I am always amazed, humbled, by how life experiences alter our world view. I’m not talking about the big, life altering events that impact us with a bang. Obviously things like death, marriage, childbirth, personal catastrophe, witnessing powerful images, experiencing fear, love, fluctuating income, vocation, etc… will leave a mark our on psyche and shade our view of life. In this case, I’m talking about the subtle things, the tiny encounters and small nuisances that we barely notice, even though they resonate in our soul forevermore. As such, we grow. Evolve. Shift. Our personalities are always being enhanced or diminished, twisted or mellowed by things we see, do, read, or hear.
This is why I don’t feel aging is a drag. I don’t particularly like the wrinkles, but I love how living leads us by the hand to deeper knowledge – about the world and about ourselves. If you are the least bit reflective, you can’t avoid growth. Your soul ferments just by being exposed to living. It makes everyday a wonder, an adventure, and if you take the time to consider it, you begin approaching every hour curious to see how it will unfold. Truly, it’s the tiny things that shape our mind and feed us emotionally.
Details. Life is cluttered with details that collide and jam up our perspectives, until all we notice is generalizations and preconceived assumptions. I guess this is how we filter so much stimulus to remain functional. But, I’ve learned you can – must – note the details. Relish them. You just have to slow down to be receptive to new input. There is beauty everywhere; something to be grateful for in every situation. And people, situations – life in general – can be entertaining if you maintain a sense of humor and shed the tendency to criticize or judge. I am grateful for the hearty laughs I gain each day from unintentional sources.
Does anyone really – REALLY- understand everything you do and why, from what coffee drink you order and the tone in which you speak to the server, to what house you live in and who you live with? Does anyone outside of your head know all the millions of comments and events and triggers that made you think and feel and act as you do? Of course not. Yet people judge you without all this information at hand as if they can sum the essence of who you are by one action– which means they “get you” wrong. They may think you competitive or foolish or egotistical or heroic or dull or weak, or a sellout, or adventurous or loving or cruel. When in fact, their perceptions are more about how they feel in a situation and how your existence affects them, than based on any kind of understanding of how you are experiencing life and reacting to its stimulus.
And if others can “get you” wrong, it is only logical to assume so too can you be off the mark when you are critical of another person’s actions or choices. Considering you can’t ever know what life is like from another person’s viewpoint, wouldn’t it just be easier to stop holding them up to your benchmark of what is acceptable by your standards, or noble or admirable, and just witness the grand differences in people? Celebrate flaws. Give the world- the individual, a little slack. Assume the best for once.
Next time a guy cuts you in line to get his donut first, don’t think him a “dick”, feel sorry for him because he values a donut more than polite exchange and wonder where and why he learned that behavior. Interesting. Perhaps he was donut deprived as a child, or this donut shop is the only place in his mixed up world where he can assert himself because his wife picks his donuts everywhere else. Perhaps his great grandfather invented the donut, and therefore he resents that he doesn’t get special treatment. Who knows why, in this one moment, he is behaving in non-admirable ways. It doesn’t define him. The guy could be remarkable in all areas unrelated to donuts.
There are too many people in the world. We are bound to clash, behave aggressively or competitively. We act out. It is the nature of the beast when cornered or poked at with a stick. Sad but true. Attitude is no one person’s fault. There are just too many people in the world for everyone to live in harmony and since we don’t live in a bubble, we are affected by situations, events, even each other, in ways that contort our personalities.
The trick is to know yourself, learn your triggers and try to live true to yourself and your personal ethics. And, of course, to lighten the load of others who may not be self-aware. Make the world a more pleasant place for the glut of people, even if it means stepping aside with a smile to give the donut aggressor his space. With understanding.
When you can get past the frustration and general big events that happen around you, perhaps you will begin to notice the less obvious details. Like the fact that the donut man is wearing mismatched socks (ah, he is running late today, no wonder he is acting rude,) or the face of the elderly woman behind him when she looks him up and down and snorts. Funny.
What is my point? I’ve forgotten. Something must have triggered this, but for the life of me, I don’t know what. Ha. I must have filtered out that detail. I did buy a donut this morning, but no one was rude. I think this began about small things making us change – altering our views. That must be it. (My mind does ramble . . .)
I am in Boston, and while I am doing something I have done for over 9 years, I’m a different person than I was last year. Smarter. More content. Less physically flexible perhaps, and four pounds heavier still (yes, I’m still counting even though, without dance, it shouldn’t matter. Georgia makes me lazy, I think.) I feel somewhat wiser. Definitely more passionate about what I have to say (regarding dance education). But less committed to the need to say it. Curious about the young people choosing dance now, at the beginning of their long, interesting lives. Curious about the competitive dance environment and how newcomers will fare. Fascinated by how the dance world is changing, molded, dented by technology, social change, communications, everything. Proud of my part in impacting it. Relieved I can give up the endless quest to stay current and know everything – what everyone is doing in the field. And yet, I can’t give up old habits either as I listen to gossip about the leaders in the business, old comrades and friends. I still care about the changes taking place in the dance world. I wince and worry about the state of the art.
I have to resist my habit of storing all this information and ACTING on it. My mind is awash with ideas, places I could take dance now. I need to go home to my donkey and gentle breezes to shed this churning in my gut to get involved. For I know that I am different, not because I sold my dance empire and moved to Georgia (big things) but because I have experienced little things. I’ve looked a newborn horse in the eyes and run my hands along his fuzz of mane. I have cooed to a llama so he will stand still as I dig fingers into matted hair that an hour later will be laying at my feet. I now pick things – blueberries, blackberries, wildflowers, chickens, when previously, I didn’t have the time or inclination to devote any of my precious waking hours to leisurely explorations. I have paint in my hair, a small slash of tan that yesterday, made my eyes pop because at first I thought it was gray. Then I smiled, because I recognized that it was the color of the inside of my new writing room’s closet. I have a writing room! In it I will think foolish and great thoughts, write good and bad passages and sit staring out the window watching deer instead of focusing on my computer screen. And all of it will be good. Because I write not to achieve anything specifically – just to investigate what I think and feel (And that is probably the best evidence that I have changed of all.)
Yes, I’ve changed – but I wouldn’t say I’ve shed who I used to be. No, it is more as if I’ve crowded a new person into my skin. All these new experiences make a girl more complex. I am not different – I am more.
Opportunity abounds here. Last night, a crew of dance teachers I’ve known for years (and admire) tried to talk me into teaching studio management seminars. They recently paid 1200 for a two day seminar (6000 attendees!) and were talked into a monthly $180 ongoing consultant fee by a new company that preaches they have the formula for dance school financial success. But everyone is of the opinion that Mark and I could do it better – and we wouldn’t be teaching this material theoretically. Our lives, our success, are proof of what we preach. They insisted they learned more over drinks at dinner with me than they did in the seminar. Interesting.
I couldn’t resist the bait. I called home and said, “Honey, want to get rich? We could do seminars. I have a handful of people ready to sign up – testimonials and all kinds of supporting evidence. I even have formulated an outline for presenting material. We could do this.”
He said, “Come home. Your llama misses you. Write a book.”
He is smarter than I.
I told a friend that what I missed most about my life change was the physicality of dancing everyday. I wish I had a studio on our property. Just for me. Just so I could put on music and let my soul loose.
My friend said, “Why don’t you build one?”
I laughed and said, “My husband won’t go for that. He doesn’t trust me with a viable dance space at my disposal. Thinks that once I have a resource, I am a sucker for the challenge of using it creatively. (He has me down pat.) As it is I’ve hinted at how great it would be for us to develop a serious summer dance camp for fledgling artists. We could build cabins on the grounds and a few studios. We have contacts with all the best teachers in the country. We’ve been organizing dance events for years, designing programs. As such, we could host the best dance camp around. It would be successful and we would only have to work two months a year instead of ten. We’d even be creating a wonderful gift for the dance world.
My friend said, “I have 25 kids I’ll commit right now to sending to you next summer.”
Someone else next to her in the limo said, “I have about 30 that would go.”
(I’m doing the math – hummmm…. great potential here for a reasonable investment.)
Tom, a very established teacher (and friend) on staff here said, “I’ll work for you – and spread the word. There is such a need for that kind of program . Sounds fantastic.”
So, I told my husband we had a clientele for my vision of a serious dance camp.
He said, “Talk like that and you can’t go to Boston anymore.”
Ha. The offhand things we hear set seeds that influence us. See? He knows this.
I told my husband that I want to write a book proposal for a nonfiction book called “The Million Dollar Dance Studio”. A book about studio management and the way to maneuver the minefield of dance education to find success, commercially and artistically. He was quiet and then said, “That would be a good book. Go for it, Hun.”
Wow. He didn’t tell me to go pluck a chicken! Must be that a book doesn’t sound threatening. A book can’t eat your life. It consumes you for a bit, but it’s a finite commitment, a project with an end. Or maybe he was distracted since he was talking to me on his cell phone and I could hear construction in the background.
Anyway, I keep contemplating the possibilities. But the fact that something is possible – viable – doesn’t mean it must be done. How important is it – to me? To the life I want to design?
I miss my donkey. I worry that no one is giving my horses carrots and sugar cubes in my absence and I mourn for all the blackberries that are drying up on vines because I am not home to gather the end of season leftovers. Between dance classes here, I pour over homework and read literary novels rather than contemplate choreography. But home, I can have all this and still write a book about dance. If I feel compelled to.
I got up yesterday and readied for my classes. I put on my funky black, nylon Capri pants and a black sports tank. Put on a sporty black sweatshirt and wore my tried and true black hoop earrings that I traditionally teach in. I laced up my state of the art Nike’s (the only pair of shoes I have that are not stained with red Georgia clay and horse dung) looked in the mirror and thought, I know you. You’re that dance teacher I used to be.
It was so familiar. Such a visual blast of comfortable identity. I just stared a few minutes, wondering why I don’t dress this way still – for blackberry picking or something. But I know why. This surface dressing is evidence of a different me- a me I’ve decided to put out to pasture – figuratively and literally. I get confused staring back at that old me. My identity crisis is hard enough without optical illusions muddying my clarity.
I will not talk about the feelings I’m experiencing when I watch my peers still meshed in the dance scene, unchanged, struggling, pushing forward as master dance teachers in a steadily changing field. The dance world ain’t what it used to be when we were students.
Thoughts cross my mind. Where are they going without me? Did I bail too early, leaving important things undone? Or am I just the first to turn a corner and venture into new horizons? Am I brave? Or tired? Or giving up? Or something else all together? Why am I changing while others I have worked with for years, people with equal talent, experience and passion, remain in the trenches? Are they happy? Am I?
I can relate to them, yet I can’t see life through their eyes. So, I won’t judge or evaluate or speculate or philosophize. But it does make me contemplate my inner changes. Embrace them. I am comfortable with the decisions I’ve made. I honestly believe there are big things I’m destined to do, and it involves closing one door so I can open another. I met a teacher yesterday who is 87 and still teaching 12 hours a week in her dance school. She is fit. Happy. That could have been me. Odd, that it won’t be. I respect her, yet I am glad I won’t be her. Evolution suits me. But I don’t want to leave dance behind. I want to take it with me. I have to ask myself, How shall I do this?.
I’ve learned slow down and see the world through new eyes. Eyes that take in detail and find humor around every corner. Eyes that come from a place of self assurance and pride in my past – hope for my future. I notice things now because I have the time and the inclination to do so.
I like people again. I no longer feel like a duck in a shooting gallery with a thousand dance mothers waiting in line, pop guns in hand. I am never emotionally tired – physically tired on occasion, but that is usually evidence of a productive day – things accomplished. Sure beats feeling as if the world is stamping on your heart.
It is good to laugh. Good to sigh happily. Good to look into the eyes of someone you don’t know in a donut shop, smile – and mean it. It is good to live an authentic life – even if it is unfamiliar territory and you aren’t the most impressive person in the room. Most of all, it is good to have a donkey sweet enough to truly miss. And blackberries on your vines. And paint in your hair. And the ability to say I can do that, but I can do this too . . . and tomorrow, who knows. I will probably be able to do even more.
I am crowded inside, with all these Ginnys jostling for space. But they are in good company and everyone gets along well at the slumber party in my skin. In fact, all those Ginnys are having such a rousing good time that no one wants to be the first to go to sleep.