Traffic Circles • 30 December 2010

My hometown is ringed in new roundabouts. How civic! When Yellowstone County was a grid of four-way stops one mile on a side, teen drivers would kill the lights, floor the gas, and haul right over each intersection’s rise. We did this tipsy, or drunk—or when late for a preacher’s kid curfew. A few with unlucky timing would die each year, driving Dodge Rams, Ford F350s, or heavy old American-made sedans.

People are still learning to interface with them, my brother said, driving us down eight roundabouted miles of Shiloh road, from town toward the Ranch. But just then, we met up with a Chevy Cavalier using the Monad Road roundabout as a cruising venue. So much better than the (default location) K-Mart parking lot! The Cav had been looping a while, judging by its low, steady swing. The back seat was full of kids or a keg. That was the first thing to get my attention this trip.

The last thing I noticed was today, Monday afternoon. Our Denver-bound pilot strode in to the waiting area, puffed up like a cartoon rooster, and ordered that we load this barge in the next 13 minutes! He said the tardy would do pushups in the aisle until he got tired (“and I yam weeellll rested,” tapping his huge sternum with a thumb). There would also be unspecified punishments at the hand of our stewardess, a recent Montana State mudwrestling champ.

I guess he’s tired of waiting for tyro travelers (and inevitably out of Billings Logan, it’s a lot of virgins to the sky: at security there’s a notice asking that we not fly with guns). The lumpy lot of us filed on that barge in ten… not from terror but inspired unfussiness. The Captain said stow luggage in a single heft and get out of the center aislemyyy aisle. I felt all congenial to his hammy masculinity. Enjoyed the task-driven clarity in the group, did my piece… and nodded to him as I passed.

Back here, I’m reminded of myself as a smartass with a visceral distrust of authority. The distrust was sarcastic, passive aggressive, and fed off compulsive internal talk. In fifth grade, a teacher sent my parents a letter labeling me uncoachable.

The inner source of all this was part fear, part anger. What is it about a near-decade of six day weeks that would deprogram the dectect-and-resent reaction to all forms of authority?

At first I was scandalized, and thus drawn to, ashtanga’s imperative flavor. Later I experienced having a teacher as transgressive and sort of deep. It was sentimental. Still later, being able to work with a boss was just another skill… one I and a subset of my ashtanga friends had to learn late. One that doesn’t require rationalization, politics or woo-woo to back it up.


Practice was different in Montana. My body moved so slowly. Literally, I re-occupied some dense old teenage self. I gave over to the to the metabolic, sleep-hygenic irrationality of big, late dinners, and the puffy feeling of global G-I inflammation that marks life with sugar and white flour. The Editor noticed that we literally embody my family by embracing their rhythms and intakes. Getting mundane with them is intimate in that it makes us empathize more accurately.

Family has been the one powerful variable in my practice this year. Crazy weather, aloneness or companionship, and vagaries of the job market correlate with relatively small fluctuations. In October, on a morning I was sleep-deprived and sad, a deep practice popped up in my Uncle Mike’s basement up on the mesa above Colorado Springs. I have the flint arrowheads my dad dug up on that mesa as a boy; his parents still live in its lee. Mike’s basement is freezing and dark, and probably a holy vortex. My brother was asleep on a sofa. And my body offered its all in terms of integration, equanimity and bubbling life force, with the by-product of the first tic-toks in months. Four years ago, I got on the mat in the sanctuary (and later the library) of my dad’s chapel, raised my arms, and turned solid. So out of my league. The chapel’s uplifting beauty and excellent floors did not support me; and my superior attitude to traditional faith got pegged down several notches. I don’t remember now what it felt like physically—only that I figured sun salutations on planet Mars would’ve been more spritely.

This morning, rather than try my chances in the chapel, I sneaked back to the bedroom that used to be mine. Pushed aside a giant Costco box of Pepto-Bismol, four Wal-Mart bags full of I know not what, a TV we bought circa 1989, a pile of Bibles for new congregants, several bags of Willy Wonka candy, and much more. After two days of psoas twisting up in retreat, weird little jaw spasms, and three days of relentless carb strafing, there was all this momentum. Shallow bends; deep cheesy awe. Inner body both inflamed and peaceful. Static electricity everywhere, but intriguing instead of annoying: what is static electricity anyway? And what happens when a human body takes its charge?

I would have been stunned by the strong practice, but surprise doesn’t register at that speed. What does my organism sense in that childhood bedroom? I honestly have no idea. Now sitting on the same DIA-DTW flight I cried through in October, I can easily remember the loneliness and anger I cultivated there. There are old images, and new sternum-jitters, to underline that. But maybe I am over-selecting on anger just to keep an old story straight. The body doesn’t do selective memory.

This morning’s confidence and ease were sourcing out of some other archive… probably something stored deeper than last night’s Christmas cookies.

C'mon fellas