Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I Just Gotta Dance! 
Or: How I Faced one of My Strongest Fears

Actually, that top title is a lie. I've been terrified or intimidated by dancing all my life. The first time I ever danced on a dance floor in public was at a company Christmas party I attended with a boyfriend when I was nearly 30 years old. I'd always been terrified that people would make fun my my dancing, so I would only dance alone, in private, and even then I'd be self-conscious. At the party, I had had some champagne, and lost my inhibitions. I really enjoyed dancing, and now I'll dance at parties no problem. But I've always wanted to formally learn to dance, to take classes, and I've been intimidated, afraid to be that physical in front of other people. Afraid to be judged, or to be clumsy, or to not be able to do it right.

Several weeks ago, at a party of people I know from the Burning Man camp I'd camped at for the last two years,  one of the women asked me if I'd perform a dance with the other ladies of the camp, at an upcoming Burlesque-themed fundraiser party. I said yes, of course. I felt so honored. These women were people I'd been admiring for years. They were sexy, hot, confident, talented, kind, and, smart. I'd never felt like I was part of their inner circle, even after knowing them for three years. When I was asked to participate in the dance, I felt like I had been accepted. Yes!

But wait, I was terrified of performing in public! How on earth would I do this? What was I thinking?

I couldn't attend the first practice, so one of the participants sent around a video of the routine. I sat down at my computer, nervously clicked 'play' on Quicktime, and watched the dance. As soon as it ended, I got up and walked out of the room, telling myself "Oh, HELL no, I could never do that! I'm no dancer! They're all dancers!" I knew right then and there it wasn't going to happen, and I felt terrible, let down and disappointed. But clearly, I wouldn't be able to do it. So, for the next day, I thought of excuses I could use about why I couldn't participate. I couldn't make any of the practices, I was sick, I hurt my leg. I even considered just saying that I was no dancer and I didn't think I could do it, and I didn't want to hold everyone else back. But I SO wanted to be part of the crew! It had been something I'd been longing for for years.

I suppose it's worth mentioning here that several days before she asked me to participate in the dance, I had actually had a daytime vision of myself dancing at the event, on a stage, in my corset. 

Then, I went out with a friend and had a couple of glasses of wine. On the drive back, for some reason, maybe the wine, I realized: I probably could do it. For some reason, the fear went away. Even if it was the wine, when I woke up the next day,I still felt that way. Yes, I could do it. And that feeling never left me. Another practice was scheduled for two days later. I told the organizer that I'd go through it at home the evening before practice, and if I got it down, I'd go to practice.

That evening, it was just me and my cats. I got on my exercise pants, got a chair, positioned the computer so I could see the screen from the chair, and played the video. I poured myself a glass of wine. I had to play the video a few times - and have a few sips of wine -  before I got over being too self-conscious to even practice alone in my house. Finally, I took a deep breath and I started to dance, one piece of the routine at a time.

Before I knew it, I was doing the whole routine from memory, keeping up with the video. I did it over and over again. It was fun! I was enjoying myself! When I stopped, I felt high. Not from the wine, but from triumph. I knew that even if I never made it to the actual performance,  I had broken through a wall in myself. My skin was shiny with sweat. I felt loose and warm. I felt great.

I went to practice with two women who were experienced performers. I was far from perfect, and I still don't understand the whole counting thing, but I could follow it, basically. I got a few pointers from them, and then practiced several evenings at my house. Finally, a few days before the event, we had one last practice with almost everyone present. Again, I could follow with a few stumbles here and there. The routine had been expanded, and I now had another assignment (hat girl!) and there were more bits to learn. This was the only time I had a jolt of fear, but I sat with it and didn't let it derail me. The night before the event, I practiced the whole thing through 5 or 6 (or 7 or 8) times and got it down each time. I understood the routine.

Through it all, I kept waiting for my old terror to come back. But it never did. Even the night of the event, even as we went out on to the dance floor in the middle of a crowd of hooting and hollering people, I didn't feel it. That beast had been vanquished, at least for that night.

Then, we danced, and then it was over. The whole routine was only about 3 minutes long. It was even a bit anticlimactic; I was so intent on doing the dance (and on not falling down on my heels on the slippy floor) that it was over before I knew it. I didn't even notice peoples' reactions. Later, watching the video taken that night, which was too dark to make anyone out, I heard the crowd clapping and hollering. The cameraman said "This is great!":-)

When I told people what I had done, only one person really understood how big a leap it was for me to be dancing with that crowd: the man with whom I had camped on the playa, the one who had introduced me to these people in the first place, and who had seen me in the paroxysms of anxiety that had overtaken me at their dance parties, had heard me wonder aloud if these people would ever want to get to know me. He was so supportive, and so proud, and I want to thank him for that support. For everyone else, it was "cute." For me, it was like a new person emerged out of the one who had been terrified to show that side of myself for so long. I feel renewed now. I want to take dance classes, maybe even poi spinning! Who knows where I'll go with it, but it feels great to have gotten over yet another roadblock to total self-expression.

Thanks S, for your support, and thanks E, for inviting me to participate, and for your wonderful choreography. And thanks to the Decadent ladies for being such wonderful dance companions, and to the rest of the camp for being such an appreciative audience.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

What Happiness Looks Like
Or: Is Happiness a 60's Muscle Car?

Recently, something really strange occurred to me. It could be, could it be....that I'm happy?

Not happy like brimming with blissfulness all the time, not happy because I finally got something I've wanted for a long time, not happy because I'm rich or freakishly beautiful, or wildly successful (which I'm not). My life is pretty much the same as it was before. I still have days where I'm cranky, sad, or tired. I still get irritated when my cats careen around the house at 4 am. I'm still single and don't want to be. I still say things I shouldn't, still don't exercise like I should, still feel fear and anger and still have some bad days. Still wake up lonely most mornings.

But there's a lack of compulsiveness or obsession that's different than it used to be. It's not mania, and it's not lethargy. Things don't stick as much. It's like my mind is teflon and my emotions just sort of roll off. I still experience emotions: still feel a jolt of joy at receiving a compliment, still feel tongue-tied in a room of people I perceive as more creative/attractive/lucky than me, still feel upset when someone is upset at me.  I'm not completely detached or disassociated. I get upset at pictures from Japan. I still swear at the keyboard sometimes when I type so fast that I make an error. I even still have days when I ruminate. But I see it all clearly, even when I'm in the midst of it. The emotions don't go down to that wounded place inside. They don't pour salt there anymore.

Walking back to the office after lunch, I was musing about first dates, and how they no longer make me nervous. They don't make me nervous because I no longer have any inclination to pretend I'm different than I am. I am me. As much as I would love everyone to like me, I know to some people, I just won't be their cup of tea. And vice versa.

Maybe happiness is really just about not putting pressure on ourselves to be different or to be having a different experience. I know I probably jinxed myself by writing about this and that maybe tomorrow I'll wake up in the clutch of another depression, but right now, the thought doesn't bother me. Because then is not now.

Maybe happiness is just a willingness to let the stuff all go, the gladness and the sadness. To experience it fully, then watch it go on down the road, like the kind of beautifully kept 60's-era muscle cars that always catch my eye. "Wow, nice car!" Then it's back to the present.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

How Can I Help?

As I was looking at photos of the tragedy in Japan, my mind just reeled. I kept thinking "How in the world will anyone be able to make a difference there, with such overwhelming destruction?" Of course I donated money, but it feels like such a tiny drop in the bucket, doesn't it? It doesn't seem enough. Before this happened, I was thinking about writing a blog post about how difficult it can be to want to help our loved ones but to not  be able to fix their problems. What's happened in Japan just mirrors - on a grander scale - the frustrating reality that we can only do so much, no matter how much we want to jump in and save the day.

Last week, in one day, no fewer than four people I know and care deeply for let me know they were struggling. I was beside myself the whole morning wanting to save them. I came up with half-baked plans to raise money for a friend who's sick with no health insurance, stopped myself from sending unsolicited advice to a friend who's trying to decide the best way to support his teenage daughter, and talked on the phone with two people who were struggling with depression, anxiety, and interpersonal conflict. I almost felt frantic that morning, with wanting to help, and not knowing how. If I could, I'd send my one friend enough money to pay for health insurance and a good doctor, I'd get my other friend a wonderful job, I'd somehow impart to the others the wisdom to know exactly what to do to in their situations to make everything work out perfectly. But of course, I can't do that.

Another factor is that, for the first time in awhile, I feel pretty good and strong. Maybe even happy, even though things are, as always, imperfect. Shouldn't I then be able to use my superpowers to bring everyone else in my orbit happiness, as well?

I think one of the hardest things we can experience is to know our loved ones are suffering and to not be able to take their suffering away. We can rationalize that to ease their suffering might dilute the strength of the lessons they're meant to learn, but when we care for someone who's hurting, we don't care about that other stuff. We just want them to feel better, and to be able to fully embody their true, beautiful nature without all of this struggle and pain.

I sat in meditation and wanted to do tonglen for someone who was suffering. When I thought of who to focus on, I couldn't decide. So I gave up and did it for everyone, and for the entire planet. 

I've come to realize that the only thing we can do in these situations is to witness our loved ones' struggles. We can listen to them with patience and compassion, even if we've heard the same story a thousand times. We can challenge them, if it seems appropriate. But we can't save them. We can only be there for them with the resources we have, even our only resources are our open hearts and our words. But this still doesn't seem like enough to me, and neither does sending them love and healing in meditation. When the chips are down, what's all this woo-woo stuff got to do with anything? On the other hand, what are the alternatives? I can't send all my money, I can't get my friend a job, and I certainly have no idea how to motivate a teenager.

So, I sit with the energy of wanting to help, try to be there in the ways that I can, and do something I'm  pretty good at: witnessing peoples' experience with respect and open-mindedness. It's my gift and it's all I have, really.
To L I send healing. To S I send patience. To D I send compassion - I know how it feels, believe me. To M I send strength. To my mom I send openness. To J I send the energy of moving forward with joy. And to the people of Japan, I send all of these things and more. You are all in my heart. It doesn't seem like enough, but it will have to be.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

But I Want Everyone to Like Me!
My name must taste good;
it's always in someone's mouth

I'm pretty oblivious to gossip. Everyone else in my office knew months before I did that two coworkers had left their respective partners to be with each other. When I found out, I was shocked. My coworkers laughed at the fact that I had no idea. In junior high and high school - the prime time for gossip - I never had enough friends who had enough friends to gossip about anyone, and I seriously doubt anyone gossiped about me. I was one of those shy, geeky kids who hid out in the corners and barely spoke.

Gossip and its attendant drama only entered my life on a personal level about 2-3 years ago, when I entered a very close-knit community while trying to make my relationship work. Even so, until recently, I never really knew what people were saying about me and my situation, and I really didn't care to. I did know that one woman in the community, who was known to be a little off-balance, accused me of puncturing her car tire with a screw and of wrapping a t-shirt around her axle, as if I even have the strength or flexibility (much less the desire) to do anything like that. When I posted that to Facebook, a friend commented "I wish someone thought I was that crazy!" while others worried for my safety. In the relationship, as part of my ex-'s flirty and outgoing character and extremely social lifestyle, I ran afoul of a few women who would gossip about me, and last night, trying to work out a friendly relationship while also helping out in a music community that my ex- and I co-founded, I encountered it again.

Now, drama is always the responsibility of all parties involved. I can certainly to point to times when I've chosen drama over rationality, written ill-considered e-mails, said something out of line, or chosen to engage with someone who I knew had already made a negative assumption about me. I've lashed out, gotten jealous, made catty comments. I'll never deny that I've contributed to some of these dramatic situations, and sometimes inflamed them unnecessarily.

However, once I realized that I was contributing to the drama, I chose to disengage. I apologized to one person in particular (who responded by saying I was a "moron who thinks she's enlightened.") and tried to move on. But these situations continue to bother me. Last night, while two women who have a problem with me gossiped in the kitchen - I assume at least somewhat about me - I chose to stay out of the kitchen and to enjoy the positive, warmhearted people elsewhere in the place. But it still bothered me, these women. Just like it bothers me that this other woman thinks I jammed a screw into her tire. And that someone I was trying to help with some mental health and grief issues - and whom I thought was becoming my friend - wrote me off because I tried to set a boundary with her. It hurts, even when I know these people have their own issues and pain. At my core, I just want everyone to like me.

Gossip and drama are about a lot of things, I think, for the ones participating. It makes the gossipers feel superior and self-righteous, and it distracts us from our own boredom, pain, or difficult emotions. When we are the focus of gossip, it feels like an attack, and we usually respond by defending ourselves, which usually just inflames the situation. We either get angry or are genuinely hurt and respond by trying to convince the other person that we're not what they say we are. In as sense, we all participate in some gossip and drama. We all talk about one another, share judgments, offer opinions, laugh at one another's foibles. But when the gossip becomes malicious, and the conversation becomes irrational and turns to drama,  my experience is that there is nothing that will stop it except total disengagement.

But it still hurts and mystifies me. I just want everyone to like me! Last night, I sensed the negative energy from these women, and I chose to stay away. I basked in the glow of the love of the others, and of the music, and of watching my friend with his visiting teenage daughter, watched the obvious love and respect there. When I think about the gossip and drama, and feel that hurt, I switch my thoughts back to the warmth and love that I also felt, and I resolve to become better at choosing not to engage in drama and gossip. It causes pain, out of pain. And why do we need to cause more pain in such a world?

Some tips for not getting caught up in gossip and drama:

1) Do your best not to gossip or to foment drama at any time. Gossip is lazy, and drama is usually rooted in our own insecurities or lack of emotional self-awareness or control. If you find yourself getting involved in drama often, you might consider looking at how you are creating or attracting drama.

2) If someone gossips about you or starts creating drama, disengage. This can be hard when someone accuses you - even if indirectly - of something. Naturally, you'll want to defend yourself. If you must do this, choose a time to talk to the main instigator, in a calm, clear, sober state, and state your case once. Tell her you would appreciate it is she stopped gossiping about you. If she continues to gossip, accuse, or argue, stop talking and walk away. 

3) If people come to you telling you about someone who's gossiping or who's creating drama, state your situation or viewpoint clearly and without blame, counter-gossip, or judgment. Ask them to help you keep the situation under control by not passing on the gossip.  If they continue to gossip or pass on stories, stop engaging with them to the extent that you can. Don't bring up the situation. Don't give fuel to the fire.

4) If you just cannot bear to disengage emotionally, remember that not engaging with the gossips will actually enrage them, and is the best revenge, anyway!