Faye, our yoga instructor, has an unusual request.
“I have a project that needs your help,” she says to the class. “I have bits of paper and pencils up here on the stage and after class, if you would, I need you to write down something about me that makes me unique as an instructor.”
She smiles benevolently over us. It’s an absurd imposition. I look around to see if anybody thinks this is as silly as I do, but the faces around me glow with tolerance and good will.
“I know,” she continues, “it sounds like I’m asking for compliments, but that’s not the case. I’m working with someone to discover what traits combine to make me who I am, and I really need your input.”
Huh. Working with someone. Translation: she’s seeing a therapist. I’m not surprised. She’s the type who would enjoy having someone focused solely on her for a full hour.
At the end of class only three out of twenty respond to her request—the two Marys and me.
This is what I write:
1) I like your class and your explanations of the poses are well-articulated.
2) On Friday you spent twenty minutes talking about yourself, which means we only got forty minutes instead of the full hour. I came for yoga, not to hear about your flat tire or how you met your husband.
3) Also, you say, “take a breath,” and right after that you say, “now, on your next inhale straighten your knee.” Take a breath and inhale mean the same thing, which is confusing to those of us who know the meanings of words. As it is, you’re asking us to inhale twice. It would be more accurate to say, “exhale,” or “release your breath” rather than “take a breath.” And it’s upsetting to someone as hypercritical as I am when you use a verb as a noun.
I return my comments and pencil to the stage, where I meet the Marys, also turning their remarks in. I know them from Mahjong and they’re both sincerely kind.
“I wrote something mean,” I tell them, happy to have offset the praise that I’m sure they slathered on thickly.
Short Mary rolls her eyes. She knows how I can be.
“You need to be more tolerant,” Tall Mary says.
“Oh, I’m way better than I used to be,” I tell her. “I used to be self-righteous and petty. Now I’m just cantankerous.”
(An aside: This is the first experience I’ve had living in a small town. In Marble Falls I run into someone I know everywhere I go. I know people from Mahjong, yoga, and church, along with folks I’ve met through David, who’s involved in Habitat for Humanity and the Helping Center Garden. What this means is that I’ve had to put aside vanity. It’s inevitable that at one time or another every person in town will see me with limp hair and no makeup.
LJ and I came upon one another in the grocery store yesterday. Going at a fast pace across the back aisle, she stopped abruptly when she saw me. Wearing a full-brimmed hat and large sunglasses, she looked like she was shopping incognito.
“I almost didn’t recognize you,” I told her as I wondered what her disguise was concealing.
“Good,” she said. And away she buzzed. Obviously she hasn’t yet come to terms with the vanity issue.)
Back to point.
There is a type of woman who views herself as a bottomless well of wisdom, a sage to guide the growth of others. In her life she seeks a position where she can be a teacher, a mentor, a philosopher. She likes to be in front of other women and she enjoys it when they look at her from a lower position. She shares profound reflections about how much the rain nourishes her soul and how the most insignificant decision can change your life. That’s Faye to a T. She loves having us in front of her, looking up at her, mirroring her movements. We’re captive receptacles for her to pour her knowledge into.
Is she narcissistic? Delusional? Lacking in confidence and overcompensating?
And what tickles me is that I wrote her before I met her. In my Snoop series, Wendy is the facilitator of a grief support group. She’s always late; she’s condescending; and she believes that her every utterance is life-changing. Here’s an excerpt from a passage I wrote two years ago:
Wendy doesn’t allow anyone to go outside and smoke at break time. She thinks the separation of the group will disrupt the flow in the circle. So the few people who are longing for a cigarette are jittery and a little hostile. As we gather around the coffee pot all eyes are on Wendy who, taking the central position, commands our attention. During the session she dons a sympathetic expression and nods supportively when someone shares. But at the break it’s The Wendy Show all the way. Her gestures are flamboyant; her voice carries; her opinions are emphatic. She’s unable to tolerate a single conversation that doesn’t revolve around her.
So intimately do I know this character, and so much does the self-absorbed yogi remind me of her, that the other day I called the yogi by the made-up name, Wendy, instead of her real name, Faye. I’m going to have to watch that.