Left NYC covered in snow like a winter wonderland.
I planned to stay in the DC area with my cousin, Tracy, but I had a few things I wanted to see on the way. Namely the Mercer Museum in Pennsylvania.
I’m not sure if you know this, but the world is full of crazy people. And a reasonable percentage of these crazies have substantial amounts of cash, a bad collecting habit and a need to stash their stuff somewhere. If they were broke, they’d be hoarders. But with lots of money and ambition they can build themselves fortresses to protect themselves from ghosts (Winchester Mansion in CA), odes to their lost loves (Coral Castle in FL) and concrete castles to house their giant collections (Mercer Museum).
I would recommend a visit to the Winchester Mansion if you’re ever in San Jose, CA. It’s the creepiest strangest place with stairs that lead nowhere and rooms that can’t be accessed from inside the house and a decorating obsession with flowers and numbers. I found the Coral Castle bewildering (how did one man build it?) and sad.
The Mercer Museum is less insane than either of these two houses. Henry Mercer collected 19th century stuff that showed how people lived and worked and he needed a place to put it. For 3 years between 1913 and 1916, he and 8 men hand-mixed concrete, built the forms and then hand-poured this entire 6 story castle with the help of a horse named Lucy.
Some pieces he’d collected were so big – gigantic plows, mill stones, wagons, a huge hand poured cast iron pot for rendering whale blubber– that he built the castle around them and you can’t get them out of the place short of a wrecking ball. There’s SO much stuff, it’s staggering.
Every 19th century craft and job has a room or a floor and there are a few additional gee whiz pieces, like this one for your vampire killing needs.
Here’s the sign.
19th century historians come from all over the world to see this collection. As well as people who are trying to recreate old stoves or glass blowing techniques or whatever. I had an enjoyable hour with the place to myself and then skipped out before my eyes started to blur over.
I spent the rest of the afternoon driving over state lines. I’ve crossed through New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Philadelphia, Delaware, DC and Virginia in one day. I had planned to get to Bikram by 530 for a 6pm class but instead I arrived at 5:55, frantic, agitated, hauling all my stuff in my bag. Just a mess.
The proper protocol is to arrive in time to change clothes, transition from where you were to where you are and let your pulse calm down. Racing in fresh off a 3 hour stint of fast driving, throwing clothes on and running in the door of the studio with my mat was the least great way to get there today. But at least I got there.
The teacher – Insel – took one look at me when I walked in and said “Get ready for class. We’ll take care of the money afterwards.” Then commenced the hardest and best classes of my short Bikram career. He started by asking us to think what we wanted to achieve in class and say it three times with our hearts before we began. I asked for mindfulness – something I’m struggling with right now. When we started it was clear that a lot of people – including me – were having a hard time today.
Bikram lesson learned today: Stay in the room.
3 people left the class today. That’s a Bikram no no. Even if you can’t do the poses, you’re supposed to stay in the room. I think it’s a bit like a rough relationship. Resolution comes by staying in the room. Working at it. Not walking away. I definitely have a rough relationship with Bikram and I did manage to stay in the room but it was tough. I couldn’t do all the poses. I would bend backwards and feel dizzy and sick so I’d sit down or lay down.
Savasana – corpse pose – seems like it should be easy. You’re lying on your back and focusing on your body. But it’s a quietly active pose and also where you reap the benefits of the more active poses. That makes it the most important pose, which is good for me since I spent more time there than I should have.
The other thing that Insel emphasized: The most important parts of the 90 minute class are these 20 second savasana poses. Focus here. When you don’t focus here, you are focusing on your vanity. These 20 seconds are what will change you.
Empty your mind. Breathe. Let go. This concrete floor is big enough to take it all. Let it go.
Things I’ll take with me this week as well as the words of another smart man:
Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
Tomorrow Appalachians, dinosaurs and North Carolina.