Category Archives: Prose

7 Things I Already Miss About Tucson

Here we are in St. Louis. Each day is a cocktail of compromises, celebrations, questions, resolutions, laughter, and tears—some happy and some not. Moving is exhausting. Despite the fact that we are making time to explore our little corner of this new-to-us city, I find myself missing the home we left. Here are seven things I miss about Tucson that are leaving my heart a little sore:

1. Murals, Murals, Everywhere

In the past few years, Tucson has seen a noticeable increase in the number of murals embellishing its streets, alley ways, and empty lots. Each piece is distinctly Tucson, featuring regional imagery and bold colors. Daily commutes are thrilling because each holds the potential to discover a new work of art.mural-2-e1530617883593.jpgmural 1

2. The Yoga Community 

Tucson will forever be my personal yoga homeland, the first place I fell in love with this practice that now forms such a key aspect of my daily life and identity. Seeing as there is nearly a yoga studio every square mile, it is easy to discover yoga in Tucson and find a studio, style, or instructor that makes your heart sing. All of these studios serve an important role in fostering the city’s yoga community, which keeps growing in not only numbers but in diversity and accessibility.

3. Mexican Food on Every Corner

Although I am as white as can be, I grew up eating a lot of Mexican style food (thanks, Dad!). Hence, when someone asks me what my comfort food is, I think bean and cheese burritos. Moving to Tucson from Prescott when I started college only increased my love of Mexican food, and I found that there was far more to enjoy than I had been exposed to as a kid. Chicken mole, chile relleno, horchata, and raspados top the list. Tucson gives you plenty of options, from fast food chains like Nico’s and Los Betos, to fancier historic spots like El Charro, to unique cafés like Little Poca Cosa. Luckily, here in STL, our apartment is a short walk away from a local taco joint. Stay tuned for the review!

4. Cacti

Springtime in the desert is divine. It reveals that beneath all the brown, all the dust, and all the pokey things there is life—stunning, vibrant, breath-taking life—just waiting to bloom. My time in Tucson made me a passionate devotee of cacti, their strange shapes, their mosaic of blossoms, their fruit, and their sometimes-sharp-sometimes-fuzzy exteriors. I brought two small potted cacti to St. Louis with us. They are currently sitting on the windowsill in our kitchen, where I am hoping they get enough light and warmth to survive. I find myself gazing up at them wistfully each time I enter the kitchen.

5. Monsoon Season

These are the months that every Southern Arizonan lives for. During the early months of summer, the atmosphere warms and causes the jet stream to move northward. This allows moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and Sea of Cortez to fill the gap. The sun heats the moist air and creates thunderstorm clouds, which build throughout the day and usually burst in the late afternoon. The torrential downpour is the kind of natural phenomenon that makes a parched desert dweller drop everything and head to the porch because you can’t help but watch as streets become rivers and dry, dusty washes fill with violent waves. Once the storm has exhausted itself, the air is filled with the sweet smell of creosote and the sky is painted in rainbows.

after the rain

6. Mountains on the Horizon

One thing Arizona has going for it is its diverse and interesting geography. Mountains are always on the horizon, and in one trip up to the top of Tucson’s most famous peak, Mount Lemmon, you drive through about six different climate zones. Having grown up surrounded by mountain ranges, it is always jarring for me to be in a place where the horizon is flat, or worse, where I can’t see the horizon at all. I like to see the place where the sun and sky meet the earth. There’s a certain sense of rootedness that comes when I can look up and see the mountains in the distance, purple and faded, but there all the same. Looking at these giants, I am reminded of where the sun rises and falls; I know where I am.

7. That Sweet Feeling of Home 

Finally, the thing that is both the easiest and hardest to find. Each day I am unmeasurably grateful that I did not leave Tucson alone, that I made this journey with a person (and a cat) that I love. As I grow older, I realize more and more how complex the word “home” is. First and foremost, it is the people you surround yourself with, the friends and family that fill the halls of your heart. But it is also familiar routines and favorite spots, sights and sounds and smells that make you feel like you know a place. Things like going to Raging Sage and chatting with the same regulars that you see every Saturday. Things like knowing where to find a good loaf of bread to go with dinner (Oh how I miss you, Time Market!). Things like the predictable toll of bells in the West University Neighborhood. Things like not having to use your GPS to get anywhere because this is your city. Luckily, all of that can be recreated, rediscovered, relearned. But unlike coffee shops and bakeries, proximity to people you love is something that is less easily replaced. It takes considerable effort to nurture relationships, even those that are tried and true, as you get further and further away from your friends and family. And then there’s the work of nurturing your relationship with yourself, of finding home within. All of it takes time and energy. And all of it is worth it. fullsizeoutput_36a

 

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Dispatch from the Brink of Change

Sitting down in seat 15 E on a Boeing seven hundred-something, tears rushed to overfill my eyes. I plunged my face into Carl’s chest, feeling a taste of relief and comfort as he wrapped his arm around my shoulder. “I don’t know why I’m crying,” I spluttered. But I do know. I cried today because this is my last flight into Tucson as an Arizona resident, at least for the next three years. As excited as I am for the years to come, I am equally saddened by what they mean. From where I’m standing, three years—and maybe then some—seems like a long time to be away from home.

I don’t remember the last time I wrote a blog post. I could go into all the details of what has changed and what has happened between now and then, but most of it seems irrelevant. I’d rather spend time on where I am now and where I’m going.

So, where am I? Physically, I am still in seat 15 E flying from St. Louis to San Diego, then on to Tucson. But beyond this uncomfortable navy blue airplane chair, I am waist-deep in transition. As of the end of May, my only income is derived from subbing yoga classes. The government has agreed (rather quickly and easily, I might add) to loan me more than $100,000 over the course of three years so that I can become a physical therapist. When we return to our little house in Tucson, I will begin sorting through my belongings, packing boxes, and attending a series of “going-way” events. I’ve been doing a lot of goodbye-ing lately. Although each of those farewells is given under the assumption that it is not goodbye forever, I can’t shake the feeling that it could be. It could be a very long time before I touch down in the desert and call it my place of residence again. Luckily, just because you don’t physically live somewhere doesn’t mean you can’t call it home.

I never thought I would leave Arizona for the Midwest. Sure— I thought I would leave, but not for Missouri! As I discovered this week during our visit-campus-and-find-an-apartment trip to St. Louis, it turns out that driving for 21 hours in the middle of summer to start a new life there isn’t a bad idea after all. In fact, I left feeling truly satisfied with my decision. St. Louis seems like the kind of place we can be happy. Most places are. But I know I will miss Arizona and everything it means to me. The mountains, painted in hues of purple across the horizon. The sky at sunset, ablaze with pinks and yellows and oranges. The cacti, erupting with splashes of color in the spring, as if someone dropped hundreds of paint balls across the desert floor. The monsoons, cascading down from sky to gutters to puddles in thick, impenetrable curtains.

The smell of wet creosote. That is, the smell of rain.

I remember the first time it rained in Paris during my year there. I was confused! “It’s raining?” I asked myself. “But it smells like…like old cigarettes and decaying leaves. This isn’t what rain smells like!” As I get ready to move to the great state of Missouri, one of my recurring concerns is the fact that when it rains, it won’t smell like rain.

A small thing to worry about, I suppose. I don’t worry about finding community or making friends or being happy. I’ve learned that if you want those things, you can make them happen anywhere. I am not afraid to start over. In fact, I’m relishing the idea of being anonymous, of leaving behind this familiar place that is haunted by so many ghosts and what-ifs. No more somersaults in my belly as I unexpectedly run into a person I once loved. No more anxiety bubbling to the top when I see a familiar silhouette in the distance, holding my breath, thinking, “Shit—could that be…”  It’s a unique opportunity to be able to start out with an untouched canvas, to be able to choose the paint and shapes and strokes anew, to be able to decide what a place means to me as a more confident, more complete version of myself. It’s a privilege that I appreciate more deeply with every passing day.

So where am I going, then? I’m going to St. Louis, MO to attend Washington University’s three-year doctor of physical therapy program. But I’m also going on a daunting adventure. And more importantly, I’m going down a path to personal fulfillment, chasing after that thing that fills my cup and brings meaning to my life. That’s what I’ve learned about living so far: you can’t wait for something better more fulfilling more exciting more challenging more meaningful to come along of its own volition and find you. You have to go get it.

Forest Park

A winding path in Forest Park, St. Louis, MO

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5 Lessons I Learned from My First Year of Teaching

Just four weeks ago, I completed my first year of teaching. Somehow, within the chaos, self-doubt, sleepless nights, and shimmering moments of success, I managed to continue to learn and grow as both an educator and an individual. In fact, I think I learned more from my students, my colleagues, and my own experience than my students managed to learn from me. Regardless, I know that the wisdom I gained in my first year will serve to make the coming years more enriching, more successful, and more fulfilling for both my students and myself. What follows is only five of the countless lessons I learned, which apply not only to my classroom, but to my everyday life. 

1. Specificity is Key

When I first started teaching, I had no idea what I wanted my classroom to look like. I didn’t know how I wanted my desks arranged, how I wanted papers handed in, or even how I wanted students to label their assignments. As a result, I was rarely specific or consistent. My desk arrangement changed at least every quarter, students handed their papers in upside down, backwards, and slantways, and sometimes, I had no idea which assignment I was grading because I never taught my students how to write a proper heading. I learned, the hard way, that being specific about everything in my classroom was the key to managing it effectively. There is power in being specific: specificity shows that you know exactly what you want and how you want it; you are in control.

2. Raise the Bar

I cannot count the times that I toned down the difficulty level of assignments because I thought it was “too much” for my kids. What I didn’t realize is that students will rise, or fall, to meet their teacher’s expectations. In the words of Harry Wong, “Students tend to learn as little or as much as their teachers expect.” When the expectations are high, students exert the effort and energy to rise up and meet them. If the expectations are low, so too is students’ effort and energy, creating a culture of apathy and negativity. Raising the bar, then, is crucial for students’ success both in the classroom and in life.

I asked my students to create a poetry book that contained examples of each poetic device we studied. Expect quality and that's what you get!

I asked my students to create a poetry book that contained examples of each poetic device we studied. This particular student went above and beyond expectations!

3. Don’t React, Respond

When I look back at how I handled disruptive situations in my classroom,  I’m a little embarrassed. It was rare that I managed to stop and think before reacting to something that happened in my classroom. If a student did something hilarious, it wasn’t uncommon for me to burst out laughing, completely derailing class so that I could collect myself. If my most challenging class was completely out of control, I often reacted with explosive, harsh fury. It wasn’t until the last quarter of the school year that I was able to change my behavior from reactive to responsive. Calculating a mature and controlled response to a given situation is much more effective than unleashing whatever gut reaction arrived initially. This sets a precedent that disruptive situations will be handled calmly and effectively each time they arise. It also reduces tension between teacher and student and shifts control back to the teacher. Pause. Breathe. Respond.

4. Try Again Differently

Sometimes I left school at the end of the day feeling successful, like I’d achieved what I set out to do and manifested my intentions. Other times I felt deflated, like I’d failed to turn my vision into reality and let my kids down. It was in these moments that I had to remind myself that I could try again tomorrow. And tomorrow, I had the chance to try again differently. If my lesson didn’t go as planned or the students didn’t connect to the material, I could revisit the same concept tomorrow using alternate methods. I could give them a different task or read a different poem; I could explain something with a real-life example or show a video. I realized that I had options, and each day was a new opportunity to start over. There are few jobs that allow you to simply forget about yesterday and start anew. That’s one thing I love about teaching: everyday at 3:30 pm I can let my students go home knowing that the next day at 8:00 am I’ll see them again, and together we’ll try again, hopefully a little better than the day before.

5. Never Stop Learning

If there is one thing I am proud of about my first year, it is that I never stopped looking at my teaching with a critical eye and asking myself, “how can I do this more effectively?” I took risks, and I was never too proud or afraid to incorporate suggestions from my colleagues and my students. As a result, my classroom was constantly evolving, and I was constantly learning—learning from my successes, my mistakes, and my failures.

Whether you are a school teacher, a professor, a yoga instructor, or a coach, never stop being a student. As teachers, we must be students first. We must forever cultivate our curiosity. We must always keep an open mind. We must be brave enough to experiment, knowing that if we are not successful, we have not failed— we have merely learned an invaluable lesson for tomorrow.

K(now) W(onder) L(earned) charts are an activity that I learned from one of my fellow teachers. It turned into a great way to engage my students in what they are reading!

K(now) W(onder) L(earned) charts are an activity that I learned from one of my fellow teachers. It turned into a great way to engage my students in what they are reading!

Fellow teachers, what are some lessons you’ve learned throughout your career? Share them in the comments below!

Learn on,

Savannah

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9 Things I learned from Yoga Teacher Training

It was only a couple short weeks ago that I received my 200 RYT and Yogahour® certification from YogaOasis here in Tucson. This ten-month-long training not only taught me about yoga, it taught me about myself. Below are nine major lessons that I took away from the experience. 

1. Work from the Foundation Up

As myself and my fellow teacher trainees learned how to instruct poses, our teachers taught us to deliver instructions from the foundation up. In other words, if the pose is reverse warrior (below) and the student’s weight is in her feet, start with aligning the feet and legs, then work upward. To me, this concept doesn’t just apply to giving directions; it is also a reminder to return—constantly—to the basics. To the breath, to the heart, and to love.

Reverse Warrior

2. Use Props

When I began yoga teacher training in August 2014, my attitude towards props was not positive. To me, props were crutches; I didn’t need them. That changed quickly, for I learned that props are not just things to lean on; they can be things to pull, things to squeeze, things that make your limbs longer, and things that make your poses stronger, things to melt over, and things to push against. The more I delved into using props, the more open, challenging, and truer my practice became.

3. Listen to Your Body

I say that my practice became “truer” when I started using props because I started using them in response to the needs of my own body. About halfway through the training, a recurring knee problem resurfaced, and I could no longer perform certain asanas in the same way. For instance, I could no longer straighten my leg in trikonasana, or triangle pose (below). Instead, I learned to place my hand on a block and gently bend my front leg. Now that I’ve learned to tune into and actually respond to the pleas of my body, my practice has become more modest, more nurturing, and more sustainable.

Trikonasana/Triangle Pose with block

4. Acknowledge Your Mistakes

Early on in the training, we were given a task to form small groups and each recite the exact instructions for a few of the poses we had memorized. We were not to use our scripts. In the group I was in, I was the first to be thrown into the fire. The exercise was challenging, but I played by the rules. After a few poses, another member of my group jumped in, and so on. When the final member of our group began her turn, she reached down for the script and began to use it to prompt herself. My ego quickly flared up. Who was she to break the rules and use the script? I thought. If it were me, would I want my peers to let me keep using the script? Or would I want them to force me to crash and burn? I decided I’d prefer the latter, and moved to snatch the script away. My fellow student snatched it back. I complained, saying nobody else had used the script. Then, she said something that made me wish I’d let it be: she told me she had a medical condition whose treatment caused her memory to falter, a fact which I was completely unaware of and should have never needed to know in the first place. I was floored. I immediately shut my mouth and withdrew. I felt shame, sorrow, and disappointment in my behavior. I had let my ego take over, and as a result I had hurt another person.

At the end of training that day, I apologized to my group member for how I had treated her. I acknowledged that it was a mistake for me to think that I knew what was best for another person and to impose myself upon her. She accepted my apology wholeheartedly, and we later became friends. In the end, I was grateful that she had pointed out my mistake and that I had confronted it. I would return to this lesson over and over again, not only in teacher training, but in my classroom, in my relationships, and it my yoga practice. By acknowledging my mistakes, I’ve transformed them into tools for learning and growth.

5. Let Go of Your Ego

Rumi said, “the Ego is a veil between humans and God.” I like to translate this as, “the Ego is a veil between humans and Love.” Throughout the training, whenever our teachers would offer someone the opportunity to share with the class, teach the whole group, or do a demonstration, my first thought was always “Me! Me! I want to go!” What followed next was a reminder from my inner self that although I was capable of doing whatever it was in front of everyone, I didn’t have to be the person in the spotlight all the time. Just because I didn’t jump on center stage didn’t mean that I was incompetent.

As I learned to let others take the lead, I began to feel more invested in the success of my peers. I felt joy as I watched my fellow students meet the challenges set before them, and I let go of my ego’s desire to show off. Now, I realize that what matters is not showing off, but showing up.

6. Practice Makes Progress

The lessons I learned during each session of training—whether they were dealt with my asana or my self-development—became exercises requiring constant practice. For instance, on my mat, I practiced bending my knees in standing poses to prevent hyperextension. At first, I thought this effort was fruitless because the pain in my knees did not subside, but now, months and months later, my entire practice has transformed. My legs are stronger, my knees are healthier, and my poses are more sustainable. My practice is far from perfect, but progress, not perfection, is what matters.

Falling_Tree_Sage

7. Reflect

One of the most useful parts of my teacher training was the brief minutes when we were asked to take out our journals and reflect upon a question chosen by our teachers. These questions included everything from “What is your word of the day?” to “Why do you want to teach?” to “How has the training invited you to be more courageous? To what degree have you accepted the invitation?” For me, these journaling exercises acted as a hoe tilling the soil, uncovering what has been buried and bringing fresh earth to the surface. As I attempted to answer each question, I tilled my own sort of inner garden, allowing new understanding and clarity to spring forth.

8. Know Your Lineage

During the second month of training, we discussed the lineage of Yogahour®. Darren Rhodes, the creator of Yogahour®, told us, “Lineage is leverage. What we have is really a recalibration of what is, what was.” My background, past experience, and origins are tools that inform what I create moving forward. Without lineage, I am like a tree without roots. By understanding my own lineage and what it has to offer, I can infuse my own offering with the insight, wisdom, and power of what has come before.

9. Take the Seat of the Teacher

Through this training, and the many experiences I had alongside it, I’ve learned to stand in my own power, to trust what I know, and to be where I am. Hopefully, where I am will be more and more in the seat of the teacher. This is a role I am eager to fill, but it is not without self-doubt, hesitation, and fear. If there is a tenth lesson I learned from yoga teacher training, it is that I have so much yet to learn. Supposedly, I know things now that I didn’t before, but here I am, feeling as though I know nothing. However, this should not and will not prevent me from giving all I that I can.

A gift from a friend.

A gift from a friend.

The following words came originally from Darren’s father, and he offered them to us. In the coming months and even years, I know they will come in handy:

“God does not choose the qualified. He qualifies the chosen.”

Love and light,

Savannah

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Re—

“Write with your eyes like painters, with your ears like musicians, with your feet like dancers. You are the truthsayer with quill and torch. Write with your tongues on fire. Don’t let the pen banish you from yourself. Don’t let the ink coagulate in your pens. Don’t let the censor snuff out the spark, nor the gags muffle your voice. Put your shit on the paper.”
– Gloria Anzaldúa

Put your shit on the paper.

Five months have come and gone without a single specimen of creativity. Five months have come and gone without the tapping tap tapping of the keys. Five months, and I haven’t put my shit on the paper, at least not intentionally, not voluntarily, not the way I want to. That doesn’t mean there’s been nothing to say. On the contrary, there’s been more to say these past five months than any other time in this chapter of my life:

go to the office, put your butt in a chair, but why?, I love you!, om nama shivaya, om shanti, please take three minutes to complete your Do Now silently and independently, AzMERIT, step one, step two, everybody line up!, I want you, good morning :), coffee?, Hi my name is Savannah and the word of the day is, take your hat off please, this is unlike anything I’ve ever felt before, namaste, step your right foot forward between your hands, 20 school days, 3 school days, I HATE water day, thank god it’s summer!, good morning, I love you

The words have poured out of my mouth and into space. Sometimes like tears, sometimes like screams, sometimes like raindrops, like laughter, like wine, like water, like comets, like waves colliding with people and hurling them down into the sea… but never like ink pouring onto paper. I’ve found these past five months that I can speak, but I cannot write. This paradox has led me to think about what it is that allows me to put my shit on the paper and what it is that never lets it land there. I think the determining factor has a lot to do with the prefix “re-.”

The Oxford Dictionary defines “re-” primarily as “once more; afresh, anew.” It then follows this definition with many more, the second being “with return to a previous state” as in “restore” or “revert.” For me, writing is a means of reflection, a sort of review, a revisiting of past events, thoughts, and lessons. All of those “re-” prefixes imply returning. To return means to steer yourself to a previous place, condition, or experience rather than continuing with your eyes set on what lies ahead. Hence why I’ve found it nearly impossible to write: living fully for the past five months has required that all of my energy and effort be directed forward. I’ve not been able to reflect on what has come and gone; I’ve only had room enough to bask, and burn, in the present.

With that said, I can now take refuge in a more fluid, slow-moving present: summer. During these short months, I have the space to revisit what I’ve learned and felt from January to June. I can review moments in which I made and grew from mistakes. I can restore the rhythm of the rapping on the keys. I can return to the past so that I may arrive in the future a little wiser. I can breathe. And as I exhale, I hope the breath will turn into words and travel down my arms into my fingertips where the words will turn to notes and the notes into music and the music into truth.

sunset in Tucson, AZ

Renew. Return. Rejoice. 

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