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.