Imagine If…

If I could imagine what life may have looked like, had I not taken this particular journey, I would ask—why did I choose this life? Some people believe that our souls choose this particular body in this particular time and place before we become a fetus, before we are born into this world. Given a true choice, wouldn’t I naturally opt for a thinner body with medium size breasts and straight teeth?

Erin Pavlina makes these assertions:

When you are in the ether you remember that you are a part of consciousness and that you are being sent out into the world to experience, learn, and grow.  You know that physical life is temporary, and that the pain and adversity you face as a physical being is but a moment in your existence.  Why do people choose to enter a life that is filled with pain and torment?  Because from the perspective of the ether, any pain or adversity is but a blip of discomfort in the grand scheme of things.  It’s like asking if you are willing to suffer a paper cut in order to gain vast wisdom and knowledge and tremendous personal growth.

In my mind, I imagine it like a rope swing. I think about the journey that my roller coaster self-esteem-driven body has taken me on, and I see myself considering the options of taking another bite—would I let out a barbaric yawp into the ether and fly into the wild earth? Or would I stay safe—take another bite and let myself sink further into my comfort zone?

If I’d let go of the rope and created a life for myself, full of lean, athletic bodies, popularity contests, and a virginity that withered well before my twenties, who would I be?

Would I have been that vulnerable woman who said yes to the unknown? Would I have met a man in college and stayed in the Midwest? Would I be a mother? Would I tuck my children into their beds at night, kissing their soft cheeks, brushing hair from sweaty foreheads, shushing their protests, then closing the door silently behind me in sweet relief of another day without tragedy?

Would my husband and I become so used to our mundane life that we approach our fifties without a hint of sexual desire? Or would one of us be struck with a yearning so great that we must express or explode—and because the other is our best friend, we must confess—that the tumble-dry cycle of our sex life simply isn’t enough?

Would we then go to a series of sexual enlightenment workshops, awkward at first because this is all new, and sometimes the worn-in feeling of familiarity is much preferred over the fear of the unknown, to find later that we have both fallen in love with our instructor (And who wouldn’t? They are all at once sensual, kinky, loving, torturous, and safe.), who then somehow convinces us that this is completely normal and is actually a reflection of our renewed lust for each other?

Would we then leap back into our home life with gusto and a plethora of spontaneous sex—in closets when the children are in twilight sleep, on the balcony where our neighbors just might see, or with a voracious interest in play toys of all kinds?

Would I, as I am inclined to do, reflect earnestly in my journal, each paragraph a rabbit hole for the next great big blank page?

Oh white space, you are inviting. You tease with your crisp cleanness and your ample availability. You offer your lush white bosom as a landing pad for a sprinkle of thoughts, then a deluge, then a monsoon of words and creativity. I am wet with your weather. Consume me, let me soil your innocence with my wisdom as well as my curiosity, for it is that which completes the circle in the end.

Imagine if…

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Tangled, But Not Tied Up

Last week a special Trail Blazer alumnus passed away. I didn’t follow Jerome Kersey in his heyday, however, his presence in the Portland community was very well known by fans and non-fans alike. He became a Trail Blazer ambassador after retiring from the NBA in 2001, and went above and beyond his duties. He made a positive impression on many, and was a true community leader. I even had a few interactions with him at a favorite restaurant that we both frequented a couple of years ago. He was always smiling and friendly to everyone at the bar. Many people have expressed warm remembrances of him from years past, including this beautiful essay by a friend of mine. It’s safe to say that Portland is feeling a great loss this week.

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Jerome’s death made me incredibly sad—it hit unexpectedly close to home—but also very pensive and a little tangled inside. I had just come off of a first date when I read about his death on Facebook. I was flying high—my date was nice, a gentleman, adventurous, and he was willing to go zydeco dancing with me, which was a first for both of us, and very cool of him. I was patting myself on the back for taking a chance on someone I may have passed by in another life. We met speed dating, which, let’s be honest, is always a guessing game as to whether you just wasted $29 or met some really cool people that you may or may not ever see again.

So when I read about Jerome’s death, I instantly started reviewing how I spend my time and who I bring into my life. Since I moved to Portland almost 12 years ago, my life has taken many twists, turns, and curved paths that I could never have foreseen. It made me want to reach out to you in the best way I know how—through writing.

I want this blog post to function in two ways: 1) As my Christmas letter for 2014 to tell you what I did last year, and 2) As a way to dispense what I’ve learned in the past year (Okay, 14 months). During December, I kept finding excuses to put off the writing of my annual Christmas letter, and I wasn’t sure why. Now I realize I had so much more to process about my past year before sharing it. Normally I send these out to close friends and family only, but we are all one, we are all family. I love you, and I want you to learn my life lessons along with me. I’ll share my thoughts with you and use examples from my past year to make sure you get the best of both worlds.

Spoil yourself.  Spend the money. Take time off. Go somewhere new. You’re worth it! In 2014 I took my third annual solo beach vacation. For three days I ate decadent food, walked on the beach, drank wine, got my nails done, and did whatever my heart desired. I truly pampered myself. I also took a five day camping trip (between several shorter camping trips) to the Olympic Peninsula. It was so awe-inspiring and beautiful! In the fall, I went to New York. If you’ve read this blog in the past, you may know the story that goes with this. If you missed that one, read about it! What an amazing trip. I enjoyed staycations and fancy dates with handsome suitors and nights out on the town with good friends. I’m so blessed to work at a company where they reward loyalty with quite a bit of vacation time, and boy did I take advantage of it!

Challenge yourself. Some of my biggest challenges in life have been the result of belly dance. When I left Ohio, I could shake my booty with a little rhythm, and that was the extent of it. I had no formal training at that point, and I never thought that dance would be something I would later take on as an amateur performer. But then I met Yemaya, a professional belly dancer who also happens to be my long lost third cousin. She somehow convinced me that I was going to be a belly dancer one day. My style had never been particularly feminine, and when she said that, all I could picture was a horror show of obnoxiously bright sequins and awkward dance moves to snake charmer music. However, I allowed her to tease me into a few lessons, and from then on, I was in love. Soon I was practicing multiple times a week, taking every available workshop, and started performing in 2007, debuting at the Oregon Country Fair’s Gypsy Caravan Stage.  In the past few years, I have fallen into a “comfortable sweatshirt” type of relationship with belly dance. I still practice and even learn some new skills sometimes, but rarely do I try anything that really scares me. For the last two months, however, I have embraced the sword! Sword dancing scares me—big time. I took a four week course more out of dedication to my teacher than actual interest, but I should have known that it wouldn’t stop there. Now I’m signed up to perform my sword dance in front of a crowd, with the assumption that I won’t allow it to fall off my head and pierce someone’s foot. Terrifying? Yes! Essential to grow as a dancer and as a person? Absolutely!

Hope for Andrew edit

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Embrace Your Sexuality. Yep, we’re talking about it. In the past, I hadn’t been confident in my sensuality or sexuality. This was caused in part by my weight issues as a child, my perceived lack of femininity as a young adult, and being from just above the Bible Belt in the Midwest, where traditional values and conservative ideas still have a hold on the population. I envisioned that the right type of sexuality centered on a husband or at least a serious relationship. I thought that sex under other circumstances was not wrong per se, but not ideal, and not really necessary. I believed that expressing your sexuality freely maybe made you just a little slutty, if not an actual slut. In acknowledging my feelings of judgment, I also recognized that I had mistakenly thought that my lack of sexual expression was a character flaw; now I understood that judging others was a defense mechanism, and my personal level of sexual expression is not a flaw. It is wholly mine, and I must engage it in a way that is true to my own nature and not anyone else’s. Make sure to explore this side of you, even if you’re not in a romantic relationship, because it is so important to know that side of yourself before you share it with anyone else.

Life is short! Do what makes you smile and giggle, and spend time with people who inspire you. There have been so many times that I have stayed home to get a proper night’s sleep, only to find out the next day what unbelievably cool exploits I had missed the night before. If I had a nickel for all the times I’ve heard, “You can sleep when you’re dead!” I would be a millionaire…okay, maybe I’d have a few bucks. But you get the idea. Don’t get me wrong, I value my health and I truly feel my best when I’ve had a good night’s rest, but sometimes it is totally worth it to take a chance and stick it out for a little while longer. Nights that I stayed out with the Hash House Harriers for one more conversation, or salsa danced for one more song almost always ended up with new friends, new plans, or a memory I would never forget. I knew that I would feel tired in the morning, but I also knew that I was put on earth to experience those blissful moments…and I have had so many of these moments this past year.

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Make every movement with love and authenticity. This is a big one for me. I am a people pleaser. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with bringing joy to your loved ones, making yourself happy and loving who you are will bring you the most joy in this world. Don’t worry about impressing others or fitting normative expectations of your culture. Live with authenticity in your heart and express gratitude for it daily. Be Love, every day.

2014 was a fantastic and enlightening year for me. When I think about the possibility that life can be cut off so abruptly, the way Jerome’s was, it makes me sad, but it also makes me grateful that I do the things I do, know the people I know, and experience miracles every day. Nothing is ever perfect, but my perfectly tangled existence is absolutely an abstract design of immaculate beauty.

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WHY: Part I

Today I went back and read a post that I wrote some time ago. It was a bittersweet commentary on the trials of my weight loss journey, but also a heartwarming reminder of how far I’ve come. The reason I went back to it today was because of the fitness group I joined on Facebook. We were asked to write about our “why.” Why are we choosing to lose weight right now? What is our motivation to achieve our goals? Originally I shared the following piece only with the fitness group, but I decided I needed to get this to a bigger audience. Following is my “why.”

I’ve struggled with my weight and abandonment issues from my parent’s divorce my whole life, and because of that I find it hard to follow through with the things I really want to accomplish. I either give up and desert the project, or, more often, sabotage myself. This includes goals involving my passion for writing, my fervent need to be beautiful (AKA, skinny), and finding (and marrying) the love of my life.

For the longest time, even though my self-esteem wasn’t the greatest, I didn’t stress a whole lot about being fat because I never expected I could change it. When I did finally lose weight, it started a whole domino effect of anxiety because I had all this new pressure. Where before it never mattered because I had zero expectations, suddenly the world was at my fingertips and I was completely unprepared. It was really easy to blame others for my shortcomings, and for a while I thought, things haven’t changed a bit. Why not just stay how I am? My life is fantastic, even if I’m not living the dream of marrying Dr. Handsome and writing that bestseller. I’ve got great friends, a steady job…I have good dates here and there. I can hack it a little longer, getting by how I am. But that’s not how I want to live my life. I want to set meaningful goals and attain them, NOW (starting with being focused on them better). I want to be able to tell myself every day that I am worthy of a beautiful and healthy relationship. I want to break the chains of inadequacy that I’ve carried from a very young age—and that I’ve continued to carry all on my own, using them as an excuse to be average.

Doing all that takes a concerted effort, and a community. I’m so used to doing things for myself, being single for such a long time, but letting people in, and, God-forbid, letting others see my vulnerabilities, is so important. It’s not something I do lightly. It takes faith in my community, and love for myself.

I know that I have to let go of my past in order to be the future amazing Becky that’s always been inside. Grasping onto my communities’ outstretched hands is a great start. Spending time with people from all corners of my world is a very important part of that. I’ve got my running community, my writing peers, my dance family, my work buddies, fellow gamers and hikers and coffee-lovers, Blazer fans, my blood family. But it’s more than just spending time, and it’s more than just hoping a few of you will read my blog and empathize. Getting vulnerable with yourself and your “people” is not a one-stop deal. Clearly, you readers have seen that for the last two years that I’ve been writing this blog. Of course I hope to inspire others, but letting out my fears and emotions in this medium is a very important part of my process, and I thank you for being my audience and safety net. You, love, are a very big part of my success in this life, because we all need love to thrive.

All you need is love
All you need is love

This is the first piece in a miniseries called WHY. I look forward to sharing parts II and III very soon.

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

 

Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

 

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I’ll rise.

 

Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops.

Weakened by my soulful cries.

 

Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don’t you take it awful hard

‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines

Diggin’ in my own back yard.

 

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.

 

Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as a surprise

That I dance like I’ve got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?

 

Out of the huts of history’s shame

I rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

I rise

I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.

Maya Angelou

A Brave New Girl

The new wave of Match.com is in-person events, an idea that should have been introduced ages ago. I know, I know, it’s ONLINE dating, but the thing is, online dating can be incredibly awkward! Don’t get me wrong—I believe in the power of online dating. Case in point:  I found my last boyfriend on Match. I can name 4 couples off the top of my head that are now engaged or married to their Matches…but let’s be honest:  Men are very visual creatures. If you happen to post a picture at a bad angle or you’re having lousy hair the weekend you went to Vegas and snapped all those pictures that you put on your profile, you can’t talk your way out of his opinion of you with biting wit and funny jokes. It’s click, moving on to the next lady. Ouch.

Enter an event where you are sure to be surrounded by eligible bachelors, but you’re not forced to talk to every single one of them, like in speed dating. Last night I was bold enough to attend one of these first Match.com “Stir” events. I had no idea what to expect, and I was terrified of the unknown, so I did what any normal single woman would do:  I brought along my trusty wing women.

The three of us walked into the Radio Room in NE Portland and spotted the hostess standing behind a sign that read “Networking Event Check-in.” (Seriously!? Let’s just call it what it is, folks. We are all here because we are single and looking!) So, we checked in. Then she leaned over and told us that the event was open to the entire bar, however it was also open to the public!?!? WHAT??? Not only were we entering an event that marked us as lonely, pitiful singletons, but we were also facing certain social death-by-mortification by bravely approaching a handsome fellow to talk to him, only to find out he had a fiancée, or worse, was gay!!

So, following the single women’s code, we stayed tightly in our gaggle, and actually added more women to it, ending up with six beautiful (pitiful, lonely) ladies at one table, looking at each other and snickering. Very soon, my wing women locked eyes with me and we decided that we would never meet a man this way. We got up and headed to the bar…and ran into yet another girlfriend! This was not going the way we expected. There was no event host; there were no games, and no ice breakers. Basically this was a regular happy hour at a bar in Anytown, USA. How exactly were we supposed to find love in this setup? Weren’t we obviously on Match.com to help us find dates because we felt uncomfortable hitting on people at the bar? I found myself questioning my decision to click YES on that RSVP.

In addition to my nerves about the event in general, I had been sweating bullets for another reason. At the Radio Room that evening, there were short women, tall women, exotic ones, plain Janes, and there was me. I’m the cute, petite, curly-haired girl with the big personality and a hundred hobbies. I can ask a man to salsa, I can belly dance in front of a live audience, and I am a smart, talented writer. Do I feel that way when it comes to dating? No way. The moment I walked in, I was panicked. I have this bad habit of comparing myself to women all the time. It is intensely exhausting, but I find myself doing it every day. I can’t believe how much energy I could have been refunded, had there been that option, on time wasted thinking about other women that I don’t even know! As I looked around, I realized there was no way I was going to be able to stand out in the crowd. Hell, most of the crowd couldn’t see me, even with the 3-inch wedges I was standing in (I’m 5’1″). I knew I couldn’t let this opportunity pass. The men looked more terrified than the women, so I had to quickly confront my fears and be the guru of my own destiny.

In a moment of rare courage, I took the reins and grabbed one of my girlfriends. I said, “We are going to that table right there. We are going to sit down and ask those guys why they haven’t talked to any girls yet!” We crossed our fingers, hoping that they were part of the event and weren’t already on a date with each other! (Hey, this is Portland…my Gaydar has failed many times over the years here.)

We sat down, I spewed out my ice-breaker (hopefully with a winning smile on my face)…and the next hour and 20 minutes flew by like wildfire! The man I talked to was tall, a ginger (strawberry blonde), strong enough to pick me up without hurting himself, and he was a fantastic conversationalist. I was so surprised when my other wing woman came over and told me it was 9:00! We thanked the men for their hospitality, and started gathering our purses and coats. My friend looked thrilled when Paul asked for her number. Unfortunately my guy was solely a wing man and said he wasn’t looking for anything serious at the moment because he was focused on school. I was disappointed, but thanked him for his honesty and wished him luck with his Master’s Degree.

It’s true, I was saddened that my bold move hadn’t gotten me any bounty, but in the car on the way home, I heard how excited my girlfriend was about meeting Paul, and the feeling wasn’t so sour anymore. Plus, I had a great conversation with a man who was easy on the eyes, had some laughs, and a yummy cocktail. My night wasn’t a loss at all!

Perhaps this is the Universe’s way of telling me to keep the faith. There are good men out there, and I just need to hold out for the right one. This way, I know that when I meet a good one, I’ll have a bevy of stories to keep him entertained for at least one coffee date!

Number 1
Girlfriend, you’re number ONE!

I found this post to be a beautiful representation of how I’ve started to feel about my body. It is so important to love the skin you’re in!

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Something strange happened to me recently. I was on Facebook a few days ago and someone posed the question, “If you could change one thing about your body what would it be?” I was ready to make a reply but first I had to think. Hmmm, I had to think?! I took mental notes of all my imperfections; I have many. I tried to think of which one I wanted to change most. I couldn’t, because I love them all. My mind was blown, I couldn’t believe it. I skipped the post for several reasons, mostly because I wanted the moment to sink in; I have grown. Years- months ago, I would have typed one of my many flaws within seconds… Now I feel as if, my body represents fallen autumn leaves. The color and shape are not the same but together they make a beautiful heap. 🙂

 

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Yeah I’m free…free-lancing!

Footwork Dance Studio
Footwork Dance Studio ATS class

I’ve been writing up a storm outside of this blog, and I want to share it with you! I figured the best way to get my free-lance writing to you is to put it here, all together. What can I say—I like to make things easy for my friends.

This first piece was written for the Milwaukie Rules website. It is an OregonLive-affiliated website dedicated to showing the world (or at the very least, the Portland metro area) what Milwaukie, Oregon has to offer. You can find restaurants, town hall meeting recaps, event listings, and places to have adventures! In addition, if you sign up for the weekly e-newsletter, you’ll be reminded of what great things are going on in the next few days that you don’t want to miss. I am posting the content here on my blog rather than making you click on the link, with the faith that you will at least check out the website. I think you might be surprised at what variety you’ll find. Plus, editor Mandy Zelinka makes everything more fun with her witty commentary and brightly-colored layout.

I walked into Footwork Dance Studio last week and was greeted by a rustle of gypsy skirts, elaborate belts with mirrors sewn onto them, large yarn tassels, conch shells, beads in every color of the rainbow, and a lot of smiles. Footwork Studio hosts many types of classes:  ballet, tap, jazz, ballroom, and American Tribal belly dance. I had come to observe the belly dance class. The teacher, Sherrie Janz, has a dancer’s grace and beautiful wild curly hair, which I think perfectly complements her style. She started taking tap and jazz when she was very young, but learning (and falling in love with) belly dance didn’t come until much later. When the previous instructor at Footwork moved on, Sherrie began teaching youth and adult belly dance in her place. She describes her class as “Tribaret” style—a mix of Tribal and Cabaret belly dance—but her roots are firmly in Tribal dance. American Tribal Style belly dance (ATS) itself is a hybrid. It was created in the United States, and mixes traditional Middle Eastern belly dance, earthy folkloric dances from several countries, and even some moves from the more classic dances like ballet and jazz. The movements are snakelike and deliberate, and the costumes are rich in hue.

To begin class, Sherrie led her students through a deep stretching warm-up with invigorating ethnic music, filled with large hip circles, snake arms, and head slides. This was followed by a review of choreography the ladies had performed earlier in the year—and where the departure from traditional belly dance was really apparent. They danced to Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance. I was curious to see how this would go. It was definitely not what I think of when I picture belly dance, but it was beautiful and incredibly creative. She also covered a few movement drills, calling out the names of each movement while giving out costume advice at the same time. From the shy girl in the corner trying to slide out of my view, to the confident teenager who stood up front and showed me her best shimmy, every woman in class was smiling, whether it was demure or ear-to-ear. Self-conscious giggles could be heard around the room as I wrote my notes.

Sherrie asserted that she emphasizes fun in her classes, not strict dance training, however she does encourage community involvement. She and her students dance a few times a year for the Milwaukie community, including donating an “Evening of Belly Dance” to the annual auction for the St. Francis Dining Hall. Of course the bidders need to see what they’ll be getting in this package, so the dancers twirl and entertain during the auction itself as well. The winning bidder gets to bring six friends and spend the evening learning dance moves, dressing in costume, and enjoying snacks and drinks.

Footwork Dance Studio has been in Milwaukie for 35 years, and in its current location for eight. They have an excellent website with information on class descriptions, schedules, and any other questions you may have.

Footwork Dance Studio
16660 SE McLoughlin Blvd
Milwaukie, OR 97267
www.footworkdance.com
503-652-1242

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My second piece is a book review from a fresh new author. We originally connected on Twitter, where she asked me to review her first book. I warned her that I hadn’t written a book review since college, but that I would do my best to honestly evaluate her story. It is a nonfiction piece about her upbringing in Detroit. I will leave the Amazon link here for you to check her book out in more detail. You can also follow her on Twitter @janachantel. Presenting my review of Into My Mind by Jana` Chantel…

With a fascinating true story that sears into the reader’s heart, Jana` Chantel presents the details of her tumultuous childhood in Detroit, which are humbly told with the raw language of a woman whose memory of a violent upbringing is still quite fresh in her mind. This book has a bit of everything one would expect from a young woman—truly an adolescent in real-time—living the hard life in a broken Detroit:  absent father, gunshot wounds, drug dealing, bad romance, the whole gamut. Throughout the book, Jana` strives to find a bit of normalcy in her chaos. She begins by recalling the death of her mother, who was murdered in cold blood when Jana` was just a year old, and, through her young adult years, the drama continued. Her father, too, met a harsh ending. Jana` was shot by her own brother and had her heart broken by a lying thug. The reader can quickly see that her retelling is a painful reminder of her early struggles in life, but also a catharsis.

Into My Mind is a fast read; I finished it in a few short hours. Immediately I felt the need to go back and read it again so I could once more absorb the incredulous details. If you’re looking for a sophisticated, polished memoir, this may not be at the top of your list, but she gives you a heartfelt, in-your-face story, never hiding the blemishes in herself or the other characters. I’m not sure she ever found the normalcy she was searching for, but at the end, you will be left with a sense that Jana` has embraced her own version of normal. Like the city of Detroit itself, Jana` is driven to fight for a better reality.