After the Purge

Change/Transformation, Hard Stuff, It's Personal, Life, Obstacles/Challenges, Reflection, Uncategorized, Writing

Sitting down to write this post took an enormous effort of will.  I finished an online creative nonfiction course a few weeks ago and I stopped writing regularly as soon as my final essay was complete, so it’s been maybe two months of unexpected and welcome relief.  For the last two years, writing about my experience in the prison has been a release of sorts.  It helped capture my thoughts and feelings, although it’s unclear whether it helped me release either but probably not.  Nothing short of a complete separation would have accomplished that feat.

Today, I’m close to eight months away from my last day at CCCF.  Most of these last eight months have been spent de-toxifying from my time there, and learning how to operate as a normal human being again.  Those years, combined with the years of stress and uncertainty preceding them had turned me into an anxious, brittle, and fearful woman.  I had some success hiding just how anxious, brittle and fearful I had become, but I was never able to hide it from myself.

Those years ate my light; they consumed everything I knew of beauty and grace and joy and spirit.

Lately though, the writing has been pressing on me, memories lingering in my consciousness.  The stories of my time there, my relationships with the women I taught, and observations about the system constantly break the surface, jarring me with their presence.  I can shove them back under, but they are still there. I’ve asked the non-intellectual part of my being to grieve and celebrate this enormous transition and it’s been thrilled to comply, so I’ve been processing mainly through art these several months.  But as much as I love exploring drawing and illustration for emotional release, I cannot tell these stories through that art.  Words are my medium, and the words are softly demanding my attention.

I just don’t know how to start again.

Being away from all that pain and suffering makes it less immediate, and reduces the feeling of urgency.  That voice that demanded, constantly, that I let people KNOW and do my part to change the system has quieted.  It rouses occasionally, but it is lackadaisical, at best.  I’ve stepped away from all the information sources that used to stimulate my awareness,  deliberately choosing to set all that pain to the side.  It is a position of privilege, but I cannot bring myself to feel shame or guilt about this choice.

I feel light and happy and safe. Work doesn’t feel like much work, it’s a delight to do something less fraught, where a mistake won’t mean drastically increasing someone else’s suffering.  This new path is a great gift, and all I want to do is enjoy the days, do art, and drift.  Even thinking about writing that story feels hard.

I’ve realized that almost all the writing I do is somehow related to suffering – to trauma and oppression and the misery of the world.  When I think about writing a memoir, whether it’s about CCCF or not, my thoughts focus on the sad and miserable things that brought me to where I am today.  How do I write about all of those things – feelings, events, circumstances, choices – without putting myself back in that grueling, grunting space?  It’s not a matter of self-judgment, it almost feels like self-preservation.

How do I stay connected to this precious gift of light and space and relief if I’m writing about those pain-soaked years?  I know they are part and parcel of who I am, but I’m ready to write a new story about myself.  How do I hold this new facet, and gently touch and release the old?

Figure vomiting words

Give It Up

Down and Left

Dance, It's Personal, Laughter, Reflection, Uncategorized

I’m a social dancer, have been for 10 years or so.  My go-to is salsa, but I dance all the latin dances (street style, not ballroom), a smidge of tango, a whisper of east coast swing, and a generous, juicy dollop of blues.  As most women do, I started by learning to follow.  As most women don’t, I got bored with following and learned to lead.  Actually, blues dancing taught me that if you don’t want to miss out on half of all the great dancers, you better learn to lead.

The experimental, fluid nature of blues dancing lends itself well to lead-swapping, so I spent several years learning how to connect, and lead all different types of movement. This has served me well in all my dancing, but especially bachata.  Bachata, for me, has more room to experiment and play, so that’s what I do.  I stay loosely within the choreography, but enjoy experimenting, playing, and seeing what my lead (or follow) will do next.

But I digress.

Tonight, Wednesday, was bachata night at the main local spot.  I rarely go out during the week, but I was able to go out tonight and it was one of the best dance nights I’ve had in months.  Months and months.  Why was tonight so special?  Because not only did I get probably a dozen great dances (as a lead and follow), I got to pass along an excellent piece of advice a friend gave me several years ago.  Ready?

Stop looking down.

If you’re a social dancer, you know what I’m talking about.  You’ve done it, you’ve danced with people who do it, we’re all guilty.  We get into the music and we find ourselves looking down and slightly left – maybe at our feet.  That’s the position our eyes take when we’re remembering feeling, smelling, tasting – anything kinesthetic.  It’s a comfy place – we’re jamming out, our body is moving, and our eyes are probably glazed, down and left.  But there’s something off about that whole scene, my dancing peeps probably already know – there is no way to connect with your dance partner if your eyes are pointed at the floor.

And the whole point of social dancing is to connect to someone else, through a shared experience of music and movement.  That WILL NEVER HAPPEN if we don’t stop looking down.  Looking down also means our energy is directed into the ground – not up or forward or out or around – down into the earth.  The earth doesn’t mind, but our dancing and our ability to connect suffer from our narrow range of focus.

So among many other lovely moments, I had the opportunity to do something I rarely do on the dance floor – I gave some advice.  I gave it in the form of compliment and a request (you have a beautiful smile.  if you dance with me, I’d love it if you’d look up and share that smile with me) or something like that.  Then, I made it into a private joke.  If he looked down too long, I’d find a way to trail my fingers into his line of sight and up popped his eyes – big smile and dimple at the ready.  Lavish compliments, big smiles and laughter, flirting and keeping the eye contact – all wonderful tools that everyone thoroughly enjoys.

I am so grateful.  He is a dancer of enormous talent and potential, still young, and I’m so grateful he was willing and eager to listen, and to push himself out of that comfy spot.  Each time we danced, it got better.  He admitted it felt awkward, but that’s what happens when you’re doing something different that’s going to change your dance life – it’s awkward for a while and then it settles and the world unfolds again.

When dancing as a follow, it is always a risk to ask a lead to do something different.  Leading on the social floor is so hard, and it’s ridiculously easy to accidentally crush someone’s confidence.  On the floor, I make a practice of staying away from anything that seems like teaching or coaching, but sometimes, it’s the right thing to do.  One of the biggest joys of being part of the dance scene for such a long time is seeing different dancers grow and progress and change over the years.  Knowing that my support and encouragement has been part of that process is icing on the cake.

So get those eyes up, people, up and forward – 1 2 3, 5 6 7!

 

 

Twitter-fied

Change/Transformation, Feminism, It's Personal, Obstacles/Challenges, Peace/Conflict, Social Justice, Uncategorized, Writing

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I feel confused most of the time.  This constant confusion is a result of an ongoing and bewildering mixture of wondrous, joyous, human decency with stomach-churning vileness, and moments of deep, personal sadness.  I find it impossible to determine whether I’m merely “having a rough few days/weeks/months” or if (as the beautiful, late Stephen Covey put it), I’m simply experiencing the “permanent whitewater” this shapes our lives in this time.

I believe that most of my bewilderment comes from a mental picture of my past as a more calm and stable period but I also know that probably isn’t true.  Even if it were, it all began to change in 1998 (17 years ago, almost a third of my life now) and hasn’t been “calm” since.  Everything I read tells me that most people experience some amount of upheaval throughout their 20s and 30s, and that shit really gets tough in the 40s.  But I can’t shake this nagging suspicion that somehow, this is a result of me making wrong choices, that I’ve somehow brought it, whatever “it” is, on myself.

So that’s  my personal baggage, this belief that I’m simply incapable of creating some idealistic, perfect, shining life where I make only the best decisions and experience only the best outcomes.  And yes, as I wrote that, my eyes nearly rolled out of my head.  It’s astonishing sometimes, how writing down the words in my head highlights their obvious silliness.  But….onward.

Today, despite my personal griefs and hiccups and grouchiness, looking through my Twitter feed brought my feet, head, heart, and hands into a smiling, happy place.  All the posts about the two recent SCOTUS decisions, big wins for Obama and the citizens of the US, rainbows and hearts everywhere, more scorchingly incredibly quotes from the Notorious RBG, the incredible bravery and grace of Bree Newsome taking down the Confederate flag, reminded me that things are not always going to hell in a very, very small container.

Today I am reminded that people can be brave and generous and kind and loving, at least for a few moments.  It is true that there are many, many people who feel the opposite about all of these events but for the moment, I’m not thinking of them.  I’m thinking about all my dear friends whose marriages will now be recognized in the entire country, all my students who will be able to get and afford healthcare after they parole, the women who look to Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1993), Sonia Sotomayor (2009), and Elena Kagan (2010) as glorious role models and shining feminist spirits, and now, to Bree Newsome, whose act of nonviolent civil disobedience helps mark our ongoing struggle to address the deep wounds of racism in the US.

Thank you, Twitterverse, for making my soul lighter and my day better.

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