Moonwalk • 28 February 2013

Self portrait with zafu and snow

The 4am dance party is not subtle.

I haven’t known how to say what it’s like to walk half a mile, at 4:30am, when it is 7 degrees. It has been too exciting to talk about.

It doesn’t begin to make sense unless I mention something unmentionable: a baseline situation the past 18 months of feeling so, very turned on all of the time. The baseline has persisted amid the most intense physical pain I’ve experienced—during January 2012—and now through these short, dark days. Still, what ought to be the most annoying part of each day is instead a predictable peak experience. It’s weird.

In a sense Insideowl’s fuel was always the afternoon leftovers of early morning ecstasies. This journal began as a way of making the thrill for practice last a little later in the day: by commuting it from movement in to words, retracing my days’ first steps by other means.

So here goes.

I am awake under layers of fluff. Flannel sheets, Pendleton wool, goosedown, one or two cats, and the heavy night. In my great-grandmother Zang’s bed. A twin mattress might have suited couples three generations back, but at 6 feet tall, The Editor knows every move his three other bedfellows make. So I try to be stealthy.

When the excitement flips on, I lie there at the bottom of the fluff layers and don’t move at all. The kitties catch on anyway. Then we play a game of “who can be the quietest?” The whole time, I feel hot pin pricks in the ends of my fingers and toes, no different from electric shocks. The right middle finger or ring finger is usually the first to heat up, then two places in the left ring finger, a shock on the end of the right big toe, and so on. I lie there and feel this until one of the cats stirs and our big layer cake of fluff collapses from the top down.

Sometimes the Editor tells me to get up already. The other day, he said “I know you’re awake, ya know. It doesn’t matter if you’re not moving. You’re still putting your wakey all over me. Will you just get up?”

Well, yes. That’s the only thing better than staying in bed.

We live in a townhouse at the front edge of residentialalia, at the bottom of a hill covered with artists, healers and some of the best scientific minds of our generation. The place is called Water Hill because inside, it’s actually full of spring water.

This zipcode is the reason the magazines say Ann Arbor outdoes Berkeley and Brooklyn as the most creative and educated town in America, but when I trip out the door at 4:30 in the morning all I feel are dreams and seedy intrigue. The collective unconscious of this town. There are friendly ghosts, sleeping bums and deer, and maybe the tracks of the petty robbers who go around taking advantage of our unlocked back doors. So, brahma muhurta is not a big event in these parts. The closest thing to consciousness is the other ashtangis on their last cycles of sleep. Part of the excitement is feeling the dozens of them still cuddled under and peaceful within at most a mile.

Ashtangis, ghosts and thieves. It’s like that Cher song.

It is exactly a half mile to the shala. Like a dumb Angeleno, I drove it every day until the solstice of 2012. That day, the first snow came, and I saw reality’s edge clearly: spend 12 cold minutes warming up and scraping off the car, or 12 warm minutes walking in. So I put on a third layer of wool and rolled up in a humungus down coat. Then boots good to -25 degrees, perhaps because they weigh about 25 pounds. That first morning, I put Gui Boratto in the headphones to evoke the previous winter’s commute (by scooter to the KPJAYI at 4 in the morning).

God, so much excitement came up. By the time I crossed under the tracks between Water Hill and downtown proper, I was jogging. Rolled in to the shala more or less on fire.

It’s been like that most mornings since. The snow has piled deeper and the nights have gone below zero. Some mornings, it hurts to breathe, and I expend tremendous energy just warming the inhalation enough to extract some oxygen before letting all that warmth flow out of me again. This week, it’s been warm (20 degrees and up) and there have been piles of wet snowman-snow to jump through well before the shovelers hit the sidewalks. The warm snow lines the tree branches, and puffs up high on the seats of the bicycles still locked to parking meters up and down Main Street.

I put a section of Thriller on the playlist recently. The vampire song is perfect for the ghostwalk through Water Hill; and then I kick Beat It patterns in the sidewalk snow on Main. The track after that is Billie Jean.

It is interesting what M-J’s little orgasmic “eh!” will do to light up your jalandhara bandha as you jump up the shala stairs. There are moments of chin lock in his moon walk. That’s part of how he bounces and floats like that, from the inside.

This is all still strange, because I’d been under the impression that I hated the cold. There was a string of nights fifteen years ago when I lost the feeling in my fingers and toes. A group of us spent a January telemarking and snow camping in the Three Sisters Wildernees, and I brought only a sleeping bag good to 15 degrees, since (having been raised by a wilderness guide in Montana) I didn’t think much of Oregon winter. One of those nights we pitched camp in a gully alongside a frozen creek, amid a family of lodgepole pine that had burned. Just black matchstick trunks against puffy snow. Three of us snuggled down in our tent for 14 hours, to wait out the night and recover from the work of staying warm in the day. I think I was awake for most of those hours that night, as the temperature dropped well below 15… all the way to 0… and finally to -17.

I was 21 and committed to existentialism, with the memory of Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” still too fresh from fifth grade English class. Progressively losing the sensation in my hands and feet was horrifying.

When feeling returned, it was not of the pleasant variety.

But, now it is.