Monday, November 7, 2011

Trudging Through Austin

“In my dream, I ride the tiger.
I grasp the prickly fur between her shoulders.
She is small and safe and docile
In my dream.
In reality….”
Well, reality is always different from the dream, isn’t it?
This is the beginning of a slam poem that I think I debuted at the regionals in Americus, Ga., in 1998, and at the nationals in Austin. My memories of that time are a little bit murky. It was my first National Poetry Slam, ditto regionals, and I was on the team by default. I think I had come in fifth in the local contest, so when somebody better than me defaulted, I got promoted to the team, and I was eager to participate, despite my limited arsenal of poems.
Another teammate, the awesome Chris McCorkindale, and I were considered the weak sisters of the group. Xine, a proven star – an absolutely awesome writer and performer, and Jon Somebody were the stars. But we were a team, and the whole process was creative, mad and exciting.
Our slam master and coach, Linda McCorkindale, was unable to make the trip to Austin, so our little raggle-taggle band were expected to “all get along” and to take coaching by long-distance (cell phones were not yet ubiquitous).
We flew to Austin, opted against the expense of a rental car and depended on public transport to get us from Point A to Point B. Most of the poetry venues were in Austin’s legendary music district, and a bus trundled us from our very cool little motel with lots of Southwest touches – the stucco (or is it adobe?), the cactus, the aquamarine swimming pool – and a fabulous Tex-Mex restaurant attached where we could get cheap breakfast burritos and pots of coffee to fuel us through the manic days of practice, arguments and competitions.
I remember looking in the mirror and feeling really old. My hair was lank. I had uncharacteristic dark circles under my eyes. The thing I didn’t understand most was my swollen belly. I weighed the same as I always had, but I had taken to wearing anything that didn’t put pressure on my middle – both for the look and feel of it.
The usual rush of performance-excitement adrenaline was not keeping me fueled. Still, we tramped the streets of Austin for hours, and spent nights in smoke-filled rooms (ancient times before the days of no-smoking everywhere). I collapsed into bed before everybody. Romance and adventure raged around me. I trudged and slept.
Sometime during this whirlwind, I got to talk with teammate Chris who was teaching Ashtanga-style Yoga at the time. We practiced a little by the pool, and she explained to me that there were two kinds of Yoga: Ashtanga, which was very fast-flowing and characterized by Sun Salutes and athleticism, and Iyengar, which was a slower, pose-by-pose style that used lots of props. (This is how I remember it, Chris. Feel free to describe your experience of that time.)
I couldn’t figure out where the Yoga that I had practiced fit into this scheme: Yoga that I’d practiced 30 years before in Bamberg, SC, from a book called “Yoga for Perfect Health” by Alain (turns out, it was loosely based on Iyengar style); the Yoga of teachers with whom I had connected in the ‘70s and ‘80s (Kundalini and Kripalu); and the Yoga of Sri Swami Satchidananda, all of which I think of as classical or traditional Yoga.
I enjoyed practicing with Chris by that funky motel pool. We were determined to take at least a modicum of care for our bodies in between driving them through rounds of competitive-poetry performance and late nights.
The Winston-Salem Slam Team did not exactly distinguish itself at the nationals that year. I returned to the newsroom exhausted, a little bit wiser (but not much) and worried about my health.
Next stop: Yogaville – the Sri Swami Satchidananda Integral Yoga Ashram – in Buckingham, VA.