Tag Archives: Alex Feels Some Feels

360 Days of Downward Dog

I never thought of myself as the type of person who did yoga.

Yoga was for other people—fashionable, bubbly, naturally athletic people who liked gym class. Not a clumsy introvert like me.

Then 2020 happened. I spent hours walking outside. When it got too cold and dark to do that, I turned to YouTube videos. I landed on some easy yoga videos and gave them a try. I didn’t even have a mat, but I finished those beginner yoga sessions feeling pretty good. It helped that the teacher gave options, dumbing down the harder moves. And it really helped that I could do yoga in my house, alone, where no one else could see me wobble in tree pose or barely lift my head in cobra.

A few months later, I tried a 30-day challenge. Then another. And another. It wasn’t serious. After all, I wasn’t a yoga person! But as the pandemic rolled into its second year, I decided to see how many days in a row I could maintain a yoga practice.

In the year 2021, I did yoga 360 times.

I did yoga on New Year’s Day, and on my birthday, and on Christmas. I did it on weekends, and on days I was busy, and on days I was sad. Some days, I did yoga at six in the morning. Some days, I did yoga at eight at night. It didn’t matter when. All that mattered was that I turned on the YouTube video and followed one class per day.

It also didn’t matter how I felt about it. There were days I loved every minute of the class. There were days I hurled curse words at the TV the entire time. There were days I sat on my mat for several minutes after the video was over, blissed out by my yoga practice. There were days I rolled up my mat the split second it was over and literally ran out of the room.

Some funny things happened during all those good days and bad days. For one thing, I got really, really good at yoga. I’m flexible, I’m strong, and this old gal can hold a plank! That wasn’t my intention. I simply wanted to “do yoga” every day. I didn’t care if I was good at it. In fact, I never actually tried to get better. My only goal was to get through the class. I was going for quantity over quality. But wouldn’t you know it? The quality happened anyway.

The other thing that happened is that I became a person who does yoga. Seems obvious, right? Someone who does yoga every day is clearly a person who does yoga. Just like someone who bakes every day is a baker. Or someone who plays piano every day is a piano player. But I resisted that at first, still thinking of myself as the weak, clumsy, non-yoga person.

But something clicked around March or April and I started thinking of yoga as part of my identity. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t good at it yet. It didn’t matter that I was resentful and cranky some days. It didn’t matter that crow pose scared the bejezus out of me. What mattered is that I showed up day after day.

I missed five days of yoga this year. Two were because I was traveling. Others were because of headaches or dental work. I’m not worried about those days. Nor am I going to try to go for a “perfect score” in 2022. I don’t have to be perfect. I just have to roll out that mat day after day after day.

I have a feeling that doing yoga in 2022 is going to be easier than in 2021. Not because I’m better at it, or because I’m used to the routine, but because it’s a part of me now.

I’ve become a person who does yoga.

About the author: Alex Kourvo is an editor-for-hire and writing instructor. She’s still too scared to attempt crow pose.

Fall Color

Here in the Midwest, we’re obsessed with fall. It evokes coziness, sweetness, comfort. And because school starts in autumn, we associate it not with an ending, but with a fresh start.

My favorite part of autumn is the trees, especially the blazing orange maples. Winter is right around the corner, but these beauties are going to shine before they fall.

I took these pictures in my neighborhood in October, right at peak color, and looking at them makes me happy. I hope they’ll make you happy too.

Alex Kourvo is a freelance editor and the author of The Big-Picture Revision Checklist. She loves living in the Midwest.

My Neighbor Mister Rogers

He was the best at being human.

As I watched today’s Google doodle, I cried happy tears remembering good things from childhood, sad tears that one of my heroes is no longer with us, and even sadder tears thinking how much the world of 2018 needs his voice.

I remember once—I must have been about four—when we were running late for preschool and my mom was super busy. I don’t remember why we were late, maybe one of my siblings was sick or something. But my mom, frazzled, handed me my clothes in the morning and told me I could get dressed while watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

I dressed behind the couch so Mister Rogers wouldn’t see my underwear.

That’s how real he was to me. His calm, measured voice, and the way he looked at the camera, made me certain he was talking just to me. So of course, I assumed he could see me too.

Have you seen the documentary about Mister Rogers?

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I sobbed my way through that one too, along with the rest of the audience. It turns out that the Mister Rogers we saw every day on television really was the same in real life. He was the best of us. He was the human we all aspire to be—kind, understanding, smart, playful, and seemingly without ego. And he could play piano too.

Along with that intense hit of nostalgia right to my heart, Won’t You Be my Neighbor made me think. What would Mister Rogers say if he was alive today? What would he say about the Nazi rally in Charlottesville? About the shootings in Orlando, in Las Vegas, in Parkland? About refugee children taken from their parents and locked in cages?

Even in the hardest of times, Mister Rogers seemed to know the right words to comfort children—and adults, too. His “look for the helpers” quote got a lot of us through 9/11 and it seems to pop up on social media whenever there’s a tragedy.

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I don’t know what Mister Rogers would say about our current world. But I know he would say it with kindness and empathy. He would teach us lessons about living in harmony with other people. He would acknowledge how important our emotions are. And he would never, ever let us forget that he liked us, just the way we are.

If you need me today, I’ll be watching some old episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood on Netflix. You’ll probably find me behind the couch.

About the Author: Alex Kourvo is an editor-for-hire. She’s trying to be a better human.

How to Talk to a Woman with a Broken Computer

There’s a right way and a wrong way.

Last week, I suffered a computer crash. All my files were backed up, so it wasn’t a disaster, just a bummer. But it could have been an even bigger bummer without my new friends Jason, Brandon and Joel.

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After trying to reset the machine myself, I headed to the Apple store. When they check you in, you don’t take a number. The greeter uses an iPad to check you in, jotting down some details of your appearance so the clerks can find you in the crowded store. I didn’t see what the greeter wrote down, but it was probably something like, “Middle-aged mom hugging her mac like a baby.  Looks clueless.” I braced myself for a guy half my age to mansplain my computer to me.

It never happened.

A tech named Jason was working on several computers at once at the “genius bar.” He listened patiently when I told him what was wrong with my mac, never interrupting me. His body language was relaxed, interested, even though I’m sure he hears the same thing all day long. He tried, unsuccessfully, to reinstall my operating system. He couldn’t figure out why it didn’t install, but he never acted like that was my fault or my problem to solve. (I’ve had that experience before. Yuck.) I peppered him with questions and he answered all of them, talking me through the problem without talking down to me.

He ultimately had to give up and turn my machine over to an even younger guy named Brandon. Brandon had a solution. I could either go to the earlier version of the OS, which would work fine, or get a new hard drive and use the current OS. We discussed price and time to service, and I decided to go to Best Buy for a new hard drive, since it would be cheaper and faster than going through Apple. Brandon thought that was a great idea and sent me on my way. He didn’t try to talk me into staying in the Apple family. He didn’t try to scare me into using their higher-priced services. He knew I could be trusted to do what was best for my own computer.

The next day, I went to Best Buy. I haven’t visited the Geek Squad in several years and my last experience wasn’t a great one. So my hackles were already up when I approached the counter. I was sure the Jack Black lookalike was going to treat me like an idiot.

It never happened.

Jack Black’s real name turned out to be Joel, and not only did he not talk down to me, he did the opposite. He empowered me. He said he couldn’t install a hard drive on my mac, but I could certainly do it myself. When I looked doubtful he said, “There are videos on YouTube. You’ll just need a phillips screwdriver and a star-shaped one. You have those, right?” (Bonus points to Joel for assuming I have tools.) He gave me his number to call if I had any trouble, but he assured me I wouldn’t. “You can do this!”

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Swapping out the hard drive was as easy as Joel said it was and so was reinstalling my OS and my backed-up files. (Always back up your files, kids!) And even though it was so easy a cat could do it, I’m still super proud of myself for accomplishing it.

And I’m proud of my new pals Jason, Brandon, and Joel for treating me as though I could.

Now, I’m not saying that sexism is solved simply because I had one good experience. In fact, a different man called me “sweetie” the day before and someone else talked over me the day after. And of course, there was the weird guy at the con last month. But I have hope. Somewhere along the line, these three young men were taught a better way. A mom, a wife, or (or more likely) a female boss clued them in.

Now let’s hope they clue in others.

About the Author: Alex Kourvo is a freelance editor who works on a macbook with a newly installed hard drive.

This One’s for you, Dad

Thirty years ago, I made a promise. I’ve kept it ever since.

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I hate wearing a bike helmet. When I wheel my bike out of the garage, I always pause with the helmet in my hand, fantasizing about riding with a bare head, arriving at my destination without a sweaty neck and flat hair.

But every time I go somewhere on my bike, I plop the helmet on my head. Not because I think it will save my life. It probably won’t. Not because of peer pressure. In the town where I live, hardly anyone wears a bike helmet. But still, I wear mine each and every time I ride my bike.

Because of this guy.

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That’s my dad, holding me as a baby. I bet he’d still hold me that tenderly if he could.

When I was in college, we worked together one summer painting houses. I loved hanging out with him, working side by side, listening to the radio and chatting. One day, I mentioned that a few months earlier, while biking to class, I’d fallen off my bike and hurt my knee and elbow. Dad expressed sympathy, but didn’t say anything else about it until the next afternoon.

“You know, I’ve been thinking.” He dipped his brush into the can for more paint and expertly applied a line. “If I bought you a bike helmet, would you wear it?”

“Sure, Dad.”

I could tell by his expression that this meant a lot to him.

“I’ll wear it every time,” I added. This was the late 80’s. Nobody on my college campus wore a bike helmet. I’d certainly never worn one growing up. I had no idea how hot and uncomfortable it would be.

I wore it anyway. And when I went back to college, I got teased for it. The girls mostly left me alone, but the guys always had something to say.

“Are you wearing that so your brains don’t fall out?”

“Do you just walk around with that on all day like a special ed kid?”

“Did you leave your motorcycle somewhere?”

My campus was ninety miles from home. My dad would never know if I rode without a helmet. I could take it off, ride bare-headed, be cool, fit in.

I didn’t. I kept it on. Every ride. Every time. I didn’t care what the other kids said. I wasn’t wearing the helmet for them.

I was wearing it for someone more important.

And I still do.

About the Author: Alex Kourvo is an editor-for-hire. She hopes her dad has a wonderful father’s day.

A Woman Who Can Ride a Unicycle Can Do Anything

No matter what you got your mom for mother’s day, it’s not as cool as what my kids got me.

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I have wanted a unicycle for years. I was always delighted to see one-wheel riders in parades and shows. Seeing a unicycle for sale made me sigh wistfully. I watched videos on YouTube and thought “someday…”

Then I came across this quote.

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It made me think about what I was capable of. And then I realized why I’d never bought myself a unicycle and why I’d never tried to ride one.

For twenty-five years, I lived with a partner who didn’t think I was capable of anything. He didn’t think I could be a successful writer, or a good mother, or a skilled editor, or an inspiring teacher. Even when I clearly was all those things, he insisted I was not. He second-guessed every independent decision I made and never once told me he was proud of me. When we divorced, I told him I’d be fine. He snorted, “No, you won’t.”

But I am. I am more than fine. In the past few years, I’ve learned just how capable I am on my own. I sold my house and bought another. I dealt with evil realtors and surly bankers and the odd rules of court. My son needed surgery at a special clinic in another state, so I arranged it and financed it. I launched my oldest kid into college. I held my little family together.

Turns out my kids were watching the whole time. And they always knew what I was capable of. So when I asked for a unicycle for mother’s day, they didn’t try to talk me out of it. They didn’t undermine my confidence by asking, “are you sure?” Without any hesitation or debate, they pooled their money and bought me the exact model I wanted.

They gave me more than a unicycle. They gave me a symbol. Every time I ride it, I’ll know how much my kids believe in me. No matter how many times I fall off, they expect me to get right back on again.

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I’ve been practicing twenty minutes a day, wobbling up and down the driveway, clinging to the garden wall. Losing my balance, falling off, getting on again. But I’m not giving up.

I’m going to learn to ride this unicycle.

Because I can do anything.

About the Author: Alex Kourvo is a freelance editor. She is finding her balance.

See You at the Polls

If you don’t vote, you’re giving away your power.

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Vote for your favorite or vote against your least favorite.

Go in educated about the issues or go with your gut.

Carefully consider what you’re doing or decide at the last minute.

Do it as cheerful exercise of your citizenship or do it as an unhappy obligation.

But whatever you do,

VOTE.

About the author: Alex Kourvo is an editor-for-hire. She can’t wait to vote on November 8.

Mad Max: Beyond Feminism

Everything you need to know about Mad Max Fury Road is found in its midpoint scene.

Fury Road basically explodes in your face, so you have to wait until the adrenaline wears off to poke around in the ashes for things like character and theme. I saw it in the theater multiple times and each viewing made the movie a richer experience. There’s a lot to unpack here. Is Fury Road a feminist movie? Of course it is. But feminism is just its starting point, because everything in this movie is over-the-top, including its theme.

This post is filled with spoilers, which is why I waited for the DVD release to write it. So watch the movie, then come back so we can talk about…

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This scene. Everyone’s favorite.

It comes sixty-six minutes into a two hour movie. It’s the centerpiece of the film, not just in plot but in theme.

But to understand why it’s so important, we need to look at an earlier turning point. About a quarter of the way into the movie, Max and Furiosa are still enemies. Max has disarmed Furiosa’s party. He has all the guns. He’s holding Angharad as a hostage. And Furiosa says the strangest thing to him.

I need you here

You may have to drive the rig.

She doesn’t ask for his help. She doesn’t threaten him with her hidden knife. She doesn’t try to negotiate. She says four simple words that don’t make any sense at all.

“I need you here.”

Except they make perfect sense in the context of the entire movie. Because Fury Road’s central question, “Who killed the world?” does not lay the blame at the feet of all men. Nux and the other warboys are victims just as much as Immortan Joe’s wives are. So is Max “Bloodbag” Rockatansky, whose only mistake was trying to survive alone in the Wasteland. The problem isn’t men. It’s toxic masculinity—the pointless machismo that glorifies power for power’s sake and values battlefield prowess above all else. (The Citadel’s society is so toxic it has literally become cancerous.)

Which brings us to the midpoint scene. The Bullet Farmer is coming after them in the dark. Max takes a shot at him and misses. Toast shouts, “You’ve got two left!” Max misses again.

We know action movies. We know what’s supposed to happen next. The hero is supposed to smirk over his shoulder at the girl who dared to sass at him and then fire off the perfect shot. That’s what we’re conditioned to see on the screen.

Instead, Max thinks about it for a second, then hands the rifle to Furiosa. He knows she has a better chance of success. Remember, earlier that day, she killed two men on a moving motorcycle with one shot from a standing position.

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Furiosa can probably make this shot, too.

But in the Wasteland, with one bullet left, probably isn’t good enough. She needs a tripod, and there’s nothing in the landscape but mud and a tree. Max, however, is solid and steady, exactly what she needs, and he knows weapons well enough to understand why it’s important. When Furiosa rests the rifle on Max’s shoulder, she’s telling him (in actions this time instead of words) “I need you here.”

And then they go to meet the Vuvalini, which is when things really get interesting.

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Because everyone loves the Badass Biker Grannies of the Wasteland. Heck, many of us want to be Badass Biker Grannies someday. But nobody seems to notice that the matriarchy is every bit as dysfunctional as the patriarchy.

As bad as it was, the Citadel at least had water and plants and children. But the Vuvalini see all men as the enemy and their society is dying. The Green Place is gone. The Earth is too poisonous to grow anything. And in case the audience misses those clues, we also see one of the women trying to grow a seedling in an animal skull.

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Gee, who else uses skulls for every possible purpose?

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There is only one way to fix the broken world. There is only one way for Max and Furiosa—for all of us—to achieve redemption, and that’s by working together.

So when Furiosa wants to keep running across the salt, Max convinces her that becoming like the Vuvalini won’t help. You can’t escape the problems of the world. You have to face them. He insists they can go back to the Citadel and overthrow the old order. It will be a hard day, but if they work together, men and women can make a better world.

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When Max holds out his hand, you see him alone, but when Furiosa clasps his hand in agreement, it’s from the reverse angle, showing everyone together—because Furiosa has waited for every single person to be on board before agreeing to this plan.

That’s the central message of Fury Road. Is it a feminist movie? Of course it is.

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And it’s also so much more.

About the author: Alex Kourvo is an editor-for-hire. Mad Max: Fury Road is her favorite movie.

[Photo credits: Warner Brothers/Village Roadshow pictures]

Art as Rebellion

When you go to a school that worships football, creative writing can be a rebellious act.

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When I was in high school, my friends and I started a literary magazine. Our sports-oriented, Catholic school didn’t have a literary magazine, and our principal didn’t want one, so my friends and I made one on our own time. It had our names on it, and was clearly an independent project.

There was nothing anti-school or anti-faculty or anti-religion in the magazine. It was all angsty teenage poems and one really cool science fiction story about a superhero who controls the weather.

We put a ridiculously low price on the cover, something like fifty cents. We weren’t trying to make money. We simply wanted to repay my friend’s dad, who had bought the paper for us and helped us with photocopying. We openly sold the magazine at school, the same way kids sold candy bars for their church trips or raffle tickets for YMCA fundraisers.

We were proud of our little magazine. And that pride is what got us in trouble. We put a copy into the mailbox of each of the English department faculty and gave one to our principal. We thought they’d like to see what their students had achieved.

The principal was livid. How dare we publish a literary magazine? How dare we do it without faculty approval? We were threatened with suspension. Our crime was selling a non school-sponsored magazine on school property. It was a flimsy excuse and he knew it, but he also knew he could make it stick. If he caught us trying to sell our magazine at school, he might have to kick us out.

For writing a literary magazine. On our own time. And selling it to our friends.

This was in the pre-internet era, otherwise our story would be all over social media. We’d probably have Facebook groups and IndieGoGo campaigns to raise money for our next issue and petitions calling for a public apology. But this was the digital dark ages. We had no voice. We had no power. The principal shut us down. We never published a second issue.

I spent the rest of high school—and many years after that—terrified that I’d be punished for writing.

I didn’t realize at the time that it was the principal who was truly terrified. We were writing, we were publishing, and other kids were paying for our words. We had better things to write about than our crappy redneck football school. We hadn’t mentioned it at all. But we could have. Oh, we could have.

We could have written about the drunk assistant principal or the abusive religion teacher or the inequitable funding between sports and the arts. We could have written about corruption and scandal. And we could have written reams about hypocrisy—about the ways Christianity was used against students on a daily basis.

It’s not often that I’d like to go back in time. Overall, I much prefer being a grown-up to being a kid. But if I could live one day of my life over, I might pick the day that my high school principal tried to bully me out of writing.

Because if I could go back to that day, knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t apologize. I wouldn’t ask for forgiveness. And I certainly wouldn’t promise to never do it again.

I would tell the principal that he could have what he wanted. I would tell him that we were done selling our literary magazine at school.

I’d tell him that a second issue was coming, and this one would be distributed for free.

Because my words—and those of my friends—are priceless.

About the author: Alex Kourvo is a freelance editor who knows what should be changed and what can’t be–in fiction and in life.

Luxury Living

Real estate signs in fancy neighborhoods promise “luxury living,” but I know better. True luxury is actually owning a house rather than being owned by one.

My family used to live in a fancy neighborhood.

Really fancy.

It was a planned subdivision as flawless as a movie set. A hundred houses sat on wide, curving streets featuring cul-de-sac islands filled with trees and flowers. Houses were big. Yards were weed-free.

The neighborhood association cost $550 a year. Membership was mandatory.

For that price, we got private garbage pickup and the streets were plowed in winter. And we got rules. Lots of rules. The association told us what color we could paint our house and mailbox. It inspected our sidewalks for cracks and our trees for low-hanging branches. It didn’t allow basketball hoops or boats-on-trailers or RVs in the driveway, even for one night.

When the streets got potholes and the township wouldn’t repave, the neighborhood association charged each household in our subdivision three thousand dollars and hired a contractor to completely resurface the roads.

How the neighborhood looked was the most important thing.

And our house? It was freaking gorgeous. It was 3200 square feet with three bathrooms and a two-story great room and one of those curving staircases made for a girl to flounce down in her prom dress. It had a kitchen with endless counter space and a cooktop island and a white tile floor. It had a walk-in closet ten feet by twenty feet and a bathtub so big we could never fill it properly because our hot water heater didn’t hold that much.

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Our beautiful house was also a shoddily constructed money pit.

The siding was glorified particleboard and the roof shingles were the thinnest kind made. The furnace was a builder’s special, meant to last five years or so. Ditto the hot water heater and the kitchen appliances. There were carpenter ants in the walls and mice in the attic. When we weren’t fixing things, we were cleaning. (Actually, I was the one doing the cleaning. Constantly. Did I mention the white floor?)

In the end, I didn’t care how my house looked. I cared how it felt. And it felt very, very bad. Our family could sprawl all over our huge house, but we could never fit in it. When my husband left me, he said, “I’ve never felt at home here.” Gee, me neither, hon. And even though he hated that damned house as much as I did, he urged me to stay in it anyway. I don’t know why. Some kind of punishment, maybe.

But I was done being punished by that house. I sold it at a loss and got out.

Now my kids and I live in town, in a neighborhood of tiny ranches. My street is a little less showy, a little less uniform. I no longer live in the sanitized Hollywood version of a neighborhood. I live in an authentic place. We don’t need a neighborhood association to tell us what to do. We all take great care of our homes because we live here.

My new house is the classic 1950s style with three small bedrooms and one bathroom. They don’t build them like they used to, but thank goodness they once did. My house is brick outside with plaster walls inside and a real wood floor. Every part of it was built to last. The previous owners did renovations with integrity, using high-quality finishes while matching the period style. My house might not be new, but it has more strength and character than houses half its age.

I can clean the entire thing, top to bottom, in half an hour. I’ve got a sixty year old maple tree in the front yard that drops an infinite number of leaves and yet my kids and I can rake them all up during the halftime break of a single football game.

I have less than a third of the physical space I had in my old house but my mental and emotional and spiritual space has increased a hundredfold. My kids and I love our new house, and a part of me thinks it loves having us live in it, too.

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I call my new house Darling. When I walk in the door I always say, “Darling, I’m home!”

Because I am.

For the first time ever, I am home.

About the author: Alex Kourvo is an editor-for-hire who lives in the perfect house on the perfect street in the perfect town.