E.B. White’s “Here Is New York” Classifies City, Future 9/11

images-1Bill De Blasio described his “Tale of Two Cities” during his successful election campaign. E.B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web, believed there were three. Here is a selection of White’s beautiful essay (1948), especially appropriate on 9/11:

There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born there, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size, its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter–the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these trembling cities the greatest is the last–the city of final destination, the city that is a goal.

It is this third city that accounts for New York’s high strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements. Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness, natives give it solidity and continuity, but the settlers give it passion. And whether it is a farmer arriving from a small town in Mississippi to escape the indignity of being observed by her neighbors, or a boy arriving from the Corn Belt with a manuscript in his suitcase and a pain in his heart, it makes no difference: each embraces New York with the intense excitement of first love, each absorbs New York with the fresh yes of an adventurer, each generates heat and light to dwarf the Consolidated Edison Company…

The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now; in the sounds of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest editions.

All dwellers in cities must live with the stubborn fact of annihilation; in New York the fact is somewhat more concentrated because of the concentration of the city itself, and because, of all targets, New York has a certain clear priority. In the mind of whatever perverted dreamer might loose the lightning, New York must hold a steady, irresistible charm.”

9/11 Stories: Rabbi Janise Poticha

Rabbi Janise Poticha holding the boots she wore on 9/11. Photo by Rick Wenner of The Observer.

Rabbi Janise Poticha holding the boots she wore on 9/11. Photo, Rick Wenner

“September 11 is still part of my life, but I don’t make it my life,” said Rabbi Janise Poticha, 63, the other day at a bustling diner near her Upper West Side apartment. “I expected to be a ‘pulpit rabbi’: to educate people, marry them, bury the dead and grieve with mourners,” she continued, her brown eyes a few shades darker than her cup of decaf. Her silver-streaked hair framed a tanned, youthful face. “Nobody ever thought somebody would hijack two airplanes and fly them into the most identifiable buildings in America.”

On the morning of 9/11, her doorman informed her that a plane hit the North Tower, probably a small aircraft gone off course. She thought little of it and set off for a meeting across town with the Archdiocese of New York. By the time she arrived, Flight 175 had crashed into the South Tower.

For the next four days, Poticha, who had EMT training, stayed around Ground Zero organizing triage stations. She placed the dead into body bags with first responders of all faiths. When a distraught firefighter noticed her kippah and chaplain vest, he asked if she would pray with him. “I said, ‘I’m Jewish, but we can pray together.’ We simply held hands and talked.”

More than 800 clergy mobilized after the 9/11 attacks—the largest multifaith chaplaincy effort in United States history.

“I felt compelled to be there, but I had to remember the high holy days were coming,” recalled Poticha, who has served as rabbi at Temple Sinai of Massapequa since 1998. “I had to take care of my congregation. On my last night as a responding chaplain, a construction worker gave me a ride home in his truck. It was 4 a.m. The moon was so bright. Looking up, I thought, ‘Things are still right in the world.’ The sun would rise in a few hours, and the moon would set. The organic sequence was still in place.”

Today, Poticha serves as president of Disaster Chaplaincy Services (DCS), a nonprofit that provides spiritual assistance in emergencies.

DCS provides pastoral support not just after tragedies but also during landmark occasions, such as the opening of the National September 11 Memorial Museum in 2014. In the museum’s first week, volunteer chaplains worked in shifts to care for survivors, family members and first responders who had a sneak peek of the site. “One man, a construction worker, saw his hat and pick in a glass case in the historical exhibition,” she said. “He had donated the items, but he didn’t know if they would be [displayed]. He broke into tears in my arms,” she said with a sigh. “There was a lot of that.”Ann Votaw for The New York Observer

PsychoBarn Is Home In NYC

Psycho HouseCornelia Parker’s site-specific sculpture, “Transitional Object (PsychoBarn),” is strangely at home on the Met’s rooftop garden, high above Central Park. I recently watched the sunset while leaning against the PscyhoBarn’s roped-off porch. Sipping beer and chewing expensive chips, I noted — once again — that New York is one weird city, especially at dawn or dusk when subterranean worlds collide with the respectable daytime veneer. Parker expertly caught the shadowy mood with her installation inspired by the Bates’ family home, the classic American red barn, and by the lonely paintings of Edward Hopper.

I just happen to be reading The Stand these days, a perfect summer epic about a world-wide pandemic. As a red sun flared through the trees and pleasant buildings of the Upper West Side, I thought of Rita Blakemoor and Larry Underwood stepping over dead bodies in the Lincoln Tunnel during a hail storm.

Like Parker, Stephen King knows a thing or two about fear.

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Facebook Is A Pandemic

A smartphone user shows the Facebook application on his phone in the central Bosnian town of Zenica, in this photo illustration, May 2, 2013. Facebook Inc's mobile advertising revenue growth gained momentum in the first three months of the year as the social network sold more ads to users on smartphones and tablets, partially offsetting higher spending which weighed on profits. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic (BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA - Tags: SOCIETY SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY BUSINESS)

A smartphone user shows the Facebook application on his phone in the central Bosnian town of Zenica, in this photo illustration, May 2, 2013.

I deactivated my Facebook accounts a month ago. It’s been great to rid myself of one less smartphone addiction. But that little “f” logo is still in my head.

During my birthday week, a few friends (who still maintain non-FB calendars) freaked out when they discovered “I’m off the grid.” Me being off Facebook meant they had to remove a few archaeological layers and send me email, which I got immediately on my cell. “I hope you’re okay,” they said. I assured them I was. In fact, I had just returned from camping where I made my own fire and slept on the ground in a little tent. My scene in the woods was so sweet I wanted to post pictures to let others know about my experience. That was when I witnessed my thumbs making phone swiping gestures in the air. I’m a slave to Mark Zuckerberg’s invention, I thought. I hate this.

As the full moon emerged over my campsite, I read The Stand in the glow of my battery-operated flash light. This 1978 Stephen King epic, updated in 1994, chronicles a weaponized flu that kills 99.4% of the earth’s human population.

Stephen King’s fictionalized pandemic reminded me of Facebook (and its less popular but just as potent strains of Twitter and Instagram). According to The Social Times, 1.59 billion people were using FB as of December 2015. For perspective, the U.S. has 318.9 million people. China has 1.357 billion people. If Zuckerberg’s kingdom were a country, it might be one of the most populous — and unruly — in the world.

As much as I think I need FB to promote my writing and to stay current with friends and the news, it is also ruining my ability to be present, to form my own unfiltered memories, or to have an original thought without gauging potential “likes.” Unsubstantial content — that many don’t actually read — only seems to fuel arguments rather than encourage meaningful dialog. When tempers flare into hate speech, FB’s flimsy abuse reports aren’t there to protect anyone.

Here’s a horrible thought. What happens when all the followers — I don’t have that many — suddenly turn against me or you? Or worse. What if Kardashian fans revolt against their curvy and vacuous figure-heads? We could have a full-scale pandemic, the start of our final World War.

Dirty Dancing Catskills

unnamedOwning a 1940s typewriter has made me a collector of antique stationery, the best frame for an IRL letter in inky font. On eBay, I stumbled upon a lot of five blank letterheads from The Concord, an old resort in the Catskills that featured stars like Judy Garland and Buddy Hackett. As the jewel of the Borscht Belt, The Concord was the largest, most lavish resort in the area, complete with a kosher menu for a mostly Jewish clientele.

As I typed the above paragraph, an older neighbor called to check on me in this heat. “God is well and in charge,” she said as soon I answered. I asked if she ever stayed at The Concord.

“Of course, honey,” she said. “Everyone went to The Concord. I stayed there once for five days when I was pregnant. We had to have a different outfit for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It was wonderful. That was when I was a rip.”

If you’re having a hard time picturing this, imagine the set of Dirty Dancing, a composite of these fabulous upstate resorts that included Grossingers, Kutcher’s, and The Nevele. Remember one of the last scenes of the film, when Max Kellerman acknowledges the end of an era? Before the last dance, Kellerman says:

You think the kids want to come take foxtrot lessons with their parents? Trips to Europe. That’s what the kids want. Twenty three countries in three days. It feels like it’s all slipping away.”

In the late 1990s, I landed my first professional dance job in one of these fabled resorts. I never knew which one. The gig fell through a few weeks later. I ended up dancing on a small cruise ship in the North Atlantic. I always wondered about The Concord, which closed in 1998, the time my upstate job fell through. Like so many other entertainers, I could have cut my teeth in the Catskills.

Gods That Breathe Through Dust And Darkness

I fell in love with Sharon Watts’ wonderful Om From India article last year in YogaCity NYC. An artist herself, Sharon appreciates the moxie of fellow adventurists like Mark Baron and Elise Boisanté. Through frequent travels to India, the couple has amassed one of the world’s largest private collections of Indian god prints from the 19th and early 20th century. Their detective work inspired filmmaker Rachel Fedde, who’s making a short documentary about the prints. Pieces of the Om From India collection have been acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, among others. 13133298_1380145138678766_3479102306728472513_n

For a year, I thought about the fiery images in Sharon’s article. Because of monsoons and poor framing techniques, these lithographs often have torn edges and missing chunks. But Mark and Elise possess full, breathtaking prints meant to be the gods themselves.

In need of the divine in my own home, I scheduled an appointment with Mark and Elise, not expecting the expansive assortment Mark kept pulling out from a wooden filing cabinet. Each time he opened a paper and plastic-covered print, my nose twitched from the dust. My brain rushed with little pops of adrenaline. Unfortunately, I had only scheduled an hour and 15 minutes for this grand adventure in a New York City apartment.

I will be back, with permission to lithograph stalk.

 

 

If You Meet The Buddha On The Road, Google Him First

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After YogaCity NYC’s “Abuse of Power” panel at Yoga Union, I am chewing an interesting concept, brought up during the Q&A .

“Do we need to do background checks on our teachers?” a woman asked. Her question prompted “ohs” and “huhs” in the audience.

My answer to that — as a person who has had negative adventures in dating, kayaking, and yoga — is yes. While background checks may not be available, we do have google.

Google is Promethean fire on a smartphone. Few people use it the way they should. Let’s say I want to look up a teacher to see if he is an admitted sex addict at a prominent studio. (I’m not naming names, but I am using a real scenario.) I enter this teacher’s name into the search bar and voila, the creepy headlines appear in the second entry.

Let’s try another respected spiritual leader, the late Ashtanga master Pattabhi Jois, affectionately referred to by his students as Guruji. I scroll through accolades and obituaries. But on page four, I find this article, “Yoga Teacher FAIL…Is that Pattabhi Jois?,” contributed by Yoga Dork. This picture shows Guruji with his hands in the groins of two female yogis. I first saw the stock photo years ago on a male friend’s Facebook page. The meme made me grimace: “How do I get this guy’s job?” I never would have connected the dots to Pattabhi Jois.

After the YogaCity NYC panel, I know Guruji had another side. Women at the panel discussed misogyny and the culture that produced similar yoga masters. For the first time, I learned that travels to India may not always be the Eat, Pray, Love variety.

Do unfortunate actions take away from a teacher’s good qualities? Maybe or maybe not, depending on how students frame their own narratives.

My point is that when we first seek instruction, we are often hoping to repair a damaged heart and body. We are likely to hand our souls to the first person with authority. Some of that transference is necessary. As a respected colleague said to me, “When you find your teacher, it’s like falling in love.” I agree. Yet before trekking off to an ashram or teacher training, I recommend that if you meet Buddha on the road, google him before you shank him.

-illustration from YogaCity NYC

 

 

Channeling Mom, I Sewed My Own Lululemon Pants

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When Bloomberg News reported the $400 yoga legging trend, my stomach convulsed into spontaneous nauli. Disgusted by this—and my reliance upon these clothes as an instructor—I developed a plan. I would learn to sew my own yoga pants. With my head full of dreams, I decided to skip beginner patterns and committed to a more outrageous venture: By September, I would recreate my favorite Lululemons. Purchased in 2007, these pants still performed gravity-defying properties on my aging backside.

For encouragement, I called my resourceful mother in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

“You’ll hate what you make,” Mom said. “Trust me. It’s cheaper to buy what you want.”

I suspected she was right, but still, thanks for the encouragement Mom. She’d engineered my childhood wardrobe, from Little House dresses to Brownie uniform, until I reached high school and begged her to stop. I can still see her, pins in her mouth, draping patterns on my elongating pre-teen body. For two decades, I’ve lived in big cities, losing daily physical contact with my mother. Now I secretly wondered if my mission wasn’t just about the garment industry. Maybe it was a homage to home and to Mom.

Having re-mastered basic skills, I located a patient teacher, Rachel Blackmon, through my Inwood community Facebook page. We agreed on lessons for $40 an hour, staying within a budget of about $200.

When I met Blackmon in her sunlit apartment, I knew I found my guide. Dressed in a floral skirt of her own invention, she offered red wine while her son played in the bedroom. Like me, she competed in 4-H in her hometown of Boulder, Colorado. Unlike me, she continued through high school and her recent job transition, from middle school teacher to CEO of Rachel’s House of Craft.

“What’s more fulfilling?” Blackmon asked me. “Buying or making? There’s something about creating with the hands that rekindles home.”

Blackmon invited me to touch several samples of knit, one of her favorite fabrics. On her dining room table, she pinned and traced my Lulus onto pattern paper, a maneuver that resembled dissection. Before our next lesson, she recommended two places to purchase fabric: a Mom & Pop in the Bronx and Mood Fabric in the Garment District. As a die-hard Project Runway fan, my ears heard only Mood, the source of sewing porn.

Entering, I imagined the voice of Tim Gunn, warning me to “make it work.” With three levels, Mood was the Capitol. Jo-Ann Fabric was merely a colony.

Impervious to pain, I danced through aisles of notions and faux fur until I was stopped by Jonae, an “ex-con design student” with torn jeans and an Afro.

She led me into a Brothers Grimm forest of knits. My hands reached for a grayish-black material, then to a bolt of stretchy denim. “You’re not allowed to make jeggings,” she gasped. Overwhelmed, I grabbed my first choice, a gray-black ponte. A blend of rayon, polyester, and Spandex, the ponte shared qualities with my olive capris. Jonae cut a yard-and-a-half for $12. “No more murder pants for you,” she said, referring to the 2011 bludgeoning death of a Lululemon sales clerk by a fellow employee.

Jonae was a poem.

After I washed and dried the fabric, I went back to Blackmon who spread it onto her table. “I have a philosophy,” Blackmon said, smoothing wrinkles. “Sometimes we avoid what is most healing to us. It reminds you you’re a physical being with an end. We avoid the things that self-sustain because they connect us to our mortality.”

For the next three Wednesdays, Blackmon coached as I cut, ironed, and basted parts together. Then came my first fitting: a moment of truth. The pants were going to be beautiful. All we had to do was rip basted seams and re-sew with permanent stitches. Confident, I agreed to finish my project using the $10-per-hour unsupervised option. I stitched. Blackmon did laundry. When Blackmon checked on my progress, she turned pale. I had sewn the outer seams together without incorporating the gusset. In a matter of minutes, my promising pants had turned into a long-waisted pair of bootie lederhosen.

“You’re going to have to cut the seams, which means we now have less fabric,” she said. “This ponte may stretch enough to fit you. But you may need to give them to someone who is smaller than you.” I walked home close to tears.

For the final lesson, Blackmon gave me healthy discounts. We would be done in an hour, she said. We were so close.

Four hours and several thread balls later, I did indeed have a pair of pants. I tried them on in her bedroom. Fantastic! But I had mixed feelings. More flattering than the Lulus, they were also more expensive at more than $300 in cloth and instruction.

“This project was difficult,” Blackmon said. “There was an impenetrable quality to the fabric. We solved the problem by changing needles, from ballpoint to a sharp universal. Every fabric has its surprises.”

I wasn’t convinced.

“If you make them again, it would be easier,” Blackmon coaxed. “You were learning a lot at once. I suggest you take a break from knits and go with wovens because you can take out the stitches without ruining the fabric.”

We agreed to leave the pattern at her apartment. I would tackle the pants again, once I’d mastered easier projects. In the meantime, I wore my pants to Jivamukti. They held up in hanuman. They also rocked in CrossFit. Stok
ed, I walked into Lululemon on 14th Street.

“What do you think of my Lulus?” I asked, glowing. “Is there anyone I can talk to about the care and fit of a pair of pants?” A friendly clerk pointed to the manager. The manager directed me to media relations online. I tried the same dialogue at Athleta and Old Navy. I got the same results.

When I sent emails to the media departments of Gap Inc., which owns Athleta and Old

Navy, I heard nothing. When I wrote to Lululemon, I received this from a p.r. person: “Thanks for your email and for thinking of Lululemon for this opportunity. We’d like to respectfully decline . . .”

Yoga For My Favorite Netflix Homocide Detectives

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Like a lot of New Yorkers seeking quiet and inner stillness, I brag I don’t own a TV. What I omit is that almost every night, I pull down the shades, crawl into bed, and scarf down Netflix murder shows from the theater of my laptop. My favorites are River, The Fall, Broadchurch, and more recently for me, The Killing. If you know these shows, you may notice the common denominator: None of these grisly plots take place in New York. In other words, my viewing of sociopaths and stalkers feels like a vacation, simply because the action takes place in Belfast, Broadchurch, London, or even Seattle.

Also, each of these programs focuses on one major crime for full, whole seasons. American crime shows give me whiplash, fitting way too much info into too few episodes. With these slower-build dramas, I feel invested in the well drawn characters and the twists and turns of fine writing.

Because I love these characters so much, I have designed a yoga practice for each of my favorite Netflix detectives:

  1. The Fall: Stella Gibson, named after a guitar, finds stillness in repetitive solo exercise. When she’s not trying to capture her nemesis, serial killer Paul Spector, also named after a guitar, she enjoys swimming laps in local Belfast pools. She always swims indoors and alone. Played by Gillian Anderson, Stella is so cool under pressure that when she weeps over victims or journals about her nightmares, she becomes exquisitely human. For the one and only Stella Gibson, I recommend Iyengar. She wouldn’t trust anything with music or heart language, but she could benefit greatly from an obstinate focus on alignment and self care. For the complicated dreams, I would recommend she download iRest sessions with Richard Miller.
  2. The Killing: With all of Sarah Linden’s Seattle street smarts, she struggles to show her vast resources of love to family members, including her own son Jack. Instead, her heart bleeds for victims like Rosie Larsen. For Sarah, played by the petite but formidable Mireille Enos, I suggest family yoga, something taught in a social work setting, perhaps by her own social worker, Reggie. As an avid runner, she might gravitate more toward a vinyasa style. So would her music-loving preteen.
  3. Broadchurch: Detective Inspector Alec Hardy may be an annoying Scot who hates local fish and chips, but he cares deeply about solving the murder of young Danny Latimer. An outsider in this seaside hamlet in Dorset, England, he privately nurses a very sick, unhealthy heart. He believes that if he cracks the case, he will heal himself, or at least die with a clear conscience. For DI Alec Hardy, I can see him doing well with either yin or Kundalini styles, perhaps both once he is healthy enough to do more challenging krias. My reasoning is that Hardy has dwelling thoughts. While he could benefit from the forgiveness and yielding of yin, chugging through the chakras might do him good.
  4. River: My favorite Netflix detective may be DI John River, played by the amazing Stellan Skarsgard, whom I recognized from Good Will Hunting, Pirates of the Caribbean, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. In short, the man is a sensitive, complex giant on the screen. Because he sees and regularly talks to dead victims including his old partner, Stevie, River is especially awkward in almost all settings involving “normal” human interaction. But for all his visions, he’s less crazy than incredibly perceptive. The people near him love him and value his gifts. Yet they want him to find peace. That’s why I recommend iRest, offered in a one-on-one setting with his therapist.

The Chitta Behind Yoga Pants

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“You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins?” inquired a 15-year-old Brooke Shields in the famous 1981 ad campaign.

After attending Yoga Journal LIVE!, I see the trend has changed from denim to knits, prompting a similar question: “You want to know what comes between me and my sprayed-on shiny yoga pants with strategically placed graphics? Nothing. Not even my dharma.”

Cfm6knSWQAQoIKnCfm7JasXEAUVmQjSurrounded by an overwhelmingly female crowd in newly purchased leggings and designer jewelry, I entered the event at the Hilton detecting a sexual charge as I signed in and walked to my 8 a.m. class. That energy only intensified inside the dark conference room. We 30 participants, 27 women and three men, settled onto our mats and waited for our famous teacher. Any authority figure could have walked through that door and been the object of messy projections. But it was Vinnie Marino, a good-looking man in his late 50s, whose struggles with drugs changed his mission to one of recovery.

After leading a oms and basic stretches, I got a healthy read from Vinnie. He seemed aware of the crowd’s expectations — possibly even the yoga pants — but focused on the practice instead of collecting phone numbers. I wondered: Where was this sexual energy coming from, if not from him? As I moved through the poses, I picked up on my own thoughts and was shocked at how many times they landed on Instagram vanity, a combo of spirituality and commerce: I want those cool Day of the Dead yoga pants. They make that woman’s butt look so perky. I like that girl’s glitter mala. Did she buy it in the Yoga Journal marketplace?

Here I had shown up in granny sweats, wanting to keep centered on my internal needs rather than all the crap I could buy from vendors. As much as I loved the artistry of shiny leggings decorated with ocean scenes and flowers, I noticed the styles were tighter, if that were even possible. Fabric was less supportive. Seams accentuated crevices, not just curves. Mesh patches revealed vulnerable bits of thigh. It was distracting. It made a pubescent Brooke Shields look like a nun.

Out of curiosity, I googled “yoga pants fetish” and found porn sites dedicated to the genre. What I thought was innocent — wearing trendy althleisure — had become a whole production, a heady mix of paraphilia and consumerism better suited for selling muscle cars than healing anxiety.

Before I go further, I’m not selling my yoga pants. I am an modern American woman who loves easy-to-wash leisure wear that doubles as work-day casual or running gear. I celebrate my femininity and the innovate times in which I live. Today’s fabrics have become more breathable and functional than cotton, Spandex, or even denim. In my closet, I have three pairs of capris (one with a built-in skirt), two pairs of quality full-length tights, and two pairs of looser stretch trousers that cover me for a full-day’s worth of sweating and going to meetings.

While I’m not giving up my workout clothes, I’m struggling with my intentions: Am I desiring comfort, or am I wanting people to find me sexy?

Usually, my answer is the former, but the latter plays a part.

As a compromise, I will stick to basic shapes. And when teaching a class, I can wear a long tunic, out of respect.