I’ve never considered myself much of a spiritual person. I was brought up with zero knowledge of any sort of religion or religious history. Apparently, one day, when I was very young I returned home from pre-school and exclaimed to my mother, “Who’s this little girl, Baby Jeeza havin’ a birthday?” Turns out it was Christmas time and the other kids were referring to Jesus' birth. I just thought one of my classmates was having a birthday party and I wasn’t invited. My mom says she was mortified. She promptly proceeded to outline Religion 101--no great detail, just basic historical information. Easter was only just explained to me at length a couple of years ago thanks to Brandon. Boy, was I off about that one.
Over time I became hugely interested in my peers’ various religions and practices. I loved going to the Friend’s Meeting House (Quaker) with Kelly Wolf and her parents. Everyone sat in a little steeple and meditated for set periods of time – the kids had fifteen minutes while the grown-ups had an hour. During this time anyone that felt compelled to stand up and say – or sing – something was more than welcome to do so. I vividly remember someone standing up from the silence and belting out Morning Has Broken by Cat Stevens. Me – I counted the stripes on the people’s shirts in front of me. After our fifteen minutes us kids were allowed to go play and do arts and crafts and stuff (Macrame! Macaroni art! Things that start with MAC!).
I also enjoyed attending midnight mass with my Uncle Pat and his family in Roanoke, Va each Christmas Eve at their Southern Baptist church (interestingly, the same church where my parents were wed). Mostly I loved that we got to hold candles (I’m a bit of a pyro) and sing Christmas carols (I really like to sing).
Then, when I was eight years old, my mom married Michael Lasky. Michael was (and, I imagine, still is) Jewish. This was my most favorite of all. I loved the process. I loved the ceremony. I loved the sense of inclusion. I loved Seders, the Yarmulke, the Menorah, the language. Michael’s mom was not too pleased about Michael’s choice in wife. Hell, her oldest son married a divorced-with-young-kid-shiksa. I guess she was mostly indifferent toward me, though. I think I used to wear a Yarmulke at the table, which, for obvious reasons, was looked upon with various levels of disdain and confusion. I went to Hebrew school, became a member of the Jewish Community Center and went to a Jewish Summer Camp, Camp Hilbert. Incidentally, I attended quite a few Summer camps in my time, that way, was by far, my mitzvah. Especially compared to Camp Hanover. Don’t even get me started on Camp Hanover. Those bitches in the Hogan next to me made up a secret language so they could talk smack about me. A language I deconstructed very quickly, which was convenient so I could spend the entire two weeks understanding what the mean girls were saying about me.
Mom and Micheal moved to Colorado with me and our car, Chet, in tow and then Mom and I, with our car, Chet, in tow, moved back to Richmond, sans Michael, eight months later. It had nothing to do with religion. Far from it. Their relationship had just run its course, I suppose. I was only eight. I didn’t really understand or care. I was just really happy to get back to my dad, my hometown, my friends, and a school system that had a Summer break (not that three months on, three months off crap). Plus, E.T. came out while I was living in Colorado. My name is Elliott. I was in the third grade. Need I say more? I only hoped the buzz of the movie had died down by the time I returned to Virginia.
It had not.
I’m pretty sure that was the last of my religious vision quests for a while. There were drum circles and “sweat lodges” happening a lot in college (#drugs). I even took a “Religions of the World” class there. It was in a shoebox-sized room with only six students. Only moments into the first class, the dude sitting next to me, Jerry Bello, the stinkiest, hippiest boy on campus, (who if his B.O. wasn’t alarming enough (and I like B.O.)) proceeded to pluck a beard hair and floss his teeth with it. I walked out of the class and marched right to the Dean’s office to promptly drop said class. Never to return.
And that about wraps things up for the next decade - certainly through the Atlanta years and into The LA ones.
A couple of years after I moved here, however, my friend Heather introduced me to this thing called yoga. Maybe you’ve heard of it?
If there’s anything I lack more of than religious education it would be the drive to exercise. In college I took juggling and “Independent Rollerskating” for PE credit to avoid any team sports or actual sweat, in general. I have tried various gym memberships over the past fifteen years, but nothing lasts longer than about a month. This has all fine and dandy until I noticed that, since moving into my thirties, my always-the-same-size-since-high-school body has, well, changed. It’s not a huge deal. I still fit into most of my clothes. Just differently.
And so I realized I have to get proactive. Obviously I enjoy food a great deal. I am willing to make certain sacrifices, certain tweaks, here and there, but let’s face it – I’m not going to fast or become vegan or macrobiotic. Same deal with the wine. I can certainly scale it back, but it’s still going to be around. That leaves one option: exercise.
So. Back to Heather and yoga almost a decade ago. When Heather first suggested we go to a Kundalini yoga class, I scoffed. I mean, exercise and chanting and meditating, with a pile of strangers? Honestly, I’d rather stick needles in my eyes.
But I went. And I fell in love with it.
I never became very regular with it. I still only lasted for brief fits and became distracted by something else. But something about this Kundalini stuff… It touches me. Spiritually. I am always very affected by the classes – both during and afterward. And it’s great exercise to boot.
Needless to say, I have returned to yoga. I just started going back this week so we shall see how long I last. But right now I feel energetic, alert, centered, happy and sore as hell. Even laughing hurts.
This past weekend my mom gave me a pork butt from, the most awesome Lindy Grundy, that was too big for her to cook in her kitchen. I had never prepared anything pork butt-ish as far as I knew, but the first word that popped into my mind was braise (and braising really is very zen, you know).
And, this past Sunday, braise I did. Heather came over and while the butt braised and braised, we settled in on the couch for a marathon of Criminal Minds. As we drew near the end of braise-o-rama, I pulled out the meat to rest while I made the pan sauce. I then was supposed to pull the meat apart with two forks.
What? I had imagined serving thick slices with the pan sauce over the meat.
This was when Heather gingerly pointed out that, not only did I not take note of the image of what the finished dish was supposed to look like, but I did not read the recipe in its entirety – or really look at the title of the dish: Beer Braised BBQ Pork Butt (actually she was far from “gingerly” about it – there may have been laughing and pointing).
So I accidentally made my first BBQ pulled pork. A lot of it. And it’s really good!
It’s true, I know I should always read a recipe all the way through before embarking on it – but, for some reason, I rarely do. I suppose this is because I feel so confident riffing in the kitchen. But Heather had a point. And it seems a prevalent point right now. While I’m all spiritual and stuff.
Be patient. Be thorough. Be calm. Be confident. Take your time and try do things correctly – even if you mess up a little. You will get it just right soon enough.