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Posts Tagged ‘gratitude’

My one-year dancing anniversary took place last month.

Yes, I’m still dancing. And it’s much more enjoyable now that my problem toe has finally stopped hurting as much. I’m beginning to rebuild the muscle I lost from my convalescence, and my hips are finally beginning to loosen again, and all is going well.

It’s also become much easier for me to ask people to dance. I wouldn’t say it’s easy, precisely, but it is easier. I’ll take it.

And I haven’t taken the dive off the deep end that can be so tempting for me, aka dancing has not become my entire life. I read an article last week about all these things I should be doing and attitudes I should be having in order to improve as a dancer, and I didn’t feel the need to do any of them. I’m sure they’re right, mind you; I’m sure if I made video of me dancing, for example, I’d improve much faster. But I’m okay with my current rate of improvement. Which is for the best, since I don’t have a ton of extra time to devote beyond what I’m already doing.

That being said, I am attending a dance convention over the next several days, which I expect to be incredible and exhausting and punishing to my hamstrings.

My face after dancing.

My face after dancing.

I was talking about dancing recently, and I said, in all seriousness, that it has changed my life. I stand by that statement.

There are many ways dancing can change a person’s life, and I’m sure many of those ways have at least touched on my own. But the primary change for me has been one of physicality. Dancing has helped immensely in this last level of healing after the past several years of chronic injuries.

Perhaps most noteworthy has been its effect on my confidence. After spending years dealing with injuries and re-injuries and the limitations that surround them, I was used to thinking not in terms of possibilities but rather in terms of protection. What did I need to do to protect myself? What might hurt me again? What if I chose to do an activity and then spent six months recovering from it? Six months is not a small price to pay, and those kinds of prices begin to inform your decisions, even when you are no longer as fragile as you once were.

Dancing has taught me to trust my body again. I’m not so wary about my ankle anymore; careful, when the situation warrants it, but not so nervous. Aches and pains feel more like a temporary phenomenon again, instead of something that means “Omg, what have you done to yourself now?” Through gentle repeated use, my ankle has become less rigid, which means hills do not daunt me the way they once did. Uh huh, I CAN CLIMB HILLS. The excitement of that statement cannot be overstated.

One last thought on dancing: It makes me happy. I always feel grateful to be attending dance events. I feel grateful to my partners. I feel grateful for the amazing music. And I feel grateful for the community as a whole.  

My heartfelt thanks go to everyone who has contributed to that gratitude over the past year.

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I remember the first holiday when I had nowhere to go.

I was twenty-two years old. I had just graduated from college, and in a few weeks I was moving to London. It was Christmastime. It would have been the last Christmas in my childhood home, as the plan was to sell the house sometime the next year. Would have been, because my dad and his girlfriend decided to go on a romantic getaway for Christmas instead. I made plans to spend Christmas with my boyfriend and his family. But then we broke up like a week beforehand.

And I had nowhere to go.

*

I read an essay in the New York Times last week that hit me hard in the gut. Life: An Unspooling, it was called. The writer, Rachel Louise Snyder, was writing about loneliness:

“I imagine myself alone in ways other people are not…. People who know where they’ll go on holidays and with whom and for how long. People with plans. With extended family they complain about, but then spend the most important days of the year with.”

I imagine myself alone in ways other people are not. There’s the rub, isn’t it? We have these ideas in our minds, maybe even expectations, about how things are, about how things should be, about the way other people live their lives. We feel the rawness of the intersection of how we imagine other people live and how our own lives fall short of this ideal. And all of these mental gymnastics make the loneliness ache that much more acutely.

And then there’s that feeling of free fall. Because there are most important days of the year, however arbitrary they may be, and to have nowhere to go for them–to lack that comfortable sense of belonging–it is hard. And knowing there are many people who also lack that certainty about those important days doesn’t lessen the loneliness of it.

Those of us who know this reality have to create anchors in other ways. And there is no instruction manual on how to accomplish this.

*

I read this essay in the Times, and then I got in my car and drove to the movies to see Mr. Holmes with one of my close friends.

Oh, Mr. Holmes. The movie is a meditation on loneliness. Every character is lonely in his or her own way, alienated in his or her own way, and the loneliness we see is profound. Alienation between father and son, between mother and child, between two best friends, between husband and wife, between oneself and one’s aging and failing body. People who fail to understand one another, who let each other down in terrible ways. Who feel like they do not belong.

Oh, this movie. I love it, I hate it, thinking about it now makes me want to cry, the ending is sublime. I want to find my own field somewhere and a bunch of big white rocks (even as I was watching, I thought to myself, where in the world does one obtain rocks like those).  I want to remember the people who are not here anymore. The people whose absence still speaks. The people who, in their own ways, have taught me about loneliness, all unknowing.

*

This last Christmas I did my best to let go. It was actually a very good Christmas. I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with two of my favorite people, and I looked through the year’s photobook for the first time, and I spent time with Nala, and I ate well, and I Skyped with my sister.

Tree Day, however, I spent alone.

Tree Day, for me, is perhaps of an equivalent importance to Christmas Day itself. It is the first Saturday of December. It is the day I go pick out a tree and bring it home and string up the lights and decorate it. It tends to smoosh out into two days and sometimes even more.

For last Tree Day, I thought about asking around and trying to find someone who would go with me, someone who would help me carry the tree in from the car, someone who would decorate with me and perhaps even listen to the occasional memory ignited by one of the many old ornaments in my collection. I thought about it, and it was an exhausting thought, and so I just went by myself and hoped for the best, and then a neighbor I didn’t know helped me carry the tree into the apartment, and everything worked out.

I was happy because my anchor held. I could do it on my own. I could let go, and I wasn’t deeply unhappy about it. I was just a tiny bit unhappy. And I was still able to create the beauty I wished to see.

It looks like fairies live here.

It looks like fairies live here.

But I was also sad. Because I knew–because I know–that I will always want that. I will always want people I belong to and who belong to me. I will always want one or more people who will of course spend Tree Day with me because it is one of my Most Important Days. I will always want a place to be.

It’s okay. It’s okay that I will always want this and I won’t always get it. But it is also sad.

*

I want you to know the only reason I can publish this piece is that I’m not feeling particularly lonely right now.

Also, the holidays are still a safe distance away. I won’t start to feel a hollow pit of dread until at least October.

I hope you won’t feel sorry for me. I hope, instead, that you will experience some kind of resonance, reading this. That you will think of your own way of being lonely, whatever that looks like, and that perhaps its edge will be slightly dulled hearing about one of my ways. That you will gain a greater appreciation for the place you have to be, or that you will find courage in not having that place, in knowing that the not having is workable and that it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you.

That perhaps we can continue to understand each other better, you and I.

*

I spend a lot of time feeling deep gratitude towards the people who give me less obvious places to go.

I don’t know if these people know what they’re giving me. Every invitation, whether accepted or not, I gather them up and they become part of that all-important anchor. They help me remember my place in the world.

I did not have to spend Mother’s Day alone. I did not have to spend Christmas alone. I did not have to spend Thanksgiving alone. There is no price that can be put on things like this.

That Christmas, back when I was twenty-two, it had a happy ending. One of my best friends from college invited me into her home. Her entire family welcomed me and included me in all the festivities. To this day, I think about the generosity and warmth they showed me, and I tear up, and it changes how I see the world.

They didn’t have to offer me a place to go. But they did.

It meant everything to me. It still does.

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Well, nothing like a little bit of crisis to give yourself perspective.

On Saturday morning I tripped on a plastic bag on the floor of my closet and bent back my big toe. It hurt. A lot. And turned bright red. I swore. A lot. And Nala looked concerned. I put some ice on it while I talked to my friend on the phone, and I took some Ibuprofen, just to be safe. Then I carried on with my day.

It wasn’t until several hours (and several miles walked) later that I realized something was wrong. I’d gotten back to my car after attending Wesley Chu’s reading at Borderlands, and I realized my toe really hurt. It hurt so much I felt queasy. It hurt so much that as I was driving the hour home, I had to take deep breaths and use lots of willpower to not cry.

So there I am, driving home, doing some deep breathing, in terrible pain, starving, exhausted because I’d had insomnia the night before (which, incidentally, is probably why I’d tripped in the first place), and what do I think? Maybe it’s not so bad. I don’t want to tell people I’m hurt. How can I make this easier for other people?

I wish I was making that up, but I’m not. But even in my I-want-to-sink-into-a-puddle-of-tears-on-the-couch state, I reined myself in. Nope, I told myself. You need to take care of yourself. That’s all you have to manage.

This is a fairly radical thought for me to have at such a time. This injury, then, became an opportunity.

But oh, it is so hard! I hate asking for help. I hate it so much. It feels like willpower in that after I’ve asked a certain number of times for help, I feel like my ability to ask is completely depleted, and I must do the things myself. I must! Who cares about pain? Who cares about RICE? I must put this paper towel in the trash can, goddamnit.

You know what else is hard? Not apologizing. I want to apologize so badly. Especially when I’m asking for help. But I’m determined not to because I know it’s ridiculous. Even more ridiculous is my irrational certainty that people will be angry at me for being injured. You know how many people have actually been angry? ZERO. Because that would be really weird.

Be that as it may, I do see progress. The last time I had a sprained ankle, I remember sitting in my easy chair seriously panicking. I had no idea how I would manage. My mind raced from solution to solution, and they all pretty much sucked, and no matter how long I thought about it, they didn’t improve. In the end, my solution was not-so-good.

But this time there was no panic. There was physical pain, sure, along with significant mental gymnastics about the whole not-apologizing and asking-for-help thing. But I knew it would work out. I knew I would be okay. I knew people would be there for me.

Not bad for a year-and-a-half.

Then on Sunday night I had to rush Nala to the emergency vet. I left my crutches at home. I didn’t care about my crutches. I didn’t care about my toe. All I cared about was my little dog in danger.

And that was right too because it was a genuine emergency.

Anyway, we’re both fine now. Nala is in good health, and I am spending a lot of time elevating my toe. This weekend’s crises were the normal kind of blips that show up from time to time. Stressful, but manageable.

See? Both fine.

See? Both fine.

And since I’m not allowed to say sorry, I’ve been trying to say thank you a lot instead. It’s amazing how the words we choose can change an experience from one of helplessness to one of gratitude and appreciation. It’s amazing how the words we choose can change the focus from our own pain to the generosity of others.

It’s amazing how much change is possible.

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I love Disneyland.

I have not been to Disneyland since 2011 (which I think is tragic), but I’m confident I still love Disneyland. I love the surge of excitement that comes to a peak when I pass through the gates and pass under the tunnel into Main Street. I love mapping out my plan of action. I love riding the same rides I have been riding since I was a baby, or seven, or ten. I love riding the same rides over and over again.

I love how the entire park is like a gigantic show. I love the secret nooks. I love the churros. I love how light I feel, and I love how even when I’m soaking wet from Splash Mountain and I’m kind of cold and uncomfortable, I’m still happy because I am HERE, in this magical place. I love the continuity of history; I love the old rides and I love the new rides and I love remembering the rides that used to be here.

I can't find a photo of me at Disneyland, but here, have a photo of me at Disneyland Paris instead.

I can’t find a photo of me at Disneyland, but here, have a photo of me at Disneyland Paris instead.

I’ve created a Disneyland in my mind, with help from the actual one in existence, that reminds me how joy feels. The uncomplicated, pure joy that I felt when I was six years old pretending to steer a car next to my mom.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for growing up and being an adult. I like being able to make my own decisions. I like being able to protect myself. I like making my own priorities and choosing how I am going to create meaning.

But I also like that childhood joy and wonder, and it is something I strive to hold onto. Retaining a connection with that spark of magic makes my life…well, flat-out better. Looking forward to things is fun. Cultivating enthusiasm makes the same experiences more exciting. And all of this encourages gratitude.

And if you look at many of the things I feel most strongly about today, many of them are markers for that joy. They are reminders of that wonder. They are evolutions of things I have loved for a very long time. We’d play pretend Disneyland in the backyard as kids, we loved it so much. There’s a video of me, maybe four years old, “dancing” to music by walking around in a circle. I sang as soon as I could talk. I wrote as soon as I could read fluently. Once I could read, I inhaled twelve books every two weeks from the library, and then I’d start in on the Reader’s Digest condensed books that lined our bookshelves. Christmas was the most magical time of year. Getting a puppy when I was six was like a dream come true. I climbed Vernal Falls in Yosemite every year of my childhood starting when I was, what, age four? Age five? The Mist Trail, with its rainbows and delicate barriers of condensation, was as close as I could get to the fairyland of the fairy tales I read in bulk.

I’m glad I grew up, but part of the reason I feel glad is because I didn’t have to give up the essence of what mattered to me back then. I didn’t have to give up the excitement of what the next day might bring. I didn’t have to give up the wholehearted love I felt for the world around me. I didn’t have to give up the feeling that we live in a world of wonders.

Instead, I got to learn that I get to choose. It’s not that I don’t see the hard realities of the world. It’s not that I don’t see suffering, or feel it for myself. It’s not that I’m not afraid of disasters and warfare and hatred, of sickness and pain and death. It’s not that I turn a blind eye to the problems and injustices that surround us all.

I see the difficulties, the pain, the ugliness, where we fall short. But even so, I can also tap into that joy. I can remember the parts of the world, and humanity, that make improvement worth fighting for.

I can feel the hush of the evening the night before Christmas, when the tree lights shine and my heart is full and the anticipation of tomorrow hangs over me like a mantle. I can feel the love well up inside of me when I look down at the little dog, who is once more lying completely upside down with her legs sticking straight up. I can feel the full rightness of moving my body to music or singing the notes to a favorite song.

And I can visit the wishing well outside the Disneyland castle, and I can believe that magic, of a kind, can still be found all around us.

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I spend a lot of time feeling relieved.

For me, relief goes hand in hand with gratitude, so I also spend a lot of time feeling almost absurdly grateful.

I had an ex once who didn’t like it if I said anything about how lucky something was. I think he saw it as tempting fate, that if we spoke about the good things in our lives, that would somehow make them go away. I began to feel the same way, like my noticing and appreciating would be what caused something to be taken from me, snatched so rapidly it would be gone before I realized it. It wasn’t a stretch for me, this attitude, raised in constant vigilance watching for the other shoe to drop, waiting for the next crisis to hit.

But I don’t actually believe in that. I don’t think me noticing goodness, feeling grateful and lucky, means I’m more likely to lose. I think a lot of bad things that happen are kind of random, or else they’re due to choices like being a smoker or spending a lot of time driving too fast or eating nitrates, which I guess increases your risk of getting pancreas cancer. But I don’t think bad things happen because we don’t take the good ones for granted.

As for my vigilance, it’s still present. I can feel it scanning my life the way my laptop looks for a wifi connection. And it doesn’t find anything.

And it doesn’t find anything.

And it doesn’t find anything.

And I am so fucking relieved I don’t even know how to put it into words. It suffuses me until I feel almost giddy.

And my relief turns to gratitude turns to happiness because I don’t take the simplest things for granted.

Sometimes I sit on my couch at night, and I’m reading, and I’m texting, and I’m maybe watching a show. It is quiet. I feel peace steal into my heart, and then I go upstairs to bed, and it’s all simple, so completely un-noteworthy. And I am so happy about all of it. Because everything is okay, and there are no crises I have to deal with, and I can just … be.

Space

Space

I am so happy about dancing, I often don’t want to shut up about it. I stay up too late. My enthusiasm is written plain on my face and body for anyone to see. And I want to take you all by the hand, one by one, and I want to say, “Don’t you see!” Because I couldn’t dance at all–AT ALL-for years. My ankle, my knees, my back, my neck, my body was as twisted up in knots as my life was. And I couldn’t dance, and I couldn’t even afford to think about dancing because the grief would have been too much for me.

And now I get to dance every week, sometimes more, and it feels like an honest-to-God miracle. My bodyworker/trainer hugged me after our session today because he knows. He’s been working with me for five years. He says he’s never seen someone’s body turn around the way mine has. I am so relieved I want to curl up in the corner and bawl my eyes out. I’m so grateful I can hardly contain it.

It’s as if I spent my entire life living in one of those dystopic environments–Robert Silverberg’s city tower or Sondheim’s department store or Ray Bradbury’s Venus–and I’ve finally made it outside. I feel the sun warm my face, and the air tastes like fresh cold water, and everything smells like baked bread and honey. And I’m still in awe that this is even a place that exists, let alone that I get to be here.

I spend a lot of time feeling relieved. I spend more time in simple appreciation.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about grief and loss and inspiration and kindness.

How are you going to tie all of those ideas together in an essay, Amy? Yeah, I’m not really sure either. But I am going to try.

When I first checked my phone on Tuesday morning, I learned that fantasy writer Graham Joyce had died. I felt sad. Sad because many of my friends are grieving the loss of someone important to them. Sad because the one time I met Graham, he had been kind and generous to me.

Sad because then I thought about Jay, and I miss him. I don’t talk about it much. I’m not sure there’s very much to say. The sadness is here, inside of me. That’s all.

We try so hard to distract ourselves, and others, from the reality of this sadness. We want so badly to fix, to take away pain, whether it’s our own pain or somebody else’s. Distraction, cheering up, intellectual discussions about philosophical implications.

But at some point we have to stop all of that and just sit. Sit with sadness. Sit with whatever emotions there are. Turn off the fixer, because there is no fixing death. There is no fixing loss. There is no fixing of so many things.

Sometimes there is someone who is willing to sit with us so we will not be alone. But we are not always so lucky. And sometimes being alone makes it easier. Either way, at some point, the sitting must occur.

Graham Joyce’s final blog post is being widely quoted because it is brilliant. This is my favorite part:

“Actually I know what the dragonfly said.  It whispered: I have inhabited this earth for three hundred million years old and I can’t answer these mysteries; just cherish it all.

And in turn the Heron asks, with shocking clarity as it flies from right to left and left to right: why can’t our job here on earth be simply to inspire each other?”

Cherish. There is so much that is beautiful and good in the world, and it deserves the attention. It is so easy to miss seeing it; it’s so easy for it to be drowned out by the ugly and the ignorant and the damaging. But the good still matters; it keeps us going.

Inspire. We all need a hand up from time to time, or a new idea, or a fresh way of seeing. We help each other to be creative and kind and informed and engaged. We help each other to be better than we could be on our own.

Photo Credit: Eden-Lys via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Eden-Lys via Compfight cc

I’m reminded of another quote I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. It’s from E. Lockhart’s novel We Were Liars: “Be a little kinder than you have to.”

That’s it. Be a little kinder. I hear these words in my head several times a week. They help me get out of my head when I’m about to stand up for myself or deliver bad news. They help me get past the empathy response that encourages me NOT to stand up for myself, because they give me a guide for how to behave that honors that empathy while also taking care of myself. They remind me that I can be clear and firm and honest without being unnecessarily cruel.

And they encourage me to a little kinder to myself as well.

Cherish, inspire, and be a little kinder when you can. Yes. That is what I’d like to spend my life doing.

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Sometimes we experience this humbling moment: when we receive a different perspective on a problem that has been plaguing us and realize how grateful we are to have the problem at all.

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Another humbling moment: when we remember how temporary this moment is, and how fleeting a lifetime.

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And so we carry on doing the best we can. We celebrate graduations and anniversaries and birthdays. We spend time with the people we care about. We bury our feet deep into the sand, and we allow the surf to wash over us. We take the moments as they come.

Photo Credit: paul bica via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: paul bica via Compfight cc

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