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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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

Why: Part III—Origins

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

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

Who are you? Speak your truth!

“Oh I could sing such grandeurs and glories about you; you have not known what you are. You have slumbered upon yourself all your life. Your eyelids have been the same as closed most of the time…Whoever you are, claim your own at any hazard! These shows of the east and the west are tame compared to you. These immense meadows, these interminable rivers, you are immense and interminable as they are.”Walt Whitman

I am a Contradiction

Are we all a contradiction? Is this something that rings true with you as you read this? There are so many times that I fear it makes me less perfect, less like everyone else, but I can’t be the only one who feels this way. Is it, then, what makes us so fascinating and indelibly human?

The truth should set us free. Right?

My Truths

I love the limelight—when I choose to turn on my “light,” my friends call me The Belle of the Ball. Generally I will take any chance to stand out and call attention to myself, sometimes taking it to a narcissistic level. Strangely, though, in my natural state, I am still, quiet, and blend in. Perhaps this is the reason I need that “switch” to turn me into someone else. I’m not sure if I feel that my value goes one way or the other when I am Belle and when I am Becky, but I have always noticed these two distinct sides of me.

There are times I feel lonely, and that is when I start putting myself down for being single. Damn you, society, for putting those thoughts into my mind. Damn you, subconscious, for letting them fester. Single is not a negative thing; it does not mean unlovable. In fact, single means not willing to settle for less than I deserve. So when I am feeling lonely, I should be celebrating my independence and cautious nature in choosing who I will spend my life with. Besides, I am constantly surrounded by loved ones. I know I’m ready for my big romantic love, but perhaps he is not quite ripe yet. Who knows? I can’t let it stop me from living an amazing life.

I am very physically active and live a healthy life, yet I still see myself as the “big girl.” I was uncomfortably overweight for a large part of my life, and it became who I was—how I identified myself. It’s been 10 years since my drastic weight loss, and still I have fears and uncertainty about how people view the physical part of me.

“You think of yourself
as a citizen of the universe.
You think you belong
to this world of dust and matter.
Out of this dust
you have created a personal image,
and have forgotten
about the essence of your true origin.” – Rumi

I dance on stage in front of dozens, exposing my vulnerability and body, and yet I cower in fear at the thought of approaching a handsome, confident man.

I am full of energy and life, yet I am exhausted much of the time. I often do not listen to my body when it says STOP.

And this whole recent breakup…the religion thing…I love the fact that it made me question the truth about my own faith. I’ve been delving more deeply into my Quaker roots, and I find it fascinating to study other people and their experiences, whether or not their beliefs match my own. My faith, though not always front and center in my life, has always been essential to me. I’ve found it helpful to read several books in the past few weeks, including a great one written by a Quaker kid I knew growing up, called The Unlikely Disciple. I followed that up with The Year of Living Biblically. Talk about contradictions.It highlights the ridiculousness of trying to live literally by all of the Bible’s rules. At the same time, it weeds out some very simple but eternally applicable lessons that the Bible deems important. Another useful text is one that my mother sent me at the beginning of my breakup, called A Quaker Book of Wisdom: Life Lessons in Simplicity, Service, and Common Sense. It has reconnected me with some of the testimonies of Quakerism that sometimes get lost in the fray of everyday life.

My truth is that I don’t fit into a pre-made box. My mold isn’t shaped like a puzzle piece; it’s more like a dodecahedron. So where does that leave me? How do I find my people? My calling? What drives me? Do I have to categorize myself in order to find someone that I mesh well with? In some ways, my versatility makes me very easy to get along with. In other ways it alienates me to a point where I don’t know how to define myself. Let’s be honest, sometimes questioning can lead to an amazing breakthrough, but there is always that fear that it will lead to nothing. I suppose all I can do, all any of us can do, is to stay open to the journey and experience it with gratitude and a true lust for life.

Whoever you are, claim your own at any hazard!

What is your truth?

12 things

There was this update going around Facebook a few weeks ago, asking people to list [#] of things about yourself. I went back and forth about doing it. I thought it was the type of thing that would bore me after reading so many, but it turns out, the exact opposite was the case. It made me see those people as very brave, unleashing their most vulnerable sides. It was fascinating finding out people’s random pieces of trivia. My friend from high school, Julie, gave me the number twelve, which I thought was a ridiculously large list, but I figured that once I got the ball rolling, it wouldn’t be too difficult to get the rest of them on paper. The opposite turned out to be the case. It took me almost a week to make this list. Have you read any of these on Facebook? Did you write a list yourself?

Here goes mine…

1) There was a boy that I had a giant crush on in middle school. He taunted me relentlessly about my big butt and always sang “Baby Got Back” to me. To this day I can’t tell if he was being cruel or secretly had a crush on me.

2) I am terrified of having a daughter because I think I will screw her up.

3) My sister and I were born in the same minute, but we couldn’t be more different in our life choices. Get us around each other, though, and it’s creepy how alike our mannerisms and voices are.

4) I can’t believe I’m a runner. I’ve been doing it for three years and it still amazes me that I can do such astounding physical feats with this body. The same goes for belly dancing. I can tell you right now not one person who knew me in high school would ever have predicted I’d become a belly dancer.

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Hope for Andrew edit

5) I believe in karma and the law of attraction. What goes around certainly comes around, and I feel very strongly that the power of manifestation is real.

6) I love both of my parents very much, but I have completely different relationships with each of them. There are things I can tell my dad but not my mom, and vice versa.

7) Spiders are both my biggest fear and my biggest asset. How does that work? The physical manifestation of the spider can make my heart race. My mother tried to wean me off this fear when I was a child, saying, “You see a spider? Just invite it to tea! You’ll make friends with him.” In a word, dear mother:  NO. In two words:  HELL NO. Then a strange thing happened. A few years ago I discovered Native American animal totems. My cousin and I spent a weekend immersed in this cultural tradition and that weekend I learned about the nine animals that protect my spirit. One of them was the spider. I cringed when I spoke it aloud. Then I looked at the spider’s meaning. The spider is the story teller. Of course. This is the totem that encourages me in my writing, only one of the most important things in my life. So there you have it.

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8) I was born a Quaker (Also known as the Religious Society of Friends) and became an adult member of my meeting (church) when I was 21. Curious? Just ask!

9) I love watching basketball. It is the only sport I truly understand.

So...maybe it's also the eye candy.
So…maybe it’s also the eye candy.

10) I can be a self-saboteur (but I’m working very hard at releasing this habit).

11) I love experiencing the four seasons. I don’t know if I could ever live anywhere that was sunny all the time.

12) I write a Christmas newsletter every year marking the highlights of the past 12 months. It is something I grew up with, and I love carrying on that tradition.

Real Women

Part I—The Definition

I’ve seen a lot of commentary about what makes a woman a real woman. We view the Dove commercials and the female empowerment websites and we are lifted up by our sisters; the blogosphere is saturated with posts about strong, independent women which tell us how we can cultivate ourselves to the highest level of womanhood. But let’s break it down. When it comes down to the simplest meaning, do breasts and a vagina make someone a real woman? Do real women have curves? How about the ability to bear children? What about transsexuals?

Is the way a woman behaves listed in your definition? Should we be a lady on the street and a freak in the sheets? Follow The Rules or throw the rules out the window? Is a woman who can financially support herself more of a woman than one who depends on a man’s salary to survive? I ask all these questions because they come up time after time, and the answers are ever-changing in a fascinating way.

My own view has changed over the years. I was raised mostly by my mother, who was the frugality queen of the universe. I bitched and moaned about the lack of cool clothes and having giant plastic-framed glasses instead of contacts (“They cost less, and they look fine!”). Until I grew up and realized that my mom raised twins on a poverty-level salary with very little help from my father, I was bitter and annoyed. I thought Why can’t she step it up and be like everyone else’s moms? Those women have jobs and buy their daughters Guess Jeans. Why can’t I have Guess Jeans? I thought she would be happier if she would get a “normal” job so that we could have the things that we wanted and she wouldn’t have to worry day-to-day if she was going to work or not. (Note: My mother was a substitute teacher for most of my childhood. At times she had full-time work, but most of the schools wouldn’t hire her because they had to pay her much more than fresh-out-of-college teachers. She chose to stay in teaching because that was what she loved, and so she could take us traveling in the summers to see our extended family and F(f)riends {A.K.A. Quakers}, which was a very important part of my upbringing, and an education in itself.) She chose to stay true to her values, even when the going got really tough.

What do I think the definition of a real woman is now? Sisters, look in the mirror. It’s you. It’s the business owner. It’s the single mother. It’s even the heroin junkie who stole my mail last week. She might not be in my top 10 right now, but she is still a woman who deserves love like everyone else. I can’t comprehend how anyone on this earth is less of a woman than someone else. I may not be a size 6 or have my dream job (yet). I make mistakes every single day. What comes to my mind, though, if I think of someone who isn’t a real woman, is Barbie. Yes, the doll. If you are a living, breathing female, whether or not you have exactly the right parts or not, if you think and feel as a woman, then you are one. I would hope that you would be a woman with the highest amount of pride imaginable, but we all have those days when we’re not feeling so great. Take them as life lessons and manifest your next amazing experience.

Part II, a love note—“Love, Dove, Glove”—Mr. Big, SATC

With Valentine’s Day coming up, it occurs to me that something many women occasionally do, whether they realize it or not, is consider themselves as missing something if they don’t have a partner in their lives. I read so much girl-power literature about how we as women shouldn’t think about our lives without a partner as a negative thing. We are fabulous just as we are! I wholeheartedly agree. I myself am fucking fabulous,* as everyone should know by now. But…it is in our DNA, specifically as women, to feel the urge to procreate and to have a life partner. So why should we feel ashamed for wanting it? I agree that it shouldn’t take over our lives and emotions 100% of the time, but what is so wrong with desiring something that we were literally made to have? It’s not a weakness to assess this aspect of our lives, it’s just human nature. It is a part of my essence as a woman.

*I just needed a little extra oomph!

Women, however you express yourself and live your life, do it with the knowledge that you are a unique and beautiful feminine spirit. Take ownership of all your womanly emotions and instincts, and don’t feel degraded by them. Be the best person you can be.

With my own personal unique and beautiful feminine energy, I leave you with my absolute favorite poem about being a woman.

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman

Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Maya Angelou