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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.

Anger

12 Dec

I am FURIOUS with my neighbor!! She raises an ire in me that is incredibly hard to control. She spits venomous words at me and baits me to engage in a senseless fight that basically consists of her accusing me of sleeping with her boyfriend because I strut (her words) back and forth in front of their apartment, encouraging him to admire me like a prize pony. (According to her, my strutting occurs when I am grabbing my laundry from the basement—in my sweatpants and pony tail. I must look damn fine in those sweatpants! Why do I even bother putting on dresses if ya’ll really like the sweatpants??)

For the record, I am most definitely not sleeping with or at all interested in her partner. I tell myself I won’t take the bait and return fire. I try to convince myself I am in control of those faculties that tell me to just WALK AWAY. But every time she confronts me (four and counting), I get this urge to try and convince her I am a good woman, a good person… And the thing is, it really doesn’t matter! What’s she going to do, nominate me for the Nobel Peace Prize after she realizes her horrible and embarrassing mistake? Not likely!

Her anger isn’t about me. In fact, I’m relatively certain she knows I’m not actually sleeping with her boyfriend. It’s about what is inside her heart that makes her lash out at a perfect stranger. She is obviously hurting. Even before our feud started, she never had a friendly word for any of her neighbors. She always has a grimace on her face. It makes me sad for her. Not so sad that I don’t deliver several choice words in the privacy of my home after a confrontation, though. I let my blood rise to a boil and I vent for far too long to my girlfriends about it. It runs over and over like a movie in front of my eyes, and I can’t stop it.

For me, anger takes on two costume changes. One I see as something negative, dark. The dark side is the one that makes my veins bulge out of my neck, makes my head ache and my fists clench. I feel the sweat form at my temples and a slow burn starts at my crown and moves into my chest. It makes me feel like I have lost control. It makes me a victim. And this is not who I want to be.

Every issue, belief or assumption is precisely the issue that stands between you and your relationship to another human being; and between you and yourself.

Gita Bellin said this, but I have heard it many times over. Is it true? Am I seeing part of myself in this hurting human being? Why can’t I just let it go? Am I that same, sad girl? Twice, I’ve let myself actually yell back at her, which is very unlike me. In the moment, I truly believe I’m defending my honor…but what is really going on?

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The other side of my anger is light and bright, and I see it as pure motivation to change what I don’t like. For example, my recent promotion came out of what started as anger. Did I stomp around and suffer in silence while continuing to go to work every day for less than I deserved? Well, yes, but not for long. I used that anger as fuel to focus on the prize. Once I had a clear vision of how I was going to change my situation, a calm feeling washed over me and I began working on my goal. The nerves and anger dissipated quickly.

Now what do I do with that emotion when it comes upon me? I’ve read articles that tell me to “sit in my anger.” Why the hell would I want to do that?? I don’t want to stay sweaty and fired up. I want to smile and giggle like I usually do.

Is this “sitting in anger” actually a technique of loving myself in all states of emotion? To sit in anger is to accept it. It is painfully obvious to me that I am very hesitant to sit in any emotion for long. Could I really slow down, stop trying to cut to the front, and appreciate standing in a long line in order to get to know that part of me that gets heated?

Maybe.

What do you do, readers? I welcome your suggestions, your hugs, and a few paper bags to breathe into when my neighbor comes a’shouting again.

 

 

 

Challenging Conversations, Conscious Choices: Part III

11 Nov

I have about a million thoughts as I settle down to write Part III of this series, Challenging Conversations, Conscious Choices. You can read Part I here and Part II here.

This week has been tumultuous. There’s no other way to put it. Partly it’s the election and subsequent reactions to said election; partly it’s about other, more personal things. I’ve seen pictures and stories of odium, examples of great love and selflessness, and all the shades in between. This emotional back and forth has taken a toll on me. I’m exhausted.

When I get so exhausted, I am particularly vulnerable. I have these fears that wash over me, dark feelings that know the perfect time to strike. These thoughts have an incredible ability to make me feel inferior and different. Strangely, when I’m feeling great about myself, I celebrate the Becky who stands out in a crowd, who doesn’t do things because everyone else does, who doesn’t cave to every trend. I think that’s part of what makes me special. So in my heart I know these false feelings of inferiority only prey on me when they know they can.

Thankfully, in my journey I have come to recognize these as passing notions. I use several tools to center myself when I find I’ve been caught up in an emotional cyclone.

The very first thing I say to myself is I control how I react. I can’t control what happens in the world. I can’t even control what happens in my life half the time, but only I can choose to take the world’s baloney and respond by either pulling out two slices of bread, or grabbing the compost bucket and trashing it. I make that conscious choice.

Something else that really helps me is to use one of several new age tarot-like decks that I own. I’m not skilled at reading cards by any means, but it gives me calm to pull one or two from my “Healing with the Fairies” oracle deck, my “Affirmators!” card collection, or my “Native American Animal Medicine Cards.” These things ground me. They give me something tangible to focus on. This evening I meditated on the state of the world, and then pulled a card from my Animal Medicine deck. I pulled the Hummingbird. Two things stuck out at me. First, I was captivated by this line: Hummingbird can give us the medicine to solve the riddle of the contradiction of duality. It intrigued me to read on, because in my meditation before I pulled the card, I had asked the universe to help me make sense of the yin/yang balance of everything that is happening right now. I think everyone can appreciate the struggle of seeing the light in the dark, grudgingly acknowledge the crack that lets the light in (RIP Leonard Cohen). Well, hummingbird is here to help.

“If contrary Hummingbird sings its forlorn song, perhaps you should journey into your personal pain and know that your sorrow is your joy in another reflection.”

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Second, the hummingbird is an enjoyer of life. Again, from the Medicine Card deck:

“If Hummingbird is your personal medicine, you love life and its joys. Your presence brings joy to others. You join people together in relationships which bring out the best in them. You know instinctively where beauty abides and, near or far, you journey to your ideal. You move comfortably within a beautiful environment and help others taste the succulent nectar of life.”

People who know me even the slightest bit will immediately recognize that this is an extremely accurate description. I endeavor to find happiness and laughter wherever I go. I am incredibly blessed to be able to make friends with just about anyone I encounter. Where my life may lack the loving responsibilities of parenthood and the wonderful challenge of a having a lifelong partner as of yet, this provides me the space and time to help those more bogged down to find joy in the most unexpected places. Want a zydeco dance partner? I’m your woman. Looking for someone to join you at a volunteer event? Call me! Want to go for a hike or a run? Heck yeah I do! I have a metaphorical backpack bursting with victories, small and large, of the journey I’m taking in my life, and I love to share them. I’m also the best damn auntie in the world. Children need an adult they can love and trust other than their parents; I adore being that person for many of my friends’ children.

So this is what I choose to know. My capacity to love grows stronger every single day. My heart knows no limits. I can love my neighbor as well as myself unconditionally. I can see the light and the dark as something to grow with, and I will continue to build myself up to be the best Becky I can be.

What do you do when you’re feeling like you’re in the middle of that emotional cyclone and you want to get out? I want you to know, here and now, that if you need to talk to a peer, use one of my decks of cards, or need someone to lighten your day with a laugh or earnest hug, I’m here for you. I love you.

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.

 

Over and Over Again

10 Jul

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.

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Soul Tsunami

30 Mar

Cyclone Winston flattened Koro Island, Fiji last month. Lower areas were flooded by huge waves, trees were stripped, and houses blew into hundreds of pieces. Forty four people didn’t make it out alive, most because of flying debris.

Back at home, three events occurred around me. Though not as serious as a cyclone, they sure felt like it—and one of these events was LITERALLY followed by a dream about an ocean storm! The debris hit me right in my tender spot. I’ll be honest—it doesn’t take much to bruise me there—it’s a spot that’s forever delicate. Like any vulnerability, it doesn’t take much to bring about further injury, and once the pain starts, it’s hard to stop.

There are times when that downward spiral has me twisted so tight, nothing can penetrate. That’s where I was headed when the debris started flying. I exploded, and then I cried and cried. Those tears washed over me and felt as though they would never stop. I had two dear friends with me who did just the right thing—they didn’t try to stop the tsunami, they just let the tears fall, holding my hands and assuring me it was okay to feel that way, that I could let the waves surge without fear.

The one realization that came out of the events was that I didn’t speak my mind when I began to have that tightness in my chest. I do this—I hold my tongue. I don’t know why. I have a voice. I have just as much right to use my words as anyone else. I matter as much as every other person here. Why is it, sometimes, I just can’t get myself to speak up? Why am I frozen in silence? I tell myself it’s better not to rock the boat. But here’s the thing. When you rock the boat, it makes waves. No one can know where those waves are going to go and what will be affected. They may bring destruction; they may wash something ashore. No matter what, this is the truth: destruction leads to rebirth. Cleansing leads to new growth.

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Kali Ma—the goddess of change

Courtesy of http://ramamaya.blogspot.com/

What if I used my voice all the time?

What if I let the fear drip off and the words come out like the sun from behind the clouds?

Am I afraid no one would love me? Am I afraid I won’t like who I am?

I’m a sister, a daughter, a friend, a dancer, a runner, a writer…but WHO AM I? What am I all about? I know it’s in there…I must let the tsunami roar out of me, Naked and Afraid, but willing to be exposed.

What if I took a pause and thought about what I wanted, instead of pandering to those alongside me? Stood on top of my fear and spoke my mind, even if it wasn’t the popular decision? Many people that know me would probably say I rarely fit into the status quo, that I dodge convention in a multitude of ways, and that I appear confident doing so.

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It’s true, I do embrace the weird, but I think this is only the outer shell of me. Deep inside, where the real Becky lies, I still have layer upon layer of hidden potential and a philosophy and moral center to uncover. I want to open my eyes—all three of them—and let that wall I’ve built crumble down and wash away in my tsunami…even if it means allowing my imperfect side out to play, crying in front of friends, or going against the grain.

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So.

What would be crushed in that tsunami?

What would be swept away?

What would be cleansed, fresh for the next adventure?

What would become whole again, bringing new life?

I ask you to explore this with me. Ask yourself, in your core, who are you? Who are the people who know the true you? What would they say? Do you have an outer shell that most people can’t penetrate? Please share your experiences or comments below.

 

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!

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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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Vulnerability and Gratitude: a Tribute to Robin Williams

12 Aug

I don’t normally write much about pop culture in this blog, but I am feeling that I must say something now. There is a lot of information and opinion going around about Robin Williams’ death yesterday. Some people are recycling facts and lists so that we can recollect the best moments of his career, some are paying loving homage, and some are expressing bitterness that he took his own life. I’d like to say a few words in tribute.

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The most striking character Robin Williams ever played in my mind was John Keating in Dead Poets Society. In him, I saw a human so raw and so real that I found it hard to comprehend that Williams hadn’t always been Keating. As a fellow artist who has, at times, felt misunderstood and out of place, I saw a story that touched my heart. I also recognize the bittersweet irony of Robert Sean Leonard’s character taking his life because he felt the world would never allow him to be who he was meant to be.

In the same vein, One Hour Photo’s Sy Parrish was so quietly terrifying and believable that we didn’t want to accept that it was our beloved Williams. Still, we followed him into the deep recesses of the character’s mind. Perhaps it was his personal dark shadow that made it a little too easy to play Parrish.

The truly terrifying thing is that we genuinely can’t always see the pain in a loved one’s eyes. We see the slapstick facade they put on to entertain, but the darker side stays hidden, pleading silently that someone will probe just deep enough to realize that something is truly wrong. Unfortunately, most of us are not equipped to see that agony for what it is.

Robin Williams was one of those actors who did so much more than play a part. He brought intricacies out of his characters that perhaps the writer didn’t even know were there. Williams played them all like it was second nature because he let himself be vulnerable to every part of the character. He didn’t just play the character’s appealing parts, he played every side. What we didn’t know about Williams could fill caverns. Will we ever know why? Do we want to? Can we be satisfied by simply thanking him for baring his soul and letting the rest go?

I will say it. Thank you, Robin Williams, for being that inspiration to me and so many people. If I ever forget to sound my barbaric yawp again, may your voice come back to haunt me and remind my soul that the best way to show this world who I really am is to let it fly, no matter how off-kilter, how screechy, how weak or strong, how awkward, or how incredibly beautiful it might sound. To be vulnerable is to be true, and it’s not always pretty.

Thank you also to my mom for reading to my sister and me every night. Thank you to my dad for showing us the fruits of imagination. To my sister, I know you sacrificed your thug reputation spending hours locked in your room during read-ins with me. I love you. Thank you to my mom’s lifelong friends that drove hours to visit and, instead of catching up with her, sat patiently, reading my 152-page, handwritten, novel. Thank you to my early childhood teachers for giving me admiration for the written word, of loving them so tenderly that I knew from a very young age that words would always be a huge part of me. My gratitude knows no bounds.

Looking Out For the Littlest Happy Things

3 Aug

For the month of July, I made a concerted effort to live in the present and enjoy each moment. I stopped putting pressure on myself to have it all because I realized that it WILL come. When we cling only to what we know and let overwhelming fear in, it’s because we are trying to hold on too tight to control. I realized I had to stop chasing this controlled ending or I will lose precious time. No one knows what path their journey will take. Some of us want to try to guide it, but only the universe truly knows where it will go.

I did several things to help myself along: I withdrew my profile from the dating site I was on. I practiced gratitude often. I made an effort to unplug more consistently. I ate whole foods. I expressed myself honestly and confidently instead of holding back because I wanted to sugar-coat a statement. I spent productive time alone. I took myself out on dates.

Happy face on a hike

Happy face on a hike

I also decided to be more assertive in the pursuit of my passions. I want to see opportunities more easily when they are offered to me. We tend to have tunnel vision and close ourselves off to creativity when we are in a rut. These are a few ways I can lead myself away from that tendency.

  • I will write more consistently (and publish more often). Writing has been my passion for as long as I can remember, and I tend to run away from it when I feel anxiety about the future. I should be doing the opposite! Some of us have natural talent, but practicing our craft is what make us great.
  • I will open my eyes to the creativity that the world gives freely, and use it. We don’t always take advantage of the gifts that are bestowed upon us every single day. We shouldn’t be wasting them.

The first thing I did to kick off the month was take myself out to a movie. ALONE. It was great!

In the first week of July, I gave myself a gift. I bought my plane ticket to New York. I had been hemming and hawing, not wanting to pull the trigger because I hadn’t yet planned everything out perfectly. No longer! The trip will fall into place in the next few months, and I am comfortable with that.

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Over the next few weeks, I did many things for myself. I chose new podcasts to listen to. I attended an overnight event with 100+ people I have never met (and a few that I know very well). I cherished quality friend and family time. I tried new activities, including an amazing class that combined belly dance, yoga, and aromatherapy. It turned out to be quite transformative. I attended a meetup without a wing man to provide comfort, forcing me to talk to strangers on my own merits. As much as I am a people person most of the time, there are moments when I am shy. Walking into a place knowing absolutely no one is one of those. Everyone was friendly of course, and I even left with some future salsa partners. I went camping for five days in Olympic National Park with two friends. Talk about adventure! There were challenging hikes, beautiful sights, and giggles galore over games of Canasta and Yahtzee. I tried new beers at Brewfest on the Portland waterfront. I treated myself to a massage and acupuncture, and it was totally worth it. I allowed myself to emotionally heal over some issues I’d been hiding from. It felt fantastic.

The best things, though, were the small things. I walked around the farmers market and enjoyed fresh fruits right out of the pint. I let the tinkle of a child’s laughter float over me and fill me with joy. I found heart shapes in nature and took pictures. I read books, listened to bands playing in the park, and took a day off work midweek just because I wanted to. What a fabulous month. In August, I intend to take the spirit of the last 31 days and keep the energy going. I have some great ideas but welcome more! Book or podcast suggestions, activity invitations and restaurant recommendations especially appreciated. I hope you are enjoying the summer as much as I am! Drop me a note here and tell me what special treats you are giving yourself during the sunny months.

 

Beautiful Lake Crescent

Beautiful Lake Crescent

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Heart-shaped rock

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Hearts in nature