The Relationship Ferris Wheel Part 2

The Relationship Ferris Wheel series is an exercise you can do individually or with your partner designed to help you move towards a more intimate relationship. You should read the introduction, and then Part 1, and maybe download the worksheet, before reading this post. 

Now that you’ve got a long list of the qualities of your Ultimate Intimate Relationship, it’s time to daydream. Time to make it as real in your mind as you possibly can. You’re going to have to imagine a scene – a snapshot, like a Norman Rockwell Painting, that totally embodies all of those characteristics you put into the foundation.

Choose Your Metaphor

Some things may be easy to imagine – for example, if sharing music with your partner is one of the things that you need, then it’s easy enough to picture the two of you playing instruments, or at a concert, or each of you listening to one earbud. 

Some things, though, will be more difficult to embody. How does trust look in solid form? What about dependability? Or care

Here’s a cue: body language and talismans are good metaphors. One person who did this exercise had safety and care as two things that she needed for intimacy. She always felt cared for when her partner would stroke her hair, and their home was always a place she felt safe, so she pictured herself in her living room with her head in her partners lap, his hand stroking her hair. 

Shared beauty was also an item in her list, so she also pictured herself wearing an outfit she felt pretty in and her partner dressed the way she liked (remember, this is your own personal fantasy). 

When you’re doing this exercise, give yourself time and the relaxation to make it fun – and remember that old saying, God is in the details. Keep filling in the picture in your mind, leaving nothing out, and being as extravagant as you want. Remember, symbols are fine – if financial security is important, go ahead and picture gold bars on the table. If physical health is important, give yourself the body you want as you imagine this one scene.

So Good You Can Taste It

What level of real is that? Well, there’s a common trope in science fiction and fantasy about teleportation. It’s sort of an unwritten rule (well, until they write it, at least) that a person can’t teleport into a place that they can’t visualize in their mind. They need to have a synesthetic feel for the location – not just where it is, but how the air feels, how it smells, the background sounds. 

That’s what you’re going for when I say: picture a scene that embodies this idea of a relationship. Picture it in so much detail that you could teleport there if you were a character in a comic book. Every part: the floor, the ceiling (or the sky), the sound of your partner’s breathing, the way their skin reflects the light (or holds the shadows). Every part of it.

Then you’re going to draw it.

Don’t Panic!

I’m not asking you to draw it in that much detail! That’s the advantage of having this be a personal exercise: no one ever has to see it. And you can just draw the things that will remind you and represent the details you’ve already got in your mind.

The first time I did this exercise, there were literally stick figures with scribbled-in pants and shirts in my drawn image. That’s ok; when I looked at them, in my head I saw the detail of the fabrics, the fasteners, my partner’s hair. The image is simply representative.

Or, y’know, you could make it very detailed. There are a lot of things out there that you can use to create some pretty amazing art. Whatever you decide, put it in the center of the Ferris Wheel diagram. It should be easy to see how all of those words in the foundation lead up to that beautiful captured moment in your imagination where everything about intimacy is right there.

And yeah, I get that your next thought may be But that’ll never happen. That’s ok. You’re right; that’s an idealized scene.

We’re just going to get you a little bit closer to it, ok?

Imposter Syndrome and the 3 Worthless Questions

There are a lot of blog posts about Imposter Syndrome. Most of them are probably better-researched, more aptly worded, and have prettier pictures than this one. I’m not really sure why I think have anything to say about it. Certainly not anything in particular that is new, or thought provoking.

But it’s my blog, and I’m supposed to write about something, and the prompt I gave myself was “The Comparison Trap.” Funny thing: I’m not sure that was supposed to be an idea about Imposter Syndrome. But I wasn’t clever enough to write down what it was about – Past Me just assumed, erroneously, that Present Me would remember – and I’ve been running into Imposter Syndrome a lot this past week, and so…here are three worthless questions.

I say “worthless” because if you find yourself asking them, it’s very likely that it’s not a rational question, but rather something that your subconscious cooked up. I have some recommended answers to said questions, as well.

“If I do this, I might look stupid.”

Yeah, I used that word – or rather, the Imposter Syndrome fear will use that word, because it’s triggering in a lot of people. If you want, you can substitute foolish, silly, incompetent, take your pick. Basically it’s the fear that people (sometimes specific, sometimes general amorphous masses in your imagination) will see you trying something, and judge your performance.

Possible Answers:

  • “Might? I hope I do look stupid! That will make them underestimate me!”
  • “I’m the one in the Arena. Those spectators can say whatever the @#$% they want, until they get down here in the sand it’s nothing I have to listen to.”
  • “Yeah, I’ll look silly. But I’ll look silly with panache.”

“Everybody’s going to know I’m faking it.”

This reminds me of a scene in one of my favorite science fiction epics, when the main character, upon becoming an adult and an officer, has the horrifying realization that along with the title, the uniform, and the responsibility, he was not suddenly also issued the wisdom, experience, and knowledge to do his job. Worse, he realizes: no one else had it, either. I can’t find the quote, but it was something like “nobody actually knows what they’re doing. We’re all faking it. We’re all making it up as we go along!

Now, this is a horrifying thought when it comes to things like brain surgery and the Oval Office, but it’s also a liberating one. One has to remember that everyone was a beginner at some point, and the only way a few of them eventually started looking competent was by reflecting on their experience. 

And one of the definitions of “experience” is “making mistakes.”

Possible Answers:

  • “But no one will know that I know that they know I’m faking it. Or that I know they don’t know that they’re faking it too.”
  • “As soon as they find somebody to replace me, I’ll not only get a vacation, I’ll get to watch somebody else fake it. Meanwhile, I’ll enjoy the perks.”
  • “Fake it til you break it, that’s the Marine Corps motto. Wait, what?”

“Who am I, to think I can do this?”

Ah, hubris. It is not an attractive trait, and being “full of yourself” is a classic insult. I’ve always wondered: who else am I supposed to be full of

If you’re in a position of privilege and about to give some opinion or take some action that is “outside your lane”, then yes, you may want to take this question seriously. For example, if I decided that I was suddenly going to produce a podcast about indigenous cultures’ religious practices, this would be an appropriate question to ask.

But more often this is a way for the Demon That Eats Your Self-Esteem to try and use a good trait (humility) as a weapon of self-sabotage. It’s basically a diversionary tactic that has nothing to do with the thing you want to do. You are who you are – who else would you be? And what does that have to do with anything?

Possible Answers:

  • “What has that got to do with anything? I know who I am; let’s get to work.”
  • “I dunno, but I know who I’m gonna be: I’m gonna be the Me that Did This.”
  • “I’m the only person who can do this my way.”

Of course, none of these answers will stop Imposter Syndrome. I don’t know anyone – regardless of how talented or successful they are – who doesn’t feel this at some point. 

Perhaps, though, a snappy answer can function as a battle cry that will take you past the moment of doubt into the moment of action. And that’s the funny thing about Imposter Syndrome; once you’re doing the thing, there’s really no room in your head for these kinds of questions. You’re too busy to have time to pretend you’re not supposed to be doing it.

And that’s a feeling worth pursuing.

What tricks do you use to get past those moments when the Demon That Eats Self-Esteem is facing you head-on? I’ve heard everything from high-intensity interval training to blanket forts; share what works for you!

The Time Substitute

In line with the series of subtle little tricks to try out new things, here’s a really simple one.

Often, when someone like me suggests that you try out that hobby, that trip, that whatever-it-is that you’re interested in but you’re not doing, the default answer is I would – but I just don’t have time.

That’s fair. I’m a big proponent of the idea that you can’t “make” time, you can’t even “find” time, you have to simply “prioritize” time – and that means giving up something else.

That’s hard. We have busy lives, and we generally fill our time with a mix of things we like to do and things we have to do. Giving up any of those is a pretty tall order.

Send Some of Your Time On Vacation

The only reason that excuse – I don’t have time – works is because you are imagining giving up something else forever. 

What if, instead, you gave it up for a week? Kind of like when a teacher goes of vacation, you know they’re coming back, but meanwhile there’s a substitute there. If the substitute is not fun, you grit your teeth but you can bear it because the cool teacher is coming back. 

On the other hand, if the substitute is fun, you get to see if maybe there’s some other position for them there on the staff…ok, the metaphor is stretching a bit. Here’s the basic process:

  1. Find something you habitually do – a hobby, a show, a regular exercise, anything that takes somewhere between five minutes and an hour of your time.
  2. Pick out something you wish you had time to do.
  3. For one week – and only one week – do that instead of the the usual thing.

It may mean your morning yoga is replaced with learning to stab-bind books. It may mean that instead of watching The Late Show you are writing three more sentences in your novel. It may mean you read Proust instead of X-men on your bus ride (or vice versa).

Doesn’t matter what you choose. Doesn’t have to be useful, or productive, or anything except something you wish you had the time to do

Because for one week, you can. And wouldn’t it be interesting to see what that’s like?

The Relationship Ferris Wheel Part 1: Building the Foundation

Alright, now you have your pen and your paper (and maybe the printout) and you’re all set to create your own Relationship Ferris wheel. Just so you’re aware, this exercise is going to “build” the structure all the way from basic foundations out through the supports and finally into fun little swinging seats of direct action at the edges.

But first, we have to start. We have to build the base of our Ferris wheel, and like any good foundation, it’s built out of only the finest materials.

What are those materials? That’s something that only you can answer, my friend. We’re building the Ferris Wheel of Intimate Relationships, right? So tell me: what do you think are the important parts of an intimate relationship?

Parts is Parts

If you’re like most people, you’re going to come up with some pretty generalized concepts:

“Trust”

“Communication.”

“Loyalty.”

“Sex.”

“Love.” 

There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s true that these are important things in a lot of intimate relationships.But if stop with these big generic concepts, you’re kind of cheating yourself of the process. For each of those big-idea words, let me ask you a follow-up question:

What does that look like to you?

When you say “trust”, is that I trust my partner to come home to me every night, or I trust my partner to serve on the board of my LLC, or I trust my partner to care for my puppy when I’m on vacation? Those are all different kinds of trust. Imagine a situation – or three – which illustrates what you meant when you put “TRUST” in the big rhombus-looking shape at the base of the template. Feel free to illustrate it with a little picture if that’s easier – as long as you know what it means, that’s fine (if you end up showing this to someone else, like, say, a potential intimate partner, you can always explain the picture and they’ll think you’re extra cool because artsy). 

Do that for each of the big-idea words, and don’t let yourself be limited by reality. Remember, we’re building this foundation out of nothing but the best materials, and that means that you put in not what you think is fair, or realistic, or achievable – you build that base out of what you really want.

If any of the words give you trouble when you try to illustrate them in the framework of an intimate relationship, it’s possible you – like a zillion other people – got caught up in some kind of Disney buzzword bingo when it comes to relationships. We’re told, over and over again, what it is that “proves” love and intimacy: She won’t respect you if you don’t make this much money, He will think you’re a slut if you wear jeans that tight, Remember, nothing says I love you like a diamond from Our Jewelry Emporium.

Give yourself a little time to think about those words that you’re having difficulty with, trying out different ideas of how to explain what they mean to you when it comes to your Ideal Intimate Relationship. But if you can’t think of anything…go ahead and take it out. Cross it off. Remove it, because this is your intimate relationship and nobody gets to tell you what needs to be there.

Now, Go Wild

Ok, now that you’ve gotten the hang of those five-dollar words and how they manifest in your Ultimate Relationship of Beautiful Intimacy, let go of the big concepts and get selfish. Get silly. Think of things that aren’t in the big self-help books but that are what you really, truly want when you think of an intimate relationship. 

Example? In the movie Truly, Madly, Deeply Alan Rickman and Juliet Stevenson have a lovely bit where they play and sing the song The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore together. It’s a silly little bonding moment, it doesn’t embody any of those big five-dollar words (unless you included play in your list, and yeah, you probably should have, that’s ok, there’s time). Admittedly, it’s a fictional story – but that particular moment in the film (nope, it’s not on YouTube, you’ll have to watch the movie) absolutely speaks about intimacy

And maybe “my partner needs to be able to sing harmonies on cheesy love songs” is something that has always been what you secretly wanted in your ideal intimate relationship. Or climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Or must accept that the eleventh doctor is always the best, even if I haven’t seen the most recent incarnations. Again, there is nothing too silly or petty or unrealistic. Put in your ultimate dreams, your absolutely most-secret never-admitted fantasies and such.

Remember, no one else has to ever see this document.

You’ve got a week. Use the template, and come back to it every once in a while, looking at what you’ve written, adding things in as they occur to you (don’t take things out unless, as noted above, they feel more like you should want that concept rather than authentically wanting it). 

Build your foundation strong. It’s a great way to get back in touch with that inner romantic, the one you were before reality came crushing in.

I’m not saying you’re not still romantic. You devil (wink). But it helps sometimes to go back to the days of dreaming and wishing, and it’s going to be a great basis for the next step: the Core. 

Whyfor No U?

There is one constant undercurrent to my journey learning to work within the visual thinking/graphic recording world.

I’m so far behind.

Reading the stories of other people who do this, there’s a recurring theme of I always drew things and I started working in design in High School and I started calligraphy when I was eleven and the equivalent.

Meanwhile, here’s me at age fifty trying to learn gesture drawing and left-handed brush-lettering. Don’t get me wrong: I’m loving every minute of it, and I’m absolutely being supported by my friends and loved ones. And I’m showing improvement, and things are going well.

There just keeps on being this whispering voice in the back of my head: Think of how well they’d be going if you had started earlier. Now, I’m familiar with that voice; I got a dance degree at the venerable age of 28, after all (“28?!? You don’t look THAT old!” I remember one fellow student exclaiming during technique class). I’m well aware that the voice lies, that the experience I have gained doing Other Things will continue to serve me well, and that It’s Never Too Late and blah blah all the other things personal development blogs will tell you.

It’s just another version of the aphorism about when the best time is to plant a tree: ten years ago. Second best time? Right now.

This isn’t about that. No, it’s one of those Hey, I noticed this thing about myself; you might want to check and see if it applies to you, as well.

See, here’s the thing: it’s not that I never drew things. My parents can attest to the constant rotation of Ed Emberley books I checked out of the library. I still have notebooks covered with doodles (swords and spaceships, mainly) and even early typographical experimentations with handwriting and lettering.

But at some point, I stopped. And I don’t know why.

Ghosting Your Own Joy

I’m not sure exactly when it happened. Somewhere in my early teens; somewhere in between the fading of my BASIC programming and D&D hobbies and the start of my musical and theatrical obsession in high school.

I can’t take the easy route and blame some authority figure in my life who told me art would not be a realistic career choice (though I do remember my mother asking me why I was so obsessed with this “computer fad” – why would anyone want one of those in their house?).

It may just be that I didn’t have time – <sarcasm>Unlike now, I was always finding new and interesting subjects to delve into and try</sarcasm>. Whatever it was, at some point, in my brain, I divided the world into two parts: those who make visual art and those who don’t. And I put myself in the latter category.

I wish I had kept it up, on some level. I wish I had kept that skill, even as a hobby, developing and growing. A daily sketch, even something like Patrick Rhone’s coffee cup, would have kept those particular creative juices flowing.

But I didn’t. And now, I regret it.

That’s the point of this post. Think about that thing you used to do, that you liked, that for some reason, you stopped doing.

There’s not much point in wondering why you stopped. Maybe, instead, you do it, just a little, again. See what it feels like. It’s possible within a few moments you remember exactly why you stopped, and that’s good to know. 

But maybe it’ll be like a reunion with a best friend you haven’t seen in years. Maybe it’ll be the re-starting of a new passion, a new joy in your life.

Don’t you think you owe it to yourself to find out?

“There Ain’t No Gonna.”

Lately I’ve been in kind of a “maker frenzy”; for some reason, I’ll see something online like “Build your own screen printing press out of scraps” and the next thing you know I’m raiding my girlfriend’s basement for lumber and buying springs…and that leads down a rabbit hole of finding squeegees and ink and transparencies on CraigsList and eventually to selling bandanas and notebooks and t-shirts that I printed.

Of course, it doesn’t stop there. When I was printing the covers of the moleskine notebooks, I was thinking “Hmm, I wonder how hard it would be to make my own notebooks…” Which leads to learning stab-binding and then poof, I’m making an orange glittery cover for my friends’ daughter because she saw mine and wanted her own.

And then the thought came…”Y’know, this is cool and all, but wouldn’t it be cooler to screen print my own logo on a stab-bound book I made out of paper that I also made…”

Which is a long way to explain why last night I was in my girlfriend’s basement again, making a deckle. (Side note: one of the fun things about making is all the new words you learn. “Majuscule”, “deckle”, and “dottle” are all words! Scrabble will never be the same).

How do you find time for it all?

That’s the question, right? This is where, as a good upstanding Personal Development Blogger, I’m supposed to tell you that you need to give up your favorite TV show, or get up an hour earlier, or somehow adopt some fancy scheduling system guaranteed to put 43 more minutes into your day!

Nope. Sorry.

Another person very dear to me pointed out what my “secret” is, in a text message (profanity warning: she is delightfully verbose, including swear words):

Can I tell you something I like about you?
I’ve been meaning to do screen printing for over a decade. Probably 15 years. I love it!! Want to do it!! So cool!!
Haven’t.
You? You’re all like “hey!” This is cool. Let’s do it.” 
And you’re printing.
That’s fucking awesome.
No excuses. Just done.
Fuck yeah!!

Now, I don’t want to pretend this is really a secret; that’s why I put it in quotes above. But there is a kind of philosophy behind it – one that Nike put into an ad campaign, but which I like to reframe by improving a classic Star Wars adage.

“Try Not!
Do. Or do not.
There is no try.”

Yoda, from The Empire Strikes Back

And this is where I look back at the kid and even young adult that I was, who loved this saying, and want to shake some sense into him:

Of course there is “try!” You don’t have to be assured of success in any endeavor before you benefit from it. Life is nothing but trying, and failing, and trying again. If you’re lucky, one of those “tries” succeeds – but the ratio of attempts-to-successes will always be skewed to the former.

No, what Yoda meant to say was that you can’t really hesitate. You can’t let the uncertainty of the outcome keep you from trying, nor can you let the failures of the past discourage you from trying something different.

Most of all, to me, this was a battle cry against procrastination, against the idea that “someday, I’m gonna try this thing.” That’s where there is motivation. You’re either doing the thing – and yes, preparing and researching and learning counts – or you’re still keeping it in the future, and therefore not doing it. 

Ready, Fire, Aim

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. Currently I’m drowning in projects, and there are some that are going to need to be moved from the “do” to the “do not” pile. And both of those piles are fine.

But what I wish Yoda had said was this: “Do. Or do not. There ain’t no ‘gonna.”  It’s not “I’m gonna try this.” It’s “Yep, I’m trying this.” which really is the same as “I’m doing this!” right up until the point where it’s “I’ve done this.” Remember, time is what keeps everything from happening at once, and sometimes the reason we’re not “trying” is simply because the time has not yet come.

But often the thing that holds you back is the fear of the “try”. Whether that’s for fear of comparison to others, or to some idealized version of yourself, or simply the unknown…we hold back. We “do not.” And we try to make ourselves feel better by saying “I’m gonna do this…later.” 

That’s where the characteristic in me seems to come to the fore: Sure, why not? Let’s do it! And I’m scrounging and adapting and usually finding myself in over my head. My first attempt at screen printing, which I decided should be a silly little pin-up because I was sure it would be pretty bad? Turned out perfectly. My second try? Not perfect at all. Not horrible – but that’s the one where I learned all the lessons, and I’m still learning. 

Why? Because I’m trying. I simply start my hands and body and brain moving in a direction, and I continue until something makes me stop.

It’s not a secret technique. It’s not even that hard; any idiot can say “Ok, let’s just do it.” And it does mean shutting down that abstract part of your brain that wants to put things into the future. “I’m gonna do it…later.

Nope. You either do it, or you don’t. There ain’t no “gonna”.

The Relationship Ferris Wheel (Introduction)

This is the first part of a five-part series over the next few weeks describing a process used primarily in graphic facilitation. It was developed by Martin Haussmann, one of the founding members of the Kommunikationslotsen consultancy, a German firm that created the bikablo technique.

Relax. That doesn’t mean you have to draw.

It also doesn’t mean we’re going to keep going around and around in circles. What we’re going to do is use a simple framework that (kind of) resembles a Ferris wheel (hence the name). And while the process itself is useful for working out many kinds of work, the part we’re going to particularly focus on – because, that’s right, this is a Love post – is relationships.

Particularly, over the next month I’m going to bring you through the bloggish equivalent of an “Intimacy & Relationships” workshop that Natasha and I have presented before in live settings. While we have a big chart that I draw fun little pictures on, everyone in the class has their own worksheet that they can use to add their own text (or fun little pictures) to.

You get that too! You can download a PDF version of it right here

“I don’t need no relationship workshop!”

I get it, I get it. Every single aspect of your intimate relationships is perfect. It’s exactly  the way you want it, and there’s not one thing that could stand any improvement. I’m sincerely happy for you! You can either just skip the next month of Friday posts here, or maybe just follow along to check out the process of the “Ferris wheel” and apply it to some other part of life that isn’t quite as hunky-dory as your relationships.

For the rest of us – and yes, it’s definitely an “us” – there may be another level of resistance, or even a litany of protests something like this:

  • Dealing with emotional stuff makes me uncomfortable
  • I’m worried that if I rock the boat, things will get worse
  • It’s not like a bunch of little pictures will change anything anyway
  • My emotions and I made a deal: I don’t bother them, they don’t bother me.

That last one is something a person in the workshop actually said to us. I shook my head and walked towards him, telling him earnestly: “The emotions? They lie.”

“What Does an Intimate Relationship Look Like to Me?”

That’s the question to keep in the back of your head as you go through this week. What does “intimate” mean, anyway? What qualifies as a “relationship”? If you were the one deciding what a good intimate relationship was for you (spoiler alert: you are), what would that involve?

Next week we’ll be taking the first step towards building our Ferris wheel. By the end of the four weeks you’ll not only know the answer to that question, you’ll also know what can help you get that relationship for yourself, and even better, you’ll know exactly what you need to do next to move closer towards that goal.

It’s going to be great. With fun little pictures, too.

Who’s Judging You?

Monday night I was continuing my journey into learning visually by attending a life-drawing class at a nearby community center. I’ve mainly been using charcoals and pencils for that kind of sketching, but I have a nifty new portable watercolor set that I was planning on breaking out for the first time.

So, with all the confidence of your typical middle-aged-white-guy who has put literally zero time into figuring out how something worked, when the model settled into the pose, I started working with the brushes and the little chiclet-like case that I had bought.

It didn’t go well.

It continued to not go well. And I stressed.

As I struggled with the colors, with the liquid, with the brush strokes messing up my page, I felt my stress levels rising.

This is horrible. This doesn’t look like anything good.What is the model going to think? Or Natasha? Or all these people around me? This won’t look good on Instagram…

And that’s when things calmed down, because I realized: I don’t have to put it on instagram. Sure, documenting my progress is fun, but I don’t have to show it to the world. Or the model, or Natasha, or my fellow artists.

Literally no one had to see what I was doing. And that realization was such a relief, such a relaxing and freeing thought, that I realized:

Even in private, I’m performing for a judge.

As a public speaker and facilitator, I’m used to being “on”, putting on a friendly and professional facade as needed – that’s part of the job. And I have a “grandpa” mode, where I’m trying to be a constructive and bright part of my children’s and grandchildren’s lives. And while I’m getting better at it, it’s really rare that I can really let my guard down with my friends and loved ones – I mean, I’m honest about feelings and such all the time, but also always framed in a way that I hope makes me a positive part of their lives.

What I didn’t realize – not until the following day, while journaling about the experience at life-drawing practice – was this:

I am still “on” when I’m alone.

I work alone most of the time, so you’d think there’d be a difference. But no – every time I am working, playing, reading, I’m trying to do it in a way that supports my belief that I am the person I hope everyone thinks I am.

It took a while to parse that sentence after I wrote it, and it kind of shocked me. Maybe it’s a product of writing blogs like this, maybe it’s part of social media culture, but really, no, I think I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember: everything I do, I do with the idea that someone, sometime, is going to judge it.

Now, that’s not entirely a bad thing. It has motivated me to do a lot of positive and good things.

But I can’t help but think that it’s not really healthy to have that all the time.

I’m taking some time to try and pay attention to the part of myself that isn’t judged. That is private, and doesn’t worry about being relevant or not because no one – not even me – knew they were there in the first place.

No big conclusions here.

Nope, this is just something I observed in myself, and hey, thought I’d write about it. Might be an interesting experiment, though, to take a look at your own actions…and see what you do when you’re not worried about how anyone – not even yourself – might judge it.

Good luck.

Old Man Yoga: My Top Five

I don’t make much secret of the fact that I don’t enjoy yoga. I enjoy the effects that yoga has on my body (such as being able to walk up the flight of stairs to my apartment) but the act itself is still kind of…ugh.

I know there are people who say “give it time” and while I’m not one to prognosticate* I’m actually ok with yoga being something that I do not because the act is enjoyable, but because the results are.

There are a lot of “great yoga video lists” out there, but I’m not sure that any quite fall under the mantra of “Top Five for Middle-Aged Guys Who Hate Yoga“. But if you’re looking to start your own practice – and you know you should – here’s some that I have found helpful.

Super Hero Strong Flow with Tara Stiles

The Flow That Got Me Back Into Yoga

For a long time Tara Stiles was the only yoga teacher I watched, and in particular this flow was one that I memorized and then took with me on the road for years. It’s still my “go-to” flow when I need to do a quick workout. However, the emphasis is on “quick”, so while it’s a good one, you tend to hurry, and also don’t get some of the benefits of the slower or longer videos.

Morning Yin Yoga with Kassandra

Featuring Cleo the Cat

“Yin Yoga” is a kind of yoga that holds various poses for a long time – 2-5 minutes – letting the body settle into stretches in a way that allows gravity to do the work, rather than your muscles pushing. When I was recovering from pneumonia, I did a lot of yin yoga to build myself back up (it also is a great place for breathing deeply, which helped my recovery). 

It’s also an easier way to wake up if you want yoga to be part of your regular morning practice, and this particular workout is one that I come back to again and again. Kassandra is very low-key and forgiving in her videos, and both Natasha and I like her stuff

Yin Yoga to Restore & Reboot 

Yep, that’s Kassandra again.

This is another Yin Yoga video that I come back to repeatedly, usually after traveling or after a very frustrating day. It does exactly what it says: it kind of “resets” my brain by focusing on some long-form and, to be honest, kind of painful stretches (you don’t realize how heavy your legs are until you try to hold them in the air for three minutes). 

“Better Than the Gym”: Boho Beautiful

Yep. That’s exactly what I look like when I’m doing Plow Pose.

I have a love/hate relationship with the Boho Beautiful yoga videos. They are produced by a young couple that really should irritate all the curmudgeonly buttons in my Old Man Yoga brain…but somehow her cheerful, relaxed, confident manner of teaching falls short of the threshold of annoyance.

The other thing I actually like about the videos is that while she’s happily telling you what’s next (and effortlessly doing it) the actual workouts kick your ass. More than once I’ve seen a new one come out, and it says “beginner” and “15 minutes” and I’ve said “sure, I’ll try it – how bad could it be?” And then I’m really grateful that it’s video, because I would hate to swear that much at a yoga instructor in real life as I am grunting and sweating and trying to keep up. What I’m saying is: she would be a fantastic drill instructor.

Yoga for Neck and Shoulder Relief

Yep, there’s targeted yoga like you wouldn’t believe.

I pretty much unreservedly recommend any of the Yoga with Adriene videos. She has a wide variety both in terms of focus, level, and time, and has several series that work really well for short-term practice goals (such as the upcoming “Yoga for All” series). This video, in particular, helped me during a time that I was waking up with severe neck and shoulder pain for several weeks. I’d do it every morning to improve my mobility and it was spot-on. Lately I’ve been biking more, and her Yoga for Cyclists is useful to keep things stretched out.

What About Guy Yoga, Gray?

That’s right: not one male yoga instructor made my top five YouTube list. That’s not because I don’t try the channels like “Yoga with Tim” or Sean Vigue’s videos (which give truth to the whole “I’m gonna WIN this yoga!” joke). I did repeat Rodney Yee’s “Power Yoga” DVD for years, but at the point that he got involved in his own “#MeToo” type scandal I was just turned off by his presence, even on TV.

And basically none of the male-led YouTube yoga instructors have worked well for my middle-aged somewhat battered body. The demographic they are aimed at are, I believe, the more young and (to be frank) “DudeBro” set. I’ll still try the occasional video led by a man, and if I find one that feels worth mentioning, I’ll certainly write it up – but the videos above are the best Old Man Yoga clips I’ve done.

How about you? Have a favorite loved/hated Yoga Instructor online? If there’s one you think I should try, put the link in the comments; I’ll give it a shot, and let you know the results!

“HYLMN”: Time-Bound


This is the first in a series I’m calling “HYLMN” (“How You Like Me Now?”) that I will do once a month with one of my posts from as far back as I can go. I’ve been posting since 2010, and there’s the question: how has the writing held up? Do I still believe in what I wrote?

Here we have the text of my post from August 22, 2012, called “Time-Bound” and an afterword as to whether I still feel like what I talked about was relevant:

That’s not writing. That’s typing. 

Truman Capote

Part three of the series (part one, part two) inspired by that awesome conversation on the front lawn has to do with a phrase that has been creeping into my vocabulary: Time-bound. Normally it’s just used to indicate a task or event that has to happen within a certain framework of time – either it takes a certain amount of time, or it needs to happen at a particular o’clock.

However, the word stuck around in my head and played around. Time-bound. Bound by time. Time as a substance that binds, that constrains. Hours, days, months and years as limits and containers and…

That’s when it hit me:

 We Are All Time-bound

In fact, that’s the one thing that we can be absolutely, unequivocally certain of. All humans are not created equal – variations in environment, circumstance, genetics, climate, etc all imply differences both subtle and vast. However, assuming you were born on planet Earth (and if you weren’t, please contact me, I’ve been dying to meet you) you have exactly as much time during the day as anyone else. Most of the world chooses to divide it into 24 hours of 60 minutes of 60 seconds each, but larger than that things get a little more tricky, like in Asia (different calendar) or Indiana (who needs Daylight Savings anyway?).

That’s the one place we’re equal: we all have the same amount of time. Allocating it, now, that’s not so easy – certainly circumstances come into play there as well, such as needing to spend hours of your day walking to and from a watering hole in order to feed your family, versus simply turning on the tap. Still, you make choices, every day, as to how you allocate and spend your precious and irretrievable stash of time.

Futura: the Preferred Font of Astrologists

via flickr CC courtesy Alan Cleaver

Make no mistake, you are bound by it. Bound for the future, that is! We are all time travelers, moving in the same direction at the same rate. Of course, that experience is subjective, much like getting on a bus you take to work every day and zoning out, suddenly realizing a quarter of an hour later that you’re there and not noticing any real passage of time. How it flew!

Meanwhile, the person sweating in the seat across from you is late for an important meeting with the boss which she is not prepared for, and the bus ride was the Longest Seventeen Minutes Of Her Life.

So: we are all both allocated the same amount of time, we get to choose how we allocate that precious store, and the experience is as variable as the progress of time is unstoppable. “Hold on a minute!” ain’t ever gonna happen, and “Just a second!” never really is. You can’t kill time or lose time, any more than you can peel off your shadow. Time was getting along fine before you were born, and tempus is going to keep fugit-ing on long after you die.

Since the only variables we have control over is how we allocate it and how we experience it, what’s the best thing to do? The answer is the same as the answer to the old riddle, how do you catch a very special rabbit?

Unique Up On It

Look, everybody’s got the same amount of time, but at the same time everyone is a unique individual. That means, I think, that the answer to “What is the best use of my time?” is Uniquely. In other words: what is the use of your time that is particular to you – that nobody else can do?

…the answer to “What is the best use of my time?” is Uniquely.

I’m not saying you have to be Michael Phelps and win more than anyone else, or be Tim Berners-Lee and invent something that would change the course of human history. There are many qualities of uniqueness, and there is something, some way of spending your time, that lends that inner glow to you. You know it when you do it – I get it, for example, sometimes when I’m writing for this blog. It’s that moment that you realize you’re doing what only you can do, and that’s when your time is best spent.

I believe that if you’re doing something that somebody else could do, you’re wasting time. More importantly, you’re wasting your time, and you’re never going to get it back. Let them do it, and get to work finding that thing that only you can do. If you don’t know what that is, then the best use of your time is figuring it out, because you’re the only one who can do that.

Gotta love consistently circular logic.

Drinking at the Task Bar

Please note, I am not saying you need to invent the great new successor to the wheel. I’m saying that there is something that you can do that is different than the way that anyone else does it. I’ll use the example of being an EMT.

via flickr CC courtesy Elvert Barnes

The job of an emergency medical technician is relatively simple: keep the bag of bones & blood & air we call a human from leaking too much before getting it to a hospital and making it someone else’s problem. There are all kinds of procedures and nifty tools and devices that go bing! to help accomplish that, plus the shiny box on wheels you get to drive really fast with blinky lights and the woop-woop box that makes people jump. It’s fun! I miss being an EMT.

But it’s not rocket science – no, it’s biology, and there are specific steps and procedures you do to keep that bag of skin warm and not-so-leaky. Lots of people learn that. Lots of people do the job quite well, treating the patient and dealing calmly with the emergency and taking home their paycheck because it’s their job.

On the other hand, some people have the bedside manner. They treat the person, not the patient, and they treat the trauma, not the injury. Their words help to calm the victim, their support helps calm their coworkers, and the hotter the stress gets, the more they shine.

I’ve seen this. I’ve been on a squad where two people were doing the same job. One seemed born to the role; the other seemed bored, going through the motions. Both were eminently capable and competent, but one brought their own unique talents and qualities to their work, while the other simply went by the book and took home their pay because they couldn’t be bothered to do anything else.

Don’t Type. Write.

And that’s the danger: to be caught in a Vortex of Competence. That’s when you find something that you are good at, that you can do, that you don’t mind doing, and that will give you all the cultural reinforcement that you’re doing something really worthwhile. Steven Pressfield would call it a “Shadow Career”:

Its shape is similar, its contours feel tantalizingly the same. But a shadow career entails no real risk. If we fail at a shadow career, the consequences are meaningless to us. 

– Turning Pro

Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean that something is good for you. Instead, that Vortex of Competence doesn’t eat you, it eats your time, and turns the journey of the time-bound into the equivalent of that mindless commute.

…that Vortex of Competence doesn’t eat you, it eats your time…

You can take small steps to change that – much like you can change a mindless commute into a pleasurable experience of an audiobook by a talented author. It may take nothing more than that whole idea of being more present in what you’re doing, of noticing what’s going on around you, how you are doing things.

Or, as I noted Monday, incremental changes may not work. You may need something more powerful to escape the Vortex of Competence, like moving across the country, or quitting your job, or leaving a not-quite-toxic-but-not-quite-healthy relationship. It’s scary! But if you’re going to be time bound, moving in the direction of greatest courage is usually a pretty good use of your minute-by-minute fuel source.

Here’s your homework; the due date is: whenever you want to stop wasting time:

Where are you time-bound?

How you like me now, Gray?

Well, as writings go, I’d give this a solid A-. The main criticism I would have of my young Seattle-living self was that I only paid lip service to the hard fact that while we have equal amounts of time, we are vastly unequal in our ability to utilize it in constructive ways.

I was falling into the “productivity trap” of people who pretend that writing three minutes a day will give you a masterpiece. It will give you something, sure, but it sure won’t be a beautiful polished work of art.

On the other hand, the conclusion I drew – that the best use of your time was to use it uniquely – is something I still very much believe, and have acted on. 

I also like the idea of the Vortex of Competence. It fits nicely into the concept of Deliberate Practice, and the idea that we need to keep pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones and into the places where our courage is needed.

Hat tip to my friend, patron, and writing buddy Karl for the idea for this post!