Fear Factor

The Flossin Magazine cover was brightly colored with art and titled, The Almighty Dollar. I looked through it casually, flipping the pages slowly until one stopped me. FEAR, in all capitals and bright red–my lifelong frenemy. Fear was always putting its nose where it wasn’t wanted. But this time, fear asked my permission; I had to say yes.
It was an article on fear as a motivator. On the opposite page was a 5 Step Action Plan for understanding what fear was and what it meant. I immediately knew this article needed to be the provocateur for an important conversation at the next meetup of my monthly creative group.* The 5 Step Action Plan prompts were fantastic, and I knew the group would appreciate the opportunity to write out our thoughts on this exploration of our fear. Before I read the first step out loud, I decided we needed one more examination of our inner selves so that we could answer the prompts honestly and fully. I asked Colin and Hannah to write their lives alongside me. I wanted challenges, accomplishments, what made us the people we are today. There were no instructions on style, length, or format. I gave it 10 minutes on the timer. We began.
I requested that we each read our stories aloud, to help give context of what was to come in the prompts. I chose to write mine as if it were a song. I read aloud,
I am not my body. I am not what I see in the mirror. I am a spirit. I am joy. Am sorrow. Curiosity. Anger. Love. Generosity.
I am the girl who hated her body, then tolerated it, then flaunted it, then was ashamed by it. On repeat.
I am a 4-time half marathon runner.
I am a belly dancer who has commanded the stage and shimmied audiences into hypnosis.
I am a Quaker woman who appreciates the simplicity and peace-searchers in life.
I am the woman who has cried over a million tears–they have baptized me.
I have been a doormat and a victim and a fighter and a winner.
I have learned my flaws don‘t define me but they have carved me.
I am a writer who has accomplished many things and still has many words to share with the world.
I am scared and brave–I am what has grown out of the well of the two of them when they have shouted their fear and courage into each other’s faces. I am that soul child.
I dive into the unknown.
I create a community so diverse and beautiful and bizarre and inspiring. No one could write a story like mine and yet I yearn to share it with the world; I am finally understanding the width of my soul-span; I see the depth of my heart-wake. I see the crinkles and the wrinkles of my emotional intelligence. I am me.
 
In case you’re wondering, the 5 Step Action Plan prompts are as follows:

  • Keep it Real: Identify what needs to change
  • Feel the Pain: Imagine the pain of not taking action
  • Feel the Pleasure: Envision the pleasure of your end game result
  • Plan & Commit: Identify the steps needed to make an action plan
  • Do It: Stop talking and planning and just do it

 
*I run a monthly creative group called “Focus: Creative — An uplifting community focused on cultivating your creative strategy.” The participants in this group have passions and creative goals, and they want peers to bounce ideas off of, or a sounding board for an issue that they are pondering. I saw a need for this community, so I built it. A year and a half later, we have a fantastic group of creatives! If you’re interested in joining us, leave your information in the comment form or drop a comment below.

 

Tinderbeard II: Trimet Boogaloo

After an incredible round of edits from my class at PCC, I’ve rewritten Tinderbeard into an even more dramatic, harrowing, and hilarious tale. Happy reading!


Boots and bags. The flotsam and jetsam of bus life during rush hour clogged the narrow aisle leading to the back of the aging city bus where a seat between a hipster in a skintight hoodie over tightly rolled jeans and a student somewhere in middle school range waited for me, the latter’s shaggy blonde Bieber hair blowing in the wind. The student chewed on a straw and looked out the window, dreaming perhaps of one day daring to kiss a boy or girl and having no opinion of me whatsoever. Hunched perilously over his phone, to the point I was afraid he might tip over and hit his head if we stopped too quickly, the hipster fixed an annoyed look on his face with a frown and furrowed brow. I understood that this was aimed at my presence, and while also I greatly appreciate the gift of personal space on the bus, it just wasn’t happening today.

Doing my best to remain within the confines of my seat, I looked straight ahead, taking note of the distinct differences in hats, jackets, and backpacks spread out in front of me. In relative terms, I was yet an unpolished public transit commuter, always searching for the best brands and hacks to make the commuter life easier. Do you do that? Fixate on something and feel the need to take a mental straw poll to see which people around you are doing it best? It turns out I need a backpack that functions the way Mary Poppins’ does–I’m still doing my research on that one.
Often, I find myself getting lost in the faces of all these strangers, wondering how many connections are made (and lost) on public transit each day, thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to people-watch. This activity has played a large part in my dating life. Instead of sitting awkwardly across the table from a cup of coffee and a dull, glazed look in date #113’s eyes, I challenge them to call out a person and weave their life story. I can talk about myself for hours and never get tired, but I’ve learned that talking about oneself can be incredibly draining to the other party. Also, no matter how much your date is smiling and nodding, he is cringing on the inside and calling you names like Narcissistic Nina behind those eyes. Routing the conversation to a subject that is not listed on your resume is always a welcome change. Trust me, I’ve been online dating for over 10 years.
My eyes rested on an impeccably dressed African-American man who had an utterly fantastic beard. He was also wearing those giant headphones that seem to block out not only outside sound, but sights, smells, and anything else that might interrupt a podcast. Perhaps an accountant? Attorney? Hmmm…talent scout with some sort of side hustle? A few stops later, I heard the familiar beeping of the wheelchair ramp. One by one, riders in the front stood up and made room for the white-haired, wheelchair-bound woman with bags sticking out at every angle. Riders bumped into each other to step out of the way, simultaneously looking around for other seats. Several of them, including the bearded man, began heading to the far back, where there were a few seats left—where I was sitting. Grasping the opportunity to study the man closer, I put my phone in front of my face and pretended to read something very important.
It was longer than the average beard. Two silver streaks ran parallel down each side–very distinguished. Could be early forties but some people go grey in their thirties. The silver streaks seemed to flash in the sunlight, quite literally illuminating him as he stepped into the back half of the bus and took the seat on the other side of the hipster, which is when I realized who he was.
Adrenaline rushed through me as I reached out to tap him on the shoulder, further ruffling the hipster’s free-range organic feathers. HA! I hadn’t planned where I was going to go after the salutation, but my arm was already in motion. It was it too late to turn back now.

“Hey.”
He turned towards me and, clearly surprised, replied, “Oh hey you! How’s it going?”
The bus had paused at a stoplight right before the Broadway Bridge that would take us to the other side of the city. Taking advantage, Free Range stiffly stood up and stalked off, leaving a gaping hole between the bearded man and me. Making sure my curly sand-hued hair was posed perfectly on my shoulder before responding, I crossed my legs towards him and answered with slight heat in my cheeks, “Great, thanks. How’s it going with you?” Nailed it, I thought sarcastically. I noticed his eyes dipped to my chest before he responded. The barely perceptible move may have bothered me in the past. Unfortunately these days, my illusions of grandeur about finding the perfect man who didn’t objectify women were the size of a pea. 
Apparently, that was all he needed to open up a conversation. He remembered quite a bit about me: my passion for good grammar, my favorite neighborhood brunch place (we’d gone together on our first date), and that I enjoyed salsa dancing every once in a while. I was shocked at the number of details he was ticking off so casually. I remembered that he worked in IT or computers, something dough-handed like that at a company downtown-–though that second detail could be construed as a given, considering the bus’s trajectory. I guess I had made an impression on him. It made my heart corners curl up into a coy grin.
While we spoke, I sat back and observed him. He had grown out his hair and styled it differently. Small twists dotted the top of his head. I liked it. Beards have always been an attraction for me, but today his seemed especially well-coiffed. His eyes were kind and he had a welcoming smile that was slightly bucktoothed–like mine. I called mine rabbit teeth and had absolutely hated them when I was younger. I even created a character based around my teeth: Chipper the Chipmunk. Chipper could sing and dance and entertain like nobody’s business. I think I gave Chipper 101 talents so that people would overlook the teeth. Later I realized they weren’t as terrible as I had made them out to be. People tell me these days that it’s part of my charm, and I’m finally understanding what they meant.
Lightning fast, it seemed, the bus arrived at my stop. My eyes traveled up and down the aisle, at him and then away, as I gathered my things, wondering if he was interested in continuing the conversation. I had tried to make it obvious that I was disembarking by shuffling my backpack around conspicuously to see if he’d take the bait, but I didn’t hint strongly enough.

“Well.” I paused in case he wanted to interject. “Great to see you!” No dice. My bag slung over my shoulder, I lifted my body off the sticky plastic seat and waved my goodbye, immediately kicking myself for not being bold enough to say anything as soon as my Adidas hit the pavement. I wondered if he was watching as I sashayed out of sight.
When I turned the corner, I whipped out my phone and typed “Tinder” in the search bar to see if anything came up. I labeled all of my Tinder dates “Tinder so-and-so.” Tinder Adam (smoker), TInder Ben (too clingy), Tinder Christian (not clingy enough), TInder Daniel (dumb as a Chia pet, with the same hair). How else did a serial-Tinderer keep track? None of the names seemed like they fit him.
Shame me all you want, but I’d probably been on 10-13 more first dates since last summer–it shouldn’t completely come as a shock that I had no idea what his name was. And since stumbling upon him, I hadn’t stopped to ask myself if I was actually interested in this man, or if he was just going to end up being another write-up in my dating blog, just another number. Though the convenience of online dating seemed to create favorable odds, it had started to feel like shoe shopping. Five years ago I would have been horrified that I couldn’t remember his name. Now, sadly, it was practically expected.

I supposed it wasn’t meant to be, then. Neither of us had had the guts to speak up and ask the other out. Of course, I was assuming he was interested after all the things he remembered about me. Wouldn’t you? Who knows if I’d ever see him again. I had been running extremely late that day, and sometimes I took the other bus that came to my stop, and other times I went to work at 7:00 rather than 7:30…clearly this wasn’t going to turn into a thing. So I stopped trying to analyze and forgot about it.

A month later, I had missed my first two busses and was incredibly cranky on a Monday morning. I was carrying not only my backpack, but a cowboy hat and yoga mat, and I was beginning to sweat, knowing the bus was less than a minute away. My jacket half on and half off, I had run to the corner unabashedly and made it just in time for the 17 to pull up. I stormed on, breathing heavily and striding with fraudulent purpose, and headed toward the back as usual, but a silver glimmer caught my eye. It was TinderBeard! I stopped dead and did a military swivel in order to take the seat beside him. He looked at my cowboy hat pointedly and gave me The Look.

“It’s for a work event…” I trailed off, realizing that no amount of explaining would make this cowboy hat any cooler. I said it with a sheepish smile, enough to let him know he couldn’t faze me. We slipped into conversation easily once more, and I thought this HAS to be fate! We had both been running late that day, and sometimes I rode the other bus, and there had been a seat open next to him. This was totally a thing. Why are you so excited? You don’t even like him that much. Do you? What would you say if he asked you on a date? I needed to know if fate was trying to tell me something. I wanted to be wide open to the message, even if it turned out to be another flop.

He still wasn’t receiving my ESP message! Green light after green light sprinted past my eyes. Where are all the red lights when you need them?? I was definitely curious to know if he wanted to hang out again, and I was trying not to lose my nerve to do the asking before I had to get off the bus.
Our three-date Tinder saga the summer before had ended amicably enough. At the time we met, we had simply been looking for different things; I refused to pursue something that may or may not pan out. I’m very cut and dried. Tinder is for finding a relationship–stop laughing–not friends. If I don’t see it going the way of romance, I don’t seek out a further connection. I am an old fashioned girl in a digital world.
He preferred to look at it a little differently. His wish was to begin with something casual, sexually speaking, and if it turned into something else, great. If not, a bed buddy was just as good. I had declined his polite offer. But all had ended in what felt like friendship, though we never saw each other again.

And yet…it seemed like I should do something about this situation. It had been dropped in my lap so…casually, so…obviously, so…intentionally?
It was do or die time. We were three blocks from departure.

“Well.” I paused. “Let me know if you ever want to hang out!” I offered. I couldn’t bear to put it in the form of a question. This way he had an easy out, and didn’t have to respond yes or no to my face.

To my surprise, he quickly replied, “Sure, but I don’t have your number anymore.” I whipped out my phone and typed his number in.

Several hours later I texted him. I wasn’t sure what to say, exactly, about his name having left my head many months before. Smiling to myself and realizing I had absolutely nothing to lose, I wrote, “This is Becky from the bus this morning. I have to admit…I have forgotten your name.” Blushing smile emoji.

smile
Two words in response: “Thank God.” I released a sigh from deep within and continued to read, “Me too, and I was going to play it off until you texted me.” Laughter emoji.
The best relationships are built on honesty. Maybe this could be the beginning of something. Did it have to be a dating thing? What if it just floated out there, unknown but still having form? Maybe I could afford to be a little less cut and dried this time.
 

TinderBeard

Hello! It’s been a while since I’ve written anything for This Curious Universe. For those who have read my work consistently over the years and have reached out, I am so appreciative of your support and encouragement. I am still Curious! Life just happens at a speed faster than I can run some days, and sadly, extracurricular creativity can be shoved to the side because it fits easily under the laundry…the dishes…grocery store…you understand.
These days, outside of my day job as an events and communications associate, my writing energy has been moving in the direction of fiction. Though I consider myself more of a nonfiction writer, I find incredible value in taking courses across the board at Portland Community College. For the last two terms, I’ve been taking Elements of Fiction. That’s right—same course, same teacher, two terms in a row. The instructor, Wes Griffith, is funny, empathetic, highly motivational, well-read, and downright magnificent. I presented this latest piece last week in class. I recieved creative, useful feedback and can’t wait to sit down and dive into the changes.
And so I present my latest, as yet unedited, based on true events, short fiction: TinderBeard

Boots, bags, the flotsam and jetsam of bus life clogged the narrow aisle leading to the back of the city bus where a seat between a hipster in a skintight hoodie and a student somewhere in middle school range waited for me. The student chewed on a straw and looked out the window, dreaming perhaps of one day kissing a girl and having no opinion of me whatsoever. Hunched perilously over his phone, to the point I was afraid he might tip over if the bus stopped too quickly, the hipster fixed an annoyed look on his face with a frown and furrowed brow. While I understood greatly that personal space was the most prized possession on the bus, it wasn’t happening today.
TriMet D40LFR bus
Doing my best to remain within the confines of my seat, I looked straight ahead, taking note of the distinct differences in hats, jackets, and backpacks. In relative terms, I was yet an unpolished commuter, always searching for the best brands and life hacks to make the commuter life easier. Do you do that? Get fixated on something and feel the need to take a mental straw poll to see which people around you are doing it best? Often, I find myself getting lost in the faces of all these strangers, wondering how many missed connections are made on public transit each day.
My eyes rested on an African-American man who had an utterly fantastic beard. He was also wearing those giant headphones that seemed to block out not only outside sound, but sights, smells, and anything else that might interrupt a podcast.
A few stops later, I heard the familiar beeping of the wheelchair ramp. One by one, riders in the front stood up and made room for the wheelchair-bound woman who was boarding. Several of them began heading to the far back, where there were a few seats—where I was sitting. Grasping the opportunity to study the beard closer, I put my phone in front of my face and pretended to read something very important. It was longer than the average beard. It had two silver streaks running parallel down each side–very distinguished. The silver beard streaks seemed to flash in the sunlight as he stepped into the back half of the bus and took the seat on the other side of the hipster, which is when I realized who he was.
Adrenaline rushed through me as I reached out to tap him on the shoulder, further ruffling the hipster’s free-range organic feathers. (You like that? I just thought of that one all on my own.)
“Hey.”
He turned towards me and, clearly surprised, replied, “Oh hey you! How’s it going?”
The bus had paused at a stoplight right before the bridge that would take us to the other side of the city. Taking advantage, the hipster stiffly stood up and stalked off, leaving a gaping hole between the bearded man and I. Making sure my light brown curly hair was posed perfectly on my shoulder before responding, I crossed my legs towards him and answered with slight color in my cheeks, “Great, thanks. How’s it going with you?”  Nailed it, I thought to myself sarcastically. Couldn’t think of anything more creative?
Apparently that was all he needed to open up a conversation. He remembered quite a bit about me: my passion for good grammar, my favorite neighborhood brunch place (we’d gone together the first time we met), and that I enjoyed salsa dancing every once in a while. I was shocked at the amount of details he was ticking off so casually. I remembered that he worked in IT/computers/something dough-handed like that at some company downtown–though that second detail could be construed as a given, considering the bus we were riding on. I guess I had made an impression on him! It made my heart corners curl up into a coy grin as the exchange continued.
His hair was longer than I remembered. Small twists dotted the top of his head. I liked the new style. The beard had always been an attraction for me, but today it seemed especially well-coiffed. His eyes were kind and he had a welcoming smile that was slightly bucktoothed–like mine. I called mine rabbit teeth and absolutely hated them when I was younger. Now people tell me it’s part of my charm. I finally understood what they meant.
Lightning fast, it seemed, the bus arrived at my stop. My eyes travelled up and down the aisle, at him and then away, as I gathered my things, self-consciously wondering if he was interested in continuing the conversation. I had tried to make it obvious that I was disembarking, to see if he’d take the bait and ask me out, but I didn’t hint strongly enough.
“Well, great to see you!” My bag slung over my shoulder, I lifted my body off the plastic seat and waved my goodbye, immediately kicking myself for not being bold enough to say anything as soon as my Adidas hit the pavement.
When the bus had cleared from view, I whipped out my phone and typed in “Tinder” to see if anything came up. I labeled all of my Tinder dates “Tinder John,” Tinder Christian, (In case you’re wondering, yes I most certainly do sing Sister Christian in my head every time I saw that name.) Tinder Richie… How else did a serial-Tinderer keep track? None of the names seemed like they fit him. Shame me all you want, but I’d probably been on 10-13 more first dates since last summer–it shouldn’t completely come as a shock that I had no idea what his name was.
I supposed it wasn’t meant to be, then. Neither of us had had the guts to speak up and ask the other out (Of course, I was assuming he was interested after all the things he remembered about me. Wouldn’t you?), and who knows if I’d ever see him again. I had been running extremely late that day, and sometimes I took the other bus that came to my stop, and sometimes I went to work at 7:00 rather than 7:30…clearly this wasn’t going to turn into a thing.
Until a month later. I had missed my first two busses and was incredibly cranky that Monday morning. I was carrying not only my backpack, but a cowboy hat and yoga mat as well. My jacket half on and half off, I had run to the corner unabashedly and made it just in time for the 17 to pull up. I stormed onto the bus, breathing heavily with purpose and headed toward the back as usual, but a silver glimmer caught my eye. It was TinderBeard! I stopped dead and did a military swivel in order to take the seat beside his. He looked at my cowboy hat pointedly and gave me The Look.
“It’s for a work event…” I trailed off, realizing that no amount of explaining would make this cowboy hat any cooler. I said it with a sheepish smile though, enough to let him know he couldn’t faze me. We slipped into conversation easily once more, and I thought that it HAD to be fate! We had both been running late that day, and sometimes I rode the other bus, and there had been a seat open next to him. This was totally a thing.
He still wasn’t receiving my ESP message! Traffic light after traffic light darted past my eyes. I was dying to know if he wanted to hang out again, and I was trying desperately not to lose my nerve to do the asking before I had to get off the bus. Our three-date love saga last summer had ended amicably enough. At the time we met, we had simply been looking for different things; I refused to pursue something that may or may not pan out. He looked at it a little differently. His wish was to begin with something casual, sexually speaking, and if it turned into something more serious, great. If not, a casual bed buddy was just as good. I was a little more old fashioned, and so had declined his polite offer. But all had ended in what felt like friendship, though we never saw each other again.
It was do or die time. We were three blocks from departure.
“Well…let me know if you ever want to hang out!” I offered.
Immediately he replied, “Sure, but I don’t have your number anymore.” I whipped out a piece of paper and scribbled as he recited his number to me.
Several hours later I texted him. I wasn’t sure what to say, exactly, about his name having left my head many moons ago. Smiling to myself, I wrote, “This is Brandy from the bus this morning. I hate to admit this, but I have forgotten your name.”
Two words in response: “Thank God.” I released a sigh from deep within and continued to read, “I forgot yours too, and was going to play it off until you texted me.”
Great relationships are built on honesty. This could be the beginning of a beautiful thing, TinderBeard.
 
 
 

The Voice

Yesterday I woke up and walked into the living room where two adorable but devilish towheaded Venezuelan/Norwegian preteen sleepyheads began shushing me so that they could go back to sleep on my couch.
“It’s so early, Tia,” one of them muttered. I wanted to remind them sooo badly about every time I’d slept over at their place, trying to ignore the inevitable as their curious heads bobbed over me at 5:15 AM, “whispering” about a fingernail’s distance from my ear to see if I was awake yet.
Sweet voices saying, “Mommy said not to wake her up,” “I want some milk,” “Go see if she’s awake yet.” “Tia, are you awake yet?” I’m awake. But now that the tides had turned, they weren’t having any of it.
So instead of shoving them off my couch, I made eggs, put on my running tights and shoes, and gathered the rest of my gear while their angel of a mother finally succeeded in getting them out of bed. This is why I like being the auntie. I get all the fun of sleepovers with the littles, but mom is there to put her foot down while I get the luxury of making my eggs in relative peace.
Shortly after my adopted herd left, I met up with Chrissy at our regular spot.
“You know we’re doing the whole thing today, right? No backing down. We’re doing the loop,” meaning once we crossed over the bridge, we had arrived at the point of no return. On this particular route, if you ran the out and back way, it was approximately 7.5 miles. If you were brave enough to get to the bridge and decide to keep on going, you would cash in at just until 9 miles. Ugh. I knew we had to do it. Chrissy was training for her next half marathon and I…I just needed a running buddy, and I was enough of a glutton for punishment to agree to this weekly torture. Don’t get me wrong, I like running. I even sometimes get that runner’s high. And it’s fantastic to be able to spend two hours catching up with my friend, since we very rarely see each other outside of running. But there is a lot of that two hours where I’d really like to be sleeping or watching TV. Funny how something so miserable on your body and mind as running can dig into your soul and refuse to let go, no matter how much you beg it. Yep. Running is like that.

glam trailhead

Our glamorous trailhead at Springwater Corridor


So we ran. And ran. And ran. The sun came out and I started sweating. I peeled off my layers while Chrissy kept her two long sleeved ones firmly on. We got to the bridge and didn’t even want to give ourselves the chance of forfeit, so we kept on. We chatted about work, my dating life, her kids, group gossip, and when the bridge that would lead us to the end appeared, we gave yelps of hallelujah and ran on.
When I got home, I had a few hours to stretch and get ready for my next event. I was going to a wedding reception. I groaned because I knew this would require heels. Let me tell you something, ladies. No one tells you that when you start running, your feet will never again look as pretty as they once were. I have a bunion that I’ve named Bert, and he was not at all pleased that I had to put on my tight black ankle booties. But it had to be done. Weddings are a great place to meet available men, right? I had to be at least tall enough to see them while I stood in the crowd, wiping my eyes over my friends’ nuptials. Bert expressed his frustration with me the moment I got out of the car, so I didn’t stay as long as I’d have liked to, but at least I got to drop off my gift, hug the happy couple, and scan the crowd for eligible bachelors before hobbling away.
Upon returning home for the second time that day, I set about organizing the rest of my day. I had an application for a summer writing workshop due at midnight that evening. I had started two of the three parts, but they were far from being finished, and demanded several hours’ work. I also had to start making the bone broth, which is quite the process. It was my inaugural voyage on such a process, but I had my faithful first mate, Lisa, with me to help. (…I’ll be honest, she pretty much did the whole thing.) This included taking out the chicken that we’d cooked for the broth, shredding it for our “healthy” nachos, then putting back all the inside parts and using that as the stock base. Dinner was an ungodly level of amazing, but I couldn’t really enjoy it since I had to throw the dishes into the sink the second I was done and get to work on the fourth and final project of the evening: an application to the Tin House Summer Workshop. It was the last night before the application was due, but to be fair I had only just learned about it two weeks prior, and in those two weeks I’d also been researching Master’s Degree programs. Suffice it to say, I had a few things going on.
Sans nap, and too late for any additional caffeine, I was struggling. My body was saying No, no, no! You ran nine miles! You deserve a break! My mind was saying You’ve got this, tiger!! Thank God I allowed the mind to win, though I really didn’t have a choice in the matter. The deadline was midnight and it was well past 8:00 PM. I cracked open my computer and hopped to it.
I finished the application with an hour and 12 minutes to spare. I went to bed and laid there WIDE AWAKE because my adrenaline was so high. Today I’m taking my caffeine intravenously.
*
I have this voice that talks down to me sometimes. It questions my worth. It questions my life choices, job choices, actions. It questions everything. It mocks me when I’m down. I hate that I even acknowledge it, but I do. I don’t feel like I’m enough.
And then I have a day like this, where I can honestly say I used every single second to move myself forward towards a better Becky. Every single second. I bet even CEOs can’t say that all the time. So I lift my head up and thank myself for being exactly who I was meant to be.

Community in Chocolate

Eight years ago we forged a friendship over running. Six years ago I ran my first half marathon with Alicia at my side. Four years ago Erin, Alicia, and I began this journey of the Hot Chocolate Run. And this year, we chose once again to foster our community through our love of running…and chocolate. This race is no joke; we a run 15k (9.3 miles) on brutal hills and questionable weather. It’s truly one of the hardest races we’ve ever done–so why do we keep coming back? Because after running that demented race, we get UNLIMITED chocolate. Drinking chocolate, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and amazing chocolate-flavored gear. Oh, and we get a tech sweatshirt and a plethora of scrumptious swag in addition to all deliciousness.
Go ahead and let that sink in and let me know if you want to join us next year.

20180302_112209

Upon arrival at the hotel, March 2, 2018. READY FOR CHOCOLATE!


So this morning, three friends left bright and early and headed north. We’ve traveled together up and down the west coast, from San Diego to Seattle and east to Bend. These ladies are my running rock stars.


When you reach your thirties, there is a level of entertainment that shifts. Whereas we used to go out on Saturday nights and do body shots, shake our booties, bring home boys, and wake up feeling like we swallowed metal-spiked hairballs laced with arsenic, now we recognize a more…sophisticated palate. Instead of body shots, we train our bodies to run for miles. Instead of staying up all night, we pass out at a reasonable hour and get a few amazing nights of sleep. We try unique restaurants and giggle for hours.
And I’m digging it. I love the traditions we’ve created: our yearly brunch at Toulouse Petit for their incredible Cajun food, the trip to the flagship Nordstrom to devour the fashionable deals, and all the adventure walks we take along the way. Of course we always stay at the adorable Maxwell Hotel, which happens to be right next to Key Arena/Space Needle AND the finish line.
Community. Chocolate. Bliss.

Shorts :: Full Circle

This is the second short story I wrote at “The Next Season” writing retreat at Hidden Lake Retreat in Eagle Creek, Oregon. It was inspired by the picture below, and got a few laughs when I read it aloud. I hope I’m half as sassy when I’m their age.

Women Wearing Colorful Bathing Caps
Photo courtesy of Pinterest

 
In the era we grew up in, it wasn’t expected for us to be giddy in this next step. In our time, we were supposed to be somber grannies, holding our breath every second until the grandchildren burst through the heavy door of the house that Edgar and I designed ourselves.
Happiness was not to be ours once our partners passed. By the time I hit retirement, I was supposed to be a semi-professional in knitting and cross-stitch, staring at the picture of my wedding day that hung over the television while making scarves with soft wool.
Instead I am a competitive synchronized swimmer in the group we named the Gorgeous Grand-Goddesses. You didn’t expect that, did you? Did you know we have two gold medals and a bronze? No, not the Olympics—Regional Championships. After all, we’re in our seventies and our bodies do have their limitations.
Long before Edgar passed, the girls and I decided to bunk together once our husbands all made the long trip south.
It wasn’t the plan to end up here, but we decided that my house worked best. It was plush with the warmth of familial love and welcomed the other two girls with open arms.
We each had our own bedroom to decorate as well as a training room. Jane Fonda videos, resistance bands, and yoga mats float among pictures of the Grand-Goddesses and yes, some cross-stitch. That’s Mary’s area; I fought it briefly before compromising with her: if they were cross-stitches of Pierce Brosnan or any of the Beatles, they could stay.
She refused my suggestions, and so we ended up with posters of the Beatles on one side and framed beach scenes on the other, an echo of the debates I had with my husband. And yet, here we are, giddy.

Old Flames, Rekindled

This weekend, as on many weekends in the summer, I went berry picking with friends. Spencer, my favorite new coworker, picked me up early on a Sunday and we headed west towards the land of plentiful berries and wine. I look forward to Oregon’s U-Pick berries every year, but this was Spencer’s first time. I couldn’t wait to have his review of the experience.

Though we are new friends, we’re getting to know each other by leaps and bounds, partaking in many lunchtime walks together and a lot of giggles. As fast friends, I became comfortable being 100% Becky early on, so at some point in the car ride, I sang a few verses of a song that was on the stereo.
“Hey, you’ve got a voice!” He commented. Indeed I do! There is no possible way I could escape the house of Swank without having formed some sort of singing voice; my parents were both constantly belting out tunes of all kinds in my formative years. I heard folk songs, hymns, jingles of favorite NPR shows, you name it. My sister and I were always encouraged to join in. We sang in church here and there as well. Whether or not I was any good, I hadn’t thought about in years, but I was glad to know my “training” had held up.
We got to the fields at Rowell Bros. and began filling our buckets, and I swiftly tucked the singing into the back of my mind. Though he had forgotten his sunscreen and hadn’t had time to eat, Spencer appeared to be having a great time. I was in my little corner of heaven, moving methodically through the berry bushes, dumping handfuls into my bucket. I had to stop myself before I hit five pounds of blueberries, though I could have easily gone for more. We hopped next door to Smith Berry Barn in hopes to finding some marionberries, but left with a flat of gorgeous blackberries instead. Not such a terrible compromise.
Afterwards, we loaded our berries in the car and drove towards home. Spencer asked me, “Do you know that song from Frozen… “Love is an Open Door?” I answered that I was sure I’d heard it in the movie but didn’t know it by heart. He responded not with words, but by bringing up the lyrics on his phone and turning on his Spotify to the Frozen soundtrack. “It’s a duet.” We both smiled.
And so it began. The first time I stumbled through, not knowing the pauses and speaking parts, of which there are several. But I loved it! As soon as the song ended, I asked him to play it again. He grinned, knowing I was hooked. “You sound really good!” He said excitedly. The second time around we really got in sync. The third time was better yet!
I felt exhilarated. I’ve always been a musical person, whether expressing that through singing in the kitchen, playing piano (9 years of lessons!), trumpet (5 years!), or most recently, by belly dancing and adding flair to my twirls at the salsa club. Music runs in my veins. I hadn’t meant to stifle the singer in me…I had learned new hobbies, focused on other things as I got older. I hadn’t realized how happy it made me until I was reminded so joyously.
How amazing it feels to have stumbled back upon something that makes me so happy! And how about you? You can find a flame, whether it’s something completely new or an old one you’ve let go. Blow gently, feed it some love. If the flame ignites into a fire, take the opportunity to cultivate it and see where it goes. Let me know what you (re)discover this summer.

Bridging the Gap

“You should go for it!” Claudia said after we had shimmied our hearts out. I was sweaty and utterly exhausted, and had no patience for whatever she was babbling about. She gestured excitedly to the poster hanging on the studio wall. The large, colorful advertisement shouted at me: One day, six workshops! Sepiatonic presents Samba, Bollywhack, Expanding Movement, Afro-pop Fusion, Waacking & Vogue Fusion, and Isolation Drill Bits…We are Bridging the Gap! “There is still scholarship money available!” She told me gleefully. The application involved several essay questions and a video audition. “Oh,” Claudia mentioned quasi-casually, “and the application deadline is tonight.” How in the world did she think I was qualified for this kind of scholarship? I’d never even heard of half of these dance styles! And how would I stand out among so many talented dancers? I imagined them all recording their auditions on a stage in front of a live orchestra, finger cymbals winking in the spotlight and $900 costumes flashing to the sound of the audience’s ooohs and ahhhs, while my audition would most likely consist of me in my clammy workout gear in my living room.
Bridge the gap
But Claudia never doubted me, even when I had little faith in myself. She had been my belly dance teacher now for over eight years. Yemaya had been my first mentor, and the one who helped instill solid muscle memory and strength in me. Several years ago, when she moved out of the country and I expressed panic at losing her—just when I was beginning to perform—she reassured me that a new teacher would guide my dance education from then on. Claudia had been nothing short of amazing. In addition to the solo performances I had already taken on, duet, and troupe performances had been checked off under her watch. I built my style, and learned to better understand my strengths and weaknesses during her classes. I also admired her insistence on learning from a variety of teachers—she was all about building the self through a community. She knew my uncertainties and apprehensions almost better than I did… so I tried to trust her conviction in my ability.
I went home and thought about it, determined to make a decision that was based on fact, not fear. Normally I would have pushed all hopeful thoughts out of my mind and gone to bed, making excuses of why I couldn’t do this. I’m tired. It’s too late to submit. I’m not qualified. What was bridging the gap, anyway? I Googled the group’s website: Bridge the Gap is a way to stay connected, to collaborate, to innovate, to celebrate diversity, and to keep making art and growing community in these fearful times of oppression. The more that different artists, thinkers, feelers, and awake people of our communities unite, the stronger of a power we are against forces that strive to annihilate free-thinking, passionate creativity, and diverse and alternative lifestyles in our country. It sounded like something magical and daring… It sounded fantastic…it sounded like it could be perfect for me. My dance community was wonderful but small, and expanding mine could only build me up as a dancer and a human being. Suddenly, I knew I needed to do this.
I started with the essay questions. I’m excellent at tests, especially long form writing ones. I considered each question, and wrote each answer with loving intention in my heart, excited to share my passion for dance and the experiences it had provided me up to this point. Then, the video. I propped up my phone, pressed play, and performed my best 30-second belly dance/Latin fusion that I could muster after two solid hours of dance class and a full day of work. I watched it, then re-watched it at least three times, then re-recorded it at least three times, then took a deep lungful of air—don’t forget to breathe—and clicked send on the application.
A few days later I received a reply. I opened it nervously. I had submitted my application literally at the eleventh hour. Was it possible I actually got in? I had to read it twice for it to truly sink in. I had won a scholarship—for the full day of dance!
I walked in that Sunday feeling terribly nervous and only somewhat physically prepared. I had packed way too many snacks and not enough confidence, but it didn’t matter. I was here now, and the embarrassment of running out the door trumped embarrassing myself in the classroom. First up: samba. I had taken a few samba classes over the years, but I was absolutely overwhelmed by this style. My arms were on fire after the first few rounds of choreography and my feet were constantly playing catch-up, but I grinned through the sweat. Overall, I was keeping up! I could do this! The smile didn’t leave my face for the rest of the day.
Bollywhack was next. Kumari Suraj is a force, a stunning, feminine presence that I was immediately attracted to. As a curvy woman, I was ecstatic at the sight of someone larger than a size two teaching the class. It turns out that this combination of Bollywood (The dance form used in Indian films) and Waacking (Waack/Punk is a form of dance created in the LGBT clubs of Los Angeles during the 1970s) was exactly what I needed to experience. I instantly fell in love with the crisp, energetic movements introduced by two seemingly opposite styles of dance, but it worked, and Kumari stole a piece of my heart. Following were Afro-pop Fusion, Expanding Movement, Waack and Vogue Fusion, and the last, which unfortunately I had to miss due to a previous commitment, Isolation Drill Bits. The workshops made me feel weightless. Nothing mattered but the movements, and my physical body was almost secondary to the energy and spirit I exuded.
This community of dancers was a diverse one—not only belly dancers, but those who samba, waack, vogue, play, flounce, whirl. People who aren’t one type of beautiful. Men with giant braided ponytails of hair, flinging them madly, within dangerous distances of other dancers. A big and beautiful dancer like me, who astounded the crowd and made me want to rip out my eyeballs and send them away with her, to continually watch her dazzling generosity of movement and flair. These people were all so human, so robust, boisterous, and raw. I could read it in their eyes; they proudly polluted the definition of societal allure.
My definition of what a dancer is has forever been altered. There is nothing like the rush of power I feel when I move to the ancient Middle Eastern music. Belly dance makes me forget to feel self-conscious and be proud of who I am; I forget to crave the comforting stability of the status quo. Dance obliterates my worries and wraps me in a bubble of protection that I yearn to hold on to in my everyday life.
A dancer of stunning feminine essence was born in a basement studio. My name is Maysam Janan, meaning beautiful heart and soul, and dance has set my heart on fire. Shaky or strong, my breath keeps the fire going, and the community I continue to build will hold me up when I can’t fuel it alone.

Over and Over Again

Renowned martial artist Bruce Lee described the opponent he was most wary of: “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” In my astrological opinion, you should regard that as one of your keystone principles during the next 12 months. Your power and glory will come from honing one specific skill, not experimenting restlessly with many different skills. And the coming weeks will be an excellent time to set your intention. – Rob Brezsny
It’s a theme that is so common in every thread of life: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
I hear it every week in belly dance class. My instructor and dear friend, Claudia, is unyielding in her insistence that you can take a set of simple moves and make them incredible with a metric ton of practice and a heavy helping of personality.
I can drill with the best of them. I love it. I could shimmy for hours; hone my taksim and maya for days. Add in that personality or emotional factor, however, and I crumble. Showing my vulnerability is one of my biggest fears. To show your vulnerability is terrifying, but essential to being a whole dancer. It’s what gives the dance tarab. Tarab is the climax of a feeling derived from hearing music expressing an intense emotion. I struggle with this, because I love belly dance with a passion; I want to be a complete dancer—tarab and all. I feel these emotions with the music and the movement, but somehow I can’t set them free into the universe, because that would open me up to something incredibly scary. The audience would see the raw, naked parts of me. It’s the gift of imperfection. It’s what makes us relate to other humans. But I always seem to see it as a gag gift. To her credit, Claudia never gives up on me. She just makes me do it again and again. If we dance for an hour and she sees one glimpse of my wall breaking down, she knows it can happen another time, and she encourages me to get back up and expose myself again. I am a dancer. Music and movement are my passion, and no amount of failure will make me stay down, because I yearn to cultivate this gift of mine.
Dating…I cannot count the number of times I’ve been stood up, “ghosted,” or rejected. If you’ve ever tried online dating, you know the frustration that can build so easily. Greater quantity does not necessarily mean better quality. I’ve met some true gems, but the timing wasn’t right or our schedules didn’t match up. Do I sit at home and cry about it? Yes. But then I get back up and try again. I set up yet another date to meet someone new, holding out hope that my person is out there. I am strong, smart, beautiful, and deserve to be loved. I am love.
America has felt over and over the hate that comes from fear. We see people killed for reasons beyond our comprehension. Hate crimes, terrorism, crimes of passion. It is a scary time in our existence. We easily fall down rabbit holes of depression and distress, struggling to get back up.  Should we give up, let ourselves sink back down to the darkness forever? No. We repeat our mantras of love and acceptance. We recognize that there is a purpose for the light and the dark, and search for a balance. We get to know our neighbors. Sometimes I falter at knowing what I can do for my brothers and sisters of the world. But I can start with something small—holding each of us in the light. That is what my Quaker faith taught me to do—understand that there is that of God in every person, no matter what they have done or who they are. I can start there. Wash, rinse, repeat.
If my one, time-tested impeccable “kick” turns out to be sharing my love with you, then I am honored to try, try again, with every blog I post and every action I take, whether that be writing a few words, sharing my passion for dance, or practicing loving kindness, expecting nothing in return.
love

Soul Tsunami

Cyclone Winston flattened Koro Island, Fiji last month. Lower areas were flooded by huge waves, trees were stripped, and houses blew into hundreds of pieces. Forty four people didn’t make it out alive, most because of flying debris.
Back at home, three events occurred around me. Though not as serious as a cyclone, they sure felt like it—and one of these events was LITERALLY followed by a dream about an ocean storm! The debris hit me right in my tender spot. I’ll be honest—it doesn’t take much to bruise me there—it’s a spot that’s forever delicate. Like any vulnerability, it doesn’t take much to bring about further injury, and once the pain starts, it’s hard to stop.
There are times when that downward spiral has me twisted so tight, nothing can penetrate. That’s where I was headed when the debris started flying. I exploded, and then I cried and cried. Those tears washed over me and felt as though they would never stop. I had two dear friends with me who did just the right thing—they didn’t try to stop the tsunami, they just let the tears fall, holding my hands and assuring me it was okay to feel that way, that I could let the waves surge without fear.
The one realization that came out of the events was that I didn’t speak my mind when I began to have that tightness in my chest. I do this—I hold my tongue. I don’t know why. I have a voice. I have just as much right to use my words as anyone else. I matter as much as every other person here. Why is it, sometimes, I just can’t get myself to speak up? Why am I frozen in silence? I tell myself it’s better not to rock the boat. But here’s the thing. When you rock the boat, it makes waves. No one can know where those waves are going to go and what will be affected. They may bring destruction; they may wash something ashore. No matter what, this is the truth: destruction leads to rebirth. Cleansing leads to new growth.

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Kali Ma—the goddess of change


Courtesy of http://ramamaya.blogspot.com/
What if I used my voice all the time?
What if I let the fear drip off and the words come out like the sun from behind the clouds?
Am I afraid no one would love me? Am I afraid I won’t like who I am?
I’m a sister, a daughter, a friend, a dancer, a runner, a writer…but WHO AM I? What am I all about? I know it’s in there…I must let the tsunami roar out of me, Naked and Afraid, but willing to be exposed.
What if I took a pause and thought about what I wanted, instead of pandering to those alongside me? Stood on top of my fear and spoke my mind, even if it wasn’t the popular decision? Many people that know me would probably say I rarely fit into the status quo, that I dodge convention in a multitude of ways, and that I appear confident doing so.
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It’s true, I do embrace the weird, but I think this is only the outer shell of me. Deep inside, where the real Becky lies, I still have layer upon layer of hidden potential and a philosophy and moral center to uncover. I want to open my eyes—all three of them—and let that wall I’ve built crumble down and wash away in my tsunami…even if it means allowing my imperfect side out to play, crying in front of friends, or going against the grain.
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So.
What would be crushed in that tsunami?
What would be swept away?
What would be cleansed, fresh for the next adventure?
What would become whole again, bringing new life?
I ask you to explore this with me. Ask yourself, in your core, who are you? Who are the people who know the true you? What would they say? Do you have an outer shell that most people can’t penetrate? Please share your experiences or comments below.