When we were little Worts, The Brother Michael really liked to watch the cartoon programme Recess. You know the one – with the six kids in their little school gang, Vince, Spinelli, Gretchen, Mikey, Gus and their leader TJ in his backwards red cap, who tried to protect the other kids in at Third Street School against the rule of King Bob and his minions.
And being The Brother Michael’s biggest disciple, of course I watched it too.
One episode that has forever stuck in my mind was “Nobody Doesn’t like TJ”. TJ learns that one guy – Gordy – is the only one in the playground who doesn’t like him, and sets out to rectify the situation.
TJ buys Gordy things, shows him secret spaces in the school, compliments him and sucks up to him, whatever means necessary to change his mind. But at the end, when TJ asks if Gordy likes him, Gordy replies, “No. I still don’t like you”.
I always think about this when I get the sense I am perhaps not quite so well received.
So here we are at this yoga teacher training course, led by who I shall refer to as Martinet (was going to be “D” but sometimes Papa Henio signs his emails off as such, so didn’t want to cross nicknames). And mate, she is relentless.
Tough, austere, stern and strict. She scoulds us when we do something not quite right, when we finish theory class at 2.09pm, asana starts at precisely 5.09, and she gives us looks of steel if we dare utter a whisper. I feel like I’m back in a 1940s boarding school with my socks not pulled up.
Hardest thing? She looks so much like my Nanna. Especially when she smiles. (With a touch of my form one teacher Mrs Simpson in there at times, but that likeness is fading a bit). Naturally with such similarity, I suppose her to be like my Nanna; proffering a container of Mars Bar slice, telling me to bathe my bruises in salty water and lighting a ciggy as she pours a glass from her bladder of wine. Not bark at me that my hip has risen up or not giving a fuck in the slightest how my sleep the night before was.
Martinet is in bloody good shape for 65 (when I was musing over this last night I was thinking that Papa Henio is a mere five years her junior and looks just as good; maybe there is something to be said for water-skiing, doing something to do with government construction tenders and projects – honestly, I still can’t tell you exactly what my Dad does, even though I once worked at his work for three months – and having a few bourbs in the evening). And she’s fiercely intelligent, having studied many fields in many countries over many years. She’s spunky (has a sparkly nose piercing and a silver pixie cut) and knows what she wants: we were told not to wear any deo or perfume as it gives her headaches (swell as we sweat like fuck as we contort ourselves) and she demanded the kitchen lads grate the carrots rather than chop them (“What do you think I am, a rabbit?”).
I don’t think she likes me.
And I’m struggling with it.
I’m overly sensitive to these sorts of things. When people don’t return my smiles or converse with me in full friendliness, I feel super sad. It’s doesn’t happen often; not being full of myself, but if ever I feel someone is not a fan I really, really try to get them onside – sucking up, making them feel special, etc. And I always end up bonding with those in charge of anything learning in my inherent “teacher’s pet”.
That’s probably part of it; she senses my desperation to be accepted in the affirmative. Plus, after becoming aware of this and observing her with the others, I’ve realised she actually treats us all the same. But the first day’s second asana class I felt very targeted and left fuming.
A couple of times she barked at me for doing things wrong (while I admit much of my body alignment is somewhat out, a couple of times it completely contradicted what I have been taught before). At one point she pulled me forward to show everyone exactly what not to do. But the crux came when she looked at my downward dog and said, “You have strange armpits ah.”
(I really, really had to hold my tongue to keep from retorting, “Well, you have a strange demeanour”).
(And how the fuck can you have strange armpits?).
(I have since been enlightened my armpits are strange because they are always “open”, rather than “closed” as they should be in such positions. And a further four or so others have them too, so I’m not alone).
I went to bed fantasising scenarios where I put her in her place; usually me torrenting off in a composed and calm manner with her sitting gobsmacked at the realisation of the truth. But then I would remind myself of the morale coming from that always-recalled episode of Recess: not everyone has to like you, and not everyone will like you.
But I felt oh so hurt. Such occurrences just don’t unjustly happen to me, especially in studious situations.
I decided I didn’t like her either. (Though was still very in awe of her knowledge and appreciative of her experience, I’ll assert).
The next day was a bit better; she taped up my dodgy knee. I sat next to her in pranayama, and she shoved her hands under my ribs and declared I had a good uddhiyana bandha (don’t ask). She applauded me (figuratively) on a back bend and looked at me in theory lots as she liked my spontaneous definitions (“religion” “as a codified set of beliefs that people follow” was the clincher).
And today (day three) it’s been even more. She engaged me in chat about people who waste electricity and water (must have recognised a fellow somewhat greenie), was very flattering when she saw my colour coded notes and tonight she was very helpful in getting me up to handstand.
Yesterday there was a moment where she looked at me in disbelief and asked if I spoke Chinese; apparently she had instructed the Asian girls to look at their big toe, which I did at the exact same moment. I was sorely tempted to say yes – I wanted to impress her – but conceded it would probably come back and bite me should I say I could understand a bit of Mandarin.
And today she’s been telling some funny stories to the class and laughing a little – she’s really pretty when she smiles (hello, Nanna Helen).
And the truth? I am a lot like Martinet.
Her sharp snappiness; I am like that a lot. Talking about myself all the time; though trying to lessen that aspect of me, I am very prone to jumping up and grabbing the spotlight. The major competitiveness trait; when Philippa said today how she has extremely low blood pressure, her response was, “”I do too, extremely low; EXTREMELY LOW” – definitely something I would do. (The me-being-more, not the low blood pressure). Her scatterings of small tattoos, the same temperamental left knee, her starting yoga at 23 (65-42 – I quickly worked it out), same age I was when I came to India and first engaged in the ancient art. And she said about how when she was a little girl, she used to cry whenever she saw a tree getting cut down (mate, I used to bawl. Still even get a pang when I see a logging truck).
She’s pretty much what I’ll be like at 65; bossy and a touch self-righteous – though if I have her flexibility when I hit my sixth decade I’ll be mighty chuffed. And if I have her confidence and self assurance, I’ll be stoked. (Mine is lacking somewhat right now).
Her discipline is good for me; I wouldn’t dare get up and walk around claiming pins and needles like I did in the last yoga course during meditation, nor even think about sending a sneaky message to The Pedaller – I don’t even flirt with bringing my phone to class. Her slapping my leg when my hip rises in an asana or admonishing me when I place my wrists on the floor in a way that will cause them grief in theory is excellent for eradicating my bad habits; I’m super aware of not doing either because I’m terrified she’ll see.
I’ve started to really quite like her – in a very scared sort of way.
And I realised that it’s not at all targeting; she treats everyone the same. She just blunt and no bullshit; Chilean Maria said a friend did a course with her and said she could be a bully at times. When I realised it wasn’t just me and that it’s just her way, I felt like I had been bathed in sunshine of relief.
I’ve managed to snaffle clues to her life; she mentioned a brother-in-law, so she must have at least one sibling, and this morning she talked of making her daughter’s lunch back when she was at school (it somewhat surprised me she is a mother). I really, really want to find out more – but I feel my journalistic nosiness should maybe stay still until maybe next week.
At lunch yesterday she was sitting alone. I wanted to go and invite her to come eat with us. Then I realised she had purposely chosen to be there. I mean, with 20 females all demanding your attention and knowledge all day from 7am to 7pm, it’s not wonder she’s a bit dismissive at times. I sent her a mental message: I get you girl.
(I don’t know if she got it).
I’m feeling quite overwhelmed here. Being vinyasa yoga rather than my practised hatha, it often contradicts what I’ve learnt to be the way. I feel quite far behind and my confidence is shot a bit; even though Martinet did say she would be starting at the highest level, every time I can’t do something I feel like absolute shit (life of a high achiever). Last night I was even nursing the notion that I could pack it in if I was struggling this time next week – then I remembered when I was going to drop out of Uni because I couldn’t cope and then got dux (shit, I really am like her; listen – well, read – me rating myself).
But maybe it’s ok to be the runt of the class with the strange open armpits. Maybe that’s even just my taking of the situation, but not the truth of the matter at all.
Maybe this is one of those experiences in life that “they” say make you grow.
Maybe I should just stop writing and go to bed.
Think I’ll go with that one. Goodnight from me and my strange armpits.