Wahooooooo!

Sofie.  A year ago, water poured in her mouth would come dribbling out.  Six months ago, she was accepting small sips and then trying to grab and fling the sippy cup.  For a two year old who came to the world five months early and still struggles with medical complications, this was huge progress.

Yesterday her mom says, “Sofie, should we show Miss Chelsea how we can drink?”  I had been gone for a week at a movement workshop, but I was confused.  I knew how she drank.  I had been shaping and holding her tiny hands around the sippy cup for a month.

Her mom put the cup in front of her and Sofie picked it up with both hands.  She took a big gulp, all by herself, before setting the cup down.  I teared up.  I looked at Michelle wide-eyed.  She was smiling broadly.  I looked at Sofie, already on her second sip.  We were enjoying this beautiful moment of awe together and we knew it.

Michelle stepped out a moment later to get the laundry, and Sofie continued to sip.  She grinned at me before each one as if to say, “This is pretty cool, right?  I’m not just making it up?”  I answered her in tears, laughter, and cheers: “This is AMAZING!  Look at this new shiny toy you have!!”  She laughed, yodeled, and yelled in gleeful response.  Drinking water was great, having her friend to witness it was great, it was all super great.

As always, she reminds me of a great many truths.

The relationship between teacher and student can be fraught with complexity, but at least one thread should remain intact.  There should always, always be a celebration at the point of attainment.  The best teachers are never too busy, too self involved, or too enmeshed in a rut to say, “Wow!  That’s it!  How frickin’ cool!”  In the reality of classroom teaching you may only have a moment for this practice, but a moment can be more than enough.

I was and am pretty great at this part.  Whether it’s sippy cups or thesis statements, my joy at someone else’s attainment has always been genuine and effusive.  I’ve shrugged off large portions of the embarrassment I used to feel for being “too childish,” and I usually ignore those who accuse me of hyperbole.

But, as Sofie reminded me yesterday, I don’t always do this for myself as I learn.  I tend to take my learning very seriously,  wondering why I can’t go faster instead of stopping to throw myself the party I throw others.  And while it’s true that integration and reflection are necessary for mastery, why shouldn’t I also celebrate Sofie style?  I still feel the same chaotic, invigorating thrill when I learn something new.  But, as the workshop facilitator requested while I shared with the group this weekend, I have learned that I am supposed to “slow it down.”

Thus, here is one part of the conversation about this workshop that I REALLY wanted to have with someone.  Trigger warning: for those of you upset by all capital letters, this probably won’t be fun, but read it fast enough and you may get a nice little head buzz:

“OMGEEZUS!!! HOLY CRAP. <jazz hands, karate kick> All these new embodied communication tools are SOOOO FLIPPIN FUN.  I can’t even handle it, I can’t even…you know how we did the me and the you and then the WHOLE first two days I was like, NO!!! Me don’t wanna look at you right now, let’s dance side by side, nervous system meltdown…AHHHHHH…and I just protected that space like nobody’s business. <wolf howl, princess twirl> And then Julian and I were talking Monday and I’m usually all…AHHH, ERRR, UMMM, about the subject, but instead I was all BAM, clarity, and he was all, BAMBAM impact, and it was THE FUNEST because then I learned stuff on top of stuff and I LOVE THE CRAP OUT OF THAT HUMAN even when I don’t always like him. Super crazy sauce.  And wait <dramatic pause for effect> Monday night at dance I was like, HEY, WHAT’S YOUR STORY ABOUT SOOOOOO MANY THINGS!! It was weird because then there was all kindsa room, VROOM VROOM, about these particular stories, and I was like WOAH…I AM COMMUNICATING THE FUCK OUT OF THIS DAY, and maybe I will only get better.  BWAHAHAHA…I AM CHELSEA, COMMUNICATION MASTER!!”

Compare this to: “It was a really powerful experience.  I can really see the impact already in the area of communication, integrity, and boundaries.”  You’re right, you can’t, because the grown up version is boring.

Don’t get committed by concerned friends and family, but seriously people, celebrate your learning the next time you get the chance.  Take your cues from your two year old, your dog, or even nature blooming into Spring.  We woke up today when others didn’t.  Everything else should seem miraculous as the first days navigating the sippy cup.

 

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Advice for Getting Angry

Yesterday, I got angry.

I’m not talking about cut you off in traffic angry, but rather a vigorous scraping of the crust from the cast iron skillet.  It was desperate to be heard, and my body stands sore and curiously quiet this morning.

I was finishing up four days of an intensive movement class that focused on the process of feeling emotional intelligence in our bodies, not just our heads.  As we often do at these workshops, the last hour of the last day is open circle.  All dancers stand along the outside of the room, and one by one, if you have something left in you to dance, explore, integrate, or mark, you move into the circle.  You dance until you feel complete, and the witnesses on the outside hold their attention on you.

For something with so few directions, it is an immensely powerful experience.  I entered the circle with a fascinating point of confusion that had come up earlier in the day.  While working through an exercise on intent and impact, it occurred to me that I am not quite sure the difference between caring for someone and trying to get their attention.

As I moved into the circle, surrounded by other moving bodies, my confusion only deepened.  I moved as someone would who was being cared for, then as someone who was trying to get seen.  I went back and forth between these two modes, expending more and more effort in my search for clarity. Finally, I paused.  The thought in my head?  THIS IS STUPID.  WHO CARES WHY I DON’T KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THESE TWO THINGS?  NO ONE LOVES YOU ANYWAYS SO IT DOESN’T MATTER.  I was whiny, petulant, convinced I was invisible in a room of people dancing with great emotional depth and fervor.

This tantrum self is not new to me, but usually I cut her off pretty quickly when she shows up.  Tantrums are for children, Chelsea–wasteful, selfish, ineffective, burdensome to others.  I’ve always feared this self, that she would take me further away from connection, but I remembered our facilitator’s words before we started: “As you enter the circle, move toward anything that has an emotional charge for you instead of cutting it off or running away.”  I decided that I felt enough trust in the group to try it.  If I was going to tantrum, well I was going to really fucking tantrum.

At first I felt as stupid as I usually do–stomping my feet, making exasperated noises, flinging my arms.  I kept going anyways.  I added some jumping up and down.  I realized that this was about as far as I usually got, and I was suddenly very curious about what was next.  I flopped to the ground on my knees and started banging my fists on the floor.  Instantly,  I was awash in how good this felt…fuck this felt good….ridiculously good.  I felt my face pull back into a scowl, teeth bared.  My torso flopping this way and that.

I am not sure when the screaming started, or how I got back to my feet, but before I knew it, both had happened.  A woman I met during the weekend, clothed all in white, long hair whipping back and forth, was dancing one inch from me, furiously matching my dance.  I fear I must’ve screamed right in her face more than once, but in the moment I didn’t care, and more surprisingly, she didn’t leave.  At one point I remember planting my feet wide, dropping my knees, and letting out a scream that originated from somewhere deep underground–piercing, clean.

Who knows if tantrum to rage took five minutes or thirty, but when I was finished I wobbled off to the side where I would not get trampled, curled up in a ball, and cried like a baby.

That evening, up to my neck in Epsom salts and bubbles,  I wondered why my anger was so much more accessible that day than it has been in the past.  The cartoon light bulb flashed with an answer: the age where I was first denied anger would’ve needed that tantrum as a transition into expressions of pure anger.  It made sense.  Unless you were denied anger as a baby, where all you had were screams, every other age person has a developmentally appropriate way of building up to anger.  Toddlers and young children, the age where I had to clamp it down, had the tantrum as a bridge.  The very tantrums I have been holding back on for YEARS, may hold the key to growing up in this area.

Letting go in this way might seem scary to some, but what is much scarier to me is the isolation, repression, and passive aggressive behaviors that I used for years instead.  I’ve talked to more than one woman who feels a similar inability to access her anger.  The common wisdom seems to hold that it is the fault of hormones or how we are socialized.  While this is true, I think it may also be true that we need to understand where we were at when we stopped being angry.  What would that age child have needed in order to handle an emotion as big as anger?

I hope to not end up in a department store, sitting on the floor and wailing, surrounded by concerned looking adults, but I will be having more tantrums.  I will be having them until I don’t need to have them anymore, till I have emptied the anger reservoir and caught up to the present.

Rewriting the Robot

Onan.  At six years old, he is taller than some middle schoolers.  Highly sensitive, fiercely brilliant, deeply lonely amongst peers; he has been one of my favorite young minds to support through play.

Since the day I met him, much of Onan’s play has centered around narratives of being a robot, or on a good day, a cyborg.  These metaphors allowed him to show off his unique abilities, but this robot also had elaborate meltdowns which required complex codes and frequent rebooting.

His robot self has always been a part of our adventures, until today.

Today, Onan was a dragon.  He told me that his wings had only recently come in, and we talked at length about them and all the cool things they could do.  Baby dragons can fly to the moon, and adult dragons can get all the way to Jupiter even though they sometimes need a rocketship to give their wings a break.  In the midst of this he mentioned having a friend at school now.  It’s the first one I’ve ever heard him talk about.

After all this talk of flying, muscles, bones, and warm bloodedness, I was curious how his dragon self was received amongst peers at school.  “What does your friend and your teacher think about your beautiful new wings?” I asked with my fingers crossed.

“Oh, I can’t be a dragon at school,” he replied. “My mom says I have to keep my helmet on at school.  I also wear special t-shirts so people won’t know.  It’s very hard to find t-shirts that fit dragon wings, you have to cut just the right amount of the sleeves.”  I had a hard time believing that his real life mother would discourage dragon Onan, but this was his story to tell.  “What about your teacher?” I answered him.

“She would kick me out of school if she found out.”  He hung his head.

“How do you feel about that?” I asked.

“Bad,” he replied.  “Hold on a second Chelsea, I just have to kill this mouse that climbed into my lair.  We blocked all the mouse holes, but I think we forgot one.”  With this, he reached for his hobby horse and proceeded to beat forcefully on the ground.  I was surprised by my encouragement of this action until I realized, I have equal disdain of things that try to sneak in after I’ve plugged all the holes.

Clearly, dragon Onan still has some need to hide, so maybe it doesn’t mean anything that the robot self never showed up.  But it wasn’t just a metaphor change that was different today.  As a dragon, the speed of Onan’s play slowed down.  There were still moments when we paced the living room telling stories together at break-neck speeds, but that frantic edge was gone.  In fact, at one point he was engrossed in building an elaborate machine gun out of magnet tiles and he asked me to sit further away from him.  This has never happened before, and while some would say anti-social behavior does not seem like an improvement, I was elated.  There was something both tender and powerful in him protecting his building space.  As a cyborg many months ago, he repeatedly tried to get me to become a cyborg as well, but as a dragon we both had choices.

His movement from robot to dragon made for an unexpectedly emotional day.  I thought about my own robot years and wished I could’ve rewritten the story as early as he seems to be.  These thoughts are no longer an everyday part of my life, but when I look back I still feel the sadness of them.  I was also thrilled for him and a little scared–I know how wobbly transition times can feel, both for those undergoing changes and those offering support.  Finally, there was a deep tide of appreciation for both of his parents.  Raising children is difficult in the best of circumstances, but they’ve had to be extra skillful to help him both hold on to himself and enter the world.

As we danced joyfully in the dragon egg hatchery to a bass laden song that asked, “Where my freaks at?” I stopped thinking so hard. Dude, I met a dragon today!  Together we defeated a pernicious horde of zombies.  Moving forward is good.

 

 

Mess Makers

Figuring out how something started can be a waste of time.  It can also open up whole new ways of approaching an issue.

Recently, the subject of boundaries is on my mind: where I maintain them, where I don’t, and how it has affected my life.  At a party this weekend, I had a long conversation in a hot tub with a woman I’d just met.  The subject was not boundaries, but rather art and self exploration.  She told me about her recent, strong desire to fling paint at things, and I discussed what I was learning about expressive arts therapy.

The next day, I helped her make a salad in the kitchen.  We were having trouble finding salad tongs in this vacation house, and remembering last night’s conversation, I said to her, “You could also just hand toss it.  Your hands are clean.”  Her face looked at me guiltily, like a child about to steal a cookie, but she proceeded to plunge in.  Bits of beet and broccoli started to tumble over the sides of the bowl.

Her shoulders immediately shot up to just below her ears.  I was fascinated.  “Do you notice what’s happening with your shoulders?” I asked, gently curious.  She stopped, released them, and sighed.  “I just have such a hard time making a mess.  It makes me so anxious.”

“Understood,” I replied.  “But is there anything just below or next to that anxiety?”  She started mixing again.  “It’s really…powerful.”

She seemed surprised by her word choice, and this morning it has me thinking about boundaries and gender.  It is generally accepted that men have more practice, and thus an easier time, with boundaries, but how and why?  Could it be, in part,  because girls aren’t given permission to make a mess when they’re young?

Messy little girls are often called tomboys.  Girls are more harshly scolded for getting their clothing dirty, if for no other good reason than girls clothing costs more.  Stereotypical girls play is also indoors.  I know these norms have been in dramatic flux during my lifetime, but the fact that we still recognize them as norms means that they’re not out of our collective system yet.  A few days before I coached my anxious salad tosser, a dear friend of mine said to me, “We don’t know where the boundary is until we hit it.”  Is labeling and then encouraging little boys to be messy creatures, also encouraging them to start learning boundaries early?

It seems to me that girls and women crave mess just the same, and that we often find destructive ways to experience it when we’re discouraged from simple messes.  Gossip, girl drama, chasing boys and men who don’t want you or aren’t good for you to a whole host of disastrous consequences–just to name a few.

Of course, this is not to argue that all little girls who did make messes will employ that knowledge in constructing healthy boundaries.  I think of my own younger sister, a consummate tomboy when little.  As an adult she became a master manipulator, which requires an intricate understanding of boundaries, minus the healthy enactment.

The permission to make a mess clearly isn’t the only factor in boundary creation, but I wonder if it is an ignored one.  When I started painting large canvases in November, I quickly realized that part of what I loved about the process was ending up covered in paint.  During that same time period I started camping consistently, for the first time as an adult.  On these trips, I often notice the desire to slide down hills and rocks, cross streams, even pick up handfuls of dirt and rub them on myself.  I don’t believe that my parents would have restricted my mess making access as a kid, but the bookworm in me did it to myself for years.

As a teacher I often worried about kids who were forced to play a sport or pick up an instrument against their will, but now I wonder if maybe my position on that was too absolute.  If my parents had dragged me, kicking and screaming, to some field to play some sport, would I have gained proficiency with boundaries earlier?  If they took the book from my hand and made me play outside, would I be able to more quickly and firmly define my ‘no!’?

My mess making side is obviously calling to me these days, and I am listening.  Last night I covered the wild boar statue in my apartment with gold paint.  Number one, I’ve been really enamored with gold paint lately, and number two, I just wanted to see what would happen if I carried out this whim.  I laughed and smiled the entire way through, and yes, it felt…powerful.

 

Uncaptured

Sitting on the beach, watching the color of the waves breaking, comparing it to the color of the four white cranes, long leggedly prancing at the waters edge.  They do not share the same preoccupation with their own beauty, the same need to explain it.  They do not care that the third day of my dear friend’s 40th birthday is just about to start in the house on the cliff above us.  They are here now.

It occurs to me how silly, and maybe even arrogant it is for us to try and capture nature.  But we do it anyways.  I can still feel last night’s sunset in my throat and hips.  I was kicking myself for not bringing my camera as everyone else in my posse whipped out their phones.  I felt disconnected as everyone turned phone-ward, and annoyed for not being one of the cool kids.  However, as I sat with these feelings until they passed, other things began to take their place rather quickly.

I felt receptive to what this moment might teach me, my ear hairs prickling with concentration.  I felt the flirt that only nature can give when we are fully immersed.  Mostly, I felt the amplified gratitude that is all too familiar to me, especially in nature.  People have told me that my descriptions of joy and gratitude often feel a little heavy, but how can they not carry weight when there are so many presents inside each present?

How many times did that sunset change?  From peach ice cream to ripe peaches on a tree, from honey to cardamom, from rose to pomegranate.  It was stunning.  I have nothing against picture taking per se, but even those who took beautiful pictures as we stood there, still won’t be able to capture that moment when they look back at them.

So, my question becomes–do we pick posterity or penetration?  I believe either might be called for in a given moment.  Or perhaps we can achieve a hybrid, like with the joy-yellow acacia poms that I bought at Farmer’s Market this morning, and then proceeded to photograph for twenty minutes because I just wanted to give the near spring sunshine a playmate.

But, and I think I’m not alone, I long for penetration–to be captured of my own free will, store music in my blood, and come back only when the urgency has faded.  Though I listened well last night, and dropped to the space just below the picture taking, I still came back too soon, because everyone else was leaving.  But, just now, when a flopsy black lab came and made friends–first offering me her butt to scratch, and then coming to stand in my lap–I pet her till I was done, letting black clouds of hair float where they may.

In a moment, I will put down my pen and wade into the water, marvel at the blue-gold-green, under the warm sun.  I won’t try to capture anything, prove anything, or rush anywhere.  Like the cranes, and now the cormorants bobbling just a little further out, I realize that this place feeds me.

Me, My Boobs, and I

As I continue my foray into the running world, experimenting with gear is becoming a thing.  I’m on my second pair of shoes for blister reduction purposes, and yesterday, I sent the new sports bra from hell, back where it belongs.  Sorry Brooks–AKA Velcro Fruit Basket of Chafing Torment–but you’re outta here.  On a positive note, the chat I had with my boobs about this decision gleaned lots of useful information.  Ahhhh, running, not just for the teeny, blonde Jennifers of the world.

A Conversation With My Boobs:

Me: So I think it’s time ladies.

Boobs: NO.

Me:  C’mon, we ran seven or eight miles today and you have such bad road rash that your regular bra made you wince all night.  Righty, are you crying?

Righty:  No…yes, YES, oh gawd it hurts sooooo bad!

Lefty: Wuss.  We’ve told you once and we are telling you again, we will not wear old lady sports bras with underwire.

Me: Well, sadly, ‘we’re not gonna’, is not a reason.  Unless you can give me a reason, I am tasked with taking care of you.  You are changing, gravity is not our friend anymore.

Lefty:  Oh, OH, so you’re saying that because “the man” can’t handle us, thinks we’re abnormally large, that we have to adapt to his demands?!?  DOWN WITH THE PATRIARCHY!!!  Fuckin’ Righty, STOP CRYING!

Me: (Sigh) I’m not trying to make you into something you are not, I just–

Righty: (in between sobs) Th-th-then why all the r-r-r-unning?

Me:  I’m trying to help us get back to something we are.  Namely, strong.

Lefty: Okay, I’ll give you that, but no one is going to want to fuck us in an old lady sports bra.  You’ll never meet up with some dude bro runner on the trail and go trotting after his powerful glutes, you’ll never look all cute on the dance floor with a little strap showing.  As it is, the men who meet us now treat us like….

Me:  No! Gonna stop you there, because I don’t think it’s what you really want.  In fact, I know it’s not, because if it was, you could have it.  So this is not really about the bra, is it?

Righty:  (somewhat recovered)  Lefty just wants to be in her twenties again…she’s always talking about how you didn’t appreciate us then, and now we’re just pillows for the people you hug.

Lefty:  You were pretty repressed, we didn’t get out much.  No naked hot tub, no naked beach, no naked volleyball, just no naked for us (kicks the ground sulking, but since the ground is my bicep, it just looks like a really weird boob seizure).

Me:  I know, but I can’t do anything about it now.  We’re all just gonna have to deal with the fact that we are coming into our sexual prime with nowhere to put it.  You ladies aren’t the only ones who suffer now that the bounce is a swing, and the muffin top is the whole muffin.

Righty:  Don’t listen to her.  I think we both just need is to know you think we’re beautiful.  Do you still want to be with us, even though things don’t work the same anymore?

Lefty: Don’t tell her what I need, I, I….GODDAMNIT!!  How are you the gentle, soft porn tit one minute, and then right the next?

Me:  You’re right, I’m sorry.  There’s so much internal change going on these days, that it’s hard to also follow my body as it changes.  For the record, stuff may be in different places now, but I feel more powerful, more feminine in this body, than I have ever felt.  You two are part of that.  Lefty, you are still a firecracker, quick on the nipple, and Righty, you have the best freckles, super adorable.

Boobs:  Awwwww.

Me:  So whaddya say gals?  Can we agree to get us some support?  Who knows, maybe you don’t need it, but I do.  All this change is a little scary, but if I can make up for lost time in taking care of everyone, it will help.

Righty:  You’re not as far behind as you think–we LOVE dancing–and so you get serious points for that change up three years ago.  I’m still not sold on the running, but I hear good things from the rest of the body about it, except for right hip of course who’s way pissed at you–seriously, you two should talk.

Lefty:  God, you’re a blabbermouth.  Yes, yes you can buy the old lady sports bra.

Righty:  And who knows, the great part of getting older is now you’re actually “old enough” to date the older men you’ve always dated anyways.  And, probably not too many years from qualifying to be a cougar.

Lefty:  It’s not like the senior discount at the movies where you have to show ID, stupid! Cougar is a state of mind, and we will kick ass at it when we decide to, just like we kick ass at everything!

Righty:  The youngins are a much better match for your earnestness and playfulness anyways.  And, (lowers voice to a whisper) their butts are really nice… (Righty and Lefty exchange conspiratorial nods, you can tell they’ve had this conversation before)

Me:  Alright, alright, thank you, but I think that’s enough.  We’ve gotten a little off track here.  I appreciate us getting to the root of the issue, but I need to go research our new bra and stop talking about my sex life with you two.

Lefty:  Using ‘sex life’ rather broadly, aren’t we?

Me:  Hey!  I will order lace on this ugly ass bra if you don’t shut it.

Boobs:  (Silence)