Monday, October 26, 2009

When Dating Yourself is a Stretch

Granted, the metaphor of dating oneself may wear thin if you start to think, heck, this is all about spending too much time alone! But living for all of us has to be about widening our perceptions and stretching our capacities. There are plenty of instances in life where every one of us finds herself alone. But I discovered a way to be alone together at Pasadena City College.

Now PCC's extended learning program ( offers all manner of non-credit classes. My favorite turns out to be Power Stretch, which meets in a dance studio room on campus every Saturday at 8 a.m. For one hour twenty-five (or so) adults move through a series of flexibility exercises. Equipment is minimal: loose clothing and a yoga mat if you like. Or borrow one of the mats provided. Also on loan to each student is a green stretching strap. If the equipment is minimalist, native ability is even less. Yes, you can do this physical activity! I have very little physical aptitude. I still recall how my fifth grade teacher selected me to stand in the middle of the circle for dodge ball. Fleetingly I gloated over the honor until it dawned on me that she knew I was too slow to participate as a ball thrower and would do better as a target. But power stretch is a different story. I can follow the directions, I can execute the movements, I can calm down, and I can be competent in the class. That is why I enjoy it so much.

Instructor Karen Harris is a personal trainer and kickboxing teacher by trade. She runs Saturday boot camp, stretch class, and air kickboxing. Our class is really about relaxation, but it takes you a while to figure that out when you first join,especially if your balance is wanting. Karen always reminds us, "The goal is to move through class with your eyes closed, getting into a meditative state." But of course it's a challenge to close your eyes that much without turning tottery. Karen leads us from standing willowy movements to stepping ("These are not lunges,") to floor exercises that culminate in leg and hip stretches courtesy of the green strap. You really can connect with your inner Gumby over the weeks, and any competition you'd sense is only within yourself. The class winds down with some yogic stretches and a return to the upright stretch. Karen always congratulates us and exhorts us to go on to a great day. Maybe it is the synovial fluid coursing through your joints that makes you believe it is indeed possible.

A class like this one gives an opportunity for think-time. I've heard that some people actually use physical movement to accelerate their problem-solving process. Maisie Dobbs comes to mind, the English detective in the same-named series by Jacqueline Winspear, who always takes a stroll when she faces an especially puzzling dilemma. Anyway, I like to walk myself down to PCC for Power Stretch and then walk back home to luxuriate in my thinking too.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

How to Date Yourself in Pasadena

When my marriage went kaput, I found myself with a whole new concept of time to manage. At first I devoted this cache of free time to making friends with the Law & Order team. After all, I discovered, they are available on several channels at all hours every day of the week. Elliot and Olivia, Goren and Eames, Fin and Munch--theirs was a comforting reliability during the many hours I found myself alone. However, they were actually only doing their jobs. They are tv detectives whose shifts have their limits. My attachment to them was illusory at best. I knew I was going to have to wean myself and face my brave new world. I decided I could begin by dating myself.

Dating yourself is a no-brainer. All tenets of social dating apply here, perhaps even more so. You have to be kind to yourself or it won't be enjoyable. You need to make a plan as to how you'll be spending your time and your money. You'll want to decide how to dress for your date. And there is no need to feel self-conscious. If you want to be aloof, play it cool. If you feel sentimental, release those emotions. If you are feeling like you want an educational outing, no justifications required. You're taking your own self places now and you get to be the boss!

At first dating myself felt tentative, non-committal. I might be walking my little terrier at Cal Tech, admiring stately arches or discovering the monkey frieze on the side of the genetic research building. Or I might be exiting All Saints after 7:30 a.m. Sunday service, gazing over our magnificent City Hall in a beatific morning light. I might be walking past the transients who drink their Sunday coffee on Euclid and discuss the reclamation of gray water. Gradually, I began to realize that all about me in Pasadena lay beauty and architectural integrity and humor. It was up to me: seek it out, enjoy it, and appreciate it!

One of my favorite Friday dates is going to a movie at the Academy Theatre on Colorado Blvd. You drive down Catalina past the ingenious little housing courts, past the planetary society (whose building is still for sale) and turn right into the free parking lot. You walk past the redolent Cobbler Factory on the way to the movie theatre. After 6 pm the ticket costs $3, and the movies are slightly aged, but who cares? I know the hot dogs are sold for a buck, but I can't seem to mix a hot dog with cinema, so I confess: I might smuggle Twizzlers or Tropical Dots in my purse. The Academy was filled with plenty of other independent daters the time I went to see The Visitor, and no one noticed when I shed a few tears during Richard Jenkins' eloquent confessional speech about the state of his spirit before meeting Tariq. When the movie is over at the Academy, if it's a late one, you almost have the sense that last one out switches off the lights. You stroll back to your car and head home. Soon enough it will be time for another outing.