said in earnest after we talked. I thought maybe that writing about the men I've met, fallen in love with, and funny and sometimes strange my sexual escapades in my 60th decade could be a crashing bore for some people. Besides, there was more to my life than sex; say, for example, there was dancing tango and yoga and my family. And then there was a whole lot of the unexpected about life in my 60's that left me flabbergasted and perplexed. It seemed to me it was an odd decade for me. I kept being surprised by what life had to offer. So was that a book? And did I have enough material to write a book?
That June, I was glancing through the UCLA Extension magazine and looking for writing course when I ran across an improv/stand up comedy class. But before I took the class, I knew I to prepare some material from which to work off of in the class. It was a free form writing and performing class given by two exceptionally talented people who were fabulous teachers and stand up performers. So I needed a platform; hence, a book. I titled it: So You're 60, Get Over It: Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer. I used this material for my stand up material in class. Just trying out the material was totally scary and completely exciting. For example, I wanted to see if riffing about female masturbation was funny. It was.
I continued writing after the class was over. I finished my first draft by the spring of the following year. I had no idea what was good and not good, but I wrote from my story telling instincts. More to the point, I had no idea what I was going to do with the book besides get instant gratification from writing. I had few distractions in my life: teaching yoga, drug counseling and family in Las Vegas, but I truly cherished my alone time in my apartment. It got pretty romantic for awhile, writing nights with a glass of wine by my side, thinking of all the great writers who came before me, lugging my new MacBook around with me from airport to airport, from tango festival to tango festival to my son's home, back to my apartment. I felt like the "Bubble Boy" who was encased in glass and couldn't get out. It was invigorating.
I began to search for agents. Finally, after so many "I enjoyed the book," but who are you anyway, " an agent materialized. She believed in the project even though I had no "platform." You see in the book world, you have to be somewhat of a celebrity, even a minor celebrity, before an agent will take a writer seriously. My agent and her cohort changed the name of the book before they sent it to publishers. Hence, Sixty, Sex, & Tango, Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer. I loved the new title; and then I waited for six months. No takers.
Fine. My journey writing a book was still a labor of love and I was still happy and thought I had given the idea a good try. After all, I really wrote the book for me - for the pleasure of having my own catharsis. And it worked. For a time.
I sat on it for two months. And then I read an article about how popular self-publishing had become. Was I really going to let the book languish in my hall closet with all my other rejected screenplays? Not so fast. I began to research some self-publishing companies. I queried an author who had self-published with iUniverse. I checked on other self-publishing sites and read lots of reviews.
And then I made the call to iUniverse on a whim. The rest is, as they say, history. I made a decision at the end of December to self-publish because the salesman said that the price was going to change January 1st and I'd be paying more if I wanted to proceed. Nothing like a price increase to spearhead a decision.
I never looked back. iUniverse sent copious evaluations which were absolutely right on and and re-wrote furiously for the next four months. I loved it. I am a re-writer by nature. I love the thrill of re-writing because it has the feel of a detective trying to solve a case. I was back in heaven. I found my contacts at the publishing house to be professional and highly skilled at what they do. I also discovered that most of these people who worked at iUniverse were contract people who had once worked for the best publishing companies in the country. The book publishing business was falling on hard times and layoffs were endemic. Out of work editors found jobs in self-publishing because business was booming in that economy. Even well-known authors were self-publishing or internet publishing on their websites. And then there was the emergence of e-books. I was in the thick of a new publishing paradigm.
Yesterday, my book went live; that means that I'm on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and many more book sites plus iUniverse, of course, and I realized that I had arrived at this point in my writing saga rather unconsciously, without much of a plan when I began the book and without much thought except that what I was doing was way too much fun.
I always tell my students that life is more about the journey than arriving at the destination. Sometimes the destination is not as good as the journey But sometimes in life the journey and the destination are equally joyful or maybe they become one in the same. That's probably called the perfect moment of non-resistence.
At this moment, I feel elated by both my journey, unconscious or not, and by the arrival at this destination of having my book published. As in my yoga practice, I start with one intention, then move to another intention, all the while not expecting anything except creating space for the next intention. And as I create movement, I loose any and all mental resistance. And then things just happen.
While waiting for my book to be published, I tackled something I never thought I could do. I built my website on iWeb. And now I'm learning about google advertising and meta-tags. There is a whole new world out there of more journeys and more joy.
Oh, yeah, my website is:

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Brain Matters

Hi, Boomers,

I was strolling on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica Saturday morning, walking toward the AMC theater to see "Inception" and enter the dreamscape of the mind. The annual UCLA health fair was in full swing. Booths lined either side of the center aisle of the Promenade. It was a health information overflow. I was proud. UCLA is my employer. One of the places I teach yoga on campus is in the Public Health department, a building which also houses the brain mapping imaging center. It is in this building that meditation classes are held and the effects of mediation on the brain are studied - or mapped.
I was a women who spent most of her life on the floor of my bedroom or in a gym for early morning aerobics to keep fit. I loved the effect of releasing endorphins. It made me joyful and gave me unending energy. One of my fondest memories was attending a 7 am aerobics class in the trendy Las Vegas gym called The Sports Club and working out with a room full of executives, judges,lawyers before we all took off for work. Our teacher was AJ an Army drill instructor, who put us through our paces non-stop for forty minutes. I then went out to lift some weight before going home to make my boys breakfast and start the day. It was all sweat and work for the next twenty years until I discovered yoga - and that was after a trail of Jane Fonda aerobics, step aerobics, spinning, cardio machines, and a variety of pumping iron.
And then yoga entered my life at the most perfect moment. My long term relationship was in trouble and it would be winding down eventually and I was not in a good place emotionally. He was away for quite awhile in the last six months that we lived behind Muscle Beach in Venice. I was alone a lot. I worked and came home and there was yoga to comfort me. I followed my son and his girlfriend (now wife) to yoga classes at their favorite studio and it became my home, too. And then I learned to meditate and chant and there was the promise of peace.
Push-up, crunches, gyms and personal trainers - all strategies for toning the body and building muscle. But what did it do for my brain?
Not much. And know that as as I aged, my brain was going to begin the long process of shrinking. Oh, yes, the brain gets smaller and smaller as we age.
In a story published in the journal NeuroImage, UCLA researchers who used high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan the brains of people who meditate report that certain regions in the brains of long-term meditators were larger than in a similar control group.
I pay close attention to these findings because meditators show significantly larger volumes of the hippocampus and areas within the orbito-frontal cortex, the thalamus and the inferior temporal gyrus. These are regions known for regulating emotions.
Brain researchers have known for a long time that meditators have the ability to produce positive emotions, retain emotional stability and engage in mindful behavior; in other words, raise the level of awareness and stay calm in the middle of daily stress.
The study of brain anatomy can give researchers clues as to why mediators have some exceptional abilities in the area of positive behavior. Studies have been conducted on meditators who had practiced various forms of meditation that ranged from five to forty-six years, with an average of twenty-four years. Most meditated between ten and ninety minutes every day. Deep concentration played a pivotal roll in their practice. Researchers measured differences in brain structure; they found significantly larger cerebral measurements in meditators compared with controls, larger volumes of right hippocampus and increased gray matter in the right orbito-frontal cortex, the right thalamus and the left inferior temporal lobe. These are areas of the brain are closely tied to emotion. It may be that is why meditators have the ability to regulate their emotions and allow for well-adjusted responses to whatever life thrown at them.
More study is needed. Does meditation produce an increased number of neurons? Does meditation produce the larger size of the neurons? Does it produce a particular wiring pattern in meditators? Lots more of the brain to study as it relates to meditation. But it's certainly exciting to realize that our brains don't have to shrink, we don't have to devolve into early senility, and we can stay mentally active well into our 90's.
See, it's fun to age gracefully. It's fun to explore our inner being and find inner peace. It's a heck of a lot better than listening to AJ every morning barking order to a room full of sleepy zombies and walking out of an aerobics class brain dead.
Can't wait for my yoga retreat at the end of the month. I'm logging enough meditation hours to last me at least three months.
Oh, yeah, "Inception" was fascinating. I got to use my brain. It's about dream espionage and sharing dreams in order to get people to do what other people want them to do. Too long but so very interesting a concept. My gray matter wasn't shrinking that's for sure.

Friday, July 16, 2010

My Tech Guy

Hi, Boomers,
I have had the best intentions to write all week. The best laid plans.....gone awry.
We all have our nemesis in life. Mine is Verizon. Verizon has plagued me for years. I began to suspect that there was a plot to bump me off the internet when I first signed up with them years ago. I have been bumped many times for no apparent reason. And it only happens in my apartment, not my next door neighbor or the person who lives below me. What else could I think? For this position, I have been referred to as a drama queen and that may be a true but I am the one who lives in the third rung of computer hell. Nevertheless, when the accidental moment that I am kicked off the internet by the "main office," I am set upon by demons for days. I live with continual anxiety and frustration This time my internet phone was part of this insidious plot to deprive me of my major source of communication, except for my cell phone, which still worked. Thank you T-Mobile.
That being said, I usually call the most dependable man I know in the world to rescue me, (the exception is my best friend, John, my tango student and loyal supporter of my drama queen existence). John knows nothing about anything electrical. He can't even work a DVD player. He just adores that I wig out and act like a female King Lear and rail against the electronic universe.
The week began well after my extended stay in Las Vegas. I was tired last Monday but taught my classes with assurance. On Tuesday, I awoke to no internet and no internet phone. Now, I love my internet phone, courtesy of my son, Jonathan, who owns the company that supplies broadband to rural areas around the country. His internet services also provides VOIP (voice over internet provider;, i.e., phone service that is connected to the internet). It's most efficient and very inexpensive. It's like Vonnage but it's call Keyon.
The week previous, I was kicked off my internet for no reason and Verizon reconfigured my moden. It worked but my phone was dead. Verizon insisted on sending me a new modem because mine was old. When it arrived, I called Verizon to reconfigure it. For two days, the minutes ticking off on my cell phone, no one at that company could reconfigure the new modem. Finally, on Wednesday, I asked for a manager. Over an hour later, he told me it was my internet phone that was at fault! "No," I said with over the top hostility, "the phone isn't the problem. You can't put the blame on an internet phone with its own router. You are the problem because you don't know what you are doing! Next call is to the Better Business Bureau." It went on and on and I finally had to give it up to the universe because I had to teach a class.
By Wednesday evening, after having spent hours under my desk plugging in cable to one box and then another, I was in tears and dripping with sweat. LA is experiencing a heat wave and I have no air conditioning. Drama queen time. I left to go dancing because what is a girl to do? Dancing tango was the only option. I limped out the door, clothes sticking everywhere on my body wondering where was my white night when I needed him?
I called my white night, my tech guy, to tell him of my problem. Now, he's a very busy guy in LA. He's the go-to Mac guy. He's the one we all depend on to solve our problems. He's the mensch among mensches. Gasping for air because I was in at a stand still in traffic on Santa Monica Blvd, in the middle of West Los Angeles, I poured out my story on my almost dead cell phone. "I'll be there in the morning," Joel said.
What guy do you know that leaps to help a woman in distress without asking questions? I felt like the Medieval lady in the tower waiting to be rescued by my white knight. No censuring. No admonishing. No questions asked. "I'll be there in the morning."
And he came at nine in the morning and it took him less than seven minutes to fix the problem and my internet phone was working.
But it got me thinking not just about the men I have known who make unkind comments about a woman's lack of tech knowledge (although I'm pretty good at understanding what needs to be done and I wasn't far off solving the problem - another day would have done it as I plugged one cable wire into another input into another input). But I what was most terrifying was that I began to understand that my brain had irrevocably attached itself to my computer. I couldn't bloody think without it. It thought for me. My computer ran my life. It was my life. OMG!
I'm ashamed to cop to the state of my mind. I had been writing on my Mac for two years straight on my book, and I couldn't survive without it for one day, one night, one minute, one second. Has my computer truly become me and I, in turn, have become my computer. Yes, damnit!
I vowed then and there that I would try, really try let it go, to find my brain again, the brain without the computer, the brain that could actually create without a keyboard.
First vow: I'm not taking my computer to my yoga retreat at the end of the month.
Second vow: I'm not taking my computer to Bali in August.
Third vow: I'm only going to only use my computer to set up the marketing of my book, Sixty, Sex, & Tango, to set up a book signing, to interface with others only when is necessary (except for a few people). I mean really a few people like my publisher, my marketing counselor, the person who will shoot another tango video for me in August, the subs who will teach my classes when I'm gone, and, oh, yes, my other computer addicted friend whose brain is also attached to his computer. What would he do without me?
My name is Joan and I am an addict. I think I need to review the 12 steps.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Live with Joy; Live longer

Hi, Boomers,

I haven't really been slacking off since my last blog. It's only been a week but it feels like an eternity. I spent the 4th of July weekend reading my book, Sixty, Sex, & Tango, Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer, one last time and making final corrections. I thought I would get bogged down in the OMG factor of "did I really write that?" But I was relatively free from flogging myself after my two year saga with an idea I had once upon a time at a milonga (a tango salon) when one of my friends said to me, "I think you should write a book about sex and dating in your 60's." It seems like a lifetime ago.
Speaking of lifetimes, it's Saturday night and I'm in Vegas, but I'm not near the Las Vegas Strip. I'm visiting my family - my two sons and those ever-growing four grandsons who have more energy than a cluster of atoms. Then again I'm on the boomer side of life so it might seem I exaggerate.
I found myself giggling with my oldest grandson, Jordan Mac, tonight as I read him some stories. It's one of my favorite rituals in life and I cherish the moments I have have with this young, bright and talented 5 year old. After shooting a round of hoops in the backyard in the 105 evening heat and taking a bath, we went to his room to pick out a few books to read. We had one of those inexplicable moments that two people have when the world stops, our funny bone takes over, and we succumb to non-stop, uncontrolled laughter.
I opened the page to a Curious George book about donuts and we both looked at George the monkey in bed and began to giggle, which lead to laughter, which lead howling. We didn't quite know what struck us as funny, except that George was reclining in bed with his long pencil smile drawn across his face and his huge funky head nestling into a pillow. It seemed to us ridiculous and terribly funny.
It's such a delicious moment to laugh at nothing in particular, to find silliness in the absurd, but it is much more delightful to do so with my five year old grandson. It's always the best Saturday night date with any one of my progeny.
Minutes before I was to read to Jordan, I was wandering through the latest Newsweek magazine on "The Science of Healthy Living." I was reading about the aging brain and scientists understanding of normal cognitive aging; i.e., it's more than memory exercises and crossword puzzles. I'm always so happy to hear that part about not having to do crossword puzzles to keep my brain from atrophying. It seems that as we age, we keep in tact the knowledge we learned decades ago (think our times tables); however, as we age, it is more difficult to learn new things and solve novel problems. We may even improve our vocabulary even into our 60's. Good news, boomers. I would like to add that watching a great amount of television and reading fashion and pop culture magazines won't help you get smarter or increase your mental and physical reaction time.
What does help us support mental acuity as we age that's also good for our heart, lungs, immune system and muscles? Three vigorous 40-minute walks a week can do the trick because aerobic exercise increases the volume of white matter, which connects neurons, in areas responsible for such executive functions as planning.
I'm going to throw in yoga as part of this anti-aging routine - yoga for the strengthening of the mind and the body and our respiratory system because it increases the amount of breath taken into the body on a consistent basis. Good for the heart, lungs, immune system and muscles. In a sense, it is resistance training - moving through our mental and physical resistance as well as keeping our bone density numbers high. It's a happy hunting ground for neurons. Because yoga yokes or unites mind and body through breath, we are able to practice staying present and increase our level of awareness. Hence, we are using our mind in the present and not succumbing to the numbing past or delusional future.
Walking and yoga produce and sustain joy and happiness because it releases endorphins, increases adrenalin, serotonin and dopamine. Live with joy; live longer.
So back to Jordan and our laughing jag. In those silly moments of laughter at something as simple as our shared perception, my grandson and I increased my lifespan - maybe not by much - but sustaining the mantra of living with joy and following my bliss is the best way I know of to living longer.
Why would one want to live longer? Well that's a blog for another time.


Friday, July 2, 2010

Just Kids

Hi, Boomers,
I am reading the most interesting book: Patti Smith's Just Kids. Who is Patti Smith, you ask. If we go back to the late 60's, to about 1967-68, there was once a poet rock singer named, Patti Smith. She was also the lover and muse of Robert Mapplethorpe, the infamous provocateur of the highly charged male body as traversed in his famous photographs - exhibitions that seemed to have scandalized most museums in our country. Why is everyone so afraid of the male body up close and personal?
Patti and Robert met the summer that Coltrane died,in 1967, the summer of love and riots, on a chance encounter in Brooklyn. They had a love affair, but it was a rather non-traditional love affair. While we, the graduating class of 1961 were weaning our way into early marriage and soon after making babies, there were others who several years later staked a claim to a true bohemian and literary beatnik style of existence.
I've always been curious about the history of the Hotel Chelsea and its eccentric band of writers and poets and musicians - true artists of the day. Their influence was at first on the fringe of the New York literati - think Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground.
It was a time of heightened awareness, when the worlds of poetry, rock and roll, art, and sexual politics were colliding and exploding while most of us boomers were languishing in too early marriages and a lack of world knowledge and experience. College just didn't past muster for those of us who dreamed of becoming a member of the off-off Broadway theater Cafe La Mama, and meeting Allen Ginsberg at the Chelsea Hotel and watching William Burroughs fritter away nights at Max's in front of the bar. I drooled when I read that Patti Smith had an affair with Sam Shepard - the early Sam Shepard with the cleft chin and way too sexy visage.
Okay, I'm dreaming a bit. But we can dream. We can remember when it was sexy to pretend to be an intellectual and talk about Ginsberg's epic poem, Howl, and read the visceral poems of the San Francisco poet, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and be hip to the gays above Columbus Avenue in North Beach in San Francisco. Some of us were there in 1961 - the year of our graduation from high school. Some of us were the great pretenders to the Beatnik generation. And then life took a quick turn to college, to finding a husband, to getting a degree in order to get a job, in order to please our parents. And we never made it to the Hotel Chelsea.
Patti and Robert never set out to please their parents or to conform to what kids should do after high school. They set out at eighteen to pursue their art and they did it by practically starving and always sacrificing themselves to the next creative idea to the next poetic moment.
I can't put this book down. I'm supposed to be reading the final galley proofs of my book, Sixty, Sex, & Tango, Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer, and I find it difficult to concentrate. In a sense, I already gave birth - figuratively and metaphorically - to my book, to my life, to my Tao, to my Dharma. But Just Kids brings me back to a time of hope and excitement and I recognized through the writing of my book that I was unconsciously trying to recreate those moments of being a kid of nineteen and thinking there would always be hope, there would always be artistic creations, there would always be another round of exploring joy and fulfillment in a world without boundaries.