Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Ryan Krull Featured Reader at Tavern of Fine Arts on Monday, February 24

Ryan Krull will be one of three featured readers at the •chance operations• reading at the Tavern of Fine Arts, 313 Belt Avenue, on Monday, February 24.

Other featured readers will be Dwight Bitikofer and Mallory Nezam.

Musical guest: Raven Wolf, solo jazz saxophone.

Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Admission is FREE.

Open-mic follows the featured readers.

Ryan Krull is a native St. Louisian, currently in his final semester of study for a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. He works in academic advising for the aforementioned school, lives in Tower Grove and is a reader of the slush for Boulevard magazine. His fiction and journalism have appeared online and in print.

The Yogini Spinster

Yoga for these women is always followed by chitchat over lattés and today Lisa is the one doing most of the talking. She’s been on vacation the last few weeks and is dying to tell her friends this story she heard out west.

The story concerns a woman from the Bay Area who isn’t exactly fat but, especially out there in California, has always felt like she’s had to be twice as good at everything else just to make up for the fact that she’ll never be one of those girls you see jogging through Noe Valley in shorts and a sports bra barely breaking a sweat and owning everyone’s gaze.

She’s the sort of girl who carries her baby fat with her into adulthood even though she’s following diet fads and counting calories before she can even drive -- the sort of girl who goes the whole summer between high school and college without ingesting a single carb. But no matter what she does, her cheeks only soften and unlike the chubby boys her age she can’t just grow a beard to cover up her sagging chin. By her midtwenties it’s abundantly clear that the fleshy pounds aren’t going anywhere. What she’s carrying is immune to everything that’s ever worked for anybody else.

And the woman knows on some level that that's not really important -- her weight, her frame, whatever -- she’s always told herself it’s not defining, not half as defining as her full ride scholarship or getting hired right out of college or, later on, her being named the youngest junior VP in the history of her firm. But still.

Then in her early thirties she meets a guy through one of those dating sites, a guy who’s a professional in her field and who’s smart enough to see in her what she’s accomplished, how good of a friend she’s been to so many people, how she really does care about others and at her core is a good person. So this guy who’s pretty handsome and, though he’s not as successful as she is, has still done OK in his own right -- so this guy really hits it off with her and she seems to really hit it off with him and a year or so after meeting on that first date they’re engaged. Everyone in the woman’s family is breathing a sort of sigh of relief and is just absolutely thrilled. And together the two of them -- 30s, no kids, him pulling in close to six figures, her pulling in well over six figures, six figures in San Fran is still six figures -- they have a good amount of disposable income to spend on nuptial pomp and circumstance.

And this is when it gets interesting.

A month or two before the wedding he comes clean to her. He tells her that he knows it’s dumb and it’s 2012 and they’re a modern couple and everything, but he’s uncomfortable that she’s higher up in their field, and he feels like his coworkers and other colleagues at industry-type functions are going to spread the word about him and all that chatter might turn into a stigma. He tells her all this casually in the middle of their movie night at home, without even pausing the DVD. So she finds the remote and turns on the lights in the room. He tells her to wait and hear him out. Nothing’s going to change, he says, but there is a big promotion coming up at his firm in a few weeks -- and remember these are the same weeks leading up to them saying their ‘I do’s’ -- and he says if he just buckles down at work, if he puts some elbow grease into it and shows that he’s the type of person really willing to put in the hours, then he’s a shoe-in. And he’s doing it for her, he says, because he doesn’t want her to marry some guy she’s going to have to support and if they have kids down the line then the last thing they need to be worrying about is the money factor of her maternity leave.

She’s uncomfortable, obviously. But this guy’s about to be her husband, and she says, sure go for it. Get that promotion. He kisses her and grabs the remote, presses play, and thinks that’s that.

Over the next few days that whole interaction -- combined with all the other run-up-to-the-wedding craziness -- gets the woman thinking about ways in which she might not quite be bringing her share to the table. Ways in which she, well you know, might not be pulling her weight. Her mind takes off to that body-conscious, mirror-gawking place that she’s probably no stranger to by this point in her life. Six weeks out from the wedding she starts thinking like it’s not a marriage she’s supposed to be getting ready for but the Miss California Swim Suit Contest or something.

Anyway, she calls her sister who lives in Austin and her sister of course hears the stress oozing out of the phone, so she naturally suggests her poor sibling try some yoga, if it helps her get into shape, great, but what she actually needs to lose is some of that tension. The woman takes her sister’s advice and the very next day she’s at her first class, signed up for thirty sessions over the next thirty days. She’s into it full-bore.

And of all the hundreds of places in San Francisco, she happens to walk into the one studio with the one yogi who is all about the om and the breath of yoga, but not so much about the moving around. Her first class she spends mostly in Savasana and maybe moves into Child’s Pose once, and the whole time she’s being told to try to find her breath. Focus on your breath, the yogi keeps saying. Everything is just energy, it all moves through you and it is neither good nor bad, it only depends on how your body chooses to interpret it.

The yogi is like this sixty year old guy from India who doesn’t have an ounce of fat on him and, when he does actually move, moves like a teenager; the kind of instructor who when he’s just casually sitting Indian Style in the front of the class is actually in perfect Full Lotus.

She leaves that first class a little perplexed and thinking that she’s had some serious misconceptions about yoga. But she’s signed up for thirty classes and she hasn’t gotten where she is by giving up on things or quitting after just one day -- she went like three months without eating a piece of bread, for god’s sake. So she goes again, and again, and again on the next day, the next day, and the next.

The woman’s fifth class is when the old yogi first walks in with the bell. He sets it down in the back of the studio, not saying anything about it, and the class he leads that day is practically motionless. The woman’s in Child’s Pose for over an hour, her back and neck are filled with that pulling type of heat -- that’s when the yogi rings it. It sounds like one of those church steeple bells, but sharper and with more sustain. And there in the darkened silence of the yoga studio it’s the clearest sound the woman’s ever heard. In between the first and second ringing the yogi tells the class to imagine that sound as a personal bubble, completely protecting them from all those other petty noises that try to invade. Notice how, he says, well after the bell has quieted you can still hear its sound, it's still protecting your space and anything that comes inside that space can only do so with your blessing. And that’s when the woman has her realization: the man she is about to marry she doesn’t love.

When she gets home from class that night her fiancé asks her how it went and she says she’s probably not going to go back. She gave it a try and yoga’s just not for her. But, in a mere five days, her husband-to-be has managed to fall in love with the idea of a sleek and flexible, shiny, brand new wife. He tells her, no, she can’t quit. She’s not even a week in. He’s been working ten-hour days trying to get that promotion. He’s planning on working both Saturday and Sunday. ‘Don’t let me down, babe,’ he says. ‘Don’t let yourself down. Let’s not start the marriage by backing out on something.’ He talks to her like he’s her middle school softball coach or something. So just to shut him up she goes and throws her yoga clothes in the wash so they’ll be clean for tomorrow. She goes to class the next day, her sixth, and then the following. And her fiancé’s all of a sudden like super interested in her yoga now that he feels like she’d have quit if not for him. Every night he asks her about class and every night she tells him she’s not into it. ‘You’ll warm up to it,’ he says. "Ok," she says. And with each class’ meditation it becomes clearer to her that marrying this man will make her profoundly unhappy, despite how good she felt about it just a month ago, despite how much she’d still like to see it work. She can’t ignore the error she’d started making back on that first date: she was so distracted by this man’s acceptance of her, she never stopped and asked herself if she accepted him. She goes to her ninth class, her tenth. After her twentieth class, about three weeks in, she finally calls the wedding off. She comes home from class and whoever would’ve thought a ringing in your ears could be a good thing, but she uses that bell’s sound to stay calm and cool and immune while she breaks the news to him and he cries on the kitchen floor right where she’d broke the news to him -- he can’t even make it into the living room to a couch or a chair. Then he calls his mother, right there in front of her still in the kitchen, saying that everything is F'ed and calling the woman an F'ing B. And then he says -- he’s actually talking to his mother but of course the woman can hear -- he says that the whole promotion thing was a lie and actually his firm has brought in outside efficiency consultants and he’s confident they’ll recommend his termination despite all the extra work he’s been putting in. His words and his crying are all just petty noise to the woman though, unfortunate that it has to take place in her kitchen but none of it's getting past her bubble. She even helps her now ex-fiancé pack up all his stuff that’s made its way to her place in the past year.

Word spreads. The woman’s phone starts ringing that night and keeps ringing for weeks. There are emails and text messages too, of course. She replies to everything promptly and with a yogic calm. Her standard response is: that’s the cost of illumination.

The cups at Lisa’s table are fist crumpled and teeth marked around the brims. One of Lisa’s friends asks how she heard that story.

"After a class in San Fran," Lisa says. "Someone came up to me and was like ‘Do you know who you just practiced next to?’ I said ‘No’ and they said, ‘That was the yogini spinster. Aren’t you from around here?’ Her story’s fairly famous out there in yoga circles. The woman who jilted her man for the mat."

"What’d she look like? When you were next to her for the class?"

"Well before she even had her mat down I thought this woman looked melancholic. But after about thirty minutes I realized that was wrong. She looked like a woman with light around her, like no matter what happened to her in this life it wasn’t going to cause even a scratch."

-- Ryan Krull (Note: "The Yogini Spinster" first appeared in Whisky Island, Issue 61

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