This is something I wrote from a while back, but apparently got stuck in the “drafts” pile.
Sometime in 2013…
I’ve been stuck because I don’t know where to begin. So I thought I might try approaching things one at a time. (Good luck, she says to herself.)
It was late afternoon a couple of days ago- the worst time of day for me- because I just want to crawl in some cave and sleep until dinner is ready, which is a problem as I’m the one that does dinner, so cave slumber= mass starvation. Anyway, I try to do some sort of physical activity with my little ones (two four year olds) so that they don’t turn into couch potatoes and I don’t have to start an IV caffeine drip. This particular day I thought, “Let’s try the Just Dance 2 Playstation game,” otherwise known as “The Dancing Game.” For those of you not familiar with this rockin’ timeless, Billboard-chart shattering music collection brought to life with equally mind-numbing blowing choreography, here’s an earworm that will devour your soul:
So, we begin. Now I’ve taken a LOT of dance; I had some sort of dance instruction for close to 10 years, and that’s not including all of the miscellaneous theatre movement training. For some reason, this choreography seems just “off” like a quarter of a beat or something. I can’t place it. It’s just so damn awkward and I find myself not as graceful as I imagine myself to be, although it could also have something to do with the fact that I’m 25 years older than when I first started dancing; however, that latter explanation is clearly the inferior one, I’m positive.
My girls are doing an OK job with The Dancing Game. They love it. It doesn’t matter how good they are, although it’s clear that one of them is more coordinated than the other. It could also have to do with the fact that Slightly More Coordinated Twin is serious as a heart attack about her choreography. Slightly Less Coordinated Twin gets caught up in watching the video and doing some half- hearted attempt at what seems to be a possible voluntary physical movement—or maybe it’s just a twitch. Sometimes I can’t tell.
Still, an awareness rears its ugly and awkwardly-timed head. And the self-comparisons—which have already begun in other areas—emerge, paralyzing and self-depreciating:
“Momma, I can’t do this. She does it better than me.”
Ohhhhh crap. So I go into problem solving mode.
“You’ve got to make your moves bigger,” I tell her, in an effort to cajole her into making some more definitive, more distinguishable moves.
“Mommy, I lost. She got more stars than me.”
“No, honey, you didn’t get as many stars but you have to keep trying. Don’t worry so much about the stars your sister has. You have one. Keep trying.”
“Did you have fun dancing? Then you just have to keep dancing and you’re going to get better. You can’t just stand there. You have to move!”
And then it happened. I heard what I was saying for the first time, as if Morpheus for a moment stepped out of “the desert of the real” reached into my world, stopped time, and shoved my face up against a mirror.
I’ve been feeling stuck, you see.
“Momma, I can’t do this. EVERYONE does it better than me.” As an actor, I’ve been trained to put my focus on the “other”- the other actors onstage with me, the “other” that I allow myself to inhabit. Somewhere along the way, I forgot myself a bit, and was so focused on everyone else, that I just got lost. Particularly of late, I am seeing so many of my friends and colleagues garner well-deserved accolades and success, both professionally and personally. And I am genuinely happy for them- seriously. But then I look at myself and can’t help but think how everyone I know is a better mother/ wife/ teacher/ scholar/actor/homemaker than I am.
“Mommy, I lost. She got more stars than me.” I’m still a big believer in winning and losing. I don’t think everyone should be a winner all the time. But I have been feeling lost- and like I’ve lost a lot. I feel so behind and am a little perplexed as to how this “behind” situation happened. I feel tired, like I’ve done a lot, but I just haven’t seen any payoff, and that is frustrating. I see other people getting some acknowledgement, but I don’t see it happening over on my end. There’s no anger toward other people, only anger toward myself for not being better, although I’m unsure as to what “better” actually means.
“No, honey, you didn’t get as many stars but you have to keep trying. Don’t worry so much about the stars your sister has. You have one. Keep trying.” Of course I will keep trying. I’m like a damn terrier. Ask my husband. I relentlessly pursued him (minus the Lifetime Network dose of psychosis). But for a start, I think perhaps I need to put some of the focus on myself for once. On my work. On figuring out what it is I really want to achieve. Setting goals. Ugh, that one’s a tough one, and I realize that I have not been good at defining what I would like my future to look like. I always believed that if I just worked hard enough, “good things” would come to me. What these “good things” were- exactly- I couldn’t specifically say, only that they were really good. Seriously. I mean like, totally. I’m totally serious.
“Did you have fun dancing?” Yes, nothing I’ve done I regret. Very few things in my life do I wish I had done differently because I never would have met my husband and had these daughters and that hypothetical prospect looms most regrettable of all.
“Then you just have to keep dancing and you’re going to get better.” Fine. Fine. FINE.
But really what it comes down to:
“You can’t just stand there. You have to move!” I tell my students this all the time, but it actually sounds more like this: “Be strong and wrong!” The sentiment remains the same: do something, even if you don’t know what to do, because in all likelihood, a definitive, strong choice reveals the path to follow (or at the very least will slam a door in your face and you probably needed that). I can’t just stand around and watch other choreography. It’s off because it’s not mine; I’m trying to ape someone else’s trajectory and that simply won’t fly. Doing this only sets me up for failure and defines me as a victim, someone things happen to, not someone who can impact the world around me. Deep down, I have faith I can make this change.
So for me, the first move I make requires setting my fingers to the keyboard and writing, writing, writing. And yeah, I probably should get off my butt and workout. That too.
I remember sitting in class one day, the FIRST time I was in graduate school. We were talking about stillness, probably in the context of how we were sitting and breathing. Our professor coached us through, engaging questions, asking us to be aware of our bodies in that moment. I have a vivid recollection of discomfort throughout my body; it was so very restless and the practice of stillness felt…almost painful. I could not get comfortable in the chair, so I couldn’t sit still. At the time, I thought the physical pain had a clinical origin. Perhaps I was so very out of alignment, or out of shape, or maybe even there was just something wrong with me. Or, all of the above, more likely. I was a walking, talking, breathing living history of my experiences and that wasn’t good or bad…just simply was the way it was. Me.
Going back even further, again back into my acting training, I recall my movement classes. Aside from the fact that—while I firmly believe in the techniques and theories taught—they are sort of caricatures of themselves, there is an irony about them. I know I went into movement class as an 18 year old thinking I would learn how to move, so OF COURSE there should be a lot of moving involved because, you know, movement. But so much of movement class involved what appeared and felt to be decidely not moving. We were instructed at the beginning of every class that it was “the ten minutes in which you do nothing.” When we first began this ritual, our instructor verbally led us through the experience in a sort of guided meditation. But the anxiety crept in when we were supposed to clear our minds and think about nothing. No. Thing. It was at that point when I became silently desperate, trying to push thoughts out of my mind, and in fighting those impulses, created even more thoughts. I panicked. On the inside, of course. “HOW DO I DO NOTHING?” came the silent scream. “I am not DOING nothing right because I have all the thoughts! I’m thinking about not thinking!” I felt a little like Ray Stanz in Ghostbusters:
Still, the idea of just taking a minute to be fully present in a space took practice. What I found was in opening myself up to allowing thoughts to pass through, I had more autonomy about engaging with thoughts, than if I tried to shut them out.
I settled into stillness. Well, more precisely, I came to a place where I could coexist with it. I welcomed it. Sometimes, the restless discomfort was there, but I had to acknowledge it in order to move on.
Flash forward to now. I’m trying to tune the noise out. It’s a noise addiction. Even now, as I’m writing, as I’m enjoying the quiet hum of the fan above me (and a little indignant at the sound of an airplane flying overhead, intruding on the night quiet)–with no television, social media, radio, internet—I’m longing for it. I yearn for this time, this place, this space to hear my thoughts, and my first impulse is to drown them out. Like some messed up sugar addiction, I try to cut out the sweets, and savor the lightness in my body and the energy it begins to feel, only to hear my inner voice thinking, “As a reward for feeling so good, you should get a treat. Sugar!” And while social media can get me amped, it quickly exhausts me, leaving me deflated, numb, and reflexively reaching for more of… less.
Maybe I think the noise will give me my thoughts, will set me on the right path toward self-enlightenment and what I hope to do in this world. But these inputs merely obfuscate the whole situation. They crowd out—and sometimes even work to replace—my own thoughts. I’ve been moving and filling the space with so much that I no longer recognize my own thoughts through the din.
So I’ve made pledge to myself, imperfect as it is. Among the million and one self-improvement promises, I am starting with some silence each evening. Some pause. Some breath. Because just as I learned those many years ago, many times over, that singular breath will both birth and ignite my impulse. My truth.
Then you’d never know you had one.”—The Baker’s Wife, Into the Woods
Walking with the girls tonight, I had one of those lightening moments, suspending me in its hyper reality for the briefest time. The girls rode their scooters up ahead of me, lit horizontally by the sun setting behind us. Between myself and the girls, a newly paved path rolled, comfortable and certain in its relative newness. On either side, green grass- so vibrant, especially in contrast to the blackness of the asphalt path-already thick and lush from the dutiful and probably bloodied, calloused hands of some landscaper, seems to insist on spring’s arrival-which, for the record, is fine by me. Adolescent trees mark the age of the immaculately coiffed subdivision, thankfully old enough for leaves to endow the wind with a fair bit of rustling voice. But on this evening, the wind is not in a hurry. It lacks the urgency of a storm front; now that we’re on the western end of the suburbs, this weird transition zone where sprawl meets small town, the weather changes show their faces pretty clearly. Together, everything moves and suspends, simultaneously, at this singular point in time.
I have the urge- or rather, the conditioned response- to quickly scroll through my phone to take a picture, worried that I wouldn’t remember this exact moment, that I need to preserve and share it or it never happened (i.e., if a tree falls and it doesn’t get put on Vine/FB/ Instagram, did it even happen?). I don’t know if it is laziness, anxiety about missing the moment altogether or what, but my hand never makes it to my pocket. My phone remains undisturbed. I lift my eyes. I walk forward.
I breathe it in and realize I am happy.
For just a breath.
Then wafting, ever so quietly, the doubts weave themselves back in through my consciousness: “Are you sure you’re happy? What is a city girl like you doing being happy here?” Then, more insistent and cruel: “This will never last, you know. It never does. Something awful will happen, it’s inevitable.” In an instant, all of the specific worries of my life- kids, my husband, employment, health, career, finances, and oh my lord, will I ever get this house unpacked or will we just live out of bins and chaos indefinitely- come tumbling with reckless abandon, washing over this lovely, peaceful moment.
Good Lord, those voices are LOUD. At this point, the cerebral chatter devolves into a cacophony of bickering. I ignore it as best I can; it’s background noise. So the moment’s gone, and I didn’t record it- not for posterity, for me. I’m at a place right now where I don’t trust I can remember anything without recording it, particularly these small, deep moments of joy. I manage to remember the difficult/ painful/ angsty ones, and I never have any trouble feeling at times like those times dominate my timeline.
Maybe, in actuality, it’s less about remembering these moments of joy and more about sustaining them. After all, as I just said, I don’t have trouble recalling the string of painful times littering the chronology of my life. I’m certainly not holding my phone up to them, recording them to play them back in some weird, masochistic ritual. In my awkward, human animal way, I’m trying to materialize my experiences to touch them, smell them, see them, feel them just a little bit longer. But in order to make them tangible in the form of video and picture means that I miss the actual experience altogether; the camera casts me as an outside observer trying to capture a fleeting moment, and shoves me out of participating in my own life, even those moments of happiness. The camera displaces me; it experiences the event, while I remember recording the event. For me, the memory becomes about recording something, and no longer about the actual something.
But aside from this complex and complicated 21st century relationship between me and technology, I also realize that moments of joy, of clarity, of happiness are so characteristic because of what they are not, which are the very places they originate: pain, struggle, confusion, sadness. No, I won’t always feel elation, nor will I be stuck in the abyss of despair. Mostly, I will reside in the middle somewhere, working to make things better, hoping to avoid the worst. But there are no guarantees, and sometimes I think that’s simply an uncomfortable place to be.