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.


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. 


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.


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.


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.


Games of Life

It’s 8 AM on Sunday. Normally, if I had naturally woken up at this hour, I would be attempting to go to Meeting for Worship at one of the Quaker meetings in town. Instead, I am taking advantage of this early hour and am going to finish this blog that should have been done on Friday. I apologize; I am a creature of habit, and very much wanted to post my blog on Friday, as I always do. However, I was in a frenzy of sleep deprivation and the need for one last night of practice before my bellydance performance at a Saturday market the next day. It turned out beautifully, in case you’re wondering. I haven’t performed solo in about three years, so this was a lovely welcome back into the performance world. When people who aren’t my friends or family approach me and tell me they loved my dance, I consider that a huge success. Not that I don’t appreciate the cheers of my loved ones; it’s just a nice addition when I get accolades from a stranger. Dancing for a crowd feels good! I love the call and answer of the dance. It’s like a fun game when I shimmy and get the crowd’s response in return. That kind of energy is really great!

I could write about it for hours, but I must get to the point of today’s post…

Every week an NPR podcast called Pop Culture Happy Hour (PCHH) is downloaded to my iTunes. It’s an uproarious mish-mash of pop culture and hysterical personalities. To be honest, I can’t relate to half the stuff they talk about. I’m not a Harry Potter fan, I don’t know anything about video games, and I didn’t follow the royal wedding. Nevertheless, one of my favorite things about Monday morning is knowing a new PCHH podcast will be in my queue when I turn on my computer. Any topic can be entertaining when the hosts make it so, and that is why I listen, even when I don’t know why they are giggling so hard.

This week’s PCHH was about games. The hosts spoke of the unbearable heat in D.C., which is where they are broadcasting. Games and movies are just about the only activity they can muster at this point. Growing up in the Midwest, I could relate with the heat, and games were definitely the summer evening activity in my family. One of my favorite memories involves playing Spoons around my Uncle Glenn’s dinner table in Pennsylvania. My family would pack the car and drive to Pennsylvania from Ohio every summer of my childhood. Most of my dad’s family lived in a concentrated area, so I got to see a lot of my paternal cousins while I was there. The most amazing part is that, even after my parents divorced, my paternal uncle still welcomed my mother, sister, and I into his home every summer. Obviously we would always be his nieces, but I thought it was really special that he didn’t think twice about continuing the tradition with my mother after the marital ties with my mother and father had been broken.

I started thinking about how games we play represent the stages of life and our development into adulthood. First we play Chutes and Ladders. My sister and I played this game for hours when we were little. It’s a simple game of chance where you move a few steps and are either thrust down a chute, or are able to climb to higher ground on a ladder. For me this game highlights what little control we have over anything at that stage in our lives. When you’re eight years old you can pretty much only go with the flow. You may not like going down the chute; you may love it. Eventually you’ll move on to a place in life where you are entitled to make your own decisions and be responsible for your actions, but right now it’s not up to you. So hold on for the ride! Or rather, slide!

The next two games I thought of were Spin the Bottle and Twister. Our fragile knowledge of sexuality and carnal relationships were just starting to bloom at the dawn of adolescence. These two games in particular helped develop my sexual curiosity. Spin the Bottle was the more obvious ploy to learn about boys. There were so many times my sister and I had “movie nights” in our basement while our mother was upstairs, unknowing. Now that I am older, I think she probably knew exactly what was going on, but trusted us enough to know it wouldn’t get too crazy. I can still remember my first Spin the Bottle kiss, and after, my first real kiss.

Twister was a great way to learn about bodies. When you play, you are not necessarily seeing the whole of a person. You glimpse an ankle, an elbow, sometimes a breast peeking out of a shirt. Twister made me feel like a variety of body parts, not like one whole person. At that age this was perfectly acceptable; I didn’t really like my body. I was overweight, self-conscious, and generally terrified of boys. But playing Twister was different. Maybe they would catch a glance of my left foot (My left was totally skinnier than my right.), or see that my neck was long and slender when stretched out over Blake’s kneecap. Maybe Gary would like me more if he saw me that way. Maybe we would get in a compromising position over a game of Twister and he would see the real me: smart, quietly beautiful, and willing to write romantic poetry about his glorious left upper thigh. You can see how games were not just games at this stage.

As I got older, I learned more intellectually-stimulating games like Poker and Canasta. The draw of these games was not only to stir my competitive side, but also to point my cognitive skills in a different direction once in a while. As we approach adulthood, we need constant reassurance that we are not acting like children. We want to be older, cooler. We want to make sure that everyone knows we are independent and self-sufficient. Cruising Maple Avenue and finding someone to buy me alcohol may have been fun, but it didn’t give me any aspirations, and it certainly didn’t help me build a life strategy. Kicking my dad’s butt in Poker, however, made me feel smart, powerful, and at the same time bonded me to him in a different way than before. It was the start of a new type of relationship with my father.

Growing older and forming strong relationships with family and friends has been one of the best parts of becoming an adult. Playing games with them gives me a type of knowledge that I am in the stage of life where my choices are my own. I am choosing to spend quality time with these people. I don’t have to be there; I could be anywhere, but my plan at this point in my life is to spend time with people whom I love, and value this time with them. I’d say that’s a great strategy.

Look for the parallels next time you play a game. Games are all about the similarities between real life and fantasy. Strike up a conversation about it with your opponents. Maybe it will distract them long enough so you can slip the ace out of your sleeve.