Saturday, December 29, 2007


During rough times in the olden (pre-yoga) days, I'd be susceptible to infomericals selling dreck and telemarketers wanting me to switch phone companies. I was so vulnerable I'd buy anything. That's how I ended up owning a prissy mint green sweater from the Home Shopping Network and "The Fabulous 50's" CD box set from Time/Life Books.

Nowadays I turn to self-help books. This bit of wisdom from The Four Agreements really hit home today:

"In your whole life nobody has ever absued you more than you have abused yourself. And the limit of your self-abuse is exactly the limit that you will tolerate from someone else. If someone abuses you a little more than you abuse yourself, you will probably walk away from that person. But if someone abuses you a little less than you abuse yourself, you will probably stay in the relationship and tolerate it endlessly."

Now that we've said "Rumpelstiltskin," does it mean that the monster will finally disappear?

Monday, December 24, 2007


Sunday, December 23, 2007; 3047 N. Lincoln Ave.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


1. A coyote pacing back and forth behind the fence of the Jewish Graceland cemetery. (When I stopped my bike to look and make sure I wasn't seeing things, it too stopped and then moved back a few feet, raised its nose in my direction, and sniffed the air. I'm not sure whether he went out for a sandwich later on or not).

2. A man crossing Ashland Avenue at Foster on a unicycle. Right in front of my car. (He was wearing a helmet).


"I support the camp. Fill it up."
"You're all sick!"
"I hope you get beheaded!"
"Get a life!"
"Shame shame."
"They deserve to be there - they attacked us!"
"Couldn't you choose a better time to do this? Thanks for ruining our holiday!"

(The people saying these things were tourists)

Friday, December 21, 2007

NO. MORE. DIBS. - ???

From today's "Chicago Tribune":

City snow shovelers told to kick chairs to the curb
Tribune staff report
December 21, 2007

CHICAGO - The Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation is telling city residents to move their furniture off the streets.

Every winter, some residents use tables, chairs and other items to reserve shoveled-out parking spaces during snowstorms, but city officials say people haven't been removing their markers after the snow clears.

"While we don't condone this practice, we are generally tolerant of it in the hours following a big snow," Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Michael Picardi said in a statement. "It stopped snowing on Sunday."

Streets and Sanitation workers have been instructed to immediately begin clearing away furniture left in the street.

Methinks the denizens of The City of Big Chip on Shoulders are not yet ready to practice this sort of self-restraint and non-attachment - particularly since more snow is predicted for Sunday.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


I found this in my personal, handwritten "secret" Mysore Diary, in an entry from March, 2002:

....I woke up from a nap and dream in which Sharath turned into a health club owner demanding money from me....

Sunday, December 16, 2007


SportMarty and I had plans to see Asimino Chremos's new piece Red Swan Red Swan last night at Links Hall. She's been dancing in Chicago forever and I teach on Friday mornings at her place, Silverspace. But for some reason I'd never seen her perform.

I suspected that the show was going to be good, because I'd been looking at the red tutus she was going to wear for weeks. In fact Asimina and one of the regular Friday students recently put them on and did poses in them - which was hilarious. (I actually took some pix, and will ask for permission to put them up). You really haven't enjoyed yoga until you've done Caturanga Dandasana in a bright red tutu.

But I digress.

Long before they predicted yesterday's blizzard - which "punched the nation in its midsection" last night - we decided to walk to the show. It had more to do with parking than the poor polar bears, but that was the plan.

Meantime it continued to snow. And snow. And snow.

SportMarty called when he was halfway to my house, and told me to wear an extra layer because the wind was kicking up.

We trudged to the performance, complaining loudly about the inflatable holiday lawn decorations that are causing the polar ice caps to melt. The wind whipped the snow into our eyes, and we wondered why we hadn't worn ski goggles.

We also discussed whether or not we'd see any drunken Saturday night barhoppers wearing cleavage-showing shoes and tank tops - something we see each and every time we hang out, regardless of temperature. I bet that we would.

There was a good turnout for Asimina's show, despite the weather.

When they let us in the performance was already in progress. Dancers were writhing and rolling around on top of one other, flinging each other around, doing somersaults, etc. I think it's called contact-improv. It was mind-blowing to see bodies move like that, when you're used to the discipline and same movements of yoga. Also amazing was that no one messed up and put the other person at risk. Maybe they're like the BDSM folks, and have a secret password or something.

The space is next to the El tracks, and a few trains went by.

At one point, a ladder appeared in one of the windows. A short time later, a man's head appeared. He knocked on the window, and they let him in. For a moment I thought it might be Bobeisennow (with whom I went to India in 2002). But when he took off his many layers of clothes, it was clear he was not.

He finished the dance with Asimina, who then changed into *another* bright red outfit - while we watched.

Then she began to move to live music. It was riveting.

The show was a tribute "to the memory of Anna Paskevska and all of [Asimina's] ballet teachers."

Then she tore down some of the set, and put on a tutu and pointe shoes. She got up on them and began to move towards the middle of the room taking miniscule steps and making tap-tapping sounds. It was like she was on stilts. Then one of the musicians mic'ed her feet, and the sound reverberated even more. The image was startling.

The final act had her in black, and was sad.

I don't know what it all means, but it was awesome. She can move like no one else.

And the whole thing lasted about 45 minutes.


* * *

On the way home we stopped for mediocre Chinese food at Chen's (NOTE TO CHEF: NO ONE, AND I MEAN NO ONE, CAN CONSUME THAT MUCH SLIMY BORING TOFU IN ONE SITTING - ESPECIALLY WHEN THE DISH IS CALLED "STIR-FRIED GREENS") and watched the storm get worse. There was more snow, and it was horizontal.

After paying, we put on our many layers of clothes and headed towards my house. On the way we saw some fratdrunks in plaid golf shorts dart across the street to another bar. But still no tank top ladies.

During our walk, we realized we were trudging faster than the cars on the street.

We decided to stop at Julius Meinl for some molten chocolate cake.

The Viennese coffee shop is owned by an Austrian company that's been around forever, and is quite authentic (it's their only outlet in the US). They serve tea and coffee on a silver tray with an actual teaspoon, a side of water, a tube of sugar and a little cookie. Their desserts are amazing.

To our surprise, a classical duo began playing some exquisite music. Turns out it was the Sharon Chung Duo; apparently she is or was with the Civic Orchestra -- which is the farm team for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

After gorging ourselves on tea and cake, we layered up and headed outside for the final leg of the trip home.

The storm was even worse.

Yet there were still a few people out trudging.

And that's when we saw them, right in front of Toons.

Two drunken girls, clinging to drunken guys.

One woman was in middle the street, standing in the slush, trying to get a good grip on her man - who was trying to hail a taxi. But there were no taxis.

The other woman was near the door, standing in a snow drift, getting shelter in her boyfriend's arms.

Both women were wearing spike heels and tank tops.

Tank tops.

In a blizzard.

High heels.

In snow.

We thought we'd seen it all (And began speculating about why the men didn't act like men and leave the ladies inside and get the cab while they waited. Apparently chivalry really is dead).

But we hadn't seen it all. Yet.

Because then we heard a bellow from the woman in the street.


Ah, maya.....

Saturday, December 15, 2007


On Wednesday we went to opening night of Joffrey Ballet of Chicago's Nutcracker. It was the 20th anniversary show. (The Joffrey, by the way, is the dance organization featured in the Robert Altman documentary, The Company. They moved to Chicago in 1995).

My expectations were low - I've seen The Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theatre (overrated) and the Ruth Page version of the Nutcracker with my mother and grandmother at the Arie Crown Theatre way-back-when. I remember not a single thing about the performance - except that we managed to find the place, which was 1.5 hours from our town, and that we weren't late.

But I was excited because the Joffrey version is being performed at the exquisite, acoustically perfect, Louis Sullvian-designed Auditorium Theatre. Previously I'd seen Frank Zappa and Sonu Nigam perform there (not at the same time, thankfully). I also saw a Philip Glass opera. But never a ballet (I don't understand ballet).

When we arrived in the lobby, we heard the dulcet tones of a really terrific children's choir, singing an ethereal version of "Winter Wonderland" - my favorite holiday carol.

There was electricity in the air (and not just the static kind). Everyone was dressed in their best clothes, and we spent many happy moments listening to the choir and watching everyone make their entrance.

It was like a parade of too-cute Princesses and Fauntleroys. We saw so many matching sets of kids - little girls wearing velvet dresses, red tights, patent leather Mary Janes and oversize bows in their (perfect) hair, boys in velvet suits, bow ties and yamulkes - that we lost count.

Finally, we went to our seats - which were amazing. We were just seven rows behind the orchestra pit, where the wonderful Chicago Sinfonietta was raring to go. In fact we were so close that during the performance we could hear the beads clicking on the costume of Mr. Coffee from Arabia.

We read the synopsis beforehand, so we'd know what we were seeing. (Actually, TJ read it aloud because the print was small, the light was dim, and my scary old lady half-glasses wouldn't fit into my fancy purse).

The ballet was jaw-dropping, as was the music. There was so much going on at any given time that the many children in our section didn't get bored - and neither did I.

In fact there were so many exquisite moments that tears came to my eyes several times. I couldn't believe how lucky I was to sit there and watch something so beautiful, made possible by so many people, while wars waged and people outside begged for change. I also marveled over how startling it is to see something up close that is peformed by real people in real time and is not being viewed on a screen. And all done without words - which made it the experience even better.

Interestingly, most of the kids left at half-time. Perhaps they knew that after the first few numbers, the second part was more "adult" (ie; boring). But still rather breathtaking.

Afterwards, we walked up State Street to look at the holiday windows at Marshall Fields, er, Macy's. The theme - surprise! - was the Nutcracker.

Monday, December 10, 2007


Catesey told me this morning that the Chicago Reader just dumped four of its senior staff writers - John Conroy, Steve Bogira, Tori Marlan and Harold Henderson.

I was dumbfounded. I knew the new owners were cutting heads.

But this is a travesty - especially when you consider the writers who remain. (This excludes the brilliant Ben Joravsky, who remains the sole muckraker at the paper. Week after week he goes after the city, and finds dirt that eludes the big papers, with their resources. Yet one can't help but fear that his days too are numbered).

John Conroy singlehandedly broke the story of Chicago PD police torture back in 1990, and has kept it in the public eye ever since. His story archives are here - for the time being at least.

The torture case has finally had its day in court - one of the lead attorneys is an avid ashtangi - and the city must now pay $20 million to the plaintiffs (actually we're paying. But that's another story).

Tori Marlan is a careful investigative reporter who wrote about such things as Guantanamo (interestingly, her ex - who writes about food - has not been canned. Yet.).

Bogira's stories about the Cook County Courts became a book that inspired an upcoming HBO series.

Henderson was hard to categorize - my favorite kind of writer.

Apparently the Reader story was important enough to get a mention on today's Democracy Now! and a big story in the New York Times, in which David Carr writes:

It is as if Creative Loafing executives bought a shiny new doll and then once they got their hands on it, felt compelled to tear its head off.

Some background - The Reader is a free weekly that goes back to the 1970's and has (had) a reputation for excellent writing (sorry NYers - it was far superior to the Village Voice). Its focus was super-local, and the style was along the lines of the New Yorker's "Talk of the Town." Things started to go downhill in 2002, after beloved editor Pat Arden was fired. The paper got a raunchy resdesign that elimited a lot of editorial content in September 2004, when TimeOut Chicago came to town. In July the Reader was sold to Atlanta-based Creative Loafing, which owns other free weeklies. Many employees were soon let go, and the paper turned into a tabloid. Some sections shrank. More editorial was lost. They started paying writers (me) less for their movie capsules. More staffers were purged.

As former Chicago magazine media writer Steve Rhodes says in (on?) today's Beachwood Reporter:

...this is an age when the bean counters, marketers and greedy corporate suits have completed their victory in an age-old battle against the very journalists upon whose work they profit. This is a battle that has always existed in the industry, but newsrooms have lost by getting arrogant and lazy while remaining uneducated about the business side of their business. Instead of scrutinizing the false claims of their corporate masters the way journalists might be expected to, journalists of this era instead have absorbed the marketing values and selfishness of their paymasters while chasing off the kind of creativity and imagination that could very well have saved their organizations from the kind of doom - oh boo-hoo, our criminally huge profit margins aren't as fantastically fat as they once were - that has become the norm as actual, real reporting disappears when it is needed most.

The Reader's actual Dear Journalist memo was excerpted in The Chicagoist:

Unfortunately the financial pressures of our industry continue unabated, and I'm very sorry to announce that as a cost-cutting measure we eliminated several positions in editorial this week.

The people we cut — John Conroy, Harold Henderson, and Tori Marlan, as well as Steve Bogira, who's been on a leave of absence — are all staff writers, and as you might guess, this move represents a shift in the financial structure of our relationship with contributors.

I'm by no means a great writer or reporter, and no one has really noticed my absence from the Reader. But the letter does remind me a bit of the Dear Caca E-mail I received back in 2004 - just ten days before I was scheduled to return from a trip to India and resume writing the Days of the Week calendar (a job I'd held for eight years, and which made up 3/4 of my income):

I'm looking forward to having you back in the paper, but I think it's time to make a transition to a new DOW writer, and this leave of absence is as good a time as any to make the change. There are various reasons this seems like a good idea, not least the benefits that arise from making change for its own sake.

Please don't in any way interpret this as punishment or retaliation for your having taken time off.

One can't help but thank one's lucky stars that one didn't bite when a staff writer position was proffered back in 2003. That silly intuition - it's never wrong.

But it is interesting to read what Reader media writer Mike Miner has to say about it - and to see him try to report the story without pissing off the new overlords (the full text is here):

They're gone because the Reader couldn't afford to go on paying them their salaries -- "As you might guess, this move represents a shift in the financial structure of our relationship with contributors," True wrote. They're gone because a few years ago Craigslist moved in on our classifieds section -- and classifieds represented a huge portion of our income. They're gone because the old Section One -- the editorial section -- was for decades the tail that wagged the dog here, and when revenues fell it became impossible to continue to allocate the same funds to it.

I called the boss, Ben Eason, in Tampa and reminded him that the last time we'd talked he was saying John Conroy deserved a Pulitzer Prize. (That's a popular idea around here. He's been writing about police torture since 1990, but there's no Pulitzer for persistence, no matter how important the subject.) The first time Eason and I talked, just after Eason had bought the paper this summer, I said that Conroy was, in effect, the canary in the coal mine -- as long as he was OK readers would know the Reader was OK.

"I know, I know," said Eason, who was informed of True's intentions before she made her move. "All I've done is, I've said this is what the budget number is. This is what we’ve got to have. And it’s the same number that’s been out there since August."

Eason and Creative Loafing have some interesting, and let's hope brilliant, ideas about the future of the Reader and the CL chain of six newspapers. "It's ultimately to me a navigation problem," Eason told me. "How do you keep putting out a newspaper at a quality people expect and how do you migrate this stuff to the Web, which is ultimately the future? We’re in a fight over who can tell you more about the street corner in Chicago....."

Whatever. What I do know is that it's nearly impossible to make a living as a writer anywhere these days - let alone find an entity that will publish your work in a place where people will actually see it.

I wish them the best.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Tuesday, 1.29.02
Old Shala.

Today was my first day of practice…

The carpet on the studio floor is bordered with (counter-clockwise) swastikas.

Satsang (ie conference with Guruji) takes place in the shala’s little lobby. A few people are already sitting on the floor when I arrive a few minutes early. Two chairs are empty. It’s clear that the ornate one is for Guruji. So I sit on the one next to it.

“That’s Sharath’s seat,” says a bald man wearing all white.


More people arrive, and finally Guruji slips in wearing a crisp white dhoti(sarong), Yoga Moves tank top and three fresh white Shiva stripes across his forehead. And Ray Charles sunglasses (he's just had cataract surgery).

Everyone sits on the floor looking -- at each other, at the kids outside on the street playing on their bicycles, at the clock, at the photos on the shelves, at each other, and at Guruji as he silently read the newspaper in Kannada, the local language.

Sharath pulls up on a black motorcycle wearing wraparound sunglasse and Levi’s, straight out of GQ. He disappears for a few minutes and comes back wearing bike shorts and a tank top (he’ll be teaching Indian students here later).

He sits on the chair next to Guruji – my chair – and begins to read the other newspaper.

Then they start to go through their mail. More students show up wearing Punjabi dresses and baggy fisherman’s pants, granny shirts, and regular New York attire. All of them are white. Some arrive on scooters and motorcycles.

Each time one enters, they greet Guruji and touch his feet, and he looks up from the newspaper and says, “Yes, yes, hello.”

Guruji disappears for awhile to register some students in his office upstairs, and then comes back. Two senior students from New York – C. and W. – sit near his feet. “So many new students,” says C.

A thin, dark Indian man with a moustache delivers a package. On the way out he lightly kicks someone. He immediately brushes his hand over his eyes.

“This is Indian tradition when they kick someone,” Sharath explains.

Then he leaves to teach in the tiny adjacent shala, where we do our practice every morning.

Some students sneak away when no one’s looking. Now there are about 25 of us sitting and sweating on the floor.

The package is from a London book publisher. C. starts reading the letter that accompanies it.

“Please forgive my presumption for writing to you…-”

“Good! Good!” Guruji says, interrupting him.

The place erupts with laughter.

Later, someone asks Guruji what the opening chant is about. He looks at C. and starts chanting the mantra.

Then he ends the conference with his most famous quote.

“Yoga is 99 percent practice, one percent theory.”


Later we go to Allen Little’s massive apartment, just around the corner from the shala.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


Today's newsletter has a link to some public Q&A's with Pattabhi Jois from 1991, translated (?) from French to English by Guy Donahaye.

In it, Guruji addresses such burning issues as:

What happens if you do the sequences out of order (illness will come).

What to do when there is no sound on the inhale ("He is not controling completely abdominal and anus. Anus you control, stiff (strong) breathing is coming, with sound breathing....If long breathing, inhalation is not correct or if only the exhalation is coming long, that is heart trouble is starting. That is very bad").

Why we shouldn't practice outside ("Energy you doing practice practice outside, your heat is not coming out. Heat increasing and poison is not coming out. Poison means sweat… Your strength is gone. Your temperature is gone.").

What floor to practice on ("Third, fourth floor he is doing yoga - very bad. Underground he is doing yoga, very bad. First floor, that is all.")

What to do when you're feeling lazy and don't want to practice (eat proper - sattvic - food)

When to do full vinyasa (when you don't have to work and can spend five hours on your your practice)

Whether it's OK to heat the room / keep the windows open during practice (too much heat is bad, because the heat should come from within - HOPEFULLY THOSE OF YOU WHO TURN THE THERMOSTAT UP TO 90 WILL HEED THIS - and one open window, high up, is good).

Some excerpts:

Question: Why should we not practice on full and new moon days?

Answer: That day is very difficult day. Two stars one place (conjunction) is going. New moon also, full moon also. That day very dangerous day. You (take) practice (on that day), anyone can have a small pain starting. That pain is not going very quickly. Long time he is taking. Some broken possible. That is why that day don’t do.

Question: While doing tolasana at the end of practice, which is the correct drishti?

Answer: Both sides: Pull up. Pull upping time you take Nasagra dristi. One also here also, both dristi, no problem. Nasagrai dristi and broomadhya dristi.

On why to do vinyasa:

"Without vinyasa you don’t do asana. Why? One part (of body) you bending - you can understand? For example, paschimottanasana, Ardha baddha padma paschimottanasana, you doing one leg, bend one leg, and take back your foot. How long? Long time. After little (restricted) blood circulation, every joint stopping. After again take up, jump back again, next posture, next leg you put it. After your jumping time, tight your whole body, don’t loose, tight it (for vinyasa, the body should be engaged, not relaxed). After blood circulation automatically is going (moving). That pain quickly is going.

"You without vinyasa, you do every pose (without vinyasa), all the joints so blood circulation so blood circulation not correctly. Circulation is not coming, stopping there (in the joint). After sitting posture you do completely, all body sick, gradually sick(nes is) starting. "Oh! Yoga is given (making me) sick - not liking" (i dont like it). People is not liking. That some asana - "Oh! It is very bad. Very pain is coming. Oh! left it (I dont want to do it). That asana don’t do!" Some people is telling. Why that? This is method you don’t understanding (why? because they dont understand the correct method). That is why you this method you follow - no trouble! Body also is very perfect. You can understand? That is the method."

The full text is here.

And tomorrow I will post an account of my first conference with Guruji, which took place over a decade later - in 2002.

Monday, December 03, 2007


At a recent yoga-related luncheon, someone asked me how many classes I teach per week.

"Fifteen," said I. "Soon to be 18."

Gasps were heard.

Eyebrows shot up.

Hands covered mouths.

"Why do you teach so many classes?" someone asked.

"To earn a living," I answered.

They were still perplexed, and talked about how they were teaching less.

What I didn't say is that when you're single and don't have a spouse / partner with whom you share expenses, and need to plan for retirement and trips to India, etc., you take on more classes. Also, it's rather enjoyable.

Then they asked a question that made my jaw drop.

"Do you still practice on your own? Or do you work out with your classes?"

OF COURSE NOT, I said. It's not a workOUT, for one.

And I demonstrate only when necessary in class.

Yes, I still do my own practice.

Without it I'd be a fraud.