Teachers

Heaven Bar. The scene of the crime. Photo Credit: The author

This post is dedicated to (in order of appearance) Clara, Mike, and Oanh.

The thing started, as things so often do, with a couple beers in my belly and me running my incorrigible yap.  I was talking to Clara as she and Mike took a break between sets on stage, explaining that I’d never played music in front of anyone other than family, but that I’d always wished I could, and that I thought that 2020 was going to be the year.

It was all bullshit, of course, a manifestation of my intermittent ego-aphasia.  But Clara sharked on it instantly. 

What kind of music did I usually play?  Had I ever written music?  WHY hadn’t I performed in public?  Did I really want to?  Had I ever recorded myself?  Well recording myself would be an obvious first step, now, wouldn’t it? 

“Okay,” she said in a calmly peremptory tone, “You have three days to email me a recording of yourself playing guitar and singing.”  I squirmed. 

“I can’t play guitar right now,” I sniveled.  “I jacked up my finger at jiu jitsu and I can’t play.”  I showed her the finger in a gesture perfectly appropriate to a whinging preschooler.

Clara’s response was instant and implacable. “Then I guess you’re going to have to be creative and figure out how to play without that finger.”

“I can’t do that in three days!” I almost wailed.  I’m sure my feet were waddling hysterically back and forth under the high-top.

“What’s a reasonable time?” Clara asked impassively. 

“Three weeks?” I riposted.

“You have ten days.”  Clara pulled out her phone, set a calendar alarm titled “Quinn Due Date” and sent me a screenshot. 

I felt like a wolverine getting mugged by a squirrel.  But I figured it out, and emailed her a recording that I deemed sufficiently execrable to dispose of the matter.

Maybe a week later I was sitting across a restaurant table from Clara, drinking beer while she enjoyed a dubious-looking sushi dinner.  When she was finished, she announced that we were going to Heaven Bar, a block up the street, and that Mike was already there on-stage. 

I couldn’t fail to notice that Clara’s eyes were fairly glowing with mischief.  Some fuckery was afoot, but the ways of women are layered and subtle, and long experience has taught me to put my head down and concern myself with the simple matters appropriate to my chromosomal architecture, so to Heaven Bar we went.   

It was a matter of moments.  Mike was indeed on-stage.  I had time to shake a hand or two as I heard him welcoming the crowd to “open mic” night (not the ghost of an alarm in my brain-damaged middle-aged consciousness).  I think I was eyeing the beer fridge at the other end of the bar as Mike said, into the microphone:  “Quinn, to the stage, please.  Quinn.  Quinn.”  Reverberating around the bar.

It slogged through the decayed infrastructure of my central nervous system, and my gaze snapped back to the stage, locking instantly with Mike’s twinkling eyes.  The villain.  I gawped.

The Voice In My Head spoke up.  That’s a rare occurrence at all; the Voice has spoken to me maybe a dozen times in almost five decades, and only ever in moments of grave physical peril.  This clearly wasn’t that, but the Voice (genderless, sardonic, imperious) spoke anyways, and it said “You just got called out.  DO NOT THINK.  Move now.”

And I walked fast to the stage, and took Mike’s beautiful Fender acoustic guitar and sat down and started to play while he fussed with the microphone like a father adjusting his infant’s high chair before feeding.   And I did my bit, and I thanked those kind enough to applaud, and I fled back to the table, and I am expected back, and I am still, almost a week later, reeling in shock and gratitude.  Who does that for somebody?  Who just sees a friend and a dream and grabs the friend by the scruff of the neck and tosses them into their dream?

The embarrassing lavishness of Providence’s affection for me being as it is, there is precedent.  Something like it happened before.  This is like the night I became a yoga “teacher”. 

I’ve written the story before, in a social media post I made when I left Saigon.  I can’t tell it any better now, so here I shamelessly plagiarize myself:

September 17th, 2014

I opened the door to the studio for the first time, and walked smack in to her gaze. “Tigress,” my mind noted, in that involuntary taxonomic impulse seekers work to surrender. But I think Paramahansa Yogananda would have succumbed in the circumstance. And without self-criticism.

The dark eyes swept down to my feet and up again. I was both amused and unsettled by the awareness that my physiology and character had just been weighed to the gram. I wasn’t prepared for her first words.

“You want to teach here?” Advantage: Tigress. [Fourteen months later as I write, and she’s never lost it.]

Sidebar: it had been ten or twelve years since my first yoga class, and about two-and-a-half engaged in the full-time study. “When are you going to get certified and teach?” people would ask me. “I’m not ready yet.” 3-6 hours a day of asana practice, mostly balls-out power vinyasa, daily japa meditation, pranayama, shatkarma, kriyas. Weekly kirtan. Kundalini. Acroyoga. Most other waking moments spent reading or talking about yoga. “I’m not ready yet.” Chickenshit. I framed it as conscientiousness, but it was nothing more noble than cowardice. Viparyaya. Anyways, it was dead easy to bitch out.

“I can’t. I’m not certified.” She managed to not roll her eyes, but I saw the split-second of effort.

“Is okay. I wasn’t certified for beginning. I teach you. What your name?” I started to squirm under the steady, implacable, penetrating confidence of her gaze.

“Um… Desmond. Well okay. How about if I take your class, and see how you like to do things?”

She dismissed me into the studio with a graceful nod. I managed not to genuflect or tug a forelock. I rolled out my mat, placed my towel, fetched a block from the back of the room, and returned to find her gripping my mat by both edges to tug it to the front of the room and place it beside hers.

“You help me teach this class.” I wish I could have seen my face.

“Okay… I guess I could help demo poses or something…”

“Okay! Good!” and she glided away to kibbutz with the students as they arrived. I sat in my daze, smiling stupidly at people as they rolled in. Then it was time. She returned and floated to sukhasana with a mischievous sidelong glance at me, spoke in Vietnamese for about thirty seconds, then said: “And this is my handsome teaching partner today, Desmond. Go ahead, Desmond.”

And that’s how I became a yoga teacher. Such as I am.

This song is for Saigon. And especially for the people there I love, and the people there I owe. And first in both, you, Oanh Nguyen. For seeing in me what I couldn’t see in myself, and at a glance. For grabbing me by the ear and hurling me headlong into my blessed dharma. For everything. See you soon.

Mattafix – Big City Life (Official Music Video) – YouTube

I wish I could wrap all this up in some kind of bow with a yoga moral pasted onto it, I feel a dim sense that that’s the point of a yoga blog.  But friends, I have no idea what to make of any of this.  I just have these two stories about teachers dropped on me by the universe, teachers who leveled me up in dazzling fashion by refusing to tolerate any of my bullshit cowardice.  Other humans that I get to love forever.  Ridiculous abundance. 

UPDATE

My second open mic night was last night.  Mike, wise to me, cut off my escape after my first song, upshot being I did TWO songs and mostly into the microphone this time.  More or less into the microphone. 

Levelling.  Up.