About the book:
I wrote Wally and Kali to explore the way a group of people act when yoga is a character in their lives. Many of my students, friends, and family members are looking for answers in yoga that make their lives more rewarding.
The book is light, sexy, and fun. Yoga students, fellow-teachers, and other reviewers consistently call it a book they can’t put down. The producer of the Broadway hit “Once” called it a romantic comedy with real yoga in it.
Read an Excerpt (…or three)
Walt met Jane at a party in Brooklyn. She was utterly interested. Except that she was also utterly interested in a man her own age. Not an actual man. The idea of a man her age. It was so tired a cliché: older man, younger woman. Where did that fucking cliché come from? Was it the lack of maturity in men? That older men seemed to have a modicum of spare attention for the things women cared about—and so it always lured them in? Or that they were usually divorced, ergo, experienced? But from third grade through college (except for the semester with Jean Max, her French professor) the script called for her to live happily ever after with a boy her own age. So she lost interest the moment she found it. But it was a good party.
Walt met Jane at a party in Brooklyn. He’d been out of his first marriage long enough for it to seem like another life. He was pursuing a girl in California whom he had met on a project for a magazine in L.A. Dating was a phenomenon of coexisting planes. Thanks to the male talent of compartmentalization, Walt was able to feel varying degrees of perfection by turning his focus to Jane, the California girl and one or two other women who would, to the impartial observer, be considered unpromising romances in the making.
Jane was 39, a photographer, and had a boy and a girl from her previous marriage. The girl, 19, lived mostly with the father. The boy, 15, lived with Jane. Walt learned these things at the party. Jane was easy to listen to. He was probably less forthcoming than she was. But that was because it is bad strategy to discuss one’s other romantic interests when first meeting someone he finds romantically interesting.
But he was open about everything besides his other possibilities. He was also open about his interest in her—not through words, but through his smile, the softness in his green eyes, the tone of his baritone. And she was happy to talk to him, though she knew lots of people at the party and him not at all. There was openness in that, and he picked up on it. To an ornithologist at the party, who had once unsuccessfully invited Jane to see his Audubon prints, their conversation would be described as cooing.
The connection they sparked was obvious enough to both that it made for an awkward parting. Numbers were exchanged. A more typical handshake was upgraded to kisses on cheeks. But when Walt asked Jane about getting together during the week, Jane pulled back to reconsider what she was doing. She thought, do I really want to start this? She weighed the answer to her own question and then responded to his: “I’ll call you.” This is, of course, the universal euphemism for ‘no,’ and while he was shocked, he respected the etiquette rule that requires deference to unreasonable behavior by friends you have just made—especially those you’d like to see more of.
So Jane and Walt parted not expecting—but at some level, certain—to see each other again.
~ ~ ~
Walt spent some days after the party thinking about Jane. He thought she looked like Grace Kelly, if Grace had been a brunette and Jewish. Something about her eyes and skin, maybe. Her hair was straight and thick and had been clipped with an elastic band set with a piece of turquoise. She was nearly as tall as Walt, who was 5’10”. Walt had decided not to call her, but to let her act on her parting plan, “I’ll call you.” He was hoping against hope that she in fact would call him. But, at 44, he was savvy enough to know the odds were even at best. So began his decline into the realm of sour grapes that promises to comfort, but instead merely adds anger to disappointment.
Walt had become accustomed to this realm. His life had been a series of longish relationships that appeared strong and deep, but included some tragic flaw that seemed surmountable at the time of initiation (like the one with the girl who seemed pensive but was simply confused; or the one with the TV addict that he decided would somehow work itself out though he never watched TV; or even the one with his ex-wife, whose sweetness was saccharine from the first smile). The inevitable disintegration brought a depression rooted in his sense of how unfair life was for dealing him defeat after he graciously took on the flaw it had challenged him with. The sour grapes of his backward assessment only compounded his abandon into the new relationships that came to replace them. He repeatedly saw new love in terms of highlights and hopes, without bringing to bear any lessons learned.
~ ~ ~
Jane’s boy was named Dinky, not because he was small, but because he had been born on the small train of that name that runs between Princeton and the New Jersey Transit line to New York.
When she was 21, Jane had married her college sweetheart, who immediately rekindled an affair with his high school sweetheart—whom he was destined to be with, but unable to stay faithful to. Jane had gotten her daughter from the marriage before the playing out of Bill’s destiny became a deal-breaker.
Jane was not married during the gestation of Dinky; he had been conceived during an ill-fated retrial of the failed fight against destiny: Jane’s ex came to New York to see if things could be patched up. In his typical style, he had told his new/old girlfriend he was headed to New York on a business trip and would be back in Los Angeles in three days. He admitted the situation when Jane pressed him. She omitted mentioning the result of their tryst when instructing him later by mail to never contact her again. It was several years before Bill knew that he had a son.
Jane had spent the evening of Dinky’s birth visiting her friend Zhenya, who worked at a rather prestigious job at Princeton for several years, but seemed to spend most of her evenings teaching handsome graduate students the lessons that Cosmopolitan magazine uses as headlines.
Jane was visiting Zhenya the week before her due date to meet a man Zhenya had promoted as a mature but fun-loving divorced psychologist, intrigued by her description of Jane and not put off by Jane’s imminent new arrival. After a lovely dinner and good conversation with Zhenya and her match-making attempt, Jane delivered on the Dinky. The mature divorcee did not contact her again after hearing her news, being evidently more interested in the pregnant woman than the mother. (No doubt a topic of discussion with his own psychologist.)
page 12. Setting: Molly, who is 20, has just met Walt at a clothing-optional ashram in California ... Jane goes to her regular yoga class in New York.
It would be natural to presume that one thing led to another. The one thing being a meaningful encounter on the beach and the other being sex between Molly and Walt. However, we are now in the realm of Tantra. And the power of yoga is great.
After their fervent swim in the ever-frigid Pacific, they talked until dark on the sand and then lay looking up at the stars and guessing at constellations. Walt helped Molly stay warm on her way back to her abode with the help of his sweat shirt and an encircling arm. She felt a great deal of warmth toward him. When they got to her room, she invited him into her bed. He answered in the negative, but his libido was in revolt. The negotiated compromise was that he would lay with her, but not in the biblical sense. In Molly’s view—prejudiced by guys her age who generally wanted to do nothing besides get her into bed, he was clearly a god. In his view, she was a goddess. She was Kamala, the goddess of the beauty of the new.
“Hey,” she said facing him on the adjacent pillow, “I’m going to call you Wally. Then we’re Wally and Molly. Wally and Molly. Wally and Molly … ”
With the third repetition of the charm, she fell asleep, and he looked at her tanned face, and how her skin glistened. With her deep brown eyes closed, her long lashes comprised a wave of black lines, like hatch marks in a Japanese painting. Her hair was almost uniformly dark brown, no flecks of dirty blond or sun-bleached variation. The body that had greeted him so freely on the beach was now lightly covered with an oversized cotton shirt barely the thickness of mist; her form beneath it created a tingling that radiated out from his pelvis and gave him the sensation of lighting up his body and his mind. Then everything vanished and for an instant—or was it half the night—he thought of nothing, but was just engulfed by the experience of this unlikely delight. “I hope it’s not Wally and Kali,” he muttered as he drifted off to a deep sleep.
~ ~ ~
Jane rolled out of her yoga class each week with something like bliss engulfing her. She had managed to work a home yoga practice into her day right after work, but on Thursdays, like today, she went to a studio called Beauty in Union Square with her favorite teacher. The other days, practicing at home was great—like taking a daily shower—but the Thursday class with its group energy was the highlight of her week.
That’s why it brought on a mix of feelings when the buff, floppy haired guy with ‘shanti’ hand-printed in yellow on his mat stopped to talk to her after class again this week. Last week, he had mentioned something about how well she did this or that pose as they dropped off blocks and straps in the storage bins. This week’s visit, though, was longer and more vague: how long have you been practicing, where do you practice when you’re not here, have you ever studied with swami whatever.
Jane told him she had to get to an appointment, and he graciously wished her a good evening and headed to the dressing rooms. She headed home and pondered her feelings. It was certainly pleasant to receive the attention. He seemed a little young. What was his name?—god, she was so rude, she didn’t even introduce herself. But wait. Where was that weekly yoga bliss she looked forward to each week? How had some guy mucked that up so easily?
The next week, Jane went to the studio on Tuesday night. She told herself it would be good to get an extra dose of the group energy. In fact it was the shanti man she wanted the dose of. Her subliminal guess was right: he was there in the same spot as on Thursdays, his Prince Valliant-style hair swaying as he moved through a pre-class sun salutation.
He caught sight of her from downward-facing dog, but finished the vinyasa before turning toward her. He walked past her to the prop bin and grabbed a blanket, then, on the way back paused in front of her mat.
“I’ve never seen you here on Tuesday. What a treat.”
“I’m Jane,” she blurted out, “—I forget your name?”
“Wow, that’s an unusual name.”
“Yeah, my parents were hippies. Now they’re pampered Republicans, but I still have to explain the name they gave me to everyone.”
“It’s a great name: Peace.”
There was a pause as she tried to think of how to keep him from heading off. “Yeah, I felt like coming to class today for a change. Is it the same as on Thursdays?”
“No, on Tuesdays, we compete with each other.” A slow grin crept onto his face and a lone dimple emerged on one cheek.
“Oh, great. I’m gone!”
Hook, line, and sinker. All the focus and ease of her regular practice was replaced with a distracted series of glances in the direction of the powerful, elegant yogi on the shanti mat.
~ ~ ~
Walt stopped by Molly’s room to say goodbye. The last month at the ashram had been full of great platonic times together. He was not surprised that about a week ago, Molly had started hanging out with Adam, an Apollonian boy her own age, and he answered the door. Walt reached out to shake his hand and ended up in one of those gang handshakes that always left him unsettled. Molly emerged from the bathroom, looking exactly as she had on the day they met.
“Oh, Wally! Sorry, I didn’t know anyone was here.” She walked back into the bathroom and put on a robe. “What’s up?”
“I wanted to say goodbye. I’m headed back to New York.”
“Oh, right … I forgot you were leaving so soon. Shoot!”
“Well, yeah. Six weeks is about all the time I can be away and still have any work back home. But I just wanted to give you my contact info back in the city. I hope we can say ‘hi’ sometime—you, too, of course, Adam.”
“New York sounds like an avidya place, man, but thanks” Adam replied, and Walt was amused by his implication that the Big Apple was somehow more in the realm of spiritual ignorance than other places.
Although Walt had no designs on Molly, finding Adam in the room elicited a pang of jealousy (he hoped more fatherly than otherwise); he was glad to hear Adam would be unlikely to be seen in New York.
“How are you getting to the airport?” Molly asked with a hopeful lilt.
“I planned to take a taxi.”
“How about I drive you?”
“That would be great. Thanks.”
The approach to LAX from the beaches includes an unexpected speck of wetlands and bluff that are like a momentary time warp within the modern urban constant. Walt watched Molly gaze left and right, and her eyes seemed ages deep.
“I’m really glad we met, Molly.”
“Me, too. Really glad.”
Molly suddenly turned off Lincoln Boulevard onto the beach road.
“Where are you going?” Walt asked, startled by the detour.
“We can get to LAX this way, and you can see the ocean one more time.”
“Okay,” he conceded, and waited for the real reason.
Molly steered hard as the road curved left and revealed a dazzling vista of the Pacific and a mirage-like Catalina Island.
She almost missed and then turned sharply into a small beach access exit that was little more than a notch off the road. She pulled the parking brake sharply and spun 90 degrees in her seat to look straight at him.
“I don’t want you to go.”
“What do you mean?”
“I think I love you.”
“Love me? That’s, well, it’s not, I don’t know, appropriate. Anyway, what about Adam?”
“I don’t care about Adam. He won’t leave me alone and he’s kind of hot, so—whatever. I don’t love Adam; I barely like him.”
“But Molly, I’m twice your age—I’m probably your mother’s age, for god sakes.”
“I know, I know. It’s dumb; I’m just a kid and all that. I don’t even know what I’m saying.”
Molly’s entire posture collapsed, and she became to Walt a dream that one desperately tries to hang onto upon waking. He searched his heart, he searched his desire, he searched his fledgeling yoga wisdom. He came up with a ball of confusion.
Molly spoke after reassessing, “I know it’s … whatever, but I love you.”
“Molly, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that you are very desirable, and I don’t mean superficially. You’re wise beyond your years and funny and delightful and talented. But I think we’ve been very sensible about this, whatever—this relationship. I’ve been around, you know, and it seems implausible at this moment, but differences have a way of becoming the stuff that destroys relationships in the long run.
“That seems sort of pessimistic, Wally,” she pouted without looking up.
“Look, Molly. If we tried to, well,—I’m sure it would be really fun for a minute, then you would think I was old and boring and honestly, I would probably think you were enthusiastic about a bunch of stuff that I just don’t care about any more—not that I didn’t care about it when I was 20, but now I’m not 20. Do you know what I mean?”
“Yeah, Wally, I know. I mean, I don’t know what I want, exactly. I just want you in my life, for you not to go away. I mean, I respect your feelings about the whole Lolita thing—although I am old enough to be mature you know, I’ll be 21 in a few months … or so.”
There was nothing but the sound of the breaking waves as they gazed: her at his suntanned hand on his knapsack; him on her mouth, lips slightly parting in concert with the near cries in her sighs.
Her hand moved slowly, slowly onto his. Walt leaned over and kissed Molly’s forehead. He softly said the Sanskrit word that he had learned at the ashram was both a noun and a verb, “shanti.” Peace. Peace will be through my intention that it be.
Molly leaned back as though a lightning bolt had struck her in the forehead. She looked deep into Walt’s green eyes. ‘Green: heart chakra,’ she thought. She saw that he was standing his ground and a slight effort at a smile brought her breath back toward normal.
Walt felt like Jesus being tempted by the Devil in the desert, but he persevered in keeping perspective. “I’ll make you a deal. If I get in touch with you in New York, and we spend some time together, and you want to spend more time, and you feel the same way after we spend a lot of time together in New York, in your regular life, I promise to consider—consider, mind you, where we might go from there.” He sighed an unconvincing relief. “How’s that?”
Molly knew this was her best offer. “I do love you, you know.”
“Thank you, Molly. I love you, too. I’m just not sure how, and I guess it’s the same for you. And we should know, because there are consequences.”
“But if it’s the same in New York, we’ll try?”
“If you feel certain and I feel certain that this is ‘it,’ well, it will be what it is.”
“When I get back to my mom’s place, you will come see me. Promise?”
“Yes, Molly, I promise.”
Molly leapt into his arms like a ten-year old jumps into her grandpa’s hello. He felt a wave, like the heat of a sauna shot through with ice, blast through his chest as she squeezed as hard as her arms would squeeze. Walt had never felt a sensation quite like this before. It was full of attraction, but devoid of desire. If he had analyzed it more closely, he would have identified it as pure love.
p.142. Setting: Jane's 18-year old son, Dink, with his girlfriend at his apartment in Red Hook.
Dink gazed up from the first sip of his morning coffee and looked at Autumn on the other side of the small desk that served as their kitchen table. While she still technically lived at her mom’s, she was in a trial reconciliation with Dink (at least the third) in which she would spend a few days a week living together to see if they could make things work. She had turned her teapot so that the handle was at the same angle as her teaspoon, which topped her matching cup like a rakish fedora. The scalloped cup had a gold trimmed handle at the same angle, poised to welcome her right index finger. A sugar bowl and creamer sat just ahead on a matching tray. All were of the dainty floral style that was ubiquitous in the 1940’s (before modernism exchanged the femininity of quotidian design for masculine elegance).
Dink asked her why she made such an elaborate deal out of her tea set, implicitly proposing that drinking from his thrift shop mug that congratulated graduating surgeons of Columbia University was at least as good.
“Dink, can you stop criticizing me?”
“I’m not! I just want to understand you better.”
“I’m not sure you can understand, Dink. You’re maybe the only person in my life who can’t understand—and you’re the one I’m living with—at least sort of living with.”
“That’s not fair; try me.”
“Well, okay then. It’s a ritual, Dink, like a practice. When I do it, it influences me. It sets me up right. That’s why.”
“I get it. I practice yoga, you know.”
“That’s what I mean, Dink. You don’t practice yoga. You just tried it a couple of times.” Her voice became more professorial, “A practice is something you do repeatedly, respectfully, diligently; then it grants you its grace. I do this tea ceremony every morning and it grants my morning serenity. Then I can move out into the world gracefully.” Then her teenager voice returned, “With you, on the other hand, everything is sloppy, last minute, zippo respect or discipline. I’m not saying this as criticism—It’s cute, you’re like a clumsy puppy. But you asked, so there. Okay? That’s why I drink tea this way.”
“Where did you learn all of that from, some Zen book?”
“No, from Amazons of the Fifth Dimension, August 1990 issue.”
“Yeah, when I read about them, I got really drawn into their poise and focus—and ass-kicking capabilities, so I started doing their tea ceremony. They said that stuff about the grace of the practice.”
“How do you know it’s not bullshit? Is the artist a Buddhist or something?”
“I really don’t care. I know it’s not bullshit because it works … for me.” She smiled alluringly. “You see how great I am, right?”
Dink laughed, “Yeah, you rock—even if you are kind of ugly.”
Even squinting and pursing her lips in response to his dig, Autumn looked like a movie star. Dink felt himself succumbing to her beauty, surrendering himself into it, like he surrendered so many times into sex with her, letting go of all the history that brought him to this point; into this relationship. The history that in his mind kept the relationship from ever really working.
Autumn looked into his dreamy, sexy gaze. She leaned over and kissed him. He had already spun off into one of his obsessive inner dissertations, moving at the speed of thought through premise to analysis to conclusion to a new premise, all with a rapidity and set of variables that would move Einstein to confusion. At the core of his fruitless rationalizing was a simple thought: he wondered if she was right about practice granting grace—if it would work that way for him to move him beyond his past.
She drew him close and engulfed his mind with her sex, as the Hindu goddess had quenched the raging fire of Lord Shiva to bring the mythic world to peace.