When I lived in Los Angeles, I went to a yoga studio with the beautiful people. Long-legged and impeccably dressed in designer togs, they loved to please the hunky teacher, whose ambition was to be or marry a movie star.
I, on the other hand, was a Hollywood writer. I wore nightgowns and rabbit slippers as I pecked at my computer keys all day long. When the wall clock showed that it was time for yoga class, I pulled on worn workout pants and a sweatshirt, hastily raking my hair and slapping on a watch.
The teacher knew each of the students by name….except moi. He would look out across the room and coo, “lovely, Melissa, perfect, Chrissy.” Then he sighed and looked at the nameless one. “Hands out, legs back, we need to work on that downward facing dog, don’t we?”
What did he mean, “we?” His downward-facing dog could make yogis weep. He meant, “you,” which meant me. He scorned my downward facing down, bridge pose, even my lying-on-the-floor-doing-nothing corpse pose. Was I mortified? Not at all. Why wasn’t I mortified? Because it was such a relief not to be good at something. It was more of a lesson than yoga itself. I was a straight A student. President of my class. Most this and best that. In the perfect yoga class, I was the worst. And I loved it. I smiled when the instructor sighed in my direction. Not only could I be bad, but I could be bad and not care. I was proud of myself for being the imperfect way I was.
About a year ago, I was on a hike with jocks in Europe. For me a hike means a walk where I put on boots instead of tennis shoes. For them, a hike was a race, something that made the heartbeat fire like gunshot. I finished the hike half an hour after everyone else. The stood around, hydrating and texting. When I finally arrived at the end of the trail, they were very dear and didn’t complain, at least not audibly. I started to apologize, and one of them interrupted me. “You don’t have to apologize,” he said. “I’m sure there are a lot of things you do well.” You could have knocked me over with a camelback water carrier.
Today I went to a tamale making class at the Santa Fe School of Cooking in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I have not prepared one meal in the 28 years I have been married. My husband Paul loves to cook. I don’t even frequent the kitchen, in case it’s contagious. But Paul wanted to go and I’ll try anything once.
There were ten amiable cookaholics and chef Michelle Roetzer in attendance.
The former looked comfy in aprons, and the latter was in heaven sharing time-saving tips on removing kernels from a corncob, peeling garlic, pulling pork, slicing onions and freezing chile sauce. Watching was easy, but soon it was time for doing. The students divided up into three groups, according to which of the trifecta of tamales they wanted to make: red chile and pork; blue corn with calabacitas (squash); South American style in banana leaves.
Only one person was groupless. Guess who? I quietly walked up to the chef and said, “I am your worst nightmare. I don’t know how to cook. This is not an exaggeration. I mean, I barely know what a stove is.” She grinned at me and said, “You are not my worst nightmare. That’s someone who thinks he can cook and can’t.” And then she handed me some aged cheese and a grater. She showed me how to hold the rind, angle the grater, and move my cheese-holding hand up and down. My mind started to wander. I was trying to recall the word in French for “amphibious.” Then I was puzzling about the year Citizen Kane was made. I finished grating, rolled half a tamale....
... and that was the last thing I did…except talk to the students, admire their technique, enjoy their skill, learn fabulous foodie facts and factoids, and eat three tamales at the end of class.
“So what if you can’t cook?” one woman said. “I’ll bet you know how to write.”
I smiled. I am still a good person even if I can’t cook, hike, or do a dazzling downward facing dog. I am out of the closet of perfection. Actually, I think perfection sucks. When I am good I am good. And when I am bad I am really bad.
And that’s perfectly okay with me.
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Photos by Paul Ross.
Judith Fein is an award-winning travel writer and the author of LIFE IS A TRIP: The Transformative Magic of Travel. Her website is www.GlobalAdventure.us