Light in the Dark

My body lay perfectly still in savasana (also known as corpse pose). Like a comforting afghan, the weight shrouded my body completely, from my core outwards to my extremities. I could sense pressure even at the tips of my fingers, but my breath was comfortable, balanced. I wasn’t afraid, yet from the start of our first pose my curiosity had been ignited, so I still held the slightest tension in my chest and an odd awareness that I wasn’t used to having during this part of my yoga practice.

This was exactly what was meant to happen, though I wasn’t yet aware of it. I was diving into the curious through the stillness, and I welcomed the wonder it stirred within my questioning soul.

Full Moon Solstice 2018 | photo credit Becky Swank

Beginning

It was the longest night of 2018—Winter Solstice—and adjacent to a full moon, which, according to our guides for the night, was particularly auspicious. The room was warm, both in temperature and adornment. Autumn colors of fiery orange, burnt ochre, buttery yellow, and regal purple embellished the walls and windows; twinkling lights framed the doorway. Fifteen men and women began settling down onto yoga mats alongside blankets and water bottles as the two guides introduced themselves.

The first, Karen, described what we would be doing during her session: entering the stillness. Together we would be exploring the shadows—the other side of light, the inside out—in order to reveal what the dark had to offer and to prepare our personal welcomes for the returning light.

She led us to stand, form a ring of clasped hands, and close our eyes. Strong and fluid, a song slid into my ears like tiny ripples. It flowed in and out of the spaces between us, encircling our hearts and lifting our spirits as we followed the lead and joined in as a whole. The lyrics conveyed healing and unity, and I felt myself slipping into a calmer state, warmly thinking of the people in the room, though most of them were strangers to me.

As it ended, a reflective silence spread palpably over all of us. Karen waited until the fidgeting subsided and we were comfortable on our mats once more. Then, she led us in a guided meditation that filled my body with peace and gratitude.

Katrina’s session was a more physical representation of meditation and was a powerful reminder that breath is so much more than inhale-exhale-repeat. Breathing is full of dynamic energy, she explained, a vigorous reminder that we are alive.

Katrina is an incredible yoga teacher who specializes in pranic breathing and other energy flow techniques. I was a little foggy-headed from the stillness of Karen’s session, but soon, the guided energetic breathing brought me back into focus and into an intriguing and hypnotic headspace.

Initially, we breathed deeply in patterns, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in our space together. Then we were standing up and “holding” energy between our open palms, moving it around our bodies and filling the room. At first I was simply enjoying the movement, taking note of how my body felt with each bend and sway. Then something interesting happened. The trance-like state took over completely, and with each movement, I began to feel an increasingly voracious desire to interact with this energy. I could feel it now, seeing striations in a shape taking form. I had never experienced anything like this before, though I have most certainly felt the rejuvenating power of chi and pranic breathing.

When savasana started, I had that covetous itch that always begs for the perfect last pose. I get that tickle of fear that says, Don’t get too comfy on this mat, little girl. Before you know it, the lights will turn on and you will lose all of this and be back in the real world.

But that didn’t happen. It was the longest, most fulfilling savasana of my life. I was able to fully surrender, and that’s when I felt the weight begin to stretch over me, when my breathing had slowed and was calm; when I released all expectation.

End

Later that evening, I asked Katrina about the physical sensation I had felt during savasana. She looked at me, surprised, and asked me to explain further. I described it and said that it was different from my past experiences, such as crying or having rushes of emotion during corpse pose. In fact, I’ve experienced this many times and have felt it cathartic and comforting (after I researched it and found that I was not a complete weirdo for having these outbursts…in fact it is quite common after a powerful yoga class). But this was new. Katrina then told me that this was a phenomenon that sometimes happened to those who are truly able to drop into their yoga. It is the “weight” of the session waiting to be fully absorbed; it’s the ultimate act of conscious surrender; is it true yoga nidra:

“In yoga nidra, the first experience to be awakened is the feeling of heaviness. Physical heaviness is a whole body sensation which accompanies deep musculo-skeletal relaxation. For deep seated tensions and contractions within the network of postural muscles, the instructions “your body feels so heavy that it is sinking into the floor” acts as a command from the brain, encouraging them to ‘let go’ and release their residual burden. Only then is the total weight of the body surrendered completely into the earth, producing the distinct experience that the body is actually merging with the surface on which it is lying.” –Yoga Magazine

And so I found myself having the most transformative night of yoga in my life under a full moon on the darkest day following a few dark months (Being laid off, having both parents in the hospital, experiencing the growing pains of several relationships, etc.). I took the deepest of breaths in and exhaled my immense gratitude for this night.



A D*#&@^ Named Gary

“A Douche Named Gary” is a piece I wrote for my fiction class at Portland Community College. Feel free to send me any critiques or suggestions. I really had fun writing this piece; I hope you enjoy!*
Perhaps there’s a disembodied soul twin up there in the great unknown, designing my next plot twist—an effort to create an arc from the cause and effect that flows through my narrative like salmon hurling themselves up the fish ladder to reach something they can’t see but know is their destiny. I feel like I’ve been hurling myself towards something for years, but I’ve never been able to precisely pinpoint the end game. I was dragged around in the same whirlpool for ages with the same fish, and then the universe abdicated that program quite abruptly. No effort on my part; no disassembly required; no cessation guide.
nathan-dumlao-491801-unsplash
Sometimes I wish She really was up there doing the heavy lifting, writing my destiny for me, but that would take away the roller coaster of fun that is free will, now wouldn’t it? I imagine the author’s swiftly scribbled notes of my narrative arc, metaphysical coffee at Her side. Maybe a spiritual parrot or something as Her muse. And so, Her Cliffs Notes.
1:4
Cause: In a most formal manner, I was fired from the job I had held for over a decade. The act itself was the very definition of ceremonious and dignified: robotic, clean, unemotional, and professional, down to the silent perp-walk-style escort to the elevator and the fact that I was not allowed to clear out my desk. The desk I had earned—the one by the window I had fought for. Fourteen fucking years at that company and they wouldn’t even give me the courtesy of closure. Add to that the random IT heavy sitting outside the Conference Room of Doom like one of those Easter Island statues, waiting for each of the seven Disposables to depart. Why? Because he had big muscles and could man-handle me, should I attempt to run away from this scenario? Little old me, with my backpack and sensible walking shoes fleeing down the hallway towards what? Where would I go? Were they afraid I’d race around shrieking and weaving my way between cubicles and offices, yelling at the top of my lungs the corporate world version of “The British are coming! The British are coming! Protect yourselves and back up your personal files now!” Was it because they figured they needed to take extra precautions with the woman who is known for smiling through conflict, for her excellent communication skills, and for her continuous positive interactions with colleagues, vendors, and upper management?
Effect: Tears. Not just roll-down-your-cheek driblets. Ones that are akin to the water feature at the park, with salty, chlorinated bursts firing in all directions from my blue-green eyes (they look more green than blue when they are wet) adding gasps for air that feel as though the shock itself is clutching my chest, my neck, my esophagus. That day there was a ripping apart of a work-family built on over a decade of lessons, laughs, and learning, a displacement of the love and respect and journeying. Yes, anger and drama and tumult as well. All of those came out in a forceful spillway of emotion.
2:4
Cause: I decided I would take on this life change like a boss. I was going to be positive and productive and create the life of my dreams! My counselor told me I should take this opportunity to create a new and improved structure for my days. At first, I optimistically told myself I would leap out of bed every morning, perky and full of gumption, making my coffee, and setting about my day, which would include extensive job searching, pensive writing, a hearty workout, and healthy cooking. I would field phone calls from rabid recruiters and have my pick of top corporate positions by the end of the month. My LinkedIn feed would scream YOU ARE AMONG WINNERS!
Effect: They call the corporate version of organizational metamorphosis Change Management. There are books, Ted Talks, thought leaders, all which spew out how best to move forward and in what order, but I didn’t have an infographic or manual to explain what I was supposed to do with all of my recent instability. Rather than the independent, bouncy woman I expected to be, I soon discovered that I struggled to get motivated and had no use for this newfangled routine-in-a-box method my counselor proposed. I wanted to sleep in every day. I wanted to eschew all things corporate. I wanted to make time for cooking and dancing and singing and tv marathons. I rediscovered a whole set of friends that didn’t work the 9-5. Everyone seemed to understand that I needed some time to get myself back together. I’d been working since I was 17! But in no time at all, feelings of guilt about being slothful poked up out of the weeds. Why didn’t I have a plan worked out by now? Maybe I needed to pray. Speak with a career consultant. Use essential oils. Get a whiteboard. I started with applying for unemployment, but I screwed even that up at first. This, of course, was followed by a flurry of letters from the unemployment office stating that I was a dumbass and to restart my claim next week, thereby leaving me without income for several weeks in a row.
3:4
Cause: I had experienced a trauma. My grief was ambidextrous. During the most inopportune of times, my grief showed up to say hello. It blazed a path towards anguish, then took a sharp turn in the direction of the briny depths of sorrow, a true buzzkill at a party, which is, of course, where it manifested itself one breezy evening around the campfire. How can you be sad around a campfire? Take one part hard cider, one part homespun guitar trio playing songs of love and loss, and one part grief stage four: depression, and you get tears of the traumatized. But it’s all about the process, right?
Effect: At first it didn’t seem like healing at all. It was horrifying. Fuck the five stages. Soon I began socially drinking much more often, because how else do you stay connected with your old coworkers when you can’t just walk down the hall? What better way to connected than over a vodka soda? So I found myself a little more than tipsy at a group happy hour with a bunch of old work buddies on a Thursday. How many times can you earnestly say, “Yeah I’m great! Taking some time to figure out what I really want to do!” Sipping drinks took time away from having to speak.
4:4
Cause: This is where I met Gary. The man was a strange combination of archetypes—nerd and jock in one. He had a very straight-laced look, complete with computer backpack and scooter at his side. But then, muscles growing out of muscles. Generally, I prefer an intellectually strong man over one who can pick me up and throw me onto the bed, but I could not tear my eyes away from those muscles. When I looked up into his bespeckled face, dark eyes, and his teeny tiny black mohawk, I felt a surge of liquid courage fight its way from my gut to my lips. I put on what I thought was a sexy smirk and asked him if I could take a ride on his scooter. He responded by ordering two shots of whiskey and telling me, “Only nice girls are allowed to ride my scooter.”
I grabbed both shots and tipped them down my throat, double fisted. “That’s too bad.”
Staying true to his word, he did not let me ride the scooter that night, but I ended up riding him all night.
Effect: At first I didn’t even know he worked with my old employer. I had thought he was just a random guy at the bar that night. No one that I knew was talking to him, and he wasn’t socializing with my previous floor-mates. I figured out later it was because everyone was furious that he (and six others) had hopped into our old seats so easily, without acknowledgment (or really, knowledge) of the culling that had occurred the week before he started. A former colleague told me that a douche named Gary was sitting at my old desk by the window, but it didn’t even occur to me that he could be the new me. Two weeks—fourteen days—after our one night stand, I found out he was my replacement. He was performing my job. He was perched at my desk, kicking his feet up on my storage ottoman. Maybe watering my succulent that had never been returned. The new me had been inside me. And, just like my job of fourteen years, there was no further contact.

*While this piece is based on actual events, it is a work of fiction.

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.

Imagine If…

If I could imagine what life may have looked like, had I not taken this particular journey, I would ask—why did I choose this life? Some people believe that our souls choose this particular body in this particular time and place before we become a fetus, before we are born into this world. Given a true choice, wouldn’t I naturally opt for a thinner body with medium size breasts and straight teeth?
Erin Pavlina makes these assertions:

When you are in the ether you remember that you are a part of consciousness and that you are being sent out into the world to experience, learn, and grow.  You know that physical life is temporary, and that the pain and adversity you face as a physical being is but a moment in your existence.  Why do people choose to enter a life that is filled with pain and torment?  Because from the perspective of the ether, any pain or adversity is but a blip of discomfort in the grand scheme of things.  It’s like asking if you are willing to suffer a paper cut in order to gain vast wisdom and knowledge and tremendous personal growth.

In my mind, I imagine it like a rope swing. I think about the journey that my roller coaster self-esteem-driven body has taken me on, and I see myself considering the options of taking another bite—would I let out a barbaric yawp into the ether and fly into the wild earth? Or would I stay safe—take another bite and let myself sink further into my comfort zone?
If I’d let go of the rope and created a life for myself, full of lean, athletic bodies, popularity contests, and a virginity that withered well before my twenties, who would I be?
Would I have been that vulnerable woman who said yes to the unknown? Would I have met a man in college and stayed in the Midwest? Would I be a mother? Would I tuck my children into their beds at night, kissing their soft cheeks, brushing hair from sweaty foreheads, shushing their protests, then closing the door silently behind me in sweet relief of another day without tragedy?
Would my husband and I become so used to our mundane life that we approach our fifties without a hint of sexual desire? Or would one of us be struck with a yearning so great that we must express or explode—and because the other is our best friend, we must confess—that the tumble-dry cycle of our sex life simply isn’t enough?
Would we then go to a series of sexual enlightenment workshops, awkward at first because this is all new, and sometimes the worn-in feeling of familiarity is much preferred over the fear of the unknown, to find later that we have both fallen in love with our instructor (And who wouldn’t? They are all at once sensual, kinky, loving, torturous, and safe.), who then somehow convinces us that this is completely normal and is actually a reflection of our renewed lust for each other?
Would we then leap back into our home life with gusto and a plethora of spontaneous sex—in closets when the children are in twilight sleep, on the balcony where our neighbors just might see, or with a voracious interest in play toys of all kinds?
Would I, as I am inclined to do, reflect earnestly in my journal, each paragraph a rabbit hole for the next great big blank page?
Oh white space, you are inviting. You tease with your crisp cleanness and your ample availability. You offer your lush white bosom as a landing pad for a sprinkle of thoughts, then a deluge, then a monsoon of words and creativity. I am wet with your weather. Consume me, let me soil your innocence with my wisdom as well as my curiosity, for it is that which completes the circle in the end.
Imagine if…

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.

Women's March on Washington: Portland Style

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Courtesy of Stefan Dietz via Flickr


Yesterday, I was one of those who was going to stay away from the crowds of the Women’s March in downtown Portland. I am all for marches and protests, especially peaceful ones, but I also suffer from some anxiety surrounding these types of events. It’s not claustrophobia, but it does in a sense carry some of those connotations. To a certain extent, if I’m being truly honest here, I also kind of just didn’t want to be bothered. Bothered to go out into a cold, rainy day. To try and find a bathroom where the line isn’t half a mile long. To make sure I didn’t get pepper sprayed or get caught up in violence. To be on my feet all day.
My friend Claudia had stayed the night with me and she was getting ready for the March while I puttered around the kitchen, sorting out my day. She said, Why aren’t you going again? I said, Well, I have some things to do, and then an appointment, and…yeah. Kinda shaky excuses. Claudia, being one of my dearest friends, looked me in the eye and replied,

What will you say when future generations ask you if you were at the Women’s March on January 21, 2017? I had a hair appointment, the traffic was bad? I’m gonna say I joined thousands in a beautiful day of solidarity.

Well that arrow hit its target right on the nose. I packed my backpack with a hastened clump of waterproof clothing, snacks, hydration, wet wipes, and we were off to catch the bus. The first one flew by our stop, packed front to back with passengers. The collective groaning of a dozen people let loose on cue. Luckily, I live by a frequent service stop with several bus lines, so about seven minutes later another one came and it was only about half full. Huzzah!

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Ready to roll out!


We got off the bus and headed to the spot where we were meeting other marchers. Claudia and I hadn’t exactly planned our entrance very well, and since we were already running late, had expected we’d just grab some food somewhere and take it with us to the march. Except every quick/fast service restaurant was packed with protesters. And it was pouring rain, so eating outside wouldn’t be as effortless as we had imagined in our head. And even if we did manage to eat our food without first soaking it in Portland’s famous “weather au jus,” we were standing butt-to-butt, and, since I’m so short, I’d most likely be eating a burrito to the tune of someone’s accidental elbow throw. That just didn’t sound fun to me. So Claudia and I broke off from the group to get something solid in our stomachs a little farther out, with the intention that we would meet up with the other ladies again later. We went to Thirsty Lion, since it’s huge inside and they are usually prepared for crowds. The restaurant was quite full, but we got seated right away. Our waitress was super! She was quick during a very busy time, answered our questions expertly, and best of all, helped us in a tiny way that had a huge impact. I asked her if she had two trash bags that we could have. At first she didn’t understand. I explained the beauty of how trash bags make fantastic makeshift raincoats! In the short half hour or so we’d been outside, Claudia and I were already partially soaked and it was not looking like it would let up any time soon. She came back with two industrial trash bags. They were gigantic—and perfect! We set up our new look. Rip a neck hole, two arm holes, help your neighbor put it up and over the her backpack, and there you go! We looked like two drowned rats with hump backs! Trés chic!
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I didn’t know what to expect when we re-entered the crowd. I know the protests the night before had drawn all sorts of agendas, both peaceful and a little less so. There were flash-bang devices discharged, pepper spray dispensed, and a lot of anger spread out over the city, held mostly at bay by the Portland Police. I protested in the past during the Iraq War. Back then the police I experienced were much different. Instead of trying to prevent conflicts from arising and helping to keep the protests contained, they would bait protesters into angry reactions, thereby enabling them to “legally” detain protesters. I’m not sure when they beefed up their training on civil unrest events, but I have to hand it to them—they have recently done a much better job overseeing the crowds. (This is just my opinion. Feel free to comment below if your experience has been different.) Instead of putting on a show as tyrannical monoliths of punishment, they displayed their humanity. Cops with pink pussy hats on waved us on. Most of them smiled broadly at us as we walked by. I tried to thank as many as I could, because let’s face it, no matter how you feel personally about the police, you must understand that theirs is a tough job.
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The energy was palpable. Everyone there was a cousin of the spirit! We laughed maniacally in the rain, danced in the sloppy mud mosh pit, shouted chants of positivity, squished butt-to-butt with our new friends, giggled at the amazing creativity of the signs, and most of all, came together with the intention of unity.
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When the younger generation asks me where I was on January 21, 2017, I’ll tell them I was right there alongside the most beautiful, diverse, and loving group of people I have ever known.

Cherry

I’m new here.
Take me in,
Show me your
Ants on a log.
Show me your
Childish smile, your
Sanctuary.
It’s nice to be by myself, but
Hands clasping hands
Brings me to the somebody else I could be.
I’ll let her out.
I can push away the disappointment
I once had when I was younger,
A pin in a row.
I’ve opened my eyes and stepped in,
Toe by toe, then
pull back into the cold.
It feels good to be here,
My solitary pen dripping fuel
Of a new me
Onto a medium I have yet to explore.
I’m not sure if I’ll let it explode, absorb my words,
Or lick delicately my fingertips,
because it’s intoxicating.
Alone, my table is full of containers to satisfy.
Below, empty space holds colors of smiles,
Smells of dirty feet unafraid to stain shoes.
Even better, sweet toes tapping the uncertainty together,
A lush feeling.
A youthful submission to consciousness.
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Challenging Conversations, Conscious Choices: Part III

I have about a million thoughts as I settle down to write Part III of this series, Challenging Conversations, Conscious Choices. You can read Part I here and Part II here.
This week has been tumultuous. There’s no other way to put it. Partly it’s the election and subsequent reactions to said election; partly it’s about other, more personal things. I’ve seen pictures and stories of odium, examples of great love and selflessness, and all the shades in between. This emotional back and forth has taken a toll on me. I’m exhausted.
When I get so exhausted, I am particularly vulnerable. I have these fears that wash over me, dark feelings that know the perfect time to strike. These thoughts have an incredible ability to make me feel inferior and different. Strangely, when I’m feeling great about myself, I celebrate the Becky who stands out in a crowd, who doesn’t do things because everyone else does, who doesn’t cave to every trend. I think that’s part of what makes me special. So in my heart I know these false feelings of inferiority only prey on me when they know they can.
Thankfully, in my journey I have come to recognize these as passing notions. I use several tools to center myself when I find I’ve been caught up in an emotional cyclone.
The very first thing I say to myself is I control how I react. I can’t control what happens in the world. I can’t even control what happens in my life half the time, but only I can choose to take the world’s baloney and respond by either pulling out two slices of bread, or grabbing the compost bucket and trashing it. I make that conscious choice.
Something else that really helps me is to use one of several new age tarot-like decks that I own. I’m not skilled at reading cards by any means, but it gives me calm to pull one or two from my “Healing with the Fairies” oracle deck, my “Affirmators!” card collection, or my “Native American Animal Medicine Cards.” These things ground me. They give me something tangible to focus on. This evening I meditated on the state of the world, and then pulled a card from my Animal Medicine deck. I pulled the Hummingbird. Two things stuck out at me. First, I was captivated by this line: Hummingbird can give us the medicine to solve the riddle of the contradiction of duality. It intrigued me to read on, because in my meditation before I pulled the card, I had asked the universe to help me make sense of the yin/yang balance of everything that is happening right now. I think everyone can appreciate the struggle of seeing the light in the dark, grudgingly acknowledge the crack that lets the light in (RIP Leonard Cohen). Well, hummingbird is here to help.

“If contrary Hummingbird sings its forlorn song, perhaps you should journey into your personal pain and know that your sorrow is your joy in another reflection.”

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Second, the hummingbird is an enjoyer of life. Again, from the Medicine Card deck:

“If Hummingbird is your personal medicine, you love life and its joys. Your presence brings joy to others. You join people together in relationships which bring out the best in them. You know instinctively where beauty abides and, near or far, you journey to your ideal. You move comfortably within a beautiful environment and help others taste the succulent nectar of life.”

People who know me even the slightest bit will immediately recognize that this is an extremely accurate description. I endeavor to find happiness and laughter wherever I go. I am incredibly blessed to be able to make friends with just about anyone I encounter. Where my life may lack the loving responsibilities of parenthood and the wonderful challenge of a having a lifelong partner as of yet, this provides me the space and time to help those more bogged down to find joy in the most unexpected places. Want a zydeco dance partner? I’m your woman. Looking for someone to join you at a volunteer event? Call me! Want to go for a hike or a run? Heck yeah I do! I have a metaphorical backpack bursting with victories, small and large, of the journey I’m taking in my life, and I love to share them. I’m also the best damn auntie in the world. Children need an adult they can love and trust other than their parents; I adore being that person for many of my friends’ children.
So this is what I choose to know. My capacity to love grows stronger every single day. My heart knows no limits. I can love my neighbor as well as myself unconditionally. I can see the light and the dark as something to grow with, and I will continue to build myself up to be the best Becky I can be.
What do you do when you’re feeling like you’re in the middle of that emotional cyclone and you want to get out? I want you to know, here and now, that if you need to talk to a peer, use one of my decks of cards, or need someone to lighten your day with a laugh or earnest hug, I’m here for you. I love you.

Challenging Conversations, Conscious Choices: Part II

This series came to fruition because of a combination of inspirations (you can read Part I here). First of all, I signed up for a writing class at Portland Community College. Generally, I make an effort to take a few writing workshops a year, but usually the inspiration to actually put pen to paper comes and goes as quickly as the 2-hour workshop itself. When I started this blog, I was dedicated to posting every week—and I did, for quite some time! That quickly slowed down because of dates, or dancing, or drama…or all of the above distractions. They always seemed to sidetrack me from my one true passion—writing. Armed with the PCC class, I knew it would be at least 6 solid weeks of writing accountability, and hopefully, consistency.
Also, it’s October. Yay! Do you know what comes after October? That’s right, November! Do you know what November means to an English nerd like me? That’s right! National Novel Writing Month  AND Wordstock! I haven’t dedicated myself to NaNoWriMo in several years, and now is the perfect time to do it. Also, in past years I’ve always been travelling during Wordstock, so I’m anxiously anticipating my first experience with that. Anyway, read on for my thoughts for Part II.
A few months ago I made a conscious decision to ask myself some hard questions.
I looked in the mirror and questioned, why don’t I make as much money as I should?
I had been doing two jobs for the price of one for a while, and if I’m being truthful, I had known I was underpaid long before that. I had always worked hard with an open heart, knowing it was for the good of the team. Then I thought about all the times I was short on funds, working paycheck-to-paycheck, missing trips or events because I didn’t have the extra cash. I wasn’t drowning in debt or anything, but a sneaker wave could come at any time, and if it did, I could be in big trouble. It wasn’t fair!
So why didn’t I make more money when it was obvious that I deserved fair compensation? I had never asked for more than what was offered. I work hard and am loyal to my company, but I also tend not to rock the boat. You know which people never advance? The ones who never question the status quo. In order to stand out, I had to stand up. Through personal examination and talking to many wise friends, I learned to never expect anyone to grab my hand and lead me to higher ground. I needed to figure out my own unique way to escape those rising waters and succeed.
Here’s a little food for thought that inspired me from the Coffee and Pints blog, created by two of my former coworkers.
Communicate with your manager and peers. They were not hired to be mind-readers. If you don’t make your interests known, it’s highly unlikely that anyone will figure it out and be able to help you.
Make a plan and write it down. This is critical when your goal is something bigger and more multifaceted like earning a promotion or finding a new job. Once your plan is written, ask a mentor or someone you respect professionally to review and discuss it with you. You’ll not only get feedback but the act of sharing it will make your goal seem real and less ephemeral.
Have an open attitude. An interesting thing happens when you begin to initiate. As you take action to move in the direction of your goal, others begin to respond, sharing ideas and information. And sometimes, if you’re open, the conversations that ensue lead to new opportunities.
Believe in yourself. You made it this far, of course you can go further. We all have self-doubt. Nobody likes to fail. Push through all of that and initiate—and don’t ever stop.
In the past, I’d get a physical reaction even to the thought of confrontation—and that is exactly how I saw asking for a raise—however well-deserved it was. But I kept telling myself I was worth it. I saw the proof in front of me in the proposal I wrote.
Write your thoughts down. Speak from your heart. If you think that you don’t have the strength to back up what you need to say, practice. Use YOUR voice. You decide what is in your heart—you decide how you want to say it. No matter what the topic, if you speak your truth with 100% conviction, then you have done your best.
Use the Four Agreements in every interaction.
Be impeccable with your word. Speak with integrity.
Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you.
Don’t make assumptions. We all know what happens when you make ASSumptions…
Always do your best. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.
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If you’d like, please share a time when you used effective communication by being impeccable with your word, and describe how you did it.