The Creative Expression Ignited in Hot Power Hour

The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the mother**king sh*t of it. —Cheryl Strayed

It’s early August, 9:30 a.m., hot and sticky on Saturday in the charming city of Fairhope, Alabama, some twenty miles southeast of Mobile. I steal away from the adobe cottage that keeps me flinching in the wee hours due to its “settling noises” and take up on the sidewalk wearing a pair of CrossFit training shorts and a running bra.

It’s not exactly yoga attire, and in the modesty of the South, nothing short of conspicuous.

What can I say?

I’m from the Northeast.

Sweet Luna, a small, “feral” black cat greets me on the steps of nearby Soul Shine Yoga Studio for the third day of my thirty-day pilgrimage – a writer’s retreat –, in search of creative inspiration and, this morning, to better hone my yoga practice.

I’m holding the camera making kissy noises at Luna when vivid splats of red flash through my mind. Before I left my sometimes-creepy cottage — you know the drill — I squatted on the toilet and my maxi pad got unstuck and plopped into the bowl. Things like this happen to me all the time. I fished the thing out with my fingers, squeezed out the excess fluid and tossed it into the wastebasket. This fourth day of heavy flow began drip-drip-dripping as I sat down into seat 34F aboard the plane at Logan, wearing my favorite white jeans and lusciously deep pink-colored panties with a wide white band that reads “Victoria’s Secret.”

I’m an open-door pee-er in the sunlit privacy of my own home but peeing in the cottage bathroom’s windowless dark keeps “Missy-the-homeless-woman,” who is known to stalk the place, from glimpsing me through the front door window. The same goes for the drummer who lives in his car in the library parking lot next door.

I rose from the toilet and put on the light. Worthy of a CSI crime scene, its white porcelain base, the rim, the seat, under the seat and the tile floor was not dotted, but wildly strewn with bright red blood. “My biology,” as I’ve come to call such things. I cleaned up the mess, thinking, Jesus, really? A voice in my head, a source of infinite encouragement, emitted a self-deprecating, resolved sigh. Not wholly due to the grossness, but because “we” thought my menstruating was done for good.

At fifty-three, my periods stopped six months ago and “personal summers,” e.g. fling-the-covers-off-body-aflame-at-3 a.m., ensued in their wake. Honestly, with no irritability and continued and intended weight loss through cycling, running and High Intensity Interval Training, I was over the moon. My husband began finding me in Namaskarasana at sunrise, staring fixedly at the ceiling and chanting, “Dear God, at last, thank you.”

But why had the flow resumed when I was boarding a plane to take me far away for this month-long writer’s residency awarded to finish the memoir manuscript I’ve had kicking around for eight years? Could it be a cleansing of sorts, a divine reckoning, penetrating that dense layer of dust in the creative cogs of my mind? A rebirth in the advent of leaving the sentient beings I love—my family and furry kids and best-girls behind?

Can’t be—because as time progresses in this creep-du-jour cottage, I’m Bugs Bunny doomed in his aircraft, twisting and turning in a tight downward spiral toward earth.

How come?

It’s the day job. It makes for a tasty morsel of distraction. Same goes for the things that go bump in the night—not the fridge’s compressor turning on and off or the central air. It’s the noises I can’t pinpoint—that banging. The dread of opening my eyes to make for the bathroom when I can’t hold my pee in one second more and fathoming the walking dead standing at the threshold with a blacked-in eye socket and the other eye barely intact, dangling down its cheek by a bloody gnawed-on thread.

The cottage is rent-free, awarded on the merit of my published writing and work-in-process but, let me tell you, everything comes with a price.

My ego doesn’t take the spooky stuff into account or the ample and overwhelming creative-crushing opportunity to get some writing done.

You’re finally here and look at you go, that little voice in my head jeers. I can’t give a fruitful response to each of the good-natured sponsors who take turns treating me to their favorite restaurant every night, all the while suppressing my question, “So, how have the women faired in a month-long stay in the cottage?”

Instead I tell them, “I’m not sure where I’m going start—revising a manuscript or beginning a new one.”

They search my face for intent, some hint of promise.

Look at you go.

I think hard on a source for creativity and inspiration: Yoga.

I pinpointed the studio on the map from Massachusetts, just in case I’d need that source of creativity and inspiration. There, it’s a block from the cottage. Soul Shine Yoga.

The name of the place sunk in well. I-want-my-soul-to-shine.

Luna grows bored with my picture-taking and crosses the patio to the florist next door. I check in with the teacher at reception and step into a studio not even twice the size of our master bedroom back home and heated to ninety-three degrees. It houses no more than four mats three inches apart width-wise times four mats lengthwise, a cramped total of sixteen yogis, plus an instructor, standing.

This is my third-ever “Hot Power Hour” and I’ve learned as soon as you exert the slightest bit of energy, the obvious happens. The sweat pores out of your skin in buckets. It’s the effect I’m seeking, although against my mother’s advice. She bravely contended with my frequent acute knee-buckling episodes of teenage tachycardia known in colloquial terms as “heart attacks,” a rampant yee-haw condition in which a stress-induced event (e.g. excessive heat and humidity, exertion) tripped electricity inside my heart to a rogue electrical pathway, spiking my heart up to two hundred beats per minute.

Mom said, sympathetically, “It’ll be too hot for you.”

The instructors at this studio play a diverse mix of music, and Mary Jo leads us into subtle movements to limber our muscles, accompanied by Perry Farrell’s eerie and whiny-pitched voice singing Jane Says, a song about “Jane’s” heroin addiction and how “she’s gonna kick it tomorrow.” Jane’s Addiction’s album covers flood my mind: macabre busts and a recollection of their fantastic rendition of Sympathy for the Devil and how Farrell says he’s visited by aliens.

All this is not good for my practice, so I dismiss the lyrics and imagery for later when I approach my creep-du-jour cottage.

Mary Jo intensifies the movements. Plank, chaturanga, up dog, down dog, crescent lunge. The sweat on my body reflects the recessed ceiling lights, cascades down my nose and limbs, drips to the floor. I do not lapse into a “heart attack”; my mother forgets I had the rogue electrical pathway ablated in my late twenties. When Mary Jo takes us through a hyper-intense flow sequence including Warrior I, II and Reverse Warrior, three women in the class more than half my age (and sporting proper yoga attire) revert to child’s pose.

The voice inside my head sets a precedence. It offers words of affirmation. You’re winning, it says.

Winning?

My heart’s beating so hard it’s going to tear out of my chest, but darkness is not inking over the crown of my head and seeping into my eyes, bringing me to my knees. Back up to Warrior I, I lunge and reach my arms for the sky, my pose a tuning fork and open channel for divine intervention. I am self-aware and my senses keen; my chest and heart uplifted. I radiate empowerment—there “ain’t no mountain high enough” to keep me from anything. My abrupt exhales and the sweat pouring out of my pores tells me I am life, a vessel. Biology. Mary Jo prompts us to transition to Warrior II and, grounding strong in my core and quads, I bend at the knee and stare over my middle finger on my extended arm, and every cell in my body is vibrating, shimmying.

They say to me, You’re rocking the intensity, sister.

The voice in my head echoes, Rockin’ it. Like a warrior.

Mary Jo eventually leads us toward reprieve—my familiar bedside prayer squat—and surprise or perhaps not during this rebirth, this cleansing, I’m called to embrace my womanhood again. My uterus contracts and expels a boatload of blood.

The maxi pad is saturated with sweat and blood and due to routine straining before the pad slipped into the bowl, mucous from my intestinal lining—major biology. Whether the pad is fixed in the right place or not, it’s not going to serve much purpose.

During Savasana, I am at ease. I think how my period after so much time is like it used to be with its heavy flow, but on this occasion without cramps or fatigue or cravings. I think how I was at “my edge” and found strength and empowerment so big and expansive it couldn’t be contained in a single moment. I think how the sweat bubbled up from my skin in bodacious beads and momentarily fatigued and depleted, I held grounded in my stance. I think about one of the T-shirts for sale on a rack near reception that reads “This Isn’t My First Vinyasa,” and smile ever so subtly.

When I leave the studio with my drenched yoga towel draped about my neck and shoulders, I bend down and give the not-so-feral Luna a scratch behind the ears, then retreat to the cottage. Thoughts of Perry Farrell and his creative renderings do not come to mind upon its threshold. I enter the place, take down the towel blocking the front door’s window, open the curtains and snap off the light in every room. I voraciously devour lunch and the words on these pages spill forth: a culmination of the bleeding, sweating, cleansing and opening; the zenith of being a woman.

It’s a miracle; a goddamn beautiful one. I brought it on, knowing yoga and the universe would serve as catalysts to open me up like a flower and weave a story derived in a fresh tantalizing experience, a wanting, a means to an end.

The bumps in the night in this writer’s cottage won’t be so scary tonight.

They’re confronting a warrior.


Lisa publishes essays on the writing life, sex and relationships, and her love for horses. Her essays have appeared in Horse Network, Manifest-StationHuffPost, and the IPPY-award-winning anthology Unmasked: Women Write About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty. In August of 2018, she was awarded a one-month writer’s residency at Fairhope Center for the Writing Arts in Fairhope, AL. She lives near Boston, where she bikes, hikes, rides horses, and edits technology blogs for the CTO of Hitachi Vantara. She is pitching her memoir, “Calamity Becomes Her: Love, Loss and a Healthy Dose of Overcoming Adversity” to agents and at work on the sequel.

You can contact her at lisa.demasi@gmail.com and follow her on TwitterLinkedIn or via her website nurtureismynature.com.

My Dear Friend, the Dirty

The bliss in that first taste soothes my soul.

It’s six ounces of Ketel One vodka with a dribble of brine. Not the nasty liquid that comes out of an olive jar, but twice filtered brine from premium olives. This subtle saltiness takes the bite of the vodka down a notch to pleasurable, an inviting clean crispness that sterilizes my insides and satisfies the palette.

This drink and the art in making it is what symbolize the end of an arduous day, or not so arduous, a ritual nonetheless.

It’s a beautiful thing, the vodka martini. Even the word vodka sounds terribly exotic, so undeniably Russian. I’m wearing a sable hat, standing amid the tundra, my breath streaming before me in smoky condensation as I set my implements about—the cocktail shaker, ice, olives, pick, the 1.75-liter bottle that takes the support of my two hands to pour it.

I was introduced to “the dirty” when a high school girlfriend mixed one up for me during a girls’ weekend. The memory of its taste and influence to seduce my mind into peaceful waters remained dormant, however, until I hit a stretch of unbearable time, some four years later, when I had been writing long and hard without any validation or ounce of fruition.

I’d bleed all day long over the page, feel isolated having abandoned my corporate career, determined to make something of myself writing. What I found in my dear friend, the dirty, was a form of self-medication—a crutch, a reward—the delightful anesthesia that numbed the anxiety of feeling like a failure, the taking of a wrong turn.

Alcohol is the anesthesia by which we endure the operation of life. ~ George Bernard Shaw

The thing, too, that’s commendable about drinking the dirty is it gets you to where you’re going, fast. And instead of looking like a thirsty drunk, you can do the deed looking poised like Holly Golightly, long stem glass high in hand, three beautiful olives appearing larger than life through the condensation between the rim and where you’ve already sipped away.

The art, the sophistication, the ritual—its downright writerness.

I am a seasoned, one per night, quite functional vodka martini drinker. To some that may not sound bad, but I know what my physician would say and I’m staying clear of her exam room.

The margin, however, between quite functional and fully functional is a subject to be questioned. Especially since I’ve transitioned to drinking the dirty straight, aka “sans the dirt.”

Certainly, the “advantage” here is to be numbed from pain, some sort of intolerance for various fragments of life, the daily grind. The detriment, in the slightest incremental stages that’s widening the margin, is found in a loose tongue and the voracious appetite that follows in the martini’s wake; the inability to read before bed, remember little things in the morning.

The detriment, the slippery slope, is outweighing the advantage.

The latter is evidenced in my ever-expanding girth and my two arms, which now resemble loaves of bread. For the martini, the escape it brings, frees me to consume a serving fit for Pat’s defensive tackle Alan Branch. Sugar and salt begets more sugar and salt.

And chicken parm tastes best when complemented by what?

A robust red wine—two glasses worth.

But it’s stops there, right?

Nope.

With an overstuffed belly, a shot of Remy Martin in a handsome snifter comes afterward. I’ve had a love affair with food all my life, well-managed through biking my butt off, but throw in this consumption at my age, it’s gonna lead to the end of me.

Obese essayist dies of ever-consuming consumption: she drank and ate herself to death, despite what she’s thinks, not so artfully.

Shakti Gawain, a new age author, whose methods of creative visualization I practiced like a junky when I first began writing, says of validation, “When we consistently suppress and distrust our intuitive knowingness, looking instead for authority, validation, and approval from others, we give our personal power away.”

Sorry Shakti, I just can’t buy that.

I’m wired differently, tethered to the physical. I do not trust my intuition; I don’t even think I have any. I need validation to keep on.

When validation continued not to surface, I began taking in cute and furry animals until a person of well-intention adopted them. The vodka soothed my nerves, caring for the animals gave meaning to my life. I’d be hard-pressed to count the number of lagomorphs and tiny whiskered fur balls that have moved through our home.

Validation, alas, is crucial to my existence.

But, wait!

There’s a change blowing in the proverbial wind. Yes, siree! I no longer a need to anesthetize myself to endure the operation of life. I’m quitting the vodka—although I’m on the third bottle beyond the one that was to be my last.

I’m gearing up, you see.

Why, might you ask, am I “suddenly” willing to give up my dearest friend, the martini? The beautiful thing that took me away from reality; facing the endless number of untethered days ahead of me?

Because my essays are starting to get picked up. There’s the validation, the essence of what I’ve been striving for. No more crutch needed.

And you know what?

Getting published, I find, tastes as clean and pleasing to the palette as the vodka.

And, by God, it’s healthier!

It is the dawning of my intended existence.

Right now in fact I’m crafting a new essay on the writing life with Suzanne, my coach, an accomplished individual with street cred who validated my existence long before I was born and frightfully knows me better than myself.

We have a lot of things in common she and I. Except outside of writing, she’s not obsessed with the martini—she’s obsessed with yoga.

Yoga sounds so wholesome, doesn’t it?

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Lisa publishes essays on the writing life, sex and relationships, and her love for horses. Her essays have appeared in Horse Network, Manifest-StationHuffPost, and the IPPY-award-winning anthology Unmasked: Women Write About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty. In August of 2018, she was awarded a one-month writer’s residency at Fairhope Center for the Writing Arts in Fairhope, AL. She lives near Boston, where she bikes, hikes, rides horses, and edits technology blogs for the CTO of Hitachi Vantara. She is pitching her memoir, “Calamity Becomes Her: Love, Loss and a Healthy Dose of Overcoming Adversity” to agents and at work on the sequel.

You can contact her at lisa.demasi@gmail.com and follow her on TwitterLinkedIn or via her website nurtureismynature.com.

 

7 Reasons You’ll Love this Cat Like I Did

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It’s Friday night and I am sitting down to dinner. I want to relax, delve into an episode of Breaking Bad and savor my meal in peace. My beloved cat Jontue is gone. The salmon on my plate is safe. The soft tissue interior of my nose is not in danger of being ripped by her ferocious forepaw. My cheek won’t be swatted at either. And no one is staring at me with the intensity that could move a mountain.

I miss that someone.

That “fur person” as May Sarton said.

I first spotted Jontue in a pet store, a small kitty in a huge enclosure all by her lonesome, crying out for my attention as I shopped for cat food. I already had four at home. But this one’s eyes were pleading take me; I need love. Those eyes also said, I can love you too.

Of course you can, little cat.

A strange looking thing, Jontue was six months old and resembled a prehistoric creature with her brindled coat, fangs, and wiry tail. Exotic or not, no one wanted her. I understood this all too well. So I paid an extraordinary amount of money for the pure breed Cornish Rex because she needed a home, someone to take care of her.

She entered my life when I was particularly vulnerable and lonely; she captured my heart and I like to think I captured hers. Over the years, I’d come to know Jontue so well. She was a cat driven by instinct and visibly affected by subtle shifts of energy. She was small and silky-haired and stuck close to me at all times. She was also needy and affable. She liked to hold my head in a firm grip with her paws and lick the tip of my nose.

Jontue was my last live connection to the desert, another planet called Tucson, the barren landscape where I lived a few difficult years in my early thirties in personal chaos. She was the fifth cat I adopted during those years when I was living by my lonesome and she was like all others in this one way: they were all abandoned and unwanted.

That is, until I came along and laid claim. I adored all five of my cats. Jontue held an especially beloved place in my heart.

She was my protector, my nurse and deeply in tune with how I was feeling. When I’d cry myself silly or stare off into space feeling blue, she’d whack my cheek as if I was in a diabetic stupor. Mama, snap out of it. Caring for her and the other cats gave me the reason to drag myself out of bed at times when I was overcome with illness and depression, those heavy burdens of being human. When these feelings took over Jontue knew and she came and offered all she could: her soft coat to pet, her warm body and a purr, her kind eyes holding mine for a moment before looking away.

I’ve met many irresponsible people in my life but never an irresponsible cat.
—Rita Mae Brown, author of Pawing Through the Past: A Mrs. Murphy Mystery

Jontue even made living in Tucson at times fun. She got frisky when she had a productive #2 and frolicked out of the litter box and across the kitchen tile floor like a filly with a belly full of bedsprings. A supreme hunter, she dismantled geckos in the apartment, danced about with flesh-colored scorpions, and swatted down flying insects with incredible precision (inside the apartment). Outside, she could leap six-foot fences in a single bound. Nimble, she was! Continue reading