Friday, December 11, 2009

A Shimmy in Place of a Crow: New Year’s Resolutions Redux

Whenever anyone asks me what my New Year’s resolution is going to be, I always say, with complete seriousness, that this year, I’m going to start smoking. Just saying these words out loud drives everyone around me crazy, especially my children.

Each year’s conversation, predictably, goes something like this:

Children: What do you want for Christmas, Mom?

Me: Ashtrays. And lighters. I’d ask for cartons of cigarettes, too, but you’re probably too young to buy them legally. I’m really going to stick to my resolution this year!

Children: Squeals of dismay, followed by: Plead, plead, plead. Lecture, lecture, lecture.

I grew up in a household with two chain smokers who favored unfiltered Chesterfields, in quantities approaching “bulk,” so my lungs have surely seen enough tar and nicotine to last a lifetime. But a gal can dream, and I always picture myself as Bette Davis. Early years Bette, that is, before the emphysema got her.

In addition to my perennially doomed smoking-related resolution, I try to make one additional promise to myself each year. Two years ago, it was to never refuse a request to volunteer for any task, no matter how odious, for the next twelve months. Good resolution, it turns out. It was a busy year, a surprising year, and a year in which I made several new friends. It was also a year in which I reminded myself why volunteering at my children’s grade school made my armpits itch, but that’s another story. On December 28 of that year, I met a friend for coffee and she arm-twisted me into joining a board of directors to a non-profit group to which we both belonged. I felt like asking her, “Couldn’t you have waited four days to ask me, when I’d be knee-deep in cigarette cartons, plowing through my next year’s resolution?” But I accepted, and, honestly, I can’t say I’m any the worse for wear.

Last year, I determined to master bakasana, or crow pose, in yoga. As a marginally adequate but enthusiastic yogi, I have progressed enough in seven years to refrain from falling over whenever we have to stand on one leg, but I lack the arm strength, confidence and inner peace to manage even the most rudimentary arm balance. Last January, it seemed suddenly possible. When the teacher would announce time for crow, I’d think, “Today’s the day.”

Resolution Update: It’s December. No crow. I’ve rediscovered the fact that, in addition to moving too rapidly downhill or operating heavy machinery, I really hate to teeter. I would rather stay put, always. This, in fact, is why I like yoga in the first place. Bare feet, firm ground, and I’m not going anywhere. If you think I’ve missed the significance of this as a metaphor for my own pathetic life, I haven’t. And I can’t even step into the smoking lounge to forget about my failure.

I did master something else this year. It became one of those mid-year resolutions that I allow into the mix when it seems as if the main resolution is already a lost cause. And it started because I was desperate when my Tuesday – Thursday yoga teacher quit. Since I had become, then as now, TPFSY (Too Poor for Studio Yoga), I had to find an acceptable substitute within the YMCA system, and the pickings, let us say diplomatically, were slim. I pined for Stephanie, my Tuesday/Thursday guru. Finally, emboldened, I decided to take a class That Was Not Yoga. This was a huge step for a woman who loves standing still on a mat. I laced up my sneakers and went to Wendy’s Zumba class. Ay caramba. It was as if the top of my chakra-aligned head had been peeled open, and a freshly mixed blender of frozen margaritas poured inside. Zumba is everything yoga is not. It’s fast and loud and crazy. I loved it, even though a glance in the class mirrors told me that the memory of Gwen Verdon could rest safely for the nonce.

So what if I danced like someone who had been living in Minnesota for sixteen years? It was almost as much fun as I might have had smoking, or doing crow pose, or doing crow pose while smoking.

I started bringing my daughters, then their friends, to class, and we took over whole corners of the studio with our enthusiastic gyrations. My youngest girl is a great dancer, and I couldn’t help but admire how this innocent little pre-teen could shimmy. Her shoulders never stopped shaking what the good Lord gave her, and then some. I, in contrast, had stiff, intractable shoulders that moved with all the grace and flexibility of a couple of bulldozers.

I resolved, mid-June, to perfect my shimmy. I watched my daughter carefully. I asked for pointers. I broke down the steps and moved very slowly at first, and then I built up steam.

And you know what? I’m not half bad. It’s not Marilyn Monroe in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” It’s not even a sidekick shimmy such as Jane Russell might manage. But it’s me -- moving off my mat and shaking things up. And that might be the best resolution I’ve made – and kept – in a long time.

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