“True perfection seems imperfect, yet it is perfectly itself. True fullness seems empty, yet it is fully present. True straightness seems crooked. True wisdom seems foolish. True art seems artless.” ― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
This story begins three months ago. Only one day after writing my blog post, Thank You, SNL, in which I talked about Alexa and I living in our dream apartment located a block away from Movement Brooklyn, and the couch that turned me into a reader, we were told by our landlord that we needed to move out to make room for a relative. Thankfully, tenant laws in New York city recently changed, and we had until May 1st to find a new apartment. As Alexa said, “That is years in NYC real estate-time.” So, despite the heartbreak of losing our beautiful home, we began looking for a new apartment. But, it was winter in New York and there wasn’t a lot on the market. We knew we didn’t want to settle for something less than what we wanted, especially with as much time as we had. We kept our eyes on websites like Zillow, StreetEasy, and Craigslist. I found myself checking multiple times a day. We saw a number of apartments, but nothing was quite what we were looking for or within the proximity to the gym that we’d grown accustom to. However, based on what we’d been told, as the spring approached there would be more available apartments. Sure enough, listings started popping up after daylight savings time.
As apartments started to appear, talk was growing about the novel coronavirus in China, and increasing cases in Italy and around the globe. In those early days of March, I was in regular contact with Gianluca, who’d spent a month training with me in Brooklyn at the beginning of the year, and was the organizer for an event I was scheduled to teach in Milan at the beginning of June. We exchanged emails about my potential travel plans for the event, and when I asked about the nature of things with regard to the virus, Gianluca said it appeared to be a strange situation and a potential overreaction. This calmed my nerves, somewhat, and I assumed we would be able to move forward without issue.
By the second week in March, news about the growing spread of the virus was increasing in intensity. But my world hadn’t changed, so I stayed the course. I was scheduled to travel to San Francisco to attend Tom Weksler's “Movement Archery” and “Zen Acrobatics” workshops. My flight was scheduled to leave March 12th and return March 16th. The day before my flight was supposed to take-off, Alexa and I were out for a walk and she said she didn’t think I should fly to San Francisco. Up until this moment, there hadn’t been a smidge of reconsideration in my mind. She suggested I contact Tom and ask if the event was happening. I messaged him. He said he would still be able to fly in, so as far as he was concerned it was still on. My first instinct was not to let the virus stop me from participating in an event that I’d been looking forward to. At this point, I had only been checking the news once a day, or once every other day. Alexa, however, had been paying close attention to how the situation was progressing, and things were changing rapidly. She said she would not stop me from doing anything, but reminded me of the responsibilities that I had at Movement Brooklyn and to our students. She explained that getting sick was obviously a risk, but there was also the potential of getting quarantined or locked down somewhere along the way. And, most importantly, it would be irresponsible to potentially get sick, and spread it to other people for an elective workshop. We continued talking, and my mind churned.
I compared the situation to recycling. If I, a single human, stopped separating my glass, plastics, and cardboard today, not much would change. However, it is my responsibility to participate with the broader community to make the system work. And, if we all participate, we can make a difference; we rely on one another. I realized I could selfishly tell myself things like, “It’s very unlikely that I’ll get sick.” Or, “The odds of getting quarantined are virtually zero.” But I thought to myself, if everyone makes the hard and inconvenient decisions, like recycling, we can make a difference. This is when I decided to contact the event organizer to let them know I would not be attending and then proceeded to cancel my flight. I was annoyed, frustrated, and angry, but felt I was doing my part in reducing the spread of this virus. And, now that I’d be home for the weekend, maybe we would finally find a new apartment.
The next morning, the day I would have gotten on the plane, is when it got real; the shit in my mind hit the fan on the ceiling of my skull. I woke up, at 2:30am unable to sleep, to the news that there was a travel ban on Europe and Tom Hanks was infected. When Alexa woke up at 4:30am, I told her, “I think we have to close the gym.” We knew that with the gym closed, we couldn’t comfortably ask anyone to pay their student dues. And with rent to pay on the studio, rent on our apartment, and the costs of moving into a new apartment that we’d yet to find, we were taking a huge hit. During this early morning conversation, Alexa and I realized that if we could pack up our whole apartment, move it all into storage, and take what we needed to her folk’s house an hour outside the city, we could at least avoid paying rent on an apartment. So, that’s what we did. We were Westchester bound.
Everything was a whirlwind from that moment on. My initial plan was to finish off the week of classes at Movement Brooklyn, and then close. However, after reflecting on my recycling comparison, and the rate at which things were changing in the world (especially in NYC), I decided that would be irresponsible. So, the same day we woke up and saw Tom Hanks was sick, we decided to close the gym. A few days later, NYC followed suit and mandated that these kinds of facilities would need to stop operating for the time being.
Alexa organized trucks, bins, storage, and movers for our temporary relocation. Originally, we planned to leave the following Wednesday, but as more businesses and services were shutting down, we knew that we needed to leave sooner, so Alexa scrambled to reschedule everything so that we could get out three days earlier. On Saturday, we managed to pack the entire apartment within 24 hours and movers came on Sunday. All of this only three days after I was supposed to fly to San Francisco. It was a logistical nightmare. During packing breaks, I Googled how to stream classes online. I was worn out, but determined to keep our community going with as little disruption as possible. I knew I’d need to set up some sort of streaming or webinar method of teaching from her parents’ house. I had no experience with this, but I was certain I’d find a solution.
During the chaos of moving, I emailed Gianluca. In the 11 days since our last exchange, his message had changed dramatically. He conveyed the gravity of the situation, how all of Italy was under quarantine. This information validated the seriousness of the moment and helped justify what felt like a potentially rash decision to uproot our lives.
On Sunday morning, we woke up for the last time in our beautiful home. Our lives were packed in bags and plastic bins. All that was left out were our toothbrushes, clothes to wear that day, and breakfast in the refrigerator. I got dressed and headed over to Movement Brooklyn to load some equipment into the U-Haul. Finally grasping, after speaking to Gianluca, that this could go on for a while, I loaded up everything we might want from the gym; squat rack, barbell, plates, gymnastics rings, parallettes, dowels, tennis balls, tatami mats, and plyo boxes. I wanted to attempt to keep my training going as best I could. While I was loading the truck, Rob Wu, a long-time student who happens to have an office that shares a wall with the gym, stopped by to borrow some equipment while the gym was shut down. We talked a bit about my plan to teach classes online for our students for the duration of this closure. As someone who is no stranger to streaming conference calls, he suggested I take his webcam because the one on my computer would not be ideal for what I was hoping to do. So, he grabbed his webcam from his next-door office and sent me off with it. Thanks, Rob!
The movers had our whole apartment loaded into their truck, and en route to storage, before lunch. Alexa and I packed the U-Haul with bags and boxes full of the items we’d be bringing with us to her parents’ house. In an exhausted haze, we hit the road.
My initial plan was to take a day after getting to the house to decompress before coming up with the online teaching plan. However, somewhere along the drive I decided that the class had to start the following morning, Monday. Perhaps it is because I felt dedicated to our loyal students, and didn’t want them to have to miss any more days of training; but it is more likely that I was a sleep deprived movement zombie making grand plans. Regardless, after we arrived, unloaded the truck and dropped it off, I sat down and learned how to use Zoom. (I was about to explain that Zoom is an online meeting and webinar service, however I stopped myself when I realized that at this point in the world, no one needs an explanation of Zoom. And, if you were an early investor in Zoom, congratulations!) I got the Movement Brooklyn account set up, tested the webcam, and forced an exhausted Alexa to do a trial run with me. Alexa’s parents were generous enough to move their car and give me a space in the garage to turn into my television station. Finally, we emailed all our students and let them know I’d be teaching our first Movement Brooklyn LIVE class the next morning at 9am; and from then on, Monday through Saturday, at that time.
Initially I planned to make the live stream and recordings available to our students and hoped it would be a way to keep money coming in during this unprecedented time in history. However, I thought more about what everyone in the world is going through right now; the strain and hardship. Each night people are going to bed uncertain of what tomorrow will bring. Not only are thousands of people ill and dying, but hoards are losing their jobs, closing their businesses, and unsure when their next paycheck will come. To make it worse, we are distanced from one another, and many people are alone in their homes and apartments. With this in mind, I couldn’t imagine requiring anyone to pay to participate in Movement Brooklyn LIVE. This is a moment in time where we have to support one another and give what we have to give. I decided to make the classes and the recordings available to everyone for no charge. Not everything we give and receive has to be monetary. Everyone can give something. While some people are on the front lines of this crisis as doctors, nurses, and essential service employees, others can deliver food and masks, provide an ear for the lost and lonely, suggest books to read, or teach people how to cut their own hair. And, if you are someone who still has dollars coming in, then perhaps you can help monetarily. Ask yourself, “What do I have to give?” For me, I have movement classes to give. For those struggling in any way, I welcome you. Feel free to send me an email, and if you have something to share, teach, or offer, then I will be grateful for your gift. If you have the means to contribute dollars, we welcome your assistance in keeping the gym open (we’ve added a contribute button on our website). But nothing is expected.
I’m sitting here now writing this blog 13 days after the move, and 12 days after the first Movement Brooklyn LIVE class on Zoom. In these early days of classes, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve had to become a more creative teacher, working within the limitations of those viewing from home: small spaces, zero equipment, and all levels of ability, from all over the world. It has been beautiful to meet new faces and names, and continue to see the Movement Brooklyn students I had grown accustom to seeing every day at the studio. And, I’ve almost been brought to tears seeing faces from my past; my childhood ski coach, and mentor, Mike, who I wrote about in The Art of Teaching has made MB LIVE a daily practice. Seeing the emails, text messages, and Instagram posts from people showing themselves doing the work from our classes is a bright light every day. It motivates me to keep teaching; even when the garage is cold, the snow blower is in my shots, and I smell gasoline wafting from the concrete floor. Despite the heartbreaks, losses, and changes; we are all in this together, moving through spaces that we call home, but now feel so different to us. I’ve found inspiration connecting with all the other movement refugees.