I always wanted to have a past.
There was a time in my life if you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have told you I wanted to be a writer. A tortured, bleeding all over the page, gutsy kind of writer.
I was 15.
I pictured myself sitting in front of a typewriter, pounding away with an overflowing ashtray of smoldering butts on the table, a bottle of cheap-ass whiskey and a deadline. Sticky, empty cans of beans and damp matchbooks would litter the floor in some dank, depressing ground floor studio apartment in New York City. Yep, that was the dream. Is that not where the freaks were, the night prowlers, the junkies and the post-disco, post-70’s hedonism scene was, not to mention The Ramones and the good drugs? It was just way too fucking sunny sometimes for me here in Los Angeles.
I hadn’t even read any Charles Bukowski yet, or even been to New York. But I knew who Lenny Bruce and Allen Ginsberg were, and that was good enough for me. Who said I couldn’t carry on a bohemian lifestyle and a career based on blatant irreverence? You have to figure the worst that could happen would be an opiate addiction, a slew of sexually charged love affairs in dirty hotels or, most likely, a vitamin D deficiency from not enough sunlight. It would all be meaty fodder for the empty page; it couldn’t all be about tube tops and roller skates.
Not that I had it bad growing up in shiny, happy La-La-Land. Lawyer father, housewife mother, overachieving older brother and two dogs…and here comes little Annie, who crashed the family cars (three, to be exact), got a DUI and lived to be reckless. I drank a lot. And all too often there was the familiar dread of the morning sun and it’s shady companions—paranoia, angst and regret—after being up all night tramping around Los Angeles.
The same goes for the harsh overhead lighting at Canter’s Deli, and the brightness of hospital halls and waiting rooms where my father was having one surgery after another.
Honestly, I don’t even remember what the hell got me so bent, or what I was so upset about. All I knew was writers drank and artists suffered, just to run with a little authenticity in this life. It was a dark calling, this precarious path of emotional pain. I kept drinking.
It was me against you. It was a sad identity. Nothing got typed for a long time, but the ashtray was full.
By the time I finally got to New York the first time, I was 21. All I remember is standing outside The Dakota where one of my heroes had been shot dead, wondering about the true nature of madness and delusion. It was October, and the sharp cold made me feel lonely.
Have you ever stared at a Jackson Pollock painting so long it made sense?
Damn, that looks like a lot of pain.
My Husband: I don’t get it.
Me: He had a nervous breakdown. And he was an alcoholic. That’s what he feels like inside.
My Husband: $140 million though? I’m confused. It’s paint.
Me: Look at it. It’s… Insanity. And loneliness.
I’d say yeah, he nailed it.
To sum it up: I was a bartender. I moved in an circuitous existence of self-indulgent insecurity. I turned 30. My father died. And then I showed up at my first yoga class.
Some advice: don’t go to yoga unless you’re in the mood for your breastbone to be crudely sawed open and your entire rib cage separated, exposing your blackened, wretched heart so the truth can find its way in. That’s exactly what happened to me.
I didn’t see it coming. But I got slugged in the face by another chick once, and I didn’t see that coming either.
You’ll stop wearing all black. You’ll feel good for no apparent reason. You may or may not ditch the 20-hole Doc Martens and the “Fuck The World” tattoo you were going to get, and you’ll definitely think about going vegetarian. Before long, you’ll stop going by your “club” name (am I right, “Dragon?”), and people will get to know a guy named Justin, a Virgo from Arizona who paints houses for a living and loves old Jimmy Stewart movies.
(It’s OK, Justin from Arizona. We weren’t buying the whole rebel-yelling, post-punk sinister persona with the tangled, hazardous mess of Aqua Net and piercings.)
I have a theory: no one strolls into their first yoga class straight from their perfect life, full of ponies, debutant balls and a new Porsche 928 in the driveway with a huge ribbon and bow around it on their 16th birthday. Most of us are more than a little fucked up. Maybe the only thing you’ll hear is you can’t wear your socks, and the rest of it makes no sense whatsoever. You don’t even need to talk to anybody, and there aren’t any words anyway.
Nothing about it was easy for me at first. No one promised me my own chocolate factory if I stayed with it; my heart was way too heavy anyway. I don’t know what I was so petrified of, except the possibility of being completely assaulted by my feelings until my entire sense of self lay shattered on my mat in a messy pile of pulpous mulch. Also, I hated Savasana. The darkness was too confronting, even though that’s where I had spent so much time in the past.
But I kept going back. Sometimes, I would leave when Savasana came, just like in 7th grade when I would ask to go to the nurse’s office with a fake stomach ache because I didn’t finish the assignment. I wrote, just a little, but I didn’t save it. And you know what pissed me off the most? I used to be the kind of chick who wasn’t afraid, metaphorically speaking, to smack my own raw, exposed nerves just to see what it felt like. And now I was starting to get soft. But I found out there’s a difference between finding strength, and just being hard.
A decade went by.
And what came next was more unnerving to me than watching a human suspension artist dangling from flesh hooks: I started teaching.
After spending years behind one gritty bar after another in Hollywood pouring cocktails, with one foot in the shadows and one in the light, I made my move.
I’m here to tell you slinging booze for a living is much easier than teaching yoga. This is Hollywood, where you have the lost souls, the would-be guitar legends and plenty of drag queens. My homies. We’re talking about a whole lotta glitter, feathers and swagger. Such an easy place to hide. But it’s not all peachy keen, jelly bean; everything you’ve heard is real. This town will rip the fake eyelashes right off your eyelids, throw a bucket of water on your mohawk and reveal the bona fide you, a wizard of nowhere and nothing but your own shockingly beautiful life force.
Yoga does the exact same thing. It’ll break you down to expose your neuroses, your fears and your sour attitude about life. And it’ll put you back together. Be brave. Step out of the dark, it’s so much warmer over here. You can still be scandalous; keep your piercings and your Anton LaVey books. Just don’t go around hurting yourself or anyone else. Keep trudging forward. Freedom waits.
Open your eyes. You’re a warrior now.
The other day I wore a Ramones t-shirt to teach my class. A girl said something like “awesome shirt!” I swear to god, she looked like she was 15.
Way to go, soul sister.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise
Jackson Pollock painting, masqualero uploaded on YouTube