Fear Factor

The Flossin Magazine cover was brightly colored with art and titled, The Almighty Dollar. I looked through it casually, flipping the pages slowly until one stopped me. FEAR, in all capitals and bright red–my lifelong frenemy. Fear was always putting its nose where it wasn’t wanted. But this time, fear asked my permission; I had to say yes.

It was an article on fear as a motivator. On the opposite page was a 5 Step Action Plan for understanding what fear was and what it meant. I immediately knew this article needed to be the provocateur for an important conversation at the next meetup of my monthly creative group.* The 5 Step Action Plan prompts were fantastic, and I knew the group would appreciate the opportunity to write out our thoughts on this exploration of our fear. Before I read the first step out loud, I decided we needed one more examination of our inner selves so that we could answer the prompts honestly and fully. I asked Colin and Hannah to write their lives alongside me. I wanted challenges, accomplishments, what made us the people we are today. There were no instructions on style, length, or format. I gave it 10 minutes on the timer. We began.

I requested that we each read our stories aloud, to help give context of what was to come in the prompts. I chose to write mine as if it were a song. I read aloud,

I am not my body. I am not what I see in the mirror. I am a spirit. I am joy. Am sorrow. Curiosity. Anger. Love. Generosity.

I am the girl who hated her body, then tolerated it, then flaunted it, then was ashamed by it. On repeat.

I am a 4-time half marathon runner.

I am a belly dancer who has commanded the stage and shimmied audiences into hypnosis.

I am a Quaker woman who appreciates the simplicity and peace-searchers in life.

I am the woman who has cried over a million tears–they have baptized me.

I have been a doormat and a victim and a fighter and a winner.

I have learned my flaws don‘t define me but they have carved me.

I am a writer who has accomplished many things and still has many words to share with the world.

I am scared and brave–I am what has grown out of the well of the two of them when they have shouted their fear and courage into each other’s faces. I am that soul child.

I dive into the unknown.

I create a community so diverse and beautiful and bizarre and inspiring. No one could write a story like mine and yet I yearn to share it with the world; I am finally understanding the width of my soul-span; I see the depth of my heart-wake. I see the crinkles and the wrinkles of my emotional intelligence. I am me.

 

In case you’re wondering, the 5 Step Action Plan prompts are as follows:

  • Keep it Real: Identify what needs to change
  • Feel the Pain: Imagine the pain of not taking action
  • Feel the Pleasure: Envision the pleasure of your end game result
  • Plan & Commit: Identify the steps needed to make an action plan
  • Do It: Stop talking and planning and just do it

 

*I run a monthly creative group called “Focus: Creative — An uplifting community focused on cultivating your creative strategy.” The participants in this group have passions and creative goals, and they want peers to bounce ideas off of, or a sounding board for an issue that they are pondering. I saw a need for this community, so I built it. A year and a half later, we have a fantastic group of creatives! If you’re interested in joining us, leave your information in the comment form or drop a comment below.

 

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Old Flames, Rekindled

This weekend, as on many weekends in the summer, I went berry picking with friends. Spencer, my favorite new coworker, picked me up early on a Sunday and we headed west towards the land of plentiful berries and wine. I look forward to Oregon’s U-Pick berries every year, but this was Spencer’s first time. I couldn’t wait to have his review of the experience.

Though we are new friends, we’re getting to know each other by leaps and bounds, partaking in many lunchtime walks together and a lot of giggles. As fast friends, I became comfortable being 100% Becky early on, so at some point in the car ride, I sang a few verses of a song that was on the stereo.

“Hey, you’ve got a voice!” He commented. Indeed I do! There is no possible way I could escape the house of Swank without having formed some sort of singing voice; my parents were both constantly belting out tunes of all kinds in my formative years. I heard folk songs, hymns, jingles of favorite NPR shows, you name it. My sister and I were always encouraged to join in. We sang in church here and there as well. Whether or not I was any good, I hadn’t thought about in years, but I was glad to know my “training” had held up.

We got to the fields at Rowell Bros. and began filling our buckets, and I swiftly tucked the singing into the back of my mind. Though he had forgotten his sunscreen and hadn’t had time to eat, Spencer appeared to be having a great time. I was in my little corner of heaven, moving methodically through the berry bushes, dumping handfuls into my bucket. I had to stop myself before I hit five pounds of blueberries, though I could have easily gone for more. We hopped next door to Smith Berry Barn in hopes to finding some marionberries, but left with a flat of gorgeous blackberries instead. Not such a terrible compromise.

Afterwards, we loaded our berries in the car and drove towards home. Spencer asked me, “Do you know that song from Frozen… “Love is an Open Door?” I answered that I was sure I’d heard it in the movie but didn’t know it by heart. He responded not with words, but by bringing up the lyrics on his phone and turning on his Spotify to the Frozen soundtrack. “It’s a duet.” We both smiled.

And so it began. The first time I stumbled through, not knowing the pauses and speaking parts, of which there are several. But I loved it! As soon as the song ended, I asked him to play it again. He grinned, knowing I was hooked. “You sound really good!” He said excitedly. The second time around we really got in sync. The third time was better yet!

I felt exhilarated. I’ve always been a musical person, whether expressing that through singing in the kitchen, playing piano (9 years of lessons!), trumpet (5 years!), or most recently, by belly dancing and adding flair to my twirls at the salsa club. Music runs in my veins. I hadn’t meant to stifle the singer in me…I had learned new hobbies, focused on other things as I got older. I hadn’t realized how happy it made me until I was reminded so joyously.

How amazing it feels to have stumbled back upon something that makes me so happy! And how about you? You can find a flame, whether it’s something completely new or an old one you’ve let go. Blow gently, feed it some love. If the flame ignites into a fire, take the opportunity to cultivate it and see where it goes. Let me know what you (re)discover this summer.

Bridging the Gap

“You should go for it!” Claudia said after we had shimmied our hearts out. I was sweaty and utterly exhausted, and had no patience for whatever she was babbling about. She gestured excitedly to the poster hanging on the studio wall. The large, colorful advertisement shouted at me: One day, six workshops! Sepiatonic presents Samba, Bollywhack, Expanding Movement, Afro-pop Fusion, Waacking & Vogue Fusion, and Isolation Drill Bits…We are Bridging the Gap! “There is still scholarship money available!” She told me gleefully. The application involved several essay questions and a video audition. “Oh,” Claudia mentioned quasi-casually, “and the application deadline is tonight.” How in the world did she think I was qualified for this kind of scholarship? I’d never even heard of half of these dance styles! And how would I stand out among so many talented dancers? I imagined them all recording their auditions on a stage in front of a live orchestra, finger cymbals winking in the spotlight and $900 costumes flashing to the sound of the audience’s ooohs and ahhhs, while my audition would most likely consist of me in my clammy workout gear in my living room.

Bridge the gap

But Claudia never doubted me, even when I had little faith in myself. She had been my belly dance teacher now for over eight years. Yemaya had been my first mentor, and the one who helped instill solid muscle memory and strength in me. Several years ago, when she moved out of the country and I expressed panic at losing her—just when I was beginning to perform—she reassured me that a new teacher would guide my dance education from then on. Claudia had been nothing short of amazing. In addition to the solo performances I had already taken on, duet, and troupe performances had been checked off under her watch. I built my style, and learned to better understand my strengths and weaknesses during her classes. I also admired her insistence on learning from a variety of teachers—she was all about building the self through a community. She knew my uncertainties and apprehensions almost better than I did… so I tried to trust her conviction in my ability.

I went home and thought about it, determined to make a decision that was based on fact, not fear. Normally I would have pushed all hopeful thoughts out of my mind and gone to bed, making excuses of why I couldn’t do this. I’m tired. It’s too late to submit. I’m not qualified. What was bridging the gap, anyway? I Googled the group’s website: Bridge the Gap is a way to stay connected, to collaborate, to innovate, to celebrate diversity, and to keep making art and growing community in these fearful times of oppression. The more that different artists, thinkers, feelers, and awake people of our communities unite, the stronger of a power we are against forces that strive to annihilate free-thinking, passionate creativity, and diverse and alternative lifestyles in our country. It sounded like something magical and daring… It sounded fantastic…it sounded like it could be perfect for me. My dance community was wonderful but small, and expanding mine could only build me up as a dancer and a human being. Suddenly, I knew I needed to do this.

I started with the essay questions. I’m excellent at tests, especially long form writing ones. I considered each question, and wrote each answer with loving intention in my heart, excited to share my passion for dance and the experiences it had provided me up to this point. Then, the video. I propped up my phone, pressed play, and performed my best 30-second belly dance/Latin fusion that I could muster after two solid hours of dance class and a full day of work. I watched it, then re-watched it at least three times, then re-recorded it at least three times, then took a deep lungful of air—don’t forget to breathe—and clicked send on the application.

A few days later I received a reply. I opened it nervously. I had submitted my application literally at the eleventh hour. Was it possible I actually got in? I had to read it twice for it to truly sink in. I had won a scholarship—for the full day of dance!

I walked in that Sunday feeling terribly nervous and only somewhat physically prepared. I had packed way too many snacks and not enough confidence, but it didn’t matter. I was here now, and the embarrassment of running out the door trumped embarrassing myself in the classroom. First up: samba. I had taken a few samba classes over the years, but I was absolutely overwhelmed by this style. My arms were on fire after the first few rounds of choreography and my feet were constantly playing catch-up, but I grinned through the sweat. Overall, I was keeping up! I could do this! The smile didn’t leave my face for the rest of the day.

Bollywhack was next. Kumari Suraj is a force, a stunning, feminine presence that I was immediately attracted to. As a curvy woman, I was ecstatic at the sight of someone larger than a size two teaching the class. It turns out that this combination of Bollywood (The dance form used in Indian films) and Waacking (Waack/Punk is a form of dance created in the LGBT clubs of Los Angeles during the 1970s) was exactly what I needed to experience. I instantly fell in love with the crisp, energetic movements introduced by two seemingly opposite styles of dance, but it worked, and Kumari stole a piece of my heart. Following were Afro-pop Fusion, Expanding Movement, Waack and Vogue Fusion, and the last, which unfortunately I had to miss due to a previous commitment, Isolation Drill Bits. The workshops made me feel weightless. Nothing mattered but the movements, and my physical body was almost secondary to the energy and spirit I exuded.

This community of dancers was a diverse one—not only belly dancers, but those who samba, waack, vogue, play, flounce, whirl. People who aren’t one type of beautiful. Men with giant braided ponytails of hair, flinging them madly, within dangerous distances of other dancers. A big and beautiful dancer like me, who astounded the crowd and made me want to rip out my eyeballs and send them away with her, to continually watch her dazzling generosity of movement and flair. These people were all so human, so robust, boisterous, and raw. I could read it in their eyes; they proudly polluted the definition of societal allure.

My definition of what a dancer is has forever been altered. There is nothing like the rush of power I feel when I move to the ancient Middle Eastern music. Belly dance makes me forget to feel self-conscious and be proud of who I am; I forget to crave the comforting stability of the status quo. Dance obliterates my worries and wraps me in a bubble of protection that I yearn to hold on to in my everyday life.

A dancer of stunning feminine essence was born in a basement studio. My name is Maysam Janan, meaning beautiful heart and soul, and dance has set my heart on fire. Shaky or strong, my breath keeps the fire going, and the community I continue to build will hold me up when I can’t fuel it alone.

Over and Over Again

Renowned martial artist Bruce Lee described the opponent he was most wary of: “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” In my astrological opinion, you should regard that as one of your keystone principles during the next 12 months. Your power and glory will come from honing one specific skill, not experimenting restlessly with many different skills. And the coming weeks will be an excellent time to set your intention. – Rob Brezsny

It’s a theme that is so common in every thread of life: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

I hear it every week in belly dance class. My instructor and dear friend, Claudia, is unyielding in her insistence that you can take a set of simple moves and make them incredible with a metric ton of practice and a heavy helping of personality.

I can drill with the best of them. I love it. I could shimmy for hours; hone my taksim and maya for days. Add in that personality or emotional factor, however, and I crumble. Showing my vulnerability is one of my biggest fears. To show your vulnerability is terrifying, but essential to being a whole dancer. It’s what gives the dance tarab. Tarab is the climax of a feeling derived from hearing music expressing an intense emotion. I struggle with this, because I love belly dance with a passion; I want to be a complete dancer—tarab and all. I feel these emotions with the music and the movement, but somehow I can’t set them free into the universe, because that would open me up to something incredibly scary. The audience would see the raw, naked parts of me. It’s the gift of imperfection. It’s what makes us relate to other humans. But I always seem to see it as a gag gift. To her credit, Claudia never gives up on me. She just makes me do it again and again. If we dance for an hour and she sees one glimpse of my wall breaking down, she knows it can happen another time, and she encourages me to get back up and expose myself again. I am a dancer. Music and movement are my passion, and no amount of failure will make me stay down, because I yearn to cultivate this gift of mine.

Dating…I cannot count the number of times I’ve been stood up, “ghosted,” or rejected. If you’ve ever tried online dating, you know the frustration that can build so easily. Greater quantity does not necessarily mean better quality. I’ve met some true gems, but the timing wasn’t right or our schedules didn’t match up. Do I sit at home and cry about it? Yes. But then I get back up and try again. I set up yet another date to meet someone new, holding out hope that my person is out there. I am strong, smart, beautiful, and deserve to be loved. I am love.

America has felt over and over the hate that comes from fear. We see people killed for reasons beyond our comprehension. Hate crimes, terrorism, crimes of passion. It is a scary time in our existence. We easily fall down rabbit holes of depression and distress, struggling to get back up.  Should we give up, let ourselves sink back down to the darkness forever? No. We repeat our mantras of love and acceptance. We recognize that there is a purpose for the light and the dark, and search for a balance. We get to know our neighbors. Sometimes I falter at knowing what I can do for my brothers and sisters of the world. But I can start with something small—holding each of us in the light. That is what my Quaker faith taught me to do—understand that there is that of God in every person, no matter what they have done or who they are. I can start there. Wash, rinse, repeat.

If my one, time-tested impeccable “kick” turns out to be sharing my love with you, then I am honored to try, try again, with every blog I post and every action I take, whether that be writing a few words, sharing my passion for dance, or practicing loving kindness, expecting nothing in return.

love

We’re not all going to Eat, Pray, Love our way through life, but we can try

When I was a child, my mother often read out loud to me. She would never start at chapter one—instead, she patiently read every single page, including the author’s name, the illustrator, dedication, and forward. The only exception was the library of congress page, although she did always note the copyright date.

For my birthday in 2015, she sent a book entitled Stressed is Dessert Spelled Backwards, written by Brian Luke Seaward with a forward by Joan Lunden; no illustrator this time. I brought this book on a flight to San Diego. I was already well into it, enjoying it thoroughly, but needed to put it down to do something…I can’t remember what. Maybe stretch. Maybe have a drink of water. While it was lying on my tray table, the pages curling upwards, I noticed writing on one of the pages—the title page—one I had skipped because I had read the title on the cover and didn’t think it was necessary. (Sorry, mom.)

She had inscribed it, “Dear Becky, hope this is a help when you become upset. Love, Mom. August 31, 2015.” My birthday. Tears instantly came to my eyes when I read this. I was four chapters in by this time, and it was blowing my mind. I could see why she was drawn to it personally. There is a lot of reflection on the power of prayer, something my mother believes in very strongly. Both of my parents raised me to have a close relationship with God, and, though it has changed, waxed, and waned over the years, that relationship remains inside of me. Call it prayer, call it manifestation, it’s all based on a spirituality that is incredibly personal, and it gives me a connection with the universe, love, and every person on this planet.

Right now in my faith, I have decided that God is a name for life-force. Existence. Love. So when I pray, it is not necessarily to an almighty power. I am praying to myself, to a drop of water, to a strand of hair, everything that holds a vibration—energy. When I think it, when I feel it, I manifest it. We all do. The power of energy is strong.

And now I’m back home, inspired. My muse is sitting on my shoulder. He is wearing a kilt, and has a glencairn of pinot barrel-aged gin in his left hand and a whip in the other. He’s tapping his foot impatiently. So, armed the wisdom of my new-agey knowledge, I decide now is the perfect time to do something I’ve been waiting all of 2015 for. Open my happiness jar.

 

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I’m not going to lie, I saw it on Pinterest. It was January 2015. I was feeling optimistic after a fantastic New Year’s Eve and thought, what a great idea! I find a jar (in my case it was a tall cylindrical vase), decorate it, and drop in memories and trinkets that remind me how blessed I am. I told myself I would read it on New Year’s Eve 2015, but of course I ended up going to a party; you know how those things go. So tonight, a few days into the new year, I am cracking it open to see what gems I experienced over the last year. Here are a few.

  • I have two friends that, when we get together, jokingly call our group the Venus Flytraps. We occasionally have goddess gatherings at my place (or hen party, ladies night, etc.). At one of these gatherings, I decided to print out each of our horoscopes from Free Will Astrology that week on beautiful gold paper and present them to each lady. After the gathering I decided to stick it in my jar to see how it would manifest. My Virgo horoscope read as follows: It is always important to know when something has reached its end,” writes Paulo Coelho in his book The Zahir. Use this advice heroically in 2015, Virgo. Wield it to clear away anything that no longer serves you, that weighs you down or holds you back. Prepare the way for the new story that will begin for you around your next birthday. “Closing circles, shutting doors, finishing chapters,” Coelho says, “it doesn’t matter what we call it; what matters is to leave in the past those moments in life that are over.” Thud, thud, thud, goes my heart. Letting go in the last year has served me incredibly well. I let go of tired expectations about relationships, old understandings about my sensual and sexual expression. Some of you know that my boyfriend and I parted ways (although I didn’t get rid of him entirely—he is still very much a part of my life as a dear friend). I let free my assumptions about who I am as a dancer, as a runner, even as a writer. I simply am those things. I look forward to seeing what fills the space of the things I let go in the coming year.
  • A Louise Hay Power of Thought card: I allow others to be themselves. This card was handed to me after a particularly snarly interaction with a friend of mine while camping. Now, I love my friend Joe, I do. He is like the brother I never had. But as all brothers do, he gets on my nerves from time to time. And on that day, he had gotten on my last one. I blew up at him in front of 6 others in my campsite. I don’t think any of those people have ever seen me do anything but smile; I’m a pretty positive person 98% of the time. After my little tantrum, I stomped around camp for a while, drank my coffee, and avoided eye contact with my fellow campers. Then, my friend Sarah came up to me and handed me this card. She said, if you love Joe, you have to love him for who he is…flaws and all. I was embarrassed at first, but I soon realized she gave it to me in friendship, not to put me in my place. I read the back of the card: I do not try to heal my friends. I do my own mental work and heal myself. This is the best thing I can do for others. I was so humbled and grateful for Sarah in that moment. It has never left me. Ever since then, every time someone grates on me for doing something that is, in my eyes, wrong, I remember Sarah’s kind offering.
  • In the first part of the year, I cultivated a strong connection with a man who became a very close friend. He has inspired me multiple times this year, and I’ve even used his inspiration in a few of my blogs. After reading one of them, he wrote me this note. “So I re-read your blog as requested. I originally felt touched by the part about the friend who talks about his son living in every moment as I saw a connection to me. Now, knowing you wrote that about/for me I am touched even more. Thank you Becky for your kindness and your authenticity. Your (sic) truly a special person and someone someday is going to be very blessed to have you as a partner. Happy New Year and on-on.” I close my eyes now, and remember the warmth I felt when I read that note the first time, and every time thereafter. It reminds me what special and amazing souls I have in my life.
  • I attended two writing workshops this year, both of which brought me great joy. In one of the workshops, led by Kate Gray, we were tasked to write a short fiction piece. I ended up writing something about belly dance, and loved it so much that I kept it around. It contains many parts that are true to my own life as well as musings of a greater sort. Here is a short excerpt: “Here, she danced for pleasure. For art. To see her hair fly in the air as she spun in a barrel turn. To see the man drop his pita into the hummus because her muscle isolations made it seem as though her hips were no longer connected to the rest of her body. To feel beautiful in stage makeup, and feel the pure delight of washing it off at the end of the night, watching the makeup and sweat and soap bubbles slink circuitously into the drain and flow somewhere else…She grew up with rhythms from all over the world. She couldn’t imagine a life without romantic harmonies, haunting vibratos, and razor sharp words. Music moved her.” HAPPINESS!
  • If you have not read The Four Agreements, I highly recommend it. I wrote each one down and put them in my jar, and they have served me incredibly well this year. You really must read the book, but here are the agreements, in short.
Be impeccable with your word.
Don’t take anything personally.
Don’t make assumptions.
Always do your best.
  • This is an action that has never come easily to me. A friend of mine gave me a deck of cards with meditation words on them a few years ago. Surrender kept coming up for me whenever I pulled this deck out. I decided that Surrender would be my word of the year. And so I have quite happily, and continue to surrender to whatever the universe brings me.

2015 was a year of growth for me. It was not without growing pains, to be sure. Most of these times I understood that there was a bigger message, a lesson I needed to learn. I have to hand it to the universe, it can throw some seriously cockeyed lessons my way, but I do feel strongly that I needed each and every one of them, no matter how painful at the time.

I encourage you to reflect on your 2015 and come up with some of the lessons you experienced, maybe set up a happiness jar for 2016. We’re not all going to get to the other side boasting the ideal job, the perfect mate, and a flawless life, but we can absolutely appreciate the path we’ve taken to get to where we are now—exactly where we’re supposed to be at this time and place.

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 II—Precious Fragments

This “Why” series is a way to bring me closer to you—by revealing my inner-most thoughts and being 100% vulnerable with you. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking my words and embracing them with love and kindness.

The first time I was completely vulnerable with a man, it changed my being. Bringing it back now, I feel exactly the same as I did in that moment. My breath is ragged and my chest is warm. I have a sense of exhilaration that it happened, but also sadness that my moment with him has passed. The most important part of it, though, was that I felt liberated.

Whenever I go back and read the poems I wrote for my college thesis, I am so impressed at how much raw emotion I allowed to spill onto the pages. I wasn’t scared of making someone uncomfortable with my words or that they would judge me. I didn’t fear my teacher would read the lines and immediately fail me because I wasn’t Sylvia Plath at 22. I just wrote anything and everything that was inside of me, and it was good stuff!

I hear a song, 25 years later, and it reminds me of the times I danced in the summer darkness among the lightning bugs, and how I felt in the very heart of it. I remember the feeling of being absolutely free, absolutely me, without a care in the world. Granted, I was 10 years old at the time and wasn’t concerned with having a 401k or what I would be when I grew up, but so often, even as children, we burden ourselves with too many thoughts. You know that blonde chick that everyone makes fun of because she’s empty-headed? Sometimes, I envy her. Sometimes it is essential to let go of our thoughts and just feel.

One thing my belly dance teacher always reminds me to do is to let my emotion out while I’m dancing. Claudia says that a dancer can have the most technically precise moves and the most beautiful costume, but without tarab, there can be no complete dance. Tarab has no exact English definition, but the closest I can come up with is “a shared experience of musical ecstasy.” Or “When reaching the epic moment of a feeling derived from hearing music, whether it instrumental or voice or both together expressing either joy, pain sorrow or any other intense emotion.” (Written by Mohamed Shahin and Hanna St. John) This, to me, is exactly what it means to show one’s inner truth.

I have a friend who comments that his son lives fully in the moment, every minute of every day. His face lights up when he talks about how happy it makes him to see his child in this way. Wouldn’t it be great if we all lived in the moment like that?

These days it’s much rarer for me to let go. Is it because I’m older, set in my ways? It still happens occasionally if I’m dancing, if I am feeling particularly brave, or if I’m in a foreign place and just don’t care what anyone thinks. The most interesting times are when I’m wearing a costume or a wig; I’ve noticed it gives me a mental get-out-of-jail-free card. I wish I could let down this wall I have built with more regularity—I have the potential to free myself at any time. Why don’t I? Why don’t any of us?

I read a piece by Wayne Dyer before Christmas about making peace with relatives during the holidays. It struck me that, regardless of the focus on relatives, it turned out to be entirely fitting for this post.

The conflict seems too often to be a choice between being authentic, which means no peace with certain relatives, or having peace at the price of being inauthentic. Being peaceful and authentic can define your relationship with your relatives. First, though, you may have to assess your relationship with the closest relative of all—you.

Can I be extra real with you guys for a minute? Extra-extra real? It seems like, in the past, when I’ve taken those chances and displayed my authentically weird-silly-petrified-confident-lost-found-Quakerific-dancing fool-giggly-imperfect self, I haven’t gotten the results that I’ve wanted. And it crushed me. So I sit, and I reflect on Dr. Dyer’s words, and I wonder, can I be brave again? Is it worth it? I think we all know that the answer is, unequivocally, YES. In our minds we know it, in our hearts we hold it. The answer will always be yes.

In the light of the coming New Year, let’s carry on the tradition of challenging ourselves to be better, to improve something about our lives and to make peace with our authentic selves—whoever that turns out to be. You could make a list, like I did last year, or just hold the intention in your heart. Either way, I dare you to love and express the true YOU in 2015! If you’d like, please share one thing you intend on doing in the New Year that will create a more genuine you.

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