Sunday, September 30, 2012


I was sitting at the front desk at the yoga studio talking to students as they filed out in their stretchy pants. After the rest of the group dissipated, Mrs. K and I remained talking about yoga. Mr. and Mrs. K are regulars and they always come in during my shift. Our conversation soon turned from yoga towards other things and Mrs. K decided to give me a test. I had no idea what she was testing at the time or how we had come to the point that she was behind the desk scribbling on my Post-It notes. I just went along with it.

“I need you to hold your arm out to the side,” said Mrs. K. “Stretch it out as far as you can. There is strength in the stretching.”

I held my right arm straight out to the side and strained my fingers towards the wall. Mrs. K brought her arm down on mine as though to break it.

“See? Right now you’re strong. But there are things we can do that can make you weak. Do you have a pen and paper?”

I gave Mrs. K a pad of Post-It notes and a red Sharpie pen. She scribbled furiously.

“Now, I’ll you now that I’m going to show you something upsetting so you can prepare yourself. Hold your arm out like you did before. Are you ready for this?”

She turned the Post-It note around very seriously.

I laughed. I had braced myself for a Sharpie replica of Guernica or the black spot from The Lottery. Once again her arm came down on mine, but my arm did not budge.

“Wow, you are strong!” cried Mrs. K, knocking twice on my chest with her fist. That face was supposed to upset you, but it didn't! You even laughed!”

“That’s my defense mechanism,” I admitted.

“But there are some other tests that we can try,” she said. “Now, I just want you to know that what I’m about to say to you is all a part of the test…”

Mrs. K turned slightly to the side, looked down, and glared up at me with disgust.

“You know what? You are terrible at this. You mess everything up and you ruin every day for me. You’re the worst person here. That girl you replaced? She was so much better than you, believe me. I'm never coming back here again.”

I maintained a straight face. She looked up again from the floor and asked me to put my arm out again. Once again, my arm did not collapse. She knocked on my chest like she was trying to draw out the little alien that operated my robot body.

“You are rare!” she cried. “You are so strong! Not many people can do what you just did. The sad face, the insults, that would throw most people off! But not you!”

“Thanks,” I said.

“People always tell me that I should do this test in bars. It works on almost everyone, it’s amazing. You can use it for so many things – do you have any candy?”

Since we were in a yoga studio, there wasn't a counter stacked with candy, but we did sell some candied nuts of the sort you find on the streets of New York City.

“I want you to hold this jar of nuts to your chest like this,” she said, putting the jar in my hand and positioning it. “And stick your arm out to the side like you’ve been doing.”

When she tried to push my arm down, it worked this time. I wasn't sure if I was confused or caught off-guard. Perhaps she was using more force this time, but I couldn't tell.

“Do you like candy?” Mrs. K asked very gravely.

“Not so much anymore,” I said. “I really like chocolate, but that’s not the same thing…”

“Mm-hmm,” she said. “Sugar is the only thing that weakens you.”

She knocked on my chest again.

“What does that do?” I finally asked.

“It stimulates the adrenals,” she explained. “But you can do this with all sorts of things – like music. You know how some modern music is like kkkkkkkomx#dtjoeiflpsb!hudhhbzcvqfgrufjzzzz&nodeddd? You can test how it affects you. And then after you just knock a couple of times on your adrenals and it brings you back to balance.”

Her husband came out of the studio with a yoga teacher.

“This girl is so strong!” she called out to him. “Her only weakness is sugar!”

Mr. K joined in on the test, eager to break me.

“Watch me very carefully,” he said.

With a wide grin on his face he stared at me as he marched in place like a robot.

“Now put your arm out to the side, keep it strong,” he said.

My arm did not budge this time.

“Now watch me this time,” he said.

He marched again with the same frightening smile in what seemed to be the same way as before and when he tried to collapse my arm, it gave out. Once again, I’m not sure if he was using more force the second time or if I was distracted, but it worked nonetheless.

“See what happened there?”

“Not really,” I said. “I don’t understand what you were doing differently.”

“You didn't even notice. That’s good! That means your brain is processing what I’m doing before your conscious mind. Watch me again,” he said, beginning to march. “Right arm, left leg. Left arm, right leg. Do you see what I’m doing?”

“Okay,” I said.

“Now watch this: right arm, right leg. Left arm, left leg. Does that make you uncomfortable or confused? Think of how a baby crawls. It’s instinctual. Right arm, left leg. Left arm, right leg. There, I fixed you. These are tricks we use in our acting troupe. If we want to play with our audience, someone might come on stage marching one way, then we might disorient them in the second act by having them march the other way. If you ever feel confused just march in place and it will ground you.”

“And if you’re ever watching a really rowdy group of children, just have them march in place with you,” Mrs. K said. “It calms them down. And if you ever get a really mean customer here, someone really difficult, just imagine a big, radiant sunflower growing on your chest. Then imagine that this difficult person also has a big sunflower, and it might be difficult to see but it will remind you to be empathetic and not to return their nastiness to them. And if you need to recover afterwards, just give yourself a little knock on the chest to stimulate your adrenals and it will bring you back to normal.”

At this point Mr. K was gone and Mrs. K was standing alone in the doorway.

“See you next week,” Mrs. K said. She blew me a kiss on her way out.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Six Flags Great Adventure

Dave and I stood at the foot of Kingda Ka, a steel roller coaster at Six Flags Great Adventure, not feeling very great or adventurous at all. A car rumbled across the lime green steel track that suddenly bent upwards at a ninety degree angle, pressing thirty fragile human bodies helplessly against the padded seats behind them and redirecting the car onto a one-way path to the stratosphere where it would surely melt in the sun, hopelessly clicking towards doom.

At the peak of the sweaty climb, everyone in the front of the car who was desperately clawing at the foam-covered restraints on their shoulders had several grueling seconds to regret their life choices as the car teetered on the apex, almost coming to a stop. Then the car slid forward, giving into gravity, and rumbled the back seats over the tip and plummeted to the earth below with a tail of fire, spiraling mercilessly. The faces of the passengers rippled as they cut through the air, splitting atoms in a torrent of shrieks.

“Why are we doing this?” Dave and I asked each other. The line of thrillseekers ended near the “One Hour From This Point” sign, but more adrenaline-pumped lunatics with souvenir cups full of Mountain Dew were queuing up by the minute. The line was only going to get longer before we made up our minds.

A group of bald guys roared at each other, “Let’s do this! Let’s do this!”

“I don’t think I can do this,” I said to Dave. “I’ve been out of the game for too long.”

“Did you say ‘out of the game?’”

By which, of course, I meant that I had just moments ago broken a six-year roller coaster fast on a “moderate thrill” wooden coaster and nearly popped a blood vessel in my heart. I’ve never been one for screaming my way down the drops, but instead found myself whimpering like a puppy. I tried to breathe deeply. Are my adrenal glands shriveling at the ripe old age of twenty-two? Has yoga and meditation completely decimated my capacity to appreciate a “moderate thrill?”

I was terrified of roller coasters when I was I was little. I’m still barely tall enough to ride them, which exponentially increases my chances of slipping out on the drop and careening through the roof of a Dippin’ Dots stand. My nine-year-old self had to maintain a reputation for fierceness and a Napoleon complex, but who did I have to impress now? Dave seemed as alarmed by the angles of the first drop as I did.

Dave and I tweaked our itinerary and headed to Superman.  We passed some girls in gray polos with clipboards.
“Have you ever considered a career in modeling?” they asked.

Six Flags modeling recruiters. I imagined my own image in the Six Flags brochure, digging my nails into the foam-covered restraints on the Kingda Ka, my open lips rippling and exposing a chronically wind-burned pair of tonsils.

“No,” I said, walking passing them quickly. “Have a nice day.”

The girls turned and descended, like animals, upon a woman in a burqa rushing by with a baby carriage. “Hello, gorgeous!”

We got on the Superman roller coaster, a high-thrill that we could both agree on. After this magnificent ride, we went to a food court boasting vegetarian options for lunch. I scrutinized the selection of Chinese food. Beside the register there was a cooler of full of sushi and cubes of melon.

“Who would eat sushi from a theme park?” I wondered to myself.

Then I noticed little containers of octopus salad on the bottom shelf and thought, “Who would eat octopus salad from a theme park?” Anyone can survive endure a high-thrill roller coaster, but it takes a true daredevil to ingest Six Flags octopus salad.

We devoted the rest of the afternoon to simpler theme park pleasures. We watched a bearded man on a white pony much too small for his stature ride the carousel alone. He grinned into his smart phone, videoing himself alone on the carousel. About half way through he turned the camera onto us.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

You Live With Giants

Today my short story "You Live With Giants" appeared in the Maurice Sendak issue of The Golden Triangle. The whole issue is decked out with wild things, read it all and click the smudgy, hairy giant below to read specifically about giant culture.

Do not glorify the wars of giants; that violence is in the past.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Directed by Michel Gondry

If my life were a movie, two things are for certain: it would be directed by Michel Gondry and star Michael Cera in a cascading blonde wig. It would probably focus on one rather banal day in my life, only in Gondry’s imagining everyone would have giant, inflatable hands. Dave would be played by Seth Rogen and Olive would be a robot. Every moment in my life up until page one of the script would exist solely to provide background for the script, and everything that happened post-page 120 would be unimportant. By the end of the film we would all see truths regarding relationships, art, and dreams.

The first act might begin with my first day of training at the yoga studio. As I travel to the yoga studio, following a crumpled page of directions, everything is just a little disorienting. For the first ten minutes of the film everyone on the bus is speaking to me in Spanish and I could certainly use a glance at the subtitles the audience is reading.

Once I finally find the studio, everything is peaceful. The studio director, played by Sylvie Testud, puts the phone to her chest and points for me to sit in an empty room across from the front desk. I leave my boots at the entrance and sit cross-legged on the floor. The room contains nothing but a room divider, an upright skeleton, and a system of ropes suspended from the wall. My face contorts as I scrutinize the system of ropes but my train of thought is quickly interrupted by a voice.

“Do you mind if I use the room?” a woman in the doorway says. She is very skinny and wears all gray. I nod and gather up my things so I can get out of her way. The woman tangles herself in the ropes and the gears behind her begin to turn. They are powered by some sort of Rube Goldberg machine: a mechanical hand dripping ice cold water from an infant medicine dropper onto the back of a dwarf hamster which runs on its wheel and propels a conveyer belt that rotates the gears of the rope system. It is Sylvie the studio manager’s invention. The ropes contort her body into impossible forms. I assume that she must be a teacher.

“What’s your name?” the woman asks me in a voice almost like a child.

“I’m Brittany,” I say. “What's your name?”

Her body is bent into a perfect triangle with bulging tendons and she looks at me from under her armpit.


“I was wondering what this machine was for,” I say, taking a closer look.

“Do you want me to show you how to use it?” she asks.

She helps me twist the ropes around my arms and waist and before I know my body is out of my control. The ropes pull me into downward facing dog and I hang from my waist like wet rag, my fingers and toes dangling just above the ground.

“Keep your knees bent,” Marie says. “You aren’t warmed up yet.”

“Brittany, what are you doing? I’m ready for you now,” Sylvie says from the doorway. “And Marie, what are you doing in the teacher’s room?”

I untangle myself and drop to the ground.

Marie wanders into a classroom, where everyone is standing on their heads. When the door shuts, the studio manager turns to me.

“Just so you know, Marie is one of our more… difficult students. I've been putting up with her for a long time, but sometimes she just loses it and I have to ask her to leave. Usually she does this when the temperature isn’t exactly seventy-four degrees.”

Just then, Marie ambles out of the classroom with a pair of black goggles strapped to face. We both give Marie a strange look. The perspective shifts to Marie and we see everything through her infrared goggles. Sylvie and I are outlined in red blurs on a fuzzy, black background. Green digital words and numbers pop up on the margins. Next to Sylvie’s head “98.6 degrees” flashes in red, and next to mine “96.6 degrees” flashes. The words “REPTILE” blinks across the screen. Marie gasps.

We watch her roll her hips and drop into warrior three. She bounces her torso to get a good stretch.

“Things have been better since I started going to that studio in Connecticut,” Marie says. Her torso falls and she hangs in a standing forward bend. “The teachers there are wonderful. I want to take the postures home with me, it’s really special. And of course, now that the season is changing I’ll be coming here more often. It’s just hard for me when the temperature is too hot. Anything over seventy-four degrees.”

She stands up straight. “I’ll see you on Thursday, Sylvie.”

Marie walks out the door, detecting the temperature of the passing vehicles. To her delight, this charming fall day is exactly seventy-four degrees.

I watch training videos on a computer screen. Over a period of a couple of hours my face grows increasingly weary and my eyes begin to lull shut. The first video is a busty woman explaining different brands of yoga gear, the second is about how to clean the rental yoga mats with a squeegee. I yawn. In the next video, an angry man in a bathrobe is nailing a yoga mat to the door of a Catholic church and yelling something about hypocrisy.

“What do you know about enlightenment?” he cries. “What do you know?!”

I stretch my arms out and it doesn’t strike me as unusual that at some point in the transition into the dream sequence I changed into a lizard costume. Now I am a lizard in a cascading blonde wig. I leave the desk and join a yoga class that starts at 12:30. The teacher is playing a popular song by Enya and the lyrics to the song are a string of pasta dishes served at the Olive Garden.

“Brittany, do you have any medical conditions I should know about?” the teacher asks.

“I am a lizard,” I tell her dreamily.

“Do you know what kind of lizard?” she asks.

I roll out my mat. As the class begins, we all come to our hands and knees at the front of our mats, tilt our heads up, bulge our eyeballs towards the ceiling, stretch our tongues to the points of our chins, and let out a growl from the backs of our throats that releases all the awkwardness and embarrassments of the day.