Tag Archives: Sophie

practice matters: three years of drawing progress

Some say 10,000 hours of practice will give you a shot at mastery, and, well, Sophie has been putting in her hours.  But she and I didn’t  realize how much she has leveled up, and how quickly, until we ran across a couple of older drawing of the same subject and put them side by side.

Quick backstory: Terraria is a game she and her brother have played together since it came out in late 2013.  At the time, Sophie was nine and Luc seven and they got really into their characters, Frederick (Sophie) and Terraria (Luc, and, no, I don’t know why his character was named after the game). Here are these characters, as they exist on the screen.

terraria and freddy 1

That’s Freddy on the left with his spiked armor and Terraria on the right wearing a crown.  As part of the fun, Sophie-back-then drew a portrait of the two of them, just like they are here, only, “like they are in my head.”

freddy & terraria 2013

She was nine.  I remember her being pretty stoked at her first attempt at armor.

A year and a half later, then eleven years old, she ran across this drawing in her stuff and thought, I can do better now.  So she decided to redraw.

first terraria pic re draw 450

Already so much change!  She did this one with pencil and paper, scanned it in, and colored it on Photoshop.  You can definitely see the influence of manga comics, which she was reading a lot then, and indeed, she did several comics with these characters. I like how she added the life-stats bar over each head.

Which brings us to the present, it’s a year and a half again later, she’s twelve.  She stumbled across both drawings and once again thought, I can do better now.  She doesn’t play Terraria as much anymore, but still, a redraw of this now iconic portrait seemed in order.  Updated with her current skills and this time painted fully on Photoshop, of course….

terraria re draw 3 500

Not too shabby.  That’s a heck of a lot of improvement in three years.  Sophie works on her digital painting several hours a day most days.  Which makes me ask myself, what am I spending several hours a day getting better at?  What do I wish I was spending several hours a day getting better at?  Not watching tv or doing dishes, that’s for damn sure.  I wish it were as easy to see progress in novel writing, but it’s not so obvious.  I’d like to think I’m getting better.  I hope I’m getting better.  Sometimes I’m pretty sure I’m just spinning my gears, getting more bitter and less brave.  It’s easier to create art when you are young and haven’t gotten kicked around so much, isn’t it?  Or maybe that’s bullshit.  Maybe it always seems easier for someone else.

I asked Sophie if she wanted to say anything about the drawings and she said, “Any artist starting out has to get that no matter how crappy you think you are now, as long as you’re practicing, you’re getting better.  You can’t see it happening, but when you look back and compare, the results are night and day.”  She’s so wise. I love how she doesn’t hesitate to think of herself as an artist, and why wouldn’t she?  She’s doing the work.

freddy close up

i love my daughter really a whole lot but i kind of hate yoga

This morning was a Fuck This Fucking Shit morning.  You know those mornings.  The ones when you can’t remember a single viable reason why you do any of the shit you usually do.  Like, holy crap, who cares, right???

For example, “I’m not doing yoga,” I announced to no one.  “Fuck yoga.  Yoga sucks.  Nobody cares if I knock myself out on the mat every day, why do I work so hard at this, anyway?  I should give it up.  It wouldn’t change a damn thing.  I’m just going to flake out on the couch.”  Oh, yeah, I was a real pleasure to be around this morning.

Honestly, yoga has been hard lately.  My wrists have been aching and kind of burning—as a result, clearly, of a resurgence of interest in improving my jumpback.  So I’ve been doing more jumpbacks, on blocks, and more forcefully—well, not forcefully, but just, you know, pushing myself.  STUPID.  I always get hurt whenever I decide I’m going to try harder on any aspect of the Primary.  I really should have learned by now to cut that out.

Anyway, this morning, in addition to pining for coffee, being short with Paul, and hating my novel, I hated yoga too.  Go me.

But then Sophie says, “Mom, you should do your yoga so that you that when you’re old you don’t walk like this,” and she demonstrates a hunchbacked posture and takes a few mincing steps.  “If you give up yoga then you’re backbend will look like this,” she strains to get a glimpse of the ceiling from a face that is pointed down-ish over hunched shoulders, “and you won’t be able to play with me.  You should do your yoga because I want to play with you even when you’re old.”


Okay, yeah, I’m tearing up a little bit.  Piss off.

Sigh.  So, anyway, I did yoga.  A lame-ass, grumbling yoga practice, true, but still.

Good to remember that somebody does care, after all.

like i needed a second yoga practice

Because my days are just adrift with wide open spaces of nothing to do, I’ve added a second, daily, yoga practice to my schedule. Madness! It all started with that video going around of the scantily clad Briohny Smyth doing some lovely yoga for a commercial for something (what? I couldn’t figure it out), which led my internet click clicking to another video of her doing a press-to-handstand tutorial of sorts where she drags her feet gracefully in from Down Dog and then up into a floaty handstand. Here it is:

I showed this to Sophie because Sophie has been working on her handstand for years, every night, for fun, starting with cartwheels when she was four. Basically she hops up into a handstand over and over and over and tryies to stay up as long as she can. Ms. Smyth has slow-mo control and I thought Sophie would like it for that and for the beauty of the move, and she did. But, Sophie discovered, control requires a lot more strength than her usual momentum approach. “I can’t lift my feet off the ground like that,” she said. “They just won’t lift.”

I know the feeling.

A couple of days later I ran across David Garrigues video on how to “float” which is what an ashtangi calls moving through the Sury’s, the Sun Salutations, with that same slow-mo control that makes it look like they are doing the whole thing in a low gravitational field, like, possibly, on the moon. In the vid, David suggests this rocking back and forth thing, from feet to hands, to develop bandha/core strength. I tried it and sure enough, my abs were sore the next day. Hmmm.

David Garrigues presents Asana Kitchen: How to Float from David Garrigues on Vimeo.

But, thought I, this motion, this in-control lifting the feet up off the ground, this is the same as the start for Sophie’s handstand—so I showed her that video, too, and we both got up and tried it, liked it, and decided to do it regularly. Me for my pathetic jump backs and her for her press-to-handstand quest. So, every night for a week now we’ve done Mr. Garrigues’s abs-killer rocking thing until we groan.

And then, since I’m down there on the floor on my mat, and the Boy Crew (that would be Paul and Luc) are usually watching something on tv, or possibly playing Legos or Star Wars or Lego Starwars, hey, why not do a little yin yoga hip openers? Because lots of poses would be more fun if I could do a more comfortable lotus. Sophie likes lotus, so she does that with me. And after that, draping myself over a folding chair for some passive supported back bending is a nice way to finish it off…. So of course Sophie has to do a few drop backs.

We’re not talking a deep, meditative, focused practice, I know that. It’s purely physical, kind of extracurricular to the Real Practice. But always fun to practice with Sophie. And it’s more engaged that I usually tend to be in the evenings when often all I want to do is read a book. I sometimes feel guilty about that. There will plenty of time to read books when my kids are grown! The books will wait. My kids, however, are growing up at the speed of light. Better to spend the time with them now, while I still can.

Speaking of kids, Sophie is THE huge motivator in all this, I have to admit, because she WILL learn that press-to-handstand, nothing in the ‘Verse can stop her, and she practices every night. She shames me into it.

Oh well, any reason to get on the mat is a good reason if it works, right? Only if I’m practicing can the yoga to do its transformational magic.

sophie does the yoga journal cover

Grimmly just touched his toes to his head.  Big day for an ashtangi!  As I commented on his post, I remember being able to do that, I was maybe fourteen, no chance now!  But the crazy thing is, I remember being shocked to realize I could only barely do it, when previously it had been easy as pie.

Easy as Sophie makes it look:

This one is for you, Grimmly!  Raja kapotasana for the win!  Look at her put her head right in the soles of her feet!  I remember that sensation as a kid.  Maybe she and I have similar spines? Is it possible to get that back, now, at 40 years old? For Grimmly, the answer is yes.

When I read his post, I asked Sophie if I could take her picture “…doing that back bend thing you do?” and she said sure, and ran over.  “This one?” she said, flipping into one crazy pose after another, “or this one?”  She is doing all of these, of course, totally cold.

She stayed in this hangback for several moments while I waited for my camera to focus, all the while talking to me.  Then she slow-motion placed her hands on the ground, like reaching up to touch the sky.

“Don’t do anything that hurts!” I kept saying, “not even a little bit!”  To which she only rolled her eyes.  “It feels good, Mom.”  And I do remember that, I do, how it felt easy and natural to bend backward like this.  Can the remembering of it make it more possible in the now, I wonder, like those athletes who practice their sport in their minds?

Of course, progress in asana is not the point.

But it is exciting!  To be able to do what you would have sworn was impossible!  After only two years on the mat, I’ve had some of those.  Nothing so flashy as a head-to-the-toes, but still.

I tell Sophie, “do it every day, or you’ll lose it,” because I wish someone had said that to me when I had her spine.

And so sometimes, for fun, Sophie does an entire Primary with me.  She does many of the hardest poses like they are nothing, but then, interestingly, struggles with some that seem easy to me, like shoulderstand, or plow.  She can’t seem to get her shoulders underneath her for those one and keeps falling over.  Every body is different.

And hey, aren’t these some cute clothes we dyed?  Sophie’s design on those pants.  She’s amazing.

what would you wish for?

If you’re an Avengers fan, you know all about [cue the woo woo music] the COSMIC CUBE.  The Cosmic Cube is, “like a big cube that if you touch it then you can wish for whatever you want and then it happens in some way.” That from Sophie, who has seen the Avengers “way too many times” this summer.

We’re walking to the candy store, Luc’s nirvana, talking Avengers and what we want to do with the rest of the summer.  Sophie’s pretty excited about the candy store, but she’s playing it cool.  Luc, on the other hand, is nearly bursting with his big plans for Candy Domination.

Luc says, “Loki would wish for the world to be destroyed and be re-carved in his image.  Everyone wants that for some reason.  The villains I mean. But if Ant Man could touch the cube, he would probably wish for world peace and no violence.”

“Huh,” I say, “So, what would you wish for?”

Zero hesitation: “To be a Lightning Ninja.  And to have an automatic cotton candy dispenser.  And own a toy store.  No.  To be a Lightning Ninja who owns a candy store that also sells toys.”

“I see.  No world peace for you?”

Luc shrugs. “Nah.”

Okay, enlightenment in this lifetime may not be in the cards for Mr. Luc.

“What would you wish for?” I ask Sophie.

Shrug.  “I don’t know.  I don’t have anything I want to wish for.”

Is this more playing it cool?  “There has got to be something you want.”

She considers.  “Okay, that I get to play with my friends for as long as I want, any time that I want.”

My daughter, the social butterfly, born to a family of rabid introverts.  “Okay, we’ll work on that.”

“So, what would you wish for?” says Sophie.

“Hmm…”  No medical bills?  No, I’ve got it: infinite riches!  No, no—to be able to always instantly find the remote!  No, no—world peace AND I can always instantly find the remote!

Luc jumps in.  “She would wish for time enough to write 5000 words a day.  And to not ever be tired.”

“Yeah,” says Sophie.  “And to have lots of people read her books.”

“Yeah,” says Luc.  “And chocolate.  Lots of chocolate.”

“Yeah,” says Sophie, nodding.

My kids know me so well.

But we’re approaching the candy store now, it’s in our sights, and Luc forgets about the Cube and begins to sing dramatic music and practically vibrate in excitement.

Sophie laughs.  “Apparently the candy store has its own theme song.”

“Of course it does,” says Luc, exasperated at the obviousness of this.

I’m not sure what I can do about the Lightening Ninja business, I’m still thinking on that. (Aikido classes maybe? Or maybe to make up stories of Lightning Ninjas? Hmmm…)  But the candy and toys and the friends, those wishes I can get right to work on.  Because being a Mom is to have, in the eyes of my kids, the power of the Cosmic Cube.

And every kid ought to get their wishes granted as often as possible, if you ask me.

Because life is short.

hats, guns, and dogs

Meet Luc, Outlaw Extraordinaire and a scary gentleman indeed.

That’s a root he found in the park mulch, perfectly gun shaped.  This is what little boys do: they find weapons in the simplest of objects.  I know some moms try to limit, prevent, or disallow gun-play, but this seems like a mistake to me.  If no one is getting hurt, no one is getting hurt.  Trying to make someone else play the way you want them to play is a good way to get yourself booted from the game, which brings your Mom Influence down to Zero.  Or the game goes underground.  I’d rather be in the game any day, then have them play secretly away from me.

Oh, he’s also wearing my hat, which he stole, because he’s an outlaw, and because he, “looks cuter in it.”  Can’t argue that.

So, guns a-blazing, my sweet Luc becomes the baddest of the bad.

It’s an awesome game.  Be BAD, get away with everything, and then go home for snacks.

A word of advice: don’t cross Outlaw Luc!

The only person brave enough to get close to him is his dog.

And his Mom.

Who had to wrestle Luc to get her hat back.  The hat is my new solution to a particularly long run of Bad Hair.  Sophie says it’s my guitar hat, because all guitar players wear hats.  So, clearly, I needed one.

Here is Sophie and Henry, running for their lives from Outlaw Luc.

It was a wild world at the park today!

“What?  I don’t want to go home yet!”

a beautiful problem

Yesterday I got home from some errands, and, happy to see her, I grabbed up Sophie (6) and started kissing her all over her face.

After a moment, in a patient, friendly voice, she said, “Could you do this a little faster, Mom? I’m sort of in the middle of something.”

It’s kind of wonderful to be in a position in one’s life to take such a mushy display of love for granted.

sophie takes off!

Guess what Sophie did?  She’s riding her bike without the training wheels!  She got the balance part on the first try—she is so cool!  It was that whole iconic moment, the one where the dad is running along, holding up the bike, and then he lets go and the kiddo peddles on, free, and it’s like they have taken off into flight! I guess it’s about as symbolic-of-parenthood moment as there can be, right?  Well, we were all cheering and shouting, and losing our minds.  And she was SO HAPPY.

It’s such a small thing, in the course of a life, to ride a bike.  It hardly seems worth the intensity of the emotions I felt when she got it, but it’s so huge to her.  At six years old, riding a bike is power and freedom and speed and independence.  It’s fantastic!  I guess I feel her triumph in that moment.  She might as well have won the Olympics, the way my heart soared for her!

Of course, after that triumphant moment, she spent three days falling down.

Over and over and over she worked to figure out all the details, how to push off by herself, how to slow down and brake, how to coast, all of it.  She must have fallen over fifty times.  More.  But she would just get back up and do it again.  And again and again.  Only one time did she get frustrated—it was a worse fall than most of the others and she was shaking and flushed from it.  I helped her up, brushed her off and she said, “I just can’t get it!” I suggested she take a break, hey let’s go get a snack or something, but she shook me off.  “No.  I want to do it.”  And she got back on.

I keep thinking about that.  I am SO IMPRESSED with how she sticks with whatever she has set her mind to do. Two summers ago it was cartwheels.  She wanted to do a cartwheel and she practiced every day, tumble after tumble, until she could do a perfect cartwheel, no, a bunch of perfect cartwheels, one after another, across the grass.

This summer it’s biking.  She’s out there right now zipping around on her bike, a bit unsteady on the braking, but just as proud of herself as can be.

And she should be.  She was absolutely NOT taking no for an answer from that bike, or from herself.

Go, Sophie, go!

tapas and a bit of intermediate

I wrote here about three things I didn’t (yet) get about ashtanga: driste, rolling over one’s toes, and tapas.  Well, it turns out, they’re all related, so no wonder I was struggling.

First, the easy one.  I figured out that toe-rolling and heat are linked.  When I finally got strong enough to keep my knees off the mat for all the chaturangas and up dogs, I got warmer.   Even the briefest of knee-touch-down on the floor for toe flipping decreased my temperature—like taking the lid off the pot, even for a second, lets out the heat.  Even if I try to stay engaged, bandhas and muscles strong, that touchdown is an energy leak.  So I stay up now.  Not warm, but warmer.

Next, driste. I ran across Richard Freeman talking about this on his Studio Talks disk on driste.  He says driste is “allowing your eyes to rest on a single point, externally or internally.”   “The eyes are a particular manifestation of the brain.  The movement and engagement of the eyes take the mind, very much, with them.  Practically instantaneously—” and then THIS: “To allow the eyes and mind to rest on a single point creates, very quickly, tapas, or heat.”  So there you go.  Me and my chilly yoga, me and my wandering gaze.  But check this, he also says, “Without tapas, you’ll simply be floundering…The engagement of the eyes creates heat or concentration of the mind, and it’s the concentration of the mind which actually makes the practice a yogic practice.”

Damn.  I’m just doing gymnastics!  Well, okay, that’s fine, I’ll get there.  Doing yoga in a room with two little kids, plus maybe Spongebob or a video game, or both, means to be distracted, to answer questions, to change the channel, to stop to wipe someone’s bum or get someone a glass of juice.  I don’t think I would be better off waiting to practice until I can practice uninterrupted.  Tapas-less yoga it is for the time-being.

But now that I know this, I’ve started noticing the distinct feeling of drops of heat building, and then being lost, when my focus is lost.  Like a bar filling on the bottom of a game screen.  I can actually feel my temperature going up and down depending on my mental focus.  This is so cool!  Yoga works!

And, wow, my mental focus sucks.

Moving on.  Intermediate.

In ashtanga, there are six series.  Primary is the one I’ve been working on, duh, because it comes first.  There is quite a mystery around Sixth, also called Advanced D, as, I think no one actually practices it (maybe Sharath does?).  Basically, for you non-yoga folks, in ashtanga yoga, you do 10 sun salutation, then the standing poses, then [insert series here, primary, intermediate, advanced A, etc], and finally everyone does the Finishing Sequence. I love the finishing sequence.  David Swenson says ashtanga is like a sandwich, with the surys and the standing poses the bread on one side, the finishing sequence the bread on the other side, and the series—primary, intermediate, etc—the sandwich filling in between.

Anyway, after six months of eating primary sandwiches, I’ve decided to nibble a few intermediate sandwiches.  Here’s the reason: (1) I can’t add poses to the end of first (the traditional way to begin Intermediate is to start adding new postures, one at a time, to the end of the first series, until you have enough to split it into two again) because my kids can’t tolerate me practicing that long.  (2) Rather than a longer form, what I really need is a shorter form for a couple of days a week when I don’t quite have time to do the whole thing (like on horseback riding days).  And, (3) I’m trying to work up to backbending, even though my back is like concrete, and hey, the first eight or nine poses of intermediate are heavy in back-opening poses. So, boom, I figured could do the first eight or nine asana of Intermediate and get my short form, and my backbending prep, a couple times a week.  Alakazam.

I did the whole Intermediate once, just for fun, using Swensen’s dvd, and it nearly killed me.  In a good way.  I mean, I can’t do 80% of the poses, just variations, but that was fine.  I was still trembling by the end.

But, oddly, I can do the first 8 poses pretty well, including the usually tricky Pasasana even with my feet completely flat.  Everyone gets a gimme pose, right?  This one, apparently, is mine.

Next is Krounchasana , doable, as long as my leg is far away from my chest.

A pathetically low Shalabhasana  A & B, is next, which feel like cracking cement:  much needed.

Bhekasana next, which feels freaking fantastic.  I do one leg at a time like this , then the traditional two leg version.

Followed by Dhanurasana , which for me is this wimpy, collapsed thing, a balloon with no air, but that’ll change.  And don’t even get me started on the Parsva version where I flop like a rustled calf onto one side then the other.  Hilarious.

Finally Ustrasana,  my nemesis pose, which I do three times, once up on a high block, once on a low block, once pressing my sacrum with my hands.  Maybe in a few months it won’t feel like I’m going to break when I do this. It feels desperately needed.

And that’s it for me for my intermediate filling, pretty skimpy, given what comes next in the series, but it feels great to get these backbends in.

I should add that about at this point, in the finishing postures, Sophie gets interested and comes to do her practice.  She does a full backbend, then lies on her tummy and rests her head on the soles of her feet (backwards), while I do my limping, supported Urdhva’s.  She does a handstand and a headstand while I do headstand against the wall (I can get off the wall, but I’m too scared to not have it there, just in case—she does not have this fear).  Then she does full splits, both out to the side and front to back.  And finally she does the three padmasanas of finishing with me, although I only do half lotus, and she does full.  And she can actually lift herself off the floor in Utpluti .  I have to leave one leg down.  Sophie is a total yogini badass.

I’m not sure I understand the choice in current ashtanga training of keeping the Intermediate poses back until you are really awesome at Primary.  They feel fantastic and just what my extremely stiff back wants.  Kapotasana, forget about it.  But since I know it’s going to take me years to get there anyway, I might as well start now with the prep poses.

Even if I have to wear a sweater.