Things We Burn • 2 January 2009

Or, Secret Society Solitaire

Last night began with Dom Perignon 1985, a kind of woody downtempo bubbly that looked like brass. There is this brilliant guy, friend of a friend, who has been saving that bottle for years until his novel went to press. Since the publishing industry is as fucked as sociology this winter, his ballast against namelessness—the bottle—came out last night. I apologized to be drinking up his wine of immortality-achieved and he said No, I’m letting it go. Gave me a beautiful smile and real eyes I’ve never seen since I met him ambitious, steely and 7 years younger. The Dom would have meant something else in a different year, but he’s not saving it anymore. Tomorrow we die, published or not, so tonight we drink. I loved that.

I drank more after, and a third, and ate many good things. Nothing much unless you can't hold alcohol and you’ve promised the fervent ones you’ll join them at sunrise for secret practice. The shala was closed today, but the keys have gone and proliferated so many times, passed around like Dead Poets Society talismans, and so the kids in early 2S plotted to sneak in for New Years contortionism. Reminds me of stealing in to the golfcourse-edge pool at the country club on Montana summer nights, when I was a teenager who could hold her liquor.

I love ashtangis who, after several years’ habit-building in first, are getting in to the backbends of second. They are the most religious. The passionate belief that causes and results from survival of this phase is exactly the mood that gives ashtanga its good rep: it’s what makes this practice the intriguing, glowing dead poets society it appears to be. Yes: we do meet secretly in caves; we do recite love hymns, we do make ritual sacrifices and trade secret objects and hand signs. The 8:00 start at the Silverlake shala across town was TOO LATE for these people today, so I was in the shower while maybe still drunk-ish at 5. I’m not so fervent now—I’d have drawn out a slow if willful kitchen practice around noon if not for wanting to support the new backbenders sneaking in for a dip. They sort of twisted my arm into playing teacher; and I sort of relented because it was a different kind of day, despite my rule against teaching mysore, because it felt like a conspirational morning outside of authority-space.

E o anonovo, o nove—the new, the zero-ninth—so the Brazilians who practiced on my left and right had me know over post-practice chai.

Dear god! Old year gone.

There is no logic out there, no meaning that one moment carries over any random other, but damn if I not a ritualist little owl.  I didn’t even know it until I started writing this thing… but turns out I love the cycles of time, am a celebrant. I thrill to be living inside of history; and this is why I write. Life is as sacred as we make it.

Last new year in Ojai with the SB ashtangis… we each wrote down a secret and at midnight threw it in the fire. Something to burn. You know my secret? IVORY TOWER RESENTMENT. (I just remembered: earlier that day cursing as I drew my card-of-the-year out of the tarot deck. The Tower. In retrospect: that’s completely obnoxious.)

Disdain for academia had turned from healthy skepticism to a heavy trip, and scholarly good faith into an assumption that colleagues were incurious, brain-in-jar, normal-science bores: I burned it up, innocent of the institutional crisis that would pin us new scholars to the ground in 2008. I’d be sunk right now with that lodestone.

Last night just before we went out I remembered this reverse-resolution ritual and felt thankful for what my life has been because of it. But shit. The chance to make more meaning was greater than my desire to preserve the beloved thing that had to die. I squirmed, contemplating my secret 2008 weight: Spider-Solitaire.

I am immune to television, role-playing games, gambling, celebrity news, and all sporting events. But solitaire. Criminy. I wanted to jettison the corny yogi ritual rather than the Solitaire… which only increased the resistance and the meaning and the delight of my trivial act. I marched to the Editor’s laptop (Solitaire cannot live on my laptop—it is too potent!), went through the motions to delete, then sealed it in with a dump of the recycle bin.

So. 2009 is an experiment in solitareless living.

I am not as monkish as I once was. I can turn large amounts of food and small amounts of alcohol into a light, easy practice on 3 hours’ sleep, if rarely. The body is, for now, more forgiving now than it was when I was a new backbender. Getting off easy is sometimes a false experience, but this year, I’ll take it. 2009 is already kind.

From Gosia Janik, whimsical ashtangi artist in Poland.



  • Posted 2 January 2009 at 4:47 pm | #

    I tried to kick my spider solitaire problem. Ended up with a mahjong solitaire addiction. Surely it serves some purpose?

    God, those photos! Love them.

  • Posted 2 January 2009 at 5:43 pm | #

    I love her photos too- so atmospheric. As was your entry! Thanks for the great read. I’m not sure I did away with anything for 2009. Mine was more an add-on. Not that there aren’t things to ween myself from, I’m just not willing!
    Your description of the new backbenders was so right on- that IS when one becomes more dedicated and religious about the practice. For me it was about fear of “losing it” if I didn’t practice every day no matter what. Now, eh… it comes it goes.
    Thanks for all the thoughtful and fun writing this past year, Owl!

  • susananda
    Posted 2 January 2009 at 7:14 pm | #

    Happy New Year, Owl!

    I think these games and puzzles are harmless and soothing to the mind. I’m a sudoku addict. Ran out over the holidays and had to begin on the 4×4 grids in the back of a book.. those babies can take several hours. Now that is maybe overdoing it…

    Why the rule against teaching mysore?

  • Posted 2 January 2009 at 8:32 pm | #

    Definitely harmless and even helpful, agreed. Susananda yes, they’re also soothing to me. I have no remorse about choosing to spend a whole evening playing solitaire at the end of a long week. But I’ve become just stupid about it: cannot step away from the game! For hours. Better now something that doesn’t hook so strongly… mahjong or sudoku?? Or listening to music while reading the lyrics or following the sheet music. Or maybe a coloring book.

    Oh Liz, you’re righte This must be a big part of why the new backbenders are so fervent. They don’t want to lose something. And the concern is well founded—a lot of people don’t make it through that passage. Bringing a little extra intensity to it, even if your friends think you’re OCD and freaky, seems to serve a person’s practice for the long run. Over time, the security builds… and the openness patterns itself in a way that won’t slip away so easily.

    At this point I feel like the main way that I relate to my practice is as a source of care and gifts. It has given me so much… a crazy bounty, really.

    Why no Mysore teaching…. I want to keep my energy focused on scholarly stuff… readying myself to teach would be a huge, specific commitment. Not something to do lightly. In addition, that’s not the role I want to play in this community—in this community, I just practice. My hope is to support other students without taking a teacher role.

  • Posted 2 January 2009 at 8:35 pm | #

    I just re-read this post and feel like the writing is abnormally poor: I remembered that I write here not just because I love history but because I want to communicate well off-the-cuff.(That is, non-academically: my original IVORY TOWER RESENTMENT was that all the writing there is dense for no reason and torture to read!). For my part I want to let each sentence follow at least sort of a straight line, let images stand for themselves in a clear way, and let my figuring-it-out-mind rest instead of running the show around here. That said: thank you for taking the best out of it! I know there are good things about my writing too; and I do love most aspects of the experience of writing.

  • e&sj
    Posted 2 January 2009 at 9:55 pm | #

    Write On!

  • Posted 3 January 2009 at 12:13 am | #

    Happy New Year, (0v0), will have to come back and catch up on your blog upon my return to SF this weekend.

  • meniscusmerangue
    Posted 3 January 2009 at 2:00 pm | #

    Solitaire, snake, sanskrit, solitaire, snake. Tetris. Delete. Delete. Replete. Delete.

    Since you’re in a good mood, here’s a stoner game to play with your brainy friends. It’s called: “Monkey! Pigsy’s here!” 2 pre-requisites: 1. Some familiarity with the TV adaptation of Whalley’s ‘Monkey’ (;2. You and co are stoned(a bit).

    Starts of with first person as Sandy saying to Monkey, “Monkey! Pigsy’s here!”. Next person says, “Pigsy! Sandy’s here!” and so on. At some point, someone introduces Tripitaka (“x!Tripitakataka’s here!). From then on it’s freeform into the threes – any triptychaltrinitarians you like. And on and on until you arrive at WWII leaders, then someone does a Hanuman and leaps into: “Stalin! Monkey’s here!”, from which point you-the-hendrix closes it off with “Monkey! Pigsy’s here!”

    Followed by chocolate.

  • Posted 4 January 2009 at 1:28 pm | #

    I love that you’re a celebrant. I’m one too, a remember-everything and mark-the-passage ritualist. And, I love your histories. Became a big fan last year, when I became a religious and got kapo’d.

    Love Gosia’s photos, love her flickr page. Always trolling for new editions.

  • Posted 4 January 2009 at 2:34 pm | #

    🙂 Yes, I talked with Gosia a bit to make sure it was ok to promote her. She’s kind of amazing, along with Rita Taraborelli and gbSk

    Tetris… oh that feeling of a fresh start. Got me through 8th grade in the best way.

    Tetris is here? Solitaire is here? Paperrockscissors is here? I don’t think I understand this, but if we can turn trinitarian triptychs into an Orwelling game that merges in Hindu dieties and present company, v. good.

    I guess I have to figure out about the TV series? Somebody’s pretty stoned on the BBC around here, I see…

    Personally, last night I fell asleep to some spiritual reading: God is Dead by Ron Currie, Jr. A gift from someone who makes rare, pitch-perfect suggestions. Here’s a random passage (pp. 42-3):

    “It’s not you, Leo,” I said. “Rick’s just sad. Everyone’s sad, you know?

    But that wasn’t all of it. Beyond mere sadness, we were starting to feel trapped in a perpetual now (as our past receded and anyp sort of meaningful future became a logical impossibility), a sort of purgatory where you drank and tanned and played Tetris with the same tn guys until the end of time. The walls were closing in, the SpaghettiOs were gotting cold, and soon Rick wasn’t the only one tottering around like a mute, zombified version of himself

    Then the power went out.

  • Posted 4 January 2009 at 3:28 pm | #

    That sounds like a Gen-X version of Joan Didion.

  • Posted 4 January 2009 at 9:21 pm | #

    LOL! Gen-X Joan Didion. That’s pretty funny, Patrick!

  • Posted 4 January 2009 at 10:42 pm | #

    i love Gosia’s photos as well!

  • Posted 5 January 2009 at 6:04 am | #

    Yeah, super-refined prose in an apocalyptic register. I’m surprised how much I like this book.

    ^^^Last night’s comment edited. Unexpected harsh times going down with family, of the supposed “pain is a healing force” variety. Meh. Some radio silence here for now.

    If I had a storage closet, I would maintain a case of Pinot Noir for some gatherings and a case of Pema Chodron for others.

  • V
    Posted 5 January 2009 at 2:34 pm | #

    Albarino got me through Christmas with my family.

  • Posted 5 January 2009 at 6:13 pm | #

    Yes, wine to take the edge off, and Pema to sharpen the edge in the right places. Do NOT combine treatments. (Images of sitting around tipsy reading Vajrayana existentialism… wait I guess that was exactly Trungpa’s problem.)

    What are the core negative emotions? I would say sadness and anger. Maybe I’m missing something. While I laugh at others’ anger usually, it seems like increasingly the sorrow of others gets right in to my body. I wonder why I think anger is stupid but sadness is contagious. Odd.

    I wonder if there is a difference between empathy and compassion, and if too much of the former is obnoxious pathos when people really need the latter. Probably.

    V, I rarely go for white but ordered Albarino for the table the other night at Axe (crazy Venice hipster place crawling in B-celebs). I toasted to my little Spanish friend at home with her family, hoping you’d cracked into a bottle earlier that night yourself. True story.

  • V
    Posted 5 January 2009 at 9:25 pm | #

    Awwww 🙂

    I received a bottle of Fillaboa as a gift and slowly but surely worked my way through it, a teeny tiny glass with dinner every night. Incidentally, I hate hate HATE that British custom of filling a glass of wine almost to the brim. Heresy!

  • Posted 6 January 2009 at 2:53 am | #

    So how did the old Dom taste? I’m not much of a champagne fan but did it deliver?

    Happy New Year! Best of luck with the fam…

  • Posted 6 January 2009 at 3:07 am | #

    I liked the Dom a lot and it got me singing Randy Stonehill—though luckily nobody here can probably say why. The DP was a bit woody-rich, but mellow. (But I am not going to resort to the adjectives I learned as a bar-maid sommelier in college, nope—for years I waited tables at a winery’s restaurant in the Willamette Valley.) First champagne I’ve had in many years, but if I remember, the usual stuff tastes sickly sweet and gives me a hangover.

    No strife familywise, but much sadness. God. Damn. It.

  • Posted 6 January 2009 at 9:10 am | #

    I’m sorry, Owl.

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