Clean and Elegant

Clean and Elegant

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

You No Look Back: Farewell to 2015.

On Sunday, January 4, 2015, infused with alcohol, my ex-ex boyfriend Simon Girard climbed from his eighth floor apartment all the way up to the 23rd. From there, he made his way to the rooftop, walked to the north-east corner of the building and without pausing, threw himself into the air. Since he was eight years old, he had imagined throwing himself from a great height. I think of him whenever I stand before a vast cliff, or waterfall, or building. His suicide has permeated my mind and my writing. But he got he wanted, and it’s time to move on.

Other things that died this year: my romantic relationship with the Boatman, which I thought was supposed to last forever. My life in Halifax, which had been a strain for some time. My Ashtanga Yoga Practice, something else that despite long-term arthritic like symptoms in my joints, I believed I’d be best to continue for my whole life. Likely losing my legs or breaking my spine, or pushing one to three small humans out of my vagina would have been more disruptive than 2015’s series of events. Still, I feel it has been a pretty thorough ride.

“You no look back, you look future.”

On a trip to Udaipur, India, I ended up at a cooking class, despite the fact that I have absolutely no desire to improve my pitifully minimalist culinary skills. To my surprise, it turned out to be a major highlight. The teacher was a gem of a woman named Shashi.
“My English, no perfect,” she told us as she passed out a 12-page hand-out of recipes that some Australians had helped her put together. Even so, she candidly told us her story. When she was 32 years old, her husband died. She didn’t tell us how, but it seemed like it was sudden. Because she belonged to the Brahman caste, Shashi was sentenced to being a widow for the rest of her life. In accordance with the traditional grieving process, for 45 days, she wasn’t allowed to leave the house. With her face covered, she had to sit in the corner of her living room.

“All day, people coming. People going. Crying, crying. Me no talking,” she said. At five o’clock, she was finally allowed to take off her veil and cook. But she was still all alone. For an entire year afterwards, whenever she left the house, she had to cover her face. 32 years old. No husband, no money, and it seemed, no future. Many years later, when her son was closer to college age, he would bring his friends home from school to study. Shashi decided to cook for them.

“Chapathi, paratha, dahl, gobi masala…” As it turned out, her food was quite delicious. One of her son’s friends suggested she start cooking classes for tourists. The only problem was she only spoke Rajasthani. “No English speaking.” This however, did not kill the idea, and Shashi took enough classes to learn the basics. Before long, it was time for her first cooking class.

“Big shaky, big, nervous,” she said as she described standing in front of the table of tourists for the first time. Now Shashi has been giving classes for over six years. Her classes are so outstanding that she made it into the Lonely Planet.  With no skipped beats, she instructed us on how to prepare an unthinkable number of tantalizing dishes. Chai, pakora, chapathi, nan, three kinds of paratha, how to make paneer, how to use it in two different curries, dahl, gobi masala, rice pulao… As she guided us from dish to dish, it seemed like she had her entire handout memorized.  What was also  impressive and very touching was her ability to translate many of the ingredients and recipe terms into other languages.

“Mélangez!” she told my Quebecois buddy Hugo, who stood before the magic masala sauce with a wooden spoon. She knew all the words for the vegetables in French. I found this to be both lovely and inspiring. So much can be gained when you open yourself up to learning something new, without the fear of not being perfect. 
Hugo stunningly stirs. Perhaps next I could use a photography course!
“You no look back, you look future,” Shashi said as she reflected on how her life had changed since her husband had died. Surely, as a young woman, Shashi would never have imagined that she’d become a widow and wind up teaching world famous cooking classes to foreigners. But that is how her life turned out. You no look back.

Although I will probably never become an excellent cook, Shashi was an excellent teacher. Her words and presence and spirit will remain with me a long time. A year ago, I would never have imagined that I’d have given up Ashtanga Yoga, that I’d have become single and nomadic and taken to prancing around India with no real itinerary. And yet, this is my life right now.

Having always struggled with making decisions and with changes in routine, I have been amazed at my ability to be adaptable and somewhat chill.  To bathe, I squat under faucets of cold water and to shit, over holes in the ground. I have also had to observe myself through periods during which I am rather embarrassingly shrill and obnoxious. As though my intense preferences might possess the capacity to change some of India’s most frustrating attributes. And perhaps the most amazing part is my body’s ability to shit liquid for such an extended period of time. Luckily, things have solidified since I arrived further south. Oh Varanasi, I will never ever forget you…

Varanasi, The Land of Limitless Boatmen and Liquid Shits.
I fluctuate between viewing myself and my life as a hopeless disaster and then realizing that I might be on the verge of becoming super strong.

After bailing on Day Two of a Ten-day vipassana meditation retreat, I found myself in Pondicherry for New Year’s Eve.  Though aimless, I was craving some sort of symbolic ritual that would help me move on from this crazy year. Pondicherry was noisier than I’d imagined, and my travelling companions were somewhat into beer and cigarettes. As midnight approached, I could feel myself becoming disappointed and angsty. Surrounded by smelly hungover boys, I would wake up in 2016 and everything would be messy and the same. Well, isn’t that always the case.  Every morning, still Erica.

But beer and cigarettes don’t always rule out depth. An Australian friend shared his family’s New Year’s custom. On one piece of paper, you were supposed to write down something from the year before that you wanted to let go of. On the other, you wrote something you wanted to chase after. Right around midnight, you were supposed to burn the paper with the thing you wanted to let go of, and let the other paper fly into the wind.

Without overthinking it, I picked WORRY for the thing to burn. The beach was windy and crowded. I had to get some Indian dudes to help light my worries with matches.

“It is taking too long to burn all your worry,” one dude said. Luckily, it all burned away. At midnight, everyone wanted a Happy New Year selfie. It seemed like Happy New Year in India was an occasion for handshakes and hugs. I started to decline after someone tried to grope my now devastatingly tiny eternal right tit. The scene reminded me of New Year’s 2011 in Montreal. Simon and I walked down Prince Arthur Street towards the building that Simon would one day jump off. Both of us drunk, but Simon, drunker than I, insisted on shaking everyone’s hand. “Happy New Year!” he’d wish to everyone, almost compulsively. I remember feeling super embarrassed as everyone looked at him weirdly. Too bad we hadn’t been in Pondicherry. Simon would have fit right in.
For the thing to chase after in 2016, I picked Self-Love. As I threw the paper out into the wind, I knew I would have to chase after it fast.
But you no look back.



One Morning in Rishakesh

The End.

Happy New Year to All. Much love.  
Whatever your struggle, you are not alone.

Exuberant Bodhisattva on Facebook: I've been posting a bunch of photos and updates there! We'll see about more blogging... I may need some coaxing from my fan club!

Twitter: @mypelvicfloor ...

More On Shashi's Cooking Classes. Come one! Come all! Highly recommended.

Most viewed new post of 2015: The Where is Emma Fillipoff Series And we still don't know where she is.

Some of my favourite posts of the year:

The Benefits of an Ashtanga Yoga Practice, Part Two
Guillaume, Part Two (Asking People About Their Lives)
Why You Are a Hermaphrodite (Asking People About Their Lives)
What a Beautiful Face
Not Separate From All That Is
How I am violent, by Erica J. Schmidt


  1. Erica, thank you for sharing. So well written. When I start reading one of your blogs, I can't just "takes me away".
    Shashi is a wise woman.
    " look future." To self love. Peace, my dear.

    1. Hi Carole! Oh, thank you so much! We had such a lovely crew for teacher training. What a gift. Peace to you too. Much love, Erica.