Empowered to Take Up All My Space

December 14, 2017

It took a LOT of courage to do this, but the person after me doing the poem with the drums asked me to partner with him and… I did it.

Here’s the text:

With sweat pouring off me, I’m stomping my feet and swishing my long skirt around me. I’m not quite on rhythm and I don’t want to look at myself in the mirror because I know my steps look nothing like my flamenco instructor, but I feel free. I’ve taken dance classes before – ballet and tap when I was young, swing and salsa in college and as a young adult – but flamenco is the one I want to continue with. Even more, it’s what I want to be a metaphor for my life.

When I took ballet, it was always about trying to be graceful, staying quiet and in my place, and – even as a young child – not being too large. It took me until I was about seven or eight to lose my baby fat and slim down, and my ballet teacher poked at my belly and told me that I ate too many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and that I needed to suck in my stomach. I was five.

Ballet dancers look beautiful and I admire their hard work and dedication. But I also know the sacrifices they make for their art – the long, unbroken lines come from brutally carrying their weight on the tips of their toes, something the human body is not made for.  The slim physique of ballet dancers comes from strenuous physical activity, but also, too often, from disordered eating or substance abuse.

Flamenco, on the other hand, embraces whatever size, shape, or age a woman is. My flamenco teacher is constantly telling us to “take up all your space.” It’s about being stable on your feet and your hips, using all the body that you have, and learning the technique in a way that you can impart the dance with all the soul and feeling needed. You are encouraged to land heavily on the floor, to lean into steps with all your weight, and to use your hands and arms in large, sweeping movements. You are also encouraged to make noise.

Another thing that draws me to flamenco is how empowered the women look. There is a specific look cultivated with this dance, and empowered really is the best word I can think of for it. Women keep their head up, look proud, and don’t lower their eyes for anyone.

There’s also the stomping – which is clearly not the official term and my flamenco teacher would be angry with me for using it – that is so cathartic. I found the perfect description from the unlikeliest of sources, Wikipedia.) “El baile flamenco is known for its emotional intensity, proud carriage, expressive use of the arms, and rhythmic stamping of the feet.” Female flamenco dancers often use large, colorful scarves and skirts, taking up all their space like proud tropical birds, but fiercer.

I keep going back to these dance lessons because they remind me that I want to live like that. Not proud in a narcissistic way, but proud in a non-apologetic way. I had to spend so much of my life apologizing for who I was, in both words and actions, that I didn’t get to have that proud carriage. I still feel so often like my spirit is broken and flawed in an irreparable way that it’s hard for me to accept that I have the right to have a “proud carriage.” I come off as empowered to many people because I’m opinionated and not afraid of public speaking, but that’s not how I feel. I want to have the empowerment inside too.

I also want to feel like I have the right to take up all my space. I don’t want to try to be smaller or shrink into spaces that don’t quite fit me. I want to take up the space that I take up and stomp if I need to. Not to be angry and reactionary, but to be myself, proud, expressive, and fighting for my rights. I want to express myself in stomping if I need to. I want to stomp because I am beautiful and persevering and have learned to hold my head up high.

 

 

Advertisements

My Team Showed Up

November 28, 2017

Today was a rough day.

We’re four days post-Thanksgiving and rapidly approaching Christmas. My family was totally fine this year – only very very minor blips. I had a great time with the kids (two nieces and a nephew who are the light of my life) and no arguments. But *I* felt not good enough. I noticed I was single, I noticed I don’t have my own “little family” as my siblings say. I was my own worst enemy in my head and my heart and I haven’t been able to shake that off. I feel like I am not good enough.

Christmas is coming up. I loved having Christmas with my ex. Actually, the last two men I’ve dated; we’ve had our own little rituals and not a lot of presents, but thoughtful ones, and our own ways of celebrating Christmas. Last year, my ex and I met up with my family on Christmas Eve (his is not local) and brought lunches to homeless people and cleaned trash on the beach on Christmas, ending with watching a gorgeous sunset over a clean beach. I miss that so much — someone you can build traditions with.

I’ve been working way too much. Every day, at least a little, and frequently 10-12 hour days. I love my work but I’m exhausted and emotionally depleted. I had some housing drama today that I won’t get into but I feel unheard and treated unfairly and it triggered everything in me about security (housing, financial, emotional) and unfair treatment (I was the scapegoat in my alcoholic family. I always felt like if I could just find the magic words to explain how things weren’t fair, that someday my parents would actually GET IT. But they never did)

I also had a reading today in a new venue, reading something that I’ve read once before but it’s not my usual subject. I usually read my writing about my students, about education, about social justice, and those sorts of things. Occasionally I veer out into reading about depression, which is tough.

This piece was about being a beautiful empowered woman with my head held high. If there was an opposite of a beautiful empowered woman with her head held high, that’s what I was feeling today. I was feeling like a broken, defective, ugly, guilty woman cowering in bed.

But I had promised and it was a partner reading and I went. I got dressed up, I put on lipstick and sparkly earrings, and I drove to BART and took BART to San Francisco and took Lyft to the venue. The housing drama was escalating on my phone as I went and I was fighting back tears. I don’t even know what exactly the tears were about except that they were about everything.

When I was young, I had undiagnosed asthma and most of the people in my extended family were smokers. I had (and still have) trouble breathing at all near smoke, and when I was near them, I would say I couldn’t breathe. They’d laugh at me and the drunker ones would blow smoke in my face. I said my throat hurt. They didn’t care. I switched to saying my teeth hurt, no idea why, but it made sense at the time. Nobody cared. I started saying that my EVERYTHING hurt. They still didn’t listen, but I felt like it was true. My everything hurt when I was around them.

This is how I was as I walked into the venue. My everything hurt. My everything was making me cry. I looked around for the one friend who had said she could come and found only a text saying she had to work late and wouldn’t make it. I felt completely alone there.

Then, people started showing up for me. These are people from my writers’ group who were there to support the group (there were four of us reading), not specifically me, but they were also there for me because I’m part of the group.

The person who had asked me to partner with him in the reading asked how I was, and I didn’t say fine. I said I was having a hard time. His partner came and asked me how I was and I said the same thing. I didn’t lie. I told people it was a hard day, that Thanksgiving had been hard, that I feel less than everyone else, that I was having drama/misunderstanding with someone which felt awful, and that I just do not feel good enough. And that I feel alone. And single. And alone. (I wouldn’t mind single if I didn’t feel alone).

They didn’t run away. They didn’t get scared. They listened to me, I cried a little, and they told me how excited they were to hear my piece again and how maybe it was just what I needed to do tonight.

I listed to the other readers and tried to fight my thoughts and feelings. My throat hurt from trying not to cry. My eyes burned. My heart hurt. Because my heart always hurts when I feel worthless. My everything hurt.

And then it was my turn. I haven’t watched the video yet but I felt good about it. I felt like my words were what I needed. I explained why I loved flamenco dance even though I’m not good at it (that photo is not me) and how my experiences with ballet had made me feel worthless. I told the audience how flamenco is empowering with beautiful women dancing who are stomping, who have a proud carriage, and who don’t lower their heads. I told them that I felt irreparably damaged and like I wasn’t allowed to take up all my space or be empowered. And I told them that I want to live my life with my head held high because I am beautiful and empowered and strong.

And these people, who I dont know well… these people were there for me. It wasn’t the support I wanted. I wanted a partner to drive me there, to buy me flowers, and to take me home and congratulate me. But it was a whole team and they got what I was saying. They were present with me. I hadn’t known how much I needed their presence.

I had a whole team with me. My team showed up and I hadn’t even known they would be there.

C6B5371D-DED8-410B-BAE2-85C6989B75AF.jpeg

 


The Peace Of God

September 4, 2017

IMG_0052

 

I grew up in  the Episcopalian Church and there was a part of the service called “passing the peace,” where you turn to someone near you and say “Peace be with you,” answered with “And also with you.” It’s been a while since I’ve been in an Episcopal church but I believe there’s also a part where the priest says, “May the peace of God be with you,” and the congregation responds, “And also with you.”

I miss the liturgy. I think I need to visit an Episcopalian church soon. It gets ingrained in your heart and our mind and I need that right now.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the peace that surpasses all understanding, that Paul promises we get from God. And Jesus saying that he brings us peace, not as the world gives.

The world is making me CRAZY. I’m worried all the time. I’m worried about nuclear war, and deporting DREAMers, and losing my health care, and public schools getting worse, and Nazis having a say in our world, and sexually assaulting men running the country. I’m worried about my own life, and dying alone, and the health of my dog, I’m worried about everything from the world ending from climate change to not being able to lose weight.

And yet, I profess to have a belief system that tells me not to worry, that tells me that I have peace, should I choose to accept it. I don’t know how to reconcile those two things.

I certainly don’t believe it means I close my eyes and plug my ears and pretend none of this is happening. I think it’s time for activism and speaking up. But I do feel like it means this shouldn’t break me. I shouldn’t be up all night worrying.

This is where I start believing I’d be a much better atheist than a Christian because I am better at worrying and not trusting God. But somehow I still believe.

If anyone has their own thoughts about this, please do share!


When the Meds Work…

June 11, 2017

…they really work. I feel like a normal person again. I hope it lasts!

I’ll be traveling soon, so I’m not sure when I can check in but I will when I can!


Fighting Against My Thoughts

April 10, 2014

I’m guessing I’m not the only one who has this issue.  I find myself constantly (actually, less constantly than before, so I suppose that’s progress?  Incrementally getting better?) fighting against the voices is my head, which is exhausting. I have to actually consciously think – almost talking back to them – and point out that I’m not stupid, I’m not worthless, my future is not hopeless, I’m not unlovable.  It’s gotten better and I start thinking that it’s gone; when all of a sudden I hear that voice start talking back to me.  It’s so much easier to just listen to it.  I still keep fighting it because I really do know that it’s better for me to not give in, but does it have to be so difficult?


This Too Shall Pass

May 6, 2013

I’ve talked about my nightmares before and how that’s one of the things I consider to be a miracle.  Granted, I have no idea why God ever permitted such horrible nightmares, and I’m often very angry about that, but I’m also able to be glad for the healing (although I’d really really like an explanation!)

Today I was taking a nap, suffering from allergies and Benadryl and all that fun stuff so the nap wasn’t very restful but I was having a hard time waking up.  All of a sudden, mostly asleep, I had this strong sense that the depression was back and I’d feel like this forever.  This was a pretty common element of my nightmares before and I’d often wake up and not really recover from it all day.  Today, even still mostly asleep, I felt something telling me “This will pass, this too shall pass.”  In my dream.  And I woke up and I was OK.  Minor and miraculous at the same time.


The Plans God Has for Me

May 1, 2012

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

I don’t know how this can be true.  I really don’t.  I know that our definitions of “prospering” are probably not the same as God’s.  Often, we have tiny little picket fence dreams of what “prospering” means – I know I do.  And I get sad and frustrated and lonely  because I still have financial issues or I’m not married yet.  My plans for me haven’t worked out in a lot of ways.

And honestly, I have it really easy compared to a lot of people.  I’m not living in poverty, I’m not homeless, and I’m safe most of the time.  In addition, I have good friends and a lot of luxuries.

So, I’ve been thinking about why I still believe this verse and others like it.  Because I do – I question it, but I always come back to believing it and I just do not understand why.  I can’t shake it.

I’ve been feeling some strength from that lately.  Also, this section:

“I will go before you and will level the mountains.  I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron.  I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you too may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.” (Isaiah 45).

I’m waiting for those mountains to be leveled.  I’m waiting for the plans he has for me.  I don’t know what they are or if I’ll see them but I’m guessing it doesn’t necessarily fit into my little list of what I want to happen in my life.