Yogis and Stogies


Forgive the rhyming title. I just couldn’t help myself.

My dear friend Leigh and I are yoga studio shopping.  We’re buying groupons and bouncing around places until we find one we like.  There are approximately eight billion yoga studios in Dallas so this is no small effort.  But she’s certified and owns a lot more Lululemon than I do so I’m really just following her lead.

We tried one yesterday in an east dallas neighborhood and I really loved it. The room was warm and smelled like lavender. The ceiling was padded for insulation but had a handful of skylights peaking through that furthered my stance that savasana is the best pose there is.

The instructor was tiny and wore all black. She was covered in tattoos and played Lana Del Rey mid-class so I think we could be friends. It was a good class – difficult but grounding. The kind that makes you feel just a little more aware of your body and your mind without having been inundated with weird yogi speak that borders on creepy.

We left relaxed and sweaty, walking to the car with good posture and mats folded under our arms. I saw a girl from our class get into the car next to us. She had short hair and a half-sleeve over biceps that screamed chaturanga. I felt this weird connection with her. As if in a different life I was some version of her. Petite enough to pull off the pixie cut and cool enough to pull of the tattoos. I figured she probably recycled and was a vegan, too.

And then she lit up a cigarette. Which I certainly take no objection with. But it was just this jarring moment of reality for me. The grungy vegan tattooed yogi was smoking a cigarette in her Honda on her way home. It didn’t seem to fit somehow. (Maybe they were American Spirits?)

Earlier this week I went to a friend’s house for dinner and opened his door without knocking. He was sitting on his bed, listening (loudly) to rap music and doing the New York Times crossword puzzle in gym clothes. He likes video games and watches stupid shows like South Park but also records every episode of Jeopardy on his DVR and gets 90% of the questions right. He’s brilliant. Remarkably so. And listens to Flo Rida at 5:30 on a Tuesday.

On my commute today I thought of the two of them. I was wearing my favorite black jeans and no makeup because its Friday.  I had a Freakonomics podcast on and caught myself trying to picture Steven Dubner doing something normal like going to the grocery store.

But I couldn’t. Because surely Steven Dubner just walks around with a notebook making interesting observations and interviewing brilliant people. Surely the woman with the one-handed tree pose doesn’t smoke cigarettes in the middle of the afternoon. And surely a crossword puzzle phenom wouldn’t debase himself to something like a video game when there’s so much to be learned in the world.

I think our generation wants to celebrate creativity. But we’ve assigned to it this archetype telling us what it’s supposed to look like. I can’t describe it exactly but I’m pretty sure it involves craft beer and pour-over coffee. Flowy, neutral-colored clothes and a profile picture of a candid shot with a light leak in the back. An instagram account with clever captions and something called a “personal brand.” Artistic friends to do artistic things with. Probably a Nikon hanging around your neck, too.


There’s nothing wrong with any of those things. In fact, I’m a big fan of most of them. I don’t own a camera and my instagram isn’t very clever but coffee and beer and baggy clothing are some of my closest companions. The problem is when we limit creativity to this kind of life. When we celebrate not creativity, but the image of creativity which pinterest and blogs and real simple has convinced us of. We love the photographer and her boyfriend jeans and trendy husband more than we love the photograph. We love the designer and the pictures of her well-dressed kids and urban apartment more than we love her simple, sobering designs. We love the image of a writer in a coffee shop downtown more than the words she writes in that space. (I am the chief of all sinners).

In her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard describes the creeks beside the house like this:

The creeks … are an active mystery, fresh every minute. Theirs is the mystery of the continuous creation and all that providence implies: the uncertainty of vision, the horror of the fixed, the dissolution of the present, the intricacy of beauty, the pressure of fecundity, the elusiveness of the free, and the flawed nature of perfection.

I want to celebrate the active mystery in the otherwise normal, un-mysterious lives. The cigarette smoking yogi and stunningly brilliant 28-year old gamer. The brief moments of providence (and maybe even luck) that allow ordinary people to use their bodies or their words or their cameras to create something tiny and beautiful. Not because they have the lifestyle or the etsy shop to back it up. But because in that moment, their otherwise ordinary life nudged the world a little.

Creativity is a gift and often a sweet surprise. Not something we wear or flaunt or fit into. It’s the tiny skylight on a padded ceiling that whispers of something bigger. The mystery of the continuous creation and all that providence implies.

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