Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Just did Bikram Yoga for the first time...

I had done hot yoga before on a regular basis.  This was seven or eight years ago when I was deepening my yoga practice, before complications from foot surgeries caused hip & back problems that left me unable to balance.

I've been doing restorative (or "yin") yoga periodically since then, trying to rehab myself.  Restorative yoga, my acupuncturist, and my chiropractors have gotten me straightened out to the point where I'm game to try hot yoga again, and there's a new-ish, competitively-priced, Bikram studio not far from me, so... Bikram it is.  Can't be too different from hot yoga, right?

I. Was. NOT. Ready.

When I checked in at the front desk, the instructor (let's call him Kevin) asked me how many Bikram classes I had taken before.  I told him I had never done Bikram, but I had done hot yoga.  He chuckled and said "Well... get ready" in a tone that sounded ominous to me, under the circumstances.  I went to the locker room to stow my backpack, then went into the studio where class was to be held.

It was hot as hell in there, y'all.  I literally said "Well, gatdam!" out loud, then cringed b/c there was a woman lying on her mat in the room.  I quickly rolled out my mat right next to the door (coolest spot in the room), and went back out into the lobby.

I don't sweat readily, so if I'm sweating I'm either working REALLY hard or it's REALLY hot.  In the 60-or-so seconds that it took me to roll out my mat, put a towel on top, and place my water bottle next to it, little droplets of sweat had formed all over my body.  I sat in the lobby, marshaling all of my mental forces and preparing for the next 90 minutes.  "Should I go in and acclimate myself, or should I stay out here and soak up all of the cool air that I can?"  I did a little of both - sat out for a little longer, then plunged myself into the heat.  Strangely, it was hot and humid, but not that "I can't breathe" type of humidity (after class, I found out that oxygen is pumped into the room along with the heat).  I lay down on my towel and prayed to God to let me live through what was looking like a terrible decision.

For me, the most surprising part of the class was that there is no "flow" to Bikram - only specific poses performed in a specific order.  Kevin, bless his tiny-trunked, bendy heart, did a short spiel for me, since I was the only newbie.  In so many words, he (nicely) told me to keep up or sit on my heels, but don't be a wuss, and don't be a distraction.  I was to stay in the room and stay present unless I felt like I was going to die or pee myself.  I nodded.  Challenge accepted.

By the second of the 26 poses, I was cussing in my head, then telling myself (also in my head) that there was no cussing in yoga.  Then I'd tell both of myselves (head, still) to shut up so I could focus.  I struggled through, determined to stay in the room, even though a couple of times I felt nauseated, and a couple of other times, I felt like I was going to burst out in tears.  When I needed to stop and sit on my heels, I did so as unobtrusively as possible.  I only drank water between poses, I stayed present, I kept breathing, and I didn't die.  When Kevin told us to lie on our mats in "savasana,"  I almost cried tears of joy, but my joy was short-lived:  In every yoga class I've ever taken, savasana (literally "corpse pose") is the final pose:  you lie on your back in relief and meditate for about five minutes until class ends.

In Bikram yoga, apparently savasana just means that you lie down on your back for about 60 seconds and then do about 15 more poses on the floor with savasanas strewn in-between.  "Gawwwwd!  Whyyyyy?!"  Screamed the Head Me that had been cursing 40-ish minutes earlier.  "Just be quiet and just don't cry or puke." came the response from Me Too.  Surprisingly, I didn't do either, and my final savasana was pure moksha.  I made it through the class (obviously) - and Kevin acknowledged that little accomplishment by asking the class to applaud me for staying in the room.  One of my classmates congratulated me personally for the same thing.  "Cursing Me," ever the smart-ass, asked "If all I had to do was stay in the room why didn't I just lie on my mat the whole time?"  "Moksha Me" told Cursing Me not to ruin her high.

I left feeling cleansed and transcendent... and all of my clothing was sopping wet - it was disgusting.  I put a towel on the seat of my car to keep it from getting sweaty, and sat for 5 minutes before driving home.  Not because of the heat or any pain, but because I was feeling so chill I didn't have it in me to drive as defensively as is required by L.A. traffic.  I recovered, and I went home.

Had you asked me yesterday if I would go back, my answer would have been an honest "I don't know."  It was hella difficult, y'all.  And I did it to myself.  On purpose.  Today, however, I can tell that I stretched muscles that desperately needed it, and I'm feeling calmer than I have since I stopped renewing my Xanax prescription.  So, yeah... I'll be back, again, and again, and again until maybe one day I don't feel like I'm going to throw up or cry and the Dueling Head Mes don't fight as often.  'Til the day when I have the energy left at the end of class to cheerfully applaud the newbie by the door who looks like s/he might throw up, cry, or run away, but stays present instead.


--Nicole

Monday, July 24, 2017

"Queen Sugar" is the TV show that I didn't even know I needed.

"UNBOWED" - Original Oil Painting
by Nicole J. Butler
One of my sisters has been trying to get me to watch "Queen Sugar" since the first episode aired, but since her viewing practices have proven to be questionable in the past, I "yeah-yeahed" her and kept it moving (sorry, Mel).

I have a love/ hate relationship with "black shows."  My early childhood memories are rooted in a time during which the phone would ring and it was my grandmother or great-grandmother calling to inform us that "colored folks are on TV."  Eager to see people who looked like us, we would immediately turn to whichever channel said "colored folks" were purported to be gracing at the moment, and watch whatever they happened to  be doing on said channel.  Usually the characters' lives centered around their respective struggles against "the man."  We watched anyway, because "we" were on TV.

Along came "The Cosby Show," "A Different World," and "Living Single,"- comedies about upwardly mobile black people with nary a housing project or food stamp in sight.  Let me pause here to tell you that I consider myself to have had wonderful family and community role models in my childhood.  My whole village raised, encouraged, chastised, guided, and supported me.  What I know now that I didn't know then was that I was hungry for images and narratives outside of my home that showed people who looked like me (black and female) thriving in the world at large.  These three comedies offered up visual affirmations on a weekly basis, delivered with a side of laughs, and they nourished me.

Somewhere between then and now, things appeared to go backwards, with way too many "black shows" being either overly didactic or outright buffoonery.  I do like to laugh, but not at the expense of my self-esteem, so over time I found myself watching fewer and fewer shows with people who "looked like me" because the characters were people with whom I would never spend time by choice.  I was offended by insinuations that, decades from the "colored people are on TV" era, I should support TV shows and/ or movies because they were "for black people."

Enter "Queen Sugar."  Honestly, I started watching because my sister keeeeeept talking about it, people on Twitter kept mentioning it, and I had run out of "must-see TV".  Plus it was from Ava DuVernay. "13th" Ava DuVernay- how bad could it really be?

Episode one enveloped me in what was truly a "moving picture."  Visually stunning and viscerally familiar, "Queen Sugar" showed me characters portraying people that I recognize from my own life experiences.  And these characters look like the people at whose feet I learned how to "be."  Flawed, to be sure, but people who do the best that they can do to get by, day by day.  Culturally authentic, there are no questions as to whether or not these characters are "black-black"* or not, but neither are their challenges intrinsic to their race.  These are complex characters FIRST... and also black Americans.  AND it's a drama; they may love to laugh and joke, but they are not performing for your approval nor amusement.

For the first time I caught myself thinking "This must be how white people feel when they watch TV."  Present.  Normal.  Centered.  Vital.

The languid pace of the show allows me to luxuriate in this world, where folks look like me and not only have issues to which I can relate, but other unspoken truths that I know intimately;  challenges and pressures that are familiar to me as my own skin, due to life experiences related to being black (and female!) in a society that undermined our worth at every possible juncture.

Representation matters.  As an professional, educated black woman, I am acutely aware of the balance between being authentically myself and performing for the white (or male) gaze.  Code-switching deftly to navigate spaces where doors close unless you know the code.  Where "white" is normal, and everyone else is "other."  Shit's tiresome.  As a working actress, oil painter, and writer, I am at once inspired and charged by "Queen Sugar."  I have a renewed sense of responsibility to accurately, honestly, and unapologetically depict the people who go unseen and unheard.  Again, I have been nourished. My charge is to pay it forward, in hopes that one day children of color won't know a time when they don't see themselves in society at large.  A time when #AllLivesMatter is really a thing.

--Nicole


*"Black-Black" is probably not politically correct (or whatever), but it is a "thing" and everybody knows what it is.  Close your eyes and picture a black person, then open your eyes.  I'll give you a moment.  Don't cheat.
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Ok-  You know that first person who popped into your head?  "Black-Black."  I'm sure of it.

P.S. - Since I began writing post this I've seen the movie "Girls Trip."  Slow clap.  Maybe the times really are a-changin'.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

WHAT did I just eat??


I'm trying to be better.  Not better than anyone else, but better than I was last year, last month, yesterday.  I'm reading books by people who have manifested qualities in their lives that I would like to see in my own, figuring out what's useful to me, and implementing policies in my life that will effect growth.



I get most of my news from NPR and Twitter and check in with both throughout the day.  While scrolling my Twitter feed for the latest happenings, I happened upon a video snippet of artist, Saul Williams, giving an interview at The Breakfast Club.  What he said really resonated with me on a gut level, so I hunted down the whole interview and watched it.


Of the many truths told in the video, the one that drew me in still stuck with me.  Here, I'll let you hear it for yourself:



I've been thinking about my own "diet."  When I first started working with a trainer, I just wanted her to help me exercise away the "jiggle" that had crept up on certain areas of my body.  When she talked about diet, I would freak out.  Mentally, I knew it was irrational, but I had a visceral feeling that she was trying to take something away from me.  My reaction was to stop eating ice cream, and substitute frozen yogurt.  And to stop eating sliced bread and have a croissant every day instead, and wash it down with an "unsweetened" latte- never mind that the heated milk contains lactose (milk sugar).  Basically, my reaction was to play the shell game. I was like an alcoholic switching from hard liquor to wine, pretending that they aren't still getting drunk.

In retrospect, I had a raging sugar addiction, and the thought of not having access to sugar throughout the day every day was as scary to me as not having access to drugs would be to a drug addict.  Long story short, I did the "Whole30" for 2 months straight as a reset for my body AND my mind, and I've been able to stay off of sweets in the 2 months since then.  I changed my diet, and my body is changing for the better.  I have more mental clarity as well.

Saul Williams' video highlighted the need for me to take a close look at my intake of other consumables.  If I'm watching trashy reality shows of grown women fist-fighting on TV, being bombarded on social media by viral videos of cops abusing black people, and listening to music that glorifies violence and over a banging beat  - what does that do to my mind and spirit?  What about the things that I purchase ("consumer" is interchangeable with "purchaser" for a reason)? Do I own them, or do they keep me bound- in effect, owning me?  And regarding the people with whom I spend my time- are my relationships in line with the growth that I'd like to see in my life and the overall well-being that I'd like to manifest?  Also - what type of presence am I in OTHER people's lives?  Am I adding value or am I detrimental?  Life is precious... how am I really spending it?

I have some clean-up to do.  If you have thoughts on this subject as it relates to your own life, please comment!

If you'd like to watch the whole video (which I highly recommend), click HERE.

--Nicole

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

This Is Why We Do It.


If you're in this business long enough, once in a while, an audition comes along that reminds you why you started.  And believe me when I say that- in this line of work- you definitely need reminders.

I take every audition seriously because my name and livelihood are on the line, and I want to represent myself in the best way possible.  I also don't want to waste anyone's time (mine, casting's, my reps', producers, etc.), plus, if I'm going to half-ass it, why even bother?  Considering the many head and heartaches that come along with this career, it would be infinitely easier to take a more traditional route.

But artists aren't built that way.  We create because it's like breathing from the spirit.  And, because my debtors don't accept "spirit breaths" as a form of payment, we have to figure out how to monetize our art.  That's where show business comes in, because all show and no business will leave you with all-concrete floors and no ceiling.

This means that I sometimes often audition for things that don't make my heart sing.*  Like people who work in other fields, and don't LOVE every report that they have to run, or every phone call they have to make... I do what needs to be done and I do it to the best of my ability:
  • I spend money on the headshots
  • I take the classes and workshops
  • I memorize the lines
  • I create the characters
  • I live the stories
  • I dress up and do my hair/ makeup
  • I drive for 45 minutes, look for parking for 10 minutes,  spend 5 minutes walking to the casting office, 15 minutes in the waiting room, spend 45 seconds in front of casting, walk BACK to my car hoping I didn't get a ticket, then drive the 45 minutes back home (if it isn't rush-hour - then it's 90 minutes)
  • I audition, I audition, I audition, I book, I don't book, I rinse and repeat.  As thrilling as a HOLLYWOOD ACTING CAREER (writ large) sounds, MOST of it isn't glamourous.  
You really have to love the craft or acting, or it's NOT worth it.  You really have to find a way to make peace with the business side of things, or it's NOT worth it.  Even with all of that... some days/ months/ years you will find yourself asking "Is this worth it?"

And, if you're on the right path, the universe will answer you by sending you an opportunity that makes you say "Yes."  I just had an audition like that.  I received the scene, saw it was about 4 times longer than the scripts that I usually receive, and that half of that was my character speaking uninterrupted.  "Wait, what??"  Was literally my first reaction.  My agent told me that she believed in me.  Then I read it.  "Jesus." Heavy, heavy stuff.  My character was an imprisoned woman with a history of being sexually and emotionally abused.  I was grateful to have 4 days to prepare the scene, and this blog post has already gotten long, so I'll spare you the details of my preparation, but I will  say that, emotionally, I lived with this character, in that prison for that 3 and a half days, taking sanity breaks here and there.  

The audition went very well, I walked to my car feeling good... then when I got into my car, I cried for about 5 minutes straight.  The story was fictional, but there are REAL people who are in that very situation, and in order to do justice to those people, I had to "whole-ass" it and feel what this character went through with my REAL feelings.  And now it was time to say goodbye to her.  And after all of that, I don't know if I'll book the job or not.  I'd love to - and not because of the money (though I would, of course, expect to be paid), but because I started acting in order to tell the stories of women who often go unheard, and this is one of those women.

It's a strange thing that we do.  We artists.  We birth babies and give them away, over and over and over again.  Some are homely, some are beautiful, but each one requires that we sacrifice a part of us in order to survive, and we are forever changed by the experience.  We birth these babies and send them flying to live in the world, hoping against all hopes that they will be blessed and that they'll touch the hearts that need them most.❤️


*While some of the characters go through things that are emotionally uncomfortable or painful for me, I do not audition for things that I hate or make me feel bad as a person.