On New Year’s Eve I received an email of which the subject line was For Maggie. The emailer didn’t acknowledge me with a hello, or introduce herself, she only pasted a poem she wrote.
When I was a child,
I preferred my own company
to that of other children.
I lived in my mind.
A favorite game was to trace my thoughts:
what am I thinking now
and connecting dots with previous thoughts.
This was immense fun
and also mysterious, as to thoughts that pop in my head suddenly…
those take much more analysis…
so here I was at the bitter end of 2015
after a year in exile from NYC
lying on the floor with my body aching
trying to twist out my pain like a pretzel
at my first yoga class in years
(my last one ended when it began
when the instructor played rap music)
thinking I hate the concept of passive yoga
but just need to stretch from my very active dance classes
with my wandering mind unable to turn off
my thoughts appeared like a random Waiting for Godot play
and my recent conversation with a stranger in the waiting room
echoed in my brain
our talk about art classes and museums and encouragement
and when I told her I went to art school and now am a lawyer
it never fails to astonish (even me when I say it out loud)
to imply that I am less than feeling fulfilled is an understatement.
The cosmic joke presently is that I am now working in the exact same building
I interned at a major music label in the 90’s, but now at a posh law firm
where the highlight of my day is the cafeteria I visit morning noon and night.
Like night and day, the vibe difference is astounding.
The label moved out and heads rolled and my old boss works in LA now
but I still recall a co-worker mentor warning me not to go to law school
which I proceeded to ignore his advice
we were at a culture that encouraged wearing jeans, afternoon naps, and free concerts.
even the old guys were young at heart.
flash forward to today where those ghosts are long gone
and I sit silently at a computer all day not speaking to a soul.
so here I am in a yoga class…even the word sounds strange to someone
who self medicated with cookies during blizzards by the ocean all last winter.
and I think of New Years Eve and more pleasantly New Years Day
and the annual Poetry Marathon
I’ve been videotaping for years
and looking forward to the lineup
and out of nowhere
I think of Maggie Estep
and how she was so great
and I filmed her there one year
then I thought back to a strange long phone call we had
maybe a decade ago
how I instantly connected after meeting some random place
and I told her I was working on spoken word poetry projects at Mercury
and also at Verve
bringing old music to the young
and young poets to the masses
and I had bought her cd in yellow
and listened over and over
as if she was my Cyrano
and she gave me her landline number
and said call me.
and I did. and we talked like we knew each other forever.
and that was the last I ever saw of spoke to her.
After 9/11 nothing made sense, not even music
and it all seemed so trivial.
Then I got into filming documentary working for Al Maysles
and started my “Last Remaining Beat Poet” filming
and filmed my first feature in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina
and here I am lying on the floor listening to violas and twisting my body
and I start to cry
as I shockingly remember
Maggie Estep is gone and won’t be reading at St. Marks this year
and I trace my thoughts from why am I thinking of Maggie suddenly
to New Years Day Poetry readings, to filming, to music, to beats, to 9/11, to Katrina,
to interning at PolyGram, back to the stranger conversation last week waiting for my first yoga class
to today lonely sitting at attorney temp job at the computer on New Years Eve thinking of last night’s second yoga class
when I read a memorial about Maggie Estep
and that she was a yoga teacher.
And she is.
It’s been almost two years since Maggie Estep died, and one year since I wrote this essay about our friendship. Our friendship revolved around yoga and writing—the only two things I’ve consistently practiced throughout the last decade. The last place I saw her was the yoga studio, and the first place I saw her was the yoga studio.
In 2013 it was Maggie who taught the New Year’s Day yoga class. This year I did not go to New Year’s Day class, as I was driving my cousin to the airport. So I went yesterday morning.
I go to yoga about three times a week. It is sometimes really uncomfortable to plop my mat down in front of the windows and alter at Sadhana Yoga Center and have to get through a 90 minute class in from of a photo of your dead friend. There is something funny about it —Maggie would find it delightfully morbid, I’m sure. Her photo sits with the Buddhas and Shiva and Dharma Mittra. I was in such a pissed off mood in class on Saturday, that when people were sent to the wall to practice handstand, I forfeited and took this photo instead.
Some evenings I got to Yin or community class and I don’t really think about the photo. But some days it is so prominent, and feels so awful, so depressing, so painful. Yesterday was one of those days. Saturday morning class was Maggie’s class. She taught on Saturdays and Mondays. Saturday morning class was the last place I saw her in Feb 2013.
So yesterday the only open spot was up near her photo in the front. Also there was a sub instead of the ‘normal’ Saturday teacher. I went in expecting to me annoyed with this teacher which is never good, and is exactly what happened. I got very annoyed with her style. In the beginning of class, she talked a lot. It felt cheesy to me and I wanted to say to someone, as a mean/bad joke: I didn’t know I was coming to a Ted Talk.
I knew what would have happened if Maggie was alive. She would have asked me after class what the sub was like, (she wouldn’t have gone to class because she was a snob) and I would have said, I felt like I was at a Ted Talk, and after that Maggie would refer to her only as Ted Talk or Ted Talk Lady. It’s just what she did.
To my right there was a woman in her fifties or sixties. I recognized her from a Saturday morning class two years ago. Maggie had us go to the wall, an annoying thing that yoga teachers do, and this woman was next to me. I asked her where she got her striped leggings. She told me T.J. Maxx, and we kept chatting about leggings and T.J. Maxx. Maggie came up to us and jokingly asked if she needed to separate us.
Well yesterday in the same exact room, the teacher had us go to the wall, and Striped Leggings Lady was to my right, and we were in the same place we were two years ago, at the wall, near the stereo. She was wearing the same leggings.
After the wall stuff, we went back to our mats. Class finished, tears were streaming down my face in shivasana, falling onto my ears. I felt so mad she’s dead. When class ended, while we put away our props, I caught Striped Leggings Lady’s eye. I asked her if she used to go to Maggie’s classes, and she wasn’t sure. So I said, “Oh, maybe you look like someone else.” “I went to exactly one of her classes,” she said. I reminded her of my memory and she said, “T.J. Maxx!” Then she told me Maggie taught her to twist her legs together in shoulder stand. She introduced herself as Lauren. Lauren didn’t notice I was about to burst into tears during this interaction, I don’t think. She told me she was thinking lately of people in her life who’ve died, too.
This morning I went to Sondra—owner of the studio’s class. When I see Sondra now, I don’t just see Sondra. I see Maggie’s funeral. Here’s an excerpt from Maggie’s post, The Chocolate Factory, dated January 2013:
Today, I got to go inside the chocolate factory. It was a good day.
I got up before the sun, gave Mickey his morning promenade, then went to yoga at Sadhana to take class with Sondra.
Sondra is a beam of sunshine. Even when she is very possibly not feeling like actual sunshine, she is able to transmit sunshine.
Sondra is one of those people who can do absolutely ANY yoga pose with grace and strength. Plus, she’s really good at saying genuinely soothing, uplifting things. Me, I’m not good at the “uplifting talk” aspect of yoga teaching. If I have had some uplifting experience and can relay it off the top of my head, great, but plotting out something to talk about to the yoga class always reminds me of why I didn’t become an actor.
I tried, for five minutes, to be an actor. During the High Visibility Phase of my writer/performer career, film directors would actually call and ask me to audition for their movies. I would kind of scratch my head and wonder WHY. But it’s very flattering when people ask you to audition for things, letting you skip that whole Actually Being An Actor phase and going right to being flown to LA to audition and be driven around and taken to lunch.
I can write just about any conceivable kind of being into existence, but I can’t morph myself into anyone other than ME. So I was in one movie that shall remain nameless and then ended my acting career and went back to my room to write novels.
Now, as I have perhaps belabored, the writing biz has changed and my income from it is modest. I have to leave my room all the time to make money teaching yoga and selling real estate. I am still getting acclimated to this whole Leaving The House thing, but it’s worth it when there is a chocolate factory involved.
Two days ago, there was yet another New York Times story (here) about Hudson and how great it is. Hudson has become the Times’ new darling, mercifully supplanting Lena Dunham and the show GIRLS as a favored topic.
An hour through yoga class this morning, Cool Woman I Know from town came in and plopped her mat next to mine. Then she hit me on the arm and asked what time class began. Ten, I told her. It was eleven. Fuck, she said, and we laughed.
Then I thought about Maggie and wondered what our relationship would be like now. Would she be next to me in yoga this morning? Would we go get coffee afterwards? Or would she be out of town? What would annoy us about each other? What new memories would we have? Would we have done another reading together? Would she be in the same apartment down the street from me? Would she still be teaching yoga on Mondays and Saturdays?
Grief is funny and mysterious. I can’t get Maggie off my mind because of the season. We met before Thanksgiving, swapped books on Christmas, spent New Year’s Day at yoga, did a reading together in February, and she died two days before Valentine’s Day. As yoga people like to say, the body remembers!
If you’re interested in Maggie’s work, I recommend her novels: DIARY OF AN EMOTIONAL IDIOT and ALICE, FANTASTIC. And watch her brilliance in the video below.
I miss and love you Maggie. I’m so happy I got to know you, so fleetingly, so special, so true.