Do I Really Look Like That?

This is a high level problem, for sure – nonetheless, one of the most difficult things in my life is seeing pictures of myself, especially when they’re published somewhere the whole world can see them.  It’s rare that I even minimally like a picture of myself – it doesn’t help that I’m a master at closing my eyes, even in cellphone photos. If I like any photos, they’re usually snapped when I have no idea it’s happening.

That said, I just reviewed twenty-three pictures from a “photo shoot” (the words send shivers up my spine) I had with Eva, my Joy Ride editor/publisher/Jill of all trades, a week ago. We’re looking for a photo to compliment a Facebook page I’m in the midst of launching to support the book. As I review each one, artfully re-fashioned by Eva, that little bugger with the big voice inside my head continually critiques: your hair is a mess, you have so many wrinkles, that outfit makes you look fat, your not smiling, on and on. The voice takes over and it’s hard to quiet it enough to allow for my more reasoned self to have a say. It’s a deep inner anxiety that rises up out of nowhere to shoot down even the most flattering photo, and it takes all the courage I can muster to challenge that shouting critic, look with an open heart and mind at the photos, and be even ‘just okay’ with how I look.

Thankfully, this gut wrench has lessened over the years as I’ve strengthened the friendly, compassionate voice that resides along side the bugger. But some part of me still wishes I looked different and still has to work to overcome the negativity. I’m not even sure how I want to look; it just seems like the bugger wants to pooh-pooh any and all looks. I like life in motion, animated and fluid. Photographs memorialize moments, capturing amazing moments we may have missed given the way our lives often seem to pass by so fast. Still photos give us the opportunity to remember all sorts of moments with all of our senses and with our hearts, as we open ourselves to seeing the whole of the scene that was captured. We can re-experience the motion and animation that surrounded the moment, and can feel the spectrum of emotion from sadness to joy to rage or surprise that was unfolding as the the shutter closed around the scene.

Looking at the photos Eva took last week, I’m remembering our outing, the day, the weather, and our playful bantering as we attended to the task of taking the photos.

I’ll share one of the photos and a quote from Pema Chodron that speaks to the battle that sometimes rages inside, as my little bugger and my more accepting self spar.

Compassionate action starts with seeing yourself when you start to make yourself right or when you start to make yourself wrong. At that point you could just contemplate the fact that there is a larger alternative to either of those, a more tender, shaky kind of place where you could live. 

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Finding Focus

I’ve been feeling scattered, unmotivated, and noticing pangs of rejection since only one of the four emails I sent out asking for media coverage of my book elicited a response. Based on what I’ve read about marketing books, I understand that even one response is super. However, the feelings that nobody likes my book, and I’m foolish to have thought that anyone would, are still there. Past experience tells me I have to acknowledge all the feelings or I’ll drift into indifference and let the whole marketing mess fall away into the background. But it won’t really fall back there – it will gnaw at me and pollute any joy I might feel from other experiences.

That said, what do I do? I truly am in a transitional place and, unlike the last two years when my focus was clear and had a tangible outcome (getting my hands on a real, live paperback book with my name as author on the cover), I can’t see a tangible focus for this marketing effort. All I see is how little control I have over what happens. No matter what I do. Even if I can clarify what my message is, which feels like a daunting task right now since my head is swirling with equal parts negative and positive self-talk, I don’t see any solid outcome to focus on. Everything feels out of my control: how many books I sell, how many of the folks who buy books will write reviews, who in the big world of book reviewing will review and promote my book, etc.

Marketing is hard work and it takes consistent effort and willingness to feel the pain of rejection. I recently started reading Kathleen Gage’s free eBook, Hit#1 on Amazon. All she talks about is what one has to do, mentally and in tasks everyday, to make a new endeavor meant for mass consumption successful. A few weeks back I wrote a blog about my solid commitment to this year of marketing, but now as I  face myself I want to quit. I want to say “it’s not up to me, I’ve released it and whatever is meant to be will be.” I want to give myself permission to be lazy, to let it all go, to avoid the rejection I may feel if nothing comes of my efforts. To allow myself to say “it doesn’t matter.” And, in many ways, it doesn’t matter. I never intended writing the book to be the start of an ongoing business endeavor, or one that would bring fame and fortune. So, whatever comes of it is fine. But I wonder if I can muster up the courage to like myself enough to invest the energy it might take to distill a message, to let myself acknowledge that my life has had meaning, and the lessons I’ve learned might be helpful to others. Can the part of me that does like myself and that can hear that others like me, too – can she hear the positive without being discouraged and downtrodden by the sometimes constant criticism that another part of me likes to continually spew in my ear? Am I willing to embrace most loudly the encouragement and love I clearly feel from family, friends and the whole cosmos? Am I willing to use that positive energy to keep at it despite my confused and scattered mind, and unclear focus?

It occurs to me that this might be a big part of what my message is: we have to somehow know that, despite our feeling out of control of outcomes, we best serve ourselves by showing up for our lives – as consciously as is possible at any given time – and listening for clues as to what to do next. What fork in the road to take, what box to check, what experience to pursue. Noticing how opportunities present themselves, and how we need only say yes and be willing to engage with as much of ourselves as we can. We have to like ourselves enough to participate and find a way to play in our daily lives. Sometimes showing up and engaging is difficult, we don’t feel like it, or we have to face things we’d rather not see, or remember, or discover about ourselves or the world around us. Right now I’m thinking I don’t want to see what I have to do to market my book. None of it feels like play. Instead, I feel overwhelmed by Ms. Gage’s intensity and drive. Social media intimidates me – I want to dismiss it as an awful symptom of our time. Self-promotion scares me and raises many questions about why anyone would be interested in reading what I have to say. But this opportunity (brought to the forefront by the book marketing dilemma) to clarify what in life is important to me is compelling, and feels like an important road to go down. Although it’s tedious and unpleasant presently, it may provide important clues to what I want to pursue as this year of transition unfolds, and leads me to yet another chapter in my joy ride.

Today, I promise myself I will look for the opportunities to play as I roll around in my current state of confusion and orneriness. Maybe I’ll find that confusion and orneriness, in and of themselves, have playful qualities.

Therein lies a clue to my dilemma, and maybe to my message: love the place you’re in, aka “love the one you’re with” by Stephen Stills.

Creating to find Peace

I recently came across this quote by Maxine Hong Kingston:

In a time of destruction, create something: a poem, a parade, a community, a vow, a moral principle; one peaceful moment. 

Seems like almost every day we hear about some awful destruction happening somewhere in the world, sometimes in our own backyards. And, for sure, I’ve created many moments of destruction in my own life. This quote reminds me of the power of creating – something I allude to in my book, Joy Ride: My One-Legged Journey to Self-Acceptance, and continue to experience whenever I give myself the gift of time to create.

I spent part of this morning working on an adaption of a much performed DanceAbility piece with Alito and Jana, a lovely, young, committed DanceAbility artist. Moving together and finding images others will take in with their eyes, and hopefully with their hearts, is good for my heart. So was playing within the Tuning Scores structure I immersed myself in for the first two weeks of this month. Exploring space with my eyes closed and open, finding stillnesses with my fellow dancers, making shapes, feeling my skin, muscles and bones as I roll around the floor or slide across walls – all that, and the gift of witnessing others do the same. And making marks on paper, whether they be lines and shapes or letters and words, it’s all creating – allowing parts of me that get left behind in the day-to-day frenzy of living, working, and being surrounded by the news to have their say.

There are many ways to promote peaceful moments and I’m with Ms. Kingston in that I know, somewhere deep in my cells, that finding that peaceful place in me is one of the things I can do anywhere, anytime I create the space needed to make the inward journey to that place. When I do, things settle inside and I’m able to bring more of my heart to whatever I’m involved in.

I made some silly (in a most fun and fulfilling way) computer images during my two weeks of dancing this month. Till the next time, here’s one I really like:

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New Beginnings and Ongoing Delights

Happy New Year to you all! I hoped to get around to posting something in early January, but my early new year adventure on Vashon Island, with my long-time dance friend Karen Nelson, side-lined that hope in a most wonderful way. Hanna Barn, where Karen led the first two, of six, weeks of Dance Sensoria (explomov.weebly.com), teaching Contact Improvisation and Tuning Score skills, had no wi-fi access. Fortunately, it’s an unbelievably beautiful studio with heated dance floor, sleeping cubicles on the level above (I have my own secluded corner of the studio space for sleeping since stairs and wheelchairs do not make for an ease-ful duet), has unlimited access to the beach, the wild and wonderful woods, and a well-apportioned, yet rustic, kitchen perfect for community prepared and shared meals. I was immersed in movement and play and never missed the wi-fi–except when I gently pummeled myself for not posting earlier in this new year.

The dancing and community living were both, simultaneously, new beginnings and ongoing delights. I’d spent seven years dancing, communing, and playing with Karen and many others in the 1990s at Camp Stealth, where Karen hosted Diverse Dance inviting the mixed abilities dance community, which includes dancers with and without disabilities, to participate in an experiment in communal living and dancing. And I’d since shared in several of her twice yearly retreats at Hanna Barn. Dance Sensoria was yet another incarnation of new and ongoing adventures, this time with a core group of four, expanding up to eight on some of the ten days we indulged in the joyful, challenging, and at times, frustrating and mind-boggling delights of improvisational movement. Delights are like that–not always delightful, but always delighting in the ways they can open our minds to new challenges both in living with our inner idiosyncrasies, and in communing with the idiosyncrasies of others. We spent six hours each day learning and practicing Steve Paxton’s Material for the Spine, various Feldenkrais techniques, Qi Gong, the basics of Lisa Nelson’s Tuning Scores, and various other of the million or so scores for improvisation that Karen seems to hold somewhere inside her strong, complex body and mind. Our three-hour morning and afternoon sessions would begin with a structured exercise only to erupt into the unstructured structure of improvisational dancing, which almost always morphs into the delight of play for me. I find my poetic voice, words come from someplace other than my mind, and my body finds fun ways to play and dance, solo and with others, in what seem to be ever new ways, in ever new environments. We practiced Contemplative Dance twice each week, inviting the Vashon community to join us. In this form, we sit in meditation for the first chunk of time, then move to personal warm-up, and finally to open space, each section separated by a ring of the gong and a bow, to honor the privilege it is to share in meditation and movement with ourselves and others. Maybe because of the prayerful structure or the safe space held by all who participate, this form seems to welcome the most sacred, and the silliest, silliness, the irreverent reverence that comes when things align with something much bigger then we are, and allow us to let go of the seriousness we often find ourselves caught up in as humans.

In the course of all of this dancing and living, I found myself at various times noticing irritations and annoyances, struggling with not perfectly executing the physical exercises, wanting to bow out of things that poked at my vulnerable places, stuck in not knowing how to move in the best, most creative way, wanting to challenge rules and structures, on and on. More, though, I would notice my thought-free rolling across the warm blonde-wood floor, colliding with welcoming bodies along the way and stopping to explore soft, sensitive, or rough, physical interaction. I had the chance to scream at the universe, cataloging all my dissatisfaction in gibberish, offer blessings to those in need of support, and create silly words to a spontaneous song about dreaming of peace that popped up out of nowhere one afternoon. I ate lovingly prepared, humble meals with other improvisational beings, and fell asleep to the roars and rumbles of the ocean.

All in all, I’d say a fantastic start to the wide open spaces of this new year. I plan to celebrate life as it comes and goes, and will try to heed the advice of a recent Yogi tea tag:

“Let things come to you.”

Post Launch Mania

I read a review of the book, Silence in the Age of Noise by Erling Kagge, in this week’s local Sunday paper. Mr. Kagge is a Norwegian explorer, author and publisher who’s been searching for the ultimate silence for many years. He trekked to the South Pole in 1993 and was alone there for fifty days and nights.

The newspaper article quoted him as saying, “When you start you have all the noise in your head,” and by journeys end, “you feel your brain is wider than the sky…To be alone and experience the silence feels very safe, very meaningful.”

That same day I had a massage with a wonderful masseuse friend with whom I spill my guts about my mental and physical state before we begin. That morning I was reeling from the overwhelming response to my book launch from local friends and acquaintances, family living clear across the continent, and New Jersey high school classmates spread far and wide. I’ve been getting emails, calls, requests for additional books that many want to sent to their friends and relatives. The outpouring of support and encouragement is at once humbling, exhilarating and exhausting! My head was like a bus full of screaming kids – yelling at me about how I wasn’t responding to emails or getting books to people quickly enough, and I was remiss in not ordering more so I wouldn’t run out, which I did before I filled all the requests people had made. Those notorious voices accused me of scheduling too many things – a DanceAbility performance for a local non-profit, Christmas cards and packages to finish and mail, on and on. As I lay on the massage table I felt like I just consumed a gallon of pure caffeine – me, a decaf coffee drinker! As Sadie methodically moved her experienced, healing hands over my flesh and reaching far down into my muscles and bones, I felt the reality of the quote seeping into my body and mind. Suddenly there was space, my cells had calmed down and time seemed endless.

The next day I met with Mary, my long time Authentic Movement partner, for our regular weekly practice. She’s a somatic practitioner and teacher experiencing a recent acceleration in requests for her time and wisdom. It seems the two of us are often moving with the unplanned intention of returning to ourselves and allowing our bodies to speak about what they need. My movement that day began with a deep, seated forward bend during which I covered my ears and was immediately transported deep inside myself. As the silent twenty minutes of movement unfolded I played a game with my moving self with the theme of reaching far outside my boundaries – exploring, searching, seeking – then coming back in to find a way to connect again to that deep place within. When my twenty minutes was up, I spoke about it with Mary as part of the movement practice, noticing how important it felt to return home to that deep place of silence, to never let myself get so far outside of that place that I feel I could lose control of who I am at the core. This is an ongoing challenge. I love being in the world –  socializing, offering myself as a volunteer, doing my best as part of my work team and lately, responding to all the support, encouragement, praise and requests about my book. And, I need and love to slip into that place of silence, when my brain becomes “wider than the sky…and the silence feels safe and very meaningful,” in the words of Mr. Kagge.

And so – I’ll sign off with a promise to remember to re-member myself, lest I’m no good to anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Yikes – I’m launching a book

Just three days until November 30, 2017, my official Book Launch Party. It’s been planned since October 30, the day the book became available on Amazon, and until today it seemed soooo far away. Not so now…

Thankfully, my inner worker-bees have been waking me up two or three times a week with all sorts of ideas about what I should say, what to read and how to “be me” at the event. It’s funny to think about having to plan how to be me – seems there’s very little else I can do. Still – a mind like mine likes to make sure all angles are examined before I forget every last one of those angles and enter into what is most always an improvisation in the moment as it happens.

That said – I’ve prepared an outline (which changes as the dreamscapes do each night) and I’ve chosen several passages to read. I’ve rehearsed in the mirror what I might say as I offer a toast. (For years I’ve indulged in talking out loud to my image in my bathroom mirror, or in the rearview mirror of the car, when I need to work out a problem or plan a strategy. It’s amazingly comforting, and although I rarely remember what I say, it seems to help me get my thoughts together. In addition…I enjoy making faces at myself!)

These impromptu mirror engagements have helped to get the wheels turning about exactly (although, I know there is no exactly since all things change as each nanosecond passes by) what my journey has been and continues to be about. For today, and I think this will still be what’s up on Thursday, I’m thinking to focus on how the journey over time, and the journey of writing and publishing the book, has been largely about re-membering my body and in so doing, embracing it’s amazing wisdom. It’s not that I forgot my body, because I was very much involved with the physical functioning aspects of my body from early on. The physical challenges of making my way on one leg were a source of fun, and a kind of creative outlet. I enjoyed finding ways to do things that would appear difficult or even impossible for someone missing a leg. And, although I tried hard to deny and dismiss my emotional body, I never was able to fully forget it. I just relegated it to a deep, dark place inside and decided, repeatedly, to ignore it. Thankfully, the powers that be – God, the universe, other co-pilots, like dogs or paint brushes – continually poked me along the way, reminding me that there was something I’d yet to consider in my quest for wholeness. The pokes came disguised as panic attacks, friendly advice, offers of adventures that bore unexpected insights, dreams and other things too numerous to mention and too compelling to ignore for long. They encouraged me to continue plodding, skipping or just walking until I discovered dancing – which is what I realized I was doing all along, just like we all are.

After all – life is a dance and that dance is the art, and the wisdom, and the message of each and every one of our bodies. To live is to dance! Ha – now isn’t that fun?