Life Lessons Before 50

Trail mix not so healthy when
a 4,000-calorie snack.
If a bed stand hosts The Secret
or The Healing Self or their cousins, 
do not get into that bed. 
Hightail it away from that new-age nest. 
Avoid disposable cups when you can’t avoid morning. 
You’re never too busy to watch baby animal videos on YouTube
or to gaze into your dog’s eyes and loudly proclaim your love.
Dance like you belong to The Cult of Dionysus
even when there’s no music playing.

—Candice G. Ball 


Speaking in Tongues

When the sun set on Jerusalem,
I watched the ultra-Orthodox sway
in prayer at the Wailing Wall.
I heard the adhan, but I could not enter
the mosque as I am.

At the Holy Sepulchre, I remembered
the mantra my transcendental meditation
guru gave me when I was six.
There was no God in my childhood home,
just Nietzsche angst quelled by om.

Funny, even though you grew up
filled with the Holy Spirit ,
you did not learn how
to speak in tongues
until I baptized you
with my sweat.

I know nothing of your God,
but I know everything about surrendering
to your body and your mouth
breathing life into me.

I want to say sweet Jesus
and amen when I hold your body
so tightly that I feel like I’ve been resurrected.

In my bed, your heart
beats an ancient hymn
that sounds like home to me.
I am still godless but you have given me
something I can believe in.

—Candice G. Ball

Why I took up contortion at age 47 & joined Sam’s Circus

12802727_10153971304929788_7324318924914052135_n

The amazing Samantha Halas.

When a friend I met through the yoga community invited me to join him at a contortion class, I immediately said yes because I am always down to try something new. Some people collect material stuff; I collect experiences. I thought it would be a one-off novel way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

I had no idea what to expect. I just knew that Samantha Halas, Winnipeg’s most famous contortionist, taught the two-hour class out of a church basement in St. James. When my friend and I arrived, we were guided down to a church basement that looks like a play area for children. Mats shaped like puzzle pieces cover part of the floor. There are stall bars, gym mats, fit balls, and contortion canes.

Samantha greeted us, exuding warmth and confidence. Although I had only seen photographs of her wearing exotic costumes in contortionist handstands or poses that showcased her extreme flexibility, I would have recognized her because of her big, soulful eyes, her perky chin, and her Bettie Page bangs. Her face is made for theatrical performances. She has a dizzying array of expressions, which has set her apart from other contortionists.

My face would have had an expression of relief when I surveyed the students. I was not the only middle-aged person, but many of the students are in their early to mid-twenties—and the exceptionally flexible ones seemed to all be named Anastasia. In fact, there are so many women named Anastasia that one goes by “Banana” in class.

The class always begins with a warmup with bands to open up shoulders and the back. Every two-hour class is different, but in general, Samantha focuses on splits, backbends, and contortion elbow and handstands.

I found it daunting to see one of the Anastasias warm up her back by arching so far back her head almost touched her derrière, but every single person in the class offered helpful tips and encouraged me.

During the second class I attended, we focused on splits. I have a fairly decent centre split, but when Samatha said, “Very good. Now go into oversplits off the gym bench,” I thought “What?” But I did it. She reads bodies very well and has an uncanny ability to push everyone far enough that they grow but don’t get injured.

Until I took a class, I did not appreciate how strong contortionists have to be to support their weight—and sometimes other contortionists’ weight depending on the choreography. That’s why at the end of every class, we do around 100 push-ups and intense core work.

I took my first class in December when I was still 47. Now it’s time for full disclosure: I was dating the friend from yoga and he’s much younger than me. A few weeks after I turned 48, February 19 to be exact, the relationship ended primarily because of the age difference, but we’ve remained friends. Even though I had been doing walkovers at my yoga studio for years and pushing the limits of my backbend in hot-yoga class long before I got involved with a younger man, I started to question everything. Are these activities age appropriate? Is it bad to push a middle-aged body even though it feels right? Am I having a mid-life crisis?

I turned to Samantha and she encouraged me to shake off all the doubts. “I think a surprising number of people talk themselves out of things they want because of notions of age or because they think somehow people who are good are just dealt the right cards to get there,” she said. “And although I’m sure that’s true in some cases, more often than not, we all are fighting our own battles—even the people we admire have their own battles. I love contortion because it has helped me become a person who works hard for what she wants and overcome fears and barriers though determination.”

It delighted me that a dear friend in her early 50s started going to Samantha’s beginner class after she saw my Facebook repost of the class schedule. “A handstand has always been on my bucket list,” my friend told me. She loves the classes and admires Samantha’s physical and emotional strength. (A subsequent blog will focus on her journey.)

For me, taking up contortion goes beyond the physical. Stretching past the point of comfort is a metaphor. I don’t want to live my life in a cushy comfort zone. I want to push myself to reach farther, dig deeper and get stronger.

31172062_10156071432350042_7595497612543787008_n

Sam suggested I do a backbend off a mat and go down on my elbows so I can feel my back opening up. This will prepare me for greater feats such as scorpion.

Some of Samatha’s protégés will join Cirque du Soleil; students like me won’t ever perform, but we will grow as people because we have taken on something challenging. “People can find challenges in anything from learning how to fix a car, speak a language or dancing,” said Samantha. “If people are curious, I think they should try regardless of age. If you only compete against yourself, you will always win.”

Whenever the sexist, ageist voices start nattering at me, I think of Alicia Keys’ response to Adam Levine when he teased her about wearing some makeup after she took a bare-face stance, “I do what the fuck I want.” All women should do what they want.

38260593_10156300630915042_3437966246358810624_o.jpg

My first time up in a handstand in canes. It was exhilarating. 

 

Reunion

Full Moon with Silhouette Trees

Rustling leaves in moonlight
blue shadows on white sheets.

How did we meet again
in this prairie city of bridges?
We should have found each other on the Metro.
Paris is used to this sort of affair.

Your eyes glow like amber
Shhhh,
you say
when I warn you
of the dangers.

Be careful, be careful,
I say
before I get drunk on
your tongue.

A simple rise and fall
but your breathing
sends a flutter
through my body
like a butterfly
in a glass jar.

Undulations–
breathing you into me
blue shadows writhing on white sheets.

My body forgets
distance and years apart—
the ache of longing gone for tonight.

—Candice G. Ball

 

.