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Bridging the Gap

15 Jun

“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.

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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.

Women’s March on Washington: Portland Style

22 Jan
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Courtesy of Stefan Dietz via Flickr

Yesterday, I was one of those who was going to stay away from the crowds of the Women’s March in downtown Portland. I am all for marches and protests, especially peaceful ones, but I also suffer from some anxiety surrounding these types of events. It’s not claustrophobia, but it does in a sense carry some of those connotations. To a certain extent, if I’m being truly honest here, I also kind of just didn’t want to be bothered. Bothered to go out into a cold, rainy day. To try and find a bathroom where the line isn’t half a mile long. To make sure I didn’t get pepper sprayed or get caught up in violence. To be on my feet all day.

My friend Claudia had stayed the night with me and she was getting ready for the March while I puttered around the kitchen, sorting out my day. She said, Why aren’t you going again? I said, Well, I have some things to do, and then an appointment, and…yeah. Kinda shaky excuses. Claudia, being one of my dearest friends, looked me in the eye and replied,

What will you say when future generations ask you if you were at the Women’s March on January 21, 2017? I had a hair appointment, the traffic was bad? I’m gonna say I joined thousands in a beautiful day of solidarity.

Well that arrow hit its target right on the nose. I packed my backpack with a hastened clump of waterproof clothing, snacks, hydration, wet wipes, and we were off to catch the bus. The first one flew by our stop, packed front to back with passengers. The collective groaning of a dozen people let loose on cue. Luckily, I live by a frequent service stop with several bus lines, so about seven minutes later another one came and it was only about half full. Huzzah!

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Ready to roll out!

We got off the bus and headed to the spot where we were meeting other marchers. Claudia and I hadn’t exactly planned our entrance very well, and since we were already running late, had expected we’d just grab some food somewhere and take it with us to the march. Except every quick/fast service restaurant was packed with protesters. And it was pouring rain, so eating outside wouldn’t be as effortless as we had imagined in our head. And even if we did manage to eat our food without first soaking it in Portland’s famous “weather au jus,” we were standing butt-to-butt, and, since I’m so short, I’d most likely be eating a burrito to the tune of someone’s accidental elbow throw. That just didn’t sound fun to me. So Claudia and I broke off from the group to get something solid in our stomachs a little farther out, with the intention that we would meet up with the other ladies again later. We went to Thirsty Lion, since it’s huge inside and they are usually prepared for crowds. The restaurant was quite full, but we got seated right away. Our waitress was super! She was quick during a very busy time, answered our questions expertly, and best of all, helped us in a tiny way that had a huge impact. I asked her if she had two trash bags that we could have. At first she didn’t understand. I explained the beauty of how trash bags make fantastic makeshift raincoats! In the short half hour or so we’d been outside, Claudia and I were already partially soaked and it was not looking like it would let up any time soon. She came back with two industrial trash bags. They were gigantic—and perfect! We set up our new look. Rip a neck hole, two arm holes, help your neighbor put it up and over the her backpack, and there you go! We looked like two drowned rats with hump backs! Trés chic!

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I didn’t know what to expect when we re-entered the crowd. I know the protests the night before had drawn all sorts of agendas, both peaceful and a little less so. There were flash-bang devices discharged, pepper spray dispensed, and a lot of anger spread out over the city, held mostly at bay by the Portland Police. I protested in the past during the Iraq War. Back then the police I experienced were much different. Instead of trying to prevent conflicts from arising and helping to keep the protests contained, they would bait protesters into angry reactions, thereby enabling them to “legally” detain protesters. I’m not sure when they beefed up their training on civil unrest events, but I have to hand it to them—they have recently done a much better job overseeing the crowds. (This is just my opinion. Feel free to comment below if your experience has been different.) Instead of putting on a show as tyrannical monoliths of punishment, they displayed their humanity. Cops with pink pussy hats on waved us on. Most of them smiled broadly at us as we walked by. I tried to thank as many as I could, because let’s face it, no matter how you feel personally about the police, you must understand that theirs is a tough job.

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The energy was palpable. Everyone there was a cousin of the spirit! We laughed maniacally in the rain, danced in the sloppy mud mosh pit, shouted chants of positivity, squished butt-to-butt with our new friends, giggled at the amazing creativity of the signs, and most of all, came together with the intention of unity.

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When the younger generation asks me where I was on January 21, 2017, I’ll tell them I was right there alongside the most beautiful, diverse, and loving group of people I have ever known.

Local & Loyal | My Happy (Portland) Places

2 Nov

This week I’m taking a break from my miniseries to bring you a more lighthearted post. Challenging Conversations, Conscious Choices will return next week. In the meantime, come take a stroll with me to visit five places I’ve come to love since moving to Portland thirteen years ago.

All Ways Well Acupuncture—I first needed Rebecca when I was involved in a moving vehicle accident and required treatment for soft tissue damage. I entered the treatment room. It was serene, quiet. I laid face down on her table and moved around until I got comfortable. I relaxed; then I got poked, over and over. In the early days it was not that relaxing of an endeavor, given the sore and pained nature of my injured back. I soon grew to love those sacred minutes, though, when all would be quiet and I could just meditate while qi buzzed through me like healing lightning. After my back was healed from the MVA trauma, I returned to her for many issues. Acupuncture is an amazing healer. I highly recommend Rebecca and her magic.

ZenJens’ Jen Keller—I have known Jen longer than I have used her waxing services and facials. She was one of the first people I met in Portland, as a matter of fact. A few months after we met, a mutual friend gave me a gift certificate for an eyebrow wax. I took the envelope in my hands and opened it. Inside was a playful certificate that read, Good for one eyebrow wax from Jen Keller. I looked over at Jude in surprise, thanked her, and exclaimed that I had no idea Jen was an aesthetician. I was so excited! I had never had an eyebrow wax. I was pretty unrefined when I moved to Portland at the age of 24. I find it shocking when I hear about mothers taking their pubescent daughters to get their upper lip waxed, but I suppose that is the millennial equivalent of getting your ears pierced when you turn thirteen. So, gleefully, I kissed my bushy eyebrows goodbye and have never looked back.

Shannon Troy—I was introduced to massage therapist Shannon Troy through a coworker. She had been using Shannon’s services for quite some time, and by the time she came into my radar, half of my department was also using her. She’s good. She’s really good. If you like (no, need) someone who uses her entire body strength to unknot your back, Shannon is your therapist. She is not someone who will rub your back lightly and send you on your way. No, she will work very hard to bestow peace on your sore muscles, and you will love her well-disposed torture.

Portland Community College—I come from Ohio, land of prolonged recession, 18 electoral votes, and some truly outstanding colleges.  Growing up I was told—not asked—to obtain a college education. In-state was the best option, since it was (relatively) cheaper and I would have a plethora of possibilities. I applied to several schools, mostly private, save Kent State University (where my sister eventually chose to get her undergrad and her Masters). I ended up at Wittenberg University, a tiny private liberal arts university in Springfield, Ohio. Witt, as we students called it, was an idyllic bubble surrounded by southwestern Ohio gems such as Yellow Springs (a tiny hippie town where we would go to drink elegant and sumptuous coffees and buy tapestries that we would hang in our dorm rooms beside framed devotions to our high school friends and family), and Dayton, the closest city where we could find fancy restaurants and entertainment outside of bars, bowling alleys, and shopping malls. I wouldn’t trade Witt for any other experience; it was four amazing years of giggles and tears, of learning the struggle and beauty of life.

As an adult, I discovered I wasn’t interested in the toils and troubles of getting my Masters degree. First of all, I honestly had no idea what I would do in a Masters program. I could go for creative writing, but what would that get me? A chapbook published by a university press and a teaching job somewhere? How about journalism? Newspapers were quickly becoming a thing of the past and I wasn’t confident enough in the bourgeoning internet news medium that I wanted to gain (another) huge school debt for a disappointing job in retail—or worse, as a barista—when I was unable to find a writing job. But I savor learning; I love a classroom setting. I’m one of those weirdos who avidly waves her hand in class and tries to catch the eye of the teacher to get their attention. So here and there, to get my classroom fix, I’ve taken courses at Portland Community College. Currently I’m taking a writing class, and I am loving it! PCC is a highly respected community college with a stellar reputation. We never age out of bettering our education. Take a look at their adult education classes here.

Multnomah County Library—Ah, the bookworm’s haven. Delicious, captivating stories. History. Adventure! Tragedy. I’ve always loved going to the library. As a child, my mother would have to limit us to checking out (only) one giant stack of books at a time, or as many as our little arms could carry. Any more than that would have to wait until the next trip. My sister and I devoured words for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We even held our own read-ins. The library was a second home for us, and still is for me today.

Multnomah County Library is known for its huge circulation of titles as well as its programs and events for the public, many of which are completely free. Utilize your local branch, or come to the marble-floored monstrosity of the Central Library downtown. If you’re working on your National Novel Writing Month project, there are plenty of happenings for writers—a Nano Survival Skills Workshop and following write in are both at the Central Library this Saturday. Hope to see you there!

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Photo courtesy of Buy Olympia.

Challenging Conversations, Conscious Choices: Part II

21 Oct

This series came to fruition because of a combination of inspirations (you can read Part I here). First of all, I signed up for a writing class at Portland Community College. Generally, I make an effort to take a few writing workshops a year, but usually the inspiration to actually put pen to paper comes and goes as quickly as the 2-hour workshop itself. When I started this blog, I was dedicated to posting every week—and I did, for quite some time! That quickly slowed down because of dates, or dancing, or drama…or all of the above distractions. They always seemed to sidetrack me from my one true passion—writing. Armed with the PCC class, I knew it would be at least 6 solid weeks of writing accountability, and hopefully, consistency.

Also, it’s October. Yay! Do you know what comes after October? That’s right, November! Do you know what November means to an English nerd like me? That’s right! National Novel Writing Month  AND Wordstock! I haven’t dedicated myself to NaNoWriMo in several years, and now is the perfect time to do it. Also, in past years I’ve always been travelling during Wordstock, so I’m anxiously anticipating my first experience with that. Anyway, read on for my thoughts for Part II.

A few months ago I made a conscious decision to ask myself some hard questions.

I looked in the mirror and questioned, why don’t I make as much money as I should?

I had been doing two jobs for the price of one for a while, and if I’m being truthful, I had known I was underpaid long before that. I had always worked hard with an open heart, knowing it was for the good of the team. Then I thought about all the times I was short on funds, working paycheck-to-paycheck, missing trips or events because I didn’t have the extra cash. I wasn’t drowning in debt or anything, but a sneaker wave could come at any time, and if it did, I could be in big trouble. It wasn’t fair!

So why didn’t I make more money when it was obvious that I deserved fair compensation? I had never asked for more than what was offered. I work hard and am loyal to my company, but I also tend not to rock the boat. You know which people never advance? The ones who never question the status quo. In order to stand out, I had to stand up. Through personal examination and talking to many wise friends, I learned to never expect anyone to grab my hand and lead me to higher ground. I needed to figure out my own unique way to escape those rising waters and succeed.

Here’s a little food for thought that inspired me from the Coffee and Pints blog, created by two of my former coworkers.

Communicate with your manager and peers. They were not hired to be mind-readers. If you don’t make your interests known, it’s highly unlikely that anyone will figure it out and be able to help you.

Make a plan and write it down. This is critical when your goal is something bigger and more multifaceted like earning a promotion or finding a new job. Once your plan is written, ask a mentor or someone you respect professionally to review and discuss it with you. You’ll not only get feedback but the act of sharing it will make your goal seem real and less ephemeral.

Have an open attitude. An interesting thing happens when you begin to initiate. As you take action to move in the direction of your goal, others begin to respond, sharing ideas and information. And sometimes, if you’re open, the conversations that ensue lead to new opportunities.

Believe in yourself. You made it this far, of course you can go further. We all have self-doubt. Nobody likes to fail. Push through all of that and initiate—and don’t ever stop.

In the past, I’d get a physical reaction even to the thought of confrontation—and that is exactly how I saw asking for a raise—however well-deserved it was. But I kept telling myself I was worth it. I saw the proof in front of me in the proposal I wrote.

Write your thoughts down. Speak from your heart. If you think that you don’t have the strength to back up what you need to say, practice. Use YOUR voice. You decide what is in your heart—you decide how you want to say it. No matter what the topic, if you speak your truth with 100% conviction, then you have done your best.

Use the Four Agreements in every interaction.

Be impeccable with your word. Speak with integrity.

Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you.

Don’t make assumptions. We all know what happens when you make ASSumptions…

Always do your best. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.

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If you’d like, please share a time when you used effective communication by being impeccable with your word, and describe how you did it.

Challenging Conversations, Conscious Choices: Part I

14 Oct

The other day, my coworker, Hannah, and I had a talk about race, which is a pretty frequent topic with us—especially these days. She is black and I am white. I come from the Midwest, where it was mostly black and white when I was growing up (that demographic has changed somewhat since my childhood); she is from DC, where there is a huge variety of cultures and ethnic backgrounds. Being from areas of more prevalent African-American presence, we converse with ease about the current racial discourse.

That day, when a coworker overheard us talking, she put on her “mama bear” voice and tutted loudly enough so we could hear it. The space between cubicles is small and the “walls” are thin to begin with. I can only guess that she felt we were getting a little too deep for a coffee break conversation. Or was it because she felt the topic was inappropriate?

Here in the Pacific Northwest, many people, white people in particular, are afraid to speak when it comes to race relations. There is a legitimate societal reason for this—Oregon is known for its tawdry past (and, unfortunately, some current history as well) with the treatment of African Americans. More than likely, folks around here also don’t have enough experience to talk about it with any sort of confidence. Second, and more realistically, they may think that because we are in a predominantly white area that these problems won’t come here…and so they push those topics under the rug. Unfortunately, many people don’t have that luxury.

So many times in Portland I have heard passive racism. A man I was dating once said, “Stop talking like that!” when I sassed him. What he meant was, stop talking like a sassy, loud black woman. But I wasn’t talking like a sassy black woman. I was talking like Becky. That’s me; it’s how I grew up. The way I speak comes from my environment, yes. Maybe the “norm” of sassiness stereotypically comes from black women—we see this reinforced all the time in the media, which in turn bleeds into the way we think. But passive racism is still racism. (And don’t think this sassy woman didn’t call him out on it!)

This past Monday evening, I went to a Science on Tap talk at Revolution Hall in SE Portland. Dr. Larry Sherman was there, speaking about the neuroscience of prejudice. I was fascinated. Before he got into the actual science of it, he gave a little bit of the history of racism in America. He spoke about the theory of colorblindness that was spread throughout the sixties and seventies, which then trickled down to my generation. Our parents were taught not to observe color at all. If a child asked his mother, “Why does that boy have darker skin?” the mother would hush her child and change the subject instead of explaining that people come in all colors. Thus, this topic turned into a taboo one. It was incredibly refreshing to hear Dr. Sherman talk about this “taboo” topic.

Without a doubt, I proudly seek out people from diverse cultures to talk to. I attend presentations like the one Dr. Sherman gave, as well as pursue events in Portland with multicultural emphasis such as the Whiteness History Month at Portland Community College this past spring. I attend cultural festivals, have delved into Middle Eastern traditions through belly dance, and have even developed my education through salsa dancing! For me, it’s all about learning new things and respecting diversity.

When I talk about race, I use my history. I talk openly about experiences and what my truth is. I am respectful in my dialogue with others. I REFUSE to not talk about it. Impeccability with our words is of the utmost importance. You know what’s not impeccable? Being silent. Being a privileged white woman doesn’t give me glasses that block out all the bad things that are happening to others. And just because I don’t have brown skin doesn’t mean I can’t talk about these people as HUMAN BEINGS—humans who are made of love, just like every other color human on the earth. We are all made of that same love. Sometimes it is hard to remember when we are seeing such horrors in the news.

We are trained for shame.

We are trained to have selective knowledge.

We are trained to protect ourselves first.

But.

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Retrain your brain.

Educate yourself. If you have a question, ASK!

Spread love and be love.

Speak with respect and warm intention. It will get you miles further than speaking with arrogance and ignorance.

 

Tangled, But Not Tied Up

25 Feb

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 III—Origins

20 Jan

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. This is the third and final installation of this series. Read parts one and two here. 

History

In honor of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday this week, I would like to talk about my roots. So often I shy away from calling myself a patriot. Images of the Bush administration(s) or our recent wars dance in my head, and it makes me feel less than proud to be an American. There is a lot I can criticize about the American Spirit as a whole, and much I can laud. Regardless of all of this, I am an American, which means this country’s history is my history.

I was raised in a small town in Ohio, surrounded by the typical Midwest culture mix—majority Caucasian and African American, with the tiniest sprinkling of other ethnicities. I easily identified with the two majorities, but had very little knowledge of the other cultures, except for what I read in the many books my parents showered upon me in my youth. I also had my Quaker background, which filled me with a curiosity for people from all walks of life. My hunger for information was vast, but actual real-world experience was lacking. Because of this, I felt especially called to understand African-American struggles and triumphs.

Living in Portland, Oregon for the last 11 years, where the population is currently somewhere around 76% Caucasian and the other ethnicities are largely Asian or Hispanic/Latino, I’ve noticed there is a marked lack of African American culture. I find it inspiring to speak to my African American friends and hear their view of living in such a place. Most of them are not originally from Oregon; Portland has a unique saga pertaining to its “whiteness” which most definitely leaves a bad taste in the mouths of African Americans. I won’t go into the whole story here, but if you want to know more about the fascinating history of why this is, read here from the Oregon History Project.

It’s easy to feel defeated about equality and race relations when we hear about stories like those that have happened in Ferguson and even in our own backyard. I admit that my connection to my hometown roots and those larger African American populations in the Midwest and the South is farther away than most, living here in Oregon. I am thankful that I have my small enclave of friends that share either a physical skin-color connection or a mental one concerning first-hand experience with the American outlook on race relations. We often discuss the things that advance America’s viewpoint as well as those that keep it tied down to past negativity.

It is so important to acknowledge our history as Americans, no matter what color we are. As my dear friend Hannah said to me yesterday, “This is your history too! It’s your victory too! White people should pause just as much in celebration. They were freed from enslaving notions, too. It’s a shared victory.” Truer words could not be spoken. We have many stories of immigration and population shift throughout American history, but no one can deny that the African American chapter in our story is one of the largest parts.

The purpose of MLK Day is to make us aware of a few things. Number one, to always remember America’s history and what makes us a great nation, willing and ready to push beyond our past into an awareness of equality, love, and opportunity. The past will always be there, and it is important, but what matters right now is the love we are giving the world. The second is to highlight the importance of serving the greater good.

Service

We may or may not have the fortitude to become civil rights activists in the manner that Martin Luther King was, but we can certainly find peace through helping others and sharing our love. Volunteering at the food bank, becoming a mentor, donating a few dollars to a worthy cause, or just looking in on a friend who is having a bad week is just as important as a march on Washington. It is not the size of the impact; it is the intention behind it. I encourage you to really get to know your American history, no matter what color your skin is, and vow to celebrate the American Spirit in the way it was intended.

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WHY: Part II—Precious Fragments

26 Dec

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.

Vulnerability

WHY: Part I

13 Nov

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.

A Confession Session

15 Sep

Last week in The Dancing Runner, I read a really fun post called Confession Session. I love Chelsea’s blog. Her writing is consistently upbeat and inspiring, particularly when it’s about two of my favorite things—running and dancing. This one, however, had a different twist and I decided to steal the idea. Here are some highlights from the past few weeks plus a couple of random facts you may not know about me. Thanks, Chelsea!

35 is the new 25! Okay, I actually read that on a fertility blog, but it still totally applies! I had the most wonderful birthday! I turned a spry 35 last Sunday and instead of going camping like I usually do, I opted to do something a little more accessible—brunch. To make it even more fun than brunch already is, I announced a theme. The theme was tutus! My friends never disappoint me. It was tutus all around. Oh, and did I mention my restaurant of choice had $5 bottomless mimosas? Yeah, that’s a no-brainer.

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I’m a Harriette. I’ve never written about this part of my life on the blog, but it’s a big part, so it should be mentioned! This group, the Hash House Harriers, is known to be “a drinking club with a running problem.”  Basically, it is very similar to a scavenger hunt, only instead of scrabbling around town, searching for a trinket or landmark, the harriers (runners) are scavenging on a flour-marked trail for beer hidden by the hares (trail-layers). I’ve been a member for two years now, and though I cannot keep up with the FRBs (Front Running Bastards), I have just as much fun as those who get to the beers first. The group makes it a point to label everything lasciviously (when you’re new you’re a virgin; when you lay trail for the first time, you’re de-floured), and hands out tawdry names to each member when they’ve done something “stupid enough” for the pack to agree on. For example, my hash name is Tainted Trench. (I could tell you how I earned it, but then I would also have to make you come to the hash yourself to experience the full Monty!) And if you think this is just a Portland thing, think again. This group started in Malaysia by a pack of Brits who wanted to get out from under their weekend hangovers in the 1930s. These days there are Hash House Harriers coast to coast in the United States, and on every continent! Yes, there are some timid folks who think that hashing is not for them; there is a lot of shit-talking as well as actual shit-on-trail—hashers prefer to barrel through blackberries and muddy creeks rather than take the path more often traveled: the clean, paved one. However, if you can get through your mental blocks and come to peace with the fact that you may get a little scratched up, you’ll experience one of the most fun physical activities on earth, and a vast accumulation of forever friends.

I found out that my dentist is circumcised. I’m sorry! I tried (admittedly not very hard), but I couldn’t keep that one to myself. It started out as banter about what we were doing over the weekend. He said, “I’m going to Ecuador” (as one often does on the weekends), and that sparked a chat about toilets in developing countries. When we got to the dreaded squat toilet part of the conversation, it got a little hairy (har har). Now, picture me listening to his story as he is hovering over my open mouth, the table leaning precariously toward his twig and berries. He says, “So, I was in Palestine this one time, and I’ll tell you there’s no privacy in those bathrooms. The attendant kept giving me the side eye, you know, because I’m circumcised. Jews are circumcised, and it’s not good to be a Jew in Palestine!” Okay okay, I get it! He continued with a whimsical description of the toilets in Korea, but I could not get the immature giggle out of my head. It almost bubbled out; it was so close. I mean, come on, this guy is my dad’s age. Politics and adventure aside, what other reaction could I have from his story than EWWWWWWWWWWW!

Oregon Wine Country. I love wine tasting (Who doesn’t?) but don’t do it nearly enough. This past weekend some girlfriends and I found a free afternoon, and took a lovely jaunt into Oregon’s wine country. We were lucky to find a Groupon for A Blooming Hill Vineyard. There are several deals for local wineries—I highly recommend you take advantage of it! It was absolutely gorgeous, and impossible to believe that we were only a short drive from Portland. The owners were a darling couple who had converted their home into a simple yet elegant winery which overlooks their vineyard in addition to a beautiful view of distant hills and valleys.

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Bird’s the word. I would never ever call myself a bird watcher. There is one time a year, though, that I pack my picnic basket and a blanket, and I make my way to Chapman Elementary School in NW Portland to wait for dusk, and the famed Vaux swifts. Up to 35,000 swifts, the biggest migrating group in the world, create an astounding vortex as they prepare to roost each night in the chimney. It is an amazing sight that words truly cannot convey. Saturday night I grabbed a group of friends and we sat on the soccer field, observing the bird tornado and several dozen children “sledding” down the dusty hill on cardboard sleighs. It was probably the largest group of birds I’ve ever seen since I’ve been here in Portland, and it never gets old.

No sleep ’til Brooklyn (and the rest of NYC)! I’m leaving for my first trip to New York City in t-minus two weeks! I’m incredibly excited but still collecting my travel research, so help me out! Send me recommendations for things I must see, do, and experience! Tell me a route I have to run! Let me know your favorite salsa club! Suggest big city travel tips! Give me advice on public transportation! I’m all ears.

This ends the inaugural Confession Session by Becky. Feel free to use the idea for your own blog, and please, leave a link in the comment section if you do, so I and my readers can enjoy it. Have a great Monday, friends!